For once here is a book in which references are as foot notes and not end notes! This adds to the reader’s comfort.
Dr. Zorawar Daulat Singh’s study is of Indian foreign policies (yes, in plural) during the cold war as an international system that extended from 1945 to 1989. He has developed an analytical framework to examine them in two phases depicted as peace makers and security seekers. The case studies are illustrative.
Arne Westad, in his seminal history of the Cold War, asserts that ‘if there was a Cold War wild card it was India.’ Nehru, he concludes, was repelled by it as an international system and ‘was fiercely opposed to the concept of power blocs.’ This came out vividly during Nehru’s discussions with President Truman in 1950 and the latter’s remark that ‘Nehru has sold us down the Hudson’ and his attitude has been ‘responsible for us losing the war in Korea.’ No other Indian leader has earned such a left-handed compliment in Washington though another was the subject of remarks that, to quote Westad again, ‘oozed racism and misogyny.’
The book traces diligently this and other crises of that period in Nehru’s concept of India as peace maker with a preference for ethical state craft relying on persuasion rather than coercion. He brings out, in chapter 2, contradictory elements between the ideals and principles of a policy of peace as also the imperatives of a crisis in the immediate neighbourhood. Some of those debates have a contemporary resonance.
A complex judgment on Nehru is unavoidable. His focus was on avoidance of war and on furtherance of cooperation to India’s benefit and retention of policy choices in an age when power bloc politics tended to predetermine them. He sought to accommodate this approach to the imperatives of power politics that were thrust upon him. The end product was a visionary who also possessed the requisite traits of Realpolitik. Nuances are discernable; a case in point is Churchill’s telegram of thanks (July1, 1953) ‘for the help you gave us over Egypt and Israel.’ At the same time, while describing the British action over Suez ‘worse case of aggression’ he advised President Nasser after the war to refrain from deporting Egypt British and French nationals and persons of Jewish origin, an advice that was not taken.
Indira Gandhi confronted a different set of situations. The book’s analysis of the Vietnam War brings out the conflicting forces in play. The author concludes that it gave ‘credence to a credible independent posture that kept India in the game and prevented it from losing strategic support from either of the superpowers.’
New archival material adds greatly to the book’s analysis of the Bangladesh crisis and the policy debate in New Delhi. It shows how a demand for regional autonomy and its reflection in an electoral verdict was turned by a neighbour into tactical gain and wider strategic benefit. The critical decisions were taken early. The Pakistan Army crackdown on March 25 was followed by Indira Gandhi’s speech in Parliament on March 31 and early diplomatic initiatives directed at foreign powers. The effort was to define the crisis in terms of denial of democracy and human rights and its resultant implications for India through the massive inflow of refugee into India. The process involved seeking the support of one great power to counteract the possibility of a third party intervention in favour of Pakistan. This was undertaken successfully and the author’s conclusion is that Indira Gandhi was motivated primarily by realpolitik reasons aimed at giving India a free hand in the neighbourhood.
I conclude with one last observation. Foreign policy anywhere is about promotion of national interest which includes threats to national security and perceptions of it in domestic politics. The latter necessitates a complex exercise. The annual reports of the ministries of Defence and External Affairs focus primarily on external threats. The Home Ministry’s report, on the other hand, has a typology of four threats to security: (a) terrorism in the hinterland (b) Left wing extremism (c) cross-border threats principally in J&K and (d) insurgency in North-East. Most of these are domestic, are of a socio-political nature and their persistence sheds light on grievances relating to governance in its local, regional and federal manifestations. I hope this very erudite panel will shed some light on this also since it inevitably becomes an input into power and diplomacy.