Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, now India's external affairs minister, speaks during a press conference in New Delhi in 2016. Photo: AFP

The day after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ministers were sworn in on May 31, he made Dr Subramanyam Jaishankrar, the former foreign secretary, the new external affairs minister.

India’s international relationships were at their lowest point in the 72 years since independence, but a terrorist attack in Pulwama, Kashmir, which claimed the lives of 49 paratroopers serving with India’s Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), was effectively exploited by Modi in the general election, helping him to secure a second term.

Modi successfully used the attack to distract Indian voters’ attention from the worst unemployment in 45 years and five years of poor economic growth. Consequently, Modi and his Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the Lok Sabha (lower house of Parliament) election held in April and May in a landslide. The BJP won despite there being one foreign policy debacle after another in the neighborhood. The military standoff at Doklam with northern neighbor China put increasing strain on bilateral relations with the US at the time of voting.

Jaishankar is known to be highly knowledgeable and skillful and is a seasoned diplomat. He served as India’s ambassador to China from 2009 to 2013 and was its ambassador to Washington from 2013 to early 2015. Modi appointed him as foreign secretary in 2015. Jaishankar was one of the key members of the team that defused tensions between India and China at the time of the Doklam crisis two years ago at the tri-junction between Bhutan, China, and India. As a career diplomat, he played a crucial role in several vital negotiations, and his ability was proven when he served as India’s joint secretary in negotiations for the Indo-US civil nuclear deal in 2008.

Three schools of thought – pro-US, pro-Russian, and pro-Chinese – are supposed to prevail in the Indian foreign policy establishment. Proponents of each school believe that Indian foreign policy can best be served if their respective inclination is followed. Jaishankar wrote an article titled “India and USA: New direction” in the limited-circulation Indian Foreign Policy: Challenges and Opportunities, published by the Indian Foreign Service Institute, Delhi, in 2007. In his article, he advocated a partnership between India and the US aimed at establishing democracy in China. Therefore, among the several vital actors in the Indian foreign policy establishment, Jaishankar strongly believes that the future of India will be best served if it is allied with the US.

By appointing Jaishankar as external affairs minister, Modi is trying to convey multiple messages to a range of Indian foreign policy stakeholders.

Modi was one of the few prime ministers in post-independence India to have little knowledge of foreign affairs when he was elected in 2014. Modi also looked impulsive and inexperienced in both global and South Asian regional matters in his first term. He depended heavily on his wily national security adviser, Ajit Doval. Doval, who has an intelligence background, has a penchant for using coercion to resolve problems in both domestic and external affairs, particularly in the neighborhood. However, in his second term, Modi decided to project himself as an experienced foreign policy prime minister.

By appointing Jaishankar as external affairs minister, Modi is trying to convey multiple messages to a range of Indian foreign policy stakeholders

Modi’s second term will be more tumultuous than his first on the foreign policy front. He has to deal with a raft of bilateral, regional and global issues, and some of the problems may be impossible to resolve.

Dealing with the US

Modi faces intense pressure from the US foreign policy establishment. Indo-US relations have been strained recently. The US is playing a great game with India on multiple fronts. First, it wants India to play a crucial role in regime change in Iran. India betrayed its old ally Iran when it succumbed to pressure and cooperated with Washington’s unilaterally imposed oil sanctions against the Islamic republic. This was a shift from its previous stance of only complying with United Nations sanctions.

Modi is being pressured by the US to support the “regime change”  plan hatched by the so-called “B4 Team.” The B4 team comprises John Bolton, the US national security adviser, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, Mohammad Bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, and Mohammed bin Zayed, the UAE crown prince.

Similarly, under American pressure, India earlier this year joined a US-led naval exercise with Washington’s allies Japan and the Philippines in an area of the South China Sea where Manila is embroiled in a sovereignty dispute with China.

You might also like: A review of Modi’s election campaign

The US, Japan, and the Philippines are traditional allies united by defense pacts; however, India is not a part of any military alliance in the region. India has to deal with the Chinese reaction to this development in the South China Sea row.

Washington recently increased its pressure on India by revoking its Generalized System of Preference (GSP) status. It has also made it clear that India cannot cherrypick the best weapons systems from Russia and the US by imposing sanctions on Russian arms exporters. The Trump administration’s list of demands is quite long, so it is little wonder that it is impossible for India to meet them all.

Dealing with China

China sees Modi as a decisive leader and supported him by throwing him two pre-election lifelines. First, a day before the commencement of the Second Belt and Road Forum held in Beijing on April 25-27, China removed the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir in the north and Arunachal Pradesh in the northeast of India from the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) map on its website. New Delhi has boycotted the forum since China launched the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which New Delhi says violates India’s territorial integrity.

Second, China reversed its decision to oppose the designation of Masood Azhar as a global sponsor of terror, which is an emotional issue for Indian voters. Azhar, the founder and leader of the Pakistani militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, has been active mainly in the Pakistani-administered part of Jammu and Kashmir.

Modi hinted that he was willing to resolve all outstanding issues with China. He appointed Jaishankar as foreign minister a day after Chinese President Xi Jinping chose China’s new envoy to India and made career diplomat Luo Zhaohui the vice foreign minister in charge of Asian affairs. Jaishankar and Luo are well acquainted.

Modi’s appointment of Jaishankar as external affairs minister is intended to enhance India’s status as a global player

Modi’s next informal summit with Xi is crucial for him. The date and venue are not yet finalized, but they will likely meet in India in October. During the summit, Modi and Xi will try to resolve outstanding issues with the aim of opening a new chapter in their relations. The resolution of the longstanding border dispute between the two countries, construction of the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Corridor, possible participation of India in the BRI, and relocating Chinese low-cost manufacturing plants in India are a few possible agenda items on the table for the informal summit.

India is no position to meet the US demand that it further open its market, so it must work with China, Russia and other countries to establish alternative financial transaction mechanisms and rules to offset the US sanctions on Iran.

Dealing with Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin also wanted Modi to be re-elected. Putin conferred “the Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, the highest civilian honor of the Russian Federation” on Modi on April 12, the eve of the Indian elections. Modi was honored for promoting the special and privileged strategic partnership between Russia and India, and improving relations between their nations.

Modi used it as an opportunity to promote himself as a global leader, which gave his campaign a much-needed boost. However, the US has been pushing India to purchase its Terminal High Altitude Defense System (THAAD) and the Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC) missile defense system instead of the Russian S-400. The US systems are not only highly expensive but also less capable than the Russian S-400. In addition, the US wants India to endorse its sanctions against the Russian arms industry. Putin, meanwhile, wants India to continue purchasing Iranian oil.

India’s two ambitions

Modi’s appointment of Jaishankar as external affairs minister is intended to enhance India’s status as a global player. Despite the backing of the US and other Western countries, India last year failed to obtain membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the elite club of the nuclear technology trading countries because China opposed its inclusion. Second, Modi wants India to be part of the global governance architecture as it has been advocating for the reform and restructuring of the United Nations and is seeking permanent membership of the Security Council. Modi believes that Jaishankar’s knowledge, wisdom, and experience will help to advance India’s agenda.

Dealing with neighbors

Modi is trying to convey the message to India’s smaller neighbors that his administration will opt for diplomatic dialogue over intelligence-led “muscular” pressure.

In Modi’s first term, National Security Adviser Doval, a former head of India’s Intelligence Bureau, had considerable political, administrative, security, and diplomatic clout in the Prime Minister’s Office. Because of Doval’s hawkish approach in the neighborhood, however, India lost much of its influence in Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Although Modi kept Doval on as national security adviser, he is designated minister-of-state status, which is a lower rank than Jaishanker has been granted. In the first term, Doval was senior to Jaishankar.

Modi has indicated that he wants to hear more diverse views on Indian foreign policy and strategy in global, regional, neighborhood, and bilateral issues than in his first term.

Time will tell whether Jaishankar can successfully cope with Modi’s foreign-policy challenges by utilizing his knowledge, wisdom, experience, and personal and professional relationships with various counterparts.

Asia Times Financial is now live. Linking accurate news, insightful analysis and local knowledge with the ATF China Bond 50 Index, the world's first benchmark cross sector Chinese Bond Indices. Read ATF now. 

Bhim Bhurtel

Bhim Bhurtel is visiting faculty for a master's in international relations and diplomacy, Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, and faculty for a master's program of Development Economics, Nepal Open University. He was the executive director of the Nepal South Asia Center (2009-14), a Kathmandu-based South Asian development think-tank. Bhurtel can be reached at

Join the Conversation


  1. It’s actually a cool and helpful piece of information. I am happy that you simply shared this helpful information with us. Please stay us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Very nice info and right to the point. I am not sure if this is really the best place to ask but do you folks have any thoughts on where to employ some professional writers? Thank you ????

  3. Hi, Neat post. There is a problem with your website in internet explorer, would test this… IE still is the market leader and a huge portion of people will miss your fantastic writing due to this problem.

  4. I have been absent for some time, but now I remember why I used to love this site. Thanks , I¦ll try and check back more often. How frequently you update your web site?

  5. What i do not realize is actually how you’re not actually much more well-liked than you might be now. You are very intelligent. You realize therefore significantly relating to this subject, produced me personally consider it from a lot of varied angles. Its like men and women aren’t fascinated unless it’s one thing to accomplish with Lady gaga! Your own stuffs great. Always maintain it up!

  6. Interesting blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere? A theme like yours with a few simple adjustements would really make my blog stand out. Please let me know where you got your theme. Bless you

  7. That is really fascinating, You are an overly professional blogger. I’ve joined your feed and stay up for seeking extra of your magnificent post. Also, I’ve shared your site in my social networks!

  8. I just could not go away your site before suggesting that I actually loved the standard information an individual provide in your guests? Is gonna be back incessantly in order to investigate cross-check new posts.

  9. Thanks for some other great article. Where else may just anybody get that type of info in such a perfect approach of writing? I’ve a presentation next week, and I am on the look for such information.

  10. Together with almost everything that seems to be developing inside this specific area, a significant percentage of points of view happen to be somewhat stimulating. Nevertheless, I beg your pardon, but I can not subscribe to your entire suggestion, all be it stimulating none the less. It appears to me that your comments are actually not entirely validated and in simple fact you are yourself not even completely confident of your point. In any event I did take pleasure in reading through it.

  11. obviously like your website but you have to take a look at the spelling on several of your posts. A number of them are rife with spelling issues and I in finding it very bothersome to tell the truth then again I’ll definitely come back again.

  12. Hi my friend! I want to say that this post is amazing, great written and include approximately all significant infos. I¦d like to see more posts like this .

  13. Hello there I am so excited I found your webpage, I really found you by error, while I was researching on Aol for something else, Nonetheless I am here now and would just like to say thanks for a tremendous post and a all round entertaining blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to read it all at the minute but I have bookmarked it and also added your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read a great deal more, Please do keep up the excellent job.

  14. Thank you for the sensible critique. Me & my neighbor were just preparing to do a little research about this. We got a grab a book from our area library but I think I learned more from this post. I am very glad to see such excellent information being shared freely out there.

  15. It¦s actually a great and helpful piece of information. I¦m glad that you shared this helpful info with us. Please stay us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Hi , I do believe this is an excellent blog. I stumbled upon it on Yahoo , i will come back once again. Money and freedom is the best way to change, may you be rich and help other people.

  17. I cherished as much as you will obtain carried out right here. The cartoon is attractive, your authored material stylish. nevertheless, you command get bought an shakiness over that you want be turning in the following. unwell for sure come further earlier again since precisely the similar just about a lot regularly inside of case you shield this increase.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *