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Mainstream, VOL LV No 45 New Delhi October 28, 2017

On the 70th Anniversary of Establishment of Indo-Russian Diplomatic Ties

Monday 30 October 2017, by Arun Mohanty

Nehru had seriously thought of evolving India’s foreign policy even before India attained independence. An outline of the foreign policy had already begun to emerge in his mind even before he assumed any government position in the final years of India’s freedom struggle. It was in his position as the Vice-President of the Viceroy’s Executive Council and a member for external affairs that he made the first official announcement of India’s foreign policy. In a nationwide broadcast on September 7, 1946, he said India would participate in international conferences as a free nation ‘with our own policy and not merely as a satellite of other nations’. She would cooperate with other nations in the cause of peace and progress, but would keep away from the power-politics of groups aligned against each other. Speaking warmly about the Soviet Union, Nehru said: “To that great nation of the modern world, the Soviet Union, which also carries a vast responsi-bility for shaping world events, we send greetings. They are our neighbours in Asia and inevitably we shall have to undertake many common tasks and have much to do with each other.”1

The Interim Government soon started appro-aching various countries for the purpose of establishing diplomatic relations. India had by then diplomatic relations with the US and China but not with the USSR.

The saga of the Indo-Russian diplomatic relations goes back to the end of the Second World War when India’s freedom struggle was in its final stage. The victory over German fascism, to which the Soviets contributed enor-mously, brought tremendous changes in the international arena, making Moscow a key player in global affairs. This also facilitated the transfer of power from the British Raj to the leadership of the Indian National Congress.

India always considered its ties with the Soviet Union special. After being released from a jail on June 15, 1945, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s would be first Prime Minister, was interacting with mediapersons in Delhi’s grand Imperial Hotel. He looked around and asked if any Soviet correspondent was there in the press conference. When Oleg Arestov, the then TASS correspondent to India, was introduced to him, Nehru requested him to sit next to him on the same sofa.

“I am glad that a Soviet journalist is present in India during these historic days,” said Nehru, a gesture that underscored the significance he was attaching to the USSR in his foreign policy thinking. Nehru obviously had nurtured the hope that the TASS correspondent would convey the message to the Soviet Government. He was clear in his mind that the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, that emerged as a strong power from the devastating war, would send signals to the members of the international community to recognise India’s independence

The task of exploring the possibilities of establishing diplomatic relations with the USSR was entrusted to V.K. Krishna Menon, who had been the Secretary of the India League in London and a trusted friend of Nehru. In a press conference in New Delhi on September 26, 1946, Nehru said that India so far had no direct diplomatic contacts with her northern neighbour, the USSR, as she had with the United States, and he proposed to explore the possibilities because, besides the significance and relevance of the USSR, ‘it is always desirable to have good neighbourly relations with neighbours’.

‘In fact, one of the first steps that Nehru took after joining the Interim Government that ruled over India before the attainment of complete independence was to search for ways to establish diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union,’ recalls veteran Indian diplomat K.P.S. Menon, who played a significant role in obtaining the Soviet diplomatic recognition of India. The Interim Government soon approached various countries with the objective of establishing diplomatic ties with them. Nehru sent his trusted lieutenant, V.K. Krishna Menon, to Paris in order to meet the head of the Soviet delegation participating in the Paris Peace Conference without informing about it to the British Viceroy, the formal head of the Interim Government. Krishna Menon met Soviet Foreign Minister Vyachislav Molotov on September 28, 1946 in Paris where the latter was partici-pating in the International Peace Conference following the end of World War II, and handed over Nehru’s letter to him that expressed India’s desire to establish diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. The letter said: “We sincerely desire to develop friendly relations with the Soviet Union and exchange diplomatic and other representatives with your country. We hope that cooperation between India and Russia will be mutually beneficial and serve the interests of peace and progress in the whole world.” However, a Reuters dispatch from Paris said that ‘the purpose of Mr Menon’s meeting was to gain Soviet support for India’s new Central Government to offset, particularly in foreign relations, the predominant British influence’. Later, upon his return to London, Menon himself explained the purpose of his visit to Paris:

“I went to Paris to see M. Molotov.... because the Government of India cabled to me to consider what assistance the Soviet people should give in the present food crisis. Secondly, I visited M. Molotov because the policy of the Indian Government—announced when Pandit Nehru assumed office afterwards—is that the new government will open up relations with all the countries as soon as possible. The Govern-ment of India having sent that message to Molotov, I was asked to see him and follow it up.”2

Referring to media reports that the purpose of his meeting with Molotov was to seek Russia’s support against the British, Menon said that ’it is mischievous to suggest that we are asking support of any one country to offset another’, “India’s policy,” he said, “did not envisage partial or exclusive relationships, but friendliness toward all.”

The purpose of Menon’s visit to Paris was later confirmed by Nehru himself in the Constituent Assembly. Nehru said: “.....the conversations with M. Molotov were very friendly and he expressed his willingness to exchange diplomatic representatives with India. It was proposed that this matter be gone into further in December next.3”

India and the Soviet Union came closer to each other’s viewpoints at the first session of the United Nations General Assembly where on questions such as the treatment of Indians in South Africa, the future of South West Africa, the trusteeship agreements, and the principle of unanimity of the great powers in the Security Council they found themselves in substantial agreement. The Indian delegation included Vijaylaxmi Pandit, V.K. Krishna Menon and Justice M.C. Chagla, who were described as ‘progressives’ by a leading Soviet indologist, Diakov. This delegation was appointed by the Interim Government and its composition was largely determined by Nehru. The practice of racial discrimination in South Africa had been one of the worst forms discrimination practised anywhere in modern times. This issue affected Indian sentiment very deeply as there were tens of thousands of Indians living in South Africa. There could be no doubt as to which side the Soviet’s sympathies and support would lie on the issue of racial discrimination. In fact, this was one of those questions which the Soviet Union had successfully used to criticise the Western countries and to make an appeal to the people in the colonial world. Indian raised the issue with great hope and feelings. Vijaylaxmi Pandit, leader of the Indian delegation, in her speech in the Assembly said: “The issue we have brought before you is by no means a narrow or local one, nor can we accept any contention that a gross and continued outrage of this kind against the fundamental principles of the Charter can be claimed by anyone, and least of all by a member-state, to be a matter of no concern to this Assembly of the world’s people. The bitter memories of racial doctrines in the practice of states and governments are still fresh in the minds of all of us. Their evil and tragic consequences are part of the problem with which we are called upon to deal.”4

Molotov, in his general speech to the Assembly, expressed his support for India, saying: “Although India is a member of the United Nations, and consequently, in accordance with the Charter, her relationship to Great Britain should be based on sovereign equality, have you not heard here in the General Assembly India’s appeal for support and assistance? It is time that the just demands of India were recognised.”5

Molotov’s reference to India in his speech was widely reported in the Indian media.

Andrei Vyshinsky, the Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister, on behalf of the Soviet Union, came to India’s support in the General Committee where the Union of South Africa argued that the question should not be taken up because it was ‘purely an internal one for South Africa ...’ In the joint session of the Political and Security Committee where the issue was debated at considerable length, India argued that it was a case of violation of the principles of the Charter and involved ‘a great moral problem’. In a resolution submitted to the Committee, India requested the General Assembly to call upon the Union Government to ‘revise their general policy and their legislative and administrative measures affecting Asiatics in South Africa, so as to bring them into conformity with the principles and purposes of the Charter’.

Though India was warmly supported by many other countries, especially the countries of Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, the most eloquent and forceful support came from the Soviet Union. Andrei Gromyko, the Soviet Permanent Representative in the Security Council, spoke In India’s support in the joint session of the Political and Legal Committees. Later in the General Assembly, Vyshinsky said that the South African effort to shift the issue to the judicial plane aimed at submerging it, as the ‘legal soil is very marshy’. But the Soviet Union did not want the question to be submerged.

The support of the USSR on the question of discrimination naturally pleased India and strengthened her image of the Soviet Union as an anti-imperialist nation and one which stood for complete equality among races. Not only did Mrs Pandit and other members of the Indian delegation openly thank the USSR in the United Nations, later Nehru also sent personal letters to the Soviet, Byelorussian and Ukrainian governments to thank them for their support.

The Soviet and Indian delegations held similar views on a host of important issues in the UN General Assembly. On the issue of South West Africa and trusteeship agreements, the Soviet position largely coincided with that of India. India strongly supported the Soviet stand on the question of the veto in the Security Council. It was the Soviet Union which had made the maximum use of this right during the past year. The United States and Great Britain were able to muster majority support for their position, and that is why were less enthusiastic about the veto power. They tried to find some way to restrict the Soviet use of the veto.

India considered the veto right was undemocratic and believed that it should not be used arbitrarily; nevertheless, in her view it was necessary in the existing international situation.

The outcome of the above session of the General Assembly was significant from the point of view of Indo-Soviet relations and created a conducive atmosphere for establishing diplomatic ties.

It was in this atmosphere of growing under-standing and amicability between India and the USSR that a delegation from the Soviet Academy of Sciences arrived in India in January 1947 to participate in the Indian Science Congress. India attached great importance to the participation of Soviet scientists in the event. Nehru, who was elected as the President of the Indian National Congress, speaking at a reception organised in honour of the Soviet scientists delegation, said:

“For many years past we have looked with very great interest towards the Soviet Union for many reasons but more especially because of the tremendous achievements of the Soviet Union during the last quarter of a century or so. You are our neighbours and as neighbours we must develop closer contacts with each other. But apart from being neighbours, you have been pioneers in many fields and you have transformed the vast tracts of your country before our eyes with a speed that has astonished humanity. Inevitably, when we want to produce great changes in India, we want to learn from your example... among the many things you have done in this tremendous flowering of science in the Soviet Union and the application of that science to the betterment of human beings.”6

Professor V.P. Volgin, on behalf of the Soviet delegation, expressed the hope that their partici-pation in the Congress would contribute to the strengthening of the scientific ties, cultural intercourse and friendly relations between the two countries.

The Soviet Union also sent a large delegation of the Soviet Transcaucasian and Asian republics —Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kirgizia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbe-kistan—and a delegation of observers on behalf of the Soviet Union to the famous Asian Relations Conference held in Delhi in March-April 1947. The conference discussed such topics as national movements for freedom, migration, racial issues, economic development, cultural problems and women’s problems. The massive Soviet participation—nine out of twentyfive countries —seemed quite out of proportion, and the invitation to them must have been sent at Nehru’s own initiative.

India and the USSR got ready to establish diplomatic relations in such an atmosphere of growing cordiality and friendship. Both sides expressed complete readiness for establishing diplomatic relations between them and decided to have further talks in this regard. The Soviet Government had sent a reply to Nehru in the beginning of October 1946, expressing readi-ness to promote friendly relations with India. K.P.S. Menon, who was part of the Indian delegation to the UN General Assembly at New York at that point of time, was instructed to hold further talks with Molotov, who was present there for an exchange of diplomatic missions between the two countries. In November 1946, Nehru declared in the Constituent Assembly of India that Molotov had confirmed his government’s desire to exchange diplomatic missions with India.

The Indian delegation at the UNO and its member, K.P.S. Menon, received similar instructions from Pandit Nehru to hold talks with the Soviet delegation. Krishna Menon did meet Molotov and delivered to him Nehru’s letter. Though Molotov in principle welcomed the idea, concrete steps could not be taken for a few months for establishing diplomatic ties. Reuter in its dispatch, dated November 19, 1946, reported that Soviet officials were not informed about the proposal made by Nehru, the Vice-Premier of the Indian Interim Govern-ment, to Molotov, the Soviet Foreign Minister, and its content for exchange of diplomatic representatives between India and the USSR. On November 12, 1946, All India Radio reported that Nehru gave his proposal to the Soviet Foreign Minister, Molotov, through his personal representative, Krishna Menon, at the Paris Peace Conference. The delay in taking concrete steps for establishing diplomatic ties happened because of lack of response from the higher echelons on various proposals coming from diplomatic personnel.

It was not easy to implement Nehru’s plan to establish diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. The British Government did all it could to prevent the establishment of diplomatic ties between India, that was yet to attain indepen-dence, and the USSR. After all, the British Government was in charge of foreign policy till the declaration of India’s independence on August 15, and it did not want establishment of direct contacts between Moscow and Delhi. There is nothing new in this, after all competition between Russia and Britain for dominance in the East had been going on for centuries. India and Russia developed mutual contacts ever since the 15th century, which broke after the British established its colonial rule in India. In the 19th century, the ‘Russian threat’ became the cardinal element in British politics in South Asia. Soviet power gave ideological colour to the existing geopolitical confrontation between Moscow and London. It is the British which created the iron curtain between Russia and India.

Towards the twilight years of the British Raj, Great Britain could not exercise control over India through old methods. The British adminis-tration understood the consequences of creating direct hurdles on the independent course of the future Indian Government in international affairs. In such situation, the British Govern-ment adopted the tactics to sabotage Nehru’s efforts through ‘behind the curtain’ intrigues.

In November 1946, when Nehru thought his emissary, K.P.S. Menon, would have to visit Moscow, Delhi made a request to the Foreign Office to give instructions to the British ambassador in the USSR ‘to extend all assistance to Menon’. The British Foreign Office reacted positively to the request even as it sent instructions of a different nature to the British ambassador in Moscow. The note to the ambassador said that the Indian Government indicates that it wants to establish diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, and ‘we are interested to delay the process as much as possible till the situation in India does not become clear’.

Though the British authorities could delay the process, they understood that their levers of influence on the Indian authorities are not very strong any more. In this connection, the India Office note said: ‘Till now the portfolio of the Minister of Foreign Affairs was in the hands of Viceroy; the responsibilities rested with departments in which during the last 20 years though the number of Indians increased, the British bureaucrats constituted the majority. That is why there was no difficulty in controlling the work by the British. When the Foreign Ministry goes to Indian hands, a new situation is created.’

Nevertheless, the British authorities did not hesitate to interfere in the conduct of foreign affairs of the emerging independent country during the transition period. One of the Foreign Office documents, dated February 1947, says how concerned were the British authorities regarding the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and the USSR. It is interesting to note how the Foreign Ministry Departments were reorganised after Nehru declared the Interim Government’s foreign policy. Significant restructuring took place in the Indian Department of the Foreign Ministry with new personnel; divisions led by Indians were now headed by the British. A special section was organised in the Ministry that was in charge of Russian affairs and led by Major N.F. Alston.

What could Nehru do to offset the manipu-lations of experienced British diplomats and politicians? Towards the end of the Second World War, India, on the one hand, was still a colony, and, on the other, it was one of the founder members of League of Nations; became a member of international organisations; had diplomatic relations with the US and China. True, Indian diplomatic representatives were called as general-agents, not high commi-ssioners that emphasised its dependent status. In 1945 India was invited to participate in the San-Francisco International Conference that laid the foundation of the UNO. India was repre-sented in the conference by two delegations—the official delegation appointed by Great Britain and the other one was representing the Indian people with permission from Britain. The unofficial delegation was led by Nehru’s sister and prominent public figure, Vijaylaxmi Pandit.

Thus Indians were not quite novice in international affairs. There were highly professional administrators and diplomats whom Nehru could trust. The Interim Indian Government from the outset declared its position on a host of international issues and succeeded in achieving Soviet recognition overcoming obstacles created by the British Government.

On September 7, 1946, Nehru announced a declaration of foreign policy of the Interim Government of India. He stressed upon the fact that “the establishment of the government was the cornerstone of the future complete indepen-dence of India”. He expressed his hope that, despite the history of the conflict in India, his motherland would “establish friendships and begin fruitful cooperation with the United Kingdom and all the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations”. The Interim Government declared its neutrality and absence in the military blocs. Speaking of the USSR, the Indian leader admitted that “the Soviet Union, along with the United States, was a great power of modernity”, which was responsible for everything that happened in the world. Nehru welcomed the USSR as a “great Asian neigh-bour of India”, and supported the idea of a common resolution of all the “general tasks”.

The Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Soviet state viewed the Indian freedom movement and the policies of India in the immediate aftermath of its independence through the curved prism of ideology structured by J.V. Stalin, V.M. Molotov and A.Y. Vishinsky. India was of marginal interest to the Soviet Union during the Stalin era. Stalin’s erroneous assessment was that the Indian leadership with its colonial and imperial intellectual back-ground and its urban origins would not make India a useful partner of the Soviet Union.

How were the diplomatic relations between the USSR and India established? According to the Archives, on September 27, 1946, through the Indian delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, V.M. Molotov received a letter from Nehru, who expressed the desire of the Interim Government of India to establish friendly relations with the Soviet Union and to exchange diplomatic representatives. On September 28, a personal representative of Nehru, Krishna Menon, in conversation with Molotov invited him to begin negotiations on the establishment of bilateral relations in Moscow in the second half of November 1946.

In his letter to Nehru dated October 2, 1946, Molotov announced the readiness of the Soviet Government to develop friendly governmental ties with India. On November 12, discussing this issue in the Legislative Assembly, Nehru said: “Our negotiations with Molotov were very friendly, and he expressed his desire to exchange diplomatic representatives.” This statement was met with thunderous applause.

In December 1946, Krishna Menon was received by Kiril Novikov, the Soviet Ambassador in New York, and discussed with him the possibility of the visit of Jawaharlal Nehru to Moscow to establish personal contacts with the leaders of the Soviet Government. Menon made it clear that it could lead to “serious political agreements”. He had thought Nehru’s visit “to be organised after the establishment of diplomatic relations”, and suddenly noticed that it would be realised “soon in London, apparently through Menon himself”.

In Moscow, they explained the abrupt change in negotiating tactics of the Indian side in such a manner: “The Hindus under direct pressure or because of fear of the English, and, perhaps, for some other reasons, decided to probe our opinion about the possibility of negotiations in London instead of Moscow.”

On January 7, 1947 in Delhi, a meeting of the All India Science Congress with the Soviet delegation took place. Welcoming the scientists from the USSR, Nehru again looked forward for the establishment of the Indo-Soviet relations, and, in the interview with the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union’s correspondent Gladyshev, said that “the Indian Government wanted this process to be developed as soon as possible, and in this regard took all the necessary measures ... but all depended not only on the Indians”. Nehru said that he hoped the USSR would take “the same steps ... and by summer, the Soviet Embassy would already be founded in India”. Molotov concluded that India openly made it clear: “The answer rests on us.”

By the end of winter 1947, India had already established diplomatic relations and exchanged ambassadors with the United States (October 1946), China, France (February 1947). In addition, Krishna Menon, appointed as the official representative of the Indian Government in London from December 1946, began a series of talks on establishing relationships with a number of European countries: in January 1947 —Belgium, in Brussels; in February—with Sweden in Stockholm. He was also going to start this work with Poland, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, Iran. The fact that India did not experience a period of diplomatic isolation, undoubtedly contributed to the revitalisation of its foreign policy.

 As the Foreign Office documents suggest, the British Government managed to get detailed information about all the stages of Indo-Soviet negotiations. Viceroy Lord Wavell was of the opinion that Nehru established contacts with the Soviet leadership violating the Constitution. However, he could not convey this openly to Nehru as the information was coming through confidential sources.

Reuter in its dispatch had informed about Krishna Menon’s meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Vyachislav Molotov. According to the Reuter report, the two leaders wanted to ensure Moscow’s support in order to offset British manoeuvre in the domain of international affairs. However, this was not enough to censure the Indian Interim Government publicly. Wavell did this only after Nehru’s statement about Indo-Soviet negotiations on establishment of diplomatic relations in the Constituent Assembly. Nehru made this important statement in the Constituent Assembly on November 12, 1946. Only after this, the Viceroy made a public statement in which he ‘warned the Indian Government about the consequences of establishing diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union’. It is evident from the Viceroy’s letter to Nehru that the former insisted that the latter had to discuss the issue in the Cabinet meeting, after consulting with Liyakat Ali Khan, the Finance Minister in the Interim Government, and a representative of the Muslim League.

Nehru, rejecting the idea, refused to hold consultations with Liyakat Ali Khan. While doing so, he argued that the issue of establish-ment of diplomatic relations comes under the purview of the Ministry of External Affairs and does not at all concern the Ministry of Finances. This is how the Viceroy’s recommendation was rejected. Nehru understood that the Viceroy simply wanted to prolong the process of establishment of diplomatic relations with Moscow by insisting to have such consultations. After this, the British Foreign Office realised that further pressure on Nehru on the issue would be fruitless and undesirable.

Nehru, in the meantime, left no stone unturned in order to make the Soviet Government aware about his intention. He made additional efforts outside the diplomatic arena to achieve his objective. In this connection the following episode is quite interesting. Soviet Trade Representative Nikolai Dorodnitsin, serving in India from 1945 to 1947, was to return back to Moscow after his tenure was over. On learning about this, Nehru invited him to his office on February 12, 1947. During the meeting Nehru requested Dorodnitsin to convey to the Soviet Government about the readiness of India to establish diplomatic relations with Moscow as quickly as possible.

Dorodnitsin did pass on the information about his meeting with Nehru and the latter’s request to the Foreign Trade Office people. Nevertheless, things did not move as quickly as Nehru wanted them to move.

“Taking the initiative to establish diplomatic relations between India and the USSR, Nehru possibly waits for reply from the Soviet officials about the timing of arrival of the Indian delegation at Moscow for holding talks,” said the note, dated January 8, 1947 addressed to Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Yakob Malik. “In this connection for accelerating the decision on the issue, it is necessary to give instructions to our Charge-de-Affairs in Britain Com Kukin to inform Krishna Menon about the readiness of the Soviet Government to receive the representative of the Indian provisional government for holding talks. Waiting for instructions.” However, most likely no instruction followed quickly, hanging the fate of the proposal in the air.

According to K.P.S. Menon, Nehru at the outset thought that perhaps the Indian dele-gation had to go to Moscow for holding talks with the Soviet officials on the issue of exchange of diplomatic missions. For a long time, it could not be decided who would form the Indian delegation.

In the meantime, new developments took place on the issue. K.P.S. Menon, a member of Indian delegation to the UNGA at New York, had a talk with the ambassador of Canada at Moscow, Vilgress. Vilgress narrated how exchange of diplomatic missions between the USSR and Canada happened following exchange of notes between the ambassadors of both countries at London. The moment Nehru came to know about this, he asked Indian diplomats to study the issue. Vijaylaxmi Pandit raised the issue of the possibility of establishment of diplomatic relations between the USSR and India through simple exchange of notes before Molotov. Vijaylaxmi Pandit on December 5 in a telegram informed Nehru that she had “a talk with Molotov on the matter... he thinks special talks on the issue at Moscow is required. Molotov hopes that India and Russia would exchange diplomatic missions very soon.” After his talks with Mrs Pandit, Molotov invited the Indian delegation for lunch where he was present alone from the Soviet side. In this connection K.P.S. Menon writes in his memoirs that in this meeting, where wine and vodka flowed like river, it was decided to exchange diplomatic representatives for resolving all practical questions. This made our visit to Moscow not obligatory in the middle of the Russian winter in subzero temperature in the dress that was hardly useful for this purpose. K.P.S. Menon, in his telegram to Nehru on December 8, 1946, informed that considering Molotov’s position and the Canadian precedent, “I think it is not obligatory but possible and quite expensive for Indian Government to send a special mission to Moscow in advance.”

In spite of all these developments, no substantial progress could be achieved in establishing diplomatic relations for months. Apparently, the initiative from below to establish diplomatic ties quickly was ignored at the higher level. This is evident from the archival material available of late. On December 16, 1946 Krishna Menon, during his meeting at New York with K.V. Novikov, the Soviet ambassador to London, reminded him about the possibility of formalising diplomatic relations between Moscow and Delhi in London to where he had been designated as Indian ambassador.

Menon expected to receive quick reply to his proposal given to K.V. Novikov made on the instructions from Nehru.

In his note, dated February 13, 1947, the head of the South-East Asia Division of the Soviet Foreign Ministry, Y.K. Prikhodov, wrote that Menon expected to receive the reply by December 20, 1946. If it was not possible he would like to receive the reply at London through the Soviet embassy. However, a quick reply to Menon’s proposal did not follow. In the meantime, Nehru during his meetings with Soviet representatives in Delhi, was given to understand that the issue of establishment of diplomatic relations between the USSR and India rested with the Soviet Union. Prikhodov noting about the difficulties, pressures that Nehru’s government was facing from reactionary circles of India concluded that ‘in this situation establishment of diplomatic ties with the USSR and opening of a Soviet representative office would no doubt be a factor that would strengthen the hands of democratic forces in their struggle against reactionary forces. Prikhodov’s note reached Molotov. However, according to Soviet indologist, Albert Beltsky, the delay was the result of confusion and misunderstanding about the nature of Indian independence, state and Nehru himself.

Soviet diplomats and experts were well-aware of the balance of forces on the side of the Indian National Congress, in which the Left-wing was led by Nehru. The Soviet leadership was keen to establish personal contacts with Nehru, the head of the future independent India.

The declassified documents of the Russian Foreign Ministry suggest about the possibility of Nehru’s visit to Moscow in February 1947. The head of the South-East Asia Division of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Y.K. Prikhodov, sent a note to Deputy Foreign Minister Yakob Malik reminding him about the meeting of Krishna Menon with the member of Soviet delegation in the General Assembly, K.V. Novikov, at New York. Krishna Menon, during the meeting, informed that Nehru wanted to come to Moscow between April and October 1946 for holding talks on political issues. He was ready to undertake the visit even if the invitation was given in a non-official form. Apparently, the Soviet Government did not give any reply to this suggestion in spite of the fact that the note emphasised that closeness between India and the Soviet Union would have strengthened the hands of Nehru’s government and the Left-wing of the Indian National Congress. However, practical steps from the Soviet side did not take place following Prikhodov’s note. The report sent by Yakob Malik to the Soviet Foreign Minister Vyachislav Molotov on the basis of Prikhodov’s note contained the statement of the Indian ambassador to the US, Asaf Ali, who had said India extended its hand of friendship to Great Britain, the US, Russia and all countries of the world. Those states which recognise the external role of India in the world must shake the hands extended by India. It can be concluded from this that the Soviet Foreign Ministry people understood that it was undesirable to delay the invitation to Nehru but could not accelerate the process or were not in a position to do that. The draft document thus failed to reach Molotov’s desk.

Whatever may be the reason, Nehru’s visit to Moscow did not take place. Nehru could establish personal contacts with the Soviet leadership only after Stalin’s death.

Ultimately, the Soviet Government, on its part, tried to simplify the formal procedure for the establishment of diplomatic ties with India. Both sides agreed to issue simultaneous public statements for quick implementation of the agreement for exchange of diplomatic representatives between the two countries. K.P.S. Menon, in his telegram to Nehru dated December 8, 1946, stating about establishment of diplomatic relations through exchange of notes, wrote: “It is possible to do it through preliminary negotiations between one of our representatives, accredited in London, Washington or Nankin, and the Russian ambassador. I can do it personally at Nankin where I have warm relations with the Russian ambassador.” After returning from the UN General Assembly to Nankin, K.P.S. Menon on April 2, 1947 delivered a letter to the Soviet ambassador to China, A.A. Petrov, which proposed ‘with the objective of realisation of achieved agreement to make public declaration about the intention of India and the USSR to exchange diplomatic representatives in the rank of the embassy’. This letter contained the text of the communiqué, meant to be published in Moscow and Delhi at the same time. On April 6, the Soviet Government informed about its consent to establish diplomatic relations with India and the announcement of the text of the communiqué; it was also agreed that statements would be made in Moscow and Delhi on April 13 at 17-30 and 20 hrs respectively.

Finally, diplomatic relations between the two nations were established formally on April 14 through the issuance of a Joint Communiqué.

“To preserve and further strengthen the friendly relations existing between India and the USSR the Government of India and the Government of the USSR have decided to exchange diplomatic missions in the rank of embassy,” said the communiqué. The Soviet recognition had profound significance as it meant the Soviet recognition of India’s independence even before it was formally declared in August 1947. The USSR became one of the very first countries to extend diplomatic recognition to independent India.

The announcement was made at Moscow in a routine manner without any pomp. Possibly, the leadership at Staraya Ploschad, the seat of the CPSU headquarters, and Smolenskaya Ploschad, the seat of the Russian Foreign Ministry, did not wish to attract attention to the fact that the USSR recognised the Government of the Indian national bourgeoisie. Only after many years, the significance of the event that opened a new chapter in the history of bilateral relations was properly assessed, describing it as historic.

For India, the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union was a happy moment. The Soviet press combined the welcome with its denunciation of those British and Indian elements who did not desire friendly relations with the Soviet Union. New Times, in an article, welcomed it as ‘an event of no mean inter-national significance’, and considered it ‘a sign that India is moving towards an independent policy’. Growing contacts between India and the Soviet Union drew some alarming comments from the West. A typical Western view was expressed by Le Monde, which remarked that since Britain was about to leave India, “the Soviet Government has more and more turned its eyes on that country”. It further said: “It is largely the Left-wing Hindu national movement which desires close understanding with the USSR of which one of the most eminent leaders is Pandit Nehru. It is this political celebrity who is the most active advocate of the Soviet Union in India. The Soviet-Indian friendship is still only at its beginning but one need only spend a few weeks in Moscow to notice that the Indian theme appears more and more frequently in the press.”7

Nehru insisted that the Indian embassy in Moscow should be set up even before a formal declaration of India’s independence and succeeded in getting the British Viceroy’s consent for this. It is not surprising that Nehru chose none other than India’s veteran diplomat and his own sister, Vijaylaxmi Pandit, as indepen-dent India’s first ambassador to the Soviet Union. Vijaylaxmi Pandit was a prominent leader of the Indian liberation movement and had earned a name for her fight against racism and colonialism at the UN platform. The choice of Vijaylaxmi Pandit spoke of the importance that Nehru attached to relations with the Soviet Union. Talking to diplomats assigned with the job of setting up the Indian embassy in Moscow, Nehru said: “You are going to a friendly country from which we were cordoned off by colonial rulers. We have to make up for the lost time and strengthen our ties with the Soviet Union as we are neighbours and we have many things in common. We do not have and should never have contradicting interests.”

On April 13, 1947 the Soviet Union and India agreed in principle to exchange diplomatic missions. On April 25 the Council of Ministers of the USSR decided to authorise the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to open the Embassy of the Soviet Union in Delhi. In turn, the preparation for the opening of the Indian Embassy in Moscow also began. The First Secretary of the Embassy, N. Kaul, in a telegram dated August 5, 1947, sent to the Protocol Department of the Soviet Foreign Ministry, requested “apartments of 11 rooms, 2 cars ‘Packard’ or ZIS for a month until the arrival of the Indian transport”.

 The Indian delegation with Vijaylaxmi Pandit as its head left for Moscow on August 3. Mrs Pandit in this connection writes in her memoirs that, “We left Delhi on August 3. A special aircraft with the picture of Indian flag on its body was booked for us. .. It was standing on the runway like a large silver bird. We all had wonderful mood, we felt proud of the fact we have to open the first Indian embassy abroad ....” Vijaylaxmi Pandit, who arrived in Moscow on August 9, 1947, a week before the declaration of India’s independence, was accorded a red carpet welcome. The Indian embassy in Moscow became the interim government’s first new diplomatic mission abroad. Though India had embassies in the US and China before this, they were considered as continuation of missions established on behalf of the British-Indian Government. But the Moscow embassy became truly the first everdiplomatic mission of independent India. The establishment of diplomatic relations no doubt heralded a new era in the history of friendly relations between our two great civilisations and peoples that opened the floodgates for the unique and unprecedented bilateral cooperation in subsequent decades.

The Indian delegation was accorded a very warm welcome at Moscow. Mrs Pandit in this connection writes in her memoirs: “The Indian embassy at Moscow was awaited and was received very warmly ... there was red carpet, red roses, and promises of friendship.”

 Red roses and red carpet at the time of meetings are considered as special gestures of respect at Moscow, which was accorded to Indian diplomats and created a festive atmos-phere. The first Indian ambassador’s accredi-tation was held with unusual festivities, which was a pleasant surprise for Vijaylaxmi Pandit. She in this connection wrote in her memoirs that she was overwhelmed when during her talks with Nikolai Shvernik, the Chairman of Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, after the ceremony of presentation of credentials he took interest about the fate of the draft law she had once proposed asking if the position of the Muslim League on the issue of unification of the election constituencies had softened. “This along with other questions put to me spoke how well-informed are Russians about the develop-ments in India,” she wrote to Delhi.

When the Indian ambassador Vijaylaxmi Pandit arrived in Moscow on August 9, 1947, the Soviets, as we have seen, were to some extent critical of the Indian leaders for many of their actions in domestic affairs, including their acceptance of the British proposal for the division of India. For this, even Nehru had been criticised. But there was no complaint or criticism as far as Nehru’s foreign policy was concerned. As Diakov’s paper presented at the June session of the Academy of Sciences had shown, a close distinction between these two aspects of Nehru’s government had been carefully maintained. The Soviets still hoped that India would be supportive of Soviet policies in international affairs.

The choice of Mrs Pandit, sister of Pandit Nehru, as ambassador seemed to encourage this hope. It was a delegation led by her which had made the first, faithful encounter with Soviet representatives at the UN General Assembly a year earlier. The Soviets therefore were delighted at her appointment. A Reuter dispatch from Moscow stated that her appointment, because of her past record, ‘is felt here to be a happy one in the interests of Soviet-India relations’.

On August 8, 1947 at a reception by A.Y. Vyishinsky, Mrs VijayLaxmi Pandit raised the question of the presentation of her credentials, and politely wished it to take place before August 15. Mrs Pandit explained: “This day, the British state power is transferred to the Hindus and it will be widely celebrated in India. In this regard, she would like to meet the Independence Day as an accredited Ambassador.” Vyshinsky promised her to find such an opportunity and satisfy that request

Soon after her arrival, Mrs Pandit was given good embassy quarters—an unusual courtesy in the conditions that prevailed in the post-war Soviet capital. Time magazine, with a slight touch of sarcasm, wrote: “The practical rewards she (Mrs Pandit) was enjoying in Moscow last week were earned by her defence of Russia’s use of the veto, her hostility to Britain and occasional cracks at the US...while other nations were still waiting to be allotted suitable embassy quarters in the crowded capital, newly arrived Mrs Pandit went straight to the head of the diplomatic queue, was promptly given a well-kept brick residence by Soviet officials.”

On August 9, 1947 Mrs Pandit was received at the Soviet Foreign Ministry by Andrei Vishinsky, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, and had a cordial conversation with him. On August 13, two days prior to the declaration of Indian independence; she presented her credentials to Soviet President, N.M. Shvernik, at the Kremlin. On August 15, a representative of the Soviet Foreign Ministry attended the flag-hoisting ceremony and celebrations at the Indian embassy and expressed the greetings and good wishes of the Soviet Government for the newly independent country.

 On the same day, the Indian ambassador gave a press conference day which, together with her message, was carried in full by both Pravda and Izvestia. In her message to the Soviet news agency TASS, Mrs Pandit referred to India’s emergence into freedom after a long period of dependence and said that ‘new India‘ wanted to continue her past tradition of sending ‘emissaries of peace and goodwill’ by establishing friendship with other nations. She then referred to India’s ‘special links’ with the Soviet Union, observing that both had shown the capacity to harmonise diverse races and civilisations. On the basis of this friendship, said Mrs Pandit, both India and the Soviet Union could work together to establish ‘a century of freedom’, justice and peace for humanity.

On August 14, 1947, when few hours were left before the start of a grand ceremony of the transfer of power from the British colonial administration to the first national government of the Indian Union, Vijaylaxmi Pandit, on behalf of her country, appealed to the Soviet people. In the letter, which was published in Soviet national daily Pravda, she declared the basic principles of the foreign policy of Nehru and stressed upon the importance of the ending of British rule in the Indian subcontinent:

“Today, India is awakening after a period of inactivity, and it faces a mammoth task to mobilise its resources and the construction of national life, so that she was able to take its rightful place among free nations of the world and contribute to the resolution of those problems that threaten peace and progress of mankind.” On the issue of the Soviet-Indian relations, Mrs Pandit said: “We feel a special bond with the Soviet Union, as both India and Russia have shown the ability to integrate and orchestrate different races and civilisations ... I’m proud that I can convey this message of free India to the Soviet Union.”

On August 17, on behalf of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, V.M. Molotov sent a telegram to Nehru on the occasion of India’s Independence Day. In response Nehru emphasised: “We will always be proud of this day and will be sincere and stand in our quest for freedom to devote to social and economic progress of our people and promote peace and justice around the world. In the implementation of our international goals, we look forward to cooperating with the government and peoples of the USSR.” 

[The above article consists of excerpts from the author’s forthcoming book, Tracing History
of Indo-Russian Diplomatic Relations


1. The Statesman, Delhi, September 8, 1946.

2. Ibid., Delhi, September 1, 1946.

3. Ibid., Delhi, November 13, 1946.

4. UN General Assembly, Official records, Part-11, First Session, Plenary meetings, 37th meeting, October 25, 1946. p. 76.

5. Ibid., 42nd meeting, October 29, 1946, p. 834.

6. The Statesman, Delhi, January 8, 1947.

7. Le Monde, Paris, April 16, 1947.

Prof Arun Mohanty belongs to the Centre for Russian and Central Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He is also the Director of the Delhi-based Eurasian Foundation.

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