Editorial Simplified: Consensus in Foreign Policy |


Relevance :  GS Paper  II (International relations)


Theme of the Article

India needs a measure of political consensus on regional policies.


Disadvantage of  Absence of Consensus

If the political classes choose to turn every problem in the neighbourhood into a domestic contestation, Delhi’s adversaries will continue to gain ground in India’s neighbourhood.


Introduction

One of the interesting foreign policy ideas that Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled early in his tenure, was to enhance the role of states in India’s engagement with the world.


States Division

The NDA government created a “states division” in the Ministry of External Affairs to facilitate the international interactions of the state governments on a range of issues — from promoting trade and tourism to attracting foreign investments. It has also hosted visiting dignitaries in state capitals.


Problem of Finding Common Ground : The Coalition Problem

  • The problem of finding common ground with state chief ministers on developing effective neighbourhood policies has not disappeared.
  • The decade-long UPA rule had seen some states wresting unprecedented control over foreign policy towards the neighbours.
  • In West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee wrecked a carefully prepared visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Bangladesh in 2011. It brought into stark relief Delhi’s inability to deliver on initiated agreements such as Teesta water sharing , Land Boundary Agreement, etc and exposed the profound domestic weakness of the government.
  • In Tamil Nadu, the imperative of keeping the Dravidian parties happy made it hard for Delhi to pursue a sensible policy towards Sri Lanka. The worst moment came in 2013. Under pressure from Congress leaders in Tamil Nadu, including senior figures like P Chidambaram, PM Singh cancelled plans to attend the Commonwealth Summit in Colombo.

The Change: The Majority Government

  • Modi won an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha in 2014 and has had a stronger say in shaping the ruling party’s policies.
  • This had an immediate positive effect on foreign policy, for example, in relations with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Modi overruled internal opposition in the BJP to the ratification of the land boundary agreement with Dhaka and ensured its early passage in Parliament
  • A majority in the Lok Sabha helped Modi to prevent the Sri Lanka policy becoming a hostage to Chennai politics.

Rival Politics not Always a Problem

  • Affiliation to rival parties has not always been a barrier for collaboration between the states and the Centre.
  • During his earlier tenure as the Congress Chief Minister of Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh, worked with the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government at the Centre in launching sub-national diplomacy with the chief minister of Pakistan’s Punjab province.
  • Again, he has taken a responsible approach on the issue of Sikh pilgrimage to Pakistan.

Conclusion

Prospects for a sensible neighbourhood policy can’t rest solely on having single-party governments at the Centre and “responsible” CMs in the border states. India needs a measure of political consensus on regional policies.