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Mainstream, VOL LV No 47 New Delhi November 11, 2017

Testing Time for Non-Alignment • After Menon’s Exit / Do We Need Nehru Today? / Rajiv’s Heirloom

Saturday 11 November 2017, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

Testing Time for Non-Alignment • After Menon’s Exit

With American arms flown in in consi-derable quantity, along with defence weapons from other Western countries, the scales of non-alignment are threatened to be disturbed. While the allergy against Western arms has gone even in the case of the Indian Communists—such being the logic of the Chinese invasion of our motherland—the question has come up in a big way as to its impact on our foreign policy itself.

Although the Swatantra clamour for scrapping non-alignment has not yet become the vocal demand of any section of Congressmen, a disturbing symptom of our foreign policy ailment could be discerned in New Delhi during the last few days with quite a few even among the Congress MPs lamenting the reverses in our external relations.

It has not escaped notice here that during the hectic days of Parliament’s opening the MPs with a Western bias have suddenly been pitch-forked into prominence, while anti-Americanism has almost gone under the table. As a measure of the changed situation it is recalled here that three years ago Mr Eisenhower’s offer of help to India in the event of a showdown with China, conveyed discreetly through Smt Pandit, was politely declined by the Prime Minister.

While voices are heard about the futility of non-alignment, the Prime Minister himself is more than convinced about the wisdom of his foreign policy as being best suited for this country. There is, however, no gainsaying the fact that the highest quarters in New Delhi are worried over the new developments, both internal and external, that have forced the government to depend almost solely on the flow of Western arms to ward off the Chinese invader.

Viewed in this background, there was regret in the Capital over Moscow’s initial stands. Repeated Soviet reminders about the dangers of getting arms from the West, together with Moscow’s own difficulty in supplying arms in the face of Peking’s veto, did create an uneasy feeling here. The first Pravda editorial of October 25 was widely disliked not merely for its preference of the Chinese proposals but for underwriting Peking’s case against the McMahon Line itself.

In contrast, the second Pravda editorial of November 5 has created a slightly better impression, insofar as it reads like an appeal to both sides to the conflict and not to India alone; secondly, there is no homily about the origin of the McMahon Line; and thirdly, there is a more pronounced recognition of India’s positive role in contrast to Peking’s non-stop calumny about Nehru being expansionist and in the pay of the dollar. There is appreciation here of President Brezhnev’s speech when our new Ambassador, Sri T.N. Kaul, presented his credentials to the Soviet head of state: particularly noted here is his remark, “We are well aware that the foreign policy of India is based on peace and friendship.”

There is, however, a cautious approach about Moscow with a tinge of understanding that it could hardly afford to displease China in the critical balance over Cuba. This viewpoint, rein-forced by the Prime Minister’s interview to the CBS last week, interprets the marked change in shift between the first and the second Pravda editorials as indicative of Moscow’s displeasure with Peking’s denunciation of what it has called “the appeasement” over Cuba—an obvious dig at Mr Khrushchev himself. It appears that although Moscow lost good ground with the first Pravda editorial, there is an anxiety on its part to recover as much of it as possible in the coming weeks.

In this delicate balance of forces, Cairo has come into prominence with President Nasser playing a very significant role, which has been widely welcomed in this country. Contrary to what some tendentious press reports had suggested, responsible quarters in New Delhi have through-out been appreciative of the UAR President’s active interest in the present conflict.

The rejection of Cairo’s proposals for a cease-fire by Peking has rallied a larger number of non-aligned powers on India’s side. Prominent among these is Ceylon, while President Nasser’s lead will help to mobilise Arab opinion on our side, partially vitiated by Pakistan’s pro-Peking propaganda offensive.

It is understood that one of the factors which led the UAR to take the initiative in the peace move was the concern at the mounting accretion of US influence in case the conflict drags on and India is forced to depend more and more on Western arms. Since this might spell the doom of non-alignment, President Nasser is most anxious to throw in his weight on the side of India and to persuade other interested powers like the Soviet Union to take a hand in bringing sense to Peking. How far the two-pronged peace moves on the part of Cairo and Moscow will succeed against Chinese truculence, it is too early to forecast. The upshot of it all would be a closer feeling of mutual sympathy and understanding between Cairo and New Delhi.

Political complexion given to the storm over Sri Krishna Menon has disturbed a number of those who had been unsparing in their criticism of bungling and inefficiency in the Defence Ministry. The provocative lead taken in the episode by the elements of the Right, particularly by the Jan Sangh and Swatantra Party, has created a new dilemma. For, there are many in New Delhi who would not like that the exit of Sri Menon should provide a harvest for these political opponents of the Prime Minister.

A new canard has now started that it is not Sri Krishna Menon alone who is to blame; it says the Prime Minister himself cannot escape the responsibility of having trusted China too long, and after all, Sri Menon has been the favourite of Sri Nehru himself, if not his alter ego. Under the circumstances, would the wolves be pacified with Sri Menon’s exit, or would they resume the chase once they have tasted blood?

It is also being said that just as Sri Menon has so long been a target of American antipathy, his exit might create the impression, in the East as well as in the West, that India is about to say good-bye to non-alignment.

However, the minus points scored by Sri Menon in the last week were provided by the criticisms heard about his Ministry and himself from the Chief Ministers who came to Delhi for the National Development Council meeting. Conspicuous among them was the Orissa Chief Minister—one-time protégé of Sri Krishna Menon himself—who not only demanded his resignation but even joined in the Congress MPs’ campaign against Sri Menon, reminding one of the lady who protested too much.

In contrast, Sri Menon’s letter of resignation, submitted more than a week before its actual acceptance by the Prime Minister, has been widely appreciated as a very dignified gesture in keeping with the best traditions of parliamentary democracy.

(‘New Delhi Skyline’, Mainstream, November 10, 1962)

Do We Need Nehru Today?

Twelve years ago Jawaharlal Nehru died is harness on May 27. Inevitably, much has changed in these twelve years among his people and in the humanity at large. He was not the man who would have preferred the status quo to change; and if the landscape and the skyline of his country have changed—at places beyond recognition—Nehru, had he been alive, would have tried to understand them, accelerate the process of change.

What we who belong to the generations after him have to ponder over is whether the legacy left behind by Jawaharlal Nehru is of any relevance at all for the Indian people, or, can we afford to disown it with impunity?

There are many edifices in India’s political, economic and social life that are indissolubly linked with the name of Nehru. From the unfettered functioning of parliamentary demo-cracy to the building of the public sector, from the rearing of nonalignment in world affairs to solidarity with the progressive forces abroad, from the strengthening of a free press to social reforms by consent—there are many aspects of Nehru’s India which today claim our serious attention. And it would be legitimate to pose the question to ourselves if these are mere luxuries which we can ill-afford to maintain in the fast-changing world of today.

In times of emergency, extraordinary measures are naturally sanctioned. They are however taken as temporary arrangements and are not expected to be dovetailed into the system as facets of a permanent structure. Because, new habits tend to grow and new theories pro-pounded which may run counter to the time-tested democratic norms.

Jawaharlal Nehru personally never claimed to be a revolutionary. But by his precepts and practice he tried to instil into the unlettered millions of this great country the democratic temper of a modern parliamentary system, and with it also he tried, in his own way, to bestir them with the vision of building a new India of hope and promise.

Forty years ago when he urged upon a subject nation the need to commit itself to socialism, Jawaharlal Nehru was not indulging in airy-fairy do-goodism. From the platform of the Lucknow session of the Congress, he, as its President, enunciated his understanding of socialism which has become classic for every democrat in this country:

“I see no way of ending the poverty, the vast unemployment, the degradation and the subjec-tion of the Indian people except through socialism. That involves vast and revolutionary changes in our political and social structure, the ending of vested interests in land and industry, as well as the feudal and autocratic Indian states system. That means the ending of private property, except in a restricted sense, and the replacement of the present profit system by a higher ideal of co-operative service. It means ultimately a change in our instincts and habits and desires. In short, it means a new civilisation, radically different from the present capitalist order.”

Nehru was no doctrinaire but he was no opportunist either. Socialism, for him, was not just a case of “serving the poor” as is being made our by a lot of infantile sermonising today. It is worth recalling how he berated such vulgarisation:

“A strange way of dealing with the subject of socialism is to use the word, which has a clearly defined meaning in the English language, in a totally different sense. For individuals to use words in a sense peculiar to themselves is not helpful in the commerce of ideas. A person who declares himself to be an engine-driver and then adds that his engine is of wood and is drawn by bullocks is misusing the word, engine-driver.”

The realities of present-day politics, Nehru never ceased to attempt analysing them. It was he, more than anybody else in position of authority, who educated the political workers as also the masses at large, the inevitability of ideological divergence between the statusquoist Right and the forward-looking Left. In a report to the AICC at Haripura in 1938, Nehru warned: “An attempt to drive out the Left, if successful, would be fatal, for it represents a vital part of the movement without which it would lose much of its flair and become increasingly wedded to petty reformist activities. It would spread confusion in the mass mind, more especially among the peasantry, and thus weaken the Congress. I feel that some such attempt has been made during recent months and it has created considerable bitterness.”

Thirtyeight years later, as the members of the AICC meet this week, they need to be reminded of this warning born of wisdom because of the emerging phenomenon of mod-politics which denies this reality—a politics that can only undermine the fibre of the national will for building a new social order.

Many of the institutions that have come up in our country during the nearly three decades of independence need to be thoroughly examined so that we may assess how they, each one of them, help or hinder the process of democracy and social change. Side by side, new ventures have to be boldly undertaken so that the down-trodden may not only get a better deal but also have a sense of belonging and with it our independence can be strengthened.

In this context we cannot help remembering a noble son of India who also gave his life while in harness this week three years ago. To Mohan Kumaramangalam, the need to translate the behest of Nehru in terms of social advance was the highest form of patriotism, and it was this conviction that inspired him to undertake, even during his brief span in office, such courageous measures as the nationalisation of coal-mines, liberating thereby from virtually bonded labour over five lakhs of miners. It is a matter of shame that such a measure of far-reaching national benefit is not defended by Congressmen today from attacks by juvenile politicos, prodded by ignorance or misled by propaganda of the vested interests.

It is no truism to say that this nation faces today the most formidable challenge from political philistinism since the one that faced Jawaharlal Nehru before Lucknow forty years ago. As we pay our humble homage to his un-dying memory, we are tempted to use the words that one poet wrote two hundred years ago, about another, a fearless crusader: Thou shouldst be living at this hour: India hath need of thee.

(‘Editor’s Notebook’, Mainstream, May 29, 1976)

Rajiv’s Heirloom

One need not have to be an idol-worshipper to remember what Jawaharlal Nehru stood for, particularly today when one discerns clear neglect of the edifice that he along with his fellow fighters in the freedom struggle had built and left behind. It is of course not fashionable nowadays to be reminded about the legacy left behind by him, and yet as one looks around, there is much in that legacy that can help the nation to chart its course to a future of hope and well-being for it. This of course does not mean that Nehru’s words have to be taken as constituting the granthsahib of Indian politics, for there were no doubt shortcomings and loopholes in what he has left behind, and as a nation passes from one generation to the other, it has to imbibe fresh ideas out of constantly enriched experience.

And yet the validity of his basic premises stands the test of time, because they emerged out of the enduring lessons of the freedom struggle. Self-reliance in economy and secularism in the management of our democracy, cultivation of science and technology, and independence in judging world affairs—these are the four pillars of the modern India that he and his generation sought to build. Twentytwo years after Nehru’s passing away this week, all these four pillars are today found to be facing assaults in varying degrees.

Nowhere under the present dispensation has there been any formal repudiation of the Nehru heritage though there is a perceptible hesitation in acknowledging it. During Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as Prime Minister so far, the emphasis has been more on change while continuity has been calculatedly run down. The concept of self-reliance has been underplayed while in the name of modernisation, the economic controls so necessary in a developing economy have been dismantled, so much so that the thesis of supply-side economics became popular, synchronising with last year’s Budget. During his first year in office, the public sector was berated while the private sector was lionised in a manner that the Janata Raj dared not do. Indigenous know-how was ignored and our scientists were subjected to homilies which hurt the self-respect of many among them. In the name of technological advances towards the twentyfirst century, foreign technology is imported even when Indian technology is available. And sometimes, finished products are imported in preference to production at home.

The policy of open-door for imports has amounted to depletion of our foreign exchange reserves creating a crisis in the balance of payments position while multinational corpo-rations have made inroads which they could not do in thirty years. In one year, the 1985 Budget projections have collapsed envisaging a serious crisis despite there being three good monsoons followed by three bumper harvests—a good fortune that never came the way of any Prime Minister before Rajiv Gandhi. With all the hi-fi publicity about management experts having entered the government, barely one-fourth of the benefits of the anti-poverty programmes reach those for whom they are meant.

Perhaps the most serious repudiation of the Nehru legacy can be seen today in the pampering by the present government of communal obscu-rantist forces. While there has been a spate of verbal allegiance to secularism—vide the National Integration Council—the government in actual practice has allowed itself to be a prisoner in the hands of obscurantists. This could be seen in the handling of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Mosque campaign whose repercussions could be felt even in distant Kashmir. The most grotesque has been the government’s forcing through Parliament the Muslim Women’s Bill by the sheer force of the party whip—a measure which was preposterously publicised as an example of Indian secularism.

The handling of the Punjab situation—through the Rajiv-Longowal accord followed by the hectic election—resulted in the Congress-I losing a huge chunk of its Sikh following and the installation in office of a communal party in the State—whose Chief Minister makes a demonstration of his obeisance to the priestly order by turning himself into a shoeshine boy for his so-called misdemeanour in carrying out his secular responsibility of combating secessio-nists as the head of the State Government. But all this would hardly enhance Barnala’s position within the Akali party where other leaders are training their guns on him, while this pathetic surrender to the clerical order would not help his government at all in weeding out the Khalistani secessionists whose terrorist violence against innocent civilians continues unabated.

All this repudiation of a secularist approach threatens to undermine the strong foundations of our democracy as well as national integrity. The upsurge of communal obscurantism has been hitting at the very roots of Indian nationalism, an understanding which none in the government, from the Prime Minister down-ward, has cared to uphold.

In foreign affairs, a bogus theory of “good neighbourliness” was propounded as a foreign policy axiom. In fact, India has always played the Good Samaritan—liberating Nepal politics from the clutches of the Rana domination; helping Bangladesh to liberate itself from Pakistani thraldom; and helping Sri Lanka to put down insurgency threatening its national integrity. What was missing in the so-called “good neighbours” policy under Rajiv Gandhi is the realisation of powerful external forces, particularly the US and Britain, operating against any durable under-standing between India and her neighbours. Take away the US factor, there will be little difficulty in bringing about Indo-Pak amity. Let us not forget that the military junta is in power in Pakistan mainly by the grace of its patrons in the Pentagon. Similarly, Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem would not have reached a point of military extermination of the Tamil population, had there been no helping hand extended to it by the US, Britain, Israel and Pakistan.

More serious has been the lack of a well-thought-out policy towards the USA. While no section of Indian opinion has objected to normalisation of Indo-US relations, it was amazing how naively the Rajiv Government put its faith on Reagan’s goodwill. For all practical purposes, it wistfully hoped that Washington might prefer India to Pakistan as a stable ally in South Asia and that it would tame the Martial Law Generals in Pakistan to behave nicely towards India. After the disap-pointment in not getting the hi-tech from the US—even the super computer dangled so long now seem to be as good as withdrawn, while Japan was told not to sell one such to India—the realisation has been slowly dawning that Washington would rather back the General’s raj in Pakistan than the democratic raj in India. This was clear when President Reagan made no commitment whatsoever to Rajiv that he would neither warn Pakistan against making the nuclear bomb nor did he and Margret Thatcher promise to deny shelter to the Khalistani secessionists.

This wayward handling of foreign affairs has brought out in sharp relief the contradictions between India’s adherence to non-aligned solidarity and its anxiety to build bridges with the US Administration as could be seen over Libya. In fact, the American authorities of all shades from Kissinger to Kirkpatrick to Vernon Walters have helped to heighten the conscious-ness of many leaders in different countries that the Pax-Americana had to steamroller over the national self-respect of other countries, apart from having a patently cynical disregard of their views about the nuclear threat which the US authorities have consistently ignored. Rajiv Gandhi’s visits to the frontline states in Africa last week must have brought home to him the perfidy of the Western powers in keeping up the apartheid.

Nehru with his understanding of world forces at work could visualise such a situation and this was one of the factors that led him to forge non-aligned solidarity as part of our sensitivity to be independent in the affairs of the world.

The time for rethinking has now come to Rajiv Gandhi about the wisdom and efficacy of the policies pursued by his government so far. Nobody wants Rajiv Gandhi to copycat Jawaharlal Nehru; that could never be. But most of his countrymen expect that he would try to understand the forces at work today—both at home and abroad—with the touchstone of experience that his grandfather has left behind for him. No longer is the time for amateurish mishandling.

(Mainstream, May 24, 1986)

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