May 23, 2019

Modi’s election victory likely to extend strong U.S.–India ties

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi celebrating with BJP workers. Photo: Atul Loke/Getty Images

The triumph of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India's national elections, which gives Narendra Modi another 5 years as prime minister, should be a largely positive outcome for U.S. foreign policy.

The big picture: Washington has come to regard India, with Modi at the helm, as a key partner in Asia, particularly since the Trump administration rolled out its Indo-Pacific strategy. U.S. and Indian security interests strongly align over countering the threat of terrorism in South Asia and China’s deepening footprint across Asia.

Between the lines: The bilateral relationship enjoys a multiparty consensus in both countries, so the election was unlikely to disrupt ties. But Modi’s return ensures continuity in the fast-growing U.S.–India security partnership, which has advanced several foundational defense agreements.

  • These accords enable the U.S. and Indian militaries to enhance cooperation on communication technology and to use each other’s military facilities, particularly for refueling purposes — better positioning them to jointly address the China threat.

Yes, but: Modi’s victory gives the BJP a resounding mandate to continue espousing its brand of Hindu nationalism. The divisive ideology breeds discrimination and intolerance, heightening the risk of communal violence and other instability.

  • For U.S. officials and investors, the specter of America’s most important bilateral partner in South Asia becoming a less stable place is nothing to sneeze at.

The bottom line: Modi’s win should bring ample benefits to U.S. policy, but these benefits shouldn’t be overstated.

Michael Kugelman is deputy director and senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center.

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