India’s Foreign Policy Objectives under Modi’s Third Tenure

Prabir De

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has won the 18th parliamentary election. Narendra Modi is all set to become India’s Prime Minister for a third consecutive term. Let’s discuss what India’s foreign policy priorities would be under Modi 3.0.

One, the neighbourhood continues to be priority number one. Top South Asian leaders will attend the oath ceremony, reflecting the government’s commitment to ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy.

Two, there will be a greater push for Indo-Pacific cooperation. Indo-Pacific partnership will continue to flourish. India’s IPOI (Indo-Pacific Ocean Initiative) will gain greater attention and we expect several new activities. Today, more than 12 countries are partners in the IPOI. PM Modi’s third term may witness a new direction for the IPOI. If India’s vision of the Indo-Pacific to succeed, the IPOI must gain some credible momentum. India will continue actively participating in the IPEF and US-led Indo-Pacific programmes keeping the ASEAN centrality intact.

Three, 2024 is the tenth anniversary year of the Act East Policy (AEP). The AEP, which replaced the Look East Policy (LEP) in 2014, has laid the foundations for India’s engagements with the East. For its next phase, a new AEP agenda must come in the initial months of PM Modi’s third term. Renewed partnership with ASEAN, India’s land and maritime neighbour, and also Japan, Korea and Australia will garner long-lasting strength in the strategic leadership. India has to deeply watch and act on the broader geopolitical developments, including US-China rivalry.

Four, a deepening relationship with the US is going to be another dimension of Modi 3.0. India-US partnership will certainly witness a new phase of the relationship. India needs higher foreign investments and technology from the US. India’s ambition is to become self-reliant in the semiconductor industry. A deepening partnership with the US means higher American investment in the technology areas.

Five, FTAs are important for India to raise exports, attract FDI, and secure valuable technologies. India will continue with new FTAs and would like to conclude the one with the UK, the EU, Bangladesh, among others. Besides, a review of FTAs such as with ASEAN is likely to be concluded. The phase of FTAS noodle bowl is gone, and so is the game. Countries are more interested in trade agreements in the areas of digital economy and e-commerce.

Six, regional integration such as the BIMSTEC is going to observe a higher pace. The Charter is already in place. Members are interested in deepening the relationship. The sixth BIMSTEC Summit is going to take place in Bangkok in September 2024, and that may perhaps be PM Modi’s first overseas summit in the third term. The BIMSTEC is likely to induct three new members (Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore). On the other hand, the SAARC requires gradual reactivation provided India- Pakistan relations become normal.

Seven, the Middle East remained the mainstay of India’s foreign policy, offering both economic gains and geostrategic dividends. India will continue to work to ensure security and political balances in the Middle East and elsewhere. Today, the Red Sea attacks and blocking of the Suez Canal are heavily impacting India’s trade.

Undoubtedly, peace in the Middle East is crucial for India’s trade and connectivity. The India- Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) is a viable alternative to avoid the Bab El-Mandab strait, which is a major chokepoint for maritime traffic. PM Modi’s third term will ensure speedy development of the IMEC corridor. The bilateral FTAs such as the India-UAE CEPA, and initiatives like I2U2 or the IMEC are going to play a larger role in securing India’s strategic interests on the Western front. Raising further global voice will help India de-risking the crisis for itself and others too.

Eight, India is becoming increasingly integrated with neighbouring countries and regions. Bilateral partnerships with Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brazil, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Mauritius, Oman, Tanzania, Singapore, Sri Lanka, etc. will continue to thrive during PM Modi’s third term. India might opt for more bilateral strategic partnerships and services-led FTA such as with the Philippines.

Nine, India continues to play a larger role in the global arena. While ‘Vishwa Bandhu’, as correctly laid down by one of the finest foreign ministers in our time S Jaishankar, is aiming for Viksit Bhart in the next 25 years, deepening global partnership would help achieve US$ 5 trillion economy by turn of the current decade which will further strengthen the foundations for 2047. India’s leadership on global issues in this uncertain situation has been welcomed by all partners.

However, specifics such as climate change, reforms of multilateral organisations, energy and food security, taming inflation, etc. need careful handling. Dealing with the Global South, India continues to drive developing countries interests through the BRICS or IBSA. PM Modi’s two terms have seen progress on some of this. It would be of great achievement if India ensured entry into the UN Security Council as a permanent member.

Ten, India’s foreign office will have to collaborate with India’s thriving private sector while ensuring India’s strategic and economic objectives. More and more public-private partnerships are likely to unfold in the coming days in the areas of physical and digital connectivity, space and under-sea explorations, science and technology cooperation, etc. This is an opportunity PM Modi’s third term should not miss.

Eleven, Russia, and China are the countries with whom India does not have any FTA, whereas India heavily depends on them for security and economic reasons. Russia is India’s new source of energy. Projects like INSTC or Chennai-Vladivostok Maritime Corridor hold immense potential for transforming the partnership with Russia. China is slowing down, while India is rising. Relations between the two great civilizations will continue to be uneasy.

Twelve, India has turned several of its weaknesses into strengths in the last two terms. Deeper engagement with sub- national states is yet to see much progress. Nobody can better understand than PM Modi why states are so important in framing India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy or the ‘Act East’ policy. India’s great strengths lie in its culture, people, and geography.

If India aims to emerge as a leading world power, it must include the states in its foreign policy parameters. Diplomacy can pay long-lasting dividends only when it is supported by its national culture and interests. PM Modi’s third term may be termed as “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas Sabka Vishwas Sabka Samman”. Looking inside before we jump a mile outside! India is known for its rules-based institutions globally. Governance reforms in MEA-aided organisations, strengthening state capacity, new and reformed knowledge centres, and setting up centres of excellence on the maritime front are drastically needed to help fulfill the agenda.

Prabir De is Professor, Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), New Delhi.

The article was first published in The Economic Times as India’s foreign policy priorities under Modi 3.0 on June 8, 2024

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.

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Acknowledgment: This article was posted by Bhaktiba Jadeja, a research intern at IMPRI.