75 Years of Indian Foreign Policy and the narrative it takes

As India celebrates 75 years of autonomous foreign policy and its role in the global architecture, it is critical to analyse how the nation has fared and if any changes to its existing approach are required. According to Rahul Sagar’s writings, India’s policymaking style has been shaped by a diverse group of idealists, Hindu nationalists, strategic thinkers, often known as strategists, and liberals. Morality, ethics, and tolerance have always been pillars of Indian foreign policy. This resulted in the building of a structure, the foundations of which are spelled forth in the Vedas and other ancient writings and religious expositions. Dhamma and peace are the two pillars of Indian policy.

In his book, India’s foreign minister, S Jaishankar, believes that his nation is increasingly being compared to Krishna because it evaluates all choices before settling on the best one. It is also important to recall that the Nehruvian age was mired in idealistic ideals and was unconcerned with the development of military forces capable of dealing with problematic neighbours like as Pakistan and China. Disagreements between General Thimayya and VK Krishna Menon are extensively documented, revealing a callous attitude toward Indian military development. Due to the impact of idealism, India is undeniably at the centre of talks about developing-country ambitions and the necessity for unity among newly founded Afro-African governments. Nehru worked hard to develop idealistic views of international politics, but not every global leader like Woodrow Wilson. Despite the fact that the approach in issue could not explore the efficacy of force, Nehruvian ideology catapulted India to the position of de facto leadership among the world’s fledgling democracies.

The Panchsheel Agreement of 1954, the Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty of 1971, the India-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987, and India’s nuclear tests in 1998 all influenced India’s foreign policy. India’s rulers’ political leadership, domestic interests, and international viewpoint all had a part in developing the country’s foreign policy throughout time. One cannot deny that national resources, military leadership, and intelligence infrastructure all had an impact on worldview. As a consequence, it is apparent that improved relations with Israel, as well as involvement of African governments via IAFS meetings, ASEAN countries, and Central Asian republics, were all part of larger foreign policy goals. Despite the fact that India is not a major diplomatic power, its views have been considered and contested. India’s position on the SDGs, the CD (Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan), the CT initiative consensus, South-South cooperation, and crisis management via mediation is particularly well-known. The collection of data and information via interviews, official files, and archives is still ongoing, but constructing the overall diplomatic history is a critical component that requires a great deal of attention. Countries such as New Zealand have made significant efforts in this regard. Due to worries about its capacity to play a decisive role and the attractiveness of leading growing nations, India has lost progress in several sectors, including a seat on the United Nations Security Council. Despite understanding that it could have increased its nuclear capabilities far earlier, India’s unclear attitude to its nuclear power status has only recently generated concerns, since it must face sanctions as a result of its nuclear tests in 1998. Indian scientists, on the whole, have the necessary abilities and expertise. Despite nuclear scientist Homi Jahangir Bhaba’s best attempts to persuade him differently, Nehru was staunchly opposed to the development of nuclear weapons. However, it was Indira Gandhi who began seriously investigating the situation of nuclear power in 1969. There is little question that India’s expanding affluence has opened up new avenues for mutually beneficial cooperation with countries of all colours. It is well understood, however, that in order to preserve national interests and collaborate with like-minded countries in tackling critical international challenges, the three pillars of national security—diplomacy, intelligence, and the military—must work in unison.

Strategic autonomy and the desire for possibly transitory alliances with big powers based on compulsions and restrictions arose from India’s approach toward West Asia, which was pro-Soviet while digesting non-alignment. When it comes to its dealings with West Asia, the language starts with Look West policy and ends with Think West policy. In the context of Central Asia, given Afghanistan’s buffer zone, it is known as the connect Central Asia plan. The Look East Policy, which has been so successful that it has developed into the Enhanced Look East Policy (2013) and is now known as the Act East Policy, is one prominent exception (2014 onwards). The major purpose of these tactics was to have a comprehensive understanding of regional geopolitics. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is divided into regional and thematic sections. Is an example of India’s policy in terms of regional security and Indian national security. With its omniscient patrician position, which probes millennia of knowledge and wisdom garnered through experience, India has been challenged with difficult judgments from the beginning and continues to do so now. The Sino-Indian War of 1962, as well as the challenges in settling the Kashmir issue with Pakistan, brought knowledge-based policymaking to a halt. The Indian government has paid a high price for its failure to tackle the policy approach difficulty it has faced on the international scene. Both Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi played important roles in shifting India away from Nehruvian roots and toward a more neorealist approach. As a consequence, India’s military budget was better controlled, and the country’s foreign policy was thoroughly scrutinised. With the inclusion of scientific advisors, technical consultants, cultural representatives, and the use of the diaspora as a tool, India’s foreign policy establishment has been improved as a result of the lessons learnt during the previous seven and a half decades. When one looks at the ensuing leadership, Morarji Desai, an idealist to the point of jeopardising a tiny number of India’s covert operations in Pakistan, is simply one example. Coalition governments have been reported to become so consumed with domestic difficulties that their foreign policy initiatives are put on hold.

In terms of proactive engagement, Narasimha Rao’s role in developing India’s look east policy and, subsequently, examining the planned nuclear tests (in 1995) that were somewhat undercut by US limitations and compulsions should not be overlooked. Narasimha Rao was a well-educated politician with close links to the opposition party led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It was at moments like these that the opposition and the ruling party were able to collaborate on foreign policy and strike an agreement. The post held by Narasimha Rao was previously held by Rajiv Gandhi, who, like Narasimha Rao, was a suave and liberal politician who worked to restore ties with China and other former foes. Politicians like as Atal Bihari Vajpaye, who shares Narasimha Rao’s realism while also leaning liberal, were essential in launching the Lahore bus service and detonating a nuclear bomb in 1998. When Pakistan launched incursions into Kargil, Atal Bihari Vajpayee ensured that India replied legally. Manmohan Singh, who followed Atal Bihari Vajpaye, has come under fire for his reserved leadership style. Nonetheless, he has made substantial achievements, such as negotiating the Indo-US nuclear agreement in 2005 and emphasising the need of building strategic think tanks in India.

The foreign policies of India has always been based on the objectives of dialogue, peace, and building national and global agreement, in addition to predicting better synergies with nations that have mutual goals such as safeguarding civil treaties, regulations, promoting global peace, combating terrorism and political violence, and developing the fundamental foundations of a peaceful and prosperous world. When one considers the inherent omniscient patrician component, one finds India’s method lacking. India regards itself as worthy of respect and adoration owing to its lengthy history of success and its people’s collected practicality and knowledge. India has long been seen as the “global guru,” and its leaders continue to push principles such as Vasudev Kutumbakam, which encourage global peace via a strong sense of community. These types of proclamations demonstrate how India has progressed since the Nehruvian period. One cannot dispute the importance of crises such as those in Cambodia and Indonesia. Throughout India’s 75-year history, the country’s government has changed hands and its politics has gone through several phases, leaving split territories behind. The Modi administration is aiming to create a balance between the liberalist approach championed by earlier leaders like as Rajiv Gandhi and the more conventional techniques supported by Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi. It is fair to say that Prime Minister Modi is enshrining all of these essential ideas and devising the best strategy for portraying India as a credible actor in international affairs. It’s also worth noting that talks and arguments over non-Alignment 2.0 have been going on for almost a decade. According to many writers, India is a reluctant power that has yet to realise its full potential on the world stage. However, it is equally vital to recognise that, owing to altering geopolitical dynamics, the ideological alignment that existed during the Cold War is resurfacing. India’s foreign policy has advanced to the point that everyone looks to India as one of the world’s leaders, as shown by the fact that the global leadership is pressuring India to serve as a mediator in resolving the Ukraine-Russia conflict. India’s foreign policy is significant because it has changed and shows a readiness to make difficult decisions. Maintaining good ties with Middle-East countries ris one of India’s significant achievements throughout time. Descriptive terms such as “special,” “preferred,” and “desired” when used to a chosen set of strategic partnerships illustrate the range of ties and the worth of these collaborations. More than 30 similar agreements have been signed by India with global powerhouses. India’s effort to combat terrorism through international organisations such as the UN demonstrates that India’s voice is now assertive on vital topics. Various parties have urged to resume secretary-level talks with our Islamic neighbour country as well, but with India’s expanding influence, the country has been less open to Pakistan’s overtures, cementing Pakistan’s reputation as a pariah state. Nonetheless, countries such as the United States and China consider Pakistan as a bargaining chip because they believe Pakistan may play an important role in maintaining India inside the South Asian region.


Throughout its 75-year history, Indian foreign policy has had a steep learning curve. However, if India is to accomplish a status equitable with its old civilizational history as well as the might of its young population and economy, it should understand from its diplomatic history and start figuring out it’s own contribution to international organisations such as the United Nations (UN), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank (WB) via two distinct blocs represented by the Quad countries and the BRICS. The country will face many challenges in the next 75 years, but the nation has achieved strides in many areas, including economic prosperity, military power, and sensible leadership. One of India’s problems is that its political opponents are spreading their dirty laundry in public overseas and acting strangely, with each area of national interest being portrayed from a different viewpoint. It is undeniable that India’s political system lacks the type of bipartisan collaboration that Narasimha Rao and Atal Bihari Bajpai had. One of the factors, though, is the opposition party’s marginalisation and inability to perceive India as a whole. Rather than addressing internal issues abroad, the opposition party should concentrate on establishing a cohesive venue for discussion.

Anuj Dhyani
Anuj Dhyani
Anuj Dhyani is currently pursuing a master's in Diplomacy, Law, and Business from OP Jindal Global University. My area of interest lies in South Asia, US Foreign Policy, and Chinese Foreign Policy. Currently my academic interests in focused on the security of the Asia region and China’s influence in the region