How Indian foreign policy negotiates federalism: a case study of the role of the constituent states
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Shiv Nadar University, Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India
Jadavpur University, Kolkata, West Bengal, India
Publication date: 2023-12-29
Stosunki Międzynarodowe – International Relations 2022;58:199-229
India’s centre-heavy federalism suffered dual downturns in the 1990s, with the tides of globalization and economic liberalization challenging the sanctity of borders and the incidence of coalition politics increasing the salience of regional equations and demands. But Indian foreign policy in the 1990s remained the almost exclusive preserve of the Centre, ruled by several coalitions of political parties like the National Front (1989–1996), United Front (1996–1998). As Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popular yet controversial regime is poised at the middle of its second term in 2022 (beginning in 2019), the continued showcasing of the Centre’s leadership in foreign policy decisions, high-profile bilateral and multilateral engagements, bold collisions with uneasy neighbours, are only matched with the unilateralism exhibited within the borders. Given the oft-reported instances of acute voices of assertions by the states on various issues ranging from illegal and forced migration, resource-sharing, or economic development involving neighbouring countries, a stock-taking is needed, to explore how genuinely federal is India’s foreign policy. In other words, the role of the constituent states in leveraging influence and bargaining for their due share of active involvement as stakeholders, merits critical academic intervention. When tested against real cases, two observations can be made. The dynamics shaping federalism and foreign policy may not just involve the Centre and the states but involve local/regional factors and influences from across international borders as well. Second, there is no causal link between the nature of the government in power at the Centre, Union-state political equations, and the imperatives across the borders between provinces and neighbouring countries. This study examines three case studies; West Bengal, Assam, and the Northeast, to reveal that foreign policy operates within the constitutionally designed structures of federalism in India by negotiating recurrent complexities of politics and deceives regional stakeholders or states with narratives of inclusiveness.
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