India's foreign policy has vacillated between ideology, delusions of grandeur and desperate economic, food and military needs. Nehru, brainwashed by Fabian socialism, a paranoid fear of imperialism and capitalism, and an erroneous faith in the benign non-threatening goodness of neighboring nations, who were former victims of colonial exploitation chose to spend resources on strictly indigenous development at the cost of military preparedness and created a License Raj, rife with corruption and bureaucracy. Any sensible leader would have realized that Pakistan (both East and West) would never live in peace and harmony with India.
Indira Gandhi, being fully aware of the conflicts with Pakistan in 1948, 1965 and 1971, wasted her advantage to permanently and favorably bring to conclusion the Kashmir border dispute at the Simla negotiations with a desperate Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, despite holding 90,000 Pakistani prisoners of war of a defeated Pakistan. Nehru learnt no lessons from the Korean War and Cho En Lai's warning to America not to cross the Yalu river. China entered the Korean War and fought America to a standstill, unafraid of America's arsenal of nuclear weapons. Such an aggressive China was unlikely to respect colonial borders imposed on it during its weakest period of history. Past history of good relations, commerce and bond of Buddhism failed to restrain a communist dictator who had rejected its own Confucius, disdained all religion and had an exaggerated sense of self-importance based on its history of being a preeminent world power for over a millennium. Nehru had to beg for military help from America and President Kennedy as it did for wheat under PL480 at other times. America is making the same mistake currently with Iran.
Rajiv Gandhi foolishly inserted India into the Sri Lanka Civil War and paid the ultimate price. He had lost the confidence of the electorate before due to the Bofors scandal. Vajpayee in his Lahore trip and Manmohan Singh in Cuba at the NAM meeting committed the same folly only to face Kargil earlier and the Mumbai terror attack recently. India's experience with Bangladesh has also failed to teach India's retarded leaders anything. The West Pakistani army in 1971, massacred nearly a million Bangladeshi Muslims and raped their women, and yet Bangladesh has become friendly enough with Pakistan to serve as a major base for militant terrorists supported by Pakistan's ISI, a subsidiary of the same army that murdered their citizens and raped their women. Swat did not join Pakistan for nearly two decades after it came into existence and now is controlled by Taliban extremists. Ethnic and linguistic similarities are a poor basis for friendly relations with neighbors obsessed by religion and delusions of grandeur of extinct Islamic Empires, Rashidan Khalifs and an Ummah superceding nation states. Afghanistan had a tolerant and Sufi based Islam and now has Taliban, thanks to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the US.
There is an equally great problem with basing foreign relations simply because they have a democratic system of government. India and the US are the world's largest and second largest (also the first in time) democracies respectively, but the US is an imperial and neo-colonial power, determined to dominate the world, by force if necessary, and its major interests are diametrically opposite to India, a status quo nation without real imperial ambitions. They may have a few common interests like keeping sea lanes safely open for commerce and transit of oil, but that is all. This does not require antagonism, but there is no basis for suffocating, entangling alliances or a subservient attitude.
Chomsky's words that nations are not moral agents and Lord Palmerston's words that nations have no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests are the best prescriptions to follow. It is also important to keep in mind that nations are constrained by geography and cannot change their neighbors and neighborhood. Thus Machiavelli and Chanakya's rules of diplomacy hold for ever. The enemy of my enemy is worth cultivating. Using these principles and previous historical experience, India needs closer relationship with Israel, Russia, the EU and even Iran, while mending fences with China and co-operating with America. With rising Islamic extremism and terrorism that requires neutralization without armed conflict, Israel, Russia EU and India have common interests. So does America but its unjust military excursions, torture and indiscriminate civilian bombing make it an undesirable ally, as even Obama follows the same policies camouflaged in soothing talk.
India has finally learnt that buying expensive arms without transfer of technology does nothing to eliminate its dependency. Its joint ventures like Brahmos, fifth generation fighters, newest submarines including an indigenous nuclear one, radar, air defense and AWACS with Israel and Russia, aircraft carriers with Italian assistance are a belated but much required beginning. Boeing marine reconnaissance planes, Raytheon missiles are welcome as well, but purchases from the US come with stifling and onerous restrictions. The experience and expertise of building the indigenous Tejas aircraft should not be lost or allowed to become extant, as happened after building submarines with the help of the German firm HDW was wasted by abandoning the program. Thus the starting with the drawing board in building a new medium weight indigenous new fighter with Russian collaboration is a welcome development to retain and improve newly acquired technical expertise.
Another factor to keep in mind is that the collapse of the US economy and its tapped out consumers makes India's dependence on trade with the US dangerous and unreliable. It maybe years before India's exports to the US recover, if at all. Even Japan, Korea and Taiwan, US protectorates have suffered severely for their dependence and China is offering Yuan (currency) swaps to Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa to wean itself from excessive dependence on trade with the US. Increasing trade with Southeast Asian nations and Middle Eastern nations should be India's top priority. The increased trade should be of manufactured goods with added value and not grow by selling iron ore and minerals as with China. Tata's Nano, Indian scooters and even Tejas aircrafts could help as would pharmaceuticals, software, specialty chemicals and healthcare tourism minus illegal organ transplants. All of these will require trained workers and that cannot be achieved without good primary education and technical schools.