India’s Foreign Policy: Changing dynamics


India has been taking an increasingly pragmatic stance in the conduct of its foreign affairs in recent times. This shows a gradual shift from conventional foreign policy that india had adopted.

What is foreign policy:

  • Foreign policy refers to the general guidelines that a country follows in establishing and conducting relations with other countries. It brings in predictability in foreign relations and builds trust between two nations.

Determinants of India’s Foreign Policy:

1)Geographic location:

  • India is located between Middle-east, South-East Asia and far East.
  • It is present close to one of the busiest trade routes in the world.
  • It shares most of its land boundaries with hostile neighbours.
  • The increasing presence of China in the Indian Ocean is a source of major concern.


  • India has a huge population who need to be provided with basic amenities and employment opportunities.
  • India also ensure the well being of its Non Resident Indians abroad.

3)Economic Concerns

  • India is in dire need of foreign investments. Over the years it has liberalised its economy to incentivise foreign investments.


  • India aims to become a major global player in the future.
  • It has been trying to join the UNSC as a permanent member.

5)Security and Defence

  • Terrorism from hostile neighbours has been a major concern.
  • Home grown terrorists use neighbouring countries as a hide out.
  • India has signed land boundary agreements to strengthen border defence .


  • Since ancient times India’s Foreign Policy has been guided by values like peace and non violence.
  • This was the basis for India’s Non Aligned Movement.

India’s Foreign Policy – dynamics

  • India’s foreign policy since ancient times have had elements of both continuity and change. The elements of continuity include quest for securing peace in the neighbourhood, increasing trade, attracting foreign investments, playing a major role in the global arena.
  • As per foreign policy analysts, presently India’s foreign policy has become more pragmatic.

Rise of Realpolitik in India’s Foreign Policy in recent times:

1)What is Realpolitik:

  In Realpolitiks, Foreign policy is conducted on the basis of practical and material concerns rather than ideological or ethical principles.

2)Changing dynamics of Foreign Policy  to realpolitik

   1.Indian foreign policy for centuries has been guided by  civilizational values like non violence, tolerance, Sarva Dharma Sambhava etc which prompted India to take a leadership role in the Non Aligned Movement ( NAM).

   2.Later the Gujral doctrine talked about non-reciprocal accommodation of India’s neighbours and stated that India must help its neighbours without expecting anything in return.

  1. According to foreign policy experts like Happymon Jacob, Harsh V Pant, Kanti Bajpai, etc under the present regime India is showing more Realpolitik viz

1.Multi alignment rather than Non- alignment

2.Increasing cooperation with USA,

3.Dehyphenation of Israel-Palestine etc.

4.Focus on BIMSTEC rather than SAARC

5.Look East to Act East policy

6.Wooing foreign investments

7.Neighbourhood first policy etc

8.Offensive -defensive strategy against Pakistan

4.However Kanti Bajpai, a political analyst has observed that the present government has been following a “cooperation-defection” cycle. The government cooperates with other countries but on its own terms and defects when it is not able to do so

3)Instances where Realpolitiks dominated concerns:

  1. India’s stance against the Rohingya refugees reflects a shift from its traditional stance of welcoming refugees though India is not a party to UN convention on refugees
  2. India is taking a dehyphenation stance on Israel and Palestine. That means India’s relationship with Israel would stand on its own merit and will be independent from her relationship with Palestine. PM Modi also became the first Indian PM to visit Israel
  3. India’s offensive defensive strategy against Pakistan was visible when it conducted a surgical strike which was a departure from the past.
  4. In the recent past,India is not showing importance to Non Aligned Movement ( NAM) and even Indian PM skipped a meeting of NAM.
  5. Simultaneously growing India-US ties is evident in the defence relationship between the two countries.
  6. India began pursuing the neighbourhood first policy with increased vigour in 2014. But it has hit a roadblock. India is now selectively engaging with these countries with one big agenda-countering the presence of China
  7. SAARC has hit a roadblock with the recent summit being cancelled after Pakistan’s aggression towards India. India has now shifted its focus to sub regional groupings like BIMSTEC
  8. India also showed diplomatic maturity during the Doklam standoff and prevented it from escalating into a full scale war
  9. PM Modi himself is leading the high level political visits across the world. Political considerations took a backstage while economic considerations were given priority.

4)Consequences of increasing reliance on Realpolitik:

  1. India would no longer be considered as a “soft state”.(Soft state is a concept given by Gunnar Myrdal which says that the State is unable to implement its policies.)
  2. Concerns of a two – front war from China Pakistan alliances
  3. Though India is successful in the diplomatic isolation of Pakistan in the international arena, it is pushing Pakistan to forge new alliances with countries like Russia
  4. India would be projected as a country which can take initiative thus helping its case for a permanent seat at UNSC.
  5. Increasing closeness with countries like USA and Israel is pushing our traditional allies like Russia to realign its relationship with China and Pakistan.

Criticism of rise of Realpolitiks in India’s Foreign Policy

  1. India’s focus on hard power(military power) for foreign policy outcomes sidelines our rich soft power(ideological power, goodwill) attributes.
  2. The concerns among the small neighbouring countries like Nepal against India’s ‘big brother’ attitude
  3. Even though countries like China have the military might to use hard power, there is an increased focus on soft power. The BRI is an important part of China’s Soft power. It seeks to make the countries economically dependant on it.
  4. Basing a foreign policy on immediate practical concerns is not advisable in a dynamic global scenario.
  5. It would reduce the element of trust in bilateral ties.For example, USA’s reversal of many of the commitment’s given by the previous government has reduced the trust on US.

Way forward:

  1. For India to become a global power, it must first become a regional power.
  2. Domestic capacity has to be built in order to sustain India’s global ambitions.
  3. Sustained economic growth is very important to become a major player in the world
  4. The government must pursue Neighbourhood First policy with the same thrust as before.
  5. In the changing geopolitical order India must build a strong foundation based on both India’s civilizational values as well as new considerations.
Print Friendly and PDF