Foreign Policy of India

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Foreign Policy of India

Foreign Policy refers to the principles and considerations that lie behind a country’s international relations. Since there is an intimate connection between world events and there is also constant action and reaction, the foreign policy of each country has to be molded in accordance with new situations. It cannot remain rigid or pegged to hard and fast rules. The basic aims and principles, however, generally remain the same; the guiding factor is to ensure ultimate benefit to the nation.

The foreign policies of all nations are broadly identical in three major respects:

  • Every nation is concerned primarily with securing its national interests, and the foreign policy pursued must be attuned to the securing of those interests, that is to say, the country has to act in accordance with her interests in the given set of circumstances; secondly,
  • The commitments that a nation enters into in foreign relations are related to its capacity for fulfilling them; and, thirdly,
  • Every nation is interested in securing the support of world opinion on its side.

India falls in line with the rest of the world in these three respects.

The importance and urgency of framing a sound foreign policy and keeping it flexible enough to cope with all developments is obvious. The modifications and the slight shifts in policy do not reflect any inconsistency but are the results of a realistic and pragmatic approach to world affairs. Indian policy is also governed by these considerations.

Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru, who was the architect of India’s foreign policy, fully subscribed to these tenets and stressed their importance on many occasions. India’s foreign policy was, therefore, based on, and has been guided by, principles which the country had accepted since independence. The principles are: peace, independence, friendship and active co-operation with all countries. All of them were enshrined in the concept of non-alignment and peaceful coexistence.

The main aspects of India’s foreign policy may be briefly stated as follows:

  1. The policy of non-alignment which really means the pursuit of an independent foreign policy and the avoidance of entanglements with power blocs;
  2. The country’s desire to follow the Indian tradition that the right means must be adopted to achieve the desired ends;
  3. Full support to the principle of freedom of dependent peoples and opposition to racial discrimination in any form or kind; and
  4. Co-operation with all peace-loving nations and with the United Nations to promote international peace and prosperity without exploitation of one nation by another.

The essentials of India’s foreign policy, therefore, represent the attempt to adjust ourselves to the changing world situation in our national interest and in the interest of world peace. Since foreign policy is ultimately the outcome of economic policy, the evolution of a sound economic policy is indispensable if the foreign policy is not to be vague, imprecise and groping.

Early Phases

In the first phase the accent in India’s foreign policy was on noninterference. Having just won freedom and being primarily concerned with putting our own house in order we were anxious to avoid entanglements in world affairs. While we supported any movement in favour of independence, welcomed the emergence of new independent States and give them our full moral support, we tried not to get too deeply involved in world affairs. Circumstances did on certain occasions force us to get involved, as in Korea, but there our involvement was as a member of the United Nations at least in the beginning. It was only later that we were forced to play a more active role, but that was under pressure of circumstances. In this phase India’s foreign policy was sometimes accused of leaning towards the Anglo-American bloc. But it has to be realized that in this period the Soviet Union under Stalin’s leadership had not yet adopted a positive approach towards non-alignment and Indian foreign policy was constantly under attack by the Soviet press as being subservient to foreign imperialism.

India’s desire to avoid getting involved in conflicts did not however prevent her from taking a keen interest in the national liberation struggles that were going on in various parts of the world. As one of the largest among the dependent countries which had just won freedom, India made no secret of her intention to support those who were struggling for independence against colonial rule. Enlargement of human freedom thus became one of our policy objectives.

Ever since 1947 when India became independent, she has taken an active part in the work of the United Nations.

Bilateral Relations

Lately, greater emphasis is being laid on developing bilateral relations, especially with countries in South-East Asia, on the basis of equality and mutual co-operation. Fresh contacts have been made with the countries of this region and old contacts are being renewed so as to strengthen the diplomatic ties.

India is trying to be of assistance to the healthy trends that are now emerging in S.E. Asia. The forces of nationalism and genuine patriotism are being recognized and encouraged by extending to them all possible assistance. For instance, the Government of India has been discussing plans to help South-East Asian countries to reconstruct the economy.

Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India has paid goodwill visits to several neighboring countries. There is now a clear realization that the Indian strategy of self-reliance warrants closer ties with India’s neighbours in particular and with all countries of the Third World in general. Among these countries are the oil-rich nations of West Asia and the socialist countries of Eastern Europe which constitute part of the Soviet bloc.

The country’s interest lies in promoting confidence and mutuality of interests between Indo-China and the other S.E. Asian States. This region has thus become very important for India diplomatically.

India and Indonesia 

India has lately strengthened its diplomatic relations with Indo­nesia also. It reflected the growth of cordial co-operation in recent years, with both New Delhi and Jakarta having an identity of outlook on many important regional and international issues. They share the interest in peace. The bilateral co-operation between India and Indonesia has now a broader basis. Both countries which had very close relations in the early Nehru-Sukarno decade are rediscovering each other. This is expected to benefit Asia and also the forces working for world peace.

Similarly, India has established friendly relations with Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

Indo-Pak Relations

India’s ties with Pakistan are naturally of the utmost importance because the peace of the Indian sub-continent hinges upon them. Frequent tensions, misunderstandings and occasional conflicts have marred Indo-Pak relations since the partition of 1947.

Under the Simla Agreement there were to be exchanges for cultural and scientific purposes. The two countries have agreed to hold further discussions on these measures in due course.

On June 21, 1976, India and Pakistan announced the appoint­ment of Ambassadors to each other’s country in implementation of the May 14 agreement.

With Afghanistan, Pakistan’s next door northern neighbour, India has maintained cordial relations throughout. There areas of conflicts of interests are marginal. The high-level visits have frequently been exchanged.

India and Bangladesh

India and Bangladesh have maintained the most cordial relations ever after the establishment of the new sovereign republic on December 16, 1971. The Prime Ministers of the two countries signed a number of agreements from time to time. They pledged the fullest co-operation and mutual accommodation befitting good neighborliness. India and Bangladesh had signed, on March 19, 1972, a 25-year treaty of friendship, co-operation and peace. The treaty provided that the two countries would remain in close touches on all matters of common interest and held regular consultations at least once every six months. Another clause provided that when either country is attacked or threatened with an attack, both will enter into consultations and take effective measures to eliminate the threat. India and Bangladesh signed a three-year trade agreement which came into force from September 28, 1973, and also signed (on May 16, 1974) three agreements for industrial development of Bangladesh. Under the Border Demarcation Agreement the Berubari enclave was to be retained in India; Bangladesh would get two enclaves and also a corridor to connect them. On April 18, 1975, the two countries signed the long-awaited agreement on Farakka. It provided an out­standing example of mutual understanding and co-operation in the development of international river waters.

India has not interfered in any way in Bangladesh’s internal affairs, but it cannot ignore the grave developments taking place there since these directly affect this country’s interests. India has expressed the fear that the instability developing in Bangladesh could have political, economic as well as security implications for India.

Another setback to New Delhi-Dacca relations resulted from Bangladesh’s successful move in getting the Farakka issue placed on U.N. Assembly agenda in October 1976. Bangladesh leaders ignored India’s repeated plea that the issue was a bilateral one and could best be settled by mutual talks. Evidently Bangladesh sought propaganda advantages by internationalizing the Farakka issue.

India and Nepal

India and Nepal are also bound by cultural and linguistic ties. Indo-Nepalese relations have, however, witnessed many vicissitudes. India has throughout extended its hand of friendship to Nepal which occupies a strategic position since it lies between India and China. High-level personal contacts have been maintained almost constantly and India has extended liberal economic aid to its close neighbour.

A number of agreements have been signed in the past by India and Nepal for mutual co-operation in many spheres, includ­ing the harnessing of hydro-electric potential of rivers.

Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, has recently visited Nepal in the Month of August, 2014.

Ties with Sri Lanka

India also has ancient historical and cultural ties with Sri Lanka. The relations between the two countries have been generally cordial and both have acted as good neighbors at international forums, adopting a common stand on all major issues. A breakthrough in the problem of the people of Indian origin living in Ceylon was made by the Lal Bahadur Shastri-Mrs. Bandaranaike agreement of 1964. The Sri Lanka Prime Minister visited India in January 1974 and reached an understanding on the issue of granting citizenship rights to Indians.

The two Prime Ministers reviewed the im­plementation of the U.N. declaration of December 1971 on keeping the Indian Ocean as a zone of peace and expressed concern at the big power rivalry in the region. Their close identity of views on international issues was again stressed. The dispute over the island of Kachchativu (Katchatheevu), which had remained unresolved for many years, was settled in 1974. On June 27, 1974, the Government of India announced that a comprehensive agreement had been reached on the problem ‘in a spirit of equality and mutual respect”. In effect, Sri Lanka was given control of the territory as a gesture of goodwill.


With Bhutan India has maintained close relations. Under the treaty of 1949, the foreign relations of Bhutan are managed by India. There has been complete identity of views between the two countries.

Indo-Russia Relations

From among the big powers, India has had an especially cordial relationship with the then Soviet Union (U.S.S.R) which is widely regarded as a trustworthy friend of the Indian people. The Soviet Union has come to India’s aid on many crucial occasions when the other powers seemed to be hostile.

INS Vikramaditya, the biggest warship of Indian Navy, is the result of high level deal between Russia and India.

Relations with China

India’s relations with China were quite cordial during the long years of Panch Sheel (peaceful co-existence) and ‘Hindi-Chini Bhai­ Bhai”.

But India received a rude shock in 1962 when the Chinese suddenly invaded India and seized thousands of miles of Indian Territory in the northern Himalayas. For 14 years thereafter, the relations remained strained. Chinese hostility during those years was also due to India’s close friendship with the Soviet Union—a country which China regards as its biggest enemy.

On April 15, 1976, India announced the appointment of Mr. K.R. Narayanan, a top Indian diplomat, as Ambassador to China as part of an initiative to normalize relations with that country. External Affairs Minister Y.B. Chavan explained that the decision to restore the level of diplomatic representation with China was taken in pursuance of India’s policy to develop amicable relations with all countries, especially her neighbours.

Signs of a change in the attitude of China towards India became evident at the beginning of 1969 when China began sending its envoys to Indian diplomatic functions and inviting Indian diplomats to some of its own functions in world capitals.

India and China should have the same old friendship that they once had.

Another important event that took place in 1971 was the Chinese invitation for an Indian table-tennis team to participate in the Afro-Asian Friendship Table-Tennis championships. India sent a team which was well received.

A leading Chinese personality to pass through India was the then Vice-Premier Chen Hsi-lien on his way to Kathmandu in February 1975. He said then that China would reciprocate if the Government of India took the initiative for talks to normalize relations between the two countries. The announcement was seen in Peking as the first major sign of a thaw in Sino-Indian relations.

Both countries are trying to make ‘positive efforts” towards improving relations between India and China.

Indo-U.S. Ties

For several years after India’s independence, owing to a multiplicity of reasons, India’s relations with the U.S.A. had been strained, though there have been periods of cordiality also.

But since 1991, there has been increasing co-operation between India and U.S.A. Now, India and U.S.A are considered to be friendly countries.

During the last few years, efforts have been renewed to further improve Indo-U.S. ties. U.S. leaders have again held out assurances of friendship.

Relations with Iran and Arab countries

With Iran also, India has amended its fences after a longish spell of misunderstandings. In April 1974, Mrs. Gandhi visited Teheran, and the Shah and the Shahbano returned the courtesy visit. Fruitful negotiations had been held at the highest level and economic co-operation agree­ments were signed between the two countries.

With Arab countries India has always sought the best of rela­tions and has supported them on every major issue at international forums.

India had also to build up her bilateral relations with all the countries in South-East Asia and the world.

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