Indian Parliament, a fine blend of the legislature and the executive, a place for discussion, deliberation, and debate, has a central role in our system of governance.
In the borderless global village, the gap between internal and external affairs is narrowing down, and the matters of external relations no longer remain the exclusive business of the foreign office. The role of other governmental agencies is increasing gradually.
Among others, the parliament in a democratic country is expected to play a greater role in India’s foreign policy. Further, the increasing emphasis for the democratization of foreign policy has paved a larger role for the Indian parliament in external affairs leading to greater parliamentary involvement in international developments.
With numerous stakeholders involved, the foreign policy decision-making in the modern world is deemed to be comprehensive and complicated. Though the ministry of external affairs (MEA) is the pivotal player in managing India’s external relations, other important agencies such as the cabinet, ministry of defense, ministry of commerce and industry, National Security Council, Prime Minister’s Office, and the parliament also are contributing significantly for the planning and formulation of India’s Foreign Policy.
Role of Parliament
The highest democratic institution in the country and the voice of the people, the parliament can influence the course of foreign policy decision-making by using various constitutional provisions. Article 246 of the Indian Constitution, which distributes power between the Union Government and the states authorize the Parliament to legislate on all aspects of external affairs of this country. Similarly, Article 253 of the Indian constitution empowers parliament to legislate or amend any implementation of international treaties, agreements, and conventions.
Government is accountable to parliament, which can seek information and clarification on policies and issues. During parliamentary debates, the opposition and the other members of the parliament point out the mistakes and give suggestions for better policies. The Parliament poses unparalleled power to withhold, pass or reject any bill or resolution that is directly or indirectly related to India’s external policy. Members of the Parliament also move adjournment, No-Confidence or Cut-Motion, raise short or half-an-hour discussion on any specific or an overall issue of the foreign policy. Theoretically, by exercising budgetary control and passing necessary resolutions, parliament can force the executive to act as per the will of the house.
Similarly, by opening new offices and branches and neutralizing the performance through resource control of agencies that deal with the foreign policy activities, the parliament can indirectly control the external policy of the country.
Among its important oversight functions, parliament has a Standing Committee on External Affairs and a Standing Committee on Defense, which grill the officials on issues pertaining to foreign relations and external security. Parliament may also constitute ad-hoc committees to look into specific issues. Thus, the Consultative committees of the Parliament, especially the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs have been playing a significant role in shaping India’s foreign policy.
However, despite all the authority it has, the role and influence of the Indian parliament in foreign policy decision-making are weak in comparison to other major democracies. In practice, the parliament has never been considered as one of the core actors of foreign policy decision-making. Though the parliament is empowered to legislate on any matter on foreign affairs, not many issues on the foreign and defense policies have been referred to the Parliament for legislation.
Unlike the United States or Australia, international conventions, treaties and agreements don’t need to get approved by the parliament before coming into practice. Many of the treaties, such as India– China Agreement of 1954, the Tashkent Agreement of 1965, the India-Soviet Agreement of 1971, and the Simla Agreement of 1972 were not referred to the parliament before the conclusion.
The Parliament committees, which are supposed to guide the course of foreign policy, are often divided by the party ideologies, and the decisions are the product of negotiation rather than debate and discussion.
Examples and Conclusion
Despite this, on many occasions, the parliament has significantly influenced the foreign policy of India. Nehru’s foreign policy towards China in the early period was soft despite several border violations due to the overwhelming support of the Parliament. But, following constant pressure in parliament, Nehru was forced to restructure his policies during the late 1950s. The parliament also successfully pressurized the Nehru government to disclose every single document on China, which was tabled in the form of white papers in the Parliament for discussion.
Another such example can be the 2008 Indo US Civil Nuclear Deal aka 123 Agreement. The proposed deal was discussed in parliament in November 2007. CPI(M) and CPI had warned against the deal and withdrew their support from Congress-led central govt. However, with the help of regional parties and independents, the UPA govt. won a trust vote in Lok Sabha with 253 members voting in favor and 232 against.
Therefore, As a conclusive note after proper analysis of the role of the Indian parliament in making foreign policy, one can say that the Parliament played a very minimal role in India’s foreign policy decision-making until 1960, but with the emergence of strong opposition and other national parties, the influence of the Parliament has increased significantly.