The Evolution of India’s Foreign Policy

India is one of the emerging major powers and the largest democratic country in the world. Over the years, India has gained a special status in the global level due to many reasons such as location, geopolitical importance and the size.

Foreign policy is the key tool that many countries use to deal with other countries. Every country needs a clear and well-defined foreign-policy to build up cooperation between the other countries. Many scholars defined foreign policy in many aspects.

“Foreign policy as a comprehensive plan based on knowledge and experience for conducting the business of government with the rest of the is aimed at promoting and protecting the interests of the nations”. – Huge Gibson- 

No country can stand alone and fulfill their needs alone. After the 2nd world war, all the countries needed their mutual cooperation to build up again. As a result of that, concepts like globalization and establishment of institutions emerged. India also needed to achieve its objectives with International cooperation. Then India made its own Foreign policy to deal with the rest of the world, to achieve its objectives.

In this post, I will discuss the evolution of the Indian Foreign policy such as emergence and its developments. So let’s begin.

Pre Independence Era

The evolution of India’s foreign policy goes back to the pre-independence days of the Indian National Movement. In many historical data, India believes that Chanakya was the pioneer of the Indian foreign policy and Hanuman was their first diplomatic agent.

However, when it comes to the colonial period, India was a colonial country that was under the dominant rule of the British government for about 200 years. As a result, India was conducted and controlled by the British government. The British Secretary of State for India was in charge of the Indian foreign relations. Therefore, India had no their own foreign policy prior to 1947.

Influence of the Indian National Congress

Even though India did not have its own Foreign Policy until 1947, the foundation for the emergence of an Indian Foreign Policy was established before independence. The major reason for this foundation was the Indian National Congress.

India’s foreign policy was shaped by the principles advocated by Mahatma Gandhi and the various resolutions adopted and passed by the Indian National Congress in its sessions. 

Jawaharlal Nehru Era

Under the Nehru’s period, India followed an Idealistic approach towards its foreign policy which followed a non-aligned foreign policy, focusing on Afro-Asian cooperation and the independence struggles of the Afro Asian countries.

Non-alignment was the central pillar of India’s foreign policy under Nehru’s period. India wanted to establish peace and not war or conflicts. Therefore, India did not join any of the military pacts of capitalist countries, such as SEATO, CENTO, Baghdad Pact or Manila Treaty; or the Warsaw Pact of the socialist block. 

India provided leadership to newly independent Asian and African nations to gain independence and in denying joining any of the military blocks that would have been a threat to protect their sovereignty. Indian independent struggle was inspired by many countries including Sri Lanka.

One of the best achievements of India’s non-alignment was the majority of the poor and developing countries from all parts of the world adopted a similar policy and all of them joined hands to implement the Non-Aligned Movement against the hegemony of both the ideological blocks during the Cold War period.  

Panchsheel was another concept followed by India in its foreign policy under Jawaharlal Nehru. Panchsheel, or the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence, were first formally enunciated in the Agreement on Trade and Intercourse between the Tibet region of China and India signed on April 29, 1954. Its preamble mentioned that the two Governments “have resolved to enter into the present Agreement based on the following principles: –

  • Mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,
  • Mutual non-aggression,
  • Mutual non-interference,
  • Equality and mutual benefit, and
  • Peaceful co-existence.

Panchsheel was the principled core of the Non-Aligned Movement. It provided the ideological foundation for international relations, allowing all nations to work towards peace and prosperity in cooperation while maintaining their national identity, spirit and character.

Aftermath of the Sino Indian War 1962

The disastrous defeat of India during the Sino Indian war helped to shift the idealistic approach of the Indian foreign policy towards a realistic approach. Many experts believed that the lack of defense expenditures and lack of military practices under the Nehru period were the reasons for the defeat.

After Nehru’s period, India’s foreign policy was changed differently. Under Lal Bahadur Shastri’s period, India followed Nehru’s path and on the other hand, more friendly relations with neighbors. Also, on the other hand, Shastri did not make the same mistake done by Nehru in terms of defense. 

Under the period of Indira Gandhi, India followed a more realistic approach. India built a more powerful figure in the international community. Under this period India increased its regional hegemonic status. On the other hand, India played as an interventional character internationally, especially in the regional level.

Under Rajiv Gandhi’s period, India’s role for peacemaking is very notable. India served as an interventionist in the Ethnic tensions of Sri Lanka between Sinhalese and Tamils. By signing the Indo-SL peace accord, India tried to bring a political solution. Also, India sent their Indian Peacekeeping force to Sri Lanka. 

Rajiv Gandhi could restart the Foreign relations of India with its long term enemies, specially with China. Also, the SAARC was established during this period which was a great step towards regional cooperation.

In today, India follows an aggressive, Pro US path in the context of foreign policy, under the administration of Narendra Modi.   


As an overall, The post-independent foreign policy was formulated taking into consideration the various factors such as the Congress party resolutions, ideology of national leaders, power politics of the Super Powers, Cold War, colonial experience, imperialism, racial discrimination etc. And the post-independence foreign policy of India was shaped by various ideologies and principles like Panchsheel and non-alignment. 

You can also check out my previous articles about top 3 determinant factors of Indian Foreign policy for further details.

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