Published daily by the Lowy Institute

India: Domestic influences handicap foreign policy

India: Domestic influences handicap foreign policy
Published 10 Dec 2013 

As in nearly any democratic country, India’s domestic politics has long been understood to play an important role in influencing foreign policy. This has been an especially pronounced dynamic in recent years.

In 2008, the Singh Government was shaken by a close no-confidence vote over the US-India civil nuclear cooperation deal. Efforts by the federal government to sign crucial water-sharing land boundary agreements with Bangladesh have been blocked by the local government in India’s West Bengal state.

Most recently, in November, India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decided not to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo in the face of opposition from a provincial ally, a Tamil party angry at the treatment of Sri Lankan Tamils. It was a move many feared would allow China to make further inroads in Sri Lanka.

The Indian analyst C Raja Mohan, citing this deference to political allies and opponents, government departments, and even the army, lamented in October that ‘Delhi lacks conviction and every passionate intensity in the nation has acquired a veto over foreign policy’.

This past week’s remarkable state-level elections, in which the ruling Indian National Congress has been hit hard, could signal a boost for regional parties in next year’s general election, amplifying these difficulties for whoever is in power in Delhi. As Alyssa Ayres explains over at the Council on Foreign Relations blog:

A coalition cobbled together from many regional parties…without a strong and coherent commitment to India’s global partnerships, or rather more likely, a coalition with so much internal disagreement about what choices India should be making, could create policy stasis for anything slightly controversial. Uncertainty over India’s directions, and India’s interests internationally should domestic priorities be front and centre, could leave Washington and India’s international partners hanging.

Photo by Flickr user Al Jazeera English.

You may also be interested in