Expanding its role from just dealing with external issues, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), in a unique effort, has deeply involved itself with the State Governments through its newly-created States Division. In the last one year of its creation, this Division has touched Indians in more ways than it has in the past. From getting investments to humanitarian operations to rejuvenation of cities to getting resources for Government’s flagship programmes — this newly created States Division of the MEA has “proactively” reached out to the people within the country.
In its Annual Report for 2015-16, the MEA said that recognising that the States have a critical role to play, particularly in the success of commercial and cultural diplomacy, the States Division is helping them identify target countries and regions for commercial, cultural, academic, tourism and diaspora outreach, and in having appropriate strategies for maximising the gains from international interaction.
The States Division is also the nodal division for the new initiative of “States Specialisation” by all the Indian Foreign Service Officers. Under this initiative, the officers have to specialise in two States. “The States Division by being the interface between the States of the Union of India and the external outreach of Indian Diplomacy gives impetus to the paradigm of Diplomacy for Development, MEA said in its report.
To the credit of this new division in MEA, the year also saw signing of a number of twinning agreements between Indian and foreign cities/provinces. The areas of cooperation were broad ranging and include economic cooperation, academic linkages, investment, tourism, technology transfers, exports, culture, people to people contact, urban development, heritage conservation and community driven issues. The Division is now trying to evolve new institutional structures for facilitation, focus and familiarisation of the states with the MEA and Indian Embassies and Consulates abroad.
New initiatives like ‘Meet the States’ to familiarise resident diplomats with the State Governments, and outreach of senior Indian Diplomats to the States have strengthened the interactive process. In the hour of crisis, the Division coordinated with the States and the missions abroad for the evacuation of Indian Nationals during crises in countries like Yemen evacuation through Operation Rahat, and providing Relief after Nepal Earth Quake through Operation Maitri, the report said. This Division was involved in the bringing back of dead bodies of the victims from the respective countries and handing them over to their families. The States Division liaised with the Uttarakhand and Mission in Kuala lumpur in the repatriation of 13 workers detained by their employer in Malaysia. It also coordinated release of 6 fishermen from Andhra Pradesh from Bangladesh.
Besides, officers from the States Division are working to facilitate return of Mohammad Ramzan to Pakistan. He has been for the past two years in Umeed, the shelter home run by NGO Aarambh in Bhopal. The Division also worked in close coordination for the return of Geeta, the deaf and mute Indian girl who had lost her way and entered Pakistan years earlier.
The Ministry’s annual report claimed that one of the major achievements of the Division was launch of the India China State/ Provincial leaders Forum during the visit of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to China in May, 2015. During the visit of Modi to China, the States Division coordinated signing of a sister state agreement between Karnataka — Sichuan, signing of three sister-city agreements, between Chennai — Chongqing, Hyderabad — Qingdao, Aurangabad — Dunhuang . During Modi’s visit to Japan last year, the States Division facilitated the signing of Kyoto-Varanasi Partner City Agreement.