20860 India’s Foreign Policy – Continuity and Change

India’s Foreign Policy – Continuity and Change

India shares varying relationships with its neighbours and dominant powers, especially with its diverse culture, strategic geographical location and a unique economic position in the world. These are also the factors it takes into consideration for its foreign policy. The foreign policy of India has stuck to some of its basic principles and has adopted newer dimensions to adapt to the changing world, and has thus experienced both stability and change since its independence in 1947. 

Foundations of Foreign Policy 

The late Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India and the chief architect of India’s foreign policy, embarked on a policy of non-alignment in the context of the Cold War, to stay out of ‘entangling alliances’ and instead focus on economic and industrial development. The significance of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) lay in its message that developing countries of the world need not follow any of the big powers but could pursue an independent foreign policy.  However, in the present times, non-alignment has given way to multi-alignment, and India has built strong bilateral and multilateral relationships with many countries and is a part of several organisations such as BRICS, EAS, SCO, etc. This is one of the best means to give India access to the technology required to build its capacity and infrastructure and to protect its national security. 

Though archaic by current standards, the five principles of Panchsheel or peaceful coexistence form the core principle of India’s foreign policy. It was jointly proposed in 1954 by Nehru and his Chinese counterpart, Zhou Enlai, to echo the spirit of respect, tolerance and peaceful coexistence among its peoples. Nehru’s successors pursued a similar foreign policy, while keeping the original basic structure. During Indira Gandhi’s tenure, efforts were made to improve relations with the US as also with the USSR. While the Janata Party government pursued a goodneighbour policy, Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure saw a focus on nuclear disarmament (Six Nation Summit), improvement of relations with China, and the acceptance of new world technology. 


With the advent of liberalization, privatization and globalization (LPG) in 1991 under the then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao, India embarked on Look East Policy while at the same time significantly improving ties with US. During mid 1990s, the then Prime Minister, I.K. Gujral, gave a new dimension to the foreign policy in the form of the Gujral Doctrine, where unilateral concessions were to be made to the neighbouring countries without expecting reciprocity.  Vajpayee’s regime more or less followed a similar approach, although the relations with Pakistan hit rock bottom due to Kargil conflict and the terrorist attack at the parliament in 2001. 

During his ten-year long tenure, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s foreign policy did make some impact with the signing of the nuclear deal with the US, improved relations with regional organisations such as ASEAN, higher trade levels with middle-east and western countries, and the consolidation of the BRICS nations. Furthermore in 2012, outstanding efforts to improve Sino-Indian relations were made and the policy of NAM 2.0 was introduced. Thus, during Manmohan Singh’s tenure, India’s foreign policy showed signs of maturity. 

Modi’s Era 

During his first term, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s showed active interest in developing bilateral relations with many countries – both west and east.  Even with Australia and New Zealand, which were never on the radar of previous governments, Modi was able to engage in deeper conversations on trade and other matters.   In a way, Modi’s foreign policy is a continuation of multi-alignment of the previous governments, but at a higher scale.  Modi had shown great interest in multilateral forums in which India is now playing a major role and had transformed the ‘Look East’ policy into the ‘Act East’ policy.  Now that Modi has been elected for a second term in the 2019 General Elections, it remains to be seen if the foreign policy will undergo any changes.  By inviting BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) countries to his oath taking ceremony for the second term, Modi has clearly what his immediate priorities are. 

India’s Involvement with Multinational Organizations 

India’s experience with British imperialism makes it a staunch opposer of colonialism. Post-independence, India expressed solidarity with the national liberation movements in the third world countries, even using platforms such as NAM and the United Nations (UN) to fight for the cause of the colonised countries. India was also vociferous in its commitment to anti-racialism, bringing the international community together through NAM to raise its voice against the apartheid movement in South Africa and fighting for the cause of coloured people in US and Zimbabwe. India continues to fight against such injustices. 

Another feature of India’s foreign policy is its faith in the UN, which was reflected in its contributions to innumerable peace keeping activities in Korea (1953), Rwanda (1994), Somalia (1993-94), and so on. India has always made regular financial contributions to the UN as well. In the current context, India has made strong requests for the reform of the UN, and strives to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC) as a member of the G4 (India, Germany, Japan and Brazil).  This can be noticed in India’s discussions on this matter with US, UK, France and Russia.  Even though India wants China to support its bid for permanent membership on UNSC, clearly China doesn’t want that to happen anytime soon. 

Although India did not sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), it initiated certain broad proposals at the Six-Nation Summit in New Delhi, 1985 After India conducted nuclear tests in 1998, it was severely criticized by US, Germany and Japan, which had also cut-off certain aid and assistance to India.  Although, the principle of ‘no-first-use’ of nuclear weapons by India was appreciated by these nations Currently, India promotes the use of nuclear strategy only for civilian purposes, at a much higher level than it did in the previous decades. 

Picture Credits: young-diplomats.com

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