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India's centre-state ties lesson for federal Nepal

Publication Date : 18-05-2012


The India tour of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier this week again triggered a flurry of discussions on centre-state relationship and unprecedented influence of regional forces in New Delhi's foreign policy.

Clinton's choice to make Kolkata her first stop in India has been interpreted as an international attempt to engage with regional forces as they have, in recent years, even changed the course of  Indian policies leaving the centre helpless. The last minute U-turn of India to vote against Sri Lanka in the United Nations Human Rights Council was driven by strong opposition from regional forces in Tamil Nadu, especially the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a coalition partner in the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

The story of the proposed Teesta Treaty with Bangladesh that derailed last year after opposition from UPA's another constituent and West Bengal's strongest force, Trinamool Congress, even speaks volumes of the influence of regional forces in New Delhi's policies. Moreover, a few months ago, the centre was forced to backtrack from its plan of allowing Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the retail sector after Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee resisted it.

Clinton, who seems to have clearly understood these juggernauts of India's real politik, shrewdly chose Kolkata as the entry point while embarking on her India trip, say analysts. "With the Delhi durbar at its dysfunctional worst, power is flowing away to state capitals where some strong men and women are ruling, " argues India's top analyst C Rajamohan in his recent write-up. "India's external partners tend to see this with much greater clarity than the domestic observers of Delhi's current listlessness."

Clinton, in her meeting with Banerjee, also did not forget to highlight the strategic importance of West Bengal that it can be developed as 'a hub in Silk Road Strategy to connect the countries of East, South and Central Asia'.

Nepal borders with five Indian states--West Bengal, Sikkim, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Bihar. It is obvious that due to the geographical affinity and interaction on the ground, these states share many concerns with Nepal. With the regional forces of these states growing stronger, they will have a broader impact on India's policy towards Nepal. Some states have even made attempts on their own to boost India's relationship with Nepal.

In a simple, yet meaningful instance, an analyst based in Patna, Shaibal Gupta, argues that by inviting Nepal's Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai to open the recent Global Summit on 'Changing Bihar', Chief Minister Nitish Kumar initiated an improved relationship between the two countries, thus reinforcing the centre's foreign policy towards Nepal.

As Nepal is heading towards a federal structure, lessons can be drawn from this recent Indian experience of the centre-state relationship while framing foreign policy. A federal Nepal has a Herculean task of formulating foreign policy with a fine balance between giant neighbours India and China as well as other countries given our crucial geopolitical situation.

Equally true is the fact that the states, which will border India and China, will have influence in Nepal's policy towards these countries. India and China, on the other hand, will also try to engage with Nepali states, which are supposed to be vital to their interests.

Hence, the political forces of Nepal should be clear on the limits of this kind of engagement and find ways to reflect the genuine interests of the to-be formed states in the national foreign policy.


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