Nehruvian Foreign Policy: Misplaced Criticisms

By Ram Puniyani

Shashi Tharoor (9th Jan 2010) while speaking at a meeting organized by Indian Council of Foreign Affairs, endorsed the views of Lord Bhiku Parekh on Nehru’s Foreign. Lord Parekh described it as being based on moral self righteousness, and Tharoor added on to say that it was a moral running commentary. One will surely support any objective criticism of the policies of India’s founding father and founding architect. That should be a exercise in learning as to what went wrong and how we should desist from such policies in future. Fair enough. We can not treat any body to be above criticism. Tharoor faced with the reaction form his party, quickly sought an apology to save his skin, as Congress does have a fare bit of blind veneration of Gandhi and Nehru. One will not criticize Tharoor for criticizing Nehru for that matter.

At the same time one also has to see what is the worth of this criticism, does it hold some water or is it just to run down the morals and objectivities which were the base not only of freedom movement but also the initial foundation of India’s foreign policy. While Tharoor’s statement was criticized merely from the angle of veneration to Nehru-Gandhi, the deeper issues remained unaddressed. And what needs to be taken note of is that Parekh-Tharoor line is projecting values totally opposed to the interests of the emerging Indian nation, as it came in a particular historical context of the decade of 1940s. One has serious doubts about the understanding of these worthies about the situation and problems which Gandhi-Nehru faced to ensure that India not only becomes free from the shackles of imperialists but also that it creates better atmosphere for Indians in particular and newly liberating countries from Asia in general. BJP, lost no time in upholding Parekh-Tharoor line and went on to add that Nehru floundered on the issue of Kashmir, his non- alignment created many problems and in the matters of his policy towards China he failed.

Tharoor’s statement that it was a moralistic running commentary gives an impression that morals should have no place in the political World! And that morality is against the self interest of the nation! On the contrary one can say that it is moral values alone which have been the foundations of anti Imperialist struggles all over. It has been the efforts of people to get their moral rights, rights as human beings, rights as nations which ensured the liberation of the vast mass of humanity form thee exploitative-oppressive yoke of colonialism-imperialism. Britain and other colonial powers and their continuation in the hegemositic policies of United States have been the major oppressive force in the World so far. When Vietnamese people were fighting the insane bombings by United States it was the morality of Vietnamese people which gave them strength to overcome the brutal aggression and come out victorious. It was the morals of Indian masses which gave them all the strength to overcome the yoke of colonialism.

As far as Gandhi is concerned, he was hardly there, when the foreign policy took concrete shape. The one major contribution he made was statement about the rights of Palestinians who were displaced by the Israel. He could see beyond the obvious to say that the policy of Israel is ‘Jewish terrorism’, which is the real problem. The armed Zionists who were intimidating the Palestinian villagers were a matter of concern for him. He also went to say that it is wrong to impose Jews on Palestine. This was his contribution in laying India’s policy vis a vis Israel and Palestine! It is highest morality and astuteness to take the sides of victims of injustice. India did stick to the policy of shunning Israel overtures, till last few years when shaking hands with her began and was made more respectable by BJP led NDA in particular, which not only praised the Israel in more ways than one but was also willing to collaborate with Israel on many counts.

As far as Kashmir is concerned there is a misconception that India surrendered 1/3rd of Kashmir to Pakistan due to Nehru’s faulty approach. This betrays a total ignorance and misrepresents the past. One recalls that at the time of Independence, Kashmir refused to merge with either India or Paksitan. It is the Independent Kashmir which was attacked by Pathan, Kabayali, Tribal supported by Pakistani army. So the question of India loosing one third of territory does not hold any water. When the accession treaty was signed India sent its army to dispel the Pakistani invaders, but by that time they had already occupied 1/3 of Kashmir. Now continuation of war would have meant a lot of civilian casualties. UN at that time was an arbiter of sorts, which was to be approached for mediation. It is another matter that since US had its designs to keep its presence in the region, directly and by proxy, it kept backing Pakistan all through. Thanks to Soviet veto that the status quo was maintained.

It is another matter that the proposal of UN to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir, to ascertain the choice of Kashmiri people in an honest way could never take place. Later the global politics, as divided between the US dominated imperialist block and Soviet led Socialist block came to be supplemented by the Non Aligned group of Nations. It is Russian veto, which saved Kashmir from coming into the total control of Pakistan. Pressure of non-aligned block had its own value. The unstinted support to Pakistan by United States has been due to US strategic interests, and to think that a war in Kashmir would have solved the problem is far from correct.

As far as Non Alignment is concerned, it can be regarded as the best contribution to the global politics. From amongst the nations enslaved by Colonial powers, India was amongst the firsts and was also a big Nation so it was natural that it devices a self interest, autonomy in foreign policy, which can also show the light to all the countries. In a way non alignment was the external manifestation of internal sovereignty. That was the phase of global politics where the easy option for countries was to ally with US-UK axis. As history shows us most of the countries which aligned in such a way turned into banana republics or had the fate of countries like Pakistan. They were used by imperialist powers for their strategic and economic interests. No internal development, no progress of democratic institutions! In practically all countries which got freedom, and allied with US, the progress came to a halt. The trajectory of Pakistan says it all. You ally to US, be its military base, buy readymade goods and material, the basic development remains unattended.

Nehru did have the vision that only a self reliant economic infrastructure can be the guarantee for the progress of the nation. And here the external policy was an adjunct for internal goals. It is in this direction that he decided not to remain subservient to either of the blocks, while seeking their help in the development of industrial infrastructure of the country.

Foreign policy is deeply linked to economic policies. Nehru’s policy in the area of education and industrialization can be faulted for various reasons, but what is above reproach about his policy is about remaining non-aligned, due to which, the nation gets the technical and other help from who so ever gives you can tie up with for the particular issue.. So while Soviet block came forward to lay the industrial infrastructure, US help was taken for Green revolution. The nation has to thank Nehru for ensuring that, today it is a Industrial power to reckon with, it is power with its own scientific manpower, it is precisely due to this that it was not lagging behind in IT revolution, as the infrastructure for this was already their.

Surely Nehru should be faulted for his failure to ensure the implementation of land reforms, and for not undertaking more policies which would have resulted in equitable distribution of wealth and resources. One cannot support the shelving of land reforms at any cost as it is the base for democratic programs. One cannot support the policy leading to enrichment of a handful in the name of development. Neither can one support the policies which led to the marginalization of workers, dalits and Adivasis in the whole process of development. So criticism is OK but from which angle the criticism is done is more important.

With the collapse of Soviet states the World not only lost an important pole of opposition to the US hegemony, it also led to a global scenario where being subservient to US is regarded as the only way to survive, the Non Aligned movement has been marginalized. Surely it has been one of the major policy which came to aid India’s development, it also ensured that not only that India remains insulated from being intimidated but it also gave strength to the other developing nations to chart the course of self reliance and dignity.

As far Nehru’s China policy is concerned the critics feel that since Indo-China war took place in 1962 and India had to bite the dust, it was Nehru’s policy which is to blame for this debacle. Since China was an isolated country, since there were many other unresolved issues on India-China border, China did took us by surprise and a short and decisive blow was inflicted on India. Nehru had entered Panch Sheel (Five Principles of Dignity) which included mutual respect of each other’s sovereignty, non interference, and territorial integrity amongst others. This was also the principal which later on was used by US and Chine to sew up their relations. As such Panch Sheel should be the basis of relations between any two neighbors. While one swallow does not make the summer, one setback does not taint the whole policy. The relations with the mighty neighbor have to be based on Peace, and that’s the only guarantee for the mutual development of the nations. After the painful episode of 1962, China and India have been both ‘progressing’ materially and the ground for peaceful relations is very much there.

While Tharoor’s press conference seems to have exonerated him from the axe of the blind venerators of Gandhi-Nehru, the deeper issues raised by Parekh-Tharoor and also BJP line on these issues is what needs to be debated and proper perspective of Gandhi-Nehru ‘moral running commentary’ needs to be understood in the light of the holistic needs of the nation at that point of time.

(Ram Puniyani could be contacted on


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