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The Promise and Pitfalls of Indian Foreign Policy

Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar recently won plaudits, particularly in Muslim countries, for his confident assertion of the country’s strategic autonomy concerning the Ukraine war. But then the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party unleashed more Hindu-chauvinist rhetoric, severely damaging India’s standing in the Islamic world.

NEW DELHI – Two episodes in the first week of June starkly illustrate both the promise of Indian foreign policy and the pitfalls it faces as a result of the country’s increasingly toxic domestic political culture.

The promise lay in a response by India’s foreign minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, to a question posed by an interviewer at the GLOBSEC 2022 forum in Bratislava, Slovakia, which focused on the Ukraine war. Jaishankar’s response resonated so powerfully that it quickly went viral, not just in India, but also in Europe and many other countries. Anecdotal evidence abounds of Iranians and Arabs extensively forwarding video clips of the exchange, subtitled in their own languages. Some international commentators even called it, albeit with some hyperbole, “India’s coming-of-age moment.”

The interview with Jaishankar focused on India’s continuing reluctance to choose sides in the war. India has refused to condemn Russia’s invasion, while at the same time sending humanitarian aid to Ukraine and maintaining good relations with the United States both bilaterally and in the Quad (the informal four-country security grouping that also includes Japan and Australia).

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