Jaishankar signals ‘business as usual’ for foreign policy

Minister indicates little change in how the new government will deal with China and Pakistan; striking a balance between the U.S. and Russia and UN Security Council reforms top of agenda

Updated - June 12, 2024 02:59 am IST

Published - June 11, 2024 10:08 am IST - NEW DELHI

S. Jaishankar takes charge as the External Affairs Minister in New Delhi on June 11, 2024.

S. Jaishankar takes charge as the External Affairs Minister in New Delhi on June 11, 2024. | Photo Credit: PTI

External Affairs Minister for a second term, S. Jaishankar hit the floor running on Tuesday, sending out a message of continuity and “business as usual” for Indian foreign policy in the new government as he assumed charge in South Block, indicating there would be little change in how the new government would deal with China, Pakistan, UNSC reforms and other pending issues. On Monday, several hours before his portfolio was even formally announced, he had called on all seven neighbourhood leaders who had been invited to witness PM Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony.

By including Maldives President Mohammad Muizzu, whose government had been at loggerheads with New Delhi until India accepted his demand to withdraw Indian troops from the southern atolls, Mr. Modi has attempted to get ahead of the first of many foreign policy challenges he will face in the neighbourhood, during his third term. 

 Union Cabinet Minister S. Jaishankar with President of Maldives Mohamed Muizzu during a meeting, in New Delhi, on June 10, 2024.

Union Cabinet Minister S. Jaishankar with President of Maldives Mohamed Muizzu during a meeting, in New Delhi, on June 10, 2024. | Photo Credit: PTI

While Mr. Jaishankar has served at South Block for much of the past decade, as Foreign Secretary and External Affairs Minister, and is the longest serving External Affairs Minister after India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who held the portfolio throughout his tenure (17 years), he will have a new team to work with. 

None of the Ministry of External Affairs’ (MEA) three previous MoS’s have been retained as Ministers, and the new MoSs are UP MP Kirti Vardhan Singh and Assam MP Pabitra Margherita. In addition, Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra’s extension ends in October, with Deputy NSA Vikram Misri widely believed to be the next in line.

Former Foreign Secretary and Chairperson of the National Security Advisory Board Shyam Saran said that he did not anticipate “any significant departures in policy” with Mr. Jaishankar remaining at the helm of External Affairs. 

“What I would hope to see is re-engagement with Pakistan and an effort to seek a new equilibrium with China. The neighbourhood has suffered relative neglect with the pursuit a high global profile. I would hope there is a re-focus on the neighbourhood which remains the most critical factor for Indian interests,” he told The Hindu when asked about the foreign policy agenda ahead. While the re-engagement with Pakistan seems difficult at present, “lower-hanging fruit” such as restoring High Commissioners, and restarting some of the cross-border trade for agricultural goods may be possible, especially if PM Modi decides to meet with Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif next month on the side-lines of the SCO summit in Astana, Kazakhstan.

All eyes will be on whether PM Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet there in an effort to resolve the four-year old ongoing military standoff at the LAC. In an interview to Newsweek magazine in April, PM Modi called India-China ties “important and significant”, and said the standoff must be “urgently addresses” through talks, refraining from any criticism of China’s actions. 

The next big item on the agenda for the government will be keeping the balance between the U.S. and Russia, the global north and the global south. In his second term, PM Modi had won accolades for navigating India to a “sweet spot” over issues like the Russia-Ukraine war, where both sides have been keen to court India’s favour. In the next few weeks, more of the balancing will be on display as PM leaves for Italy on June 13-14 to attend the G-7 outreach with western countries and is due in Astana on July 3-4, where Russian President Putin is expected to be present, and later in October to Russia for the BRICS summit.

While Mr. Modi is not expected to attend the Swiss Peace Conference on Ukraine this weekend, India’s decision to participate at an official level indicates that it is keeping the door open for an evolving role in resolving the conflict. A balancing posture will also give New Delhi space to wait out the next few months until U.S. elections — as the possibility of a Trump presidency and change in Washington would “upend what is still left of the international order”, Mr. Saran said.

As in his previous terms, Mr. Modi will seek to establish India’s imprint on global affairs — if his first term saw a number of “soft power” initiatives including International Yoga Day, and mega-shows involving the diaspora worldwide, the second term culminated in the G-20 summit and the showcasing of India’s diplomatic and organisational prowess. The next term might see an early indicator of the government’s plans this September, as PM Modi is expected to attend the UN General Assembly, possibly joining other G-4 members (Germany, Japan and Brazil) for a major pitch to fast-track UN reform aimed at the expansion of the permanent seats at the Security Council, which has been elusive so far, and also setting the course for India’s next run for a non-permanent UNSC seat in 2028-2029. PM Modi has also made a pitch to host the COP Climate Change Summit in 2028.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.