Regional parties’ attitude towards foreign policymaking

To understand the regional parties’ attitude towards foreign policymaking it is crucial to analyse their influence on India’s relations with neighbouring countries and on economic policy (especially towards foreign direct investment). Some of the regional parties focus mostly on their relations with their neighbours, others on attracting foreign direct investment. The parties chosen as case studies are the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) from West Bengal, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) from Tamil Nadu, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) from Odisha, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) from Punjab and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) from Andhra Pradesh.

Relations with neighbouring countries

For TMC, because of the geographic location of West Bengal, stable relations with Bangladesh and the Himalayan neighbours of Nepal and Bhutan are crucial. The dynamics of electoral politics, however, often lead it to criticize or oppose federal level decision-making over crucial issues in the region. In September 2011 when TMC was part of UPA, Mamata Banerjee refused to join Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his trip to Bangladesh at the last minute due to disagreement regarding the Teesta River accord. M. Singh decided to visit Bangladesh without the support of the TMC leader. As a result, India and Bangladesh failed to sign an accord on sharing of the Teesta River water (Twining, 2015). There was also no deal granting India overland access across Bangladesh to its land-locked north-eastern states. Bangladesh expressed its “frustration and dissatisfaction” over the TMC leader’s “sudden

Party politics 177 u-turn”, which it said had kept the two countries from signing two very crucial deals (BBC News, 2011). The way the TMC’s decision could have a major impact upon the federal government’s decision-making was an indication of the growing influence enjoyed by the regional parties over crucial areas in governmental decision-making, even in so-called key areas supposed to be under exclusive central control like foreign affairs. In 2015, the chief minister of West Bengal decided to change her stance and support Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his trip to Bangladesh and subsequently agreed to the territorial settlement of the existing enclaves. Mamata Banerjee’s decision to support Modi in his negotiation with Bangladesh was perhaps based on more regional and local political considerations. In June 2015, she joined Modi in his trip to Dhaka. India and Bangladesh signed an agreement to simplify their 4,000-km-long border and clarify the identities of 52,000 living in enclaves for over four decades after the neighbours first tried to untangle complex territorial rights. Of course, N. Modi had a very important role in signing the agreement, but it is important to underline the crucial role of Mamata Banerjee and the role that a regional player like TMC could play as a regional party in deciding crucial issues related to Indian foreign policy-making in specific regional contexts. Dhaka’s Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali described the deal, which has since been updated, as “a historic milestone in the relationship between the two neighbouring south Asian countries” (Chatterji et al., 2016). However, due to the lack of agreement between the central government and state governments on the division of the Teesta River waters, Prime Minister Modi failed to sign the agreement with Bangladesh, negotiated since the mid-1990s (Ganguly, 2018). Sheikh Hasina’s government has been criticized once again by the opposition led by Khaed Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. In April 2017, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was in New Delhi on an official visit. She met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and TMC leader M. Banerjee. However, despite the negotiations, the meeting did not bring any effects on the signing of the agreement on the division of the Teesta River waters. M. Banerjee did not change her mind on the percentage of water distribution, which is unacceptable to Bangladesh. The TMC leader proposed dividing the waters of the Torsa, Sankosh and Raidak rivers during the meeting, but Sheikh Hasina did not want to discuss it until the agreement on the waters of the Teesta River was signed (Bagchi, 2017). In November 2019, Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah met with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Calcutta. The meeting was also attended by M. Banerjee. The pretext for the meeting was the India-Bangladesh cricket match. The meeting did not bring a breakthrough in the negotiation of the division of the Teesta River waters. The position of M. Banerjee remains unacceptable to Bangladesh.

The other example of increasing involvement of local political parties in influencing the foreign policymaking process comes from the southern state of Tamil Nadu. DMK and AIADMK prioritized India’s bilateral relations with Sri Lanka and its impact upon the large Tamil diaspora in that country.

One aspect of that was the tacit (and sometimes open protest) over the issue of discrimination and atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan state on the local Tamils. There was little local support for the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), which was sent to Sri Lanka by the Indian government following the Rajiv Gandhi -Jayewardene Peace Agreement of 1987. The IPKF, in fact, was withdrawn from Sri Lanka after the Congress lost the elections in 1989-1990 as the DMK played a major role in the new coalition government. There was often tacit and open popular support for the Sri Lankan Tamils’ demand for a separate homeland or the “Tamil Eelam”, though popular support for the terror organizations like the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) dissipated with the discovery of their involvement in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 (Ghosh, 1999). The civil war and crushing of the LTTE in the 1990s and the numerous complaints of human rights violations committed by the Sinhalese forces, however, continued to keep the case of the Sri Lankan Tamils a popular issue in Tamil Nadu politics. Both Tamil parties have been demanding that India vote in favour of the US-sponsored United Nations resolution on Sri Lanka’s civil war with the separatist Tamil Tigers which ended in 2009. Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa also demanded amendments in the resolution by adding words like “Eelam” and “genocide” (Mishra and Miklian, 2016). Under pressure from the Tamil parties, India voted in favour of the resolution in 2012 and 2013, but did not insist on changing the text of it. It was a change in India’s strategy, because before India usually did not vote in country-specific resolutions. DMK and AIADMK also demanded that the Indian prime minister should not take part in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo in 2013 (Tinies of India, 2013). The Ministry of External Affairs and the prime minister’s advisers believed it was necessary to attend the meeting. They made numerous arguments, including the fear that Sri Lanka would be more vulnerable to Chinese influence without Indian support. Furthermore, they expressed concern that not attending the meeting would negatively affect relations with the government in Colombo, which would make it difficult for India to ensure the security of Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority. However, due to pressure from the Tamil parties, especially DMK, which threatened to withdraw from the UPA coalition, Prime Minister M. Singh did not participate in CHOGM (Pattanaik, 2014). Nevertheless, DMK in 2013 pulled out of the Congress-led UPA coalition. The DMK leader explained that the Indian government did not do enough to fight for justice for the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka. The DMK had 18 seats in the Lok Sabha and five ministers in the UPA cabinet. The ruling UPA coalition was already in a minority, but the crucial external support of regional powerhouses the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party meant it was not in danger of collapse and so managed to survive (Malik and Malik, 2014). In another vote in the UN which took place in 2014, India abstained from voting, returning to its previous tactics in such cases. At that time, the DMK was not part of the UPA and the stability of the coalition did not depend on its support (Blarel, 2019). It is worth noting that the post-2014 Tamil parties

Party politics 179 still use the events of 2009 to gain support among voters in Tamil Nadu and influence politics on a central level. Party members and leaders blame each other for not doing enough for the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka during the civil war and after the war was over. Both parties are still monitoring the situation in Sri Lanka. The leader of DMK, M.K. Stalin, expressed his concern that, in 2019, during the celebration of the independence of Sri Lanka, the national anthem was sung only in Sinhala. It was a custom that it was also sung in Tamil. The DMK leader requested Prime Minister N. Modi and Minister of Foreign Affairs S. Jaishankar to intervene in this matter to the President of Sri Lanka, Gottabay Rajapaksa (Manikandan, 2019).

SAD is involved in numerous initiatives which aim to improve relations with Pakistan. SAD focuses on building relationships with the Pakistani Punjab.5 The Indian Punjab and the Pakistani Punjab have a regulated border with no issues of water division, which helps in building stable and long-term cooperation. Unfortunately, unsolved conflict in Kashmir from time to time stops the implementation of joint initiatives and has a negative impact on relations between the two Punjabs (Ayres, 2005). However, SAD members strive to overcome these difficulties and influence the central government’s policy to establish as good relations with Pakistan as possible. Chief Minister of India’s Punjab, Prakash Singh Badal (SAD leader), in 1999, during Prime Minister Vajpayee’s trip to Pakistan, coordinated negotiations to improve trade and the maintenance of Sikh temples in Pakistan. In 2004, next Chief Minister Amarindar Singh announced the establishment of the World Punjabi Centre in Patiala, whose aim was to promote trade between the Punjabs. In the same year, The All-Punjab Games were held, attended by over 700 athletes from Indian and Pakistani Punjab (Ayres, 2005). The next competition was supposed to be held in 2005 in Pakistani Punjab, but was cancelled due to the Kashmir earthquake (Muradlidhar Reddy, 2005). Amarinder Singh collaborated with his Pakistani counterpart Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi. Thanks to their efforts and the support of the central government, in 2006 the Amritsar-Nankana Sahib bus route started operating (Kormoll, 2019). When Parkash Singh Badal became chief minister for a second time he continued the policy of his predecessor. Badal’s deputy, Sukhbir Badal, was in Pakistan in 2012 and discussed issues related to economic cooperation between the two Punjabs. The most important result of the meeting was the establishment of a joint Business Council, whose task was to establish common industrial zones, organize joint business conferences and intensify economic cooperation. Also in 2012, a new checkpoint Weighth-Attari was opened. It enabled cultural promotion, intensification of scientific and economic cooperation and the signing of further agreements to facilitate cross-border trade (Maini, 2012). A year after the start of the checkpoint, exports to Pakistan increased to USD 1.84 billion, an increase of 19%, and imports from Pakistan amounted to USD 523 million, an increase of 28%. Total trade was USD 2.4 billion, an increase of 21%. The director of the India-Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IPCCI), S.M. Munir, has repeatedly emphasized the importance of Punjab for relations between

India and Pakistan and the intensification of economic cooperation. IPCCI is lobbying for the reopening of all border crossings that operated before 1965 (Maini, 2017). IPCCI’s demand had SAD support.

 
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