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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 28, New Delhi June 30, 2018

Mohan Kumaramangalam — Cameos / Has Government a Kashmir Policy? / Reflections on the Constitution / Iraq Crisis and Gujral Government

Saturday 30 June 2018, by Nikhil Chakravartty


On May 31, 1973 Mohan Kumaramangalam passed away in a tragic air accident. On N.C.’s twentieth death anniversary we reproduce the following tribute that the founder of this journal penned under the pseudonym ‘An Old Comrade’. M.K. and N.C. were indeed close comrades since their days in England in the 1930s and the friendship bloomed during their collective struggle in the communist movement; it was retained in subsequent years and even when Mohan joined the Indira Gandhi Cabinet as a Minister. He also played a major role in assisting N.C. behind-the-scenes to bring out Mainstream.

Mohan Kumaramangalam — Cameos

An Old Comrade

On the day of the funeral when thousands came to pay him their homage, there came many who had not seen him in life and who had not heard him speak in that beautiful metallic voice which could entrance any gathering, from Parliament to mass meetings.

Why did they come, those who had little in common with him except being reared by the same motherland? This was because they had heard that he was the target of attack by the vested interests, that he boldly stood for the right of the elected representatives.

It was this aspect of Mohan as the redoubtable fighter against Reaction that won him laurels throughout his life. He first came into limelight in the mid-thirties not because of his Eton education but because of the fact that he was among the pioneers to instil into the militant student movement the content of the Left ideology which swept from Spain to China, from Britain to India.

Mohan Kumaramangalam was in a sense the representative of the best of our national movement. He did not falter before repression nor did he hesitate to sacrifice creature comforts for the cause he believed in. Today, he is perhaps known more as a competent Minister and a brilliant spokesman of the government on many issues. But the ground-work of this career was prepared in the early days when he faced the rigours of a life of total dedication, a life which spurned the luxury of a comfortable career for the spartan discipline and rigours of a soldier. Those who had known him in those early years and shared with him its toils and turmoils cannot but have a feeling that those were really the halcyon days which moulded the character of the man who is being mourned all over the country today.

The great quality he had was that he did not make a fetish of his sacrifice. It was for him—as for many others along with him—the right thing to do for the cause they thought to be just, and the sacrifice demanded for it knew no limit.

Mohan had spent long months in jail and longer months in the underground. But everywhere he could adjust himself in a very natural and spontaneous manner despite the upper-set upbringing from which he came.

There was of course one advantage in his past: his parents also were part of the national movement and the influence of his mother was very perceptible. Recently at his Minister’s bungalow when I saw a picture of his mother in his study room, he related with the spontaneity of a child that an old friend of the family had reminded him recently of what his mother had written to him years ago, that she had dreamt that Mohan would be a Minister in the first Cabinet of independent India. That was, of course, not to be, because when independence came Mohan belonged to the ranks of revolutionaries who were forced into underground, and the powers that be, despite personal liking for the man, could not at that stage reconcile themselves to the compulsions of a progressive perspective.

In those early days there was a sense of close fraternity, a comradeship of unusual warmth. He had a great quality of being affectionate to all without affectation or superior airs. He was a very methodical person, very careful and tidy in his work, hard-working, and at the same time precise and straight in his writings.

He developed a capacity of doing a number of jobs at the same time. He would do a weekly review of the World War that was going on, while in the evening he might go to meet some affluent sympathiser and ask him to give regular donation to a party with an austere budget. I still remember going with him to some of the biggest newspaper offices in Bombay and some of these newsmen would not hesitate to come to the Party Headquarters—today they might be counted among the top income-brackets wallowing in anti-communism.

There was no tension in his behaviour, what-ever might have been the situation. Whether it was meeting Gandhiji on behalf of the Communist Party or facing the brunt of an attack on the Party Headquarters by hoodlums let loose by the S.K. Patils, Mohan never hesitated to be at his post with absolute confidence and behaving in the most natural fashion.

Wearing the dress that was part of the outfit of a Communist wholetimer in those days—khaki shorts and half-sleeve shirt, washed but unironed, and a pair of chappals to wear—Mohan toured all over the country without the least feeling of being out of place. When he came out of prison in 1942, he toured his own State of Madras and he told me of an interesting episode. There was a police informer always at his trail. After the second day, Mohan called him and enquired whether he was getting his meals all right and how much wage he was getting. The man became grateful to him and he used to keep one of the front seats for Mohan at the bus terminus. Two days later, Mohan was rather startled when he found that the bus driver and conductor were greeting him as if he was a police sahib because the police informer was reserving the seat for him and Mohan himself used to appear in khaki shirt and shorts. With hearty laughter he told me that he had to tell the informer no longer to act as his ADC.

In April 1943, he turned up at our place in Calcutta wearing the same khaki shirt and shorts and a bulging brief case in his hand as the bridegroom-to-be. My parents were shocked but Mohan could win them over with his boyish smile and utter frankness. When we went for the marriage registration, the Registrar was rather taken aback that a barrister son of the Subbaroyans, a product of English public school and Cambridge education, should turn up in such an attire. But in two minutes the tension was gone and the wedding was over. The only function we had that evening was a get-together of comrades for tea and some very simple sweets on the roof of the dilapidated building which used to house the Party Office in Calcutta those days.

What was more interesting was that in a few days’ time Mohan could make himself totally at home in his father-in-law’s place though it was run along the lines of a typical Bengali Hindu middle class joint family. There had never been any inhibition on his part just as there was no inebriation.

In 1948, when the Communists took to a militant Left-sectarian line, they were forced into the underground, and from a journalist and Party agitator, Mohan turned into one of the key men in the underground organisational set-up. Here too there was no compunction in doing the simplest things, to serve others and relish the job in hand. The leaders some time might be severe to the point of rudeness but that would not affect him. He would stand all that because he thought it was the right thing to do.

There was a trait in Mohan’s character of being sudden in his decisions or extending total confidence to a person whom he might have happened to like. This could be seen many times in his life. In the Party sometimes it created unnecessary complications and even misunder-standings; but one thing about him was that if any comrade, however differently placed, had frankly told him that he was wrong, he might argue and argue but would not ascribe motives to a difference of opinion. I remember to have told him that it was wrong on his part to have sent in his resignation from the Communist Party after having accepted the post of Advocate-General of Madras. He should have consulted the Party and then on the basis of that consultation, should have taken the decision about accepting the offer. This was what he had done when a proposal had come a few years earlier that he might be made a Judge in the High Court. He consulted the Party, though, in spite of the Party having allowed him to be a Judge and thereby automatically resign from Party membership, he did not accept it on personal grounds. (Incidentally, the story published in a New Delhi daily after his death that he was keen on becoming a Judge was baseless, because I remember distinctly that he never expressed such an opinion, not certainly at the meeting which the writer of that piece made out having taken place in my presence.) Mohan argued with me very aggressively, being hurt on his name having been struck out of the Communist Party roll, but he could see the point that I wanted to make that he did not consult the Party to which he belonged before taking such a decision, a procedure which in any circumstance would be followed by a member of any political party whatever its character.

When he came to see me after his election victory in 1971, he asked me whether he should join the Cabinet since an offer had come. I thought he should make his presence felt in the Congress Party itself in which he was yet a stranger, before he became a Minister. He listened to my arguments and, when a few days later I found that he had joined the Ministry, he made it a point to come and tell me why he thought he should join at that stage, though he agreed that he should take every opportunity of getting acquainted in the party from which he got elected. This came much later when his brilliant oratorical skill—no doubt unmatched in the whole country today—kept his party members spellbound, whether it was on the question of the Constitution amendment or on the appointment of a new Chief Justice.

True to the traditions of the Subbaroyans, Mohan lived a simple life, and in this Kalyani contributed as much. There was no protocol formality in the Minister’s house, as there were no constrictions of rigid table manners, as he used to sit down for his meals with his family—and sometimes friends would drop in—in the most informal fashion. He had many simple qualities for which he looked almost like a schoolboy. He was fond of books. He could enjoy heartily a joke at his own expense. He had a passion for cricket as was natural for a Subbaroyan, and he was fond of his dogs, treating them with the affection that he would bestow on his children.

Mohan’s life in a sense reflected the struggle for reconciliation between the national mainstream and a militant forward-looking radical ideology. He left the Communist Party but he did not become an anti-Communist. In reality, he was an individualist while at the same time he had a large heart. He was not an introvert, and he never claimed to be a high-brow intellectual.

In his arguments there was a down-to-earth approach. From an effective agitator to a first class lawyer and then on to an administrator with an eye for details, Mohan Kumaramangalam left behind him an indelible mark on the momentous times through which he passed. He combined in him the perspective of a conscious political being with the capacity to master with meticulous care the details of management over some of the most challenging portfolios that came his way, namely, Steel, Heavy Engineering and Mines.

He was not a Minister with a day labourer’s approach. He could dare to think in terms of radicalisation and that was why he took the risk of going in for nationalisation of one of the most ravaged industries in the country—coal mining.

It was not easy for a single person to command the confidence of political colleagues through his powers of persuasion while at the same time command the respect of technocrats and officials with his capacity to understand problems and propose measures in tune with the objective of building a new social order. That is why, in the last few months of his life he had to withstand the most withering attack from the organs of the vested interests, while in the days that followed his tragic departure, he could extract respect and admiration even from those who were his sworn adversaries. It is not easy to find many of Mohan’s type in the politics of India today.                           

(Mainstream, June 9, 1973)

Has Government a Kashmir Policy?

There is no dearth of serious thinking in this country over the festering crisis in Kashmir. Perhaps no other issue in our polity since independence has stimulated so much thinking—both in-depth and widespread—as the question, what to do in Kashmir. Across the entire spectrum of our political parties, Kashmir gets high priority.

What is more significant is that a degree of introspection is visible over the Kashmir question which is missing on many other important questions facing the country today. Even in circles generally regarded as pro-establishment, one discerns quite a lot of rethinking, even reviewing objectively some of the actions and calculations of the past. In short, there is hardly a sacred cow with regard to Kashmir today—undoubtedly a very congenial augury for the search for a durable solution of the Kashmir crisis.

In recent years new issues have come up with regard to the Kashmir crisis. In the past the international aspect of the Kashmir question as perceived in our country was equated with the approaches and attitudes of the Western powers and Pakistan’s lobbying in the UN and Islamic forums. The Cold War conditions ensured for India a degree of unthinking support from the Soviet bloc because it virtually became an item of superpower rivalry over India. Whether it is the exercise of the Soviet veto in the Security Council deliberations or Khrushchev’s flamboyant bluster at Srinagar that he would send his forces the moment we shout across the mountains, there was an assured international support for New Delhi’s Kashmir record, no matter whether it was good, bad or indifferent.

All this has now changed. There is no question of fetching political dividends over Kashmir from the Cold War. At the same time, the end of the Cold War has not meant that Pakistan could get blank-cheque support from the Western powers. If Kashmir has been a complex issue for India, it is no less for Pakistan.

Along with the wholesome endeavour at reviewing and reappraising past decisions—which appears to be widespread barring a die-hard section which could see nothing wrong in most of the developments in the past—new issues have come up in relation to Kashmir which hardly attracted notice ten years earlier. An important item on this count is the question of the violation of human rights. At the beginning there was a tendency to pooh-pooh it as Western-inspired to discredit the Indian official record. But what is noteworthy today is that the human rights aspect of the Kashmir question has attracted a lot of attention at the national level. Some of the intrepid activists in our country have come out boldly on this question. The old tendency to cover up our own faults for fear of attracting adverse international response has largely disappeared, and a healthy urge in our country to be fair and objective has been perceptible in recent times.

In the last one week two important publications dealing with the Kashmir question have made their appearance, Kashmir: The Troubled Frontiers by Major General (Retd.) Afsir Karim, and another, Kashmir: The Wounded Valley by the distinguished journalist Ajit Bhattacharjea. The launching of these two publications provided occasion for public discussion on the Kashmir question by a whole galaxy of specialists, scholars and political personalities ranging from former Jammu and Kashmir Governors B.K. Nehru, Jagmohan and G.C. Saxena, to political leaders like Farooq Abdullah and Saifuddin Soz, as also Rajni Kothari, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Jaswant Singh, jurist Soli Sorabjee, former Foreign Secretary J.N. Dixit and former civil servant Nirmal Mukherjee, to say nothing of media practitioners, H.K. Dua and Dileep Padgaonkar.

Obviously, diverse views were expressed at these gatherings about the past, present and future. That was nothing unexpected. What is, however, striking is that both the books as also all these important figures, who mould the public opinion of this country, came out with certain common observations, cutting across party lines and reassessing past happenings wiht a rare absence of inhibition. And out of these very useful talks emerged certain common points of convergence.

First, everybody seems to agree that the military presence can hardly bring peace and stability to the trouble-tossed Valley. While the need for military action to put down armed militancy is acknowledged by many in India, hardly anybody—not even the Army brass nor the cast-iron bureaucrat—claims that tran-quillity and stability can ever return to the Valley by force of arms. There may be difference in assessment about the intensity and spread of militancy, whether it is hit-and-run guerrilla actions or more effective insurgency, but few would deny that the presence of the Army in the Valley could at best be a temporary emergency, not a final solution at all. Neither history nor geography warrants the assumption that any guerrilla militancy could be liquidated by military means. What the armed forces can do is to contain militancy and not eliminate it. For the liquidation of militancy what is needed is political intervention. This has been the lesson from all over the world—from Vietnam to Sri Lanka, Africa and West Asia. And the Indian armed forces leadership is not unaware of this hard reality.

Secondly, it is almost unanimously agreed that there is widespread alienation of the Kashmiri people, alienation from the Indian state machinery and also to a substantial measure, from the Indian public. No doubt that has come to a large extent by the manner in which the political process in Kashmir was allowed to be corroded by promoting sycop-hancy and large-scale venality and everything was winked at in the name of emergency, that Kashmir being in the front-line of confrontation with Pakistan, there need not be any meticulous observation of democratic norms.

However, the basic flaw lies in the inability on the part of authorities to perceive respect and nurture the psyche of the Kashmiri people—what is called the Kashmiriyat, the unique, eclectic cultural heritage of the Valley which manifests itself in the urge for self-expression and politically to some form of self-determination. The contribution of Sufism with its stress on the synthesis of cultures as demarcated from the confrontationist attitude of orthodoxy, whether Muslim or Hindu, can hardly be ignored in the development of the personality of Kashmir.

This is a point which was emphasised by B.K. Nehru in his lucid intervention and elaborated with great scholarship by Ajit Bhattacharjea in his book. It is also to be noted that the neglect of this Kashmiriyat has been brought about by mindless mishandling from New Delhi as in equal measure by the infiltra-tion of Islamic bigotry across the border from Pakistan. How to restore this precioius matrix that is the rightful heritage of the people of the picturesque Valley is a challenge that faces not only the government at the Centre but all political parties across our country.

Thirdly, it is acknowledged that there could be no settlement of the Kashmir problem without the governments of India and Pakistan engaging themselves in free and frank talk. No matter whatever the obstacle for such an undertaking there could be no peace in Kashmir without involving Pakistan in such a settlement. Not only because the militants get arms and support from Pakistan, but because a good part of the original State of Jammu and Kashmir is today under Pakistan. Right from the day of Kashmir’s accession drama—more precisely, as part of the accession drama—Pakistan can hardly be ignored in any settlement of the Kashmir crisis.

Fourthly, it is recognised on all hands that no settlement of the Kashmir question can come without starting the political process. For that, the urgent need is to begin talking to all parties concerned—from the acknowledged political parties to the Hurriyat conglomerate and even the militant with the gun. The old stand that New Delhi would talk to only those who would subscribe in advance to their allegiance to the Constitution no longer holds good. A useful suggestion made by Mani Shankar Aiyar was that to begin with there should be election to the local bodies, and then step by step towards Assembly poll. As the crisis in the Valley has become grave there is need to begin talks with all, and out of protracted talks would emerge a pattern which can lead to settlement. It is also recognised that the degree of autonomy to be needed to bring about a settlement in Kashmir would have to be much wider than is envisaged anywhere today.

And this brings one to the last point in the current discussion on Kashmir: what really is the Centre’s policy towards Kashmir and who really runs Kashmir from New Delhi? The unedifying spectacle of the Union Home Minister being bypassed by his Minister of State who runs his own Think Tank on Kashmir. The government having its own approach. The intelligence set-up, its own assessement. The Prime Minister’s Office has its own line, if it has one at all. The totality of this bizarre spectacle brings out the shocking state of paralysed inaction at the Centre.

At this point of time, therefore, any solution of the Kashmir crisis has to start with the Centre. That is, the Centre has to have some clear thinking and a unified coordinated command to put that thinking into practice. The starting point of the journey to Kashmir, therefore, is New Delhi at this moment. 

(Mainstream, May 21, 1994)

Reflections on the Constitution

The following is the second-last article of N.C. to appear in this journal.

We are now witness to the transfer of power—from one group to another. Many of the differences are being sorted out while some remain as differences over which differences persist.

It is to be recognised that on the issue of differences there arose disharmony which ultimately led to the partition of the country, a prospect nobody envisaged except Gandhiji. On this Jinnah and the Congress leaders had different opinions and at one time, it seemed to the Congress leaders that perhaps Jinnah was asking for too much.

The result was a new contraption, namely, the Advisory Council, of which Jawaharlal Nehru became the chief and which the Muslim League at first boycotted at the behest of Jinnah. The Muslim League, after some time, joined the Advisory Council, and it was Liaquat Ali Khan who brought about a budget which was back-breaking for the Congress.

Looking back, one could not help feeling that the Congress leaders did not realise the implications of this change on the part of the Muslim League. It would have been a mistake on the part of the League to have boycotted the Advisory Council, and come to think of it, there could be no doubt that the boycott was part of the strategy of the League.

Only when it got a firm assurance that the British authorities would concede a separate state of Pakistan, did the League join the Advisory Council and demonstrated its cooperation—as much as the Congress did—sensing the transfer of power. What was perhaps missed by the shrewd Indian observers was the fact that the British had about this time made the solemn promise that they would go in for partitioning of the Indian subcontinent.

The boycott period was over and many of us looked at Liaquat’s budget as a “bold gesture” on the part of the new leaders of the Muslim League—not realising that it was a trap for the new leadership of the Congress and as a result the British looked more liberal than they were. If we compared Liaquat’s first budgets with his subsequent budgets in Pakistan, it would be clear that he was far from generous and what he did was to put the Congress in the wrong by carrying kudos for the Pakistani leadership. He knew that the Government of India at that time was too weak to bear the burden of that budget. The radical stance he brought to bear on the budget was clearly a stunt. It was a not meant to be anything more than a stunt and so it seemed to those who could see what was in store.

In the selection of the new Cabinet, Pandit Nehru consulted Vallabhbhai Patel. Though a balance was reached, there were some howlers as could be seen in the selection of C.H. Bhaba. What Nehru meant, we were told, was that the great atomic scientist would be sent for, but instead came the businessman, who was a stranger to Nehru. He had already chosen his team and it was a surprise when he agreed to the Sardar’s suggestion.

As for Bengal, K.C. Neogy was sent for, though he had participated without much prominence in the activity against partition or afterwards. Neogy’s choice did not satisfy the East Bengal Congress magnates, nor could he carry with him other influential persons of the east. The real leader of this section was Shyamprasad Mukherji as could be seen in the unfolding of his career—right up to his martyrdom in 1953.

Another inspiring figure was Babasaheb Ambedkar. If one reminds oneself of the stand that Ambedkar took from the Poona Pact of the early thirties right upto the transfer of power, one could see that he was the only person who had made a study of partition. This was also done by Ashok Mehta and Rajendra Prasad. And yet it was on the young shoulders of Babasahab Ambedkar that the job fell.

Obviously this was Gandhiji’s choice. In a sense, it was a defeat for Gandhiji that the Congress leadership could not produce one personality who could undertake the burden singlehanded. Although others were involved in the founding of the Constitution—distingusihed sons of the south had undertaken to do the job—throug-hout, it has been noted, it was Babasaheb Ambedkar who drafted the Constitution of this country. It is indeed ironical that when the first general election was held under the new Constitution Dr Ambedkar, who stood as an independent, could not win his seat and he even forfeited his deposit. Such was the fate that awaited him.

It was on the basis of a restricted franchise that the new Constitution was drawn up for the people of India. Although the Constituent Assembly succeeded in summarising it—having drawn up 80 amendments—the fact remains that this Constitution generated unilateral reaction despite the fact that it was brought about by guaranteeing universal adult franchise to the people of India.

There are, of course, aspects which commend themselves to the people. What is wanted is that the Constitution should be flexible enough to tackle the problems that confront India from time to time. This is the beauty and strength of the Constitution, not that it was the summary of all that the human wisdom has conceived of. Nehru at that time was in the formative years. This could be seen from his writings in 1945:

India in common with most other countries of the world is facing a grave economic crisis which has been heightened by the recent disorders in the North. This crisis is due partly to its economic growth having been arrested during the long period of foreign rule and partly it is the result of the gradual decline of the structure of capitalist society all over the world, accentuated as this has been by two successive World Wars. It is essential that this crisis be faced and overcome, not merely by temporary palliatives but by a planned approach to social structure which increases production and ensures a fair and equitable distribution so as to raise the standards of the people as a whole. This involves a progressive socialisation of the means of production and the growth of social services and social security. Advance must be made on all fronts on a planned and balanced basis, always bearing in mind that the claims of the masses are given the first periority.

Nehru mentioned those who would look into the prospect. The members of this Committee were Nehru, Azad, Jayaprakash Narayan, N.G. Ranga, Gulzarilal Nanda, J.C. Kumarappa, Achyut Patwardhan and Shankarrao Deo.

A maturer Nehru looked at his own prospect in this angle. He wrote to Sri Krishna Sinha on June 16, 1948:

I am writing to you again in regard to the Mor project and the Mesanjore dam... This matter must be finalised soon as delay is harmful and wasteful. If the project is a good one it must be pushed through with all speed. If it is not good then it should be dropped. My own impression is that it is a good project, beneficial alike to Bihar and West Bengal. Inevitably, it involves a certain displacement of population as all such schemes do. A scheme, which is patently beneficial to the community, cannot be given up because it involves displacement of persons. If so, there would be no scheme at all...

This leads us to the conclusion that the Mor scheme should be considered purely on its merits, apart from the provinces concerned. Anything that adds to the productivity of the country and the fertility of the soil should be welcomed. Further this scheme would add considerably to the power resources of the country and more specially of Bihar and West Bengal.  

(Mainstream, March 21, 1998)

Iraq Crisis and Gujral Government

The following article happened to be the last contribution of N.C. in Mainstream.

Outgoing Prime Minister Inder Gujral can hardly take the credit for his quietude over the American response to the Iraq crisis.

The crisis in Iraq this time has not been of the horrendous type witnessed seven years ago. President Bush was very thorough in having the last fling of the Cold War trying to take revenge on President Saddam Hussein in Iraq. He not only led the blitzkrieg war but also got his contemporaries in Europe and the Middle East to rally round the American flag so much so that after the war even Japan paid for the cost of the American adventure over Iraq.

The scenario has now completely changed. Instead of the last fling of the Cold War which President Bush enjoyed, President Clinton has had to undertake sabre-rattling in a hostile terrain. For one thing, he was taken aback by the resentment of Saudi Arabia over any action against an Arab state. Secondly, he had to do without the help of the Germans and the Japanese this time. Thirdly, the situation was not congenial at home because the President himself was directly involved in personal affairs. Fourthly, the American people have been awakened to the ghastly nature of the Gulf war unleashed seven years ago. The exposure of the effects of American bombing on the children of Iraq by the former Attorney-General of the US Administration, Ramsey Clark, despite the feverish attempts by the US media moghuls to prevent such an exposure, shook the American conscience. Fifthly, the provocation of the United Nations, mainly inspired by the Americans, helped the Iraqis to enlist the support of the humanitarian elements within the European Community.

Lastly, what Kofi Annan has done as the UN Secretary-General has come as a surprise to President Clinton. Incidentally, Clinton had rejected the choice of Boutros Boutros-Ghali for the post on the plea that Boutros-Ghali would not be ‘impartial’, and had instead chosen Kofi Annan for the job. However, when on his return after his trip to Iraq Kofi Annan persuaded the UN Security Council to approve the agreement he had hammered out with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, President Clinton was in for a rude shock.

All this contributed towards the discredit of President Clinton’s Iraq policy as compared to that of President Bush.

In this context it may be worth reminding ourselves that eight years ago I.K. Gujral as the External Affairs Minister in the V.P. Singh Government was attacked in this country for having kissed Saddam Hussein on both the cheeks while on a visit to Iraq. He had at that time oganised the biggest airlift of Indians working in the Gulf for which his critics did not pay him kudos. Ultimately, however, Gujral’s Iraq policy has come to be vindicated.

It must be said to the credit of Prime Minister Gujral that he has lent no support to the Americans in any of their adventurous moves in Iraq. He was one of the few world statesmen who warned against President Clinton’s war-at-any-cost line.

Nevertheless, one cannot but help noticing that Gujral did not strive to rally the vast mass of non-aligned opinon in the interest of peace and against the American provocation of war-like gestures at one of the non-aligned countries. When Iraq was anxious to extend the hand of peace, to which Kofi Annan responded positively, there was nobody to rally the entire world opinion against the American warmomgers’ allout efforts to subvert the Iraq-Annan accord.

It is true that Prime Minister Gujral was then preoccupied with elections in India. One, how-ever, must realise the tremendous responsibility he had to carry on his shoulders as a leading figure of the non-aligned world by dint of being the head of the Government of India. Did he discharge that responsibility with distinction and as best as he should have? Gujral never tires of declaring his allegiance to Jawaharlal Nehru’s ideas, especially to the principles underlying Nehru’s foreign policy course. Could he not have pondered over the steps Nehru would have taken in a similar situation? Nehru’s approach to the Suez crisis could be cited as a pointer in this regard.

In a television and radio address in Washington on December 18, 1956 Nehru had observed:

Recently, we have witnessed two tragedies which have powerfully affected men and women all over the world. These are the tragedies in Egypt and Hungary. Our deeply felt sympathies must go out to those who have suffered or are suffering.... But even these tragedies have one hopeful aspect, for they have demonstrated that the most powerful countries cannot revert to old colonial methods, or impose their domination over weak countries. World opinion has shown that it can organise itself to resist such outrages. Perhaps, as an outcome of these tragedies, freedom will be enlarged and will have a more assured basis.

Thereafter, he had lucidly spelt out the Indian policy without equivocation.

The preservation of peace forms the central aim of India’s policy. It is in the pursuit of this policy that we have chosen the path of non-alignment in any military or like pact or alliance. Non-alignment does not mean passivity of mind or action, lack of faith or conviction. It does not mean submission to what we consider evil. It is a positive and dynamic approach to such problems that confront us. We believe that each country has not only the right to freedom, but also to decide its own policy and way of life. Only thus can true freedom flourish and people grow according to their own genius. We believe, therefore, in non-aggression and non-inter-ference by one country in the affairs of another, and the growth of tolerance between them and the capacity for peaceful coexistence.

It is no use justifying the Gujral Government’s inactivity on the plea that the world has changed substantially since Nehru’s time. No doubt the bipolar global structure has been pulled down with the demise of the Cold War following the collapse of the statist socialist states in Europe alongside the dismantling of the Soviet Union. But the developing countries’ urge for charting out an independent path of advance, free of the superpowers’ tentacles (one of the basic tenets of non-alignment), remains as valid today as before, that is, as it was when the non-aligned movement was established in the days of Nehru. If at all, realisation of that urge has assumed greater urgency now that the sole surviving superpower’s inclination for global domination and imposition of unipolar hegemony, in the absence of a countervailing force, has enhanced manifold. Herein lies the abiding relevance of the NAM and the need to mobilise the non-aligned states for peace and progress in the interest of the developing world.

Such passivity, as displayed by the Gujral dispensation in the wake of the Iraq crisis, has no place in the current world scenario particularly in the face of the heightening challenges in the international sphere.

The new Government of India must bear all this in mind if it really has the interests of the nation and its people at heart, and is genuinely pledged to preserve and protect the dignity and self-respect of this country and the developing states the self-proclaimed global supercop is out to smother under any specious pretext. 

(Mainstream, March 28, 1998)

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