Author

Arunima Gupta

Arunima Gupta

Manager | VIF

How Atal Bihari Vajpayee Shaped India’s Foreign Policy

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About two decades ago, India entered an elite international club when it conducted nuclear tests for the second time in its history in 1998. The detonations in Pokhran, which were carried out with utmost discretion, shook the global order at the time. They attracted immediate and sharp criticism from the international community at first, but eventually the world acknowledged the reality of India’s rise as a geopolitical power. All of this happened under the leadership of none other than the former Foreign Minister and Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

A stalwart statesman, Vajpayee’s vision for India and his worldview was characterized by realism on one hand and idealism on the other, both prefixed with a pragmatic approach that was used to further India’s interests at the global stage.

As a realist, he justified India’s nuclear tests of 1998 as a means of safeguarding security interests amidst increasing geopolitical instability in South Asia coupled with the rise of China. New Delhi’s decision to stay firm on its ground, of possessing nukes as well as agreeing to a “No First Use” policy, eliminated India’s nuclear ambiguity that existed in the earlier regimes of Indira Gandhi and Narasimha Rao. But this challenge to the global status quo by India, met with widespread criticism from the international community. The most serious repercussions of all were on relations between India and the US, wherein the latter imposed economic and military sanctions on the former.

It took astute diplomacy from both sides to diffuse these tensions. India’s foreign minister Jaswant Singh and the US deputy Secretary Strobe Talbott engaged in a series of back channel meetings, which in hindsight laid the foundation for the future upswing in bilateral relations. Vajpayee’s conviction that a strong India will have to be respected by all, was indeed proved right. India had received genuine and respectful attention from the world, particularly the US, of the kind never seen before.

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