The policy of promoting one’s ideals, interests, objectives and other principles is referred to as the Foreign policy of a country which constantly changes in response to the changing conditions, both at the domestic level and at the international stage.

India is one of the most ancient civilizations in the world and from ancient times, India’s foreign policy remained independent whether it was the Mauryan Empire, the Gupta Empire or the Mughal Empire.

The British were the determinants of India’s foreign policy during the colonial period, who used India for their benefit. But after independence, India’s foreign policy is again fulfilling Indian interests.

Foreign policy of a nation is shaped by several factors including its history, culture, geography and economy, domestic and international milieu. Elements of continuity and change in a country’s foreign policy can be explained with reference to the important influence of these factors and forces.

The foreign policy of India or any country is shaped by two factors – domestic and international. Domestically, India’s history, culture, geography and economy have played an important role in determining the objectives and principles of India’s foreign policy.

The international factor, which is marked by the Cold War rivalry between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, the founding of the UN, the weapons race, notably the nuclear arms race, anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism, etc.

The 3 S’s Space for Strategic Autonomy, Stability – Both Within and in the Neighbourhood, Strength – Economic, Military, and Soft Power to Protect and Advance Indian Interests – have been mentioned by many specialists as the best way to summarise the objectives of Indian Foreign Policy.

Today, India is in selected countries of the world in military field, space, religious culture etc. and India has used them better in its foreign policy formulation.

Objectives and Principles of India’s Foreign Policy

The multifarious objectives of India’s foreign policy achieve a blend of national and international interests. India has sought to achieve its security and socioeconomic advancement while at the same time working for peace, freedom, progress and justice to all nations and peoples.

Basic objectives of Indian foreign policy:

  • Aims to safeguard and further national interest in terms of protecting the country’s political independence and promoting its external security.
  • Seeks to promote world peace, prevent or resist military threats, support to the initiatives for disarmament, peaceful neighbourhood and work to avoid wars.
  • To promote harmony and cooperation between the countries that have ideological, political and other differences.
  • To direct its foreign policy towards realisation of equal rights of all peoples and nations without discrimination.
  • Leveraging international partnerships to promote India’s domestic development.
  • Advancing Indian representation and leadership on matters of global governance.

Following principles have guided India in achieving above objectives:

  • Panchsheel
  • Non-alignment
  • Anti-colonialism, Anti-imperialism and Anti-racism
  • The principle of avoiding use of force in settling differences with other countries.
  • Strengthening the United Nations and other global and regional organizations and development of international law as useful tools for international harmony and cooperation.

In short, through foreign policy India wants to be seen as peace-loving, mature, law-abiding and trust worthy country while trying to benefit from friendly contacts with other countries in the society of nations.

Evolution of India’s Foreign Policy

The evolution of India’s foreign policy can be traced back to pre-independence days of Indian National Movement. The meeting of the All-India Congress Committee in New Delhi in 1921 was “a landmark in the history of India’s foreign relations”. For the first time, the Congress passed a resolution on foreign policy, which included the statement that “the present government of India in no way represents Indian opinion”. It was during the course of India’s struggle for independence that the All India Congress Committee passed another important resolution in its session held at Madras in 1927, which stressed the need to conduct independently the external relations of India with the rest of the world without the interference of the British government. Indeed, the foundations of India’s foreign policy had been laid down at the Madras Session of the Congress.

An assessment of the Congress resolutions from 1921 to 1947 reveals “an acute awareness of the dangers in the growth of fascism, a sympathetic approach to the aspirations of the Soviet Union, a consistent criticism of the continuation or expansion of Western imperial power anywhere in the world, and a sensitive exposure of all forms of racial, social, and economic discrimination.”

It was only after it became independent in 1947 that India began to evolve its own foreign policy in the light of its requirements and the prevailing international situation. Since its independence, Indian foreign policy advocated the principles of friendship and cooperation with all the countries of the world, irrespective of their political systems. Especially the establishment of friendly relations with the neighbouring countries was the principal plank of India’s foreign policy.

The post-Independence foreign policy was formulated on the principle of non-alignment because India achieved its independence during the time when the Cold War clouds were already looming large on the globe, as a result of which it not only underwent but also experienced the power politics of the ‘Super Powers’. This naturally made India formulate her foreign policy on the lines of non-involvement and non-alignment that became the basic principle of India’s foreign policy.

Prime Ministers of India

India under Nehru

Jawaharlal Nehru, under the auspices of the Indian National congress played a decisive and dynamic role in the evolution of India’s foreign policy. Nehru is aptly regarded as the main architect of India’s foreign policy. Jawaharlal Nehru had formulated the basic policy outlines in a broadcast from New Delhi on 7 September 1946 in which he laid out certain foreign policy goals. These goals included: end of colonialism and racism, independence from power blocs, and close ties with China and Asian neighbours.

Nehru drew the contours of the foreign policy by declaring that India would always keep away from the power politics. He also asserted that, “wherever freedom is menaced or justice threatened or where aggression takes place, we cannot be and shall not be neutral.” Nehru believed in extending India’s abiding faith in the UN. He made it clear that India never had any interest in power politics of the great powers.

Non-alignment is a positive thought; it meant that India retained the independence of decision making on an issue that affected her interests. There was no a priori commitment to support one or the other nation involved in a crisis.

During the time of Nehru, India faced many challenges ranging from poverty alleviation at the domestic front to issue of Cold War at the international platform. India needed a period of peace and stability to spur economic growth and political stability. Thus, it was believed that aligning with any of the major powers would subvert this primary goal, reducing India to an arena of Cold War confrontation. Given the task of national integration and development, India can ill afford to invest its energy and scarce resources on arm race. India under Nehru therefore followed the following policies:

Nehru and Panchsheel

The word ‘Panchsheel’ denotes ‘five taboos’, which used to govern the personal behavior of Indian monks as described in the ancient Buddhist scriptures. Under Nehru, this idea was to become a central theme guiding the relationship among the international states.

Panchsheel agreement

The same principle was proposed to govern the India-China relationship, which was enshrined in a trade pact between the two countries, streamlining their bilateral trade operations on Tibet. Based on this, India and China had agreed to follow the following five principles in conduct of their relationship:

  • (i) Mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,
  • (ii) Mutual non-aggression ,
  • (iii) Mutual non-interference,
  • (iv) Equality and mutual benefit, and
  • (v) Peaceful co-existence.

The enshrined principles in the Panchsheel agreement were to later guide the relationship, not only between the two countries, but also their relationship with all the other counties. This was perceived as laying foundation for peace and security in the world. It was thought to give voice to the newly Independent countries, as well as lowering the chance of war in the world.

During the 1955 Bandung Conference of 29 Afro-Asian countries, Panchsheel tenets were incorporated into the Ten Principles of International Peace and Cooperation enunciated in its Declaration. The United Nations General Assembly also unanimously accepted these tenets in 1957. The same were also accepted as the core principles of the Non-Alignment Movement.

Essentially, these principles stand for non-use of force, approach of tolerance, and peaceful co-existence. It allows all the nations to work towards peace and prosperity in cooperation, while maintaining their national identity.

Non-Alignment Movement

Non-alignment aimed to maintain national independence in foreign affairs by not joining any of the military alliance formed by the USA and Soviet Union in the aftermath of the Second World War. Non-alignment was neither neutrality nor non-involvement nor isolationism. It was a dynamic concept which meant not committing to any military bloc but taking an independent stand on international issues according to the merits of each case.

Nehru saw in non-alignment a guarantee of India’s independence in the field of foreign policy. According to him, joining any of the world blocs would mean only one thing, to “give up your view about a particular question and adopt the other party’s view on that question, to please it, and gain its favour.”

India played an important role in forging the non-aligned movement (NAM). Non-Alignment Movement was conceived by five leaders – Jawaharlal Nehru, Gamal Abdel Nasser (Egypt), Sukarno (Indonesia) Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana) and Yugoslavia’s Josip Broz Tito. The first summit of the NAM was held in Belgrade in 1961. The non-aligned movement was a group of the newly independent states who refused to accept the dictates of the former colonial masters, and decided to act according to their own judgement on issues of international concern.

Founders of NAM

NAM was crucial for India for at least two reasons:

  • Non-Alignment Movement allowed India to take independent international decisions based on merit which served its interests.
  • It enabled India to balance the two superpowers, as neither of the superpower could pressurize India or take her for granted.

Non-Alignment Movement reflected an ideology that a sovereign state, no matter how big or small, can pursue an independent foreign policy based on their own assessment and need. The movement was also a recognition to the need of democratizing the international institutions, which is still very much relevant in the backdrop of demand of emerging countries to give them a greater share in the international bodies like the UN, WTO and World Bank among others.

Nehru’s non-alignment policy was continued despite India’s conflicts with China and Pakistan, and the major changes in some key relationships involving South Asia. During the formation and decline of United States -Pakistan alliance, the development of close relations between India and the U.S.S.R. and the Sino lndian relations, India held on to the policy of non-alignment and its support for world peace.

Kashmir Issue

Kashmir as a most important single factor of India’s external relations, brought cold war to the Indian subcontinent, resulting in a heavy expenditure on military armaments. Since Indian independence, and accentuated further after 1962, Kashmir continues to be a major factor in India’s defence.

Princely State Jammu and Kashmir Map 1947

Nehru’s approach to Kashmir question was also revealed when the issue was referred to the U.N. The U.N. then was yet an infant and an experimental organization, heavily weighed in favour of the Western powers. On the issue being referred to the U.N., Nehru, in the Constituent Assembly, in March 1948, stated that “our making a reference on this issue to the Security Council of the U.N. was an act of faith, because we believe in the progressive realisation of a world order and a world government. The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution proposing that the Kashmir dispute should be resolved through mutual negotiations between India and Pakistan, and also spoke about plebiscite. However, India ruled out the options of either holding a plebiscite as proposed by UN Security Council or accepting any outside intervention as desired by Pakistan in resolving the Kashmir issue. Since there was no breakthrough in resolving the vexed issue and disgust over Security Council’s resolution, Pakistan decided to acquire Kashmir by waging an undeclared war against India, and resolved to resort to non-peaceful means to achieve its aims to achieve its aims.

Indo-China Relation and War

Nehru was of the view that India and China had so much in common as both the countries had suffered at the hands of colonial powers, and were also struggling to eradicate poverty and underdevelopment. So, it was hoped that both countries would join hands to bring Asia to its rightful place. For its part, India voiced for representation of China in the United Nations Security Council. India did not support the US position in declaring China as an aggressor state in the Korean War.

Tibetan Crisis

After the Chinese revolution of 1949, China wanted to incorporate the Tibet region, and claimed it as an integral part of China. In 1950, China attacked the eastern part of the region and occupied Chamdo region. While India protested against this aggression, it also offered to mediate in response to Tibet’s request, which was rejected by China claiming it as a domestic issue. Under Panchsheel agreement (1954), India voluntarily gave up its military, communication and postal, and other rights over Tibet which it had inherited from the British in accordance with the Anglo-Tibetan Treaty of 1904. India recognized China’s claim over Tibet region. At that time, China also assured India that Tibet would be given much greater autonomy, though the commitment remained elusive.

1962 Chinese Attack

Nehru was aware that the Chinese revolution of 1949 represented a fundamental transformation. Also, he was fully aware of possible threat from China as in his speech to the Lok Sabha in November 1959, he said, “we know enough history to realize that a strong China is normally an expansionist China.” The 1962 Indo-China war was a border dispute which culminated into war. Two issues that led to the dispute were:

  • First , Tibet used to be a buffer state in the past, but its annexation by China complicated the border issue.
  • Second, the border between India and China was decided by the McMahon line during the British era. China refused to recognize this line.

After the Panchsheel agreement, India hoped to resolve the border dispute through McMahon line but the efforts proved futile. Only in September, 1957 did the Indian government learn of a 1200 km Chinese military highway that passed through Aksai Chin. China also started showing the region as its territory in its maps. India protested against this aggression. China later protested India’s decision to provide asylum to Dalai Lama. These border disputes finally led to the war in 1962 when China launched a swift and massive attack on both Aksai Chin and NEFA. India also made a mistake in the assessment of the China’s motive. Though China withdrew swiftly on the face of opposition of both the USA and the USSR, it retained Aksai Chin leaving NEFA in Indian control.

Nehru faced his first no-confidence motion over his failure to properly assess the Chinese intentions. India’s foreign and security policy took a definite change after the war. Within two years, China conducted nuclear test and India had to increase defence investments. Thus, India’s nuclear test was the result of threat posed by both Pakistan and China. Also, the war made the Indo-China conflict a part of global Cold War, as India singed a Friendship treaty with the USSR and China improved its relationship with the USA. Thus, the war took a heavy toll on India-China relations and it took many years to normalize the relation again.

Foreign Policy under Lai Bahadur Shastri

Lai Bahadur Shastri became the Prime Minister of India after the demise of Jawaharlal Nehru. Shastri mostly continued Nehru’s policy of Non-Alignment, but also built closer ties with the Soviet Union.

Sirima-Shastri Pact (1964)

To settle the issue of Indian Tamils in the then Ceylon, Shastri signed an accord with the Sri Lanka in 1964. This agreement was seen as a great achievement as it removed a persistent cause of unpleasantness between India and Ceylon. According to the agreement, 525,000 Indian Tamils were to be repatriated, while 300,000 were to be granted Sri Lankan citizenship. This settlement was to be done by 31 October 1981. However, in 1982, India declined to consider any further applications for citizenship, stating that the 1964 agreement has lapsed.

China’s Nuclear Explosion 1964

China tested its atom bomb during Shastri’s time. It was said that the bomb entirely was to protect the Chinese people from the US nuclear threat. Though China asserted “no first use” policy of the bomb, it nevertheless created a sense of insecurity not only in India but also in the other countries of the South Asian region. However, during the Shastri’s period, the pro-bomb supporters forced India to go in for the Nuclear Bomb. Thus, Nehru’s era of influence started declining from this period as far as the nuclear weapons policy is concerned.

India-Pakistan War (1965)

The 1965 war has been considered as an important development in the history of India’s foreign relations because the war occurred during the post-Nehru era and it was a challenging task to the leadership of Lai Bahadur Shastri. In fact, the 1965 War, which expected to pave the way for improvement of Indo-Pak relations, failed to solve the Kashmir problem. India-Pakistan war of 1965 was an undeclared war. Kashmir issue was providing the fodder as Pakistan was demanding for reopening of the issue and India maintained that, Kashmir being part of India is a settled fact. These were the following reasons for the war:

  • In 1965, the situation in Kashmir became volatile as the followers of Sheikh Abdullah and others created a great deal of unrest in the valley. Thus, the Pakistani leadership thought the time was right for an intervention.
  • Also, Pakistan was equipped with superior military weapons which it had acquired from the USA. Pakistan also wanted to strike before India could improve its defences after the debacle of the SinoIndia war of 1962.
  • Pakistan was also emboldened by the closer ties with China which aimed at isolating India.

Tashkent Declaration

Tashkent declaration was signed between India and Pakistan under the good offices of the Soviet Union. Both the parties agreed to withdraw from all occupied areas and return to pre-war positions. They also agreed to repatriate the prisoners of war and not resort to force, thus settling their differences through peaceful means. However, the Tashkent Declaration failed to resolve the core issue of Kashmir.

From the Indo-Pak war two things were clear,one was that no country, except Malaysia and Singapore, was prepared to come out openly to support India. Even the Soviet Union, after reiterating that Kashmir was an integral part of India, chose to assume, like other several countries, a posture of neutrality when it came to pulling up Pakistan.

Foreign Policy under Indira Gandhi

Indira Gandhi assumed power after the sudden demise of Shastri. She largely followed a policy of Non-Alignment, but her policy was more realistic than idealist. Unlike Shastri, Indira Gandhi had visited most of the countries as Nehru’s daughter.

The main objective of the foreign policy of Indira Gandhi was to regain India’s lost position in the world. Due to her active involvement in the world affairs, she began to be recognized as one of the important leaders of the world.

Bangladesh Crisis

In 1970, free election was held in Pakistan, in which Bengal’s Awami party under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman won more than 98 percent of seats in East Pakistan. This meant an overall majority in Pakistan’s national assembly. The Army refused to let the Awami party form the government. In response to this, Awami party launched a civil disobedience movement and the army launched a massive crackdown in East Pakistan, which led to fleeing of lakhs of people to India.

Indian government under Indira Gandhi showed patience and tread cautiously to make world powers aware of the real situation of East Pakistan repression, and also the burden falling on India due to refugees issue. India extended moral and material support to the freedom struggle in Bangladesh.

Pakistan accused India of a conspiracy to break it up. Support for Pakistan came from the US and China. To counter this threat, India signed a 20-year Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation. The treaty provided for immediate mutual consultations and appropriate effective measures in case of either country being subjected to a military threat.

Within ten days, the Indian army had surrounded Dhaka from three sides and the Pakistani army of about 90,000 had to surrender. With Bangladesh as a free country, India declared a unilateral ceasefire. Later, the signing of the Shimla Agreement between Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on 2 July 1972 formalised the return of peace.

Shimla Declaration (1972)

After the ceasefire, India was ready to negotiate with Pakistan on issue of withdrawal of forces from Western and Kashmir front. Also, considering the fact that a hostile neighbour would force India to maintain a high level of military presence in the western front, it was necessary to engage Pakistan for peace.

Shimla Declaration (1972)
Outcomes of Shimla Agreement
  • Except some strategic points, India agreed to return the Pakistani territory it had occupied during the war.
  • Pakistan also pledged to respect the Line of Control (LoC) and not to alter it unilaterally.
  • Both the countries also agreed to settle their issues bilaterally rather than by outside mediations.
  • India agreed to return prisoners of war to Pakistan conditional on Pakistan-Bangladesh agreement.

Bangladesh crisis resulted into increasing Indira Gandhi’s prestige both at the domestic and International arena. There were many positive outcomes from the war for India:

  • India regained lost pride and self-respect that it had lost during the 1962 war.
  • After the war, around 10 million refugees were sent back to their homes. Thus, a grave refugee problem straining India’s resources was resolved.
  • India also emerged as a regional power in South Asia.
  • India’s prestige at the world stage rose to a new high and its morale boosted; one, due to the way India handled the whole episode and two, Shimla agreement to start the peace process with Pakistan.

Revival of Diplomatic Relationship with China and Pakistan

After the 1962 Indo-China war, India’s relationship with China hit a new low. However, by 1976 the situation has changed with India emerging as a major regional power in South Asia. India has demonstrated its capabilities in 1971 war, nuclear explosion of 1974, and the merger of Sikkim in 1975. Also, India wanted to reduce its dependence on the USSR after the 1971 treaty. China also wanted to reduce the Soviet influence in the South Asia region.

As a result of above considerations, India, in a bold decision, unilaterally announced restoring the diplomatic relationship with China to normalize the long-standing strained relationship. China welcomed the move and reciprocated by restoring diplomatic relations. This also saw resumption of trade and cultural relations between the two countries .

Similarly, Indo-Pak relationship was also strained since the 1965 India-Pakistan war. But the Shimla agreement of 1972 finally led to normalization of relationship and revival of diplomatic relations between the countries. The resumption of peace process was also highly appreciated by the other South Asian countries.

Relationship with Soviet Union

Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister of India in 1966. By the year 1970, she started playing a remarkable role in the international arena and had strengthened her position in the country. During the period, India was threatened by China and Pakistan, whereas the USA openly supported Pakistan. This led to India and Soviet Union moving closer to each other in their relationship.

Indira Gandhi’s decision of abolition of privy purses, Nationalization of Banks, and the establishment of the socialistic pattern of society also impressed the Soviet Union. By 1970s, the Soviet Union became the second largest buyer of Indian goods while helping India in setting up of Heavy Industries, and also supplying sophisticated military equipment. It also supported Indian cause on Kashmir issue in the United Nations.

Indo-Soviet Treaty (1971)

India and the Soviet Union signed a 20 year treaty of peace, friendship and co-operation, legalizingthe rapidly developing friendship and co-operation between the two countries over the years, and elevating their mutual relations to a new and higher stage of development. When India conducted nuclear test in Pokhran (1974), almost all the nuclear powers criticized it, except France and the Soviet Union which kept a steady silence, which in a way was an endorsement of India’s position.

The relationship between the two countries continued on the basis of mutual understanding, leading to the Soviet Union welcoming the Shimla Agreement and supporting the Indian initiative to resolve outstanding issues bilaterally. The Soviet Union welcomed Mrs. Gandhi’s stand on the Indian Ocean being made a zone of peace. Indo-Soviet relations were also very significant in the field of science, technology and trade.

Relationship with the USA

During the first phase of Indira Gandhi’s leadership, the relationship with the USA deteriorated due to latter’s effort to build a close relationship with China, taking side with Pakistan during the Bangladesh crisis, sale of arms to Pakistan in general, and due to establishment of American naval base in the island of Diego Garcia (in Indian Ocean). Indira Gandhi voiced for Indian Ocean free from the Cold War tactics, which did not go down well with the leadership of the USA. The USA was also critical of India for conducting the nuclear explosion in 1974.

Differences Over Diego Garcia

US, with a view to increasing its naval strength, decided to develop Diego Garcia, a strategic island in the India Ocean, as a strong naval base. It developed the naval base in Indian Ocean to safeguard its interests in Asia, and to check the growing Russian power in Asia, and in the Indian Ocean area. Taking into consideration these developments, India strongly opposed the Super Power rivalry in Indian Ocean. Further, India felt that the development of Diego Garcia as a strong military base in the Indian Ocean would certainly increase the tension not only between the super powers, but also in the South Asian region.

During the second phase of Indira Gandhi’s leadership, USA helped India get IMF loans and fuel for Tarapur Nuclear Plant. There was also an increase in cooperation between the two countries in the fields of trade, science and technology.

Differences Over Diego Garcia

Rajiv Gandhi Years

Rajiv Gandhi followed the foreign policy laid down by Nehru and Indira Gandhi, but also differed from them on certain grounds, thus creating his independent foreign policy to an extent.

His policy was aimed at amity and good will amongst the mankind. For this, he advocated for a better world economic order and nuclear disarmament. He also realized that racial harmony is a prerequisite for peaceful co-existence of the nations. Rajiv Gandhi continued to pursue an activist foreign policy and to assert India’s place in the world community.

He asserted that, in the rapidly changing world order, our country must remain flexible to cater to its needs and not remain mired in the past. At the same time, the basic principles and fundamental ethical perceptions must be rock solid. In January 1985, he pledged himself to pursue the following goals:

  • World Peace
  • Friendship with all nations on the basis of reciprocity and mutual benefit
  • Non-Alignment
  • New world economic order based on Justice, mutual cooperation, peace and development.
  • Respect for the Independence of other states and for the principles of sovereign equality of nations, non interference and non-intervention in their internal affairs
  • Strengthening the deep historical and cultural links with our immediate neighbours in south Asia;
  • Peaceful co-existence.
  • Adherence to the twin principles of continuity and change, stability and dynamism, in the changing context of world politics

Under his leadership, India tilted towards the West to get the technological know-how rather than seeking assistance from the Soviet Union, thus differing from his predecessors. This led to marked improvement in relationship with the West.

Disarmament Efforts

Rajiv Gandhi voiced his support for Nuclear disarmament in various forums especially during the years 1985-86. He declared India’s stand in clear terms when he said “India has been fighting for nuclear disarmament for long before it became fashionable. We must work towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons within a time-bound programme . We must include all nuclear weapon powers in the process. We must see that nuclear weapon powers do not extend into new dimensions. We must see that there is no development of other weapons of mass destruction or surgical weapons. We must replace doctrine of deterrence by the doctrine of peaceful coexistence.

Commitment to Non-Alignment Movement

Rajiv Gandhi reaffirmed India’s commitment to the NAM in 1985 when he said that NAM was a logical development of the Indian freedom movement that showed the way to the rest of the colonized world, half a century ago. He focused especially on achieving more cohesion in the NAM in order to meet new challenges in the changing world, particularly towards important economic issues. Creation of a new economic order while countering the onslaughts of racialism and colonialism were the major issues that he raised for the NAM to address.

Rajiv Gandhi emphasized that environment protection and issues of development were inexorably intertwined. For this, he put a great effort towards the creation of a unique multi-billion dollar Planet Protection Fund (under UN auspices) to conserve energy and combat atmospheric pollution.

Rajiv Gandhi and Indian Ocean

Indian Ocean has been at center of world politics since long and the dynamics changed when Britain handed over the Diego Garcia, an Indian Ocean island, to the USA. This opened the floodgates for the Cold War hegemony in the region. Given the centrality of Indian Ocean, it was clear that India would be heavily dependent on whoever controls the Indian Ocean region.

Rajiv Gandhi strongly voiced for transforming the Indian Ocean into an arena of Peace, stability and cooperation and to insulate it from the Cold War politics. Rajiv Gandhi asserted that the Indian Ocean had become the playground for world navies infested with nuclear weapons, in turn pitching for making the Indian Ocean a zone of peace.

Efforts to Strengthen SAARC

India fully realized the potential of SAARC as an historic opportunity to overcome the contentious bilateral, political disputes with her neighbours through regional cooperation in economic and cultural fields. Rajiv Gandhi emphasized that the objective of the SAARC should be towards the attainment of collective selfreliance and to strengthen the forces of multilateralism and world-wide cooperation. Rajiv Gandhi emphasized strengthening the SAARC and utilized it especially for discussions at technical levels among experts of the seven countries.

Peace Mission to Sri Lanka

Rajiv Gandhi’s Sri Lanka policy was sound and correct, even though it can be argued that the diplomatic and army leadership had perhaps underestimated the real nature and the fighting capacity of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). It was on July 29th 1987, that Mr. Rajiv Gandhi and Mr. J.R. Jayewardene signed at Colombo, the famous Indo-Sri Lanka Accord under which India agreed to send its peace keeping force to Sri Lanka to help her fight the menace of LTTE. The agreement was signed after Sri Lanka’s attempts to find a military solution to the ethnic problem had failed. Indian Peacekeeping Forces (IPKF) faced a lot of issues, not only from the LTTE but also by the Sinhalese politicians and the opposition leaders in India, but they did a great job amidst such difficulties. Later, IPKF was pulled out under the leadership of the then Prime Minister V. P. Singh, on 24th March 1990.

Narasimha Rao Period

Following the 1991 parliamentary elections, P.V. Narsimha Rao became India’s 10th Prime Minister. The end of the cold war brought many changes in the international order. The era of bipolar world politics and bloc politics in international relations came to an end in 1991. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the US retained its position of sole power nation. All the nations, including India witnessed this sudden change in international relations, hence, Indian leaders were now tasked to rethink and reshape their foreign policy. Narasimha Rao undertook to restructure India through:

  • Economic Reforms: Deregulating the economy, loosening state control system, opening up to the world economically, and encouraging the private economy to go forward. This policy of reform was welcomed by the US and other industrialized nations.
  • International Relations: Indian foreign policy under P.V. Narasimha Rao was greatly focussed on building relations with the US. Many experts believed that Indian foreign policy post 1991 was based on building strong relations with not only the United States, but also with the European Union, Russia, China, Japan, Israel, Brazil, South Africa followed by economically stable nations in Southeast Asia.

India’s relation with the US gradually improved after 1991. P.V Narasimha Rao also tried to improve relations with “just” neighbours Pakistan, China, Nepal and Sri Lanka. India extended its relations with the NATO member nations and successfully established a formal strategic partnership with Israel in 1992.

The greatest achievement of P.V. Narasimha Rao in the field of country’s foreign policy was the signing of the peace talks with China with a view to ending the longstanding border dispute between the two countries.

Liberalization and Change of Foreign Policy

New Economic policy of 1991 brought a wide ranging changes in the foreign policy as well as economic sphere of the country. Though India faced many Balance of Payment crisis during 1980s, the conditions in the 1990s forced India to open up its economy to the world, thus paving way for the much needed reform. Government introduced far reaching changes, opening the Indian economy to the outside world and also reforming the economy at the domestic level. Thus, the government unveiled the New Economic Policy. The policy aimed for the pursuit of equity and social justice and to achieve sustained high growth.

End of Bipolar world and India’s Foreign Policy

India had very close economic, cultural and technological ties with the USSR. The Soviet Union had supported India on many issues ranging from Kashmir to Bangladesh crisis. India-Soviet Union signed a treaty of friendship in 1972 and after that India had signed several defence deals with the Soviet Union which had been the largest arms exporter to India.

Though the end of the Cold War has led to the end of threat to India from the Cold War context of US-Soviet power rivalry, it had opened up many challenges for India. For India, disintegration of the Soviet Union has meant uncertainty on several aspects viz. supply of weapons system, supply of spare parts, diplomatic support on Kashmir and other politico-strategic issues in and outside the United Nations and as a counter weight to US in South Asia.

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the USA emerged as a sole global power, ending decades of the Cold War and end of bipolar world. In these changing circumstances, India’s foreign policy also started changing to adapt to these developments.

First major change was to adapt to the challenges of Globalization which became its primary objective. Thus, India’s foreign policy focused on transitioning India from building a socialist society to building a modern capitalist one. To this, change in national economic policy with the introduction of New Economic Policy of 1991, produced many options at the foreign policy front to cater to changing needs.

With growing economy, India started moving towards prioritizing military and economic power in its foreign policy as evidenced by the fact that by 2010, India became the largest importer of arms in the world. This was also due to the troubling neighbours that India had on its western and northern borders. The pragmatism was also reflected in the growing closeness in the India-USA relationship which later culminated into India USA nuclear deal, also known as 123 Agreement. The inclusion of economic objectives has added diversity to India’s diplomatic portfolio, and India’s growing economic power has added weight to its voice in world affairs, particularly in forums such as the WTO and the G-20 forum aimed at global economic recovery.

Rapidly changing domestic politics also affected India’s foreign policy. Regional parties started gaining prominence and an era of coalition governments created a turmoil led to highly unpredictable foreign policies evidenced from India abruptly withdrawing its peacekeeping mission from Sri Lanka. Also, during the Gulf War of 1991, Indian foreign policy changed many times, first opposing, then supporting, and then again opposing use of Indian refueling facilities by American airplanes en-route to Iraq.

India’s changing foreign policy was not all about “bigpower” diplomacy, it also engaged with its neighbours. India started putting great efforts to find political reconciliation with two of its large neighbours—Pakistan and China. During 1990s, India-Pakistan relationship saw dramatically changed from a limited conventional war to a total military confrontation. Since 2004, several steps towards normalizing the relationship have been taken up including a serious negotiation on the Kashmir dispute. With China, India started looking for purposeful negotiations to end the long-standing boundary dispute

Look East Policy

India’s Look East Policy (LEP), initiated by former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao in early 1990s, aimed at reducing India’s isolation in international affairs and boosting India’s involvement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in order to benefit from the advantages of regional cooperation. India’s attempt to build a meaningful cooperation with Southeast Asian countries has been well reciprocated and at present, India and ASEAN share vibrant economic, strategic and political ties. This includes the signing of FTA in goods, services and investments. Maritime security, connectivity, etc., are other areas of common concern.

Reasons for Look East Policy

  • Economically Countering China: China’s trade policies during the 1980s led to its meteoric rise and competition between the countries on many fronts, including political, economic and military sphere and most importantly, for economic influence in the region of South East Asia. Thus, India needed to adopt a new economically aggressive policy.
  • Emerging Middle Class: India has a vast number of educated and talented people forming a huge manpower pool waiting to be tapped. Thus, India started seeking new markets to export its restless workforce and its products.
  • Containment from West and Central Asia: Also, the avenues of investment and trade relationship with these regions were under constant threat due to geo-political instability and threat of terrorism. Thus, India started looking for more reliable and stable destinations.

I.K. Gujaral Period

I.K. Gujaral

I.K. Gujaral has a special place in Indian foreign policy realm. Gujaral’s main focus was on improving India’s relationship with its neighbours. Thus, to improve the relationship with neighbours and also to secure peace in the South Asian region, he formulated set of policies which came to be known as the ‘Gujaral Doctrine’. The Gujral Doctrine is considered to have made a substantial change in the manner in which India’s bilateral relations were conducted with its immediate neighbours, especially the smaller ones.

The Gujral Doctrine is a set of five principles to guide the conduct of foreign relations with India’s immediate neighbours as spelt out by I.K. Gujral. These five principles arise from the belief that India’s stature and strength cannot be divorced from the quality of its relations with its neighbours. It, thus, recognises the supreme importance of friendly, cordial relations with neighbours.

These principles are:

  • With the neighbours and other nations, India should not ask for reciprocity but should give all that it can, in good faith and trust.
  • To create mutual trust, no country in the region should allow its soil to be used against the other countries in any manner.
  • Countries in the region should respect the sovereignty of each other and not interfere in the internal matters of any country.
  • Respecting territorial integrity and sovereignty.
  • Mutual resolution of the bilateral issues without third party interference.

AB Vajpayee Period

AB Vajpayee headed a coalition government in 1998. As a Prime Minister of India, he made significant contribution to India’s foreign policy. His Foreign policy initiatives can be summarized under:

Nuclear Test (1998)

India has opposed the international treaties aimed at non-proliferation since they were selectively applicable to the non-nuclear powers and legitimised the monopoly of the five nuclear weapons powers. Thus, India opposed the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995 and also refused to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

India conducted a series of nuclear tests in May 1998, demonstrating its capacity to use nuclear energy for military purposes. Pakistan soon followed, thereby increasing the vulnerability of the region to a nuclear exchange. The international community was extremely critical of the nuclear tests in the subcontinent and sanctions were imposed on both India and Pakistan, which were subsequently waived. India’s nuclear doctrine of credible minimum nuclear deterrence professes ‘no first use’ and reiterates India’s commitment to global, verifiable and nondiscriminatory nuclear disarmament leading to a nuclear weapons free world.

Global Response to Nuclear Test
  • India’s nuclear test invited strong criticism from the International community.
  • The Nuclear tests had created the bitterness in India-China and India-Pakistan relationship.
  • Countries, including the USA and Japan responded with economic sanctions over India for the tests and also for going against the NPT and the CTBT.
  • These tests had put strain in the otherwise improving relationship with global powers.
India’s Response

India clearly stated its goal that the nuclear testing was to protect her own interest and not directed towards any country. India had always maintained its protests against the discriminatory nature of non-proliferation treaties (NPT & CTBT).


1. Bus Diplomacy: Nuclear tests of 1998 had heightened the tension in the India-Pakistan relationship to a new level. To improve relationship between India and Pakistan, an innovative idea of introducing a bus service from New Delhi to Lahore was started. The aim was to strengthen the people to people contact and bond of friendship between the two countries. The bus diplomacy was a historic moment in the history of tumultuous relationship between the two countries. As part of bus diplomacy, Vajpayee himself travelled all the way to Lahore and signed the Lahore Declaration on 21st February 1999.

Bus Diplomacy

2. Lahore Declaration: India and Pakistan signed the Lahore declaration in 1999 with a pledge to work on the principle of co-operation and coexistence, and to reduce forces along the Line of Control.

Salient Features

  • It recognized the nuclear dimension in the security environment of the two countries
  • Commitment to the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations, and the universally accepted principles of peaceful co-existence.
  • It reiterates the determination of both countries to implement the Simla Agreement in letter and spirit.
  • Commitment to the objectives of universal nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.
  • It recognized the importance of mutually agreed confidence-building measures for improving the security environment.
  • It recognized that an environment of peace and security is in the supreme national interest of both sides and that the resolution of all outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, is essential for this purpose.

However, things did not move on the expected lines and took a nosedive when intruders from Pakistan were found occupying the strategic locations along the Line of Control, especially in the Kargil sector of Kashmir in the mid May 1999.

Kargil Conflict

Following Pakistan’s armed intrusion in Kargil, India launched the ‘Operation Vijay 1 to evict the intruders. India kept the US along with her key interlocutors, informed on the developments and the nature of the intrusion. The US took a forthright position regarding Pakistan armed intrusion in Kargil and called for withdrawal of the intruders. The US also expressed appreciation for the restraint and responsible manner in which India conducted the operation India’s position drew support from the US Congress and the US media. Similarly, in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001, India resorted to a strategy of coercive diplomacy albeit with mixed results. It is important to underscore that neither of these two crises culminated into a full-scale war between the two long-standing adversaries.

Vajpayee and India-US Relations

Despite differences on India’s nuclear ambitions and its unwillingness to sign CTBT, former US President Bill Clinton paid a five-day visit to India in March 2000 with a view to build dynamic future relations between the two countries. So was the reciprocal visit to the US in September, 2000 by Prime Minister Vajpayee. The growing economic interaction between India and the US had become a major driving force towards mutually beneficial strengthening of relations.

Policy under Manmohan Singh

The broad framework of India’s foreign policy as laid out by Nehru was consensually adopted by successive leaders but it started changing in response to the circumstances and need of the country. By the time, Manmohan Singh came to power, India’s foreign policy had changed a lot compared to the Nehru-era. The diplomacy had changed to more benign, friendlier and more outgoing.

Relationship with Russia

Russia realized the importance of India and looked to maintain a friendly relationship, which was reflected in the warm welcome accorded to Manmohan Singh during his visit to the country in 2007.

Moving forward in strengthening their relationship, both countries agreed to establish a strategic partnership. Main focus was on military sector, where many agreements were concluded, including development of supersonic cruise missiles BrahMos, a state of the art 5th Generation Combat Aircraft, laser guided anti tank missiles and also extending the 10 year agreement on military cooperation going beyond 2010.

Russia also recognized India’s nuclear policy and pledged to build four more civilian nuclear reactors in Kundankulam in Tamil Nadu. Efforts were also put in expanding the economic interaction which would go beyond traditional Rupee-Rouble Arrangement. Thus, under PM Manmohan Singh, Indo-Russian relationship improved to a new height.

Relationship with USA

India and the USA came closer to each other during Manmohan Singh’s period, which can truly be described as a great leap forward in the bilateral relationship between the two countries.

There were many factors which contributed to the closer relation between the two countries:

  • India’s disengagement of the privileged relationship with the erstwhile USSR after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
  • Need for counterbalancing the emerging powerful China.
  • There was also a broad perception among the leadership of the USA that India was ready for closer ties with the USA.
  • The deregulated and liberalized Indian economy also acted as a source of attraction to the US international economic expansion.
  • There was also a perceived fearful expansion of the terrorist oriented Islamic fundamentalism in the north-western regions beyond India, of which India was perceived as a major target. This required closer ties with India.

In this background, India and the US signed the historic India-USA Civil Nuclear Deal. The United States and India share three objectives in undertaking this initiative:

  • (i) to remove core differences that impeded our strategic relationship for more than 30 years,
  • (ii) to support India’s economic growth and energy security in an environmentally sound way, and
  • (iii) to strengthen the global nonproliferation regime.

The deal is seen as a watershed in U.S.-India relations and introduced a new aspect to international order. The deal lifted a three-decade U .S. moratorium on nuclear trade with India. It provided U.S. assistance to India’s civilian nuclear energy program, and expanded U.S.-India cooperation in energy and satellite technology.

Salient Features
  • India agreed to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA), the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog group, access to its civilian nuclear program, placing fourteen of its twenty-two power reactors under IAEA safeguards permanently.
  • Under the agreement, India also committed to safeguard its nuclear arsenal and to prevent it from falling in the wrong hands.
  • U.S. companies will be allowed to build nuclear reactors in India and provide nuclear fuel for its civilian energy program. (An approval by the Nuclear Suppliers Group lifting the ban on India has also cleared the way for other countries to make nuclear fuel and technology sales to India).
  • India would be eligible to buy U.S. nuclear technology, including materials and equipment that could be used to enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium.
  • India committed to signing an Additional Protocol, which would allow more intrusive IAEA inspections or its civilian facilities.
  • India also agreed to continue its moratorium on nuclear weapons testing.

In 2008, the IAEA Board of Governors approved India’s safeguards agreement, paving the way for India’s consideration at the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The United States played an important role for getting an exemption for India at Nuclear Suppliers Group to permit trade with India’s expanding peaceful nuclear sector.

Relationship with Pakistan

During the period, India and Pakistan failed to converge on the Kashmir issue or a broader peace agreement. The relationship touched a new low with the 2008 Mumbai attacks and the ensuing evidence that the attackers were backed by the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment.

Later, to ease the tension between the two countries, a liberalized visa agreement was signed in September 2012. Under this agreement, citizens from both countries over the age of 65 can be granted a visa on arrival, and business people from both nations can travel more freely between the two countries.

Relationship with China

Many important developments took place during this period with respect to the bilateral relationship with China. The then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited India in 2005, leading to signing of the “Agreement on Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question”, under which both the countries pledged their determination to seek a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution to the boundary question and to build an environment of
peace and friendship. China also officially recognized Sikkim as an “inalienable part of India”, making Sikkim no longer an issue in India-China relation.

In 2013, the tension between the two countries heightened as there was a three week stand-off between India and China troops near Line of Actual Control between Ladakh and Aksai Chin. This tension was defused when India agreed to demolish the live-in bunkers and China agreed to withdraw its troops.

Manmohan Doctrine

Principles of the foreign policy of Manmohan Singh came to be known as the Manmohan Doctrine, which can be summarized below:

  1. India’s developmental priorities play an important role in guiding our relationship with the world
  2. Manmohan singh stood for the greater integration of India’s economy with the rest of the world as it will benefit India and enable our people to realize their creative potential.
  3. We seek stable, long term and mutually beneficial relations with all major powers. We are prepared to work with the international community to create a global economic and security environment beneficial to all nations.
  4. We recognize that the Indian sub-continent’s shared destiny requires greater regional cooperation and connectivity. Towards this end, we must strengthen regional institutional capability and capacity, and invest in connectivity.
  5. Our foreign policy is not defined merely by our interests, but also by the values which are very dearer to our people.

Foreign Policy under Narendra Modi

Prime Minister Modi started off with a bold decision by inviting his counterparts from all SAARC countries to participate in his oath-taking ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhawan. This marked a “Neighbourhood First” foreign policy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign policy has been characterized by great energy, a desire to break the mold of the past and a penchant for risk-taking.

While his policies are designed to attract foreign capital and technology, and seek foreign markets for Indian products, they are also geared towards a closer linkage of regional stability, peace and prosperity. India’s foreign policy under Modi demonstrates a marked change and exceptional dynamism. Indeed, India is witnessing an emergence of the ‘Modi Doctrine’. The 4 Ds – Democracy, Demography and Demand and Diaspora have acted as a force multiplier in India’s Foreign Policy under PM Modi.

  • Transforming the role of India at the international stage to ‘a leading power ’ rather than a mere ‘balancing power’.
  • Diplomacy should primarily focus on accelerating nation’s socio-economic development.
  • In today’s world, defence capabilities and economic strength are important; at the same time, India should also utilize its abundant soft power.
  • Indian diaspora is an asset not limited to just sending remittances. Therefore, ties with the Indian diaspora should be carefully nurtured and Indians in distress at abroad should be taken care of.

Under PM Narendra Modi , India’s Foreign Policy has taken a new trajectory, and a broader shift in idea is visible. There are several key features of the Modi Doctrine:

India First

‘India First’ is the fundamental feature of the Modi Doctrine. India’s choices and actions are based on the strengths of its national power. Further, India’s strategic intent is shaped mainly by realism, co-existence, cooperation and partnership. Moreover, Modi’s foreign policy is guided by a core value of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the entire world is our family).

Focused on India’s development, Modi’s foreign policy ‘is guided by the constant drive to reform and transform India, for security and prosperity of all Indians’. In his inaugural address at second Raisina Dialogue in Delhi on 17 January 2017, Modi underlined that the economic and political rise of India “represents a regional and global opportunity of great significance. It is a force for peace, a factor for stability, and an engine for regional and global prosperity”.

Neighbourhood First Policy

A determined ‘neighbourhood first’ approach denotes the second important feature of the Modi Doctrine. Modi dreams of a ‘thriving well-connected and integrated neighbourhood’ and hence, the Indian government under Modi has clearly indicated India’s priority for building stronger ties with its neighbourhood.

PM Modi started on a very positive note by inviting leaders of all the SAARC countries in his swearing inceremony, marking his ‘Neighbours first’ policy. After this, he visited all SAARC counties, except Maldives, in his first 19 months, including Pakistan. The themes of greater connectivity, stronger cooperation, and broader contacts dominate India’s engagement with its neighbours today. Importantly, the neighbours have also reciprocated this outreach.

Strengthening Cultural Connect and Soft Power

Promotion of Indian values, culture and tradition or civilisational connect is another important feature of the Modi Doctrine. PM Modi’s visits to cultural sites in Japan, China, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh etc., where ancient civilisational connections between India and these countries are still visible, is indeed noteworthy. Fie has also talked extensively on shared values, traditions and heritage and therefore strengthened these ancient ties.

A rare display of India’s soft power diplomacy was visible when the entire world along with the United Nations celebrated International Yoga Day on 21 June. Modi’s initiatives like the International Solar Alliance or social media are good examples of soft power augmentation.

Indian Diaspora

Under PM Modi leadership, government has qualitatively and quantitatively enriched engagement with the Indian diaspora, and is trying to simplify rules, quickly responding to their grievances, and engaging them in the overall development agenda of the government.

Indian government’s pro-active approach towards the diaspora community has re-energised the Non Residential Indians (NRIs) and Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) community, strengthening their ties with their country of origin and enhancing their stature in their country of residence.

This is clearly evident in Modi’s interactions with the Indian community abroad through various means including public meetings and connection through social media. Such focused engagement could be very helpful in creating synergies for trade, investment, technology transfers, cultural exchange, and more importantly, in mobilising political support.

On occasions, diaspora community has approached the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) for assistance and due to quick and direct communications, timely assistance has been facilitated by the government.

Modi’s vision of Sab Ka Sath, Sab Ka Vikas (take everyone along and work for everyone’s development) is ‘a belief for the whole world and it manifests itself in several layers, multiple themes and different geographies’.

Closeness with USA

In September 2014, PM Modi visited the US and in January 2015, US President visited India as chief guest at the Republic Day Parade in New Delhi. Some of the progress made in India-US ties are:

  • Civil Nuclear Agreement: During US President’s visit to India, the deadlock in Civil Nuclear Agreement was the centerpiece of the agenda. The deal, also called the 123 Agreement, was held up because of differences between the two countries on India’s nuclear liability law for compensation in case of a mishap and US’ demand to track nuclear fuel and other materials supplied by it to India. India had termed this demand for access to India’s nuclear set up as intrusive. The differences were resolved with the Indian liability law amendments and US president’s usage of his executive powers to remove the “tracking” condition.
  • Defence cooperation: During 2014 visit of Modi, both sides agreed to extend the cooperation in the Defence sector for another decade, leading to formally renewing the ‘New Framework for Defence Cooperation’ in 2015.

India signed LEMOA (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement) in August 2016, and COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) in September 2018. LEMOA and COMCASA are two of the three foundational agreements that the U.S. signs with allies and close partners to facilitate interoperability between militaries and sale of high-end technology.

Look East to Act East

Look East Policy introduced by Narasimha Rao government and continued till Manmohan Singh government has been upgraded by PM Modi to ‘Act East’, to signal greater intent. In terms of the broader strategic context in Asia, India’s ‘Act East’ policy has three distinct facets: institutional, commercial, and security-related.

At institutional level, FTA with ASEAN, BIMSTEC and East Asia Summit among others have integrated India into Asia’s multilateral networks. Prime Minister Modi invited all 10 ASEAN leaders as special guests for the Republic Day parade in January 2018. On connectivity, India has also speeded up work on the 3,200 km India-Myanmar-Thailand highway from Moreh, Manipur as a key artery to bring ASEAN closer to India. India under Modi no longer appears shy, and less mindful of China’s sensitivities, in leaning over towards Tokyo and Washington in its engagement with the region.

SAGAR Vision

Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) is India’s policy or doctrine of maritime cooperation in the Indian Ocean region. The policy was first announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 12, 2015.

Although no single official documentary has been published regarding the approach of SAGAR there have been several initiatives and numerous maritime events that can be considered a  part of it.

Vision of SAGAR

It was in a keynote address to the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) when Prime Minister Narendra Modi articulated a vision for the SAGAR initiative by stating that “Our vision for the Indian Ocean Region is rooted in advancing cooperation in our region and to use our capabilities for the benefit of all in our common maritime home

Based on this vision of the SAGAR initiative can be defined under the following terms:

  1. Security: Enhancement of coastal security so that land and maritime territories can be safeguarded with relative ease.
  2. Capacity Building: Deepening economic and security cooperation for smooth facilitation of economic trade and maritime security.
  3. Collective Action: Promoting collective action to deal with natural disasters and maritime threats like piracy, terrorism and emergent non-state actors.
  4. Sustainable Development: Working towards sustainable regional development through enhanced collaboration
  5. Maritime Engagement: Engaging with countries beyond our shores with the aim of building greater trust and promoting respect for maritime rules, norms and peaceful resolution of disputes.
Need for SAGAR Vision

Leveraging Blue Economy

  • Blue economy presents India with an unprecedented opportunity to meet its national socio-economic objectives (livelihood generation, achieving energy security, building ecological resilience etc.) as well as strengthening connectivity with neighbors.
  • Apart from it, blue economy provides many opportunities:
    • Oceans provide a substantial portion of the global population with food and livelihood, as well as transportation for 80% of global trade.
    • The seabed currently provides 32% of the global supply of hydrocarbons, with exploration expanding. The sea also offers vast potential for renewable blue energy production from wind, wave, tidal, thermal and biomass sources.
    • New technologies are opening frontiers of marine resource development from bio-prospecting to mining of seabed mineral resources (poly-metallic nodules).

Tackling Regional Issues

  • There is a need to strengthen efforts to provide humanitarian assistance in wake of natural disasters and counter non-state actors engaged in piracy and terrorism.
  • Further, India seeks an integrated approach and cooperative future, which will result in sustainable development for all in the region.

Checking Chinese Influence

  • China through its maritime silk route (part of BRI initiative) has been increasing its influence in Indian ocean region (IOR).
  • Moreover, Chinese investments in India’s neighboring countries are of dual nature i.e commercial with military underpinnings. The string of pearls has caused strategic concerns for India.
  • In this context, SAGAR vision assumes much importance in countering such issues.
Significance of SAGAR Vision
  • SAGAR provides a mechanism for India to expand strategic partnerships with other IOR littorals in Asia and Africa.
  • SAGAR indicates the leadership role and responsibilities India is ready to play in the region on a long-term basis in a transparent manner through its capacity building and capability enhancement programs.
  • The key relevance of SAGAR emerges when seen in conjunction with India’s other policies impacting the maritime domain like Act East PolicyProject Sagarmala, Project Mausam, India as ‘net security provider’, focus on Blue Economy etc.
    • This symbolises India’s maritime resurgence, as maritime issues are now centre of India’s foreign policy.
  • With effective implementation of all these policies, India can act as an enabler to create a positive environment in the IOR.

Bridging Diplomacy and Development

Modi’s foreign policy is largely driven by India’s developmental needs, constantly driving for reform and transforming India, both for security and prosperity of all citizens. This vision is rooted in India’s concerns over trade, energy security, and the “Make in India” initiative. The focus more has been on attracting investors from all over the world towards this end. So, during his travels across the world, the prime minister has rarely missed an opportunity to hawk India as a robust investment destination. This had led to increased foreign investment in the country as clear by the fact that, in the 2017 financial year, FDI into India reached $62 billion, despite a slowdown in global FDI inflows.

India’s Foreign Policy under Modi also faces some challenges. There are also some fundamental changes shaping the domestic political milieu in the West, and the great power relationships are undergoing a shift, which India will have to navigate with utmost seriousness. The Sino-Russian relationship is acquiring connotations which can have long-term consequences for Indian interests and Sino-US ties can also become transactional under Donald Trump.

India’s Foreign Policy Challenges

India’s foreign policy has evolved since Independence when it faced issues like Cold war politics, development and poverty reduction. The last two decades have transformed India’s economy and society which also has led to increased engagement with the world. At the same time, the global situation is also changing at a fast pace and posing many new challenges.

Broadly, these Challenges Include:

  • Ensuring a Peaceful Periphery: Unless we have a peaceful and prosperous neighbourhood, we won’t be able to focus on the socio-economic development at the domestic level. Thus, we need to accord priority in developing closer political, cultural and economic ties with the neighbourhood, culminating into strong and enduring partnerships. The challenge for us in our neighbourhood is to build inter-dependencies which not only integrate economies, but also create vested interests in each other’s stability and prosperity in the subcontinent.
  • Relations with the Major Powers: The world today is getting increasingly multipolar with the rise of China. Other major powers include the USA and Russia. After 1991 economic reforms, Indian economy got more integrated with the rest of world. India’s strategic interests are increasing and relationship with major powers are vital to protect those interests. However, the challenge would be to balance relationship with one another. Growing tilt towards West will distance time tested friend Russia. Closeness with Iran and India’s stand on Palestine has relevance to its relationship with Israel, US and Arab countries.

Issues of the future namely food security, water, energy and environment: These issues are cross boundary issues which requires India to engage constructively with others to address them holistically.

Many issues like water, flood control and energy have solutions in our neighbourhood-immediate and extended.

Our economic growth requires sustained supply of energy for which we need to engage with energy-surplus countries like Russia, the middle east etc. The issue of climate change and global environmental degradation requires working with the others on the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities‘ enshrined in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Current Challenges to India’s Foreign Policy

  • Russia Ukraine Issue: It is certainly a complex international political issue when countries like India find it difficult to choose between politics and moral imperative.
    • Russia is a trade partner, and it has leverage in the Eurasian region, and by going directly against Russia, India will jeopardise its interests in the region.
      • As realist prudence demands, India cannot simply undertake a moralist standpoint on Russia-Ukraine Conflict and ignore the dictates of politics.
  • Internal Challenges: A country cannot be powerful abroad if it is weak at home.
    • India’s soft power assets make sense when they are supported by its hard power.
      • Former President of India, A. P. J. Abdul Kalam repeatedly made the case that India can play an effective role on the world stage when it is strong internally as well as externally.
  • Refugee Crisis: In spite of not being a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, India has been one of the largest recipients of refugees in the world.
    • The challenge here is to balance protection of human rights and national interest. As the Rohingya crisis unfolds, there is still a lot that India can do to facilitate the finding of long-term solutions.
    • These actions will be key in determining India’s regional and global standing on human rights.

Cultural Diplomacy

Cultural Diplomacy is one of the important strategies to achieve foreign policy objectives, helping to establish good relationship with other countries powered by official initiatives as well as people to people contact. In simple terms, Cultural Diplomacy is the deployment of a state’s culture in support of its foreign policy goals, which is based on the premise that good relations can take root in the fertile ground of understanding and respect.


Cultural diplomacy leads to promotion of values and image of a country amongst other countries. At the same time, it leads to understanding of values, culture and image of other countries and their people. This is one of the best ways for a government to increase their respect and understanding with other countries.

Cultural diplomacy can lead to strong connections between people of different countries as it can create forums for interaction between people, thus creating a “foundation of trust” with other peoples.

Policy makers can build on this trust to create political, economic, and military agreements. This can also help reduce ethnic clashes between different communities as the diplomacy increases understanding of other’s culture. Cultural diplomacy can also help to advance the interests of other countries, not just the interests of the country carrying out the diplomacy.

Examples of this broader scope of cultural diplomacy include educational scholarships, visits of scholars, intellectuals, academics and artists, both domestically and abroad, cultural group performances, seminars and conferences, etc.

India’s Cultural Diplomacy and Soft Power

Since Independence, India has recognized the importance of cultural diplomacy. Ministry of External Affairs has been promoting India’s culture, resulting into India singing 126 bilateral cultural agreements with many countries and currently implements 58 Cultural Exchange Programmes with other countries.

Towards this goal, India established a nodal body, called the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) in 1950. The body has been in forefront in promoting India’s culture in the form of Cultural Centres, Festivals of India, Chairs of Indian Studies, etc. ICCR has presence in 35 countries in the form of cultural centres established in the various regions of those countries. Later, Rajiv Gandhi also gave impetus to the cultural diplomacy by promoting Indian festivals around the world.

Since the 1990s, India’s culture has been generating lot of interest around the world with the acceptance of Indian cuisines, Yoga, Bollywood and also the contemporary art. At the same time, the economic success of Indian diaspora has given boost to Indian culture abroad.

Keeping this in view, Indian government has been focusing on Indian diaspora through various initiatives including Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas which was started in 2003. Also, through cultural agreements signed with different countries from time to time, India has been engaged in promoting cultural diplomacy through exchange programmes, performances and several other cultural activities. Another major program ‘Know India Program’, is a three week orientation program focusing on diaspora youth, making them aware of different facets of life in India, and the progress made by the country in various fields.

Present Scenario

Emphasis on Cultural aspect has been given much importance in recent times. “Cultural and civilisation links” denote the soft power components of India’s foreign policy under Modi.

India hosted International Buddha Purnima Diwas on 4th May 2015 to commemorate the birth, enlightenment and Mahaparinirvana of Lord Buddha. Prime Minister Narendra Modi landed in Sri Lanka to take part as the chief guest in International Vesak Day celebrations – the most significant day in Buddhist calendar.

The UNGA accepted India’s proposal, adopting Yoga as International Yoga day on 21st June of every year. Yoga’s intimate link with India’s ancient culture would help gain popularity and legitimacy amongst the people of foreign countries. Same push has also been given to Ayurveda, aiming to establish it at par with traditional Chinese medicine. At the same time, India’s religious and philosophical traditions are increasingly finding way to promote its culture, including Yoga.

Bollywood has also played a significant role in promoting India’s culture as the Industry saw a greater acceptance on the international platform.

Sports Diplomacy

Sports diplomacy describes the use of sports as a means to influence diplomatic, social, and political relations, which transcends cultural differences and bring people together.

In general, Cricket relationship between India and Pakistan have followed the path of political relationship. When it comes to Cricket matches between India and Pakistan, the passion runs high on both sides. India and Pakistan started playing cricket with each other since 1952 when Pakistan first time toured India. These tours continued, but with the political relationship going haywire due to wars of 1965 and 1971, and also due to border clashes, the Cricket ties suffered a blow.

Former Pakistan President Zia ul-Haq started the cricket diplomacy when he came to India to watch a Test match between the two sides in February 1987 as part of his “cricket for peace initiative”. This initiative helped in resuming the ties properly between the two countries.

But the political relationship again deteriorated in the backdrop of 1989 Kashmir crisis, leading to an adverse impact on cricket ties. The cricket ties again deteriorated with the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992.

In 1997, the cricket ties resumed with India touring Pakistan but this relationship again deteriorated with both the countries testing nuclear weapons in the coming year. With the improving relationship, the cricket ties were restored to normalcy as Pakistan toured India in 1999.

The Kargil war and the Indian Airlines hijacking by Pakistan-based ‘Islamic radicals’ in 1999 deteriorated the political relations. After this incident, India decided to suspend bilateral cricket until Pakistan stopped supporting the insurgency in Kashmir. In 2004, the cricket ties resumed again with Indian team visiting Pakistan as Vajpayee travelled to Pakistan for a regional summit, breaking the ice between the two nations. The tour was a great success as the cricket fans returned with incredible stories of Pakistani hospitality.

In 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh used cricket diplomacy when he invited Pakistan President Parvez Musharraf to watch a one day match in Delhi. The occasion provided space to talk about range of issues including Kashmir, and conflicts over Siachen and Sir Creek. With Mumbai attack in 2008, the political and cricket ties were again snapped. In 2011, after a number of high-level contacts between the countries, they agreed to restart their peace talks to resolve all outstanding issues, including the vexed subject of Kashmir. Since then, the relationship has been tumultuous.

Cricket diplomacy is not limited to India-Pakistan relations only. Before the start of 2015 World Cup, Prime Minister Modi called the leaders of South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries to wish them luck for the cricket World Cup.

In general, Cricket diplomacy has provided a platform to resume talks on wide range of issues and also evaluating the mood of both the nations. It has many times eased the tension between the two countries and provided a common passion, uniting them in the game of Cricket. Fans of visiting team and players in a host country have also prepared an encouraging environment to look for things other than war . This helps in building the confidence between the two countries and its people.

Sports Diplomacy

Space Diplomacy

Space diplomacy can be described as the exploitation of space technology as a means to influence diplomatic, social, and political relations. ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization), since its inception, has space cooperation documents with space agencies of 39 countries and 4 multinational bodies. The cooperation can be discussed into the following heads:

  • (a) Satellite Systems and Rockets: ISRO has been working with ONES (French space agency), NASA and also with Russian space agency on various fronts including development of satellites, establishing a liquid propulsion production plant in India. ISRO and ONES cooperated on a joint mission ‘MeghaTropiques’ and recently agreed to extend the MoU on the mission till 2020. ISRO is also collaborating with NASA to develop NISAR (NASAISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar), a joint microwave remote sensing satellite for Earth Observation.
  • (b) Satellite Communications: Towards ‘Neighbourhood First’ Policy, PM Modi gifted the South Asia Satellite (SAS) to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka to boost communication and improve disaster links among its six neighbours.
  • (c) Satellite Data and Disaster Management: In Disaster Management, ISRO has also been cooperating with ASEAN through COSPAS-SARSAT (COSPAS: Space System for the Search of Vessels in Distress; SARSAT: Search And Rescue SatelliteAided Tracking) – a search and rescue system. ISRO shares data from Indian satellites, supporting their search and rescue operations.
  • (d) Satellite Navigation: With the deployment of IRNSS (NAVIC), India is in a position to extend services like terrestrial and marine navigation, disaster management, vehicle tracking, navigation aide for hikers and travellers, and visual and voice navigation for drivers, etc. to the neighbours.
  • (e) Capacity Building: ISRO has also been engaged in building capacity of other countries by sharing its facilities and expertise in the application of space science and technology as ISRO conducts short-term and long-term courses through the Indian Institute of Remote Sensing (MRS) and the UN affiliated Centre for Space Science and Technology Education in Asia and the Pacific (CSSTE-AP) at Dehradun.

Today, the cooperation has extended to ISRO joining hands with other space agencies like JAXA (Japan) and UAESA (UAE) among others. These steps have improved India’s image as a leading power in Space technology. Cooperation on search and rescue, and also on disaster management has generated a lot of goodwill for India which in turn would boost India’s soft power.

Space Diplomacy

Economic Diplomacy

Economic diplomacy refers to use of all the economic tools like export, import, investment, lending, aid, free trade agreement, etc. to further the national interest. It basically employs economic resources, as rewards or sanctions, to achieve a particular foreign policy target.

Before liberalization of the Indian economy, the focus of economic diplomacy was to ensure enough flow of foreign currency to bridge the foreign exchange gap. During that period, foreign and economic policies were more compartmentalized as they largely operated in different spheres. To fill the gap, negotiating for cheap oil import was another objective. At the same time, India under the NAM, and Group of 77 at the UN voiced for molding the world economy more suitable to the developing world.

The reforms initiated in 1991 and recent efforts in Indian economy have impacted India’s external relations. Negotiation of liberal trading arrangements with key nations, large-scale national investments in the hydrocarbon sectors of other countries, focus on developing transport infrastructure in the neighbourhood, India’s new role as an economic donor, and the focus on mega projects such as natural gas pipelines cutting across our borders have significantly transformed India’s foreign policy template.

Issues of trade, access to markets in the region and beyond, energy security, and the imperatives of regional economic integration have opened up unprecedented prospects for India’s external relations.

With East Asia, economic engagement has been the pillar of India’s Act East Policy. FTA with ASEAN and connectivity projects like BBIN, IMT trilateral highways are aimed at strengthening economic integration with the region. To its west, India already has a PTA with Afghanistan, and the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are looking at creating a trading bloc and are interested in working out common trade liberalisation with India. Similarly, the increasing importance of Africa has attracted Indian investors in the region. African nations are rich in metallic minerals and energy resources which could meet the burgeoning needs of India.

India has adopted a policy of pragmatic engagement with multilateral economic organizations. In the context of India’s economic diplomacy at the World Trade Organization (WTO), it is seen as one of the major voices of dissent from the developing world. At WTO, India’s stand on public stockholding, minimum support price (MSP) and subsidy reflects the national interest. At the same time, India has opposed the inclusion of any issues before the resolution of Doha round negotiations.

Economic diplomacy provides a way for India to harness global opportunities for the benefit of domestic constituents in the hope of reducing poverty and development. And its economic performance is simultaneously a very successful international calling card for a nation wishing to stake a claim as a meaningful power.

Defence Diplomacy

Defence Diplomacy is any military activity with an expressly diplomatic purpose; in other words, activities where the primary objective is to promote goodwill towards India in other countries. Defence diplomacy covers a broad range of activities, including:

  • Ministry of Defence (MOD) training courses and education programmes, including opportunities for overseas students to attend courses at military training establishments;
  • Provision for loaning service personnel, short term training teams, and civilian and military advisers being seconded to foreign governments for extended periods;
  • Visits by ships, aircraft and other military units;
  • Inward and outward visits by ministers and by military and civilian personnel at all levels;
  • Staff talks, conferences and seminars to improve mutual understanding;
  • Exercises, etc.

India has leveraged military diplomacy in its external relations almost since Independence, by virtue of its inheriting a large, professional military force from the British Raj, by its size, and by its projection of itself as a leader of the post-colonial world. India is “a core state” whose role is “crucial for long-term peace, stable balance of power, economic growth, and security in Asia. The basic principles of India’s foreign policy and defence diplomacy have been – no territorial ambitions and no export of ideologies including democracy.

The initial efforts in defence diplomacy were a combination of its colonial inheritance, the non aligned movement (NAM), support for anti-imperialistic and anticolonial movements (Nigeria, Iran, Iraq, Namibia, South Africa’s anti apartheid efforts, etc). India’s vast experience in mountain warfare, counter-insurgency/ terrorist operations and its redoubtable military training machinery has been exploited to develop vibrant bilateral relations through the medium of training and joint exercises.

India’s capability to curb piracy and other subversive activities in the region has definitely and has allowed India to maintain a peaceful periphery and project its power in a discreet and subtle manner that resonates with the maritime needs and aspirations of small littoral countries in the region.

Defence partnership with Russia, Israel, France USA and others showcase the strategic autonomy maintained by India in its defence cooperation with these countries. The 21st century is creating new international dynamics and any nation that does not deploy all its instruments and resources towards optimising its security environment would be forced to exist and develop sub-optimally. Nations that evolve and adopt a sound approach to military diplomacy can expect to enjoy a benign, if not completely safe, security environment .

Defence Diplomacy

India’s Contemporary Security Challenges

The end of cold war necessitated a fundamental restructuring of international relations and provided an objective opportunity for evolving a better security environment. Post Cold War, there are manifold pressures emanating from the international environment which make for a complex and multilayered set of challenges and opportunities for India in the changed world order. India would have to respond to, if not anticipate, the new challenges and maximise its strategic political options, drawing essentially from its own power potential and bargaining leverages.

India’s region is fraught with security threats arising out of countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan. Beyond the sphere of enjoyable geostrategic speculation, India has in recent times benefited from cooperation with the US, while it grapples with perennial potential security threats emanating from China & Pakistan. India’s regional and global security concerns are reflected in its military modernization, maritime security and nuclear policies. Nonetheless, domestic security concerns continue to influence Indian perceptions of regional security. Some of the security challenges include:

  1. Cross-Border Terrorism: Most external threats emanate from an unsettled boundary dispute with China and ongoing cross-border Jihadi terrorism in J&K sponsored terrorism, supported by ISI and Pakistan-based Islamist fundamentalist organizations like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, who in turn are inextricably linked with international jihadi groups like Taliban and Al Qaida.
  2. International Terrorism: India has suffered the most gruesome and repeated acts of terror since the late 1970s first in Punjab, then in Jammu & Kashmir, and in recent years in many other parts of our country. The Bombay blasts of 1993 were the original act of mass terrorism. India’s places of worship, symbols of its rapid economic growth, its prestigious centres of learning, popular shopping complexes and symbols of its vibrant democracy have all been systematically targeted. While in most parts of the world, terrorism is perpetrated by nonstate actors, in India it is sponsored and supported by state agencies from a hostile neighbourhood.
  3. ISIS: The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also sometimes referred to as the Al-Tawhid or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is a Sunni militant jihadist outfit predominantly active in Iraq and Syria. The threats from the group is evident from the recent arrest of people from different parts of India. However, given the syncretic nature of Indian Islam, it is extremely difficult for group to become popular among Muslims. But lone-wolf attacks, inspired by the IS world view and tactics, could pose security risks. To prevent the group from gaining a foothold on its territory, India needs high-level intelligence and counter-terror operations to continue. Equally important is better coordination between the state and Muslim religious leaders in countering radicalisation and having in place specific de-radicalisation programmes, as western governments do.
  4. Maritime Security: The strategic and economic pivots are shifting to make the Indo-Pacific generally and the IOR more specifically the centre stage of virtually every major power. Indian Ocean serves as a strategic bridge with the nations in India’s immediate and extended maritime neighbourhood. The national and economic interests of India are inseparably linked up with the Indian Ocean. Maritime domain challenges that India will have to contend with are non-state actors, such as those who carried out the 2008 Mumbai attacks; piracy, presence of China in littoral countries, freedom of navigation and others.
  5. Cyber Security: Cyberspace was primarily intended as a civilian space. It has, however, become a new domain of warfare. India’s vulnerability to cyber attacks will increase in the future due to increasing digital penetration and push for cashless transactions. Cyber attacks (Malware, Ransomware etc.) on Critical Infrastructures (Bank, Hospital, Nuclear Plant etc) has the ability to cause huge damage to nations economy as well security architecture.
  6. Drug Trafficking: Proximity to the largest producers of heroin and hashish-the Golden Triangle and Golden Crescent (Afghanistan-Pakistan-lran) has made India’s border vulnerable to drug trafficking. India is facing the serious menace of drug trafficking and as a spillover effect, drug abuse especially among the youth has become a matter of concern for the government.
  7. Nuclear Threat: India, with its commitment to no first use of nuclear weapons, has not utilized nuclear weapons to substitute for or complement other forms of force or coercion to motivate desired changes of behavior by Pakistan. Nevertheless, rapid improvement in nuclear capabilities by Pakistan and gradual nuclear modernization by China have changed India’s national security environment in ways that compound deterrence challenges.

Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


Monjira Acharya

If possible, share some questions that can be practiced after reading the topic…