ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Centre–State Cooperation in Handling Foreign Affairs

A Comparative Perspective

Indian states engage with foreign countries on the rigorous logic of our constitutional provision that foreign affairs is exclusively a “union” subject. This has conditioned state participation in external activities, especially in marketing abroad, or assisting with exports and foreign direct investment, and acting as foreign bridge-builders.

This article began as an email to a friend, Carl Jaison, who heads the “Bridge Project,” initiated by a group of students and young people.1 Later, on checking the 2019–20 Annual Report of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) it became clear that the pioneering work being done by MEA’s states division (established in 2014) deserves better notice than it has received. Why do countries deploy sub-state entities in foreign affairs? It widens choices, deepens connections with foreign partners, extends the home country’s rea­ch, and brings economic and other benefits. It also improves the country’s image. In diplomatic studies, these are called sub-state ­diplomacy or “para-diplomacy.”

In India, provinces are called “states,” and “union territories.” How should any country, especially a federal entity, mobilise its subunits, that is, its provinces, regions, and cities, as partners in foreign affairs? The world over, foreign ­relations are handled by the central, federal or union government. We look at the practices in several different countries, notably Canada, China, Germany, Mexico, and the United States (US), to see if their ideas might apply to the evolving Indian scene, naturally after adaptation. This also connects with the much larger question of evolution in our ways of managing what we call “centre–state” relations, and the new trends after 2014, when an activist chief minister Narendra Modi assumed national office as Prime Minister.

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Updated On : 6th Feb, 2021
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