The need for foreign policy has become increasingly critical in this modern age. The importance of foreign policy is acknowledged worldwide since it helps countries maintain diplomatic relations. Foreign policy serves primarily to defend a state’s national interests, which underscores its importance. By doing so, it facilitates the development of clear perceptions of national policies as well as traditional values. Hence, foreign policy plays a crucial role in assisting national governments in devising strategies, guidelines, methods, and agreements to conduct their international relations. Foreign policy dictates how sovereign states interact with other nations. Consequently, foreign policy can be considered a charter.
Since 1947, India has paid a great deal of attention to defining the core principles and fundamentals that are uncompromising for its people. Over the course of its 75-year existence, the country has seen so many prime ministers come to power and develop their own foreign policy approaches. Through the speeches of Prime Ministers, let us take a look at its evolution over 75 years from a policy based on appeasement to a policy based on assertiveness.
Jawaharlal Nehru (1947-1964)
Given his background, Nehru’s move towards India’s foreign policy was more about talk than action. This is a typical trait found in all Congress prime ministers. Nehru resonated with his INC’s moderate leaders’ attitude towards Britain and had a rosy worldview that lacked realism. It is evident from how he handled the entire 1962 war. In 1963, referring to the war, he said, “All of a sudden, aggression was committed on our borders last year by a country which we had looked upon as a friend. This naturally shocked us and we had to pass through hardships and difficulties. This also had its good consequences, because we were shaken out of our complacency and once again a climate of preparedness and sacrifice was generated.”
This particular statement coming from a personality like Nehru, clearly highlights how unaware he was in dealing with his neighbours and didn’t seem to have a good grasp on how to deal with conflicts.
Similarly, while dealing with Pakistan, one could witness an emotional side of Nehru. Back in 1957, he said, “Our neighbour is Pakistan which is a part of us, part of our hearts and arms. How do we even think of fighting them? This is like harming ourselves”. Even in the case of Goa (to push the Portuguese out of this region), Nehru’s priorities were once again clearly established. In order to have an image of a peace lover, he sacrificed the lives of the people of Goa.
Although, he dealt, at great lengths, with foreign affairs, paying too much attention to worldly events like the Korean crisis or for that matter the Arab-Israel conflict. In the process, he side-lined the domestic issues that were lingering in budding India. He would dwell upon the peripheral issues which were far away from the ground reality.
Rajiv Gandhi (1984-1989)
Foreign policy was pushed to the back burner under his leadership. In a bizarre way, international affairs were entwined with domestic affairs. For instance, to promote a world with no nuclear weapons, he said, “There is only one way and that is disarmament. It is only when nuclear weapons are destroyed that the farmers and the people of India can be assured of security. Our stand on the question of disarmament is very clear and eloquent—for peace, for the future of the world and for the future of mankind.” It’s clear that he wasn’t too sure what was taking place in the international sphere and what serious implications it might have in the domestic sphere.
PV Narasimha Rao (1991-1996)
Keeping up the legacy of the Congress, he too had a rose-tinted view, especially in the case of Pakistan. The following statement would prove the point. After a series of terrorist attacks on India, the response of the PM was, “that leadership change in Pakistan would bring about peace between the two countries”.
The only deviation from other PMs, witnessed under his leadership, was the acknowledgment of the fact that “Kashmir is an indivisible part of India”. It was only he who singled out Pakistan among all Congress prime ministers. Other than that, Nehru, Rajiv Gandhi, and Manmohan Singh tried to appease Pakistan in some way or another. Nevertheless, he considered PoK an unfinished business when referring to Indian territories.
As for his response to the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus, going by the tradition of Congress, he just talked and did not implement. Besides portraying a helpless image, he also didn’t provide any concrete measures to address this grievous act of terrorism against Hindus.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1998-2004)
Major changes in India’s foreign policy took place under his leadership. In his speeches, he went across party lines to mention the contribution made by Indira Gandhi in the form of Pokhran I test in 1974. He praised the scientists and the Armed Forces alike for the test’s success. He acknowledged the fact that the incident marked India’s first presence on the world stage.
Further, in one of his Independence Day speeches, he didn’t shy away from defining the territories of India (irrespective of the claims made by Pakistan), when he said, “the boundaries of this country extend from Ladakh to Nicobar, from Garo Hills to Gilgit. Ours is a country whose civilization and culture are more than five thousand years old.” He was the first Prime Minister to mention the Gilgit region as a part of Indian territory, in his Independence Day speech. The current Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, followed second.
Manmohan Singh (2004-2014)
Although a great economist, his foreign policy followed the footsteps of his predecessors (especially Nehru and Rajiv Gandhi). He inherited a legacy of appeasement and acquitted Pakistan of all charges, especially after the 2008 terrorist attacks. He condemned the terrorist attacks and understood the importance of putting an end to terrorism, but it was all just words, and he saw no need for harsh actions against the state of Pakistan. He said, “The recent blasts in our Embassy in Kabul have cast a shadow over our efforts to normalise relations with Pakistan and to bring a lasting and honourable peace in our region. I have personally conveyed my concern and disappointment to the Government of Pakistan. If this issue of terrorism is not addressed, all the good intentions that we have for our two peoples to live in peace and harmony will be negated. We will not be able to pursue the peace initiatives we want to take. The terrorists and those who support them are enemies of the people of India and Pakistan, of friendship between the two countries and of peace in the region and the world. We must defeat them (2008)."
Throughout his tenure, he focussed on the peace-building process, often at the cost of India’s national interest and the well-being of its people.
Narendra Modi (2014- till present)
Needless to say, the major changes that India is undergoing today in the conduct of its foreign policy are due to the vision of Shri Narendra Modi. Today, India is revered worldwide for its diplomatic excellence and role on the international stage. Since coming to power in 2014, he has focused on the national interest and the general well-being of the people. Throughout his speeches, these thoughts and ideas have been reflected time and again. His speeches contain a wealth of material that can be discerned by the general public. His vision is based on the reality of the field rather than world events.
In all his speeches, he made it clear that aggressor nations would be treated accordingly. As such, Pakistan was mentioned only once in one of his speeches, which is also related to the surgical strike. Through his speeches, he made it clear that terrorism and states that promote such activities will not be tolerated at any cost.
This is the trajectory of India’s foreign policy, transforming from one at the receiver’s end to a position of making important decisions and policies in the international arena. This is the new India at 75.
Nupur Bapuly is a PhD in International Relations from Jawaharlal Nehru University. She is currently working as a policy analyst in a think tank in New Delhi. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.
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