Foreign Policy of Indira Gandhi, 1966-1977


The policy of Non-Alignment is the bed-rock of India’s foreign policy, it was also followed by Indira Gandhi as her predecessors, Nehru and Shastri did. In the 1950s and 1960s, several African countries had gained independence from colonial rule. Indira Gandhi realized the political and economic importance of these countries. Indira Gandhi boosted the NAM summit in New Delhi in 1967 to strengthen the unity and co-operation among Afro-Asian countries

Relations with Foreign Countries

Indo-US Relations

On invitation from the US President Lindon B. Johnson, Indira Gandhi visited the US on 28 March 1966. During her visit, the Indo-US Education Foundation was formulated, but could not materialize due to strong opposition in India. Indira Gandhi impressed on the US President the need for American aid in terms of food and foreign exchange. America had suspended aid to India in 1965 at the time of the Indo-Pak war. However, Johnson promised three million tons of food and nine million in aid.

The Indo-US relations touched the base when India signed the treaty of peace, Friendship and Co-operation with Russia in 1971. The U.S. vehemently criticized India for interfering with the internal affairs of Pakistan and President Nixon deployed the US 7th fleet to the Bay of Bengal. America ordered complete stoppage of economic assistance and supply of defense equipment to India. The Pokhran Test had driven a wedge in the Indo-US relations. This issue caused a stalemate in the relations between the two countries. Though the visit of Dr. Henry Kissinger, the secretary of the state of the US, to India in October 1974, helped to bridge the gap between the two countries, Indira Gandhi’s imposition of emergency in 1975 strained the Indo-US relation.

Indo-Soviet Relations

Indira Gandhi visited Moscow in September 1966, with a view to strengthen India’s ‘special relations’ with Russia. But India was discouraged when the Soviet Union decided to supply arms to Pakistan in July 1976. When Russia was dissatisfied with Pak’s pro-china attitude, she started improving Indo-soviet relations, which led to the signing of a historic treaty of peace with the country.

Indo Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Co-operation, 1971

On 9 August 1971, India and the Soviet Union signed the treaty of peace, Friendship and Co-operation. The impact of the treaty: 1) Discourage Pak threat to India’s security. 2) Check the possible Sino-Pak collusion against India. 3) Neutralise the growing Washington-Pindi-Beijing entente. 4) Help indirectly to make a decisive contribution towards the formation of Bangladesh. 5) assure Soviet support during the Bangladesh War, and 6) prevent the adoption of the US-China sponsored anti-India moves in the U.N. Security Council.

Relations with Neighboring Countries

Indo-Sino Relations

In the post-1962 period, Indo-Sino relations remained cold and unfriendly. Even diplomatic relations were down Graded. China came closer to Pakistan. During 1965 Indo-Pak war, China extended full support to Pakistan short of intervention in the war. Chinese attitude towards the border dispute with India, the continued border incidents between Chinese and Indian troops, and the Chinese surreptitious support to anti-Indian elements like extremist Nagas, Mizos, the Naxalites etc combined to create further strains.

Indo-Pak Relations       

The Indo-Pak War of 1971 brought the relations between the two countries to a breaking-point. The Simla Agreement (1972) which followed the war restored mutual relations. This was followed by the Delhi Agreement (1973) which resolved the issue of repatriation of Prisoners of War (POW) and the problem of returning Bengalis from Pakistan and Bihari Muslim from Bangladesh to Pakistan. When Pakistan attempted to integrate ‘Azad Kashmir’ (POK) with Pakistan (1975), Indira Gandhi neutralized by concluding an agreement with Sheikh Abdulla on February 1975, thereby Pakistan turned hostile towards India.

Indo-Bangladesh Relations

Mujibur Rehman, assumed power in Bangladesh on 12 January 1972. The erstwhile East Pakistan became an Independent Sovereign State. India recognized the new nation even before the war was over. On 10 December 1971, the first Indo-Bangladesh Treaty was signed by Indira Gandhi and acting Bangladesh President Nazrul Islam. A Joint India-Mukti Bahini command was set up under India’s General to liberate Bangladesh from Pakistan. According to this treaty India pledged to protect the territorial integrity of Bangladesh; economic assistance for its reconstruction; to return refugees from India; and to withdraw the Indian army from that country as normalcy was established.

Mujibur Rehman visited India on invitation from 16 to 18 February 1972 and held talks with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Both leaders agreed to be guided by the principles of democracy socialism, secularism, non-alignment, opposition to racialism and colonialism and ensure bilateral trade between the two countries and to oust smuggling.

When Prime Minister Indira Gandhi toured Bangladesh on 19 March 1972, The Treaty of Friendship and Peace for twenty five years was signed. India agreed full support in securing its admission to the UNO, the Indian Ocean be kept free of great power rivalry and make it a nuclear-free zone; to establish a Joint River Commission on permanent basis and exchange in science and technology.

The Treaty Agreement, March 1972

Both the treaties were concluded in the spirt of equality, friendship and good neighbourliness. But the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman on 15 August 1975 in a military coup derailed the relationship between the two neighbours, this incident made the relation between the two countries stressed.

The Farakka Barrage Issue

The Farakka Barrage was built by India during 1962-71 to preserving and maintain the Calcutta port and navigability of Bhagirathi-Hoogli. In 1972, the Joint River Commission conducted detailed survey of the entire barrage. After Mujibur Rehman’s visit to India (1974), an interim agreement was concluded (1975) for allocation of Ganga water between the two countries. As the murder of Mujib strained the relation in 1976, Maulana Bhashani mobilized public opinion against India and led a Farakka Peace March, since then the Farakka issue had become an irritant in India-Bangladesh relation.

Economic Relations

In December 1976, India, Bangladesh and Nepal agreed to form a Jute international for coordinating their jute export policies. These were indeed bold attempts to promote mutual trade relations.

Maritime Boundary Dispute

The New Moore Island is of critical importance to both India and Bangladesh. The Island remained a bone of contention since 1970. The India, navy surveyed the island and erected identification pillars on it 1974 in and Indian ownership of the island was also underlined. In 1978, Bangladesh for the first time questioned the Indian claim over the Island.

Indo-Sri Lanka Relations

The demarcation of maritime boundaries between the two countries remained unsolved since 1956. The kachativu were the bone of contention between India and Sri Lanka.

Kachativu Issue

Kachativu is an oval-shaped island with a circumference of these miles, with a total area of about 280 acres. It is about 10 miles nearest land means of Sri Lanka and 12 miles from Indian shore. It is a barren, uninhabited and cactus covered island, without drinking water. There is an ancient church of saint Anthoni on the northern coast and pilgrim from both India and Sri Lanka used to visit the island on the eve of annual festival in the month of March. Both the countries laid claim over the island on the basis of historical links, documents and the location of the Island. Finally, a Maritime Boundary Agreement of 28th 1974 demarcated the international maritime boundary between India and Sri Lanka, Which placed Kachhativu on the Sri Lanka side of the boundary. However, Kachchativu remains the object of concern for India due to provocative incidents involving Sri Lanka Naval Patrols and unarmed Indian Fisherman.

Indo-Nepal Relations   

In 1974, Indo-Nepal relations got strained when Nepal reacted sharply when Sikkim acceded to India.In effect, the Indo-Nepal relations remained anything but cordial.

Indo-Bhutan Relations

Indo-Bhutan relations remained cordial ever since India concluded a revised treaty with Bhutan on 8 August 1949. When Sikkim became put of Indian Union in 1976, many countries, particularly China, tried hard to impress upon Bhutan to beware of India’s designs. But the king of Bhutan, Jigme Singha Wangchuck remained loyal to India and felt assured of India’s respect to the sovereign status of Bhutan.

Nuclear Policy and Programme

After the death of Dr. Homi Bhabha in an air crash in January 1966, the task was entrusted to scientists- Dr. Vickram Sarabai, Dr. Homi Sethna and Dr. Raja Ramanna. India conducted its peaceful Nuclear Explosion (PNE) at Pokhran (Rajasthan) an 18 May 1974 and entered the nuclear club of the world and it demonstrated India’s nuclear potential.

The Pokhran peaceful Nuclear Explosion was critised by US, Western Powers, China and Pakistan. 1) the border-line between a peaceful nuclear explosion and a military nuclear explosion is wafer thin; 2) constituted a step towards nuclear prolife-ration with non-peaceful potentials; 3) raised suspicious that India was already in possession of nuclear bombs; 4) will inflict serious strain on Indian economy and reforms.

India and the NPT

India has always been supporting disarmament and arms control. In 1954 Nehru condemned nuclear tests as ‘a crime against humanity’ and proposed an immediate ‘standstill agreement’ on nuclear testing. India was the first country to cry halt to nuclear tests. On 5 August 1963, a Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT) was signed by the Foreign Minister of UK, USA and USSR. Finally, on 12 July 1968, the General Assembly endorsed the US and USSR proposal for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) by a big majority. The Treaty came into force on 5 March 1970.

India aimed at 1) opposition to nuclear weaponisation; 2) universal total nuclear disarmament; 3) nuclear technology for only peaceful purposes; and 4) voluntary submission to uniform, safeguard and inspections without any exception or discrimination.

India and the UNO

India has always regarded the UNO as a world forum to voice her views and to oppose discriminatory practices that contaminate healthy international relations. Addressing the 38th session of the Non-Aligned Movement ventilated the views of non-aligned countries, particularly the new International Economic Order, Disarmament and Indian Ocean as Peace Zone.


Keywords: Indra Gandhi foreign policy, Kachativu, Mujibur Rehman, Farakka Barrage, Pokhran, Non-Aligned Movement, Partial Test Ban Treaty

Divya Ashok