Modi 3.0: What are the challenges before India regarding foreign policy, understand every point

Ananya Shroff
12 Min Read

New Delhi : Narendra Modi has started his third term as Prime Minister. In the new government, the responsibility of the Ministry of External Affairs has once again been handed over to S Jaishankar. In such a situation, the question is what could be the foreign policy in the third term of the Narendra Modi government? The absence of any change at the top in the Ministry of External Affairs largely indicates continuity. However, there may be changes and redefinitions in the agenda for certain areas based on changing global conditions and Indian strategic imperatives. In such a situation, the next five years will bring challenges as well as opportunities for Indian foreign policy. Let us take a look at what challenges India is going to face on the foreign front.

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The China Challenge

The border standoff is about to enter its fifth year. The task before Modi 3.0 is difficult and complex. India has said that everything cannot be settled until the situation on the border normalises. New Delhi wants a complete withdrawal of troops and then de-escalation of tensions. It will take a lot of time to remove 50,000-60,000 troops and weapons from both sides of the border. High-level contacts, especially Modi's meeting with President Xi Jinping during the SCO summit in Kazakhstan in the first week of July, could increase the chances of this situation opening up.

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Relations with Pakistan

In his swearing-in ceremony in 2014, Modi had invited the leaders of SAARC countries, including Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. India's relations with Pakistan fluctuated in 2014 and 2015, but these relations deteriorated further after the terrorist attacks in Pathankot and Uri in 2016. Relations with Pakistan suffered a major setback after the Pulwama attack and the Balakot attack in 2019. Article 370 was abolished from Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019. This led to a deterioration in diplomatic relations between the two countries. The situation in Pakistan has changed since then. Imran Khan, who was prime minister in 2019, is in jail. Pakistan's economy is in deep crisis. Now Nawaz Sharif, who now has the support of the army, is back in power. For the last nine years, New Delhi's policy has been that terrorism and dialogue cannot go together. The series of terrorist attacks in Jammu and Kashmir in the last few days have put an end to the possibility of building public opinion in favor of a possible dialogue.

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Nepal's delicate challenge

Relations with Nepal pose a delicate challenge. China has a strong political hold in Nepal. The Kathmandu government, in which former Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli is a key player, is believed to be trying to use the Beijing card against New Delhi. Nepal's decision to unilaterally impose redrawn limits on the national currency shows this will continue. New Delhi will have to work hard to regain the trust of the Nepali people, who suffered a setback after the 2015 economic blockade.

Preparations for talks with Maldives

President Mohamed Muizzu was present at the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Modi. His visit was particularly significant. After India withdrew Indian Air Force personnel from the Maldives at the request of the Muizzu government and deployed trained technical personnel to the Maldives, New Delhi and the Maldives appeared ready for dialogue.

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No diplomatic relations with Afghanistan

There have been no diplomatic relations with Kabul since the Taliban took power in August 2021. There has been low-level engagement through a technical team assigned to humanitarian assistance, but high-level engagement has been ruled out for the time being. The working relationship is likely to continue.

Myanmar will be monitored

Prime Minister Modi has not invited Myanmar to his swearing-in ceremony. India's challenge at the moment is to negotiate with the junta government, which is engaged in armed resistance internally. Myanmar's government army has been on the defensive since the fighting began in October 2023. It has been suggested in Indian strategic circles that given the possibility of the government falling, New Delhi should start talks with opposition groups.

Common objectives with Bangladesh

Election rhetoric about infiltrators has often soured relations with Dhaka. Greater restraint by the government and ruling party members during Modi 3.0 could prove beneficial, as both sides aim to fight extremism, radicalism and terrorism.

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Bhutan: Good relations expected to continue

India is ready to assist Thimpu with its five-year plan, financial incentive package and Gelephu Mindfulness City project. This is expected to continue, especially as China tries to negotiate the border with Bhutan on its terms. India wants Bhutan, caught between the two Asian giants, to be on its side.

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Sri Lanka: Emphasis on strengthening the economy

The goodwill that India had earned on the Sri Lankan streets by helping Sri Lanka deal with its economic crisis has been jeopardised by unnecessarily raising the Kachchatheevu issue ahead of elections in Tamil Nadu. Strengthening Sri Lanka's economy through financial aid as well as investments will be an important task ahead of the elections later this year.

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Western countries: Partnership will continue

The Modi government's engagement with the West has been more transactional than that of many previous governments. It has also developed strong strategic ties with the US, Europe, Japan and Australia. There was a lot of noise about Western 'interference' during the campaign as criticism of the government was fuelled in the Western media. The aggressive Indian response showed that the government, even after a decade in power, is extremely sensitive to comments in the West. Sometimes even to mild comments from Western governments. Demarches were issued against friendly Western governments such as the US and Germany during the election season. India's relationship with the US has the support of both parties. It is not expected to be affected by the results of the presidential election in November. Defence and cutting-edge technology will drive the relationship going forward. Economic and political ties with European countries such as France and Germany have improved. The UK is keen to enter into a free trade agreement (FTA) with India. India and the EU are also keen to enter into an FTA for the mutual benefit of their economies.

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Political relations with Canada

Relations between the two countries have been on a downward slide since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused India of having a hand in the killing of yet another Khalistani separatist. It will remain strained at least until the 2025 Canadian elections. However, economic ties and student flows to Canada have not been affected. Western countries would like to see Modi 3.0 less sensitive to criticism and comments and more willing to engage and do business with them. From New Delhi's point of view, the ideal scenario would be to keep Indian interests secure, benefit from Western capital and technology, while not being lectured on its domestic affairs. The Prime Minister's participation in the G7 in Italy could signal a step in this direction.

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Russia: Ukraine war became a test

The ongoing war in Ukraine is testing India's relations with Russia. India's dependence on Russia is primarily for its defence needs. Also, the availability of cheap oil has now expanded to include energy. Russia has not bowed to Western sanctions. It now has the upper hand in the war. India is likely to skip the highest-level peace conference to be held in Switzerland on June 15-16. This is because Russia will not be there. However, India is expected to be represented at the official level and emphasize on dialogue and diplomacy. For peace to happen, both Russia and Ukraine will have to come to the negotiating table. Modi 3.0 will want to contribute to this process, but will not want to harm himself.

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West Asia: There is a lot at stake

There is a lot at stake in West Asia. Modi 1.0 and Modi 2.0 have built relationships with countries and leaders from Saudi Arabia to Israel, UAE to Iran, Qatar to Egypt. Energy security, investments and the 90 million Indian diaspora in the region have been extremely important to India. The India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC), I2U2, International North South Transit Corridor (INSTC) are all considered game changers, but the Israel-Hamas conflict has created uncertainty. India would like to see an end to the war in Gaza.

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