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S. Jaishankar and Indian Foreign Policy

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

‘The welfare of a state depends on an active foreign policy.’ ~ Kautilyan Arthashastra {6.2.1}

From joining the foreign service in 1977 to joining Prime Minister Modi’s government in 2019, Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar has significantly shaped India’s foreign policy in unimaginable ways. Spanning a career of over 38 years in the Indian Foreign Service, Dr. Jaishankar served as a High Commissioner to Singapore and as Ambassador to the Czech Republic, China, and the US, eventually becoming the Foreign Secretary in January 2015. This article aims to structurally analyse India’s foreign policy since Dr Jaishankar took over command of MEA in 2019.


Image Graphics by Team Geostrata


Kautilya in Arthashastra warned against the potentiality of every bordering country being an adversary and a security threat. Likewise, since its inception, India has faced animosity from its western and eastern neighbours, i.e., China and Pakistan. Bonhomie between these two countries compels India to look at relations from the angle of national security.

Being an ambassador to China, Dr Jaishankar understood Chinese diplomatic tactics. In the first year of his tenure as an EAM, he was faced with the Galwan crisis. Galwan was a swift point in India’s China policy. Dr Jaishankar made it clear to his counterpart that normalisation in relations is only possible when China renounces aggression on the border.

Our western neighbour, Pakistan, had repeatedly tried to undermine India’s security, sovereignty, and integrity through different methods of clandestine operations via non-state actors, inter alia, spreading misinformation and propaganda in the multilateral fora.

Continuing PM Modi’s policy of "Trade and Terror shall not go together," Dr. Jaishankar ensures that Pakistan’s propaganda domestically and internationally does not go unanswered. Whether it was the abrogation of Article 370 or countering misinformation after the passing of CAA, MEA under Dr Jaishankar made sure that appropriate is passed in the diplomatic corners across the globe, including multilateral fora such as the UN.

Conversely, India has had good relations with all the remaining neighbours, from Nepal to Sri Lanka and from Bhutan to Bangladesh. Historically India and Nepal share cordial relations. However, in the last few years, Nepal has struggled with political instability, and amid fear of overt Chinese influence in Nepal’s internal affairs, MEA swiftly managed to secure security and economic interests in the country.

In the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh plays a pivotal role in India’s Indo-Pacific strategy. The interests of India and Bangladesh have been intertwined since Bangladesh’s liberation. Dr. Jaishankar realised the importance of Bangladesh in countering growing Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean and accordingly elevated Bangladesh’s role in India’s neighbourhood policy.

In a time of economic crisis in Sri Lanka. India was the first responder in providing humanitarian and economic aid to the island nation. Through SAGAR and other initiatives, India makes sure that it is foremost in securing Indian interest in the neighbouring countries, advancing the spirit of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.


Quad is one of the few institutions that has gained significant importance in the Indo-Pacific and around the world. It is a grouping comprising India, Australia, the USA, and Japan. It has gained prominence in India’s foreign policy since 2016, especially in the post-2019 period. On security issues in the Indo-Pacific, the interests of the Quad countries are aligned.

Individually, India has very good relations with each of the Quad members. Japan and India share a historical relationship that has been ageing for decades. In 2022 India and Australia signed an Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement with Australia boosting mutual trade relations.

In October 2020, India signed the BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement), the final of the four foundational agreements with the USA. Dr Jaishankar, first as a foreign secretary and later as an EAM, played a key role in negotiating these agreements. The work Dr Jaishankar did in advancing the Indo-US strategic partnership is highly admired by US’ officials and strategic circles. Former Secretary of State of the USA Mr Mike Pompeo, in his book, describes Dr Jaishankar as "professional, rational, and a fierce defender of his boss and his country."


Since India's independence, its relations with European countries have been somewhat skewed due to historical reasons. There were few attempts, especially after the 1991 LPG reforms, to expand India and Europe's cooperation at different levels; however, the realist shift in India’s engagement with Europe has been noticed since 2014. Dr. Jaishankar, being a realist himself, was aware of mutual opportunities in sectors such as trade, infrastructure, technology, climate change, etc.

In 2021, India and the UK adopted "Roadmap 2030," which includes commitments to deepen cooperation in areas of mutual interest. India’s engagement with the Nordic countries has also enhanced significantly, especially in the areas of trade, agriculture, and climate change. In the context of the renewable energy sector, relations with Germany play a key role. Germany is also a member of the G4 grouping, which comprises India, Japan, Brazil, and Germany. Together, they aim to put forward demands for the expansion of the UNSC and reform in the UN system.

Strategically, France and India share a unique bond. France plays a very important role in India’s engagement with Europe. France holds high significance in diversifying India’s defence imports. As a foreign secretary and later as an EAM, Dr. Jaishankar instrumentally elevated the strategic relationship with France.


Dr. S. Jaishankar firmly upholds that India and Africa's relations are well-founded and historic. This deep connection was developed over the course of centuries and is reflected in communities and experiences.

He has emphasised the role and importance of the African continent for India by highlighting the increase in two-way interaction between the two continents. He has made concerted efforts to bring about collaboration on food and energy security between India and Africa. He envisages building a triad of health, digital, and green growth as a result of this collaboration, which would in turn open endless opportunities for African and Indian youth.

In his address at the inaugural session of the 16th CII-EXIM Bank Conclave on India and Africa Project Partnership, he laid the foundations for increased cooperation in four primary areas: public health, digital delivery, skilling, and capacity building in the post-COVID scenario. He also displayed India’s willingness to increase maritime defence cooperation to mitigate the threats from some sensitive coastal regions of Africa. With Dr. S. Jaishankar’s vision and policies, India-Africa relations are setting new benchmarks in cooperation for mutual cooperation.


Dr. S. Jaishankar has played an instrumental role in shaping and implementing a new vision for India’s foreign policy in West Asia. He has advocated for a more pragmatic and flexible approach that goes beyond non-alignment and seeks to expand India’s space and options in the region. He has also emphasised the importance of building stronger political ties with important partners such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Iran, and Turkey based on mutual interests and respect.

During a recent visit to Israel, he participated in a quadrilateral meeting with his counterparts from the US and UAE, signalling India’s willingness to engage in multilateral cooperation with like-minded countries from the region and beyond. The establishment of the grouping such as I2-U2 is a result of India’s pragmatic dehyphenation in West Asia.


Time and again, Dr. S. Jaishankar has reiterated that India, South America, and the Caribbean Islands share similar viewpoints on major global issues; thus, they have a natural bonding. In pursuit of strengthening ties with Latin American nations, Dr. S. Jaishankar visited Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina in August 2022, which garnered a lot of global attention.

The main focus of his visit was food and energy security, defence and security, space, IT, and aerospace. During his visit to Paraguay, he inaugurated the Indian embassy, which started its operations in January 2022. In both Brazil and Argentina, he co-chaired the joint commission meetings with his counterparts, discussing bilateral cooperation and regional and global issues of mutual interest. A significant outcome of Argentina's visit was an agreement on developing a local currency payment mechanism for bilateral trade and increased cooperation in the defence, nuclear, and energy sectors.

Before this, he also visited Mexico in 2021, where he participated in the celebrations of Mexico’s 200 years of independence, solidifying ties between the two countries. He also interacted with the leading CEOs and business community in Mexico, inviting investments in India. Dr. Jaishankar realises Latin America’s importance to India in the foreign policy domain and is developing frameworks to strengthen connections.


BRICS is an acronym used for the alliance of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, which are the emerging economies of the world. BRICS has established itself as a community that plays a significant role in setting global economic policy, especially in the global south. The importance of BRICS can be measured by the fact that it is considered a major rival to the G7 in the economic sphere.

India, as a member of BRICS, shares pleasant relations with all the member countries. Economic concerns are not the only concern of the BRICS countries. Dr. S. Jaishankar, in his visit to South Africa in July 2021, stressed the importance of maintaining peace and security.

Brazil and India have shared a strategic partnership since 2006, but their relations date way back from that. During his visit to Brazil in 2022, EAM highlighted the importance of hosting the 6th meeting of the India-Brazil trade monitoring mechanism in Brasilia. This visit was also marked by the issuing of a special stamp to celebrate 75 years of India’s independence.

Russia is among India's oldest partners and shares a special and privileged strategic partnership with India. In his visit to Russia in 2022, Jaishankar discussed the challenges and prospects for Indo-Russian relations. Even though India has disputes with China over boundary issues, China continues to be India’s second-largest trading partner. Both Asian giants have come together on various global issues on different international platforms.


Ever since becoming EAM, Dr. S. Jaishankar has worked immensely to elevate India’s foreign policy from non-alignment to that of multi-alignment. In his book The India Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World, he reflects on India’s position in the changing international system and lays out a multilateral approach to secure the maximum benefits.

Jaishankar identifies the current world order as a "Bazaar", where all countries are pursuing their national interests, heightening the importance of following a more pragmatic approach in foreign policy and giving up our obsession with idealism. In his opinion, a pragmatic policy would help India get closer to the major players in the global balance of power and extract maximum benefits.

In concurrence with the bazaar order, he also stressed the need to give up the defensive mindset to deal with external threats. He also believes that India needs to take risks in the foreign policy arena to gain strategic advantages and control the narratives. With these transformations in foreign policy, Dr. Jaishankar aims to prepare India for a leading role in the future, in line with India's ambitions of becoming a Vishwa Guru.





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