Locating the paradiplomacy of Indian states

Currently, the space for Indian states to play a role in foreign policy is largely in the economic realm.

One of the growingly popular frameworks to analyse how sub state actors can play a role in foreign policy is paradiplomacy. According to Adam Grydehoj, paradiplomacy is a political entity’s extra-jurisdictional activity targeting foreign political entities.

Andre Lecours looks at how states participate in foreign policy in Europe and North America. He believes that they participate in three layers based on their geopolitical aims or behavior.

Political Issues of Paradiplomacy- Andrew Lecours

Political Issues of Paradiplomacy- Andrew Lecours

Lecours believes that paradiplomacy has been successful only because states have constitutionally granted powers to work in the foreign policy space. They have then proceeded to set up mechanisms by which states can play bigger roles in international relations. Belgium which is one of the best example of sub-state diplomacy provides all its regional actors with a veto on matters pertaining to international relations. Canada has set up communication and sectoral channels (so that the sub state authorities can approach relevant departments or ministries, share information and coordinate) apart from specific bodies devoted to bringing all domestic stakeholders on the table to discuss relevant international policies.

However, it will not be possible for all countries to follow this sort of paradiplomacy. Lecours acknowledges that in developing countries, sub nationalism may threaten sovereign identity or even result in the lack of national coherence. Therefore, paradiplomacy is viewed with suspicion by developing countries which generally have unitary governments.

Debates about participation of states in foreign policy eventually lead to debates on federalism. The Indian Constitution has placed foreign affairs (all matters which bring the Union into relation with any foreign country) in the Union List. The Central Government also has sole authority over diplomatic, consular and trade representation, war and peace, foreign jurisdiction, citizenship, extradition and so on. This has structurally left the states little space to intervene in policy issues.

Any discussion about states in foreign policy in India goes back to how regional parties have pressured the Centre- with Tamil Nadu and West Bengal as the primary examples. States with land or sea borders have interacted beyond the Indian subcontinent much before Independence. Therefore, they have a natural interest in foreign policy. Since liberalization, states have started looking beyond the Union Government for sources for revenue. An overwhelming number of states now organize a Global Investor’s Summit to woo foreign investors. As I have argued earlier, states are also stepping up their game on NRI affairs because the importance of remittances has grown.

If we try to look at Indian states in Lecours’ layers, then it becomes immediately evident that states fall under the first layer in some capacities. Some states have actively pursued foreign investment to boost the state economy. The most striking example, of course, is the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh state under Chandrababu Naidu who actively courted investments in a bid to convert Hyderabad to the IT capital of the country. Telangana has recently come into the news for wooing large international companies like Amazon, Uber, Ikea and Apple to set up offices in the state.

Few states fall under the second layer. Tamil Nadu has held ‘World Tamil Conferences’ to reach out to Tamil Speakers and enthusiasts all over the world at regular intervals. While cultural associations emphasizing regional identity like the Kerala Sangam have been set up, these are non-profit initiatives set up by diaspora in various parts of the world.

The third layer is interesting because it is representative of why the Union Government would like to have authority over foreign policy. As India is an amalgamation of regional identities, the emphasis on political distinctness does not bode well for a coherent foreign policy. However, even this form of paradiplomacy has few takers simply because States see it as an infringement of their sovereignty.

India, states will increasingly pursue paradiplomacy for economic issues. While Lecours’ model may work well for developed countries, Indian states will find a way to maneuver foreign policy with the help of the centre. After all, the aim of foreign policy is to further India’s national interests which states also share.

This post is the part of a series of blogposts on ‘States in Foreign Policy’.

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @HamsiniH

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