What a third term for India's Modi means for the world

AFP , Thursday 6 Jun 2024

India has played an increasingly larger part on the global diplomatic stage under Prime Minister Narendra Modi -- but the Hindu nationalist leader's third term will see him look to take a starring role.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) speaking to President Droupadi Murmu after handing over his
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) speaking to President Droupadi Murmu after handing over his resignation to her at presidential palace Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi. AFP

 

Modi portrays his country as a leader of the Global South, with himself a chief spokesman for the loose grouping, and another five years in office gives him greater longevity and seniority among the world's most powerful, despite his reduced parliamentary majority.

The 73-year-old is pressing for the world's most populous nation and fastest-growing major economy to have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

"Modi will be one of the most senior leaders on the global circuit and that too with three election victories under his belt," said Harsh V Pant, professor of international relations at King's College London.

"He has set out major ambitions for himself and India and it's unlikely that he would compromise on his legacy."

Analysts say that India has interests rather than allies and Modi -- once a pariah -- has been courted by the United States and European nations as a counterweight to China, despite warnings by rights activists about rising authoritarianism.

He uses India's growing global footprint to bolster his domestic standing, and at the same time used India's holding of the G20 presidency last year to burnish his image abroad.

He hopes to build on hosting the 2023 Cricket World Cup by bidding for the 2036 Summer Olympics.

Here is how a third term for Modi could build on a decade of his diplomatic ambitions.

 

United States and Europe
 

India is part of the Quad grouping with the United States, Japan and Australia that positions itself against China's growing assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific region.

President Joe Biden hosted Modi for a state dinner last year and has called Washington's ties with New Delhi the "defining partnership of the 21st century".

In February, Washington approved a $4 billion sale of state-of-the-art drones to India, the latest bolster to India's defence in a counterbalance to its northern neighbour.

That deepening of ties has come despite rights groups sounding the alarm about threats to India's democracy and increased discrimination towards the 200-million-plus Muslim minority.

And the US Justice Department last year charged an Indian citizen with allegedly plotting an assassination attempt in New York approved by India's intelligence agency.

India also has growing ties with European countries and hopes to expand multi-billion-dollar defence deals with France, including selling Rafale fighter jets and Scorpene-class submarines.

 

China
 

Beijing and New Delhi are both members -- alongside Moscow and others -- of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization forum.

But relations between the world's two most populous countries slumped in 2020 after their troops fought a deadly high-altitude skirmish along their 3,500-kilometre (2,200-mile) frontier.

Tens of thousands of troops from the nuclear-armed Asian giants continue to eyeball each other and territorial claims fester. Still, despite their rivalry China is India's second-largest trade partner.

Jayant Prasad, a senior former ambassador, said he expected "adversarial relations" to endure.

"India, with its friends, will try to rein in China's assertiveness," he said.

Modi's right-wing government has pumped billions of dollars into border infrastructure and boosted military spending by 13 per cent last year -- but it is still barely a quarter of China's.

 

'Global South'
 

Modi this week called New Delhi "a strong and important voice of the Global South", and last year India hosted two "Voice of the Global South" summits as it sought to strengthen its role as a representative of Asian, African and South American nations.

Under Modi's watch, the African Union bloc became a permanent member of the G20, with India arguing that developing nations need a greater say in global decision-making.

India is also a founder member of the BRICS Club of Emerging Economies.

 

Russia
 

New Delhi and Moscow have ties dating back to the Cold War and Russia remains India's biggest arms supplier.

New Delhi has shied away from explicit condemnation of Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, abstained on UN resolutions censuring Moscow, and snapped up cut-price Russian crude oil supplies.

Modi congratulated President Vladimir Putin on his re-election in March, adding he was looking forward to developing their "special" relationship.

 

Pakistan
 

Modi's government has refused to engage with historic rival Pakistan since accusing Islamabad of cross-border terrorism.

The two nations have fought three wars and numerous smaller skirmishes since being carved out of the subcontinent's partition in 1947. Control of contested Kashmir has been at the centre of tensions.

In 2015 Modi made a surprise visit to the Pakistani city of Lahore but relations plummeted in 2019.

In March, Modi congratulated Pakistani counterpart Shehbaz Sharif on his return to the premiership -- a rare expression of goodwill between the leaders of the nuclear-armed neighbours.

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