S Jaishankar’s entry marks the era of the expert
The second term of Prime Minister Narendra Modi may come to be labelled the era of the expert. The most striking example is his appointment of S Jaishankar, a career diplomat, to one of the “big four” ministries in the new cabinet. It would now be safe to say Modi’s second term will be about policy implementation and delivery rather than political signalling. This reflects both the quality of his electoral mandate and the increasing complexity of managing a three trillion dollar economy.
There are few fields in which the need for expertise is more evident than foreign policy. India faces unusual foreign policy challenges as an international order that has existed largely unchanged since World War II is undergoing tectonic changes. The United States remains primus inter pares but is more unilateral and unpredictable, just as it becomes ever more economically and strategically indispensable to India’s own future. China has emerged as the world’s number two power even as it has regressed to a more authoritarian and more aggressive state structure. While relations may never be friendly, there are signals Beijing is interested in a modus vivendi with New Delhi.
One immediate challenge facing India is its incipient trade dispute with the US. Both sides wish to preserve their strategic relations. However, domestic US politics requires Washington to take a strong position on perceived unfair trade practices. And these, in turn, are no longer just about tariffs and market access but include areas like welfare policies, monetary decisions and a whole suite of digital economic concerns that did not exist a decade ago. The practice of policy increasingly can no longer be divorced from the policy practitioner. That this is commonplace in superpowers like the US and China is evidence India is not only on the right track but should make this, over time, a norm rather than an exception.