The suave Mr. S M Krishna a tennis and yoga enthusiast took over as India's External Affairs Minister, a job which involves management of relations with two countries with which India has been at war before, China and Pakistan, many regional neighbors who view New Delhi with some degree of suspicion for interfering in their internal affairs and an international community which remains either indifferent or uninformed of the world's largest democracy.
Mr. Krishna's qualifications for what could be one of his toughest assignments in government are a degree in International law and loads of experience in the muddy politics of the state of Karnataka, presently a bastion of the opposition Bhartiya Janata Party.
Krishna's job was made easier by a call from United States President Barack Obama to Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh who as per the White House statement, "discussed their mutual desire to strengthen India-US relations and work together to address common global challenges such as the economic downturn, climate change and counter-terrorism."
It should be noted that Obama gave New Delhi the miss when he took over the Presidency calling up a host of global leaders including Mr. Zardari in Islamabad. Hopefully there is a realization in Capitol Hill, that the policy of, 'Change' need not and should not include New Delhi.
As Mr. C Raja Mohan predicted the resounding victory of the Congress had possibly led to an increase in respect for the Party and Mr. Manmohan Singh in the international community, 'the Congress party's superb performance in the elections will send unmistakable signals to Washington, Islamabad and Beijing that they will have to deal with a strong and resolute interlocutor in New Delhi,' he wrote in his blog in the Indian Express.
That the government begins its new term with a fresh and strong mandate also provides it sufficient leeway in the international fora to shape its policies in national interest. Thus stability of government would imply a strong India with better bargaining power internationally as well as regionally. The hesitation in greater engagement with the US and West that the UPA had in its first tenure would be greatly reduced.
However this is negated by less enthusiasm that President Obama seems to be having for India, hopefully his telephonic conversation with Mr. Manmohan Singh and a visit to the country may clear the air in the months ahead. But Obama's nuclear inhibitions and protectionist vision may not exactly enamor him to the H1B1 oriented policies of New Delhi with a grand vision about its own status in the global community.
Not withstanding the above with the heat of the Indo US relations and the bonhomie era clearly behind it, the Manmohan Singh government would be able to balance its relations with other major states particularly Russia, the European Union, Japan, Brazil, South Africa and other major states in Africa and West Asia. As the Congress Manifesto clearly states, 'These relationships will be further deepened'. This was also indication given by the new External Affairs Mr. S M Krishna in his interaction with the media on 23 May 2009 when he said in a media interaction, 'We are at a moment in history when the world situation is rapidly changing and India, as a responsible power, must engage actively with the world. To strengthen our policy and developmental options we will consolidate further our existing strategic partnership with major powers like USA, Russia, China, Japan and EU'.
India is likely to face pressure from the United States to recommence the peace process with Pakistan and also start talks on Kashmir. However it is not likely to make any positive moves unless there is tangible evidence of a crack down on militants operating from Pakistan. In his first conference after swearing in, the Prime Minister touched upon Pakistan hoping that it will "cooperate in not allowing its territory being used to host terror."
In his first tenure Mr. Manmohan Singh ably assisted by Mr. Pranab Mukherjee as the External Affairs Minister could not make much headway in Sino Indian relations particularly on the contentious border issue. India is also showing greater concern over China's continuing efforts to enlarge its foot print in South Asia and the Indian Ocean. Sino Indian economic relations are however on an upward trajectory. The competition-cooperation dyad with China is expected to continue. China will not be able to steam roll its way through the region as a strong India would considerably shift the power balance towards New Delhi.
Regionally a strong India would considerably lower the bargaining power of its neighbors. The Congress Manifesto calls for supporting multi-party democracy in Bangladesh and Nepal and intends to work with both countries to deepen bilateral ties across a wide spectrum of areas for demonstrable mutual benefit but wants these countries to take note of India's security concerns in a more meaningful manner. Sri Lanka should be on a positive track with New Delhi likely to press for devolution of power. Sadly the Indian government does not seem to be very much concerned about the fate of Aung Suu Kyi, supporting the military junta in Myanmar in many ways including guns.
So Mr. Krishna inherits a mixed legacy from his predecessor Mr. Pranab Mukherjee a man of vast experience in various fields of governance including foreign policy. Will his yoga help the man from Bengaluru, India's IT capital or will he immerse his head in the quick sand of Indian diplomacy remains to be seen?