How India strengthened foreign relations in 2018, expectations for ...
PM Modi welcomes Russian President Vladimir Putin prior to their meeting at Hyderabad House, New Delhi. (Photo: Reuters)


by Shazia Farooq 29 June 2020

Article 51 of the Indian Constitution envisages the state to promote international peace and security; maintain just and honourable relations between nations; foster respect for international law and treaty obligations; and to encourage settlement of international disputes by arbitration. The early decades of India’s independence were thus characterised by broad engagement in international affairs, with the country taking a leadership role in international organisations and regimes. Non-Alignment Movement(NAM) and Panchsheel as principles of Indian foreign policy and India’s attempt to forge ahead her solidarity with Asian and African nations were determined by Nehru’s thinking. The Non Alignment served well during the initial years of post-independence period but soon it outlived its utility. The dominant ideas that shaped foreign policy in the past were not relevant to the new paradigms of the future. There were clear cut deviations in global equations. Now the foreign policy came to be dictated by India’s priorities and strategic objectives.

Foreign policy as it is now understood is a function of the Westphalian system of modern state, sovereignty and territorial integrity, originating from the peace of Westphalia signed in1648 in Europe, in which legitimate states were assumed to correspond to nations and these nation-states became the primary institutional agents in an inter-state system of relations. The foreign policy of the government concerns the policy initiatives made/adopted towards other states.

 The guiding principles of Indian foreign policy mainly anchored by Nehru were firmly etched to values based principles derived from religious based traditions, anti-colonialism, anti-racialism and the legacy of non- violent freedom movement. Nehru believed that India’s goal was to aspire for its rightful voice in world affairs given its great ancient civilization and gigantic geographical features in one of the prime regions of the world. It would be highly meaningless if India could not establish an independent voice among comity of nations in the aftermath of independence from the colonial rule. Thus independent foreign policy was more of an imperative than an obligation or a choice. India took a keen interest in expanding ‘area of peace’ and not of war or conflicts. Therefore India joined none of the military blocs of capitalist countries. Nehru proclaimed, “We propose, as far as possible, to keep away from the power politics of groups, aligned against one another, which have led in the past to world wars and which may again lead to disasters on a very large scale.” Nehru’s policy turned out to be fundamentally flawed in the end. His reliance on the statecraft, his minimal concern and miscalculation for the military spending led to grave security breaches. This was evident when India and china fought limited war at their respective borders. It was only after embarrassing defeat of India that led to the shift in the policy-making and defence spending.

Indira Gandhi narrowed down the intended sphere to South Asia region only. India’s goal was to remain unchallenged hegemon in the sub-continent only. Her doctrine was based on the realistic notion backed by the material capabilities and belligerent interventionist practices for augmenting national power. Indian experiences of cold war politics, Indo-China war 1962, Indo-Pak war of 1965, Pakistan-US military assistance agreements, Pakistan-China strategic cooperation initiatives and changes in world view of country’s leadership, primarily in the orientation of Indira Gandhi played major role in transforming strategic outlook of India. During the 1971 war against Pakistan for the liberation of Bangladesh, Indira Gandhi maintained a cordial relationship with India’s inspirational and natural ally soviet union for their support in the war. Indira by signing a mutual assistance treaty on August 1971 went beyond Nehru’s policy of Non Alignment.

P. V. Narasimha Rao and Atal Behari Vajpayee brought realism to the fore in Indian foreign policy. With nuclearization an expression of the party’s foreign policy, party’s spokesperson at that time believed that nuclear weapons will give prestige, power and standing by the western world. Thus, in 1998, India went nuclear pursuing the threads of realpolitik and radically redefining India’s foreign policy. Post 1990 there has been radical shift with government looking to harvest the economic benefits of diplomacy. The Indo-Israel relations is a case in point. India’s Israel policies reveals surprising inconsistencies in positions taken by the country’s leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru and crackling tensions between its professed values and realpolitik. The rapprochement between Israel and India in recent years has been brought about at the expense of the Palestinians standing in India’s regional policy. Prior to this India had been a strong supporter of the Palestinian position in line with its anti-colonialist stance.

Both Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi only toed the line of these two important post-Nehruvian architects of Indian foreign policy. India has chosen the path of realist nationalism. Prime minister Narendra Modi skipped the 17th and 18th NAM summits indicating a shift from non-alligned to a multi aligned perspective which would be of use in furthering India’s global positions on many matters such as UNSC reforms and terrorism.

Foreign policy is currently focussed on improving relations with neighbouring countries in South Asia, engaging the extended neighbourhood in South East Asia and the major global powers. The focus has been on leveraging international partnerships to promote India’s domestic developments. With ‘ Act East’ the purpose is to become an integral part of asia. The policy emphasises a more proactive role for India in ASEAN and East Asian countries. More so it is to check the rise of china and help preventing upsetting of Asia’s delicate balance of power.

India thus offers an interesting case of a country that has sought to further its interests in the garb of values seeking to punch above its weight in the post-independence period. As its economic power increased it has been less supportive of values and has spoken the language of interests and power.