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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Nehru's Foreign Policy in a Sentence

We are told Jawaharlal Nehru, our first prime minister, was a worldly man. He knew the vast history of India expressed in his Discovery of India. He understood the secular nature of our nation. He understood our neighbourhood. And he understood the importance of technology in a modern nation - the five IITs and government-owned monster steel and power plants are a testimony of his superior intellect. Sure he lost a war to China and let Pakistan keep occupied Jammu & Kashmir. But the general conclusion is, overall, his near two decades in power, leading a young nation, was positive force.

After reading one episode in a recent book on the history of Indian foreign policy, I am not so sure. Thirty years before P.V. Narashima Rao's Look East Policy, Badruddin Tyabji, an IFS senior policy adviser to Nehru, proposed, in early 1961, in a meeting with Indian ambassadors posted to Southeast Asian countries, that India needs to create and nurture close relations with Southeast Asian countries. Historians and linguists have known for centuries about the close cultural and trade ties between former Indo-China region and India. And one would expect it to be natural that India pursue close ties with this region.

But Nehru's unbending closeness to Soviet Union, which he developed while living in an Utopian socialism period in England, early in his life, had a peremptory response, "Do you gentlemen want India to become friendly with Coca Cola governments?" Thus single handedly killing any initiation of significant diplomatic contacts with Southeast Asian countries making India blind to the amazing rise of Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, and others from poor deprecate nations to rich to middle-income nations.

The significance of Nehru was not in his actions, while important at the time and now, but the precedents he set: 17 years in unquestioned power (by contrast, George Washington run for two terms, for a total of eight years, as US president, about 200 years prior, and was well aware of any precedent he was setting as a leader of a new country) , path to economic socialism, non-response to Pakistani and Chinese aggression, and much more. We are, more than 40 years after his death, still unable to get out from under his shadow.


Apun Ka Desh said...

Well Said.. and True.