Nehru and India’s foreign policy

By Ram Puniyani

Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, has been under criticism from different quarters all through. The reasons of this have been diverse for different political streams. Currently a section of intellectuals is blaming him for forcing India into Socialist Russia’s camp. Their argument comes in the backdrop of Left’s pressure not to sign the nuclear deal with U.S. One of the inherent arguments of critics of left and others is that not signing it will keep us away from the deeper friendship of U.S., the land of wealth and prosperity, whose alliance will benefit us a lot.

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In the complex scenario, which our world is, to support or oppose a political line is not easy enough. Also the left while opposing the nuclear deal has an attitude towards nuclear power, energy itself, which is not acceptable to most peace workers. While one will like that the left takes a stand which is totally against the nuclear energy and weapons, this is not the case. The major built in argument in their current stance in opposing the nuclear deal with U.S., is that this will push us in the camp of America, as its satellite ally and that will be the doom of India’s foreign policy, which has been that of non alignment. There is a criticism that in the name of non-alignment India was tilted towards the Soviet block of yesteryears. Some also pose the question, is it possible in today’s post ‘Soviet regime’ era to remain non-aligned, not to toe the singular pole of global power, America?

Critics of Nehru’s foreign policy undermine the fact that India’s foreign policy was aimed at minimizing the domination of imperial powers in the World in general and India in particular. Though U.S. and USSR both were the superpowers, there was some difference in their attitude. While opposing the concept of global poles, one also recognizes that most of the countries which were coming out from the slavery of colonial powers needed to develop their industrial infrastructure. U.S. and U.K. were not for helping these countries with the technological support for this infrastructure while USSR partly helped India in building the foundation of industries, which in turn laid the base for the major industrial growth in times to come. The contrast is most visible, when India is compared to its major neighbor Pakistan, which allied with America, and the difference in the in the trajectory of two nations is there for all to see.

Pakistan, happy with the short cut of supply of industrial goods, as a US ally, free market, no license permit raj, a free economy to begin with landed up as a puppet economy in due course. India seeing that the industrialists here cannot set up the base of industrial growth on their own opted for the mixed economy, public sector, many of which were supported by the USSR, for heavy industries and private sector for the rest. The public sector was labeled as Socialist by all and sundry, without giving much thought to the concept of socialism, and was strongly opposed by the right wing economists, communalists and western imperialist powers. U.S. pursued its policies of supporting its minor allies by giving them weapons and ready made goods in return for various things including their loyalty to its global designs.

This struggle between capitalist and socialist model was in turn also a shadow boxing between the upcoming economies in the third world countries and the domination of western ex-colonial powers.

U.S. and its allies, with their economic interests being jeopardized by the independent attitude and policies of the third world nations, the success of Soviet block in various fields, stepped up their ideological campaign against socialist ideology. What the Western powers wanted was that the third world should not set up their own industrial base and should remain dependent on the U.S. and its allies. The socialist policies in India meant essentially a public sector which will provide the base for growth of the industries in general and lift up India’s level from an economically dominated colony towards the possibility of an strong economy with own say.

Interestingly as India began to chart its course after getting independence, the thinking of the big industrialists, which got reflected in the Bombay plan, and Nehru’s fascination for growth model of the countries like USSR, which helped them come out from the clutches of feudal economic system, matched well at this point of time. Industrialists did want the state to set up infrastructure industries. Here centralized planning and its accompaniments, which later became frozen and were unable to change with times and led to the demise of Soviet socialist economies.

India’s charting independent path with the help of others, more particularly with USSR, in setting up the infrastructure, helped it stand on its feet, while most of the countries which became independent at that time and opted for pro U.S. policies eventually marched towards banana republics, without the core, the base for their social and economic systems.

Parallel to this economic path, India took the road of non alignment. The major opposition to the non alignment policy came from the BJP and its predecessor Bharatiya Jansangh, who have always advocated thick relations with U.S. Politically their ideologue Golwalkar had listed communists as a threat to Hindu nation. So far the policies of RSS-BJP had always been in parallel to those of US. In late 1940s America was following MaCarthism and hunting communists. Around that time in the aftermath of Gandhi murder, Golwalkar was writing to Sardar Patel that RSS workers should be released from jails and in turn they will help the government to contain communists. And today when U.S. is leading the global anti Muslim tirade, RSS is the lead organization spreading anti Muslim venom here in India.

USSR had no problems with the this non alignment course in foreign policy so it not only endorsed it but also kept giving core support to India for its indigenous growth. US annoyed with India’s not accepting US patronage branded India’s policies and non alignment in general as the decoy for being pro USSR. India did keep supporting the national liberation struggles in Vietnam and many other nations to the annoyance of US. Today with the changed of World scenario, US is keen that India does not form another block away from U.S., that’s why its tilt towards India, away from its nurturing of Pakistan till date.

The basic dilemma which countries like India faced was weather to have ‘ready made goods’ or to produce the same the hard way. US wanted India to go on this ready made path, while India defied it and pursued independent path. The same got reflected in the foreign policy and attempt to stay clear of US-USSR blocks. It’s another matter that USSR for its own strategic reasons was supportive of the non alignment.

This had reflection in India’s policy vis a vis Israel-Palestine. Israel, the hub of US interests, hand in glove with Western powers, dominated the region, led to the exile of lakhs of Palestinians and installed an authoritarian state. Palestinians has been struggling for years to get back their own land. Here the aggressor-victim duel was clear and India did opt to keep away from Israel and kept supporting the cause of Palestine. US designs in the region were prompted by the lust for oil, its policy is hegemonic, it theme, ‘Oil is too important to be left to the Arabs’.

In this direction it overthrew the Government of Mossadeq in 1953, installed Raza Shah Pehlvi who in turn brought in superficial westernization not bothering to develop the country’s infrastructure. The political rebellion against him was given a religious turn and so came in Ayatollah Khomeini. And with this began another chapter in World history. US projected it as signaling the rise of Islam as the ‘new threat’ to freedom and democracy and this slogan has been serving it in all its aggressions in the Middle East.

While condemning the foreign policy charted out by the builder of Modern India, Nehru, these ideologues conveniently forget that it is important for the World as a whole to promote democratization amongst nations and democratization within nations. The attempt to keep India out of the stifling patronage of US is of paramount importance to ensure the building of democracy amongst nations, away from the hegemony of global bully. The current hegemonic, bullying policies of US, which are the major cause of violence in the world, aggression on Afghanistan and Iraq was preceded by promotion of terrorist outfits, Al Qaeda and its clones, to fight Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. These need to be understood in their proper perspective. We do have to keep the goal that the world marches towards peace and harmony amongst nations and amongst people.

In the contemporary scenario it is easy and also fashionable enough to criticize Nehru’s economic-foreign policy. It is difficult to see today that it is precisely these policies of public sector and non alignment which resulted in India charting the course of democracy and economic growth. One is not saying that what has been achieved is satisfactory. The point is this was the comparatively better option, which did help us go some distance in the direction of industrialization-education in the given circumstances. World is essentially global, how we strike a balance between external support and internal growth is a million rupee question. Blindly submitting to the wishes of super power number one, may land us up in the direction of many a banana republics or lead to the fate which our neighbor is seeing due to embracing the Uncle Sam.

Time that we build the non aligned movement again, time that we promote regional alliances, time that we see the vision of Nehru in its perspective of indigenous growth and global democracy away from the domination of one or the other superpower.