Nehru and the cold wars

Print edition : February 27, 2004

JAWAHARLAL Nehru strode across the land like a colossus. Little or nothing escaped his interest. His greatness is judged not by self-serving apologists, but by the fury of leaders of the hate-group, the Sangh Parivar, whenever his name is mentioned. He was, above all, a highly civilised man. They are quintessentially barbarian in their disdain for science, literature, history and learning, generally. Every volume in this series repays study. It has maintained a consistently high standard in annotation and production. This volume, edited devotedly by H.Y. Sharada Prasad and A.K. Damodaran, appears after a whole year, unlike previous ones, which were published every six months. The editors might consider printing the period that the volume covers, on the dust jacket - on the front as well as on the spine.


This volume is no different from others in publishing, alike, records that reflect Nehru's good sense and unrealistic ideas; commitment to norms and the compromises when they suited his government's interests. Of late, some political adventurers have found another field for self-promotion - recovery of lost treasures of India's past. Nehru's note of February 3, 1956, should put a quietus to their ventures. It ran into 12 paragraphs. It is doubtful whether any of his successors, either as Prime Minister or External Affairs Minister, could have written it, despite their intellectual pretensions, with such felicity or cogency of reasoning:

"... . Some questions were asked in Parliament from time to time. They referred to Indian art treasures in the United Kingdom and, more especially, to the India Office Library and to Indian exhibits in the Victoria and Albert or the British Museum.

"I do not quite understand on what grounds we claim these art treasures back, except that we would like to have them back. That hardly seems to me an adequate ground. Every country collects art treasures from various parts of the world in its museums and art galleries... . If we had foreign artistic objects in our museums, as we should have, would we easily agree to part with them? I doubt it." An exception could be made if "some such treasure has great religious significance. Thus, we have obtained from the British Museum some ancient Buddhist relics... On the other hand, it does seem to me desirable that foreign museums should have Indian object of art".

Nehru favoured a "scientific civil service" unhampered by red tape and was appalled that "the Banaras Hindu University is practically run by the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh) group. It is extraordinary that all this galaxy of principals, professors, teachers, etc., should function in this way". He held that "it is fundamentally wrong for people to try to suppress Urdu".

Riots persist because governments allow them to recur and run their course; witness, the splendid record of West Bengal since the Communist Party of India (Marxist) came to power in 1977. On April 18, 1956, Nehru wrote to the president of the Madhya Bharat Congress Committee, Shankar Dayal Sharma: "For three years running, I think, there has been trouble in Bhopal at the time of Holi. When we have this experience, why should the administration and, more especially, the police force not be able to avert any such occurrence? Basically, the Muslims in Bhopal are a minority afraid of the majority. They can be overwhelmed at any time by the majority. They are a frightened people, although individuals or some small groups among them might misbehave. I cannot conceive of their adopting aggressive and insulting tactics. On the other hand, the Hindu Mahasabha of Bhopal has always been aggressive and intensely communal... It seems to me that what has been stated in some of the official communiques about a Pakistani being responsible for this trouble, is not an adequate way of dealing with the situation. It is a way of evading responsibility" - a technique which Home Minister L.K. Advani has developed with enthusiasm (emphasis added, throughout).

In 1948, Nehru's government was slow to admit the havoc wrought in Hyderabad after the police action. In 1956, he admitted what Prof. Wilfred Cantwell Smith had reported - in some villages the entire male population was lined up and shot. Nehru himself had visited Bidar and Osmanabad districts. He wrote: "Most of their menfolk had been killed... there were very few Muslim men left and the Muslim population consisted of women and children" (Frontline, March 16, 2001).

Nehru was attracted by the idea of "one state including Madras, Travancore-Cochin, Mysore and the Karnataka areas" - Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka of today. "A union of West Bengal and Bihar" would not have been disapproved, either. But he tended to blur the distinction between party and state. In good Nehruvian style, he would uphold the principle only to carve out a convenient exception. The Auditor-General, A.K. Chanda, questioned the propriety of incurring government expenditure in connection with Congress sessions. Nehru wrote to the Home Minister on February 15, 1956: "It is not easy to lay down precise rules. Broadly speaking, we might say that a political party should pay for any expenditure arising from any meeting or session. But when these sessions are on a vast scale and very large numbers of people come there, certain responsibilities have to be shouldered by government. Indeed, government insists on doing many things, for security and other reasons, in which the political party itself might not be greatly interested. Also, sometimes, as in the case of Kalyani, the West Bengal government was interested in developing that area for future use." And, he went on to cite a host of reasons why the rule he enunciated, "broadly speaking" as ever, had, as ever again, to be trimmed to suit his needs.

A Minister whose election was set aside by a court "should now resign and then stand for election". But in 1952 he was the one who goaded Morarji Desai not to resign though he had lost in his constituency, Bulsar, in the general election, to Amul Desai. Nor had he any qualms about running down political parties in the Opposition, at a closed-door conference of Deputy Inspectors-General of Police (CID), namely the Communist Party of India and the Praja Socialist Party.

Nehru-baiters revelled in calling him pro-Communist. He was, if anything, anti-Communist. They called him "pro-Soviet" and a starry-eyed romanticist about China. He had no illusions about either. He had great admiration for Marx, as any educated person would. The volume is replete with his disdain for the CPI. Nor did he hesitate to use Soviet leaders to bridle the CPI. He told them that "their (the CPI's) behaviour inevitably had some effect on India's relations with Russia". An All India Congress Committee (AICC) directive of February 12, 1954, "forbade Congressmen from attending conferences organised by certain peace organisations".

While welcoming Khruschev's famous denunciation of Stalin at the 20th congress of the Communist Party of Soviet Union (CPSU) on February 25, 1956, Nehru wrote to Tito: "I do not quite understand the necessity for these violent attacks on Stalin, because in attacking him, the present leadership condemn themselves also." To the Chief Ministers he confessed revealingly: "I do not understand this sudden change in regard to Stalin". He noted that "the cult of personality is encouraged" in China.

India's plan to buy Russian IL-28 aircraft drew strong protests from Britain. Canberras were bought, instead. India's right to buy them was asserted but with a promise to give London "an adequate warning" before doing so. The volume contains records of Nehru's talks with four important visitors - John Foster Dulles, U.S. Secretary of State; Christian Pineau, Foreign Minister of France; their British counterpart, Selwyn Lloyd; and, the First Vice-Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics), A.I. Mikoyan. However, the piece de resistance is a record of the Prime Minister's statements at the Conference of Heads of Mission in Afro-Asian countries (March 24-April 2, 1956). Together, they provide an invaluable exposition of Nehru's understanding of the Cold War.

He told Pineau on March 11: "The only possible security could come from good relations between the countries and lack of tension. It was now generally recognised that war in the present age would be a disastrous thing for all and must be avoided. If war must be avoided, everything that led to tension in the world must also be avoided. Cold war had no meaning if it could not be followed by a hot war. It was true that every country had to be vigilant but the best protection for a country lay in good relations with other countries... . In the first place tension had to be relaxed. It was true that some problems were very difficult but they had to be solved." In sum, since tensions trigger off war, their causes must be removed; that is done by settling problems. Good relations, rather than arms, provide "the only possible security".

Both the U.S. and the USSR "worship technology; both were very hospitable and emotional... He was afraid at the distant prospect of the United States and USSR coming to an agreement and sitting on the rest of the world!" He added: "The more there was tension in the Europe the more the USSR would insist on control over Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary and other neighbouring countries." Nehru emphasised that "if you want to improve conditions in the USSR, you must reduce tension". Of all his visitors, Nehru found Pineau the most sensible and spoke to him candidly. The U.S. "thought only in military terms... . If war came, it would be fought in Europe or China".

With his envoys, Nehru began with these profundities: "India's basic policy, which is sometimes wrongly called `neutralism', is something not coming out of the head of any person or even of the joint heads of the Government of India or the External Affairs Ministry. No foreign policy takes shape in this way. It is a gradual growth which takes formal shape by events, very narrowly speaking but very correctly, of the country concerned. You might view the self-interest of the country in a narrow way or in a broad way. India's foreign policy has first of all its roots, apart from self-interest, in our thinking for so many years, at least in the last twenty-five years. It was only vague thinking because when you do not have to deal with a problem your thinking is theoretical, idealistic and vague. When, however, you have to deal with a problem you see how complicated it is and realise that some theoretical application of some formula is not good enough although the formula or the principle is very important for us to remember. Otherwise we become purely opportunist and there is no anchorage either for our thinking or actions. But inevitably that formula or principle has to be adapted to changing conditions and to reactions of other countries. Again foreign policy, although it may have a more or less integrated look about it, is really a collection of foreign policies with different countries. It is not just one single rule of thumb applicable to every country. Of course the broad approach is the same and has to be so. Therefore, it becomes a collection of foreign policies." Nehru's successors indulged in similar profundities with greater assurance and even less substance.

He soon came down to specifics: "The policy of the USSR is not one of spreading communism except incidentally because spreading of communism in these countries will result in friendly relations with them. It is not communism they are after. They want to prevent the spread of hostility to them. Secondly, they help countries which are friendly to them because the best way of having a country friendly towards you is to have a subordinate country. Both the Americans and the Russians believe in this theory and both of them pursue that policy."

Nehru recalled his deep interest in the Soviet Union since the Revolution in 1917: "We were on Trotsky's side (in his rift with Stalin) simply because we had read some of Trotsky's books." As events unfolded "there was a certain conceit in ourselves that we were doing them on a higher moral level and peacefully. There was no question, therefore, in our minds of copying Russia". After the purges in the 1930s "we were much disillusioned about Russia... (its) pact with Hitler shocked us greatly". But, he counselled, "do not mix up social and economic philosophy and communist methods".

NEHRU'S policy of non-alignment has been much misunderstood, not least because of the moralistic rhetoric which he later began to use; raising the pitch as the applause, at home and abroad, grew louder. At his first press conference as Vice-President of the Interim Government and Member in charge of External Affairs, on September 27, 1946, he said: "India will follow an independent policy keeping away from the power politics of groups aligned one (sic.) against another". He was beyond all doubt the pathblazer. Nehru told the Constituent Assembly on December 4, 1947, in this interim Parliament's first foreign policy debate, if war came "we are going to join the side which is to our interest". That "interest" was spelt out in a confidential note dated February 7, 1950: "India does think that international Communism is aggressive, partly because of communist philosophy and partly because Communism is very much Slavism." He added: "If there is a war, there is no possibility of India lining up with the Soviet Union whatever else she may do. It is obvious that our relations with the United States as with the United Kingdom in political and economic matters are far closer than with other countries. We have practically no such relations with the Soviet (sic.), nor is it likely that they will develop to any great extent for obvious reasons" (Jawaharlal Nehru: A Biography by S. Gopal; Volume II; page 64).

It is most unfortunate that this note was not printed in the Selected Works; Second Series, Volume 14. That itself is, perhaps, not without significance. In an interview to C.L. Sulzberger of The New York Times Nehru said that "more and more" the Soviet Union was following a "nationalistic expansionist policy" (vide The Times of India, April 27, 1950).

India and foreign scholars have done scant justice to Prof. M.S. Venkataramani's researches. Archival material he unearthed reveal that in 1948 Nehru sought a "long-term military collaboration" with the U.S; behind the back of his friend, Ambassador Asaf Ali, and through the military attache in the Embassy, Col. B.M. Kaul. This crony was to receive unmerited promotions. He led the jawans to their deaths in the war of October 1962. Through another emissary, the brilliant Secretary-General of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Girija Shankar Bajpai, Nehru assured the State Department on April 2, 1948, that "India would under no circumstances align itself with the Soviet Union in a war between the latter and the U.S." No such war was imminent or even probable then. Both the great powers were exhausted. Was it, then to be an offer in perpetuity? All of which shows a poor understanding of the global situation on Nehru's part? (Frontline, April 9, April 23, May 7, May 21, 1999).

The offer had two tacit implications: (a) the U.S.' support to India on the Kashmir dispute and (b) an exclusive relationship, marginalising Pakistan. It could then be managed easily. It was the Pentagon that rejected the overture. South Asia "did not have any important significance", Defence Secretary James Forestal minuted. It was not the last time that Nehru was to misjudge the international situation or exaggerate India's importance. When the U.S. developed interest in the region in 1953, it took a regional view; included Pakistan in the scheme, and had, meanwhile, taken a stand on Kashmir.

This episode puts paid to later public claims to moral superiority and ideological commitment. Contrary to both hagiographers and detractors, Jawaharlal Nehru's foreign policy was governed by realpolitik that was based, sadly, on a narrow conception of the national interest. He did not practise in relations with the neighbours what he preached to the big powers - settle disputes and ease tensions; for, good relations provide "the only possible security". His approach to the global Cold War was directly opposite to the one he adopted in the cold wars he had launched. When the Kashmir question arose soon after the State's accession to India on October 26, 1947, Nehru assured the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan, on October 31 that India's pledge to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir on the issue whether it should accede to India or Pakistan "is not merely a pledge to your government but also to the people of Kashmir and to the world". On November 2 in a broadcast to the nation, he said, "We have declared that the fate of Kashmir has ultimately to be decided by the people. That pledge we have given, and the Maharaja had supported it, not only to the people of Kashmir but to the world. We will not, and cannot, back out of it." The Government of India's White Paper on Jammu and Kashmir published early in 1948 is a good compilation of the pledges he made on these lines. But he developed second thoughts that very year.

As his historic confidential note to Sheikh Abdullah dated August 24, 1952, reveals, Nehru had decided in 1948 to renege on his commitment to Pakistan as well as to the people of Kashmir to hold a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir, his public assurances notwithstanding. Nehru formulated with cold, brilliant clarity his policy on Kashmir. If NSC-68, drawn up by the U.S. National Security Council, was an accurate statement of the U.S. policy of containment of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, Nehru's note has the same historic significance as a statement of his policy on Kashmir. It was based on sheer realpolitik. He treated the people of Kashmir dismissively ("... are not what are called a virile people. They are soft and addicted to easy living") and ensured that the India-Pakistan Cold War, that had been launched in 1947, would continue as indeed, it has, for over half a century (for text vide Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru; Volume 19; pages 322-30).

The intransigence drove Pakistan to seek arms from the U.S., launch a war in 1965 and a covert operation in 1987. Kashmiris whom he despised as "soft" took up arms once Pakistan supplied them. Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed calls the Hizbul Mujahideen "one of the main indigenous groups in the State" (The Hindu, January 10, 2004). So, did New Delhi briefly in July 2000.

Incidentally, that note while urging "a settlement on the basis of the then existing military situation", advocated "more or less friendly relations with Pakistan". The entire policy rested on two assumptions - Pakistan's acquiescence in a status quo based on the "military situation" and the Kashmiris' acquiescence in a status quo established by military force. Time has belied both assumptions (vide the author's article, `How and Why Nehru and Abdullah fell out'; Economic and Political Weekly, January 30, 1999).

This quaint blend of unilateral solution to a bilateral dispute amidst profuse profession of friendship was practised vis-a-vis China as well. Maps attached to White Papers on Indian States (1948 and 1950) showed the boundary in the western and middle sectors as "undefined". On July 1, 1954, three days after Zhou En-lai left New Delhi, Nehru wrote a note to the MEA directing that "all our old maps dealing with the frontier should be... withdrawn... new maps should... not state there is any undemarcated territory" (for the text vide Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru; Volume 26; page 481). When Zhou raised the dispute in 1959, Nehru claimed a fixed line, developed a distinction between "talks" and "negotiations" and refused to negotiate. A cold war ensued, followed by the war of 1962. Indian conventional wisdom is quicker to admit this error but not the one on Pakistan though it impacts on the domestic scene also.

Tragically, Nehru overlooked the impact his Pakistan policy would have on the secular edifice he had laboured strenuously and devotedly to erect. He himself foresaw that India-Pakistan relations affected the communal situation, as everyone else did; notably the Raghubar Dayal Commission on the Ranchi riots. Moreover, non-alignment can survive only if there is no major dispute with a neighbour. Once such a dispute arises, one of the parties, generally the weaker one, will seek support from one bloc, driving the other to the rival bloc. As Pakistan turned to the U.S., India moved closer to the USSR. Now, both are vying for America's affection. From 1999-mid 2001, India sensed the marginalisation of Pakistan. 9/11 altered the balance to its chagrin. From 1948 to 2004, Kashmir has largely governed the foreign policies of India and Pakistan.

Nehru first proposed partition of Kashmir, based on the status quo, to Pakistan in October 1948 and repeated the offer at the 1955 summit (Frontline, August 3, 2001). This volume contains a brief quote, in a footnote, of his first public offer of partition on April 13, 1956. It is unfortunate that the speech, at a public meeting in Delhi, has not been published in this volume. Unfortunately, though he understood that "our relations with Pakistan are more important than our relations with any other country" and that the Kashmir problem is "an international one", he persisted in pressing for a unilateral solution based on military strength and in breach of his assurances. Rhetoric kept pace with policy. It continues to do so. Kashmir, he said, had "ratified her accession to India" through the, now admittedly, rigged poll of 1951. This claim was made after every single election since - a tacit admission that ratification was necessary.

This volume has Nehru repeating his offer of partition of Kashmir (pages 372-3, 433, 541 and 560). The calculation was that the Kashmir question would be settled by sheer efflux of time despite protests by an alienated populace and an aggrieved neighbour. Time has proved this calculation to be wrong.

On March 4, 1956, Selwyn Lloyd asked Nehru "if we could not deal with this question of Kashmir after the fashion of Trieste, where repeated attempts were made and ultimately succeeded. That was a remarkable and unexpected success. I said that the Trieste problem was solved by some kind of a partition. That is exactly what I had suggested myself."

Trieste was indeed partitioned on the basis of the status quo, but the status quo satisfied both sides since it reflected the ethnic divide. Italy gave Yugoslavia, in the bargain, a strip of 5 square miles from its Zone because it had a Slovene majority. It also agreed to maintain a free port at Trieste. Can one even think of dividing Kashmir on a communal basis? Since "the Trieste formula" (see map) has often been touted by persons endowed with more zeal than knowledge, its history bears recalling. The Allies' Peace Treaty with Italy, concluded on February 10, 1947, settled the Italian-Yugoslav boundary minus the Trieste area. The Free Territory of Trieste (FTT) was to be established as an independent state under the U.N. Security Council's protection. It was divided, in the interim, militarily after the Second World War between Zone A (including the city of Trieste) under Anglo-American control, and Zone B under Yugoslav control. Once the unreality of a free state became apparent since, predictably, no agreement could be reached on the Governor, and tensions generated in 1953 had subsided, the U.S., the U.K., Italy and Yugoslavia signed a memorandum of understanding on October 5, 1954, dividing the FTT with a special statute on human rights and minorities on both sides. On November 10, 1975, Italy and Yugoslavia signed at Osima (Ancona) a Treaty on the Border Questions and an Agreement on Promotion of Economic cooperation. The Saar could not be partitioned thus. It was wholly under French control. The status quo favoured one side exclusively. In Trieste it favoured both. In Jammu and Kashmir, the heart of the dispute is the Valley. The status quo favours India alone. The Saar dispute was settled around the same time as the Trieste dispute by a Franco-German agreement signed on October 23, 1954, as part of a West European settlement. It sought "to give the Saar a European statute within the framework of the Western European Union". A European Commissioner would represent the Saar's "interests in the field of foreign affairs and defence". The territory would enjoy maximum autonomy in all other respects; but not an international personality. The agreement envisaged a referendum on the accord. In 1955, Saarlanders rejected the statute in a referendum. France relinquished its control and Saar became part of West Germany. Saarlanders would have rejected partition as well if they had been asked. The territory was small. The sense of unity was strong.

For good reason, we cannot have a plebiscite in Kashmir now. But the status quo is no solution, either. Not even if the Line of Control (LoC) is modified in Pakistan's favour - as India proposed in 1963 offering Pakistan 3,000 sq. miles - and the LoC is made a porous international border. It would only congeal an unacceptable status quo rejected since 1948.

It is, however, not beyond the wit of man to devise a solution which fulfils three tests: (1) No secession of Kashmir from the Union of India; (2) redressal of Pakistan's grievance and recognition of its locus standi in the State, juridically; (3) assurances of autonomy to the people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir in all its parts, constitutionally as well as by an India-Pakistan Treaty. A settlement must be one which the Prime Minister of India can sell to the people from the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi, Pakistan's Prime Minister from Mochi Gate in Lahore, and Kashmir's Chief Minister from Lal Chowk in Srinagar.

Selected works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Second Series, Volume 32 (1 February-30 April 1956); edited by H.Y. Shaada Prasad and A.K. Damodaran; Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, distributed by Oxforx University Press; pages 620, Rs.500.

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