Despite the ongoing vote count and the Election Commission of India yet to declare the final tally of seats, it is certain that Narendra Modi will assume office as India’s prime minister for the third consecutive time.

But how will the elections verdict likely to impact India’s foreign policy?

With the BJP falling short of a majority on its own and reliant on allies, the new government may face the pulls and pressures of coalition politics, potentially shifting its focus inward. This marks a departure from the past decade where the BJP, having secured more than 272 seats on its own in both 2014 and 2019, was not concerned with political stability. 

However, in his first speech after the results on Tuesday, Modi emphasized that India would continue to look outward, seeking to integrate into global value chains and assist countries in need.

For the world, Modi is someone they have engaged with for the past decade, someone they have done business with and hence predictable to work with.

Modi, Shah, Jaishankar – a formidable team

Underestimating the formidable duo of Modi, Amit Shah will be a mistake. Both astute politicians, they are adept at managing coalition dynamics. Modi’s recent speech assured that his third term would see impactful decisions driving the country towards development. He has offered stability and predictability despite the mandate.

And S. Jaishankar, widely regarded as one of India’s most capable foreign ministers, reinforces the team. Having played a key role in maintaining stable fuel prices by securing Russian oil despite international criticism, Jaishankar is known to share a strong rapport with the prime minister.

There is also the question of which international leaders the Indian government will invite to preside over Modi’s swearing-in as the prime minister for the third consecutive time—a feat unheard of in recent history. 

In 2014, Modi invited leaders of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation, comprising India’s immediate neighbours. In 2019, Modi had invited leaders from Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal, and Bhutan—known by the acronym BIMSTEC. This signalled the primacy of neighbourhood and economic diplomacy, as well as connectivity, in Modi’s second term in office.

Who the Modi government invites for the inauguration would give clues to the priorities and challenges in Modi 3.0.

Foreign policy challenges

India’s foreign policy will continue to navigate significant challenges, including the uncertainties from the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas conflicts, the global order’s transition, technological disruptions like artificial intelligence (AI) and semiconductor developments, and the US-China competition. These issues necessitate a comprehensive government approach.

“Neighbourhood first”

In the midst of this, prioritizing the neighbourhood remains crucial. 

A peaceful periphery is essential for India’s growth and ambition to play a larger role on the global stage. South Asia has traditionally been considered India’s sphere of influence, but China has been steadily increasing its presence through infrastructure projects, economic linkages, and aid. Additionally, some smaller neighbouring countries tend to leverage the rivalry between India and China to their advantage.

Recently, however, India’s relationships with many of its neighbours have stabilized, thanks to the quick thinking and smart diplomacy of Jaishankar and his team at the South Block.

Strengthening ties with Sri Lanka

Take for instance Sri Lanka. India’s timely assistance to Sri Lanka during its economic crisis, extending nearly $4 billion in aid, has been pivotal. This support included lines of credit for essential goods, currency support, and facilitating access to loans from the International Monetary Fund, while China appeared passive. This timely intervention has positioned India as a saviour in Colombo’s hour of need.

Rebuilding trust with Nepal

Recently, India has been focused on providing development assistance to Nepal, diligently working to ensure the completion of projects committed to, especially after the 2015 earthquake. An earnest effort in 2015 to encourage Nepal to amend its constitution for greater inclusivity of the Tharus, Madhesis, and Janjatis was met with resistance from the Nepalese.

India was perceived as blocking key supplies, including fuel, during a critical period when Nepal was still recovering from the 2015 earthquake, which soured sentiments towards New Delhi. Currently, India is focused on rebuilding trust through its aid projects and maintaining a low profile, deliberately staying out of Nepal’s political infighting.

Maintaining strong relations with Bhutan

India’s ties with Bhutan have remained close and steady. Modi’s visit to Bhutan after the announcement of national elections in India underscores this relationship.

In the near future, India will have to focus its efforts to help Bhutan with its Gelephu Mindfulness City project unveiled last year. The project is seen as Bhutan’s effort to take advantage of the economic transformation opportunities in its near and extended neighbourhood – providing better jobs and meeting the aspirations of young Bhutanese. Another issue India will be keeping an eye on will be the boundary settlement talks between China and Bhutan.

Deepening engagement with Bangladesh

India has heavily invested in its relationship with Bangladesh, particularly over the past decade.

In 2015, India settled its land boundary with Bangladesh that also involved an exchange territory in adverse possession ie Indian enclaves in Bangladesh and vice versa. This removed an irritant festering for decades. Political ties between India and Bangladesh have warmed considerably since then. India has extended lines of credit worth $8 billion to Bangladesh, economic ties are at their closest that they have been in decades; connectivity in terms of railways, roadways and waterways have been established.

However, water-sharing of the Teesta River remains a contentious issue. An agreement on this has been a longstanding wish of the Sheikh Hasina government. Any pact to share the waters will require West Bengal state to sign off on it. With the BJP trounced by the All India Trinamool Congress in West Bengal in these polls, that will be a tough challenge for India to accomplish.

Addressing challenges with Maldives

Since the election of President Mohamed Muizzu in 2023, ties between India and Maldives have been on a slippery slope – given Muizzu’s stated policy of maintaining distance from India. Under the previous Solih administration, Maldives had an “India First” policy that Muizzu has consciously disbanded.

One of the first moves by Muizzu was to evict Indian military personnel who were involved in medical evacuation activities in the Maldives. He also refused to renew a pact for the conduct of hydrographic surveys with India. Alongside, Muizzu has focused on building ties with India’s strategic rival China, and countries like Turkey. 

India has adopted a patient approach, keeping a close eye on developments but maintaining distance. Last month, India extended $50 million in budgetary assistance to the Maldives, during a visit by Maldives foreign minister Moosa Zameer to New Delhi.

Managing instability in Myanmar

Myanmar is in many ways the “problem child” in India’s neighbourhood especially after the February 2021 coup. India has been urging the junta to restore democracy albeit without attracting attention given its insurgency concerns in India’s northeast. 

Many groups in states like Mizoram share familial ties with groups ranged against the junta in Myanmar – one of the reasons why there was an influx of refugees into India that led New Delhi to announce fencing off of the border.

Instability in Myanmar means India’s plans to link up with Southeast Asia remain unfulfilled.

Stalled dialogue with Pakistan

If there is one country in the neighbourhood that India seems to have given up on, it is Pakistan. New Delhi has been unequivocal in its stance that Pakistan must renounce terrorism before any dialogue can commence. With Pakistan unwilling to change its strategy, India has shown little interest in holding talks.

Currently, Pakistan is mired in economic instability, making it difficult for any peace talks to occur. Additionally, there is the perennial question of whom to engage with—the elected political leadership or the military. It is well-known that Pakistan’s policy towards India is formulated by its military, leading some analysts to advocate for direct dialogue with the military.

Confronting complexities with China

Arguably the most complex relationship is with China, primarily due to the ongoing military standoff in Ladakh that began in 2020. Relations between the two countries have been frozen since then, with minimal economic contact. India has maintained that normalization of ties cannot occur until the disengagement and de-escalation process is complete.

With a coalition government in New Delhi holding a slimmer majority, it will be challenging for India to make any significant gestures to China to break the deadlock.

Elizabeth Roche is associate professor, Jindal School of International Affairs, O.P Jindal Global University, Haryana. Views expressed are personal.

Disclaimer: This report is auto-generated from other news portal services. Realtimeindia holds no responsibility for its content.