Policy report

Nehruvianism in Indian foreign policy – embedded in the Modi doctrine?

International relations India

This paper addresses a key question: could non-alignment and the five principles of Panchsheel as the basis of Nehruvian foreign policy can be described as contiguous with, continuing and joining across time, with the foreign policy platform espoused by current Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A debate has emerged, arguing on the one hand, that Nehru’s foreign policy has been superseded by a new approach while, on the other, evidence suggests that little has changed in principle. Research and argument guide the view that – despite Nehru’s failure to negotiate with China in 1962 and Modi’s superficially contrasting success in ending the standoff at Doklam in 2017 – non-alignment, Panchsheel principles and the integration of foreign and economic policy – in essence, Nehruvian foreign policy – is being pursued, albeit in a different, globalised world.

Key points:

- India’s foreign policy did not stem from an Indian International Relations School and, similarly, anomalies in India’s constitution, the drafting of which was also overseen by Nehru, continue to be of relevance.

- Modi’s bilateral engagements with regional and global leaders demonstrate his personal charisma and political agility. They speak of progression, rather than change, in a globalised world not all that far removed from the universal trade envisaged by Nehru.

- An adherence to non-alignment, the exclusion of alliance commitments, strategic partnerships, and “informal” and “natural” alliances are part and parcel of India’s less closely defined foreign policy.

- India’s past conflict and present competition with China, as well as New Delhi’s bilateral and multilateral responses, all show a continuing pattern.

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