Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s engagement with the outside world, before he took the top office, 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 the political leadership as well. His investor-friendly policies had made him a popular figure on the world stage.
Before Modi’s investor-friendly pitches started attracting attention, N. Chandrababu Naidu and SiM. Krishna – who later also served as minister for external affairs – were among the first South Indian chief ministers who went about openly inviting investors to their respective states. Both achieved a reasonable degree of success too. Not only did they secure investments in information technology, they were also able to get foreign dignitaries to visit their respective states.
Later, the trend of chief ministers seeking foreign investment from overseas and holding investor summits started picking up across the country. Besides Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, such summits were held by the state governments of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and even West Bengal. In the recently held Hannover Industrial Fair, 18 states with different economic indicators were present; and the prime minister even made a reference to this.
Drawing upon his own experience, Modi recognised the need for a pivotal role of state governments in Indian foreign policy. He mentioned this in his campaign speeches and investor summits repeatedly. States could find synergies with provinces on foreign countries in terms of core strengths. The idea of asking N. Chandrababu Naidu to head a delegation to China is first clear illustration of this point. The visit has led to the possibility of an agreement being
signed during Modi’s China visit in May, when meetings between Indian chief ministers and Chinese governors will be institutionalised.
However, it is important to have clear mechanisms in place and institutionalise participation of the 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.
Naidu 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 briefed by the ministry of external affairs on what to say and what to expect. During his six- day visit, 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. Naidu also proposed the idea of an exclusive industrial park for Chinese companies and his delegation visited Huawei’s Research and Development Centre in Beijing.
Overall, 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.
Ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) officials, who met Naidu, openly spoke about difficulties in investing in India. “Even there are some reservations in China. We are not clearing their proposals at speed for tourists’ visas are not being cleared. They have expressed open reservation. I said 1 will take it up with government of India and with the prime minister,” Naidu later said that he was hoping things will be sorted out before Modi’s visit next month.
During his 11 months in office, 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 US, Australia and, more recently, Canada. Apart from the emphasis on soft power, Modi’s latest move to ask the states to play a more constructive role in improving India’s relations with the world could mark a dramatic progression of our foreign policy, if the move succeeds.
♦ RAKESH JOSH [email protected]~