GD/WAT Topic for IIFT, XLRI, IIMs, SIBM, and other B schools – Trends in India’s Foreign Policy

India is rising and so are its international profile, engagements and obligations growing significantly. With time, comes new, challenging and critical demands on India from international community which arouse and strain, India’s aspirations and legitimate interests. There comes the need for charting the India’s foreign policy and the position that India should take, or not take, on specific issues.

Fighting three wars with Pakistan in the west due to the conflicting claims to the state of Kashmir, loss in 1962 war with China in the North over a long disputed border, China’s nuclear tests and its supplying of arms to Pakistan exacerbated Indian insecurity. India pledged itself to non alignment on the international stage and it diluted its non-aligned stance in the 1970s by developing a special relationship with the USSR which bestowed India with diplomatic support over issues such as Kashmir.

India steadily drifted towards the Soviet Union and its relations with all the other major centres of power –the US, Western Europe, China and Japan– remained underdeveloped during the cold war. And now India and the US are locked in an unprecedented engagement, at once intense and expansive. Beijing is now India’s largest trading partner in goods after the prolonged chill in India’s bilateral relations with China from the 1960s to the 1980s, and while it is building strategic partnerships with the EU and Japan, India has also managed to hold on to its special relationship with post Soviet Russia.

Foreign direct investment was not encouraged as in 1990 it amounted only to a few hundred million dollar. In 1970s the expulsion of IBM and Coca cola, was viewed as a progressive step encouraging economic self sufficiency. Perhaps, this was a natural fear in a country that had been colonized by a commercial enterprise i.e., the East India Company. In 1993, China signalled a shift from its long standing tilt on Pakistani side on the Kashmir issue which improved its relations with India.

India has seen significant changes in its international and domestic environment over the past few decades which has challenged two basic foreign policy premises. First, the creation of a centrally directed economy has been emphasized, which would be designed to develop the industrial and technological capabilities with minimum foreign investment and maximum self reliance. Second, the need and desire to maintain a nonaligned foreign policy that evolved into a close relationship of convenience with the USSR.

Going back to 2000, President Clinton’s five day visit to India and Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee’s reciprocal visit to U.S. threw the light on a much improved bilateral relationship. Apart from this, the hearing that the Vajpayee government gave to the deputy secretary of the U.S. state department, Richard Armitage was the indicator of continuity in the improved relationship. These official visits drew attention to a crucial reorientation of Indian Foreign policy. During these visits, the Indian side stressed on Indian business and the economy and the importance of close relationships with countries that would help it grow economically.

A new trend is emerging in Indian Foreign Policy with New Delhi becoming major development partner for many countries in South Asia, Southeast Asia & Africa.

Regardless of the change with time, the foreign policies of large countries like India are always based on a set of core values. The usual turnover of governments and leaders have no effect on them and nor do they alter much over time. The commitment of India to internationalism, independence of judgement in the conduct of external relations, support for world democratisation and contributions to the maintenance of international peace and security are legacies of India’s national movement.

In the 21st century, India’s foreign policy will remain rooted in these core values, but Delhi must necessarily adapt to changing external circumstances and its shifting domestic needs. Its main purpose, however, will remain the same: the creation of a favourable external environment for the rapid improvement of the living standards of the Indian people.

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