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Course correction – India’s foreign policy

Course correction – India’s foreign policy

UPSC CSE Mains Syllabus: GS-2-  India and its neighborhood- relations.
Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s

Course correction – India’s foreign policy

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Early Positive gains:

  • India was seen as a natural rising power in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region.
  • It was the de facto leader of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
  • It has historical and cultural ties with Nepal. It enjoyed traditional goodwill and influence in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
  • It had made investments worth billions of dollars in Afghanistan and cultivated vibrant ties with the post-Taliban stakeholders in Kabul.
  • It had committed itself to multilateralism and the Central Asian connectivity project, with Iran being its gateway.
  • It was competing and cooperating with China at the same time, while the long border between the two countries remained largely peaceful.
  • India is perhaps facing its gravest national security crisis in 20 years.
  • China has changed the status quo along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the western sector in its favour. The border saw violent clashes last month, leading to fatalities for the first time in 45 years.
  • SAARC is out of joint. Nepal has turned hostile having adopted a new map and revived border disputes with India.
  • Sri Lanka has tilted towards China, which is undertaking massive infrastructure projects in the Indian Ocean island.
  • Bangladesh is clearly miffed at the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. When Afghanistan is undergoing a major transition, India is out of the multi-party talks.
  • Iran has inaugurated a railway link project connecting the Chabahar port, on the Gulf of Oman, to Zahedan (which India was to have constructed) without India.

Specific reasons:

  • Specific reasons can be found for these setbacks.
  • Also, foreign policy need not be static.
  • There will be ups and downs depending on the changes in policy as well as the changes in global politics.
  • But what makes the current downturn serious is that there is a relative decline in India’s smart power, especially in the neighbourhood and the extended neighbourhood, which demands a deeper perusal of the foreign policy trajectory itself.
  • A closer alignment of policy with the U.S. line, coupling of foreign policy with domestic politics and hubris.

Non-alignment to multi-alignment:

  • India’s official policy is that it is committed to multilateralism.
  • India started moving away from non-alignment. It had called it irrelevant in the post-Cold War world order.
  • It maintained that strategic autonomy would remain the bedrock of its policy thinking.
  • But there has been an erosion in India’s strategic autonomy since the past decade.
  • When India started deepening its partnership with the United States. This was a historical necessity.
  • India began steadily aligning its policies with U.S. interests.

Explained through Iran’s case:

  • The case of Iran is the best example.
  • The agreement to develop the Chabahar port was signed in 2003.
  • But India, under pressure from the U.S., was moving slowly. The project offered India an alternative route to Central Asia bypassing Pakistan.
  • India voted against Iran at the United Nations; scuttled an ambitious gas pipeline project and cut down trade ties drastically.
  • After the Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2015, India immediately stepped up oil purchases and expanded works at Chabahar.
  • In 2016, Prime Minister travelled to Tehran and signed a trilateral connectivity project with Afghanistan and Iran.
  • But when U.S. President pulled the U.S. out of the Iran deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on the country, India went by the U.S. line, bringing down its oil imports to zero.

Close ally perception and Chinese apprehension:

  • With India’s deepening defence and military ties with the U.S., Washington wants India to play a bigger role in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific region to contain China’s rise.
  • India has been cautious of becoming an ally.
  • However, it has steadily deepened military-to-military cooperation in the recent past — the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) is one example.
  • These developments probably altered Beijing’s assessment of India.
  • The border aggression at different points on the LAC could not be a localised conflict; it is part of a larger strategic move, initiated by the top brass of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
  • One of the reasons for the shift could be Beijing’s assessment that India has already become a de facto ally of the U.S.
  • The forceful altering of the status quo on the border is a risky message as much to New Delhi as it is to Washington.
  • Kashmir – change in status quo:
  • The abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • More importantly, the change of status quo in Jammu and Kashmir, including the bifurcation and reduction of the erstwhile State into Union Territories, could be another factor that prompted the Chinese to move aggressively towards the border in Ladakh.
  • Great powers wait to establish their standing before declaring that they have arrived. The Soviet Union started acting like a superpower after it won (with allies), the Second World War. China bided its time for four decades before it started taking on the mighty U.S. Since the 1970s, its focus has almost entirely been on its economic rise. India should learn from at least these modern examples.

Way forward:

  • To address the current crises, India has to reconsider its foreign policy trajectory.
  • It is a big power with one of the world’s biggest militaries.
  • It is a natural naval force in the Indian Ocean.
  • It does not lack resources to claim what is its due in global politics.
  • What it lacks is strategic depth which needs to be rectified.

Source:”The Hindu”.


The recent rise of differences and conflict between India and her neighbourhood shows that there is a need for a course correction in India’s foreign Policy. Critically examine.