Jair Bolsonaro’s victory in Brazil’s elections could be a problem for BRICS, and therefore, a problem for India


  • Earlier this week, Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing firebrand, won the country’s Presidential elections.
  • While it is unclear just exactly what Bolsonaro’s thoughts are with respect to India, his foreign policy is expected to be erratic and inconsistent with his predecessors.
  • Foreign policy experts have predicted Brazil’s informal retreat from the BRICS under Bolsonaro, which would be a blow for India as the grouping is a crucial component of its global outreach strategy.
  • Wary of an uncooperative and uncompromising administration, India might see Bolsonaro’s rhetoric as a reason to steer clear of any bilateral agreements with Brazil.
Earlier this week, Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing firebrand with an agenda to rid Brazil of corruption, won the country’s Presidential elections after a second-round faceoff against Fernando Haddad of the leftist Worker’s Party (PT).

He benefited from a wave of resentment against the two prominent parties, the PT and the party of former President Michael Temer, the conservative PMDB, owing to a recession and host of corruption scandals.

Bolsanoro’s priorities, based on his campaign promises, seem clear: he plans to stifle political opponents on the left, allow extra-judicial killings to curb crime, roll back anti-gun measures, allocate important cabinet positions to military stalwarts and clamp down on the rights of minority groups.

India has every reason to be cautious. While it is unclear just exactly what Bolsonaro’s thoughts are with respect to India and whether his controversial ideas will extend to the global sphere, his foreign policy is expected to be as erratic as the man in the White House that he’s consistently been compared to over the course of his campaign.

The “Trump of the Tropics” is expected to pull out of the Paris agreement on climate change and move into the US’s embrace at a time when a lot of emerging markets are banding together amid tensions with the US.

All eyes will be on Bolsanoro as Brazil hosts the next BRICS Summit in 2019. His anti-globalist beliefs risk derailing the achievements of the group, which include the establishment of a development bank and a foreign exchange reserve swap arrangement.

For example, Bolsonaro has had a lot of aggressive rhetoric towards China, its largest trading partner, over the course of his election campaign, accusing it of trying to exert undesirable financial sway in Brazil. He has repeatedly stated that Chinese entities should not be allowed to run or own important projects in the country, indicating his aversion to foreign interests.

Trade pundits have alluded to Brazil’s informal retreat from the BRICS under Bolsonaro, which would be a blow for India as the grouping is a crucial component of its global outreach strategy.

Bolsonaro’s election victory comes at a time when India looks to expand its presence in Latin America, which has till date represented a blind spot in the nation’s foreign policy. Further, India needs to secure the support of its BRICS counterparts as it lobbies for a greater influence in global issues, especially in regards to its bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

However, wary of an uncooperative and uncompromising administration, India might see Bolsonaro’s rhetoric as a reason to steer clear of any bilateral agreements with Brazil.

This is a pity. India and Brazil have yet to fully achieve the potential of bilateral relations as trade volumes, at around $5.6 billion in 2016, are a fraction of Brazil’s trade with China.
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