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India's External Relations | Class 12 Political Science

The chapter introduces students to India's external relations and its foreign Policy. It also highlights the policy of Non-Alignment, the Afro-Asian Unity and the role played by India in the Bangladesh War of 1971. The chapter also talks about the Chinese invasion and the Indo-Pakistan war.


International Context

India was born and grew up in a very challenging global environment, there were many countries that came into the world picture as a result of the end of colonialism. Most of these new countries were attempting to reconcile the twin challenges of welfare and democracy.

After gaining independence, the foreign policy of free India also reflected these concerns. On the other hand India was also dealing with some internal issues and the issue of poverty alleviation.

India's Entry into International Affairs

As a nation born in the midst of a world war, India decided to conduct its foreign relations with the goal of respecting other nations' sovereignty and maintaining peace. This goal was widely echoed by the State Policy Directive Principles.

There were many nations with lack of resources to effectively represent its interest in international forums. As a result, they set lower goals. Many nations valued peace and progress in their immediate environment.

There was one key factor that a nation's reliance on more powerful states for economic and security aspects also affects its foreign policy. Many post-war developing countries chose to support the foreign policy preferences of the powerful countries that aided or financed them.

This resulted in the split of the world into two camps. The US and its allies influenced one, while the Soviet Union influenced the other.

The end of the Cold War changed everything in international relations. At the time of India's independence, the Cold War was just beginning, and the world was divided into two camps.

Policy Of Non- Alignment

The Indian national movement was a part of the global anti-colonialist movement which also influenced many Asian and African liberation movements. There were many nationalist leaders who were impressed by India's approach and wanted to align themselves with their common struggle against colonialism and imperialism.

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose also established the Indian National Army (INA) with a clear manifestation of India's links with overseas Indians during the freedom struggle.

Both internal and external factors influence a country's foreign policy. As a result, India's foreign policy was influenced by the noble ideals that motivated the country's independence struggle.

India's independence coincided with the outbreak of the Cold War. This period was marked by global political, economic, and military confrontation between two superpower blocs, the United States and the Soviet Union.

During this time, the United Nations was established, nuclear weapons were developed, China became communist, and decolonization began.

As a result, India's leaders had to strike a balance between national interests and global realities.

What role did Nehru play in India's foreign policy?

Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister, was instrumental in establishing the national agenda. As Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, he had a significant impact on the formulation and implementation of India's foreign policy from 1946 to 1964.

Nehru's foreign policy had three major goals: to preserve hard-earned sovereignty, protect territorial integrity, and promote rapid economic development.

Nehru hoped to achieve these goals through a non-alignment strategy. There were many people and groups in the country who supported the idea of joining the power led by the United States that claimed to be pro-democracy.

Leaders like Dr Ambedkar were among those who thought along these lines. Some anti-communist political parties also wanted India to pursue a pro-US foreign policy. Parties like the Bharatiya Janata Dal later known as Swatantra Party were among them.

Why did India maintain a safe buffer between the two camps?

By advocating non-alignment and lowering Cold War tensions, and contributing human resources to UN peacekeeping missions the foreign policy of independent India vigorously pursued the dream of a peaceful world.

During the Cold War, India was not a member of either camp. India wished to avoid military alliances that pitted the United States and the Soviet Union against one another. Also, the military alliances NATO and Warsaw Pact led by the United States and the Soviet Union came into picture.

India stick to the policy of Non- Alignment which was an ideal foreign policy approach. NAM also proved to be a difficult balancing act which was not always perfect.

When Britain launched an attack on Egypt over the Suez Canal in 1956, India was among the first to condemn the neocolonial invasion. However, the following year, when the Soviet Union invaded Hungary, India did not join the international condemnation.

Despite this, India has generally taken an independent stance on a variety of international issues and has received aid and assistance from members of both blocs.

While India was attempting to persuade other developing countries to follow suit, Pakistan joined military alliances led by the United States.

The US was dissatisfied with India's independent initiatives and non-alignment policy.

As a result, tensions between India and the US were high during the 1950s. The US also despised India's increasing ties with the Soviet Union. This policy emphasised import substitution.

Because of the emphasis on developing a resource base, export-oriented growth has been limited. This development strategy hampered India's economic interaction with the rest of the world.

The Afro- Asian Unity

Nehru, on the other hand, saw India playing a significant role in world affairs, particularly in Asia, due to its size, location, and power potential.

This period was marked by the establishment of contacts between India and other newly independent states in Asia and Africa. Nehru was a staunch supporter of Asian unification throughout the 1940s and 1950s.

Under his leadership, India convened the Asian Relations Conference in March 1947, five months before gaining independence.

India made serious efforts to achieve Indonesia's independence from the Dutch colonial regime as soon as possible by convening an international conference in 1949 to support Indonesia's freedom struggle.

India was a staunch supporter of decolonization and a vocal opponent of racism, especially apartheid in South Africa.

The Bandung Conference, held in the Indonesian city of Bandung in 1955, was the pinnacle of India's engagement with newly independent Asian and African nations.

The Bandung Conference resulted in the formation of the NAM. The NAM held its first summit in Belgrade in September 1961.

Nehru co-founded the National Action Movement (NAM).

India's Relation With China

In contrast to its relationship with Pakistan, independent India initiated a positive relationship with China.

Following the Chinese revolution in 1949, India was one of the first countries to recognise the communist government. Nehru was deeply concerned with the emergence of this neighbour from the shadow of Western dominance, and he backed the new government in international fora.

Several of his colleagues, including Vallabhbhai Patel, expressed concern about possible Chinese aggression in the future. Nehru, on the other hand, believed that a Chinese attack on India was "extremely improbable." For a long period of time, paramilitary forces patrolled the Chinese border, rather than the army.

On April 29, 1954, Prime Ministers Nehru of India and Zhou Enlai of China jointly proclaimed Panchsheel, the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. This was a step toward the two countries developing a stronger relationship.

When Indian and Chinese leaders visited each other's countries, they were greeted by large and friendly crowds.

The Chinese Invasion (1962)

The India China relationship was strained by two developments. In 1950, China annexed Tibet, removing a historical buffer between the two countries.

Initially, the Indian government made no public opposition to this. However, as more information about the suppression of Tibetan culture became available, the Indian government became uneasy.

In 1959, the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, sought and was granted political asylum in India. China alleged that India's government permitted anti-China activities to be carried out from within the country.

A few months ago, India and China were embroiled in a boundary dispute. India maintained that the boundary was settled during colonial times, but China maintained that any colonial decision was irrelevant.

The primary point of contention was the western and eastern termini of the lengthy border.

China claimed two areas within Indian territory: the Aksai-chin area in Jammu and Kashmir's Ladakh region and a large portion of Arunachal Pradesh in what was then known as NEFA (North Eastern Frontier Agency).

The Chinese occupied the Aksai-chin area between 1957 and 1959 and constructed a strategic road there.

Despite extensive correspondence and discussion between top leaders, these disagreements remained unresolved. Numerous minor border skirmishes occurred between the armies of the two countries.

Amid The Cuban Missile Crisis

In October 1962, while the world was focused on the Sino-US crisis, China invaded both disputed regions quickly and massively.

Chinese forces captured several strategic areas in Arunachal Pradesh during the initial assault.

Then came the second wave of attacks. While Indian forces held off Chinese advances in Ladakh, the Chinese advanced into the Assam plains from the east.

Finally, before the invasion, China declared a unilateral ceasefire and repositioned its troops.

The China war tarnished India's image both at home and abroad. India needed the US and UK military help to survive the crisis.

Throughout the conflict, the USSR remained neutral. It instilled both national humiliation and patriotism.

Several high-ranking army officers have resigned or retired. V. Krishna Menon, then-defence Minister and close Nehru associate was forced out.

Nehru's reputation suffered due to his ignorance of China's intentions and lack of military readiness.

A motion of no confidence in his government was debated in the Lok Sabha. The Congress then lost several crucial Lok Sabha by-elections.

The country's political climate was changing.

The Sino-Indian conflict influenced the opposition. This, coupled with the growing rift between China and the USSR, shattered the Indian Communist Party (CPI).

In the CPI, they worked to improve ties with Congress. The opposing faction wanted closer ties with China and opposed the Congress.

Leaders of the latter faction formed the Communist Party of India (Marxist) after the party split in 1964. (CPI-M). After the war with China, several CPI (M) leaders were arrested on pro-China charges.

The war with China made India's leaders aware of the tense situation in the Northeast. This isolated and underdeveloped region threatened India's national integration and political unity.

Soon after the war with China, it reorganised. Manipur and Tripura gained statehood and the right to elect their own legislatures despite being Union Territories.

Wars And Peace With Pakistan

Pakistan's conflict with India began shortly after partition over the Kashmir dispute.

In 1947, a proxy war between Indian and Pakistani armies erupted in Kashmir. This, however, did not develop into a full-fledged war.

Following that, the matter was referred to the United Nations. Pakistan quickly established itself as a pivotal factor in India's relations with the US and, later, with China.

The Kashmir conflict did not prevent India and Pakistan's governments from cooperating. Both governments worked cooperatively to reunite women abducted during Partition with their families.

The World Bank mediated a long-standing dispute over river water distribution.

In 1960, Nehru and General Ayub Khan signed the India-Pakistan Treaty on the Indus Waters.

Regardless of the ups and downs in Indo-Pak relations, this treaty served its purpose admirably.

In 1965, the two countries fought a more serious war. As you will see in the following chapter, by that time, Lal Bahadur Shastri had assumed the position of Prime Minister.

In April 1965, Pakistan launched armed attacks in Gujarat's Rann of Kutch region. In August and September, a larger offensive was launched in Jammu and Kashmir.

Pakistan's rulers hoped to garner support from the indigenous populace, but this did not occur.

Shastri directed Indian troops to launch a counter-offensive along the Punjab border to relieve pressure on the Kashmir front.

After a bloody battle, the Indian army was able to get close to Lahore. The intervention of the United Nations brought an end to hostilities.

Later that year, in January 1966, Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and Pakistani General Ayub Khan signed the Tashkent Agreement, which the Soviet Union mediated.

While India was capable of inflicting significant military losses on Pakistan, the 1965 war aggravated India's already precarious economic situation.

Bangladesh War, 1971

In 1970, Pakistan experienced its worst internal crisis. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's party won West Pakistan's first general election, while Sheikh Mujib-ur Rahman's Awami League won East Pakistan.

The Bengali population of East Pakistan voted in protest of years of being treated as second-class citizens by West Pakistan's rulers.

Pakistan's rulers were adamant in their refusal to accept the democratic result. Additionally, they were hostile to the Awami League's demand for federation.

Rather than that, the Pakistani army captured Sheikh Mujib in early 1971 and terrorised the people of East Pakistan.

As a result, a struggle against Pakistan to liberate 'Bangladesh' began.

In 1971, approximately 80 lakh refugees fled East Pakistan for India's neighbouring areas. India provided moral and material support to Bangladesh's struggle for independence.

Pakistan accused India of orchestrating the destabilisation of the country. Pakistan received support from both the US and China.

The rapprochement between the United States and China, which began in the late 1960s, resulted in a realignment of forces in Asia. In July 1971, Henry Kissinger, a close adviser to US President Richard Nixon, travelled secretly to China via Pakistan.

In response to the US-Pakistan-China axis, India and the Soviet Union signed a 20-year Treaty of Peace and Friendship in August 1971.

This treaty assured India of the Soviet Union's assistance in the event of an attack.

India and Pakistan fought a full-scale war in December 1971, following months of diplomatic tensions and military build-up.

Pakistani planes bombed Punjab and Rajasthan, while the Indian army advanced into Jammu and Kashmir. India responded with an air force, navy, and army attack on both the Western and Eastern fronts.

Indian forces advanced rapidly in East Pakistan, aided and abetted by the populace. Within ten days, the Indian army encircled Dhaka on three sides, compelling Pakistan's approximately 90,000-strong army to surrender. Following Bangladesh's independence, India unilaterally declared a ceasefire.

Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto signed the Shimla Agreement later that year, on 3 July 1972, formally ending the war.

National jubilation followed the war's decisive victory. This was viewed by the overwhelming majority of Indians as a source of national pride and a demonstration of India's growing military prowess.

Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister of India at the time. She had already been elected to the Lok Sabha in 1971.

Her personal popularity skyrocketed following the war's conclusion in 1971.

Following the war, the majority of states held assembly elections, with the Congress party capturing large majorities in a number of them.

India had begun planning for development in spite of its resource scarcity.

Conflicts with neighbours put the five-year plans in jeopardy.

In 1962, when India was compelled to embark on a military modernization drive, scarce resources were diverted to the defence sector.

The Department of Defence Production and the Department of Defence Supplies was established in November 1962 and November 1965, respectively.

The Third Plan (1961–66) and three Annual Plans were affected, with the Fourth Plan beginning only in 1969. In the aftermath of the wars, India's defence spending increased dramatically.

The Nuclear Policy of India

What was the nuclear policy of India?

Another significant event during this time was India's first nuclear explosion in May 1974 also known as operation ‘Smiling Buddha’. For the rapid development of modern India, Nehru had always placed his faith in science and technology.

The nuclear programme, which began in the late 1940s under the direction of Homi J. Bhabha, was an important part of his industrialization plans.

India desired to produce nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Nehru was an outspoken opponent of nuclear weapons. As a result, he pleaded with the superpowers for total nuclear disarmament.

The nuclear arsenal, on the other hand, continued to grow. When Communist China conducted nuclear tests in October 1964, the five nuclear weapon powers – the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, and China (Taiwan then represented China) – attempted to impose the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968 on the rest of the world.

The NPT has always been viewed as discriminatory by India, which has refused to sign it. India's first nuclear test was dubbed a "peaceful explosion" at the time.

India claimed that it was committed to using nuclear energy only for peaceful purposes.

Domestic politics were tumultuous during the nuclear test period.

Due to the massive increase in oil prices by Arab nations following the Arab-Israel War of 1973, the entire world was affected by the Oil Shock.

It wreaked havoc on India's economy, resulting in high inflation. As you will see in the following paragraphs, there were numerous agitations in the country at the time, including a nationwide railway strike.

Although there are minor differences among political parties on how to conduct external relations, Indian politics is characterised by broad agreement among the parties on national integration, international boundary protection, and national interest issues.

As a result, we find that foreign policy played only a minor role in party politics during the decade of 1962-1972, when India faced three wars, or even later when different parties came to power from time to time.


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