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India’s Foreign Policy Evolution: From Pt. Nehru To PM Modi

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By: Dipak Kurmi

India’s foreign policy has consistently prioritized the safeguarding of its national interests, spanning from Jawaharlal Nehru’s era to Narendra Modi’s leadership. While the core principles of India’s foreign policy have remained constant, different governments have adjusted their foreign policy priorities in response to evolving global challenges. As the world transitioned from a bipolar to a multipolar order, India adapted its diplomatic relationships with major powers, including the US, Russia, the UK, Germany, France, Japan, and Southeast Asian nations. This flexibility in foreign relations has been a recurring theme across various prime ministers, reflecting India’s dynamic response to the changing international landscape.

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The evolution of India’s foreign policy from the establishment of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) during Nehru’s time to the present under Prime Minister Modi. Initially, NAM was a response to the ideologically divided world of the Cold War, with India preferring non-alignment to avoid aligning with Western or Eastern blocs. However, as the world shifted from bipolar to multipolar dynamics, subsequent governments, including those of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, found it challenging to strictly adhere to NAM principles.

Despite the emphasis on non-alignment, these governments sometimes leaned towards either the USSR or the US, deviating from past diplomatic traditions. Under Modi’s leadership, there has been a recognition that NAM is no longer relevant to India’s current geopolitical position and needs. Modi’s foreign policy, encapsulated in the mantra “India First,” prioritizes external cooperation and inputs to sustain India’s economic growth and development goals, particularly the aim of becoming a $5 trillion economy.

This shift in foreign policy has led to a focus on “Diplomacy for Development,” integrating economic diplomacy with political diplomacy to advance India’s global position in the multipolar world. Modi seeks to expand India’s outreach and establish the country as a top global power, emphasizing the importance of foreign policy in achieving this objective. His recent G-20 Summit theme, “One Earth, One Family, One Future,” underscores these foreign policy priorities.

Prime Minister Modi’s approach to foreign policy emphasizes finding common ground rather than changing mindsets. Under his leadership, India has undergone a significant shift in its foreign and economic policies to achieve ambitious development goals, adapting to changing global politics while retaining core foreign policy principles.

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Modi’s “Neighbourhood First” and “Act East” policies have solidified India’s position in the region, making it a reliable partner for neighboring countries and Southeast Asian nations. His diplomatic outreach to ASEAN countries has yielded positive results in various sectors, contributing to India’s rise as a strategic player with an effective foreign policy.

Modi’s foreign policy priorities have positioned India as a key player in the Indo-Pacific region, where it is seen as a balancing force against an assertive China. Major global powers, including the US, Russia, the UK, Germany, Japan, and others, are increasingly looking to India as a competent partner in countering China’s aggressive actions. On the historical context, noting that Nehru’s non-alignment principle, encapsulated in Panchsheel, faced challenges when India was attacked by China in 1962. Despite setbacks, India continued to pursue an independent foreign policy, emphasizing the importance of aligning non-alignment with defense requirements for national security.

Prime Minister Modi’s unwavering commitment to India’s independent foreign policy during the Ukraine War. Despite Western pressure, Modi refrained from condemning Russia or justifying its actions, instead emphasizing diplomacy and dialogue as the solution to the crisis. This stance was appreciated by Western countries, including the USA, leading to a State guest invitation for Modi from US President Joe Biden.

Modi’s diplomatic prowess was evident at the G-20 Summit, where he achieved consensus on the New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration, reflecting India’s motto of inclusivity and development. This diplomatic victory was further praised by prominent figures such as Congress MP Shashi Tharoor and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

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The evolution of Indian foreign policy under Modi’s leadership, contrasting it with previous administrations. The Manmohan Singh-led UPA government was seen as leaning towards America, leading to political challenges, while Modi has pursued a more balanced and assertive foreign policy. On historical foreign policy milestones, such as PV Narasimha Rao’s “Look East” policy, which aimed to strengthen relations with Southeast Asian nations to counter China’s influence. Additionally, it mentions Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government overseeing nuclear tests in Pokhran, which marked a significant foreign policy achievement for India. Modi’s diplomatic acumen and the evolution of India’s foreign policy under his leadership, characterized by independence, balance, and adaptability to global challenges.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign policy approach stands out from his predecessors in several significant ways. He has excelled in building strong personal relationships with world leaders, a departure from the previous government-to-government interactions. Additionally, Modi has connected directly with the Indian diaspora in various countries, further enhancing India’s global influence.

His emphasis on personal diplomacy was evident at the G-20 Summit, where he played a central role in expanding India’s foreign policy agenda. Modi’s foreign policy priorities extend to making India a leader in various global blocs, and he successfully elevated the Global South’s importance during the G-20 summit.

Modi introduced the concept of ‘paradiplomacy’ in India’s foreign policy, encouraging states and cities to forge special relations with foreign counterparts, be it other countries, federal states, or cities. This multifaceted approach underscores Modi’s efforts to broaden India’s foreign policy horizons and establish the country as a global leader with a diverse and comprehensive diplomatic strategy.  (The writer can be reached at dipaknewslive@gmail.com)

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