Three great powers –the USA, the USSR and PRC – have interfered on an extended basis in Indian foreign and military affairs since India gained independence. Combined with the harm done to Indian interests by the economic, diplomatic and military policies of Nehru and his followers (with an overemphasis on socialist economy as the basis of internal development, inept military preparations against enemies, and a diplomacy that limited India’s options and overplayed the value of nonalignment and peace diplomacy with China), great powers’ interventions distorted the development of Indian diplomatic and military policies in particular and harmed its security and its prestige. ‘Security’ means an ability to function in relative safety, free of external pressures which do not create continuous friction and unmanageable tensions. It has a physical as well as a psychological manifestation. ‘Prestige’ refers to reputation, recognition of status or standing in a world of powers, an acknowledgement by the principals in the world of a country’s contribution to international well-being.
Distorted policies are the opposite of sound policies and the latter are judged by the criteria of success in relation to dealing with the machinations of foreign powers, as well as the moral integrity of the policies; they should be defensible in moral and legal terms. In his ‘tryst with destiny’ speech on August 14, 1947 Nehru made a pledge to serve humanity and the Indian people. This was his contract with the Indian nation. But Nehru’s diplomatic and military record does not show that he fulfilled the terms of his contract. He provided important service to the Chinese government by constantly pleading its case in international meetings, and by doing so he antagonized the US government without gaining Chinese goodwill. It became a ‘lose-lose’ situation with America and China.
In his “˜tryst with destiny speech on August 14, 1947 Nehru made a pledge to serve humanity and the Indian people. This was his contract with the Indian nation. But Nehrus diplomatic and military record does not show that he fulfilled the terms of his contract.
In hindsight it appears that his pleading reflected his ill-thought out views of the Chinese revolution and a dream of building an Asiatic (with China and India as pillars) federation; the views did not rest on a realistic assessment of the character of Chinese attitudes and policy towards India, its ambition to form a strategic triangle with Soviet Russia and America where India had no place, and its mission to form a Sino-Pakistan alignment against India. Nehru’s preoccupation with making China’s case without being asked to do, and his failure to create leverage between his China policy and China’s India policy highlighted the role of Nehruvian utopianism that was reinforced by the machinations of his advisers, particularly K. M. Pannikar (pro-Chinese and not a faithful follower of instructions from the Ministry of External Affairs), Krishna Menon (anti-American and pro-Chinese) and S. Radhakrishnan (anti-American, pro-Soviet) and the attachment of Indian communists to world communism as an anti-colonial and an anti-capitalist movement. The 1962 war proved that China had a hostile agenda towards India in the Himalayan region, and as the Sino-Pakistani relationship evolved China’s shadowy presence in the subcontinent increased in time. In hindsight Nehru and his advisers served Chinese interests rather than Indian diplomatic and military interests, and service to the Indian people was not evident.
This paper argues that the character of Nehru’s policies (which were followed by his successors up to 1998 and thereafter with some change) had destructive consequences for India. The diplomatic record shows that the Indian government was aware of China’s danger to the Himalayan area but the Indian policy makers feared China’s threat. They thought of appeasing Beijing rather than strengthening India’s presence in the border areas. One-sided appeasement and accommodation of China has been the hallmark of India’s China policy since the Chinese revolution. It contrasts with the anti-Americanism in Nehru’s policies and a refusal to accommodate American interests. Indian public and academic opinion too had an anti-American slant generally speaking, combined with support of a policy of defensiveness and appeasement of China’s interests in the subcontinent. Even after 1962 the diplomacy of appeasement and accommodation did not change but Indian military planning obviously did.
Beijing had nothing to offer to India of a positive nature other than a diplomacy of smiles and in retrospect, of deception.
In the 1950s Nehru and his inner circle of advisers sought to develop a strategic triangle of their own that tied India, China and Russia together. This was based on the belief that Russian and Chinese mistrust of each other would lead to a willingness to come to India’s side to ensure that India did not swing to the other side. Nehru was playing both sides against the middle so that the two communist powers were expected to bid for India’s support. But once Moscow had taken India’s side in Kashmir (1949- onwards) and Washington had taken Pakistan’s side in Kashmir (1949- onwards) and became the main source of military equipment that gave Pakistan an incentive to further militarise the Kashmir area and to undermine the ceasefire arrangements, and that brought the international Cold War into the subcontinent, Nehru’s policy of appeasement and accommodation of Chinese interests made no sense in terms of Indian military security and diplomatic prestige.
Beijing had nothing to offer to India of a positive nature other than a diplomacy of smiles and in retrospect, of deception. Moreover the great powers were lacking in incentive to bid for Indian support because they had started their bilateral dialogues with each other and India’s utility as an interlocutor was reduced if not eliminated after the mid 1950s. The Nehru record was the context in which great power interventions in Indian affairs occurred. We turn now first to a general discussion of the character of great powers’ motives to intervene in Indian affairs, the nature of each powers’ policies, the consequences of their interventions, and then turn to the case of China. The China focus is core to the argument that Beijing’s interventions have had destructive consequences for India and Pakistan compared to American and Russian interventions.
Why should we study great power interventions and their character in relation to India? There are two answers to this question: 1. The obvious change in 1947 was that India became independent and Nehru proclaimed that he would follow an independent policy of peace and reform of a world of powers; he wanted to address the dangers of the Cold War, of war itself (because he thought of it as a pathological force rather than an instrument of state policy), and move the world towards peaceful change and understanding of the problems of the third world and its need for development. But behind this obvious change lay a significant reality that India remained an object of great powers intervention as in the past. There were no doubt differences between the pre-1947 pattern of external interventions and the post-1947 ones. The Greeks, Persians, Afghans and Mongols paved the way for the establishment of the Mughal and the British empires which recognized the appeal of India as an economic prize. Akbar’s India was wealthier than England at the time, and during the 14th century the Indian, Chinese and Arab worlds controlled almost two thirds of the global economy.1
In 1947 India was a depleted country because the British rulers of India had organized a massive transfer of Indian resources into their hands since 1600. In events leading up to Indian independence India was not a prized economic asset but it was a troublesome nationalistic society and an example that made foreign rule unsustainable in India and the third world. So the first major intervention, while the British rulers were still present in India, was to breakup Indian nationalism into two nations and to create a clear public identification about the two nations theory and to give the issue a constitutional form through the 1935 Government of India Act. Lord Curzon started this process by the partition of Bengal in 1905. Here Indian nationalism was the problem for the British rulers.
The first reason to study great power interventions in the subcontinent is that divide and rule is the basis of development of actions of a great power, and Western practitioners involved in sub-continental interventions followed, when they could, the Roman principle of divide and rule.
The solution which they created through a policy of partition (first of Bengal and then of the entire subcontinent) on the basis that the two nations could not co-exist together was accepted enthusiastically by Jinnah and company, and reluctantly by the anglicized, UK trained Indian Congress leadership (Gandhi and Nehru). Nehru and the Indian Congress party leaders were appropriate candidates to receive and accept subtle forms of British intervention after 1947 as well. Ambassador Dasgupta’s study of the role of Mountbatten and the British commander-in-chief of the ‘Indian Army’ in the Kashmir issue during 1947-48 shows the pernicious effect of British policy conducted by the Indian Governor General (Mountbatten) with Nehru’s concurrence; here Mountbatten stimulated Indian action, and Nehru followed in a way that suited the British but injured Indian interests in Kashmir.2
The first reason to study great power interventions in the subcontinent is that divide and rule is the basis of development of actions of a great power, and Western practitioners involved in sub-continental interventions followed, when they could, the Roman principle of divide and rule. This rule is used with countries and peoples who are not likely to work well as clients of the great powers i.e. who are not likely to accept subordinate status and who are likely to become independent minded and out of control from the point of view of a great power.
Intervention emerged as the preferred method of great power action in India. It was deemed to be an efficient method in Indian conditions because Indians were driven by internal religious, caste, class and regional as well as personality led rivalries; there were opportunities to play one force against another and to create a situation where each cancelled the other out. Intervention – meaning destructive action short of war and physical conquest is knowledge- based activity because it depends on knowledge of social contradictions or fault lines among the target audiences; and secondly, it requires political skills to manipulate the others, to develop a situation of psychological and military warfare among the targets but at the same time to develop an external system of action. In the Indian case this meant the involvement of the great powers and the United Nations, to prevent uncontrolled warfare or social chaos. This is why interveners prefer a world of manageable instability, and this preference was satisfied by Indian conditions.The second reason for studying great power interventions in the subcontinent is that these powers were each engaged in a Cold War – the Americans with the Russians and the Chinese in the 1950s, the Chinese with the Russians and the Americans, and the Russians with the Americans and the Chinese; they used the subcontinent as an arena where their respective rivalries were played out against each other and against India.
The two communist powers did not trust each other because Maoist China did not follow Stalin’s advice about the method of revolution, their national interests clashed, both were first nationalistic and then communists. Chinese felt used by Stalin in the Korean War (1950-53) which happened quickly after the Chinese revolution in 1949, and Stalin thought that the Chinese leaders were out of their control. India was not a direct participant in the three way international Cold Wars but it became a part of the rivalries because the US decision in the early 1950s to form a military pact with Pakistan brought the Soviet-American Cold War into the subcontinent, with America’s military and political presence moving into Russia’s southern underbelly in the neighbourhood of Afghanistan and Kashmir. Secondly, India’s decision to seek Soviet diplomatic (and later military) aid on the Kashmir question and in relation to American military supplies to Pakistan, and Moscow’s decision to oblige India, polarized the great powers’ relations with each other; these actions regionalized the Soviet-American Cold War, extending it from Europe and the Korean peninsula to South Asia and the Middle East.