By Ratish Srivastava (@socilia13)
States in India can play a bigger role in foreign policy formulation with active engagement in pursuing global economic opportunities, resource management, security issues and environmental issues. However, does that mean the centre will lose power to states as they push for greater autonomy?
The devolution of power from the centre to state need not translate to a lesser role for the centre. The centre could use this devolution to their advantage in a number of ways.
The current NDA government created the States Division in 2014 under the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) for efficient management of centre-state relations. However, this division only provides economic freedom to states by allowing them to engage in global economic opportunities.
The structure proposed by NDA only allows for economic development, investment promotion but not aspects of security. The central government needs to realise the role a state can play in security and improving ties with other nation-states. The best example would be India’s relation with Israel.
India has historically supported the Palestinian stance, and any major diplomatic move with Israel could upset India’s energy ties with Iran and the Gulf states. But, a number of chief ministers of states have gone to Israel, mostly for learning new agricultural practices, as agriculture in Israel is a highly developed industry. Visits from the then CM of Rajasthan Ashok Gehlot in 2013 and Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis in 2015 show that states can help improve ties with other nation-states.
These low-key measures, which go under the radar are extremely important for India to build stronger ties with a nation-state as it allows greater manoeuvrability in formulating foreign policy. India, however, needs to tread carefully as a tilt towards Israel could be counter-productive to its move for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. India requires strong support from the Arab states that form a large group in the General Assembly. The Modi government must be careful as it looks to preserve its strategic, economic and energy interests in West Asia.
The centre will also become effective in conducting neighbourhood diplomacy if it can coordinate with peripheral states, which share borders with other countries, for example, India’s relation with Bangladesh. The relation between the two countries was weakened over disputes over the Teesta River. The Manmohan Singh-led government in 2011 failed to reach an agreement with Bangladesh, which allowed an equal share of the river. This failure can be attributed to the CM of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, who pressured the centre to break the agreement.
The reason for the the move’s opposition lies with the fact that the centre did not involve West Bengal, which would be impacted the most by this deal.
On the other hand, India signed the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) with Bangladesh in 2015. This agreement will rehabilitate people in their respective enclaves in India and Bangladesh. It will improve the domestic situation in both countries but more importantly, this move showed how involving West Bengal helped smoothen the deal.
The central government assured the government of West Bengal that it will be provided with adequate financial support to help rehabilitate people coming from the former Indian enclaves in Bangladesh. The state government has also taken a set of reasonable relief measures through its Cooch Behar district administration with financial assistance from the centre. The centre and the state in this situation worked together, and it resulted in a historic deal being signed between India and Bangladesh, which has been a concern since 1974.
The current central government has suggested the Centre-State Investment Agreement (CSIA), which could potentially help the central government implement a bilateral investment treaty with any foreign country. CSIA creates a platform for states to engage in the management of foreign direct investment flowing into the country.
In addition, with states focusing on improving their economic performance, it allows the centre to focus on other issues like acting in accordance to international law and set environmental goals while the states can help bring globalisation to India through its trade deals and by attracting FDI.
Ratish is a research intern (@socilia13) at Takshashila Institution