Nehru’s foreign policy blunders on China and Pakistan

February 15, 2010

The Congress Party has always projected Pandit Nehru as an exemplary helmsman of India’s foreign policy.

The founder of our political movement, Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerji, on the other hand, regarded Panditji’s handling of Pakistan, as well as China, as two egregious blunders of his.

Sadly, the shock that Nehru suffered when confronted by China’s gross betrayal in 1962 virtually cost him his life. His mishandling of Pakistan has left terrorism and Kashmir as two festering sores for our body politik right up to this day.

Fareed Zakaria, Editor of Newsweek International (whose late father was a committed Congressman) has recently made some very pertinent observations about Nehru’s conduct of India’s Foreign Policy. A Penguin publication by Zakaria has been titled “The Post American world”. In this book Zakaria says that the “central paradox of India” today is that “its society is open, eager and confident ready to take on the world”, but its state – its ruling class – is “hesitant, cautious and suspicious of the changing realities around it”. The Newsweek Editor adds: “Nowhere is this tension more obvious than in the realm of foreign policy, the increasingly large and important task of determining how India should fit into the new world”.

Zakaria’s book recalls that when Mountbatten suggested that there be a powerful chief of defense staff, Nehru turned down the suggestion.

Zakaria adds “A week into his new government, he walked over to the defense ministry and was furious to find military officers working there (as they do in every defense ministry in the world). Since then all armed service personnel working in New Delhi’s ‘South Block’ wear civilian clothes”.

Pandit Nehru remained India’s Prime Minister from 1947 to 1964. Throughout his tenure he was his own Foreign Minster. K.P.S. Menon, one of our first foreign secretaries, has observed in his autobiography: “We had no precedents to fall back upon because India had no foreign policy of her own until she became independent …our policy therefore necessarily rested on the intuition of one man, who was Foreign Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.”

Zakaria goes on to make a rather severe summing up of Nehru’s foreign policy management thus :

“Nehru rooted India’s foreign policy in abstract ideas rather than a strategic conception of national interests. He disdained alliances, pacts, and treaties, seeing them as part of the old rules of real politik, and was uninterested in military matters.”

Ironically, Fareed Zakaria writes, India’s policies became “especially tough-minded and shrewd during the reign of Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi.” We all know that it was during her regime that Bangladesh was carved out, and that India took its initial step into the field of nuclear weaponry. Those who have been following the development of India into a full fledged nuclear weapons state are aware that Pokharan I took place in 1974, during Mrs. Gandhi’s tenure. The process then started was completed by Prime Minister Vajpayee through Pokharan II, where on May 11, 1998, three underground nuclear tests were successfully conducted.

There can hardly be a more glaring instance of Nehruji’s unconcern for the India’s own strategic interests than his refusal to accept a U.S. offer in 1955 of a permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council, till then held by Taiwan. He insisted that the seat be given to China. Interestingly, this fact is mentioned in his book on Pandit Nehru by Shashi Tharoor, an MOS in Dr. Manmohan Singh Government.

When Nehru declined to accept the U.S. proposal, his argument was that he did not want U.S. to marginalise China. We thereby only hurt our own interests.

In 2008, a conclave of foreign ministers of BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) was held at Yekaterinburg (Russia). At this conclave Russia pressed that the conclave support India’s plea to secure a permanent place in the U.N. Security Council. Russia’s move did not succeed because it was strongly opposed by China !

L.K. Advani
New Delhi

15th February, 2010

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