Modi is on a mission to assert India’s global power. His election setback won’t deter him.

Modi is on a mission to assert India’s global power. His election setback won’t deter him.
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India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi flashes victory signs at the Bharatiya Janata Party headquarters in New Delhi on June 4, 2024.

  • India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi won a narrower-than-expected reelection victory. 
  • But the setback likely won’t deter his global ambitions. 
  • Modi wants to make India into one of the world’s major powers. 

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi emerged from Tuesday’s election with his air of invincibility damaged.

The strongman leader of the world’s biggest democracy had been predicted to win reelection for a third term by a landslide.

But his BJP party failed to gain enough seats to claim outright victory, and it will need the support of coalition partners to form a government.

The result, though, is unlikely to deter Modi as he pursues one of the core goals of his decade in power: transforming India into one of the world’s most powerful nations.

A leader of the global south

Under Modi, India’s growth has put it on the path to becoming the world’s third-biggest economy by 2027 — and it has become an important and increasingly abrasive global power player.

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Modi wants to position India as a leader of the so-called “global south” of non-Western nations and is seeking a permanent position for India on the UN Security Council as a mark of its new global status.

He has strengthened ties with its traditional ally, the US. He has sought to balance this by forming ties with US adversary Russia and has clashed with Asia’s chief power, China.

Modi will seek to cement his foreign policy legacy in his third term.

Countering Chinese aggression

Richard Rossow, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Business Insider that countering China’s aggression and seeking foreign investment will be a key focus.

“India’s main priorities will remain unchanged,” he said.

Clashes between India and China in 2020 over a long-simmering Himalayan border dispute resulted in 20 deaths. Meanwhile, tensions in the Indian Ocean are escalating, with a recent report finding that China is mapping vast undersea areas in preparation for a potential naval conflict with the rival regional power.

Biden Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India welcomes US President Joe Biden for the G20 Leaders’ Summit on September 9, 2023, in New Delhi.

In response, India has entered into the “Quad” strategic partnerships with the US, Australia, Japan, and the UK to counter China’s aggression, and it’ll be seeking to strengthen its partnerships.

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“On security affairs, India wants to continue building partnerships that can help it manage belligerent actions China is taking today and in the future. This includes robust engagement with nations in its own neighborhood, particularly in the maritime domain,” Rossow said.

A dark side

India’s new assertiveness under Modi has a dark side.

The Washington Post in April reported that India’s security services were behind the assassination of a dissident in Canada in June 2023 and the attempted assassination of a Modi critic in the US (India denied this).

Modi’s disappointing election result is unlikely to change his often abrasive and aggressive pursuit of foreign goals.

“This election result is unlikely to have much of an impact on India’s international security actions,” said Rossow.

Narendra Modi and Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) leaders’ summit in Samarkand on September 2022.

But there will be serious challenges for Modi in seeking to cement India’s new global status.

While strengthening ties with the US, India has also formed closer ties with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, buying vast amounts of Russian oil that’s been used to fund the Ukraine invasion.

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This move has aggravated the US, with reports that Washington has pressured Modi to stop the purchases.

Putin’s “no limits” relationship with China’s Xi Jinping presents another strategic conundrum for Modi, who seems keen to retain good ties with Putin yet is wary of China’s rising global might.

Ensuring regional stability by avoiding war not just with China but also with Pakistan and continuing India’s economic rise through vital domestic reforms will be Modi’s core challenges in the years ahead.

“India’s journey towards true great power capabilities is thus likely to be long and arduous,” wrote Ashley J. Tellis, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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