States Play Diplomacy

After the NDA government assumed office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been successful in pursuing foreign policy and consistent in engaging with other nations. From USA lifting Modi’s visa ban to US president’s Republic Day visit to Yemen evacuation, Modi has proven his mettle in making his external affairs team proactive in framing foreign policy. Now, it is first time that the Prime Minister urges states to actively participate in foreign engagement.

21st century is going to manifest aggressive globalisation be it political or economic globalisation. Therefore it is evident that

Business will eventually be on foreign policy agenda of a country like India.

If we dwell upon the history, it is S.M.Krishna, former Chief Minister of Karnataka and Nara Chandrababu Naidu, Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh who actively engaged with foreign nations in promoting business and trade. Both worked hard in placing India at the top of Information Technology exports. Hence, Bengaluru and Hyderabad witnessed rapid progress in terms of infrastructure and economic activity. Following them, Narendra Modi while serving as Chief Minister of Gujarat actively visited foreign countries to attract investments and is known as pioneer of Global business summits. ‘Vibrant Gujarat’, the first of its kind global business gathering is now followed by such meetings being organised by states like Rajasthan, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh. Some states including Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra are set to hold such meetings this year. Modi having felt that states have more potential in attracting foreign investments, urged states in that regard.

Countries like Canada, China have been successful in making their provinces play a pivotal role in foreign policy, Government of India too is trying hard to work with states in promoting diplomatic relations. Sending a delegation led by Chandrababu Naidu, CM-AP on China visit is a welcome step. During this visit, the Chief Minister not only promoted his state and its opportunities but also held fruitful meetings with governors of Guizhou and Sichuan provinces promoting bilateral and sister state relations. This tour was planned by the Ministry Of External Affairs upon the request from Chinese side ahead of Prime Minister’s China visit next month. In a great fillip to Government’s Smart Cities project , interested parties like Singapore, Japan have been directly engaging with state governments in building them.

What is still missing in action is the “proper roadmap” to make states active in playing diplomacy in keeping national interests above everything. This becomes delicate while dealing with Border States of Tamil Nadu, Jammu Kashmir, and West Bengal because there are some unresolved issues like that of Tamil fishermen-Sri Lanka, Kashmir-Pakistan. Now, Narendra Modi Government which is aspiring for the empowerment of States for a larger role keeping larger interests, it is time to lay down perfect framework to consistently pursue the matter with states. Keeping politics aside, there should be friendly relations between the Minister of External Affairs and State Governments. Knowing ‘Diplomacy’, a central subject, it would be better if external affairs body is created for every state with local government officials playing definitive role to help states attract direct Foreign Direct Investments (FDI). More leaders like S.M. Krishna, Chandrababu Naidu are key to define pivotal role of states in playing diplomacy.

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Digital India looks promising

Digital India as defined by the Government of India (GOI), a programme to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. It is being co-ordinated by the Department of Electronics and Information technology (DEITY), GOI but is an umbrella programme covering all other departments with a single goal i.e., to prepare India for a knowledge future. The move is laudable as common branding is now possible with “Digital India”. Bharatiya Janata Party led by tech savvy Narendra Modi promised 100 smart cities by 2019 and broadband connectivity to every village.  India is the second most populous country with largest population of non-internet users in any country. Indian economy is set to explode as world sees with a different outlook. There is no doubt internet user base in India increase exponentially in the next coming years. India is a country of mobile phones, said Jack Ma-Founder, Alibaba. Mobile revolution helps GOI achieve targets easier than expected.

Targets:

A whopping sum of one lakh crores are being spent for the initiative.

Impact of Digital India by 2019 (Source: DEITY, GOI)

  • Broadband in 2.5 lakh villages, universal phone connectivity •
  • Net Zero Imports by 2020
  • 400,000 Public Internet Access Points
  • Wi-Fi in 2.5 lakh schools, all universities; Public Wi-Fi hotspots for citizens
  • Digital Inclusion: 1.7 Cr trained for IT, Telecom and Electronics Jobs
  • Job creation: Direct 1.7 Cr. and Indirect at least 8.5 Cr
  • e-Governance & e-Services: Across government
  • India to be leader in IT use in services – health, education, banking
  • Digitally empowered citizens – public cloud, internet access

Digital India looks promising as aggressive bidding by telecom companies is seen in the recent auction. Given that the government is taking electronic route in allotting spectrum and coal blocks, it is promoting the initiative. The government itself is overseeing the work of laying broadband highways to each panchayat without outsourcing it to the private agencies. GOI plans to expand (Common Services Centres (CSCs) to 2.5Lakh Gram Panchayats. It is simply not a goal but to enhance delivery of services to all its citizens. Digital services must include visa, passport, tax filings, land registrations, office, police, pensions, health, education, treasuries, agriculture, excise, insurance, banking, public distribution system, business, procurements and many.

Roadblocks:

 #Affordability- It is OK that the Government is trying hard to empower every village digitally and bring transparency through e-delivery of citizen services but how people can afford high speed internet and electronic gadgets is to be seen. Our leaders like Narendra Modi and Nara Chandrababu Naidu are bullish over National optical Fibre Network (NOFN) project. This project covers optical fibre connectivity to every household. If states wish to take up the project on their own, Centre will fund the same. But so far, only Andhra Pradesh has taken up the initiative with centre’s co-operation. Centre hopes other states too would take up soon. Mobile phones have already become cheaper especially smart phones come handy at attractive prices. The previous UPA govt. tied up with DataWind to provide tablet PCs at subsidised price but halted for various reasons.

It is highly expected that the present govt. will proceed considering subsidised gadgets and data charges.

#Skills- Large section of population have no access to internet and therefore lack internet skills and have no idea of using electronic gadgets. With the technology growing rapidly, it is up to Government to

make people ready for a digital changeover. Make people proactive in adapting digital technologies

#Infrastructure- Given a boost to infrastructure, budgetary support specific to establishing IT infrastructure is need of the hour. Many global entities including IBM, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter have already shown interest in partnering with the govt. Cisco has come forward to help build digital education modules.

Benefits:

The digital revolution should be transparency driven. Transformation of political ecosystem in this country is a big positive as it brings in transparency. Even companies/industries which are digitally connected are about 26% more profitable than those which are not. It is from a farmer to an industrialist who can find ways to benefit from the digital revolution.

Everyone’s participation is necessary to build Digital India

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India bats for Smart Cities

Smart city’ is a buzzword of just six months old. Our Netas are inspired by smart cities and smart villages overtime bureaucrats are indulged in formulating guidelines for the same. In several occasions, we have learnt that Ministry Of Urban Development will release the draft on Smart Cities by this month end. Do you know Beijing invests several lakh crores for its smart city projects? But, the same concept of Smart City means something different to India. Govt. has allotted 7000 Crores for Smart Cities in its maiden budget.

All Indian cities/city capitals have two faces: One with urban infrastructure and the other, slums. Recent NSSO survey revealed that there are over 33,500 slums in India. Maharashtra tops the list followed by Andhra Pradesh. It is time now to restructure these slums rather than evacuating them. Nobody can deny that 24 hours power, safe drinking water, hygienic environment should add to proposed features. Sanitation is another obvious focus. Later focus is smart features like adaptive traffic monitoring systems, e-governance initiatives, e-access to education, healthcare, transportation, Wi-Fi hotspots, GPS and other satellite tracking systems etc.  With growing appetite for smart apps, Bengaluru Police has already installed Kiosk machines to file FIRs on the go and an app to locate the same.

Some key points that really matter to the Govt. Of India:

  • Co-ordination among various ministries and to streamline administration machinery in formulating the project.
  • This project is to be marketed as big-ticket initiative to promote “Make In India”.
  • Unskilled Labour employed in construction projects must be a part of restructured Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA).
  • To realise the very big scope for Power Sector in India and to integrate it with Smart Cities.
  • Design and Develop cities so as to focus on long-term economic growth.
  • India has already partnered with USA in developing smart cities and is partnering with other nations too. Therefore, this project is sensitive in promoting diplomatic relations.
  • A smart system in place to make habitats safe and secure is a key consideration.
  • More flexible cities to always allow migrants to settle.
  • Cyber security to stabilise e-governance systems.
  • Recent floods in Jammu & Kashmir and the cyclone Hudhud proved that smart cities are nothing if they are not disaster proof.

 

One major hurdle faced by all nations to build smart cities in common is “Funding”. India must use the newly formed BRICS Bank to the fullest and promote investments in infra sector at a time industrial sentiments are on the rise.

It is with the people of India to watch keenness of our lawmakers in proving their mettle to overcome these hurdles.

As always discussion is welcome.