Nehru: A democratic Curzon?

Print edition : December 23, 2001

Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Second Series, Volume 27; Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund; distributed by Oxford University Press; pages 608, Rs.500.

IT has been Jawaharlal Nehru's lot, as that of any other great figure in history, to be subjected either to denigration or adulation. Informed, critical assessment, which recognises both the sterling qualities and the grave flaws that belong to any morta l, is regarded as apologetics by traducers and belittlement by professional sycophants. Both have a vested interest in their vocations. Nehru's greatness emerges sharply not from praise by his followers but from his denigration by the communal hate group s whom he fought valiantly and, at times, single-handedly. Sycophants cashed in on the "industry" that grew up around his name; but with one difference. The Gandhian establishment, with state aid, nursed institutions some of which were not noted for acco untability. The Patelites set up their own firm with snide attacks on Nehru. A sprinkling exploited Abul Kalam Azad's name. But, since Nehru founded a political dynasty, the sycophants of today aim at pleasing the heir of the day while professing to laud Nehru's memory. There is, however, also a group which hugs the Nehruvian ideology, such as it was, and refuses to learn or unlearn. None of them renders any service to the truth or to scholarship.

On India's foreign and domestic policies, Nehru left his imprints which will remain, some, one hopes, forever. It is doubtful, were he alive, that he would have endorsed what card-carrying Nehru-ites of today extol in his name. There is every reason to b elieve that shortly before he died, he had begun earnestly to think of a rapprochement with Pakistan on Kashmir, and with China on the border dispute. On the Kashmir issue, he not only released Sheikh Abdullah from prison in April 1964, withdrawing the b ogus conspiracy cases against him, but also permitted him to go to Pakistan for talks with President Ayub Khan, and agreed to a summit meeting with him as a result of the Sheikh's mediation. Nehru died on the day of its announcement, May 27, 1964. On the border dispute with China he met Bertrand Russell's two emissaries R.B. Schoenmen and P.B. Pottle at Pahalgam in June 1963 and agreed to make some concessions.

There is a need to appraise Nehru's work and his personality as each volume of his Selected Works rolls off the press, bearing in mind that it covers but a limited period. Each must be read in the context of the ones that preceded it, besides the record outside the volumes, and without losing sight of what followed thereafter. This volume covers a brief four months, October 1, 1954 to January 31, 1955. At this rate one can expect 30 more volumes to complete the series. The piece de resistance in this volume are the minutes of his talks with Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai during his visit to China in October 1954.

Nehru and Mao embarked on a tour d'horizon as Mao did with all visitors, leaving the details for Zhou to settle and report to him. The talks with Mao on October 19 and 23 were not a resounding success. Their outlooks clashed. "Nehru said he wanted to mention that there was a certain amount of fear in the minds of smaller nations in Asia, fear of these two big and great countries, China and India. This might be baseless fear. The fact remained that there was such fear. The very strength of these t wo countries might be the reason for such fear and there might be other reasons also."

When Nehru mentioned how "in many countries European colonial nations are losing ground to Americans. Yet, we find them supporting American policy", Mao inquired "why countries like India then did not follow the American policy?" By October 1954 Indo-Uni ted States relations had plummeted to an all-time low as a result of U.S. military aid to Pakistan and U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles' Asia policy. Mao's query could not have pleased Nehru.

On October 23, Mao told Nehru: "We are willing to cooperate with America if they want it." He also asked, "By the way, do you call your struggle a revolution?" Nehru retorted: "Most certainly, we do." He could not have relished the meeting. For, Mao proc eeded to declare that "if a third world war is started, it will be to America's disadvantage... major portions of the world will be in a revolutionary stage." He added: "We have no atom bomb. I do not know whether you have it. We have just started scient ific research and we have no money. We cannot possibly undertake it now. But atom bomb is possessed by both America and USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). So, regarding arms, both sides are equal. The deciding factor is the people, the people wh o handle these weapons." Nehru's reply was wise: "Chairman's arguments would lead to the conclusion that war, though bad and therefore should be avoided, still if it comes, should be welcomed. I venture to disagree about weapons. It is not a matter of qu antity but of quality. It is not mere greater killing but more than that. For, the killing is on such a vast scale that America will not profit and no other country will profit also."

In a review of the previous volume it was mentioned that Nehru, in a definitive memorandum of July 1, 1954, had laid down that the Sino-Indian frontier "should be considered a firm and definite one which is not open to discussion with anybody" (em phasis added, throughout) ("Nehru's China policy" Frontline, August 4, 2000). Old Indian maps should be "carefully examined and, where necessary, withdrawn. New maps should be printed showing our Northern and North-Eastern frontier without any reference to any 'line'. These new maps should also not state there is any undemarcated territory". The maps of 1950 showed the boundary in the western sector, from the India-China-Afghan trijunction to the India-China-Nepal trijunction as "un defined". The McMahon Line was shown clearly. Admittedly, it is "undemarcated" on the ground though "defined" on maps.

"New maps" represent a state's asserted claim. They bind none others. Ambassador K.M. Panikkar had advised Nehru not to raise the issue of Chinese maps with Beijing; only declare India's stand publicly. Sir Girja Shankar Bajpai, Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, advised him, on November 21, 1951, to make the border issue part of a general settlement prior to the Sino-Indian Agreement on Tibet on April 29, 1954. Nehru did not respect Panikkar as he clearly indicated to the U.S. Ambassador Ch ester Bowles on November 6, 1951. He distrusted Panikkar's advice ("Our attempt at being clever might overreach itself"), but accepted it, all the same.

The border or "the maps" issue was not raised when Zhou came to Delhi in June 1954. It was, in Beijing on October 20. Nehru had stopped over in Rangoon on October 16 when Prime Minister U Nu expressed concern over Chinese maps. Nehru told Zhou: "The Burm ese said why China should have issued maps where parts of Burma and even of India are shown as parts of China." That is all. It was Zhou who spoke at length: "It is a historical question and we have been mostly printing old maps. We have ma de no survey of the borders and not consulted with our neighbouring countries and we have no basis for fixing the boundary lines. We made our maps and revised them from the maps of other countries. At least we do not have any deliberate intentions of cha nging the boundaries as KMT (Kuomintang) had. The whole thing is ridiculous. The question of boundaries between China and Burma was not settled even in Manchu regime and you will find differences even in our boundaries with the Soviet Union and Mo ngolia.

In his reply, Nehru said: "As regards maps, I just casually mentioned to you some of the anxieties of our neighbours. We are not worried on this point. Our frontiers are clear but I mention it in the case of Burma because questions of this kind be come a handle in the hands of enemy. Supposing we publish a map showing Tibet as a part of India, how would China feel about it? But as I said, I am sure, the maps were old maps, and you did not mean it." Zhou did not contradict him on this.

Two points emerge from this record. Zhou did not own up the old maps as correct. He did so for the first time in his letter to Nehru on September 7, 1959 after the dispute had erupted into the open. But nor did Nehru truly "raise" the issue of the maps c oncerning India. More to the point, while he did say that "our frontiers are clear" he did not tell Zhou, as he later claimed to have, that they "were not a matter for argument". These minutes are part of India's records. Yet, both in his l etter to Chief Ministers on November 14, 1954 and in his letter to Zhou on December 14, 1958, Nehru claimed that he had told Zhou in October 1954 that the frontiers "were not a matter of argument".

In his reply of January 23, 1959, Zhou did not contest Nehru's version, but raised the issue of the Aksai Chin road and stressed the need for "consultations". As it happened, U Nu visited China in December 1954. A joint communique issued on December 12 s tated: "In view of the incomplete delimitation of the boundary line between China and Burma, the two premiers held it necessary to settle this question in a friendly spirit at an appropriate time through normal diplomatic channels."

Had Nehru responded positively to Zhou's letter instead of asserting, in his reply of March 22, 1959, that it was a closed chapter, the border dispute might have been settled that year or soon thereafter.

Nepal loomed prominently in the talks with Zhou. India had signed the Treaty with Nepal on July 31, 1950 when it was ruled by the Rana dynasty. It was only on December 8, 1959 that Nehru revealed in the Rajya Sabha a contemporaneous exchange of letters w hich said: "Neither Government should tolerate any threat to the security of the other by a foreign aggressor. To deal with any such threat, the two Governments shall consult with each other and devise effective countermeasures" (vide the excellent compi lation by Avtar Singh Bhasin, Nepal's Relations with India and China: Documents 1947-1992, SIBA Exim P. Ltd., Delhi; pages 42-43, for the text; and page 67, for Nehru's disclosure).

Footnote 18 on page 20 by the editors, Ravindra Kumar and H.Y. Sharda Prasad, is inaccurate insofar as it mentions "the Treaty" and not the exchange of letters that contained the commitment and further adds, "and give preference to each other's foreig n policy priorities without any prejudice". There was no such commitment by Nepal either in the Treaty or in the letters. The footnote is intended evidently to justify a claim Nehru made to Zhou. "Nepal's foreign affairs are looked after by us and we have been giving them aid and training facilities for their personnel, but we do not interfere in their internal affairs. But you will understand that traditionally Nepal and India are closely linked together and according to the treaty the foreign p olicy of India and Nepal is to be co-ordinated." This claim was not warranted by the Treaty or the letters. It was very Curzonian - and very Nehruvian.

In a letter to the Chief Ministers (November 14) on his trip to China, Nehru wrote: "Independent India had accepted the full independence of Nepal and had not claimed some of the rights that Britain had exercised. But the two countries had agreed that th eir foreign policies should be co-ordinated. It was clear that India had a special position in Nepal and it became necessary, therefore, for their foreign policies to be in line with each other. India did not approve of foreign intervention in Nep al in any way." He had asked China not to post an Ambassador in Kathmandu; else the Western powers would also. The Americans he told Zhou were "sending books for libraries and lot of money is thrown about. Nepalese are easily bribed".

In a letter to Prime Minister M. P. Koirala on March 23, 1954, Nehru claimed: "In the previous talks I have had with you, as well as with the other representatives of the Nepal Government, we have discussed foreign affairs and we have agreed that there s hould be full co-ordination between the foreign policy and the defence policy of the two Governments. Indeed that was even laid down in the collateral letters exchanged at the time of the last Treaty between the two countries. That Treaty was made before the changeover in Nepal and is, therefore, rather out of date, but the basic points laid down in it still hold."

On May 7, 1954, he recorded his talks with the Foreign Minister of Nepal, D.R. Regmi, the day before. "It was clear that the old Treaty between Nepal and Tibet had no force or relevance today. It might be considered to have lapsed. Normally, this shou ld give place to a new treaty or agreement between the two countries and, sometime or other, this would have to be done. But it is not necessary or desirable for Nepal to take the initiative in raising this matter." He added: "As a consequence of our foreign policy being coordinated, it follows that any treaty of Nepal with a foreign country should be considered in cooperation with us and after reference to us."

Unfortunately, Volume 25 which contains this record of May 1954 (pages 458-463) omitted the text of an aide-memoire drafted by Nehru on May 8, 1954 which is summarised in Footnote 4 in the present Volume (page 196). Nehru rejected Joint Secretary T.N. Kaul's suggestion that the word "co-ordinated" Nehru had used be omitted. Nepal preferred "close contact". To Nehru, however, "It is obvious that the Government of Nepal are not concerned with all the innumerable contacts that we have with other cou ntries while whatever contact they may have with a foreign country is a matter of concern to us."

He disclosed the letters. On December 8, 1959 when Nepal had moved far away from Treaty he himself had considered to have "lapsed". On March 21, 1960 Prime Ministers Zhou Enlai and B. P. Koirala signed a boundary agreement. Now, 40 years later, Nepal is still knocking at India's doors for a proper replacement of an admittedly obsolete Treaty of 1950.

NEHRU was committed to democratic values and was against censorship of cables 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 29 November, 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 kee p 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 activi ties 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 410-413; Selected Works, First Series, Volume 7).

We learn that V. P. Menon's book The Story of the Integration of the Indian States was published only after "extracts from secret papers" were omitted at Nehru's insistence which he recorded in a Note to the States Ministry as well as M. O. Mathai on December 7, 1954. The book was published in 1957.

On communalism Nehru never wavered: "There are many communal elements even in the Congress. They have crept in. They need not be members of the Hindu Mahasabha or the Jana Sangh, but they are mentally so. They represent political and social reactionaries . They represent everything that made India fall in the past and I am certain that India will collapse again if it went their way. There should be no quarter given to that kind of loose thinking."

Narasimha Rao's complicity in the demolition of the Babri Masjid revealed Nehru's perspicacity.

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