NEW DELHI – India’s Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Narendra Modi, has stormed into office, winning its first absolute majority and reducing the formerly dominant Congress party to a rump, with just 44 of 543 seats in the lower house. Although India’s sputtering economy was the dominant issue in the campaign, Modi’s victory implies a significant transformation ahead for India’s foreign policy as well. In short, an era of timidity and hesitation, bordering on paralysis, under the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has ended.
There is no shortage of external challenges facing India’s new government. Upon assuming office in 2004, the UPA frittered away the positive national-security and foreign-policy position that the previous BJP government had achieved, neglecting key partnerships as it struggled to work effectively in the face of chronic infighting.
For example, the Communist-led Left Front, part of the UPA, foiled the implementation of the momentous civil nuclear deal with the United States, and consistently undermined the creation of a balanced nuclear-liability bill. Indeed, that bill is still languishing – a situation that Modi should rectify soon.
With its decisive parliamentary majority (282 seats, plus another 50 or so held by its allies), the BJP has the mandate that Modi needs to pursue a bold and creative foreign-policy agenda. The question is whether he will use his political capital effectively to advance India’s interests.