Nehru's legacy in foreign affairs

Published : Aug 11, 2006 00:00 IST

The volume contains material that throws light on the culture of prevarication that has marked the handling of foreign affairs.

A COMMON theme binds the Sangh Parivar, which hates Jawaharlal Nehru because he was staunchly secular, and his hero-worshippers - he was an "idealist", a "romanticist" who sacrificed India's interests at the high altar of morality. Jaswant Singh even gave currency to a lie told by the British C-in-C of India Rob Lockhart - which his aide Maj.-Gen. A.A. Rudra retailed, that Nehru wanted to scrap the Army. Lockhart was sacked by Nehru because he suppressed from the Prime Minister news of the tribal raid into Kashmir.

This is what Nehru was alleged to have said: "We don't need a defence plan. Our policy is ahimsa [non-violence]. We foresee no military threats. Scrap the Army! The police is good enough to meet our security needs." Only a fool or a malicious critic would believe that. In his book Defending India, 1999, Jaswant Singh did worse than ignore Nehru's 26-paragraph detailed Note on "Defence Policy and National Development" dated February 3, 1947, which was available in Volume 2 of the Selected Works published in 1984. He falsely attributed to Nehru (on page 56) a passage from Nehru's Discovery of India in which the author reported Gandhi's views. On the very same page, however, Nehru proceeded to express his and the Congress' dissent, which Jaswant Singh suppressed from the reader. He did not cite the page, either. Both passages are on page 443 of that famous work. Jaswant Singh was aided by a handsome grant from Sir Dorab Tata Trust for his "labours". They comprised long quotes from his "experts" plus the labours of two research assistants. Such is the pedigree of a typical Sangh Parivar calumny.

The present volume has a letter of April 2, 1957 to Ghanshyamdas Birla, containing Nehru's informed comments on Pakistan's growing military strength. Nehru is criticised for neglecting defence vis-a-vis China; but not for pursuing a policy that shut the door to conciliation. This he did in his policy towards Pakistan as well as China. In both cases he made assertions and claims which he knew were factually untrue; practised unilateralism and used force where he felt he could get away with it (the Forward Policy in Ladakh and the admittedly unilateral modifications of the McMahon Line). The consequences are still with us. Besides, he fostered a mood of arrogant chauvinism which has had a lasting effect on the foreign policy establishment - we are always right.

Initially, Nehru's entire Kashmir policy rested on the support of one man, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah; not the people of the State. After his removal from the office of Premier on August 8, 1953, and imprisonment, with a three-month break in 1958, until April 8, 1964, that policy rested on the imprisonment of the same man. Since popular feeling had to be suppressed in both phases, elections had to be rigged. The Assembly elections in 1977 and 1983 were exceptions but of a far limited sort. The 2002 election was an organisational success, a political farce (vide the writer's article "A fractured verdict", Frontline, November 8, 2002). No election can be called fair at all if those who advocate its boycott are prevented by the state from advocating this right to the people.

The Sheikh's arrest is still fresh in the people's minds. On May 2, 2003, Muzaffar Hussain Beigh, then Jammu and Kashmir's Minister for Finance, Law and Parliamentary Affairs, said that the Sheikh's dismissal was unconstitutional and revealed that during a meeting of the representatives of his party, the People's Democratic Party (PDP), with N.N. Vohra, the Centre's interlocutor, on April 27, "We told Vohra that the Government of India has always been purchasing the leaders of the State. That can be done even today." After the Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah accord of 1975, Morarji Desai sensed no danger and allowed a free poll during his term as Prime Minister. Farooq Abdullah posed no danger to that pact, only to the Congress. Hence the 1983 poll. In 1987, the poll had to be rigged despite a shot-gun National Conference-Congress marriage because there was a serious challenge. By 2002, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had decided that the N.C. could deliver no longer. Farooq Abdullah had to be dumped.

Omar Abdullah, then Minister of State in the Ministry of External Affairs, sensed that early and emitted an alarm on May 19, 2002: "The way the Centre is desperate to bring the separatists - who did nothing but cause mayhem and bloodshed - into the elections, we are being made to feel as if we are not important" (Indian Express, May 20, 2002). On June 21, 2002, he became shriller as the BJP-led government refused to accommodate its ally Farooq Abdullah at the Centre.

What he said then bears recalling: "Pakistan will even drop an atom bomb in Srinagar but New Delhi is also giving us painful moments." He complained that his father had been "used" in the past. "You can't just expect him to take whatever is thrown at him. This man has been CM [Chief Minister] three times. He has kept the national flag flying high," he told Star News.

Pray how? "Whenever you [sic.] needed him to go and defend your [sic.] human rights record, even when human rights were at their worst in early 1990s. He went to Geneva, Vienna and the U.N. [United Nations] and did the best he could. Even the human rights record was not worth the paper it was written on." With what expectation did he do this dirty work? Surely not to redress or prevent the wrongs, but to whitewash them. At such a time a Kashmiri's place was by his people's side, not in the service of those who violated their rights. The Abdullahs have had a different agenda. Omar wanted his father to be compensated for past services to New Delhi, revealing in the process his own outlook. "To expect that man will accept anything you throw at him like some sort of grateful dog waiting for some scrap is to add salt to the wounds you [the Centre] have inflicted" (Indian Express, June 22, 2002). Now, out of power, father and son sing an altogether different tune.

In 2002, the Centre sent diverse emissaries to rope in Shabbir Shah, if not the Hurriyat, to contest the elections and give them legitimacy. They had their own expectations of compensation for the services they rendered to the Centre.

With Mehbooba Mufti's humane stance, the Centre plumped for the other unionist, the PDP. The big difference is that even when in power Mufti Mohammed Sayeed consistently said that he was no solution. The solution lies in a pact with Pakistan as well as the militants. The Abdullahs advocated this only after the Centre showed them the door. It had no choice. Only monumental rigging could have ensured the N.C.'s return to power.

On April 9, 2006, Farooq Abdullah delivered himself of a crie de coeur which deserves to be quoted in extenso, coming as it does from one of the major props of the Centre's policies until 2002: "India has deceived the people of Jammu & Kashmir every now and then during the past 58 years. First, it was in 1953, then in 1983; and it is still pursuing with the same agenda. The result - the people have lost faith and trust in New Delhi. Let me also tell you that New Delhi has also failed in its policies vis-a-vis Kashmir." A belated discovery by a man who obstructed a dialogue with the Hurriyat in 1997 and later imprisoned its leaders and abused them.

That is no reason for dismissing the specific charges he makes, although the one of sincerity should have been levelled against his ally the BJP alone. The charges against the Army usurpation of land for building new cantonments in Kupwara and Ganderbal are grave and precise. In the latter, Sheikh Saheb had earmarked land for an Islamic university, a project which deserves the Centre's full support. "But the Army has taken possession of that too and is setting up a new garrison there. New Delhi was converting the State into an Army cantonment," he charged (Greater Kashmir, April 10, 2006).

The PDP leader and former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed's plaint at Rajouri on April 5, 2006, was no different. Militancy cannot be crushed. The need of the hour is to start an unconditional dialogue with the separatist forces. "The Kashmir movement could not be crushed by force." He also appealed to the militants to start a dialogue. But what he said on self-rule is highly significant. He charged that the people of Jammu & Kashmir have never seen their own government since 1947 and said that they should be given the right to self-governance (Greater Kashmir, April 6, 2006).

It was Nehru who began the process of the erosion of Article 370, which is now a rubble. This is evident from his remarks to the Lok Sabha, on November 27, 1963: "It [Article 370] has been eroded, if I may use the word, and many things have been done in the last few years which have made the relationship of Kashmir with the Union of India very close. There is no doubt that Kashmir is fully integrated. We feel that this process of gradual erosion of Article 370 is going on. Some fresh steps are being taken and in the next month or two they will be completed. We should allow it to go on. We do not want to take the initiative in this matter and completely put an end to Article 370. The initiative, we feel, should come from the Kashmir State government and the people [read: stooge Chief Ministers elected in rigged polls]. We shall gladly agree to that. The process is continuing... Broadly speaking - I am not sure of the wording of Article 370 - we are supposed to carry out any changes in consultation with the Jammu and Kashmir government and the people there. That is one major thing." This was Nehru's style - verbal homage to principle to cover up its violation in practice.

It is the same story at all stages. Nehru had not only ordered Sheikh Abdullah's arrest but saw to it that for quite some time he did not receive visitors or any relief. And it was also Nehru who presided over three rigged elections; the first in 1951, to the Constituent Assembly by the Sheikh and the ones of 1957 and 1962 by Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed, a thug whom he praised constantly, just as he backed the corrupt and ruthless Partap Singh Kairon as Chief Minister of Punjab because he kept the Akalis at bay.

In the 1951 elections to the Constituent Assembly, which drafted the State's Constitution, 73 of the 75 seats were won by Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah's N.C. "unopposed". In the other two constituencies, the N.C. defeated Independents. On October 18, 1951, Nehru said that the results showed that the people "were with the National Conference and with India". This set the pattern for over half a century. In 1957, of the 75 seats, 43 - of which 41 were from the Kashmir Valley - went to Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed's N.C. without a contest. The Sheikh was behind bars. Nomination papers were rejected on flimsy grounds. The N.C. won 68 seats in a House of 75; in 1962 it got 70, winning unopposed 32 seats in the valley and seven in Jammu. In 1967, G.M. Sadiq, the Chief Minister heading a Congress regime, used a different technique. Coupled with the rejection of nomination papers was the arrest of Opposition leaders and cadres. Twenty-two unopposed returns and rejection of nomination papers in 17 other instances ensured an easy win of 39 seats. The Sheikh and his colleague M.A. Beg were interned in Delhi. The Congress Chief Minister Mir Qasim later admitted the rigging of the 1972 polls in his memoirs, My Life and Times. The Congress secured a cool 57 seats; the Opposition was graciously allowed 17.

Sadiq and Mir Qasim had wound up the N.C. and joined the Congress. Their governments, elected through rigged elections, consented to the erosion of Article 370 of the Constitution by abuse of the very provision which was supposed to guarantee Jammu and Kashmir's autonomy.

The Press Information Bureau of the Government of India put out a handout on the 1972 elections which it lauded as fair, in contrast to those of 1951: "When Sheikh Abdullah was the Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, his Party members captured all the seats without a single contest." The italics were a belated, if muted, acknowledgement by the Government of India of the fraud of 1951. It was of a piece with a pattern of belated confessions of earlier frauds to cover up new ones.

On the 1957 episode the brochure "Elections in Kashmir", published by the Publications Division of the Government of India, records: "Twenty-three candidates, however, were returned without contest, because no other candidate had filed nomination papers for these constituencies. Opposing candidates to the nominees of the National Conference for 10 more seats took back their nomination papers and withdrew from the contest. Nomination papers of opposing candidates in the 10 constituencies were rejected for technical defects by the returning officers. This left only 32 constituencies in which the contest was to be fought."

In 1987, blatant rigging was compounded with the arrest, assault and even imprisonment of defeated candidates. Syed Salahuddin, now the Hizbul Mujahideen chief, trounced Ghulam Mohinuddin Shah. Yet Shah was declared the winner. A majority of the leaders of the militancy that followed had participated in this democratic exercise. The N.C. won 39 seats; the Congress (I) 24, the Muslim United Front four, the BJP two, and Independents four.

The 1996 elections ensured Farooq Abdullah's return as Chief Minister. He secured 57 seats and 34.7 per cent of the vote. The BJP won eight, the Congress seven. It was a farce. Farooq Abdullah himself thanked the surrendered militants for the results. "In 1996, people were not even coming forward" to contest the elections, he told India Today (September 9, 2002).

Against this background, Nehru's letter to Bakshi on the 1957 Assembly elections tells us a lot. He condoned a wrong and licensed it for the future. Polling was held on March 25 in Jammu and on March 30 in the Valley. Bakshi invited him to visit Jammu for electioneering and mentioned, tongue in cheek, there would be only eight contests in the Valley because many of the candidates opposing the N.C. were eliminated owing to omissions in the nomination papers. Nehru sent a very Nehruvian reply on March 10: "I agree with you that it was very unfortunate that nearly all the opposition candidates in Kashmir proper had been practically eliminated even before polling," adding revealingly: "This has had a bad effect in other countries." How very "unfortunate", indeed. On March 17, he issued an appeal to the electorate to vote for the N.C.'s candidates.

The same style was in play on adherence to the pledge to hold a plebiscite. Nehru wrote to Bakshi on March 13, 1957: "Perhaps, you have noticed that at no time have I said that under no circumstances will there be a plebiscite. What I have said is that a plebiscite is not a feasible proposition after all that has happened, and that Pakistan has not fulfilled the conditions necessary for it. When I have been asked if we will be agreeable to a plebiscite if every condition was fulfilled, my answer has been that this is a hypothetical question which can only be considered when such a situation arises.

"I know that you and Pantji and some others have often said that there can never be a plebiscite in Jammu & Kashmir State. I think that that kind of a statement is not helpful at present, certainly from the point of view of people in the outside world, though it may be helpful in Kashmir." Do what you will inside Kashmir but be smart enough to cover up for "the outside world". Union Home Minister G.B. Pant could not have ruled out plebiscite in Srinagar on July 7, 1955 without Nehru's prior approval.

On April 2, 1956, he himself had made statements at a press conference, which suggested that he had, indeed, ruled out a plebiscite. A question was put to him: "An inference has been drawn that you do not want now any plebiscite to be held in Kashmir. Is it correct?" Nehru replied: "Largely so; I shall explain myself. What I have said was that we have tried and discussed the question of plebiscite for six or seven years, but the preconditions have not been fulfilled. Meanwhile, other things have taken place, like the military aid etc., which have increased tremendously the difficulties of this problem. It is not that I am not willing to discuss this problem still further. But as a practical person I say this leads to a blind alley. We have, therefore, to discuss it from another point of view in regard to conditions that have arisen now and try to come to an agreement."

Offer of a settlement on the basis of the ceasefire line was the logical corollary. Nehru made this offer while addressing a public meeting in New Delhi on April 18, 1956. "I am willing to accept that the question of the part of Kashmir which is under you should be settled by demarcating the border on the basis of the present ceasefire line. We have no desire to take it by fighting."

The volume contains Nehru's notes on his talks with the last U.N. mediator on Kashmir, Gunnar Jarring, on March 26, April 6 and 8, 1957. Ahead of that, a note to the Commonwealth Secretary on March 19, 1957 summed up his policy. The Prime Minister of Pakistan Feroz Khan Noor "is a bumptuous bounder". This was very true. Not so the claim that "we have carried out every commitment that we have made". The policy he had adopted was set out in explicit terms: "We do not propose to make any proposals or suggestions except on the basis of Pakistan vacating the aggression." Talks with Jarring were doomed to failure.

There is an equally important document on the McMahon Line. It is Nehru's letter to the Prime Minister of Burma on April 22. Nehru had mentioned earlier in a letter to R.K. Nehru, Ambassador to China, on September 16, 1956: "The Sino-Burmese frontier dispute has obviously some relevance for our frontier problems [sic] also we have sent, as you know, a friendly and moderate message to Chou En-Lai" - on Burma's behalf - "but our policy in regard to these matters is a fine one. If Chou En-Lai comes here, we shall speak to him frankly on these subjects".

Until 1937, Burma was ruled by the British as part of India. The McMahon Line, defined in 1914, extended along part of the northern sector of the Sino-Burmese border. There was the same story of rejection of old treaties, rival map claims and even clashes in some areas on the border. U Nu went to Beijing in November 1956 and arrived at an understanding with Zhou based on mutual concessions.

Speaking on Rangoon Radio on November 10, 1956, he said: "There was nothing reliable to show that the boundary between China and Burma was ever completely defined at any time in history, not even during the British regime." Had Nehru accepted this fundamental in respect of the Western sector, when Zhou raised the issue on January 23, 1959, the matter would have been resolved. Instead Nehru claimed, in his letter of March 22, 1959, that the boundary was settled by a treaty of 1842, which he knew was a historical falsehood. The British never claimed that ever since the State of Jammu and Kashmir became part of the British Empire in 1847. On March 14, 1899 they offered the Aksai Chin to China. In April 1960 during his talks with Nehru, Zhou did not contest the McMahon Line. The talks failed because of Nehru's stand on the Aksai Chin in Ladakh.

U Nu said on November 10, 1956 that China had agreed to recognise the McMahon Line as part of a package deal. The Sino-Burmese boundary agreement signed on January 28, 1960 was based on the line. Zhou could not possibly have adopted a different course two months later in New Delhi. But Nehru loftily told correspondents no sooner Zhou's plane was airborne, "There could be no question of barter in this matter."

The narrative traverses beyond 1957 for good reason. In retrospect, we better understand Nehru's thinking on the boundary in 1957 from his letter to U Nu on April 22: "I confess that I do not very much like the attitude of Premier Chou En-Lai in this matter. The impression created upon me is that he was not fully adhering to what he had told you or U Ba Swe previously. But this is for you to judge. I am writing to you immediately so as to inform you of one particular development which took place here when Chou En-Lai came to India on the last occasion. In your letter you say that while Premier Chou En-Lai was prepared to accept the McMahon Line in the north, he objected to the use of the name `McMahon Line', as this may produce `complications vis--vis India', and therefore, he preferred to use the term `traditional line'.

"When Chou En-Lai was here last, we discussed many matters at great length. He referred to his talks with you and U Ba Swe and indicated that a satisfactory arrangement had been arrived at. In this connection he said that while he was not convinced of the justice of our claim to the present Indian frontier with China (in Tibet), he was prepared to accept it. I entirely agree that the use of the words `McMahon Line' is not right and should be put an end to. It reminds one of British incursions and aggression. We are, therefore, not using these words any longer. Indeed, so far as we are concerned, we have maintained all along that our frontier with China, except for the two or three very minor matters, was a fixed and well known frontier and there was no dispute about it. We had never raised this question with China, but I had stated in Parliament here and also to Chou En-Lai in Peking that there was nothing to discuss about our frontier as it was fixed and well known. We have now our check-posts all along this frontier. Thus, so far as we are concerned, this frontier (known previously as the McMahon Line) is not a matter in dispute at all and Chou En-Lai has accepted it."

In March 1959, Nehru haughtily extended this stand to the western sector - in pursuance of his unilateral decision to revise the map in July 1954 - and brought the country to an impasse it could well have done without. In 2006 we are nowhere near an accord.

The volume has much material of interest and relevance. The Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court, M.C. Chagla, wrote to Nehru on March 12, 1957 to say that he felt proud to belong to a country where "democracy functions so effectively and efficiently. I only wish we had invited observers from all over the world to see what free elections really mean and how every voter was free to exercise his democratic choice... " He referred to the Kashmir issue and stated: "When people spoke glibly, almost dishonestly - at the Security Council of our denying Kashmir the right of free choice, they forgot that they were speaking of the largest democracy in the world where democratic processes are a reality and not a sham."

In 1980, Justice P.N. Bhagwati of the Supreme Court incurred universal contempt for his congratulatory letter to Indira Gandhi after her victory in the Lok Sabha elections. Chagla merits the same contempt. He knew that Kashmir was Nehru's hobby-horse and stretched his victory in the 1957 general election to deliver himself of his valuable support on Kashmir, in the name of democracy; rigged elections in that State notwithstanding. The message was - he was available for political use.

Nehru replied the very next day: "I quite agree with you. I think the general elections in India have demonstrated the success of this democratic experiment on a vast scale. Further they have shown that the people exercise this right on the whole as they want to and are not to be pushed in any direction against their will." A year later, he appointed Chagla Ambassador to the U.S. Chagla resigned as Chief Justice and went, flouting the Law Commission's 14th Report which forbade executive posts to retired judges. Chagla had signed the Report only a few months before he took the new job. The Report was published later. Nehru encouraged such judges. This very Chagla told President S. Radhakrishnan that Dr. Zakir Hussain's election as President "would strengthen communal feeling in the country with disastrous consequences" (S. Gopal, Radhakrishnan; page 3587).

Chagla was a judge under British Raj and ruled against detunues in the famous Talpade case during the Quit India Movement.

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