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Modi Cabinet 3.0: Jaishankar re-elected as External Affairs Minister

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NEW DELHI : S. Jaishankar has returned as External Affairs Minister (EAM) in the new Modi 3.0 cabinet, marking his continuation as a central figure in India’s diplomacy. Over the past five years, Jaishankar has become a prominent diplomat, adeptly navigating a rapidly evolving global landscape. As the first Foreign Secretary to assume the role of Foreign Minister, he has played a crucial part in shaping India’s foreign policy amidst numerous challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of an assertive China, conflicts like the Russia-Ukraine war, and the Israel-Hamas dispute.

Diplomatic Career

Joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1977. And, 1979 to 1981, he served as the third secretary and second secretary at the Indian mission to the Soviet Union in Moscow. Then he worked as an undersecretary in the Americas division of India’s Ministry of External Affairs.

He was India’s Foreign Secretary from 2015 to 2018 and has served as Ambassador to the United States (2013-2015), China (2009-2013), and the Czech Republic (2000-2004). From 2007 to 2009, he was posted as High Commissioner to Singapore.

Key Priorities for Modi 3.0 Neighbourhood First Policy

The neighbourhood continues to be priority number one, with top South Asian leaders attending the oath ceremony, reflecting the government’s commitment to the ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy. This approach emphasizes strengthening ties with immediate neighbours to ensure regional stability and cooperation.

Indo-Pacific Cooperation

More focus on Indo-Pacific cooperation. The Indo-Pacific Ocean Initiative (IPOI) will gain greater attention, and several new activities are expected. India will continue to participate actively in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) and US-led Indo-Pacific programs while maintaining ASEAN centrality.

Act East Policy (AEP)

The year 2024 marks the tenth anniversary of the Act East Policy (AEP). A new AEP agenda must be developed early in Modi’s third term, with a renewed focus on partnerships with ASEAN, Japan, Korea, and Australia. India must monitor and act on broader geopolitical developments, including the US–China rivalry.

Deepening US-India Relationship

Strengthening the relationship with the US will be another dimension of Modi 3.0. India needs higher foreign investments and technology from the US to become self-reliant in the semiconductor industry. A deeper partnership with the US means more American investment in technology areas.

Free Trade Agreements (FTAs)

FTAs are crucial for raising exports, attracting foreign direct investment (FDI), and securing valuable technologies. India will pursue new FTAs with the UK, the EU, Bangladesh, and others, and review existing FTAs such as with ASEAN. Trade agreements in the digital economy and e-commerce will also be a focus.

Regional Integration

Regional integration initiatives like BIMSTEC will observe higher momentum. The sixth BIMSTEC Summit in Bangkok in September 2024 may be Modi’s first overseas summit in his third term. Three new members – Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia are likely to be inducted in BIMSTEC. Additionally, efforts will be made to reactivate SAARC, provided India-Pakistan relations normalize.

Middle East Relations

The Middle East remains a key focus for India’s foreign policy, offering economic and geostrategic benefits. India will work to ensure security and political balance in the Middle East. The India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) is a viable alternative to avoid the Bab El-Mandeb strait, crucial for India’s trade and connectivity.

Global Integration

India will continue to integrate with neighbouring countries and regions. Bilateral partnerships with Oman, Kenya, Korea, Tanzania, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Australia, Bangladesh, Mauritius, Bhutan, Brazil, Indonesia, Japan, and others will thrive during Modi’s third term.

Global Leadership

India aims to play a larger role in global affairs. Deepening global partnerships will help achieve a US$ 5 trillion economy by the end of the current decade, strengthening the foundations for 2047. Specific issues like climate change, multilateral organization reforms, energy and food security, and inflation need careful handling.

Public-Private Partnerships

The Indian foreign office will collaborate with the private sector to achieve strategic and economic objectives. More public-private partnerships are expected in areas like connectivity, space, and technology cooperation. This collaboration will be vital in fostering innovation and development in various sectors.

Relations with Russia and China

While India depends on Russia and China for security and economic reasons, it does not have FTAs with them. Projects like the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) and the Chennai-Vladivostok Maritime Corridor hold potential for transforming the partnership with Russia. Relations with China will continue to be complex, given the ongoing border disputes and strategic rivalries.

Sub-National Engagement

Deeper engagement with sub-national states is essential for framing India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ and ‘Act East’ policies. States play a crucial role in diplomacy, and their inclusion in foreign policy will yield long-lasting dividends. This approach will ensure that regional interests and capabilities are aligned with national objectives, fostering a more cohesive foreign policy strategy.

Diplomatic Achievements

Key Negotiator for Indo-US Nuclear Deal

At the time he was India’s Ambassador to the US and was a key negotiator for the landmark Indo-US nuclear deal. His diplomatic efforts helped secure the agreement, enhancing India’s access to civilian nuclear technology and paving the way for closer strategic cooperation between the two countries.

Foreign Secretary of India

During his tenure as Foreign Secretary, Jaishankar played a central role in shaping India’s foreign policy priorities and addressing key diplomatic challenges. These included border disputes, regional security issues, and economic diplomacy.

Doklam Standoff

In 2017, he played an important role in managing the Doklam standoff between India and China. His diplomatic efforts helped de-escalate tensions between the two countries, preventing a potential military conflict in the disputed border area.

Russia-Ukraine War

India has actively advocated for ending the Russia-Ukraine war through diplomacy. At the 77th UN General Assembly (UNGA) on September 24, 2023, Jaishankar stated, “We are often asked whose side we are on. And our answer, each time, is straight and honest. India is on the side of peace and will remain firmly there.”

Israel-Hamas War

India condemned the terror attacks on Israel on October 7, 2023, and the ongoing conflict’s civilian casualties. India has called for restraint, de-escalation, and a peaceful resolution through dialogue and diplomacy. The country also reiterated support for a two-state solution.

His return as External Affairs Minister signals continuity and a renewed focus on key priorities in India’s foreign policy. His extensive diplomatic experience and strategic vision will be instrumental in navigating the complex global landscape and advancing India’s interests on the world stage. As India faces a multitude of challenges and opportunities in the coming years, Jaishankar’s leadership will be crucial in ensuring that the country’s foreign policy remains robust, adaptive, and forward-looking.

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