Amit Ranjan is a Research Scholar in South Asian Studies division of School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He can be reached at amitranjan.jnu[at]gmail.com.
In 2010 general elections Trinamul Congress (TMC) routed the Left Front (consisting of CPI, CPI(M), Forward Block, and RSS) in West Bengal. The Janta Dal-United, or (JD-U), won majority in Bihar. In Uttar Pradesh, most of the votes were distributed between Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP). This is true almost every state where the regional political parties are strong. At present, it is these parties that hold key to the political stability at the Centre by extending their support to the Congress-led coalition.
They plays an important role in formulating policies and sometimes they force the government to backtrack from its decisions. However, these parties stay away from, owing to various reasons, the sphere of Indian foreign policy.
Only the Congress, the Bhartiya Janta Party(BJP) and the Left Front in their election manifestoes highlight foreign policy matters. These three formations keep expressing their ideas on foreign policy through various media and host of platforms including the parliament. The floor of parliament is often active in shaping matters on foreign policy of India.
Post-1990 has seen an upsurge in number of regional political parties across India. Before 1990, such parties had a limited presence. Save Tamil Nadu, they were not a force to reckon with anywhere. At the national level, their minor presence was used either to save the government of the day or such parties would support the national parties in order to gain political and economic benefits. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha’s (JMM) support to save the Narasimha Rao’s government can be cited as the best example of the role of the regional political parties at national level.
Things have changed now. The regional political parties are today a major force. At national level, due to their strength in their region, they are major players. No party can form or even think about forming a government at Central level without the support from various regional political parties. They play important role decision-making. They have significant influence on the policy making too.
Now as a major player in Indian politics, do these parties have any stand in matters of foreign policy?
The answer is NO. A few like newly-emerged TMC, under Ms Mamta Banerjee, and certain Tamil parties have limited vision on foreign policy also because West Bengal runs water dispute with Bangladesh and Tamil Nadu has concerns over the Tamils of Sri Lanka. They surely influences the Government of India’s policies on these two countries but by and large they hardly play any role in setting of India’s foreign policy.
Similarly, from Jammu and Kashmir the National Conference(NC), People’s Democratic Party(PDP) and Akali Dal have certain views on relations with Pakistan owing to the situation in the state. But still their views are not taken quite seriously by the major parties. Also, the views of the regional parties from the border areas are oscillatory in nature and not concrete ones.
Other then these regional political parties, no other regional outfit from the so called mainland India has any views on how to conduct the foreign policy of India. As a part of a coalition government, they do have views on a matter or two regarding deals or treaties with foreign countries but they lack a framework. There are parties like Shiv Sena, JD(U), Rashtriya Janta Dal(RJD), SP , BSP etc that claim to share ideology of either left or right but hardly prove either left or right when it comes to the foreign policy.
In near future, India is least likely to have a single-party government. The regional political parties are going to stay and go strong in their regions. They will remain important player in government formation and formulation of major political policies at union level. Hence, they must learn the art foreign policy. They should not act like a pawn used by the national parties to get their bills on issues of foreign policy passed by the parliament.