Policy in perspective

Print edition : July 29, 2011

The book covers India's relations with several countries, including the U.K. and the U.S., and also its non-alignment and nuclear policies.

JAYANTA KUMAR RAY, Research Coordinator, Institute of Foreign Policy Studies, University of Calcutta, is an established scholar who has authored books on a range of subjects. His first book, which was published in 1967, was Transfer of Power in Indonesia 1942-1949. The bibliography for the book under review, India's Foreign Relations, 1947-2007, runs into 23 pages. There are 12 chapters including an epilogue. India's relations with the United Kingdom, Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the erstwhile Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) and the United States are treated in much detail and in depth. Non-alignment and nuclear policy are also examined.

The author starts with a what-if question: What if Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhai Patel had prevented Partition in 1947? There would have been no Kashmir dispute. There would have been no arms race between India and Pakistan. India would not have sought support from the USSR on the Kashmir issue. There would have been no state-sponsored terrorism directed against India originating from Pakistan.

Ray reminds one of the 17th century French thinker Blaise Pascal, who wrote that if Cleopatra's nose had been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed. It is important to note that Pascal did not specify in detail what the changes might have been. If India had not been partitioned in 1947 and if a weak Central government had been set up as proposed by the Cabinet Mission, perhaps India might have got Balkanised a few years later. That apart, there is an obvious error in Ray's assertion that the three leaders, Gandhi, Nehru, and Patel, conceived and operationalised Partition.

The origins of Partition are well known, thanks to the access scholars have to the British archives. Just before the Second World War broke out, Mohammad Ali Jinnah's deputy, Chaudhry Khaliq-uz-Zaman, took up the case for Pakistan with Secretary of State Zetland in London and the response was positive and encouraging. The U.K. declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939. Viceroy Linlithgow followed with his own declaration of war, without bothering to consult the Indian National Congress, which had power in the provinces. When Jinnah met the Viceroy on September 4, 1939, he said, Muslim areas should be separated from Hindu India' and run by Muslims in collaboration with Great Britain. Linlithgow's reaction was positive. Jinnah advised his interlocutor to get rid of the Congress governments in the provinces. It was after ensuring the support of the British in London and in Delhi that Jinnah got the Lahore Resolution on Pakistan passed in March 1940.

Gandhi is criticised harshly for not starting a fast unto death to prevent Partition. There was nothing the Congress or Gandhi could have done to prevent Partition once Jinnah and the British decided to work together for the division of India. The sum of two sides of a Euclidean triangle is always greater than the third side. Towards the end of the war, the British Army had come to the conclusion that Britain's long-term strategic interests in the area required a Pakistan that would be a reliable ally unlike the undependable Congress-led India. Viceroy Archibald Wavell had sent a proposal to divide the Punjab and Bengal as early as February 1946.

Ray believes that Partition occurred because the Congress leaders were no match for Lord Mountbatten, a 46-year-old British military officer. This is a gross misreading of history. Wavell in his report on the Great Calcutta Killing of August 1946 went out of his way to exonerate Jinnah from responsibility for starting it. Jinnah was signalling that he would repeat the killing if he did not get Pakistan.

Ray has no good word to say about non-alignment, which he claims has no definition. One might invoke Henry Kissinger to find a definition. Referring to the Cold War, Kissinger spoke of two heavily armed blind men chasing each other in a small room, each believing that the other has perfect sight. Non-alignment means not accepting the leadership of either of the two blind men and trying to restore their sight. Ray is scandalised that Pakistan, the most allied ally of the U.S., was permitted to join the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in 1979.

No country's foreign policy is monochromatic. If Pakistan wanted to join the club, with or without sincerity, it would not have been politic for India to blackball it. Pakistan's association with NAM might eventually make it less aligned.

U.S. to India's rescue

Ray argues that by seeking U.S. military help in 1962, Nehru departed from non-alignment. Although Ray is right, he is wrong to find fault with Nehru for what he did. In the situation that India found itself, military assistance was badly needed. It did not matter where it came from. In any case, Nehru had always made it clear that national interest came first and that non-alignment was not the alpha and omega of India's foreign policy.

Ray is full of praise for the generosity of the U.S. in coming to India's aid in 1962 despite all the harsh things V.K. Krishna Menon had said against that country. Ray is right. There is an element of generosity. But the deeper truth is that for sound geopolitical reasons and for the promotion of U.S. interests in Asia, it was necessary for the U.S. to come to India's rescue.

Ray finds fault with the Government of India for attending the NAM summits as, in his opinion, the passing of resolutions at such summits is not consequential. In the 12th NAM summit in Durban in 1998, there was criticism of India's nuclear tests. Why should India's Prime Minister appear as sort of supplicant before a motley crowd of 113 countries (most of them have distinguished themselves by poverty and lack of democracy), and talk of disarmament in seven out of 16 pages of his speech? Nelson Mandela as NAM chairman bracketed Jammu and Kashmir with Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Sudan, Libya, Western Sahara, West Asia, Cuba, Korea, and Cyprus. Of course, it was a rather undiplomatic reference to the Kashmir issue. The author does not wish to conceal his contempt for the vast majority of NAM member-states. It does not seem to occur to him that if India wants to get elected to the Security Council it will need support from the NAM. Moreover, a candidate for a permanent seat needs to cultivate as many member-states as possible.

U.K.'s game in Kashmir

The chapter on relations with the U.K. describes in detail how the former imperial power played a dirty game with regard to Kashmir. Mountbatten, the U.K. High Commissioner, and the British Chiefs of Staff in Delhi conspired to sabotage India's military operations in Kashmir. It was wrong on Nehru's part to have surrendered his authority as Prime Minister to the Governor General, who constituted a Defence Committee of the Cabinet over which he presided. Only Nehru and Patel were on the Committee from the Cabinet. The rest were officials. As is well known, it was Mountbatten who put in a word or two about ascertaining the wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir while accepting the accession of the State. He had wanted the State to join Pakistan.

Ray rightly finds fault with Nehru for surrendering his authority to Mountbatten. Ray quotes a former Chief of Staff of the Indian Army, General K.V. Krishna Rao, If the ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir had not been prematurely accepted on 31st December 1948, the whole of Kashmir could perhaps have been cleared of the enemy.

The U.K. under Prime Minster Tony Blair reacted harshly to India's nuclear tests in May 1998. Later, the U.K. realised that it had overreacted and that France had gained much by showing a better understanding of India's position. The following entry on October 3, 2001, in a diary of Blair's close aide Alastair Campbell is revealing of India's attitude towards the U.K.: We had a real problem with the planned visit to Pakistan. [Prime Minister Atal Bihari] Vajpayee [of India] was on the phone, totally adamant that if TB [Tony Blair] went to Pakistan without also visiting India, it would be a real disaster for him. He was normally so quiet and soft-spoken but there was both panic and a bit of anger in his voice. TB said that having listened to him, there was no way we could do one without the other.

The reader cannot help wondering whether it was necessary for an Indian Prime Minister to have asked for a visit in such a manner. How does it matter if Blair goes to Pakistan without coming to India?

Ray's thesis on Pakistan is that India has been practising appeasement to no advantage. To give one instance, take the 1960 Indus Water Treaty. According to international law, India was entitled to 42.8 per cent of the water in the Indus basin, but it actually got only about 25 per cent. The Tashkent Agreement was an instance of India's losing at the negotiating table what the defence forces had gained on the battlefield. Much to the annoyance of many Pakistanis, however, the Tashkent Declaration did not contain any reference to Kashmir as a dispute', or an issue', or even a problem'. This is not correct. Article 1 does refer to the Jammu and Kashmir issue as one that needs to be resolved.

Ray's chapter on Bangladesh draws the reader's attention to significant facts not generally known. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was a close associate of H.S. Suhrawardy, premier of undivided Bengal. Suhrawardy engineered the Great Calcutta Killing. After the liberation, Rahman did not do anything to restore to the returning Hindus their properties. J.N. Dixit in his book Across Borders says that the majority of the refugees who came to India from East Pakistan were Muslims. Ray points out that this is not true. The majority were Hindus. The Pakistan Army attacked Hindus. Many Muslims joined in. Even after the liberation, there was not much improvement in the treatment of Hindus. Rahman's government introduced the unjust Vested Property Act in 1974 targeted against Hindus.

Ray draws attention to the atrocities committed against Hindus in East Pakistan at the time of Partition. Nehru did not take appropriate action, and the atrocities continued even after the Nehru-Liaquat Ali Khan Pact of April 1950. All told, India has failed to do anything serious and effective to prevent or stop atrocities against Hindus in East Pakistan/Bangladesh.

Turning to the U.S., Ray points out that though Nehru was invited to go there in August 1947, he went only in October 1949. Nehru did not ask for food aid. Nor did he ask for aid under the Point Four Programme. Ray finds fault with Nehru for not asking for aid, maintaining that Nehru should have asked for aid instead of trying to persuade the U.S. to recognise the People's Republic of China. Nehru failed to find the right balance between working for world peace and working for national interest. The reader might recall that much before Nehru's visit, President Harry Truman had taken the line that India did not qualify for food aid, which was meant only for liberated peoples and those who fought beside the U.S. Nehru should have educated Truman about India's participation in the Second World War even if he did not want to ask for food aid.

Ray refers to the pusillanimity of India in its search for nuclear weapons capability and contrasts it with the energy and determination of China and Pakistan. India was ahead of China until 1965. Ray is an ardent supporter of the 123 Agreement with the U.S. He does not pause to ask what the U.S. wants in return. There is no free lunch, as diplomats say.

The epilogue praises Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao for LPG (liberalisation, privatisation, and globalisation). According to the book, Narasimha Rao is the first great Prime Minister of independent India and Manmohan Singh is the second. The epilogue ends with Ray's approbation of encounter killings. In 2004, the Gujarat police killed Ishrat Jahan, and three companions, while [they were] embarking upon a terrorism mission. The website of Pakistan's LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba] paid respect to all four, hailing them as martyrs. The judiciary did not approve of the killings, and Ray argues that anti-jehadi operations in India can succeed when authorities dispel dogmas and delegitimise grievances. The reader might recall that the LeT later apologised for its error in claiming Ishrat Jahan as one of its own.

That a study of foreign policy over a period of 60 years should end with a plea for the legitimising of encounter killings shows the author's holistic approach to foreign policy. That some of his readers, even while admiring his erudition and ability to weave together information collected from multitudinous sources and to look constantly at the big picture, might not fully endorse his views on encounter killing is a different matter. The repeated personal attacks in the book on the character of Gandhi and Nehru do not add to its value.

K.P. Fabian is a retired ambassador.

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