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Mainstream, VOL LV No 25 New Delhi June 10, 2017

Brezhnev in India / Superpower with a Difference

Saturday 10 June 2017, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

Against the backdrop of PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Russia and talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin the following two pieces that appeared in Mainstream in November-December 1973 on Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev’s visit to India at that time are being reproduced for the benefit of our readers.

Brezhnev in India

Seven weeks ago, laying the foundation of the refinery at Mathura, Smt Indira Gandhi referred to the Soviet offer of two-million tonnes of foodgrains and said: “On such occassions one knows who is a friend in the world, and who is not.” Obviously, this is a long way from the political amateurishness of equating both the superpowers.

Early next week, as the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev comes to India, the meaning of this friendship will be spelt out without reserve. It is not a mere coincidence that the advance party of the Soviet officials who have reached New Delhi for the preparation of the Indo-Soviet Summit should be led by the head of the Soviet planning organisation at a time when Smt Gandhi’s Cabinet has been discussing the Draft of the Fifth Five Year Plan.

Moscow has a special significance for India’s struggle for economic independence which, in the final analysis, ensures the defence of this nation’s political independence from the onslaughts of neocolonialism. It was the Soviet offer of assistance which enabled this country in the early fifties to make a breakthrough from the stranglehold of Western private capital and laid the foundations of industrial development with the public sector providing the base for key industries. The Soviet readiness to build the Bhilai steel plant marked a watershed not only in the country’s economic but in political life as well. For, it pointed the road to independence growth defying the hegemony of the Wall Street. It is a matter of equal significance that in the midst of acute economic difficulties and industrial stagnation today, Bhilai stands as the shining example of maximised production, a record which few units, whether in the public or the private sector, can claim, while the giant steel complex at Bokaro holds out the promise for tomorrow.

There followed in rapid succession the Soviet assistance and cooperation in building India’s petroleum and heavy industries, electricals and pharmaceuticals, defence production including aeronautics, mineral exploration, to cooperation in science and technology, leading up to space research. The Americans claim to have given a larger amount of credit to this country, but Washington has never helped in the development of the industrial infrastructure which can enable this country to stand on its own legs. It is Moscow whose assistance has ensured the building of basic industries and today thirty per cent of India’s steel, eighty per cent of oil production and eightyfive per cent of heavy engineering products come from Indian projects built with Soviet assistance. All this is paid for in Indian rupee, which means that this arrangement provides ready market for Indian goods. Even the latest agreement on the Soviet loan of two million tonnes of foodgrains—at a time when India needed it badly to ward off Western blackmail—provides for terms which can by no means be regarded as a burden on the economy.

This way the Soviet economic cooperation contributes directly to the growth potential of the Indian economy. In the drafting of the Fifth Plan, our planners envisage a gap of about Rupees four thousand crores, out of which the net foreign assistance works out at about Rs 2400 crores. Those in the Yojana Bhavan and outside who are interested in slowing down the country’s growth rate, have been pressing for a smaller Plan, raising the pleas that since the World Bank and the USA in particular would not provide the credit, it would be better to go for the McNamara strategy of concentrating on primary necessities, and thereby ensure the continued dependence of this country on the West for the major requirements of her industrial activity. It was a variant of this strategy which was sold in the mid-sixties with disastrous consequences for our economy, and again sought to be revived two years ago by Sri Subra-maniam’s Approach Document for the Fifth Plan, which an awakened public opinion uncere-moniously rejected.

The foreign assistance requirement for the Fifth Plan can, to a very large measure, be paid back through export earnings. This involves not only the gearing up of or export machinery but working out new and unorthodox patterns of our export. In the world market today, our export potentials do not have to face a bleak prospect. With the worldwide scarcity of petrochemicals the markets for jute and Indian textiles have once again shown possibilities of expansion, provided out jute and textile manu-facturers can be compelled to take more interest in production than profit.

If the foreign aid burden has to be reduced, then obviously foreign trade has to be stepped up. And this cannot be done to any appreciable measure in a free market economy. All our aid from the USSR being paid for by Indian goods, it is the promotion of this trade that alone can enable us to come near our objective of doing without foreign aid in another five years. The pattern of Indo-Soviet trade has to be reshaped, and this can be done only if the trade plans between the two countries were linked up with the production plans. This implies that one has to look round for conversion deals and not confine only to the sale of primary products. The bungling that accompanied the cotton conversion deal is a warning that we have to guard against both neglect and sabotage.

Apart from this aspect of the Indo-Soviet coopertion, any informed observer in New Delhi can forecaste that during the important talks connected with the Brezhnev visit, there will be frank appraisal of this country’s short-term requirements and long-term economic objectives. However, the new pattern of economic relations between the two countries envisages not so much the setting up of turn-key proejcts but greater concentration on getting know-how and techno-logical expertise which one can get from the West only at a price that may endanger economic independence. Against the menace of the multinational corporations, the Soviet economic cooperation provides the surest bulwark.

The Indo-Soviet Summit next week will provide an important occasion for not only strengthening the understanding and coope-ration between the two countries, sanctified by the Treaty of 1971, but also an opportunity for a purposeful tour de horizon, in which the role of both the countries in this part of the world will naturally be evaluated. This is but natural for a country like ours whose national interests, whether in peace or in war, has been supported by the Soviet Union. The Brezhnev initiative four years ago for an Asian Collective Security has been a topic of continued discussion in many parts of Asia and the world. The idea of Asian entity has been a running theme for this nation’s contemporary history dating back to the days of the freedom struggle.

Although the Asian security is yet to take shape, it today serves, in the main, the same purpose as the idea of collective security in Europe in the late thirties as a rallying point against the menace of the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo axis. Today, in place of Fascism, the menace of neocolonialism, whether by economic squeeze, subversion or outright military aggression, has to be warded off in unity. Moscow has made clear what its concept of Asian Collective Security is not: it is not a military alliance but a means for consolidating peace and under-standing and genuine friendly coexistence; secondly, it is not meant to be a cordon sanitaire against China, but an invitation to Peking to support it, since it was China which eighteen years ago had proposed an Asian Collective Peace Pact. In those days, of course, Mr Chou En-lai did not say that the Nato is preferable to the Warsaw Pact. What the Indo-Soviet Summit may be expected to take up is a frank discussion of the concept rather than its fromalisation. A concept of this character covering countries of uneven relationship and diverse alignments takes time to materialise, as New Delhi views the issue.

With Leonid Brezhnev on Indian soil, there is little doubt the distance between Moscow and New Delhi will be shortened by many thousands of miles of friendship and warmest understanding.

(‘Editor’s Notebook in Mainstream,

November 24, 1973)

Superpower with a Difference

Brezhev in Delhi has been an event of far-reaching significance. As these lines are being written, the historic visit of the Soviet leader is yet to be completed. And yet, the dimension of its importance is being realised by both friends and adversaries of this country.

The negotiations that have preceded and accompanied the Indo-Soviet Summit have been important by themselves, and as Mr Brezhnev himself gave out in his address before the citizens’ meeting in Delhi, the two sides have been “thinking of imparting a stable and long-term nature to our cooperation in the field of economy, science and technology, and defining the main direction of its development for the next fifteen years at least”. In his view, this could be “useful for both the Soviet and the Indian people” and could become “one of the factors contributing to the upsurge of India’s economy and thus to the improvement of the life of its people”.

More than fifty years ago, Lenin had exhorted the young Soviet state to look upon the peoples engaged in the struggle for freedom in the countries under colonial rule as its friend and ally. The peoples in the colonies had long been used as the reserves of imperialist powers, but with the national awakenning among the people of these countries under colonial rule, they ceased to be the reserves of imperialism and could very well be the friends and allies of the new-born Socialist state. The organic link between the Great October Revolution in Russia and our own freedom struggle can never be denied, and Smt Indira Gandhi in her welcome address to Mr Brezhnev at the banquet rightly recalled “its profound impact”.

It was, therefore, natural for India after Independence to look upon the Soviet Union as a close friend. In his very first broadcast to the world on assuming office in 1946, Jawaharlal Nehru made an interesting reference to the Soviet Union as carrying “a vast responsibility for shaping world events” and “we shall have to undertake many common tasks and much to do with each other”.

This true partnership in human progress has once again been stressed by Leonid Brezhnev, this time right in the heart of India’s Capital: “Our relations are one of the most convincing manifestations of the great union between the world of socialism and the world that was born out of the national liberation movement.” It is not merely a case of Hands-across-the-Himalyas, but helping hands for the building of a self-reliant economy.

Moscow’s stakes in it are clear: an independent India with an economy that is viable and ready to ward off renewed colonial intrusions of various types, economic, political and military, can form a safe bastion in whose growth the Socialist system itself stands to gain. From the reserve of imperialism, the new India with its developing economy becomes a friendly ally for the world of Socialism.

The enormous power of the Soviet Union can hardly be underestimated today. This was manifested last year when the champion of the Cold War, the President of the USA, had to knock at the door of Moscow. Instead of being able to roll back Communism, as Dulles dreamt, Washington had to roll out the red carpet for the Soviet leader.

It is not a case of change of heart for world imperialism. It is the sign of its impotence and degeneration. Not being able to contain Communism, the USA has had to make peace with it and promise it good behaviour.

Not that such promises can be taken at their face value. The events in West Asia as also in Indochina bear out the persistent attempt of the US Administration to prod on the warmongers, if it could. But the very same experience of both West Asia and Indochina demonstrates that any such mischievous moves in the overall context of the detente could be rebuffed with greater effect.

Between 1970 and 1973, the contours of the Arab world have changed to the disadvantage of the USA and its client states. Nearer home, Pakistan is still licking her wounds from the damage she has had to incur for over-relying on the Pentagon; and Mr Bhutto has yet to prove that he has the capacity to draw the correct lessons.

In our country, the pro-American elements can no longer talk in the language of classical servility that Sri Minoo Masani could use ten years ago, urging this country to join the US-sponsored military blocs with the shocking statement that “our battle for freedom is being fought on the banks of the Mekong”—by, of all people, Thieu’s puppet troops in their ragamuffin crusade against Communism. It was the economic counterpart of this political plea that led Sri Asoka Mehta to offer India’s “womb” to the Wall Street penetration.

Against this neo-colonialist offensive, India’s capacity to stand up and ward it off could be traced, to a large measure, to the awakened anti-imperialist consciousness of her millions; and in equally large measure, it is due to the consistent and unremitting support this country has received in many fields of development, including national defence, from the Socialist world, particularly from the Soviet Union.

This contrast between the two systems, their respective approach and orientation towards this country and its problems and aspirations, marks out the difference between the two super- powers. The World Bank refused to build a steel plant in the public sector in the early fifties, but the Soviet Union set up Bhilai, in whose blast-furnace flames, in the words of Brezhnev, has been tempered the friendship between India and the Soviet Union.

Smt Gandhi has correctly pointed out that the scourge of grinding poverty in our country could not be eliminated by “sole reliance on the free play of market forces”, and hence “the organs of state power should have decisive responsibility for economic development”, and on this score comes the significance of the Soviet assistance in building the public sector, parti-cularly in the key industries “on which the future growth of the economy so largely depends”.

And with it all, there exists a total sense of equality. Smt Gandhi herself declared at the Red Fort rally: “In so many years of friendship, not even once did they tell us to do this or not to do that.” Here is no threat of blackmail by stopping dollar aid, no gunboat diplomacy by despatching the Seventh Fleet.

Here comes the basic difference with the assistance from the West. Public memory is not so short as is often made out. Prof Galbraith had persuaded President Kennedy to underwrite Bokaro, but the powers that be in Washington would have none of it. Instead came the Soviet offer which promises to make Bokaro “the largest metallurgical giant” in this part of the world. From coordination of planned development to collaboration in the realm of outer space, the spectrum of Indo-Soviet cooperation promises to be widened, from more to more, while the potentialities of the Wall Street intrusion into this country’s economy, despite Dr Moynihan’s heroic efforts, seem to be shrinking with every passing day.

The surreptitious forays of multinational corporations, here and there, have no doubt to be guarded against; but the fact is inescapable that the basic needs of our economic growth can be met by making the best possible use of the increasingly closer cooperation with the Soviet Union in the first place. The objective of doing away with foreign aid of the traditional form, as set out in the Fifth Plan Draft, can be realised to a large measure by exploring the potentialities of economic cooperation with the Soviet Union in the field of production, “a collaboration which would be based on cooperative activities and a division of labour between our two countries, and on mutual complementing of our economic potentials”.

Leonid Brezhnev’s lucid words are relevant in this context: “World capitalism endowed India with chains of colonial oppression. It is not surprising that your people do no want to pin their hopes for the future on that particular social system.” Without underplaying the diffi-culties that beset the path towards a new social order, the Soviet Communist leader’s pledge of strengthening the Indo-Soviet friendship both in sweep and in depth, holds out new vistas of growth coupled with social justice for this country. Against this, what Washington can offer can be seen in the ravaged landscape of Pakistan’s economy, if one does not want to go further—in the wasteland of South Vietnam.

The dilettantish pastime indulged in by some of our intellectuals of both the Right and the Left—equating the two superpowers with a profession of holy concern for what they themselves choose to define as non-alignment—has no place in reality. And this is being made clearer to the consciousness of the Indian people by the visit, brief though momentous, of Leonid Brezhnev.  

(‘Editor’s Notebook’ in Mainstream,

December 1, 1973)

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