28.06.2024 Author: Vladimir Terehov

The first foreign policy moves of India’s new government

Narendra Modi sworn in as prime minister

Following India’s general elections in April-May, a new government led by the incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi was formed in early June. The first days India’s “new” government have been marked by a number of notable foreign policy developments. 

Narendra Modi sworn in as prime minister

On June 9, Narendra Modi, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the BJP-headed National Democratic Alliance coalition began his third consecutive term as India’s Prime Minister. He is only the second leader (after Jawaharlal Nehru) to have won a third term since India’s independence. Moreover, for the first time, Narendra Modi’s government has been joined by representatives from the other parties in the NDA coalition. Nevertheless, all the key positions have been retained by members of the previous one-party government. Specifically, the Foreign Office will continue to be headed by Subramanyam Jaishankar.

Notable among the various heads of state from neighboring countries who were invited to Narendra Modi’s inauguration ceremony was Maldivian President Mohammed Muizzou. With the latter’s ascension to the presidency late last year, the Maldives, which occupies an extremely important strategic position in the Indian Ocean, has seen a dramatic change in its foreign policy course, moving from a pro-India to a pro-China position. This inevitably led to a cooling in relations between the Maldives and India.

It would therefore appear that Mohammed Muizzou’s decision to attend Narendra Modi’s inauguration ceremony was intended to signal a wish to somehow compensate for the above shift in the Maldives’ foreign policy. But while Mohammed Muizzou was in New Delhi, one of the members of the Maldivian Parliament launched an attack on India. Something strange is going on in the state of the Maldives.

India at the BRICS Ministerial Forum 

The first notable act of the new government abroad was the participation of India’s Foreign Secretary for Economic Relations in the BRICS Ministerial Forum held in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, on June 10-11. The absence of India’s Foreign Minister from the event was due to the fact that the new government was still being formed. Clearly, it was necessary for the prospective Foreign Minister to be involved in this process.

Be that as it may, India, one of the main BRICS countries, was able to send a high-ranking official to the events held in Nizhny Novgorod. As yet, there are no grounds for any speculation about Narendra Modi’s possible non-appearance at the forthcoming BRICS summit, which is scheduled to take place in Kazan in October this year.

The factor of India’s relations with China 

This factor is perhaps the main obstacle to the successful functioning of the BRICS group, an essential component of the new world order that is currently developing. India’s relations with China are also increasingly linked to the future of the Indo-Pacific region as a whole. While some of the problems in the relationship between the two Asian giants are fairly recent, others have deep historical roots and are more fundamental in nature. These political obstacles are not immediately visible at the surface level.

But the current world hegemon is well able to navigate them, and certain figures in the US political establishment are not averse to putting pressure on the sensitive areas in Sino-Indian relations. In particular, on June 12, just one day after the formation of India’s new government, the US Congress approved by an overwhelming majority another resolution on the “Tibet problem” and the role played by the current XIV Dalai Lama in this issue. The Dalai Lama is based in India, and Beijing does not allow him to engage in any relations with Tibet. The new document was yet another attack by Washington on its main geopolitical opponent, and was also aimed at exacerbating China’s relations with India.

As for the People’s Republic of China, it is cautiously optimistic both about the prospect of “the Chinese dragon dancing with the Indian elephant,” and, more specifically, about the possibility of significant changes in bilateral relations under India’s “new-old” government. And it is heartening to note that about 70% of Indians are in favor of a constructive relationship with the Chinese dragon.

India and the factor of relations between China and the US 

First of all, it is worth noting the difficulties that any observer who tries to form a definite idea of the nature of this factor will inevitably face. These difficulties are due to the deep divisions in the American political establishment, which affects almost all aspects of current US politics.

Congress—and this applies to both party groups—is largely entrenched in its anti-Chinese position. The adoption of the resolution on Tibet referred to above was just one example among many of this position. A recent article in the US magazine Foreign Affairs by two senior officials of the last Republican administration, with the telling sub-heading “America’s Competition With China Must Be Won, Not Managed,” has generated significant comment.

Given the above background, the June 12 speech made at the Simpson Center by First Deputy US Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, often seen as the architect of the Democratic administration’s Indo-Pacific policy, seems almost dovelike. Commentators unanimously interpreted it as a response to the above hawkish article.

In India, however, the fact that the speaker touched on the outcome of the recent elections in the country and the general state of relations between the US and India generated significant interest.

Meanwhile, at the time of writing, reports have appeared that “in the near future” Kurt Campbell and National Security Advisor Jake Sanaa plan to visit India. If this trip does take place, its outcome can be expected to shed light on the prospects for US relations with both India and China.

New signals in India’s relations with Pakistan 

Pakistan occupies an extremely important place in India’s foreign policy, and the state of relations between the two countries is unlikely to be affected in any significant way by the changes in the composition of Narendra Modi’s government. Nevertheless, as has been noted in previous articles in NEO, the two countries have exchanged positive signals regarding the formation of the Pakistan’s current government under Shehbaz Sharif.

And following India’s elections both Shehbaz Sharif and his elder brother Nawaz, head of the Pakistan Muslim League, offered Narendra Modi their congratulations on his reelection as India’s Prime Minister.

In turn, Indian Foreign Minister Subramanyam Jaishankar’s statement that he is open to talks with Pakistan on the problem of “cross-border terrorism” can also be seen as a positive signal. That is a significant development, given that New Delhi more or less directly accuses Islamabad of supporting armed separatist groups in the Indian part of Kashmir. Islamabad, in turn, accuses New Delhi of supporting terrorist groups within Pakistan.

These issues and other bones of contention between the two countries are preventing them from escaping from the deep rut of seemingly hopeless confrontation.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G7 summit 

Generally speaking, it is rather surprising that Narendra Modi, whose status as a significant and respected statesman in today’s international community is beyond doubt, has accepted an invitation to attend the latest meeting of the present moribund (both physically and politically) G7 leaders. Their optimism and their confidence in their own importance in a rapidly and radically changing world order are now under considerable strain. The meeting, which took place from June 13 to 15 in the south of Italy, was quite worthy of the brush of Francisco Goya.

Be that as it may, Narendra Modi made a broadly worded statement at the G7 summit on a variety of topical international issues, and also participated in a series of bilateral meetings. But, of course, he had nothing to do with the final communiqué of the latest G7 summit.

The main content of this document was the designation of China and Russia as the sources of almost all current international troubles. China has calculated that it was mentioned with varying degrees of disapproval more than 20 times in the document. Beijing’s general negative assessment of the communiqué is thus understandable.

As for the most important upcoming foreign policy activities of Narendra Modi’s “new” government, in addition to the expected visit by senior US officials, already mentioned, the planned trip to India by Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina stands out. Both of these events deserve articles of their own.

 

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

Related articles: