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Modi 3.0 Begins With G7: Will Coalition Politics Impact India's Foreign Policy?

'Modi's use of Hindu nationalism as a tool for soft power might receive some pushback from allies,' an expert said.

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"Business as usual" seems to be the mantra of the new Narendra Modi government in terms of foreign policy, with seasoned diplomat S Jaishankar retaining the key 'Raisina Hills portfolio' of external affairs.

Just four days after being sworn in, PM Modi is scheduled to fly out on Thursday, 13 June, for the three-day G7 Summit in Puglia, Italy. The invitation for the same had been extended to India by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in April this year.

While one band of pundits has stated that there will be no change in the foreign policy direction of the Indian government, others say that Modi will now have to "consult" the consortium of his all-important coalition partners – on whom the BJP is dependent – before taking key decisions.

Which side of the argument carries greater weight? We decode with the help of experts. But first, a look at PM Modi's upcoming foreign visits.

Modi 3.0 Begins With G7: Will Coalition Politics Impact India's Foreign Policy?

  1. 1. From G7 To SCO: Modi's Busy Foreign Policy Itinerary

    Apart from the G7 Summit in Italy from 13-15 June, the Global Peace Summit is due to be held in Switzerland from 15-16 June during which security issues connected with the Russia-Ukraine war are scheduled to be taken up. While the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said that it had received an invitation from the host country, it is yet to decide whether it will participate.

    Further, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan is scheduled to arrive in India for an official visit on 17 June, during which he will hold meetings with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval and may even call on the prime minister. The talks between Sullivan and Doval are expected to be centred around the transfer of technology for GE-414 engines, Stryker armoured vehicles, and MQ-9 drones from the US.

    A Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit is also scheduled to be held next month in Kazakhstan, where Modi will likely meet Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Chinese premier Xi Jinping.

    Expand
  2. 2. Will Coalition Politics Affect India's Foreign Policy?

    While the new government has just assumed charge, the jury is still out on whether the BJP's coalition partners will influence the government's foreign policy goals – and if so, to what extent.

    The argument put forth is that a coalition government may not be able to pursue foreign policy goals in a united fashion, as was the case in the last 10 years when the Modi government enjoyed an absolute majority of its own. This is because coalition partners may have vested interests and policy differences with the BJP.

    The counter argument, however, is that foreign policy does not weigh too heavily in the priorities of different parties. The BJP's coalition partners – all of which are regional parties – are likely to be far more interested in regional issues rather than foreign policy formulation.

    "There won't be any major change in India's foreign policy," Himanshu Roy, professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University, told The Quint.

    "Of course, in the Cabinet there are many alliance partners and they will certainly be briefed in this regard. But as far as foreign policy priorities are concerned, I do not see a major deviation taking place from Modi 2.0," he said.

    Two of the BJP's alliance partners – the Chandrababu Naidu-led Telugu Desam Party and Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) – are particularly significant as they contribute 16 and 12 MPs to the coalition, respectively. A withdrawal of support from these two parties would mean that the NDA would fall below the halfway mark of 272.

    "Till the time the Central government keeps doling out funds to Andhra Pradesh and Bihar under different schemes, there won't be a problem in the coalition," Roy said, adding, "More money could be allotted under planned schemes to keep these alliance partners happy."

    Hence, domestic politics – rather than foreign policy – is likely to be co-steered by alliance partners like the JD(U) and the TDP.

    Others, however, say that while the Modi government won't consult coalition partners heavily regarding foreign policy, some amount of "nuance" might be in order.

    Michael Kugelman, Director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington DC, told The Quint:

    "Certain issues like Modi's desire to use Hindu nationalism as a tool for soft power – something that he started doing during his second term – might receive some pushback from the BJP's coalition partners given that most of them, in particular the JD(U) and TDP, are ideologically different from the saffron party in the sense that they have a secular outlook and may not like the idea of India using religion to help advance its foreign policy."
    Expand
  3. 3. A Stronger Opposition & What It Means for Foreign Policy

    Another factor that may influence India's foreign policy formulation is a relatively stronger Opposition in the 18th Lok Sabha.

    The INDIA bloc amassed an impressive tally of 234 seats in the 2024 general elections. The Congress itself contributed 99 MPs to the coalition – up from a dismal 52 in 2019. This means that the NDA will not be able to ram through legislation in both Houses of Parliament or take key foreign policy decisions without taking the Opposition on board.

    "Considering that there is a stronger Opposition this time, some kind of minor adjustments in the government's foreign policy, reconciliation, and debates may take place," Roy said.

    Traditionally, foreign policy issues have rarely been debated in Parliament – except during wartime. Even when they were debated, an iota of time was dedicated to the discussion as domestic issues greatly outnumbered and outranked foreign policy matters.

    However, this pattern started to change following the clashes between Indian and Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley in 2020. The Congress in particular grew animated following the clashes and accused the Modi government of giving a "clean chit" to Beijing. The party's consistent demands to debate the issue in Parliament were also repeatedly turned down.

    With the backing of 99 MPs, the Congress is likely to rake up the China issue once more. If the INDIA bloc – comprising 44 percent of Lok Sabha – follows suit, the government will find it much harder to ignore the demand for debate.

    In its manifesto for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress had said that it would work towards restoring the status quo ante along the border with China and making areas patrolled by both armies in the past accessible to Indian soldiers once again, if they come to power.

    "I think an energised Opposition will give more urgency to the priority of deterring China on the border – something that India has struggled with. There is a galvanised Opposition, more emboldened that it has been in a decade, looking to leverage this momentum by pressuring the government on all fronts, including the China issue. Given Modi's reduced mandate and political space, he's going to be looking for some quick wins. And that applies not only in the domestic space but also abroad. I think one way for him to get that win is to show that India is in a position to counter China."
    Michael Kugelman to The Quint

    Barring China and a few other issues, there is broadly bipartisan consensus between the Centre and the Opposition over key foreign policy approaches, such as the response to Pakistan, the 'Act East' policy or 'Neighbourhood First' – which received a further boost after the leaders of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bhutan, and Nepal attended the swearing-in ceremony of the third Modi Cabinet.

    Expand
  4. 4. Has Foreign Policy Been Altered Under Parliamentary Pressure in the Past?

    There are several precedents to suggest that coalition governments have had to change, or at least mould, their foreign policy approach due to Opposition pressure or cracks in the coalition.

    A case in point is that of the NDA government itself led by the late prime minister Atal Bihar Vajpayee. When a 42-country alliance led by the US invaded Iraq in 2003, thus initiating a conflict that came to be known as the Second Gulf War, the Vajpayee government was keen to pursue a 'middle path' by not taking a hard line against the US so as not to offend the government in Washington.

    However, Parliament insisted on a resolution outrightly deploring American military action in Iraq. The 269-member NDA had no option but to acquiesce.

    Yet another example is when the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government decided to approach the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over negotiations with the US for a key nuclear deal in 2008.

    All 59 MPs of the Left Front – which strongly opposed the deal – withdrew their support to the UPA. This triggered a no-confidence motion on 22 July, 2008 which the Singh government was able to scrape through with just 19 votes due to the backing of regional parties.

    It is not just coalition governments that have faced the brunt of a powerful Opposition and alliance partners, but also governments with an absolute majority.

    For instance, after having faced a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Chinese in the 1962 Sino-Indian war, the Jawaharlal Nehru government was at the receiving end of considerable diatribe from the Opposition. Despite having a vast majority of 361 seats in the then 508-member Lok Sabha, Nehru was forced to dispense with his defence minister and close aide, VK Krishna Menon.

    However, this is not to suggest that coalitions are necessarily an obstacle to foreign policy. It was under several coalition governments that India was able to take some of its boldest decisions in history.

    Cases in point include the enactment of LPG (liberalisation, privatisation, globalisation) reforms by the PV Narasimha Rao-led minority Congress government in 1991; the 1998 nuclear tests in Pokhran under Vajpayee's leadership which affirmed India as a nuclear state; and the acceptance of the Mandal Commission report by the VP Singh-led National Front in 1990 – a decision that changed caste dynamics in India forever.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

From G7 To SCO: Modi's Busy Foreign Policy Itinerary

Apart from the G7 Summit in Italy from 13-15 June, the Global Peace Summit is due to be held in Switzerland from 15-16 June during which security issues connected with the Russia-Ukraine war are scheduled to be taken up. While the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said that it had received an invitation from the host country, it is yet to decide whether it will participate.

Further, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan is scheduled to arrive in India for an official visit on 17 June, during which he will hold meetings with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval and may even call on the prime minister. The talks between Sullivan and Doval are expected to be centred around the transfer of technology for GE-414 engines, Stryker armoured vehicles, and MQ-9 drones from the US.

A Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit is also scheduled to be held next month in Kazakhstan, where Modi will likely meet Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Chinese premier Xi Jinping.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

Will Coalition Politics Affect India's Foreign Policy?

While the new government has just assumed charge, the jury is still out on whether the BJP's coalition partners will influence the government's foreign policy goals – and if so, to what extent.

The argument put forth is that a coalition government may not be able to pursue foreign policy goals in a united fashion, as was the case in the last 10 years when the Modi government enjoyed an absolute majority of its own. This is because coalition partners may have vested interests and policy differences with the BJP.

The counter argument, however, is that foreign policy does not weigh too heavily in the priorities of different parties. The BJP's coalition partners – all of which are regional parties – are likely to be far more interested in regional issues rather than foreign policy formulation.

"There won't be any major change in India's foreign policy," Himanshu Roy, professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University, told The Quint.

"Of course, in the Cabinet there are many alliance partners and they will certainly be briefed in this regard. But as far as foreign policy priorities are concerned, I do not see a major deviation taking place from Modi 2.0," he said.

Two of the BJP's alliance partners – the Chandrababu Naidu-led Telugu Desam Party and Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) – are particularly significant as they contribute 16 and 12 MPs to the coalition, respectively. A withdrawal of support from these two parties would mean that the NDA would fall below the halfway mark of 272.

"Till the time the Central government keeps doling out funds to Andhra Pradesh and Bihar under different schemes, there won't be a problem in the coalition," Roy said, adding, "More money could be allotted under planned schemes to keep these alliance partners happy."

Hence, domestic politics – rather than foreign policy – is likely to be co-steered by alliance partners like the JD(U) and the TDP.

Others, however, say that while the Modi government won't consult coalition partners heavily regarding foreign policy, some amount of "nuance" might be in order.

Michael Kugelman, Director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington DC, told The Quint:

"Certain issues like Modi's desire to use Hindu nationalism as a tool for soft power – something that he started doing during his second term – might receive some pushback from the BJP's coalition partners given that most of them, in particular the JD(U) and TDP, are ideologically different from the saffron party in the sense that they have a secular outlook and may not like the idea of India using religion to help advance its foreign policy."

A Stronger Opposition & What It Means for Foreign Policy

Another factor that may influence India's foreign policy formulation is a relatively stronger Opposition in the 18th Lok Sabha.

The INDIA bloc amassed an impressive tally of 234 seats in the 2024 general elections. The Congress itself contributed 99 MPs to the coalition – up from a dismal 52 in 2019. This means that the NDA will not be able to ram through legislation in both Houses of Parliament or take key foreign policy decisions without taking the Opposition on board.

"Considering that there is a stronger Opposition this time, some kind of minor adjustments in the government's foreign policy, reconciliation, and debates may take place," Roy said.

Traditionally, foreign policy issues have rarely been debated in Parliament – except during wartime. Even when they were debated, an iota of time was dedicated to the discussion as domestic issues greatly outnumbered and outranked foreign policy matters.

However, this pattern started to change following the clashes between Indian and Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley in 2020. The Congress in particular grew animated following the clashes and accused the Modi government of giving a "clean chit" to Beijing. The party's consistent demands to debate the issue in Parliament were also repeatedly turned down.

With the backing of 99 MPs, the Congress is likely to rake up the China issue once more. If the INDIA bloc – comprising 44 percent of Lok Sabha – follows suit, the government will find it much harder to ignore the demand for debate.

In its manifesto for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress had said that it would work towards restoring the status quo ante along the border with China and making areas patrolled by both armies in the past accessible to Indian soldiers once again, if they come to power.

"I think an energised Opposition will give more urgency to the priority of deterring China on the border – something that India has struggled with. There is a galvanised Opposition, more emboldened that it has been in a decade, looking to leverage this momentum by pressuring the government on all fronts, including the China issue. Given Modi's reduced mandate and political space, he's going to be looking for some quick wins. And that applies not only in the domestic space but also abroad. I think one way for him to get that win is to show that India is in a position to counter China."
Michael Kugelman to The Quint

Barring China and a few other issues, there is broadly bipartisan consensus between the Centre and the Opposition over key foreign policy approaches, such as the response to Pakistan, the 'Act East' policy or 'Neighbourhood First' – which received a further boost after the leaders of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bhutan, and Nepal attended the swearing-in ceremony of the third Modi Cabinet.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

Has Foreign Policy Been Altered Under Parliamentary Pressure in the Past?

There are several precedents to suggest that coalition governments have had to change, or at least mould, their foreign policy approach due to Opposition pressure or cracks in the coalition.

A case in point is that of the NDA government itself led by the late prime minister Atal Bihar Vajpayee. When a 42-country alliance led by the US invaded Iraq in 2003, thus initiating a conflict that came to be known as the Second Gulf War, the Vajpayee government was keen to pursue a 'middle path' by not taking a hard line against the US so as not to offend the government in Washington.

However, Parliament insisted on a resolution outrightly deploring American military action in Iraq. The 269-member NDA had no option but to acquiesce.

Yet another example is when the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government decided to approach the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over negotiations with the US for a key nuclear deal in 2008.

All 59 MPs of the Left Front – which strongly opposed the deal – withdrew their support to the UPA. This triggered a no-confidence motion on 22 July, 2008 which the Singh government was able to scrape through with just 19 votes due to the backing of regional parties.

It is not just coalition governments that have faced the brunt of a powerful Opposition and alliance partners, but also governments with an absolute majority.

For instance, after having faced a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Chinese in the 1962 Sino-Indian war, the Jawaharlal Nehru government was at the receiving end of considerable diatribe from the Opposition. Despite having a vast majority of 361 seats in the then 508-member Lok Sabha, Nehru was forced to dispense with his defence minister and close aide, VK Krishna Menon.

However, this is not to suggest that coalitions are necessarily an obstacle to foreign policy. It was under several coalition governments that India was able to take some of its boldest decisions in history.

Cases in point include the enactment of LPG (liberalisation, privatisation, globalisation) reforms by the PV Narasimha Rao-led minority Congress government in 1991; the 1998 nuclear tests in Pokhran under Vajpayee's leadership which affirmed India as a nuclear state; and the acceptance of the Mandal Commission report by the VP Singh-led National Front in 1990 – a decision that changed caste dynamics in India forever.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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