The foreign policy of a country regulates its relations with other nations in the world with the aim of promoting its national interests. Various factors influence foreign policy like geography, history, leadership, social structure, military strength, public opinion, etc. India’s foreign policy has been a work of evolution, evident via three phases.
The first phase – “Nehruvian Idealism” : Following the footsteps of Gandhian principles of peace and non violence, from 1947 till 1959, India diligently followed idealism, i.e. we believed in international laws and ethics, we saw good in every country and we didn’t support war or violence. It was with this idealistic notion that Nehru took the issue of Kashmir to UN; similarly we signed the Panchsheel Agreement with China in 1954 (with the enthusiasm of ‘Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai’); and at the onset of cold war, India maintained a ‘Non-aligned’ stance. Given the infancy of our independence, India’s stand was anti-racist, anti-imperialist and slightly anti-western during this phase.
The second phase – “Strategic Realism” : It was about time India understood the real deal of diplomacy which is that in international relations, there are no permanent friends or foes, there’s only permanent interests. So in 1959 we gave refuge to Dalai Lama; we liberated Goa by the use of force in 1961; and during the 1962 Indo-China war, we propagated the ‘Push Forward’ Policy to intimidate the enemy. We also took a hard stance against the US for the Vietnam war. In 1971, to prevent a two front war, we facilitated the liberation of East Pakistan. In the coming years India also became assertive with respect to China; and although it majorly backfired, India also had Indian Peacekeeping Forces stationed in Sri Lanka during the civil war. The phase lasted till 1991.
The third phase – “Economic Pragmatism” : It can be categorised as a subset of the second phase as it was indispensable to open up our economy to the world now. Herein we took the ‘Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation’ (LPG) reforms. On one hand we had troubles with countries like China and Pakistan but the trade and business was kept separate from the turbulence. Another major area of concern during this decade was to focus on our neighbouring countries and for that, the “Gujral Doctrine” was formulated. The doctrine was a five point roadmap to build trust between India and it’s neighbours and find solutions to bilateral issues amicably.
It would be right to say that the third phase is still continuing, albeit with augmented efforts to engage with the world. In 2012 India launched the “Connect Central Asia” Policy aimed at strengthening India’s relations with the Central Asian countries. In 2014, the ‘Look East’ policy was reformulated as ‘Act East’ policy. This policy focusses on the extended neighbourhood in the Asia-Pacific region. On these lines, India has been actively engaged in various regional fora such as ASEAN, BIMSTEC, Mekong Ganga Co-operation (MGC), Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), Asia Cooperative Dialogue (ACD), East Asia Summit, etc.
Thus, it is clear that in the past few years the bandwidth of India’s international engagement has been the widest ever. India’s foreign interactions and decisions have always adhered to and bolstered certain principles which form the essence of our foreign policy – Promotion of world peace, Non-alignment, Panchsheel, support to the UN, disarmament, anti-colonialism stand and a special bias towards Afro-Asian nations (India also earned the name of ‘Big Brother’ from many neighbours). India has proactively been participating in various international summits and meetings, forming strategic partnerships with countries like USA, Japan, France, Australia, UK, etc and meanwhile enthusiastically cultivating the Indian diaspora as well. India also strictly follows a ‘Neighbourhood First’ Policy and a great example of that was the help we extended during the Covid-19 pandemic and recently to Sri Lanka during its economic crisis.
Our foreign policy over the decades has successfully placed India at a platform from where the world looks at it as a responsible power with great strategic influence, unmatched talent and capabilities, and traditional values to learn from.