India’s foreign policy will continue, so will its challenges

India’s foreign policy will continue, so will its challenges

Though there is no immediate requirement to reach out to Pakistan, the time has come to revive the regional frameworks which will ensure a peaceful periphery for India.

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Last Updated : 06 June 2024, 05:25 IST
Last Updated : 06 June 2024, 05:25 IST

Indian voters have switched to the coalition mode for their national government and compulsions of collectivism will have its bearing on policy matters and the country's foreign relations are no exception.

That said, a great deal of foreign policy is a continuum irrespective of who is in power, and political consensus hardly eludes matters of utmost national interest across party lines.

However, coalition compulsions could make one less risk-taking, and certainly much less inspired in going all-out with a template having a distinctive BJP flavour in both tone and tenor, and make it tempered to reflect the diversity within the allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Old problems

The world out there for India’s new government — which is likely to be a Modi 3.0 — to deal with is getting more complex and difficult in many ways. A possible return of Donald Trump to the White House as United States President would make things even more interesting.

There is no end in sight yet for two wars — Russia-Ukraine and Isarael-Hamas. Both have a definite impact on India’s foreign policy priorities, though India continues to benefit from a Western gang-up against Russia in terms of oil import and being a friend who can talk to both parties and most players around it.

But, the Western persistence to isolate Moscow instead of using diplomacy to solve the conflict would push Russia closer into China’s circle of influence, which is against India’s interest.

The Israel-Hamas war will adversely impact the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEEC) and an Iran under Western sanction is not in India’s interest either. This region is crucial for India’s energy requirements, investment needs, and connectivity plans, besides being home to the largest number of Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) anywhere in the world. 

China’s behaviour

This calls for nimbleness and defences in equal measure to navigate the shifting sands of mutual interests in a region known for the unpredictable. China, India’s biggest neighbour, doesn’t show any sign of being a benign power, or an accommodating partner on any simple terms. 

Beijing’s geopolitical ambition in India’s backyard is growing along with New Delhi’s struggle to keep some of its neighbours aligned with its core interests. It is expected that the political leadership of both China and India will soon make another effort to resolve the crisis. But going by China's recent behaviour, it is unlikely that China will restore the status quo ante at the border, thus allowing both countries to channel their energies to focus on other issues.

If the world needs India as an effective democratic counterweight to China, a great deal of it is due to its economic potential, political resilience, and the ability to emerge as the most commanding voice of the Global South on consensus.

That means the Indian economy needs to grow at a higher pace, and India should speed up policy changes that will help New Delhi play a larger role in an emerging world order. Given this, the new government's economic policies will directly affect the scope of its foreign policy.

Renewed focus

Among partners with whom New Delhi built transformative relationships in the last two decades, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Japan top the list. But the post-Shinzo Abe phase, a wavering Tokyo hasn't got its acts together in taking the relationship to the next level. Considering its potential, relevance, and scope, the new government will have to spend more time on this.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi very effectively managed ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and laid a roadmap that is taking the ties beyond the traditional lens of approach. India’s diplomatic prowess will be tested if Europe continues to be in an antagonistic space with Russia and Nato expansion continues deeper into Moscow’s backyard.

Though there is no immediate requirement to reach out to Pakistan, the time has come to revive the regional frameworks which will ensure a peaceful periphery for India. In every likelihood, the new government needs a big bang moment on the foreign policy front — this is important to send the message (both domestically and internationally) that though India now has a coalition government, India’s foreign policy resolve is as sharp as ever.

It might seem a very tall order, but expanding the United Nations Security Council with India as a permanent member will be an ideal goal.

(Jayanth Jacob, a foreign policy commentator, has covered the Ministry of External Affairs for over two decades. X: @jayanthjacob.)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.


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