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More leaders, better relations

GOOD BEGINNINGS: “It is positive to see that the current government is recognising the pivotal role of State governments in Indian foreign policy.” Picture shows Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu with Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Yang in China.

GOOD BEGINNINGS: “It is positive to see that the current government is recognising the pivotal role of State governments in Indian foreign policy.” Picture shows Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu with Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Yang in China.  

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister >N. Chandrababu Naidu recently visited China, not just as an ambassador for his State, but with the larger objective of improving bilateral relations between India and China. He was chosen by the Ministry of External Affairs to lead this delegation.

During his six-day visit, Mr. Naidu >met, among others, the Mayor of Beijing, the Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Yang, Sichuan Governor Wei Hong and the Mayor of Chengdu, Tang Liangzhi. He also interacted with a number of potential investors in Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu (Sichuan Province).

There were some >significant takeaways from the Chief Minister’s visit. A number of solar companies such as Trina Solar and JA Solar as well as construction company Jiangsu Provincial Construction Group Company evinced interest in investing in Andhra Pradesh. MOUs were signed with China Association of Small and Medium Enterprises and China Council for the Promotion of International Trade. Both Guizhou and Sichuan Provinces also seemed to be interested in building sister-state linkages with Andhra Pradesh. Mr. Naidu also proposed the idea of an exclusive industrial park for Chinese companies to the China Harbour Engineering Company, and his delegation visited Huawei’s Research and Development Centre in Beijing. Overall, Mr. Naidu managed to not just put forward some of the advantages of investing in Andhra Pradesh and his vision for the State, especially for infrastructural development, he was also able to contribute a positive message for bilateral relationship by sending a clear signal that despite differences with China, India is keen to enhance economic cooperation, and that the provinces would contribute towards this. In the last 11 months in office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has introduced a number of changes to the practice of Indian diplomacy such as the utilisation of soft power and the leveraging of diaspora, as evident from his visits to the U.S., Australia and, more recently, Canada. Apart from the emphasis on soft power, he has also urged the States to play a more constructive role in improving India’s relations with the world. During investor summits and economic forums, he has urged the States to partner in India’s economic growth by competing for Foreign Direct Investment. During his foreign visits, both bilateral and multilateral, he has drawn greater attention to the need for closer ties between countries beyond just the capital cities.

Strengthening linkages

Significantly, Mr. Modi’s engagement with the outside world, before he became Prime Minister, was through the bi-annual Vibrant Gujarat Summit, which gave him an opportunity to not just reach out to businessmen from different parts of the world, but also others. His visits abroad helped build strong linkages not just with the business community but the political leadership as well.

While it is well known that Mr. Modi attracted investors to Gujarat, a fact lesser known is that Mr. Naidu and former Karnataka Chief Minister S.M. Krishna — who later also served as External Affairs Minister — were among the first South Indian Chief Ministers to attract investors to their respective States. Both achieved a reasonable degree of success. Not only did they seek investment in Information Technology, with Mr. Naidu convincing Microsoft to invest in Andhra Pradesh, for example, but they were also able to get foreign dignitaries to visit their respective States.

Need for mechanisms

It is encouraging to see the increasing trend of Chief Ministers seeking foreign investment from overseas and holding Investor Summits. Besides Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, such summits have been organised by West Bengal, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab as well. They are not modelling themselves on any one particular State, but promoting their own strengths. In the recently held Hannover Industrial Fair, 18 States with very different economic indicators were present and the Prime Minister made a reference to this.

It is also positive to see that the current government is recognising the pivotal role of State governments in Indian foreign policy. The idea of sending Mr. Naidu to head a delegation to China is a clear illustration of this point. There is also the possibility of an agreement being signed during Prime Minister Modi’s China visit in May, when meetings between Indian Chief Ministers and Chinese Governors will be institutionalised.

While good beginnings have been made in this direction, it is important to have clear mechanisms in place and institutionalise participation of State governments in foreign policy. Countries that have achieved reasonable success in this aspect — Germany, China and Canada — have been able to ensure that the central government and the sub-national governments do not view each other with suspicion, but as partners.

(Tridivesh Singh Maini is a Senior Research Associate with The Jindal School of International Affairs. He was a Fellow with The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy from November 2013 to March 2014.)

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Printable version | Aug 10, 2020 3:20:51 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/more-leaders-better-relations/article7123051.ece

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