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Modi’s foreign policy stamp

ByHT Editorial
Jun 16, 2024 12:06 PM IST

PM Modi kicks off his third term with a foreign policy push at the G7 Summit in Italy, assessing global dynamics and seeking deeper ties with the West.

The world is a messy place right now. It is thus only appropriate for Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi, after a long and bruising domestic election season, to begin the foreign policy push of his third term in Italy, where India is a guest country at the G7 Summit. The Summit gives India an opportunity to assess from close quarters how the West perceives the two active wars animating the global stage — in Ukraine, where Russia now has the edge, and in Gaza, where Israel’s continued brutality has left the world outraged and Palestinians devastated. It allows Modi and his team to witness the emerging convergences, and continued divergences, between the US and Europe on how to deal with China. It also gives them a pulse of how leading democratic politicians perceive both the Right-ward shift in Europe, the imminent political shift in the UK where Labour is set to make a comeback, and the big election in the US later this year that can alter all geopolitical assumptions if Donald Trump gets elected. Indeed, a key focus of both the Joe Biden administration and its European allies at G7 is to “Trump-proof” as much of the West’s existing commitments to Ukraine as possible. The Summit allows India to get a sense of Western assumptions about the global economy, the climate crisis, supply chain diversification, emerging technologies, maritime security, and other transnational issues. All these themes affect India’s interests, and the perspectives of others will allow the PM to better frame the country’s own positions.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi received by Italian PM Giorgia Meloni at the G7 Outreach Summit, in Apulia on Friday. (ANI Photo) (ANI)

The Summit also gives an opportunity to Western leaders to hear from Modi, who has faced a partial domestic electoral setback, but still returned to power for a third term — many in his peer group would envy that record. The diminished numbers allow him to celebrate the power of Indian democracy at a time when questions and doubts about its vitality were increasing. He also gets an opportunity to signal a political commitment to deeper ties with the West. India needs Western capital to invest and create jobs here. It needs deeper tech partnerships with the Western economic-scientific ecosystems that remain hubs of innovation. It needs robust trade arrangements with large Western markets that create room for its exports. It needs easier immigration norms to enable Indians to continue to go out to study, treat the world as a global workplace, and for these societies to remain a safe space for the diaspora. And, most critically, India needs to be a part of the conversation on great power competition given its own structural tensions with China. This does not mean that India is in the West’s camp. As external affairs minister S Jaishankar says, India is non-West but not anti-West. The non-Western orientation is reflected in how India’s position has been distinct from that of the G7 on Ukraine and how India continues — for various economic, military and geopolitical reasons — its engagement with Moscow. This non-Western orientation will be further reflected when Modi continues his external engagements next month at a meeting of the SCO in Kazakhstan and then the BRICS summit later in the year.

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In Modi’s third term, while events will have their own way of dictating India’s policy in a fluid climate, in terms of foreign policy, it can be reasonably assumed that India’s principal contradiction will remain with China; its most significant partner will remain the US; it will continue to focus on the immediate and extended neighbourhood; and it will continue to have a diversified foreign policy portfolio in its quest to be a friend to as many countries as possible. In a messy global order, it may be the right way to go.

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