Indian Foreign Policy From Nehru to Modi

Swarn Kishore Singh
In 2018, Smt. Sushma Swaraj, the then Foreign Minister of India said that, Integral humanism must be leveraged by India through its foreign policy to stamp cultural footprints of India world over. In the second half of the nineteenth century, when the West was serenading some fresh philosophies such as Socialism, Communism, Marxism, Liberalism etc, there were relatively less heard voices in India which advocated for propagation of Indian civilisational values, culture and philosophy, that could provide answers to problems of the modern world. In the rigour of choosing allies on the basis of subscription to a particular western philosophy; we failed miserably to project our own civilisational value system. Ostensibly, it was because of fatigue of long suppressed self-esteem of our civilisation due to 800 years of Islamic invasion and 200 years of British rule; we took time to rebound, recognise and explore the immenseness of our cultural values. Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay had said that, “Maintaining a national culture could lead to economic and political progress and foster respect for our country in the world”. He found culture as a soft power and believed that if someone wants to understand the soul of India, he has to understand it through the prism of culture and not through politics or economics. The extravagant use of Bharat in place of India in G20 summit meetings can be explicated for the pride we derive in our cultural denominations.
Foreign policy should be designed with an objective to secure the enlightened self interest of the nation while being realistic and considering the mundane nature of world affairs. This needs no ratification that the real power of India lies in her cultural-spiritual values, hence all the aspects of our national life and consequent policy making should reflect this. The fundamental objectives of a well designed foreign policy should be; strengthening of economy, national security and ensure the country doesn’t go to war. Our cultural values and historical precedents have answers to the contemporary problems we as nation are facing, the recent handling of Pakistan and China by India has some very conspicuous reflections of Chanakya’s Dwaidbhava and Shadgunya Siddhant.
A strong foreign policy is a powerful vehicle to promote India’s civilisational and cultural values. Swami Vivekananda’s travels to the West during closing years of nineteenth century ignited major resurgence of India’s cultural influences throughout the world but almost for a century we failed to further disseminate that. After that if we have to find a major international event wherein a product of India cultural value system has been exalted and accepted by the world it should be declaration of International Yoga day by United Nations on India’s proposal.
Immediately after freeing herself from foreign occupation, India couldn’t have had afforded to choose a side within the binary precincts of the Cold War, therefore non-alignment was a brilliant move considering the time and space. But non-alignment had to be utilised as a policy rather than philosophy as the polemics of non-alignment postulated by PM Jawahar Lal Nehru were no gospel but means of fulfilling our national interests; dynamic neutrality is more practicable.
During Afghanistan war, when United States of America was polarising the world with open threats like “you are either with us or against us”; India held its ground and carried on with a de-hyphenated policy. Considering the grave threats of sanctions and international isolation, PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee remained unperturbed and denied to succumb to the pressure tactics of West; this helped India to secure her economic interests to a greater extent. As a consequence of de-hyphenated policy, we forged good relations with Saudi Arabia and UAE at one hand and Israel on the other; we are doing good business with Iran, voting for Palestine and still friends with Israel. And also Saudi Arabia has been friends with India notwithstanding our cordiality with Iran. While all these countries are at loggerheads with each other, India carved her policy by balancing these powers to her advantage.
As the Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar recently said, “It is better to engage with the world on the basis of ” who we are” rather than try and please the world. India is confident about its identity and priorities, the world will engage with India on its terms”. The fresh approach of India centric realism replacing idealism has been highlight of our foreign policy lately and this tectonic shift from Nehruvian brand of foreign policy has a lot to do with the pride Indians carry with their civilisational and spiritual values. A thriving nation of 1.4 billions can’t afford to be reduced to a redundant stepney for west as the aspirations of such a huge volume of humanity can’t be justified being a second fiddle only.
India surprised the world with her stance over Russia-Ukraine conflict wherein when she had to choose between economics, politics and moral imperatives. Russia is a trade partner with leverage in the Eurasian region and by going directly against Russia, India had to jeopardise its vast economic and strategic interests in the region. Not succumbing to a moralist stand and ignoring diktat of western political hegemony, India adopting a nuanced neutrality. Also when taking a firm stand served our interests, India stood by Armenia in Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict which testifies that India is no more reluctant to take a firm stance. India stood in support of Armenia and even supplied arms to it that too when Israel sits along with Azerbaijan.
The recent scheduling of G20 summit meetings in different parts of India can be considered a watershed moment in foreign relations of India. While displaying our core cultural ideology as the theme of India’s presidency, Vasudhaiva Kutumbhakam – One Earth, One Family, One Future; India was clear and aggressive enough to schedule some of the summit meetings in Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh. Although the scheduling of a meeting in any part of country should be very normal but Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh which are considered as jugular veins by two of major neighbours; India has delivered an unambiguous message to the world that we don’t need allies at the cost of our sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Since 1947, India had no clear strategy and vision for engaging with African nations while as China enjoyed consistent and sturdy relations with them. India pushed for inclusion of African Union in G20 and succeeded as well; by pulling off this masterstroke, India has pitched herself as a leader of developing and under developed countries. For India, African countries represent a land of massive untapped market and unexplored opportunities; India now stands for mutual economic prosperity without condescending these under-developed nations or indulging into their internal politics. We as a nation while respecting the sovereignty of all fellow countries have traditionally adhered to Westphalian principle and never intruded into the internal matters of any country.
When Foreign Minister, S. Jaishankar said that, “Europe has to grow out of the mindset that Europe’s problems are world’s problems but the world’s problems aren’t Europe’s problems”; this should summarise the shift in our foreign policy. The expression of our national interests has become more eloquent than surreptitious. We are now assertive against the bullies, resolute to assert our expectations, more than capable to defend our interests and even promote them while keeping the optics of soft power intact; this is the new India. We as a civilisation have always believed in Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam and via vaccine diplomacy we walked the talk when India provided free vaccines to several countries but when we are pushed to the wall, we don’t hesitate conducting surgical strikes too.
(The author is an advocate and a legal and political commentator)