The Nehruvian approach

Print edition : January 19, 2002

"He (Jawaharlal Nehru) rejected the Soviet offer to propose India as the sixth permanent member of the Security Council and insisted that priority be given to China's admission to the United Nations"

S. Gopal: Jawaharlal Nehru; Volume II; page 248.

PICKING on these lines in a book published in 1979, the Sangh Parivar recently screamed in orchestrated chorus denouncing India's first Prime Minister for letting the country down. Predictably, its foreign policy expert, Jaswant Singh, Minister for External Affairs, led the pack. The offer came from both sides; the Americans first and next, the Soviets.

Jawaharlal Nehru. He showed sound judgment in rejecting the Soviet offer to propose India as the sixth permanent member of the Security Council.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Nehru showed sound judgment in rejecting it and in refusing to walk into the trap. It would have earned India the lasting hostility of China, contempt of the nations of the Third World and of the United States too, conceited, albeit, with perfect discretion; and eventually, a resounding snub from the Soviet Union. India would not, indeed could not, have got the seat; only the odium for immaturity and opportunism. Thanks to Nehru the country was spared that. It rose in everyone's esteem. One shudders to think what the outcome would have been were Jaswant Singh ensconced then in Nehru's seat.

A moment's reflection would have exposed the fatuity of the "offer". It would have entailed revision of the U.N. Charter which is subject to veto by any of the five powers - the Soviet Union included. The Americans offered the seat to India in order to keep the People's Republic of China (PRC) out, leaving the KMT regime of Taiwan to occupy China's seat. India was invited to enter into this Faustian bargain. But would the Soviet Union have agreed to be party to it when its alliance with the PRC was in full swing?

Why, then, did Prime Minister Nikolai Bulganin make this offer to Nehru in Moscow on June 22, 1955? The riddle is easily explained on a bare reading of the minutes of the talks. They comprise the piece de resistance in this latest volume in the series which covers the period June 1 to August 31, 1955. On the death of Prof. Ravinder Kumar, A. K. Damodaran, one of the finest products of the Indian Foreign service joins H. Y. Sharada Prasad as Editor.

First, the background. The Soviet Union, miffed that "the Far East... has not been included in the Four Power Agenda", proposed "a six power conference to discuss the Far East which should include USA, UK, France, USSR, India and China". Nehru responded that "at this stage the idea of a six power conference might be premature, but at a later stage a larger conference might be useful".

As the talks in Moscow proceeded, Bulganin made his "offer". Let the record speak for itself. Bulganin said:

"Regarding your suggestion about the four power conference we would take appropriate action. While we are discussing the general international situation and reducing tension, we propose suggesting at a later stage India's inclusion as the sixth member of the Security Council.

JN: Perhaps Bulganin knows that some people in USA have suggested that India should replace China in the Security Council. This is to create trouble between us and China. We are, of course, wholly opposed to it. Further, we are opposed to pushing ourselves forward to occupy certain positions because that may itself create difficulties and India might itself become a subject to controversy. If India is to be admitted to the Security Council, it raises the question of the revision of the Charter of the U.N. We feel that this should not be done till the question of China's admission and possibly of others is first solved. I feel that we should first concentrate on getting China admitted. What is Bulganin's opinion about the revision of the Charter? In our opinion this does not seem to be an appropriate time for it.

Bulganin: We proposed the question of India's membership of the Security Council to get your views, but agree that this is not the time for it and it will have to wait for the right moment later on. We also agree that things should be taken one by one (page 231; emphasis added, throughout).

Bulganin did not make an "offer". He threw a feeler to test India. He himself recognised that "this is not the time for it". Had Nehru jumped at the bait, he would have courted certain disappointment before long.

Later, in a Note on his tour of the USSR and other countries, dated August 1, 1955, Nehru wrote: "Informally, suggestions have been made by the United States that China should be taken into the United Nations but not in the Security Council and that India should take her place in the Security Council. We cannot of course accept this as it means falling out with China and it would be very unfair for a great country like China not to be in the Security Council. We have, therefore, made it clear to those who suggested this that we cannot agree to this suggestion. We have even gone a little further and said that India is not anxious to enter the Security Council at this stage, even though as a great country she ought to be there. The first step to be taken is for China to take her rightful place and then the question of India might be considered separately" (page 303).

This reflected sound judgment. For all his flaws, failures and even foibles, Nehru was a great man; a far bigger man than the ones who denigrate him malevolently. He has suffered no little at the hands of uncritical admirers as well; ones who labour under the delusion that a great man is diminished if his faults and misjudgments are acknowledged. Nehru was much more of a politician than his idolators admit. He swung from a pro-American to a pro-Soviet stance for a variety of reasons. The U.S. had rebuffed his overtures in 1949 and gave military aid to Pakistan in 1954. He pursued the national interest, as he perceived it, in the conduct of foreign affairs. But, never for a moment did he overlook the use of foreign policy to mobilise domestic political support. He chuckled to himself as he found his pro-Soviet policy embarrassing the Communist Party of India (CPI). There were times when the chuckle was loud for all to hear.

His address to the heads of Indian Missions in Europe, when they met in Salzburg on June 28-30, 1955, is most instructive. "Speaking about communism in India, the Prime Minister observed that the communists were not making much headway because of the success of the foreign policy of India and the success of the various schemes for betterment under the Five Year Plan. Our foreign policy has helped us internally as well in that it has completely confused the Communist Party of India. In view of the appreciation shown by the Soviet leaders of our foreign policy, Indian communists find it difficult to criticise the government. The stature India has gained abroad has given the common man a certain pride in India. CPI, therefore, finds it difficult to undermine the reliance the common man places in government" (page 250). He made the same point even in a talk with the Chancellor of Austria, Julius Raab, in Vienna on June 27, 1955 (page 238).

Nehru told the Indian Ambassadors: "Our intelligence services have to watch communist activity, though from outside there has been very little. In fact the Indian communists have been told privately not to embarrass our government. The publicly expressed appreciation of the Indian government is another way of making it difficult for the Communist Party of India to embarrass the government. The United States are carrying on their espionage and secret service activities. They have also been buying up newspapers and spreading a network of publicity organisations in regard to which we have had to take restrictive action."

NEHRU also counselled India's envoys in Europe "that there was danger in any ambassador remaining in one country for too long a period of time because he was then likely to be influenced by the way of thinking of that country. The broad concept of rivalry between USSR and USA, and the new relationship between USSR and China must be kept in view. One must get out of the narrow concept of looking at things from the point of view of the country to which one is accredited. Things must be seen and judged in their larger context. The world must be seen as a whole, bearing, of course, in mind the Indian point of view."

Apologists are wrong in trying to explain away the now famous Irfan Habib letter. The Home Ministry has raised objections to his getting a government scholarship for studies abroad because of his connections with the CPI. On the intervention of the Vice-Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University, Dr. Zakir Husain, Nehru met Irfan Habib. Note, he was not applying for a job in the government but for a scholarship for studies abroad. That Nehru conceded the request is, surely, less relevant than the fact that he felt himself impelled to write thus on such an occasion in his letter of August 12, 1955. (Dr. Zakir Husain, incidentally, was a friend of Prof. M. Habib, the scholar's father and himself a leftist and a brilliant historian.)

What Nehru wrote deserves quotation in extenso:

"The purpose of giving government scholarship is to train a person who might be of service to the State in some capacity or other in the future. If a person could not be relied upon to serve the State with discretion and integrity, then obviously this main purpose would not be served. No State could be expected to go out of its way to give scholarship to a person on whom it could not rely or who was likely to indulge in activities which were harmful to the State. I use the word 'State' in a broader sense and not as applicable to a particular government. Also, I realise that it is rather difficult to draw a hard and fast line. Anyhow, it is not a question of differing views, political or other, but rather of a basic faith in a person's integrity. My own experience of communists has been that it is exceedingly difficult to rely upon their word or on their basic integrity in this sense. Their loyalty to their party overrides all other loyalties and, therefore, they are prepared often to function in a way which cannot be reconciled with my standards of personal behaviour. Again, I repeat this is not a question of difference in idea.

"Personally, I have had no animosity against the communists at all but I have come to feel increasingly how quite out of date communist parties in non-communist countries are. As I told Irfan, they are like the Jesuits belonging to the strict order and not over-scrupulous in their dealings with others, provided they carry out the dictates of that order to whom they owe their basic loyalty. I see no reason why Government should go out of its way to offer a scholarship to a person who is so tied up with an order of this kind, whether it is the communist party or some other.

"I recognise, of course, that one must not judge young people too strictly and youthful enthusiasm must not be ignored... Anyhow, in the balance, I feel that we should decide in favour of Irfan Habib as a special case. My main reason for so thinking is that he is a young man of intelligence and, I believe, integrity and both these qualities will no doubt influence his future growth" (pages 121-22). Where then was the need for the outburst in a long missive? A colossal waste of time, but yet, the result is a revealing document.

Nehru was livid at Nirad C. Chaudhuri for writing his book The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian (1951) when he was a government employee in All India Radio (AIR). He expressed this in a Note of July 23, 1952, meant for the Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. "I do not suggest that he should be given notice to depart. But I do not think that we require some kind of an explanation from him." The result was three notices on him in August by the Director-General of AIR demanding figures of his income and surrender of one-third of it to the government (SWJN, Vol. 19; pages 471-72). Nirad C. Chaudhuri went to the Ministry of External Affairs and began working on the Canal Waters issue. The Commonwealth Secretary, B.F.H.B. Tyabji's defence of the writer infuriated Nehru who found fault with Nirad C. Chaudhuri's loyalties (Note of July 8, 1953, SWJN, Vol. 23; pages 177-78).

Nehru was committed to democratic values and was against censorship of cables sent by foreign correspondents. But he frowned at the Civil Liberties Union when it protested against detentions in Kashmir. Apart from the fact that the Civil Liberties Union is a small organisation which is opposed to both our Government and the Congress, it seems to me a little absurd for such an organisation to sit in judgment over the policies of both the Jammu and Kashmir Government and the Central Government of India." A footnote informs us: "Mridula Sarabhai had written to Nehru on November 29, 1954 seeking permission for working for the Civil Liberties Union. Nehru replied on 30 November (not printed) stating: 'Instructions were issued to Congressmen by the AICC to keep away from the Civil Liberties Union because that Union had ceased to function independently and had become merely an organ of attack of present Government policy.' He asked her not to send any papers regarding Kashmir and reprimanded her for her activities in strong terms." Civil liberties are fine, but none had a right "to sit in judgment over"

Nehru's policies. Nehru himself had founded an Indian Civil Liberties Union in 1936 (vide pages 410-13; Selected Works, first series, Vol. 7).

KASHMIR never failed to arouse Nehru's emotions. An explicit indication of second thoughts on the plebiscite was given publicly by the Union Home Minister, Govind Ballabh Pant, in a speech at Srinagar on July 7, 1955. He said: "Kashmir's accession was a reality which could not be changed because the people, through their representatives in the Constituent Assembly, had decided to remain with India." The Times of India's correspondent, reporting his speech two days later, commented: "The Union Home Minister, Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant, today virtually ruled out the possibility of a plebiscite in Kashmir because he did not see any prospect of Pakistan agreeing to honourable conditions on the issue." Pant told a press conference that all that was now left was for the people in Azad Kashmir to express their opinion. Asked how he reconciled his remarks with Nehru's declaration, Pant said that the circumstances had changed and the time factor was the most important. "While I am not oblivious of the initial declaration of India, I cannot ignore the important series of facts (to) which I have referred."

This assertion created great resentment in Pakistan. Addressing a press conference in New Delhi on July 16, 1955, after his triumphant tour of Russia and other European countries, Nehru referred to Pakistani criticism and mentioned that the Prime Minister of Pakistan had written to him protesting against Pant's remarks "My reply to Mr. Ali is that we stand and shall continue to stand by our commitments. We are prepared to explore all possible avenues for a possible settlement of this and other issues with Pakistan." Replying to M. L. Agarwal in the Lok Sabha on August 5, 1955, Nehru stated that the Home Minister had never said that India wanted "to by-pass or end old commitments... We cannot ignore the changing world. We stand by our commitments and we must also take into consideration all that happens." Thus he reconciled Pant's statement with his own stand. Replying to H. M. Mathur in the Rajya Sabha on August 22, 1955, Nehru mentioned that he had been in correspondence with the Pakistan government, and added, "Broadly speaking the Prime Minister of Pakistan objected to an inference that could be drawn from the Home Minister's speech that a plebiscite was no longer feasible or necessary. That inference was not, according to us, wholly justified."

This volume contains the text of Nehru's reply to Prime Minister Mohammed Ali dated July 21, 1955 in which he pressed the square peg of his pledge on plebiscite into the round hole of its subsequent rejection by him: "I do not think you will find in the Home Minister's statements any repudiation of the assurances given or commitments made on behalf of the Government of India in regard to Kashmir. What he has said is that those assurances and commitments could not be given effect to because of the attitude of the Pakistan Government during these past years. Further that during the past seven or eight years many developments have taken place and conditions have also changed considerably. Because of these developments and changed conditions, he has stated that 'the tide cannot be turned'. This is his estimate of the situation. He has further referred to the present constitutional relationship between India and the State of Jammu and Kashmir. There is thus no question of any repudiation of an undertaking made on behalf of India, whether it was unilateral or international."

He reminded the Prime Minister of Pakistan of their talks in Delhi earlier that year. "But if we want a peaceful settlement of this problem, a settlement which is in accordance with the wishes of the people of Kashmir, and a settlement which does not create upsets, then we have to take a realistic view of what has happened during these years and what the position is today."

Even so, Nehru cited with enthusiastic approval this proviso to Article 253 of the Constitution of India which reads thus: "Provided that after the commencement of the Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order, 1954, no decision affecting the disposition of the State of Jammu and Kashmir shall be made by the Government of India without the consent of the Government of that State. He added: "We are naturally bound by this provision of our own Constitution." So, we are, indeed. The proviso, unique in its application to that State, recognises the obvious - that the future "disposition" of Jammu and Kashmir is yet to be decided. When a "decision" is made by the Centre in an international agreement with Pakistan, "the consent of the government of that State" will be an essential pre-requisite. Else, the agreement will be invalid. No such consent was obtained prior to or after the Shimla Accord. No such "consent" will be valid, either, unless given by a government voted to power in free and fair elections in Kashmir. More to the point, the Constitution of India itself recognises that the future of Kashmir is yet to be decided. This does not imply its secession from the Union; but that the Constitution is no impediment to a political settlement with Pakistan as well as with the people of the State.

Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru; Second Series, Volume 29; General Editor: S. Gopal; Edited by H. Y. Sharada Prasad and A. K. Damodaran; A Project of the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund; distributed by Oxford University Press; pages 495, Rs. 500.

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