Re-thinking Modi 3.0: Foreign policy amid resurgent coalition politics

For Modi, and BJP it has been the unabashed embracing of the civilizational identity, rooted in the narrative of a glorious ancient Hindu past. (Photo: ANI)
For Modi, and BJP it has been the unabashed embracing of the civilizational identity, rooted in the narrative of a glorious ancient Hindu past. (Photo: ANI)


  • Modi’s third term could see states led by alliance partners pushing for sub-national diplomacy or what is often classified as paradiplomacy

NEW DELHI : As the Lok Sabha elections results come in, Prime Minister Modi looks all set to charter, strengthen and set the narrative of a resurgent and rising India.

However, this time there's a difference—trends show the BJP will form the government with two key coalition partners—the Chandrababu Naidu-led Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal United. 

So what are the challenges and opportunities that the incumbent government faces on the foreign policy front? How would Modi 3.0 rescript the foreign policy narrative of a more resurgent India? 

What would be the core ideational and material components in this act of storytelling, given the possible contestations from alliance partners? What implications does it have for shaping of foreign policy, particularly in areas of strategic partnerships and the neighbourhood? Can strategic autonomy – a core element of India’s foreign policy—be comfortably re-scripted in the age of digitization, semiconductor chips, and artificial Intelligence?

First, India’s foreign policy preferences cannot be understood without referring to its state identity. For Modi and BJP, it has been the unabashed embracing of the civilizational identity, rooted in the narrative of a glorious ancient Hindu past. While the Centre remains the dominant force in shaping the core ideational and material component of resurgent India, still Modi 3.0 would have to be watchful of the contestations to this narrative that can stem from alliance partner TDP, which has traditionally emphasized Telugu "Vaari Atma Gauravam" (self-respect of the Telugu people), and only more recently invoked a re-worked brand of Hindutva. 

Also read: ‘All of you are Modi’: The making of the man reshaping India

Modi’s third term could see states led by alliance partners pushing for sub-national diplomacy or what is often classified as paradiplomacy. This brings back both the strengths and precarity of foreign policy-making against the backdrop of coalition politics and federalism.

Second against this backdrop, it will be interesting to watch India’s great power engagement with the US and Russia and its continued emphasis on pushing for a truly multipolar global architecture. 

Any analysis of this would be incomplete without adequate attention to China’s continued great power aspirations, its conflict and cleavage with the US, and its ‘no limit’ partnership with Russia. How would India under Modi 3.0 navigate this continuing challenge? 

India has demonstrated its ability to straddle its national interest, and has owned its position on Russia not with ambivalence but assertion—a point that may well be supported by key alliance partners like the TDP. Further, it does appear that despite its close alliance with Russia, India would continue to strengthen its strategic partnership with the West, particularly the US. It fully recognizes that an aggressive, and resurgent China poses a direct threat to its interest, identity and aspiration—both regionally and globally. And thus what would be closely watched is how India continues to straddle China, both globally and regionally.

Third, the contestations of moral exceptionalism, and strategic pragmatism, would further see a possible leeway in Modi’s third term, given the politics of national interest, and its brute recognition across NDA alliance partners. 

Also read: Lok Sabha Election Results 2024: Here's the full list of winners here

So while India might have historically had a position on Palestine, it has not shied away from standing with Israel given both its strategic and ideational proximity with it. It will also be interesting to see how India continues to balance its interest both in the Arab world and West Asia in the next five years. The Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) signed with the UAE in 2022 was the biggest highlight for Modi 2.0. 

Further, the connectivity project, the India-Middle East-Europe Corridor (IMEC), was signed on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in New Delhi in September, 2023. More recently, on 13 May, 2024, India and Iran finally signed a 10-year, long-term bilateral contract for the operation of Chabahar Port

For Modi 3.0 the biggest challenge would be to translate these strategic partnerships to secure regional supply chains, increase trade accessibility and improve trade facilitation across regions. In the wake of changing geopolitical dynamics in West Asia, much remains to be carefully watched and assessed.

Fourth, while Modi has prioritized a ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy—hinged on the twin parameters of care and capabilities to deliver in the neighbourhood— the immediate neighbourhood of South Asia continues to be a complex conundrum. 

For instance, the recent regime change in the Maldives has been marked by the narrative of ‘India Out’ alongside a growing footprint of Chinese presence. The challenge of the China factor is not just in the case of Maldives, but also in Bhutan, Nepal , Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. 

It goes without saying that while India has strategized to not accord Pakistan a centrality in its ideas of both neighbourhood and region, Islamabad remains on the spectrum of challenges for India. 

Further, it will be interesting to watch how India continues to expand its conceptualization of the regions beyond South Asia. This given its renewed focus on differing regional groupings like BBIN, BIMSTEC, ACT East policy, and renewed maritime engagement in the Bay of Bengal and Indo- Pacific. However, it needs to be underlined that South Asia still would hold the pivot to India’s 'Vishwa Bandhu' aspirations, and perhaps a renewed focus on SAARC despite structural challenges could be a way forward.

Last, how will a resurgent India tilt the shifting plates of balance of technology in the age of digitization, semi-conductor, chips and AI? It will be interesting to watch this space, particularly given the politics of democratization, access and ethics in frameworks of trade regulation, cyber security and normative frameworks, networks on AI and digital governance. 

Also read: Will Linde India really benefit from semiconductor business?

Further—while we think about the materiality of technology—climate change and energy transitions will continue to nudge both innovation and alliance-building on the foreign policy front.

While we speculate on the possible challenges and opportunities, it needs to be reiterated that both geopolitically and geoeconomically the world is in a continuous state of flux. Thus foreign policy under Modi 3.0—this time not as leader of the BJP, with absolute numbers, but at the helm of a loosely stitched coalition—would need to be more watchful of the ways in which it puts forth the ‘India way forward’.

Shweta Singh, is Associate Professor at the Department of International Relations, Faculty of Social Sciences, South Asian University.

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