S Jaishankar at a press conference in New Delhi
S. Jaishankar at a press conference in New Delhi | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
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External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar laid out India’s foreign policy for “Modi 2.0” with an energetic outreach to both governments and opinion makers during his recent trip to the United States.

He explained how India sees the world — a fluid array of multiple poles where convergence is possible but not congruence, where frenemies abound and where it’s natural to engage with the US, China and Russia all at the same time.

The west needs India for its market, human resources and burden sharing while India needs the west for its growth. The question is whether a “new compact” between India and the west is possible? It requires different conversations and different collaborations.

However, more importantly, Jaishankar encouraged his audiences to see and understand the “new India,” one that has emerged after seven decades of democracy and socio‒economic changes, one that they are reluctant to recognise. This new India is a different being, one that lives in second tier cities, and speaks and feels differently.


Also read: India isn’t China’s economic or military equal but Mamallapuram lets Modi stand as tall as Xi


Jaishankar’s message was received, but whether it will change the western liberal elite’s way of understanding India is an open question. That democracy — India’s most attractive and best‒loved attribute — brought forth the changes, is a hard pill to swallow for most analysts.

India’s foreign policy in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s second term will reflect the huge mandate he received just as it will reflect the need to adjust constantly and move quickly in the rapidly shifting world environment.

India will demand a greater voice, it will play harder but also push back harder, it will engage more but also hedge enough to have a bargaining hand and it will be full of contradictions just as the world around is. It will be more nationalistic but also more internationalist.

Solving a problem requires understanding it first. Jaishankar spelt out the way India understands the world in its current phase in multiple public appearances, covering all major think tanks in New York and Washington.

For India, globalisation as a mantra is past its due date, a major rebalancing is underway, the emerging confrontation between the US and China will have an impact on all major countries, and old mechanisms are no longer sufficient to align national and global interests. Existing rules are weakening and multilateralism is under serious threat.

Jaishankar said that it was “difficult to foresee a return to a bipolar world” because “the landscape has changed irreversibly.” The world is increasingly multipolar and as old alliances dilute, ad hoc groupings will emerge as countries find common cause on particular issues. In this space, India will demand “a greater voice,” on the strength of its growing economic clout.

As alliance structures weaken, local and regional balances will come more into play. “Getting used to operating in this intermediate zone is probably the first challenge of contemporary developments,” India’s foreign minister told a large audience at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

But India is well placed because it is unencumbered by alliances. It can approach the US without necessarily feeling the hurt the Europeans currently feel. India has less “anxiety” about change since its history with the US is relatively short unlike that of many other countries. The India‒US relationship is a work in progress and the current volatility in Washington is just one more adjustment New Delhi must account for.


Also read: The text of S. Jaishankar’s US talk on how he sees India’s relationship with the West


Whether a bipolar world is out of the question and whether the landscape has changed irreversibly will take a few more years to ascertain. Nevertheless, if the idea is to ensure the world is multipolar with India as a major pole, the Modi government will have to do a lot more both internally and externally.

Internal turmoil, both social and economic, cannot increase India’s advantage abroad. Questions will keep surfacing about the situation in Kashmir and about the treatment of minorities in general and a thick skin is only part of the answer.

But Modi’s first major foray into the world after winning the elections was impressive — the world wanted to engage with India at the United Nations and then some. Modi showed the scope of India’s reach and ambition on global issues, from climate change to poverty eradication to sanitation. Jaishankar did the same with his counterparts.

World leaders paid little attention to Pakistan’s scare tactics on Kashmir — bloodbath in the offing, threats of a nuclear war and more. Prime Minister Imran Khan got a reprimand from the State Department to keep it down, but that has never stopped the military‒intelligence establishment from doing what it knows best.

It is a given that Pakistan will keep at it especially because it has found a cleavage to focus the attention of the western media, academics and Democrats on Capitol Hill. Its newly appointed lobbyists are working overtime.

Jaishankar ruled out talks with Pakistan unless it ends promoting terrorism as state policy. You cannot take a tea break and play cricket when Pakistan’s dominant industry remains terrorism. But in the end, no neighbour can ever completely give up on another.

Bottomline: India is open for business with everyone but some rules apply.

This article was originally published by the Observer Research Foundation.

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6 Comments Share Your Views

6 COMMENTS

  1. India’s tortoise & China’s hare who wins race ,a book eight years back by a famous reporter in concerned with economic growth race between the Chinese & India.But after 8 years it seems Chinese won it.How they fight a trade war against USA’s stalwart president TRUMPH . So far the relationship with Chinese are concerned ; it’s fashion in India with BJP government to bring Nehru the greatest, but don’t put forth India then & now. In last70 years the growth of GDP , 3 trillion or more $ , world’s no 5th before 2014 ,now it’s at7th. Mr.APJ Kalam had a dream that it would be world’s greatest by 2020. It’s not condition now. AsMr.RRRajan today’s statement that it’s very worst condition of last 10 years. Most unfortunate state is that Mr. RaviShankar said who says the economy retarted condition as three Indian movies done the BOC ₹ 500 crore .
    So far as diplomatic conditions are concerned Chinese are still ahead ,as we see how they are captured the world market, there military power has grown like USA, Russia. They are looking India keeping all the political issues on Status quo except marketing. that’s all

  2. Globalisation has its pros and cons. Usually governments and citizens are slower than corporations to get full benefit of globalisation. Even developed countries with strong regulatory environment find managing global companies very challenging. For example, “Revealed: Facebook paid just £28m tax despite £1.6billion earnings in UK and a 50% surge in profits.” (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7562269/Facebook-paid-just-28m-tax-record-1-6billion-earnings-UK-50-surge-profits.html). Then there has to be right employment laws so that citizens can get true benefit. It is not just a job, but a set of conditions. Bangladesh and China have had their share of human tragedies acting as factories to the giant global firms. Though these can be treated as exceptions, they do not reflect that it is a perfect model in these countries. Dragging Shashi Tharoor into this discussion is ridiculous. He represents a party that is socialist in character, and Tharoor Sahab has been a huge critic of British Raj and East India Company (the first global company in the world). So there are two sides of the argument.

    In my view, the government should get its act together and coherently move towards ‘Make in India’ a success. The focus should be on fuelling domestic demand. The time has also come to encourage production of high technology products. Can India’s private sector take on the challenge? Perhaps it can, if it has enough confidence in the political direction of the country. A country that wants to progress (in an environment friendly manner), the focus should be on positive message in which religion, persecution of minorities, harsh rhetoric related to national security issues have no place. It should be like exam time; forget everything, just focus on the subject. This ‘HINDU’ government should take inspiration from Arjuna, and focus on economy just like he did on the fish’s eye.

  3. India’s diplomats have always been well regarded abroad, for their erudition and eloquence. Dr Shashi Tharoor being a fine example. However, in the unemotional world of global diplomacy, where each nation is jockeying to further its own interests, the effectiveness of diplomacy depends more on the product than its marketing. If Nepal and Bangladesh are growing faster than India, idle to believe that does not get noticed abroad. As for India being open for business, Conditions apply, a rerating of the India story is well under way.

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