India's Foreign Policy

India’s foreign policy navigates non-alignment, prioritizing regional stability, economic diplomacy, and strategic partnerships to foster global influence and sustainable development.


Indian Foreign Policy (IFP) is a sophisticated and strategic tool meticulously designed to influence the actions of other nations in ways that benefit India. This multifaceted approach draws inspiration from Hugh Gibson’s perspective, where he defines foreign policy as a comprehensive plan rooted in knowledge and experience. Gibson emphasizes its role in conducting governmental affairs on a global scale, with the primary aim of advancing and safeguarding the nation’s interests.

Delving deeper into the intricacies of Indian Foreign Policy (IFP), Professor Mahendra Kumar offers a comprehensive analysis that dissects its core components. Kumar’s viewpoint expands on key elements such as policymakers, interests, objectives, principles, and means. According to Kumar, Foreign Policy is not just a set of actions but a well-thought-out course strategically aligned with the national interest ideology. His definition emphasizes the importance of a deliberate approach in achieving foreign relations objectives.

Founding Visionaries:

Jawaharlal Nehru, often hailed as the architect of India’s Foreign Policy, played a pivotal role as the nation’s first Foreign Minister. In a seminal address to the Constituent Assembly in 1947, he underscored the imperative of aligning foreign policies with national interests, regardless of ideological affiliations. He Said: “Whatever Policy we may lay down, the art of conducting the foreign affairs of a country lies in finding out what is most advantageous to the Country……. Whatever a country is imperialistic or socialist or communist, its foreign minister thinks primarily for the interests of that country.” 

Evolution of India’s Foreign Policy under Different Leaders

Jawaharlal Nehru, as India’s first Prime Minister from 1947 to 1964, played a crucial role in shaping the country’s foreign policy during its formative years. Nehru’s approach was characterized by a commitment to non-alignment in the context of the Cold War. He sought to maintain India’s independence by avoiding alignment with any major power blocs. Nehru was a key proponent of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), a coalition of nations advocating for a independent stance in global affairs.

Nehru’s foreign policy was guided by the Panchsheel principles, emphasizing peaceful coexistence and mutual respect for territorial integrity. He actively supported decolonization efforts and championed the cause of newly independent nations, aligning India with the broader global struggle against colonialism.

Manmohan Singh, during his tenure as Prime Minister from 2004 to 2014, placed a significant emphasis on economic diplomacy. His government implemented economic reforms of 1991 and liberalization policies to integrate India into the global economy. Singh sought to strengthen economic ties, attract foreign investment, and enhance trade relations. This period saw a pragmatic approach to foreign policy, with a focus on building strategic partnerships and fostering economic cooperation with countries worldwide.

Narendra Modi, the current Prime Minister since 2014, has introduced a distinct flavor to India’s foreign policy. Under Modi, there has been a pronounced emphasis on economic initiatives such as “Make in India” and “Digital India.” The government has actively pursued strategic partnerships, not only with traditional allies but also with new partners. Modi’s foreign policy reflects a pragmatic approach, adapting to changing geopolitical dynamics. The government has worked towards enhancing India’s global influence by engaging in multilateral forums, addressing regional concerns, and responding dynamically to emerging global challenges. Overall, Modi’s tenure has marked a nuanced and adaptive evolution in India’s foreign policy landscape.

Determinants of Indian Foreign Policy:

Geographical Factors: India’s size, strategic location, abundance of natural resources, and demographic diversity significantly influence its foreign policy decisions.

Historical Factors: The rich tapestry of India’s history and its traditional values play a crucial role in shaping its approach to global affairs.

Economic Factors: A period of economic challenges, including food scarcity, soaring prices, unemployment, and poverty, prompted the need for foreign assistance, impacting India’s foreign policy outlook.

Ideological Factors: The influence of Western liberalism, socialism, and Gandhian principles has left an indelible mark on India’s foreign policy perspectives.

National Interests: Safeguarding and promoting national interests form the core objective, guiding foreign policy formulation.

Personal Factors: The profound influence of key personalities like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru continues to resonate in shaping India’s foreign policy landscape.

National Security: The protection of national interests and security considerations plays a paramount role in determining foreign policy decisions.

Ideals of National Leaders: Freedom fighters, including Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, and C. Rajagopalachari, championed ideals of liberalism, racial equality, and international cooperation, influencing foreign policy choices.

Constitutional Factors: The foundational principles of India’s foreign policy are enshrined in Article 51 of the Constitution.

International Factors of Indian Foreign Policy:

Influence of International Situation: The global geopolitical landscape significantly impacts India’s foreign policy decisions.

Unipolar World Order: Responding to the unipolar world order, India joined BRICS, aiming to establish a just, democratic, and multipolar international order.

Friendly Relations with Neighbors: Recognizing the importance of peace for development, India actively cultivates amicable ties with its neighboring countries.

Commonwealth of Nations: India chose to remain part of the Commonwealth post-independence, fostering relations with former British colonies.

Faith in United Nations: India, as a founding member of the United Nations, remains committed to the organization’s principles and purposes.

Afro-Asian Relations: Given the shared history of British colonialism, India collaborates with Afro-Asian countries, promoting cooperation and mutual assistance.

Principles of Indian Foreign Policy:

  • Non-Alignment: India maintains an active non-alignment stance, distinct from passive neutrality.
  • Faith in International Cooperation: India actively collaborates with other nations to address global challenges.
  • Development of Eastward Relations: Strengthening ties with countries in the East is a key focus for India’s foreign policy.
  • Panchsheel Principles: Embracing mutual respect, non-aggression, non-interference, equality, and peaceful co-existence.
  • Use of Atomic Energy for Peace: India advocates the peaceful use of nuclear energy for socio-economic development.
  • Relations with Neighbors: Establishing and maintaining friendly relations with neighboring countries is a priority.
  • Membership of the Commonwealth: India values its membership in the Commonwealth and leverages it for diplomatic relations.
  • Opposition to Imperialism, Colonialism, Racialism, and Terrorism: India consistently opposes oppressive practices and supports global security.
  • Respect for Human Rights: Upholding the principles of human rights remains a cornerstone of India’s foreign policy.
  • New International Economic Order and Environmental Protection: India actively engages in discussions on economic reforms and environmental protection on the global stage.
  • Solidarity with Asian and African Countries: India collaborates with Asian and African nations, rooted in a shared history and commitment to cooperation.

Relation of Economy and Indian Foreign Policy:

India, with its vast natural resources, holds immense potential for economic development. However, the lack of human skills and human capital has impeded the realization of this potential, making human resource development a critical factor. Post-independence, Indian leaders recognized the need for assistance from foreign governments in areas such as fund transfer, import of equipment and finished goods, export of Indian commodities, and the training of technical personnel.

The situation at independence compelled India to adopt a non-alignment policy to garner resources and assistance from both ideological blocks during the Cold War. Despite possessing vast natural resources, India became the largest importer of defense goods due to a deficiency in human resource development, particularly in defense technology. This reliance on imports has undermined India’s goal of achieving an independent and self-reliant military, as exemplified by recent pressure from the United States to halt defense equipment purchases from Russia.

The absence of robust human resource development and weaknesses in the manufacturing sector have given countries like China and Japan a strategic advantage. India’s membership in the Commonwealth, initiated after independence, was driven by the need to address trade imbalances resulting from the export of raw materials like cotton and tea, coupled with the import of heavy machinery and technology.

India’s heavy dependence on oil for industrial and economic needs has led to a particular focus on relations with oil-rich Arab countries in West Asia. Recent American sanctions on Iran have posed challenges to India’s oil imports from the region. As a developing economy, India has successfully led groups of developing countries at international forums, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), advocating for their interests against the developed world.

India’s economic strength has also played a crucial role in its relations with neighboring countries, particularly with Pakistan. The economic leverage India holds in times of war has empowered the country to adopt a tough stance when necessary.

Relation of Domestic Political Culture with IFP:

India’s political system, based on the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy, establishes parliamentary control over the executive, creating channels for influencing the country’s foreign policy. During election periods, political parties articulate their positions on foreign policy matters in their respective manifestos. For instance, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Communist Party of India (Marxist) have taken stands on globalization, while regional parties like the DMK and AIADMK express their policies toward Sri Lanka and Pakistan, respectively.

Public opinion, ventilated through media and other channels, along with the activities of interest and pressure groups, has gained prominence as determinants of India’s foreign policy. Organizations like the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) have played influential roles in shaping India’s foreign policy, particularly in relations with the Soviet Union and the United States. The dynamic interplay between domestic political culture and foreign policy underscores the multifaceted nature of India’s diplomatic strategies.


Delving into the intricate layers of India’s Foreign Policy reveals a dynamic, adaptive, and principled approach to global affairs. As the nation evolves on the world stage, the interplay of historical, geographical, economic, and ideological factors, coupled with a commitment to international cooperation and principled diplomacy, underscores India’s significant role in shaping a balanced and just global order.

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