Mains Articles

Gujaral Doctrine Explained [Mains Articles]

Beginning of the 1990s had seen the start of a positive movement between India and its neighbours which got intensified under Gujral Doctrine, which played the cardinal role of clearly defining for India the importance of friendly relations with its neighbours.
By IT's Mains Articles Team
December 31, 2019


  • Introduction
  • What is Gujaral Doctrine?
  • Positive results of the Gujral Doctrine
  • Criticism
  • Challenges that India has to deal with its neighbourhood countries
  • Way Forward
  • Conclusion

Gujaral Doctrine Explained

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Inder Kumar Gujral, whose 100th birth anniversary was celebrated on 6th December, was one of India’s most cerebral and far sighted external affairs ministers and later prime minister, who understood the over-riding challenge of the neighbourhood most clearly.

Gujaral Doctrine Explained

What is Gujaral Doctrine?

  • Gujral Doctrine was a set of five key principles to guide the conduct of foreign relations with India’s immediate neighbours (in South Asia).
  • The Doctrine was created by Inder Kumar Gujral in September 1996. Inder Kumar Gujral served as external affair minister as well as 12th Prime Minister of India in 1997-98.

What is Gujaral Doctrinen

Five Key principles of Gujral Doctrine

  • With the neighbours like Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka, India does not ask for reciprocity but gives all that it can in good faith and trust.
  • No South Asian country will allow its territory to be used against the interests of another country of the region;
  • No South Asian country will interfere in the internal affairs of another
  • All South Asian countries must respect each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty
  • All South Asian countries will settle disputes through peaceful bilateral negotiations.

Objective of Gujral Doctrine

  • The logic behind the Gujral Doctrine was that since India had to be at total peace with all other immediate neighbours in order to contain Pakistan’s and China’s influence in the region.
  • Among other factors, the doctrine arises from the belief that India’s stature and strength cannot be divorced from the quality of its relations with its neighbours. Hence, it recognizes the supreme importance to friendly, cordial relations with neighbours.
  • Since one of its principal aims is to resolve conflicts, it believes in concepts of common, equal and cooperative security among the countries of South Asia.

Positive results of the Gujral Doctrine

Some of the achievements due to Gujral Doctrine are

  • The resolution of the Ganga water-sharing dispute with Bangladesh in 1996-97,
  • agreements with Sri Lanka for expanding development cooperation,
  • Bangladesh giving India access to the North-Eastern states where as in Meghalaya,
  • Successful Mahakali river agreement with Nepal
  • unilateral initiatives by India to break the long deadlock in Indo-Pakistan relations
  • Helped India to face the international reaction in the aftermath of the nuclear tests by India, due to support of south Asian nations.


  • Pakistan was excluded from the list of countries that Gujral identified in his principle for non-reciprocal treatment. As Gujral doctrine excluded Pakistan, it was not a wholehearted effort to generate trust with all the neighbours.
  • India cannot continue to stick to its principle of non-reciprocity if any of the neighbouring countries believe either in internationalising bilateral issues or supporting elements inimical to India’s interests.
  • Further, these principles are open to different interpretations as each country views them.
  • The principle that none should interfere in the internal affairs of the others becomes difficult to define because the South Asian region has many similarities in terms of culture and other factors. Events in one country influence happenings in another. While one country may call it interference, the other may not think so.
  • A certain section in Pakistan was of the opinion that one of the aims of the Gujral Doctrine was to isolate Pakistan by building up relations with the other South Asian countries.

Challenges that India has to deal with its neighbourhood countries

  • China’s footprint in Indian subcontinent has expanded and India’s heightened security concerns over terrorism have led to a revival of a siege mentality.
  • The current slowdown in the Indian economy has meant that there is less willingness to further open the Indian market to neighbour countries.
  • Development cooperation, as an instrument of India’s neighbourhood policy, is weakened by stringency of resources and inability of India to match the scale of resources that China has.
  • Smaller neighbour countries of India feel threatened by size of India. They feel uncomfortable at any perceived violation of their sovereignty, draw in other big powers as a balancing strategy, play domestic politics around India’s attitude, expect generous treatment without any reciprocal obligation and are apprehensive about losing their identity because of India’s shared regional, ethnic, religious and cultural links.

Way Forward

  • In an age of shifting geopolitics and altered balance of power India will need to restrategise its neighbourhood policy. There may be a need to redeploy scarce resources available from more distant development partners such as in Africa or Latin America to the subcontinent.
  • Connectivity must be pursued with greater vigour while security concerns are addressed through cost effective and reliable technological measures which are in use in other parts of the world.
  • India should become the transit country of choice for all our neighbours by extending national treatment on India’s transport network and at our ports.
  • Above all, “neighbourhood first” must be anchored in sustained engagement at all levels of the political and people to people levels, building upon the deep cultural affinities which are unique to India’s relations with its neighbours.


The Gujral Doctrine is considered to have made a substantial change in the manner in which India’s bilateral relations were conducted with its immediate neighbours, especially the smaller ones. Whichever government comes to power in India, the principles and purposes of the Gujral Doctrine will remain at the forefront.

However, it should not be forgotten that the success of the doctrine depends on the attitudes of the neighbours too, towards India and the region. In this sense, it will be dynamic in its implementation, calling for a great degree of maturity from all the countries of the region.


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