Para-diplomacy and India

By Anuj Kapoor

In the present day world, international relations and the foreign policy of a country are of paramount importance. And the ever-changing nature of geopolitics affects India, its economy, and its citizens. This holds especially true after the globalization reforms led in 1991. Today, India is more intertwined with other nations and economies than ever.


In India, the power to formulate foreign policy is single-handedly handled by the Union government. In the Indian constitution, the division of powers between States and the Union excludes States not only from foreign policy and defense but also from international trade. Foreign affairs are included in the Union list as the sovereignty of the country is indivisible. Thus, legally, the states of India have no role and scope to play in the formulation and implementation of the Indian foreign policy. Yet, the conglomeration of states has cast a deep shadow on Indian foreign policy.


The role of states and local bodies has gradually become more pronounced in the conduct of foreign affairs of the nation. Almost all the states of the Union have cultural, religious, and geographical linkages with Asian nations. Therefore, the states cannot remain unaffected by the decisions taken by the Union government. In addition, the coming up of regional parties with the mandate to hold power and be part of the Union government in a coalition has slackened the pace of ignoring states in the formulation of foreign policy.


“Paradiplomacy is another name for the role of states or constituent units in the foreign policy. Para diplomacy has assumed a special significance in the post-globalized world, which facilitates the participation of states or constituent units of a nation in the formulation and implementation of foreign affairs. This underlines the changing nature of the foreign policy process as well as its environment. The Foreign Policy of the nation is neither conceived nor functions in a vacuum” (Bajpai, 2021).


The trend of increasing involvement of constituent units, states, and local bodies is a global phenomenon. The practice of paradiplomacy has been observed in various parts of the world including North America, Europe, and Asia. Countries like China, which have a highly centralized polity have displayed the involvement of constituent provinces in the conduct of foreign policy. Chinese provinces' foreign policy has played a considerable role in making China what it is today. 


The growing role of Indian States in Foreign Policy


India and Indian states have had a fair share of experiences with paradiplomacy in the past. States have been playing an important role in foreign policy as they have vital stakes in the conduct of these affairs. From the protection of interests of people arising from ethnic ties and close integration with the global economy after liberalization to now focus on sub-regional connectivity, have all given avenues to states and local governments in the implementation of foreign policy. 


States adjoining our neighborhood countries have a major say in cross-border issues. Water and land boundary issues with Pakistan had to take into account the views of adjoining States like Punjab, Gujarat, and J&K. Similarly UP and Bihar are key dialogue partners in the India-Nepal relations. Certain treaties with neighbouring countries would not have been possible without effective cooperation from States. In the Ganges Water Sharing Treaty with Bangladesh, the signing and implementation would not have been possible without support of the West Bengal government. 


India’s policy towards Sri Lanka has largely been influenced by the concerns of the people and political parties of Tamil Nadu. For them, the Tamil problem of Sri Lanka is an emotive issue. This led the Centre to adopt hard policies towards Sri Lanka. India wants discrimination against Sri Lankan Tamil to end and they should be given larger autonomy within the framework of Sri Lanka. Another notable example of the State's role in foreign affairs is the land transfer agreement with Bangladesh. The State government played a major role in negotiating and signing the agreement with Bangladesh in 2015 as it involved the exchange of enclaves from the Indian States of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and West Bengal. 


Economic Cooperation and development has also led the Indian States to play an important role in attracting foreign investment in the backdrop of globalization. States of western and south India have played a key role in India's economic diplomacy. They have shown great promise in trade and have utilized global economic opportunities for economic expansion. These states have struck deals with major international players such as the world bank for extending loans for the promotion of trade in the States of India like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu. 


Initiatives like Digital India and Make in India have helped paradiplomacy through foreign investments. There has also been a string of strategically important investments summits in states like Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, Assam further highlighting the involvement of paradiplomacy in Indian polity.


All regional organizations like SAARC and BIMSTEC have declared connectivity as a key priority area. India’s Act East policy has also focused on the regional connectivity of Northeastern states with Southeast Asian nations. This led to initiatives such as BBIN(Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, and Nepal Highway), Kaladan Multi-modal Highway project to improve connectivity to Northeastern states through Myanmar, India-Thailand-Myanmar trilateral highway project, and Sagar Mala project. The infrastructure facilities of these projects are to be facilitated by the state government. The concerned states also have a direct developmental interest in the success of these programmes. 


Newfound Primacy  


”Paradiplomacy has the potential to not only strengthen the federal structure of the Indian state but also radically alter the trajectory of Indian foreign policy by helping regional governments to realize their potential in the conduct of cross-border relations” (2017). This importance attached to constituent diplomacy in terms of gains economically and politically in global politics is well understood in the government. 


Prime Minister Narendra Modi indicated the primacy his government attached to constituent diplomacy was shown in his appreciation of the critical role that States can play in the conduct of diplomacy. 


“The Prime Minister further vouched to launch the concept of Para-Diplomacy in India where states and cities would have the opportunity to forge a special relationship with countries or federal states or even cities of their interest” (Diplomacy within Diplomacy: The Upswing of Para Diplomacy in India, 2020).


In October 2014, the Government of India announced the creation of a new division within the Ministry of External Affairs. The main purpose was to involve States in the process of foreign policy. This new division is an indication of the newfound recognition in New Delhi of the significant role the States have come to play in India’s geopolitics. 


Way Forward 


India can further leverage the potential of paradiplomacy by using the Indian diaspora abroad. They can play an instrumental role in economic paradiplomacy for Indian states. Cultural diplomacy, evident in the case of Buddhism-dominated nations establishing cultural links with Indian states like Arunachal Pradesh, plays an effective tool to fetch desirable outcomes. 


International security, as well as internal security issues, have furthermore made paradiplomacy an important feature of resolving disputes between two nations. Indian states can play a bigger role in attracting foreign investments by creating a conducive environment for investment and trade. 


As the trends in India and global are visible, the role of constituent units in foreign affairs is likely to increase in the coming decades. For this, the institutional machinery at Union as well as at State levels should adopt a holistic, proactive, and professional approach to State's positive role in foreign affairs. 

The Union government may adopt a firmer stand on matters of core national interest but it also needs to give the States greater freedom to pursue cross-border economic partnerships. It also goes well with the spirit of cooperative federalism and the dynamics of the global polity.


Para-diplomatic activities though in the nascent stage, have a huge potential for India in global diplomacy. In the present age of globalization and economic diplomacy, the union government has positively viewed the increasing role of states in India’s foreign affairs. The current government understands the potential and is keen to encourage state entities to develop para-diplomatic relations. 


But, by and large, the notion of paradiplomacy is yet to come in a broader sense both in Indian foreign policy and academia. Hence, the positive involvement of Indian states in policy making should be welcomed to strategically maneuver through the dynamic contours of geopolitics.





Bajpai, A. (2021). Nature and Status of Paradiplomacy in India. World Focus, 42(497), 1.

Diplomacy within Diplomacy: The Upswing of Para Diplomacy in India. (2020, June) Diplomatist.


N. (2017, August 28). Paradiplomacy in India: Evolution and operationalisation. ORF.