Historical background of India’s Foreign Policy
The base of independent Indian foreign policy can be traced back to the resolutions and policies adopted by the Indian National Congress (INC) on various international issues. INC always opposed imperialism and colonialism. In 1885, it criticized the British for merging Burma with India. In a resolution passed in 1892, it dissociated itself from British imperialism policies.
INC sent a note of sympathy to Ireland in 1920 in an attempt to show its solidarity with its people. During the second world war, it criticized British imperialist policies. INC dissociated itself from British imperialism from time to time and did not regard it as a part of Indian foreign policy.
In 1892, it expressed dissatisfaction over the British move of taking military actors in Burma, Afghanistan, Iran, Tibet, and other adjoining areas. In 1921 INC clearly expressed that British policies in no way represented its policies. This resolution is important this was the first expression of nationalist India that her foreign policies are at loggerheads with those of Britain.
Another role of INC was to adopt a sympathetic stance towards Muslim countries. The British government took a harsh measure against turkey and Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and palatine were separated from it. India expressed unhappiness over this measure and demanded just and fair treatment of the Muslims. However, the British ignored this plea and approved the treaty of 1920.
In keeping with the same line, the government of independent India had always shown sympathy for the Arabs in the Arab-Israel conflict. The INC has also expressed solidarity with Asian nations for their independence and development.
A conference of Asian nations was held in Baku (modern Kazakhstan) in which India participated along with 19 other nations. This conference provided a forum for Indian leaders to extend their Contacts with other leaders. In 1926 and 1927 this conference was held in japan and china respectively. The basic objective of these conferences was to end colonialism in Asia and to oppose imperialism.
However, the most important conference of Asian countries was the one held in Brussels (Belgium) on 10 February 1927 in which Jawahar Lal Nehru led the Indian delegation. After returning from Brussels, Nehru submitted a report to the INC and decided to convene a conference of Asian nations to organize them. As a result of this policy India, even before her independence, organized a conference of Asian nations to deliberate on the issue of Indonesian independence. Such attempts continued even after independence.
INC played an important role in the formulation and evolution of foreign policy also, especially after the first world war. The Delhi session of the All India congress committee (AICC) in 1921 may be regarded as a milestone in the history of the evolution of Indian foreign policy.
To execute the resolution of 1925 it was decided to set up a foreign department, to be headed by Jawahar Lal Nehru, in 1928. However, the department could not achieve anything substantial during 1930-34 due to mass movements.
With Nehru becoming congress president in 1936 (Lucknow session) once again attention was given to foreign affairs. A foreign department was set up in 1936 under the chairmanship of Ram Manohar Lohia of the congress socialist party. About 400 people and institutions had contacted this foreign affair cell in about six months after its establishment. It also started issuing regular press notes and bulletins on almost all international affairs.
It is not surprising, therefore, that Nehru presented an overview of Indian foreign policy in his 7 December 1946 address as the vice-president of the country.
India’s Foreign Policy (1947-1964)
The fundamental tenets of Indian foreign policy were outlined by Jawaharlal Nehru in his broadcast to the nation on 7th September 1946. These words enshrined the basic elements of Indian foreign policy, viz., non-alignment, anti-racism, anti-colonialism, and respect for sovereign equality of all nations.
Jawaharlal Nehru, as a pragmatic leader, was deeply conscious of India’s strengths and weakness as an emergent nation, destiny, and in more concrete terms of its national interests.
At a time when the world was dangerously divided between two power clubs, the east and west blocs (known as the cold war), Nehru noticed that India’s security rested on a policy of keeping away from this confrontation.
Compulsions of domestic politics also loomed large in his considerations; For a long time after independence, India did not have to face major challenges on the foreign policy front. The tranquility was disturbed for the first time in 1962 when the Sino-India border conflict took place. The poor performance of the Indian armed forces in the conflict revealed the relative less importance that the Indian government had given to the issue of security.
In the aftermath of the conflict, Indian foreign policy was characterized by a high degree of concern for India’s defense and security and a new awareness of the importance of peace and stability in the neighboring region.
Non-alignment as the fundamental base of our foreign policy remained intact but it was made more receptive to security interests.
Role of Nehru in Formulation Of India’s Foreign Policy
Jawaharlal Nehru was the architect of Indian foreign policy, the fundamental tenets of which still continue to be followed. Nehru’s foreign policy is based on what might be described as enlightened self-interest.
However, Nehru’s foreign policy, though certainly constrained by India’s needs, derives also from a long drawn historical past and thus fits into the framework of India’s belief and tradition.
India realizes the need for changes in the Europe-Asia relationships with the emergence of independent Asian nations. The political and economic domination of Europe over Asia must end. Hence the removal of colonialism in Asia is a significant feature of Indian foreign policy.
The principle of co-existence is the foundation of Indian foreign policy. Nehru felt that no progress would be achieved without this peaceful coexistence and policy of non-interference in other countries, internal affairs. In practice, this implied peaceful relations between countries with different political ideologies and economic systems. The doctrine of Panchshila which puts forward five principles forms a guideline for peaceful coexistence.
A natural corollary to the doctrine of peaceful coexistence is the principle of non-alignment, the special contribution of Jawaharlal Nehru to international relations. This forms a major feature of India’s policy.
It speaks of his success that his policy helped him to maintain friendly relations with both the USA and the USSR (the Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). One of the important reasons why Jawaharlal Nehru made non-alignment the sheet-anchor of independent Indian foreign policy was that it was best calculated to calm international tensions and contribute to the maintenance of world peace.
Nehru considered Asia to be an important emergent power in the world. He took pains to create Afro-Asian unity. The Bandung conference in 1955 was a major effort by Nehru to bring the Afro-Asian nations together.
India has contributed to the growing awareness of the danger of new-style economic imperialism as represented by multinational corporations based in the developed countries, and by the excessive reliance of some countries on foreign aid to the point of losing the capacity for independent judgment and action.
India has supported the struggle for human rights, whether in a racist regime like south Africa or in countries under other forms of tyranny. Nehru felt the need for world peace and endorsed the useful role that the international organization as UNO (United Nations Organisation) and the Commonwealth of Nations could play in keeping the world fairly free of tension.
India’s decision to continue as a member of the Commonwealth after the attainment of complete independence and the adoption of a republic’s constitution with mahatma Gandhi’s insistence that the quarrel of Indians was with English rule, not Englishmen and that “enmity against Englishmen or Europeans must be wholly forgotten”.
The Principle Of Non-Alignment
Nehru gifted the philosophy of Non-alignment to the world of power politics, secret diplomacy, military pacts, and the nuclear arms race. Out of this policy emerged such concepts as those of peaceful co-existence, mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, tolerance of different systems of governance, equality and mutual benefit, and non-use of force.
The building block of Nehru’s non-alignment were peace and disarmament, development, and independence so that imperialism and colonialism in all their manifestations were liquidated. Nehru declared that non-alignment in actual concrete terms meant a policy of acting according to our best judgment. He pleaded for the independence of judgment for each country in international relations so as to have the greatest degree of democratization at the international level. Nehru believed passionately in a world at peace and coexistence between various nations. This became necessary in the context of the so-called groupings which expressed themselves in terms of the blocs-the soviet bloc or the communist bloc, on the one hand, and the American bloc, or that of democracy, or rather the non-communist bloc on the other.
Basic theoretical considerations behind Nehru’s policy of non-alignment in foreign politics
There were three basic theoretical considerations behind Nehru’s policy of non-alignment in foreign politics.
- Firstly, India as a newly emergent nation-state had to concentrate on economic and social reconstruction. She could not afford to get entangled in the complicated alliances of rival power systems and thus get deflected from the principal task of socio-economic planning and development. Non-alignment thus was the natural policy for a new nation-state.
- Secondly, non-alignment grew out of historical roots. Throughout her history, India has followed the policy of peace. She has never sanctioned expansionist power politics. Gautama buddha has been exponents of this philosophy of peace and tranquility. Thus Non-alignment is regarded as the political expression of India’s traditional philosophy of peace end goodwill for all in place of being joined to any one group against a hostile league of powers.
- Thirdly, non-alignment is supported by the exigencies of international power-politics. In a hostile world rent into armed sections, it is a wise policy to strengthen the peace area. This can be done if several states refuse to join the rival camps and act as mediators in lessening international tensions. The strengthening of peace areas would act as a necessary deterrent to the clash of the two groups. But Nehru had been careful to point out that he sponsored a dynamic concept of non-alignment and not the passive one of neutrality; When freedom would be threatened, and the security of the state would be jeopardized, he would not hesitate to modify the concept of non-alignment.
Does Non-alignment mean neutrality?
Non-alignment does not mean neutrality. It is better to describe it as independence. India has not hesitated to take a stand on international issues in the UN. She has criticized American action as well as Russian and Chinese action, whenever the situation called for it. The policy has been successful till now. India has managed to keep clear of joining either of the world’s great power blocs. Yet she has a say in international matters. Of course, as time moves and situations change slight modifications must be made to suit the country’s needs.
The enunciation of the concept of non-alignment reflected Nehru’s concern for national sovereignty and the equitable basis of international relations. It was an assertion of freedom at the international level at a time when domestic compulsions and weaknesses were really pushing the country towards alignment on an unequal basis that would have compromised genuine and long-term national interests.
The Principle Of Panchsheel: Base of Indian Foreign Policy
Jawaharlal Nehru had a global outlook. He had a clear perception of the world. He kept track of world events with a keen mind and reflected on the problems of war and peace with a sense of purpose and concern. He had a passion for international harmony and world peace. Expressing such sentiments in 1946 Nehru said ‘This ancient land attain its rightful place in the world and make its full and willing contribution to the promotion of world peace and the welfare of mankind. It was in the background of such thinking that Nehru came to advocate Panchsheel.’
Nehru was not satisfied with non-alignment vis-a-vis the rival camps nor was he satisfied in merely seeking to bridge the gulf that separates the two blocs. He was interested in promoting a universal code of conduct for nations. This Sino-Indian agreement on Tibet signed on 29 April 1954, afforded him an opportunity to delineate this code of conduct for international relations. The agreement contained five principles of peaceful co-existence called “Panchsheel” that ought to guide interaction between nations. The Panchsheel is, therefore, a corollary of the non-alignment policy that Nehru pursued. The five principles of international conduct are Mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty: Non-interference in each other’s internal affairs: Equality and mutual benefit; Peaceful co-existence.
Nehru was, thus the first world statesman to formulate these principles into a code of conduct governing bilateral relations between two sovereign countries with different social, economic, and political systems. Of course, there were the Kellog pact, the UN charter, and similar other documents; but they were no more than international declarations and not agreements between independent states. The Panchsheel represented an attempt to envision and fashion bilateral relations between the two big Asian countries on a principled basis.
The agreement was an attempt to reconcile India’s national interests and aspirations and to find a peaceful method of resolving the differences through peaceful means and direct diplomatic negotiations between the two countries. It was an attempt to rule out war between the two nations and ensure the peaceful settlement of their disputes. The joint statement issued by Nehru and chou-en-lai emphasized: If these principles are applied in international relations, they would form a solid foundation for peace and security and the fears and apprehensions that exist today would give place to a feeling of confidence. “Though Panchsheel did not go a long way in promoting peace, its contribution in shaping international opinion in favor of peace cannot be underestimated.
India and the Commonwealth
In August 1947 India became a dominion. The Indian independence Act described her status as an independent. The sovereignty of parliament ceased, and the paramountcy of the crown over the states lapsed, and the Indian constituent assembly declared India’s status to be that of a sovereign democratic republic.
To settle the future relations of India with the commonwealth a conference of dominion premiers was held in London during the month of April 1948. To the conference, the premiers of India and Pakistan were invited. The main problem was the evolution of a formula that would reconcile India’s status of the sovereign republic with that of her continued membership of the commonwealth whose constitutional head was the Crown of Britain.
In the evolution of that formula, Nehru played a great part. At end of the conference, it was declared that India had decided to stay in the Commonwealth. The reconciliation between India’s desire to be a sovereign republic and her continuance as a member of the commonwealth whose head was the king of England was achieved by a fresh definition of the king’s position.
The following declaration was made at the end of the conference. The government of India has informed the other governments of the commonwealth of the intention of the Indian people that under the new constitution which is about to be adopted India shall become a sovereign independent republic.
The government of India has, however, declared and affirmed India’s desire to continue her full membership of the commonwealth of nations and her acceptance of the king as the symbol of the free association of its independent member nations and as such the head of the commonwealth.
While England was happy at India’s continuance in the commonwealth, reactions in India varied from sharp criticism to whole-hearted acceptance. Criticism on the whole centered around the acceptance by India of the king as the head of the commonwealth which was in clear contradiction to her position as an independent republic.
India’s relation with Neighbours
India and Pakistan
Since 1947 the relations between the two countries have been persistently strained. The main factors which have contributed to the strained relations between the two countries are disputes over properties, borders, distribution of river waters, the question of Kashmir, etc.
The two countries amicably resolved the question of the sharing of rivers water.
Initially, India under the Standstill Agreement agreed to supply water to the canals in Pakistan from the headworks in India against payment till March 31, 1948. Ultimately in 1960, the two countries signed an agreement (Indus treaty) chiefly due to the good efforts of the World Bank.
Under this agreement, India not only agreed to supply water from the rivers Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej on the Indian side but also agreed to assist Pakistan in the construction of canals for link purposes. Another issue that strained the relations of the two countries was Pakistan’s decision to join the military Alliances.
India strongly reacted to the building of Pakistan’s military strength as a result of the enormous supply of military equipment and modernization of her army, because this posed a serious threat to India’s security. The attempt on the part of Pakistan to pose as the spokesman of all the Muslims on the Indian sub-continent has also greatly contributed to the tension between the two countries.
The growing friendship between Pakistan and China after the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962 and the decision of Pakistan to surrender a large slice of Indian territory under its occupation to china, has also contributed to the staining of relations between the two countries.
The most important issue which continued to strain the relations between the two countries throughout the years is the Kashmir question. Within a fortnight of its creation, Pakistan attacked Kashmir and occupied a large portion of the territory there.
At the request of the ruler of Kashmir, India sent her troops to assist the ruler in meeting Pakistan’s aggression after he signed a letter of accession in favor of India. Instead of resolving the dispute through the use of force, India also submitted the case before the united nations.
The united nations brought about a ceasefire but a substantial portion of the state of Jammu and Kashmir (known as POK or AZAD Kashmir) continued to be under Pakistan’s occupation.
India and Nepal
The two countries India and Nepal have maintained very intimate cultural, religious, and economic links. Almost 25 percent of Nepal’s population migrated from India during the past century.
The two countries maintain very close economic links and the trade between the two countries has considerably increased over the years.
In view of the strategic importance of Nepal, India concluded a treaty with Nepal in 1950 which inter-alia provided for the coordination of foreign policies of the two countries. The treaty stipulated “neither government shall tolerate any threat to the security of the other by a foreign aggressor.” India also trained Nepal’s armed forces and supplied them with arms.
In the economic sphere also India provided every possible assistance to Nepal in its development. It rendered great help to Nepal in the construction of the Tribhuvan raj path, the only road link between India and Nepal.
India also helped Nepal in the execution of various projects. Despite these intimate links between the two countries, the relations suffered a setback following the dismissal of the Koirala ministry in 1960 and India’s open condemnation of the act.
Thereafter king Mahendra of Nepal tried to develop more closer relations with China to counterbalance the Indian influence. He concluded a border agreement with China and accepted aid from china without consulting India, in violation of the treaty of 1950.
Earlier Nepal’s construction of a road from the Tibetan border to Kathmandu with the help of china was also viewed by India with great concern. After the sino-India conflict of 1962, Nepal drew closer to China. This obliged India to pay greater attention to Nepal and it offered economic assistance and other concessions to Nepal.
India and Sri Lanka
The country has very close cultural links with India. Large numbers of Indians are settled in Sri Lanka. They are mainly employed in the tea and rubber plantations of the country.
In the political sphere, India and Sri Lanka have maintained very cordial relations from the beginning. The two countries have also maintained close co-operation in the economic field. Both are members of the non-aligned movement and share identical views on most of the international problems.
The only irritant in the relations between India and Sri Lanka is the problem of the people of Indian origin in Sri Lanka. This problem has existed right from the time Sri Lanka gained independence in 1949.
Soon after attainment of independence Sri Lanka disowned the people of Indian origin settled in the country as a result of which a large number of them were rendered stateless.
However, the Government permitted those Indian citizens to come to India who wanted to come on their own free will. As a result, any Indians settled in Sri Lanka acquired Indian citizenship but quite a sizeable number of them continued to stay in Sri Lanka.
India and China
After the independence of the two countries could not develop very intimate relations on account of pre-occupation with their respective problems, and their relations in the main remained formal.
However, with the emergence of the people’s republic of china, the relations between the two countries started improving. India consistently supported the case of china’s entry into the United Nations.
India showed keenness to develop friendly relations with China despite its military action in Tibet and avoided raising the issue at the international forum. In 1954 India concluded a treaty with china with regard to Tibet and recognized Tibet as a region of China.
This treaty also expressed the determination of the two countries to conduct their relations on the basis of five principles (Panch Sheel), viz., mutule respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty; non-aggression; non-intervention in each other’s domestic affairs; mutule benefit and equality; and peaceful co-existence.
For some time the relations between two countries continued to be very friendly and the two co-operated at the Bandung conference of afro Asian nations. China also supported India on the issue of Goa.
In 1950 when hostilities broke out between the Tibetans and the Chinese forces India resisted from intervening in the matter. As a result, Tibet lost her autonomy. At this juncture, China also started making incursions into Indian territory and built a road across the Aksai china area.
In 1959 the Chinese Prime Minister raised a doubt about the established boundaries between the two countries and put forward a claim to 53,000 square miles of Indian territory. The things took serious turns in 1962 when china launched a full-fledged attack on India in NEFA and Ladakh and took possession of large chunks of indin territory.
Though subsequently china announced a unilateral cease-fire and withdrew its force from certain territories, it continued to bee in the occupation of vast tracts of Indian territory.
India and South-East Asia
India from the very beginning felt the need of developing intimate relations with the countries of South-East Asia and to prevent the domination of the region by the communist of western powers.
India particularly looked at the armed struggles in the region as a positive threat to her stability and emphasized the need of keeping the countries of South-East Asia free from the influence of the superpowers.
Nehru particularly wanted India to play a prominent role in the region and said in the course of his inaugural address to the Asian relations conference in March 1947.
In 1949 India took a lead in convening a conference on Indonesia and projected itself as the leader of the anti-colonial struggle in Asia.
During the period from the Bandung conference (1955) and Belgrade conference (1961) difference cropped up between India and Indonesia.
While India held that colonialism was dead and the main task of the non-aligned countries was to bring about a rapprochement between the U.S.S.R and U.S.A. Further, Indonesia showed a clear tilt towards china. As a result in 1962 when China attacked India, Indonesia did not show an expected understanding of the Indian position and preferred to remain neutral.
The Indonesian posture of neutrality greatly disappointed India, which had earlier extended whole-hearted support to Indonesia against the Dutch.
India’s defeat at the hands of China in 1962 exposed her economic and military weakness, which greatly undermined her prestige. These countries did take initiative to arrange direct negotiations between India and China, but could not succeed.
Thus India’s strained relations with Indonesia and china prevented her from playing a significant role in South-East Asia.
NEHRU: The International Mediator
When Nehru took over the conduct of independent Indian foreign policy he was influenced by the views adopted in the years of the freedom movement. Even though Stalin paid little attention to India and initially though of Nehru as an agent of British imperialism, Nehru made it a point to send his sister, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, who had served as a minister in thee days of provincial autonomy, as India’s first ambassador to Moscow in April 1947 when India was not yet independent.
Nehru’s skeptical attitude to the west was exacerbated by the incipient cold war and the American policy of ‘containment’. On the other hand, he also did not share the soviet view of the division of the world into ‘two camps’. independent India did not want to be put into ‘camp’. This was not properly appreciated either in western or in eastern Europe, but Nehru could base his foreign policy on a broad consensus in India.
The conflict with Pakistan, did, of course, constitute a severe handicap for Nehru’s policy of global mediation and peaceful coexistence. At the same time, it provided an opening for outside powers to interfere with the affairs of the region. The fact that Pakistan consisted of two wings separated by more than 1,00 miles of Indian territory meant that Pakistan would not be able to challenge India and looked for outside support- this is why it ended up as a military ally of the united states in 1954.
The Kashmir conflict ruined India’s relations with the United Nations, too, although India had been an ardent supporter of the idea of the united nations all along. The united nations, bent upon finding a political solution in Kashmir, sent several representatives-among them Americans-to Kashmir. From India’s point of view, these delegates tried to interfere with the internal affairs of the country. Consequently, India became extremely jealous of its national sovereignty, an attitude which was at odds with Nehru’s deep concern for other people’s problems in his quest for world peace.
Nehru could score his first success at international mediation when he wrote to Stalin and to the American secretary of state Dean Acheson, at the time of the Korean war. India then could play a very significant role in solving the difficult problem of the repatriation of Korean prisoners-of-war.
The next changes for international mediation came at the end Indo-china war after France had unsuccessfully tried to re-establish colonial rule and had been beaten by the Vietminh. Krishna Menon played a crucial role behind the scenes although India was not officially represented there.
Both superpowers thought at that time a neutralization of Indochina would be in their interests and India was asked to take up the chairmanship of the international commission which was charged with the task of controlling their neutrality. But although the United State had supported this solution, it simultaneously sponsored the SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation) as a parallel force to NATO capable of holding the line against communist expansion in the East. Pakistan promptly joined this organization.
Nehru and Menon were furious about this pact which worked against the principle of neutralizing conflict not only in Indo-china but also in its immediate environs. It became obvious to them that international mediation was a thankless task whenever it conflicted with superpower interests. But in 1955 universal harmony seemed to prevail and Nehru was at the height of his political career.
The spirit of Bandung, where the Afro-Asian leaders met, matched by the spirit of geneva where Eisenhower and Khrushchev met at an agreeable summit. In the same year, Khrushchev and President Nikolai Bulganin paid a memorable visit to India. Nehru’s old vision of a friendly and peace-loving soviet Union seemed to come true. Moreover, this friendly superpower backed him both against Pakistan and against Indian communists.