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History Of Indian Idealism In International Affairs History Essay

Info: 2491 words (10 pages) Essay
Published: 1st Jan 2015 in History

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The Indian National Congress had been taking active interest in international affairs since the 1920s despite being fully involved in the independence struggle. The leaders who were spearheading the independence movement became quite aware of the intricacies of international relations and the period had a formative influence on them with regard to taking important political positions on world affairs. Indian leaders who were struggling against the colonialism understood the values of freedom and equality of human beings and this would find expression in Indian sympathy and support for anti colonial movements across Asia and Africa. Deriving sustenance from an idealistic concern with the welfare of humanity at large, this yearning became so strong that, between 1936 and 1939, it sometimes led to a tendency to give more importance to contributing to the solution of major world problems than to furthering India’s interests. [1] It was natural for Nehru and other leaders to continue with the same thought and behavioural approach it had taken during the nationalist movement in international affairs into independence India.

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21. Nehru’s opposition to imperialism and Nazism which had key elements of power politics in them manifested as an aversion to power politics. He was convinced that power politics invariably leads to conflict and war. He along with Krishna Menon, who became his foreign policy advisor, shaped the foreign policy of India which they felt should have cooperation between nations as the bedrock of relations between states rather than confrontation. Nehru’s geopolitical thinking comes across as a curious mix of idealism and realism, internal and external on which he relies to construct his vision of the post war world and India’s role in it. [2] 

22. Nehru was convinced that there can be no middle path in foreign relations and shunning confrontation he chose to follow cooperation in international affairs. It was in a way natural for the freedom fighters to continue with the values of freedom which was the basis for the long struggle against imperialism and to make it the main plank of Indian foreign policy after gaining independence. Long and bitter struggle against stronger political forces with hardly any material resources or lack of violent means had made Indian leaders over confident and incautious of the lack of capabilities to pursue such independent and morally correct views on all world matters. This naive approach was being tested on an age of fundamental alteration and considerable realignment of power in the international system in the wake of World War II.

23. The quest of for an activist global role, and the sudden realisation to be on the world’s high table however, led to distortions in priority and neglect of other important responsibilities, including national security. It is often argued that this basking in the new found attention led political leaders to excessively focus and pursue global issues while ignoring major tasks like consolidating the new India and ensuring its security. At the same time, advocating a foreign policy with a moral and idealistic dimension it came in direct variance with the existing values of the major powers. India’s disapproval of power politics and stand in favour of international cooperation was greatly appreciated by the newly decolonised and independent Asian and African nations. India not only asserted a foreign policy of independence and pursued an activist global role, but stood against balance of power politics to prevent occurrence of conflicts; instead emphasized negotiations to sort out differences and pleaded for a policy of conciliation. It advocated peaceful coexistence, instead of containment and overthrow of communism. There are two divergent schools of thought on reasons for India’s intense opposition to power politics and balance-of-power policies. One view is that it was the expression of Indian anguish of Britain having used Indian troops and resources for its colonial wars and expeditions in the interests of the empire. However, there is consensus on the view of Mahatma Gandhi’s influence on moralistic and idealistic foundation of India’s foreign policy. Gandhi had brought energy and potency, focus and action-orientation to the Indian Independence movement, through active resistance against colonial oppression and violence through disciplined non-violence and noncooperation. This new and unique method however pervaded not only abhorrence for the use of means of violence but encompassed a wider complex of ethical values , which included other injunctions, such as ends do not justify the means to be fearless in the face of challenges, and to never harbour hatred for one’s enemies. [3] 

24. Initially passive resistance was seen only as an instrument against British oppression, but progressively they imbibed its value system into all political activities. The difficulty of incorporating passive resistance into practice in international affairs was no lost on Nehru since it runs contrary to the realpolitik character of interstate relations and makes the state vulnerable to external threats. Nehru himself gave frank expression to the inherent dilemma in a speech before the constituent Assembly in March 1949. “‘We were bred in a high tradition under Mahatma Gandhi. That tradition is an ethical tradition, a moral tradition and at the same time it is an application of those ethical and moral doctrines to practical politics…. And with that idealism and ethical background we now face practical problems and it becomes an exceedingly difficult thing to apply that particular doctrine to the solution of these problems…. So we have had these conflicts in our minds and these conflicts continue and perhaps there is no final solution of these conflicts except to try continually to bridge the gulf between the idealism and the practice which is forced upon us by circumstances.” [4] 

25. A dispassionate view of Nehru’s foreign policy would indicate that he attempted to subscribe simultaneously to the tenets of realism insofar as he sought to protect and foster India’s national interests, including defence, foreign-policy autonomy and the acquisition of a major-power role and a certain idealism imbibed from the doctrine of passive resistance, which found expression in active support for a policy of peace and peaceful coexistence. [5] However, it is debatable whether Nehru was successful in delicately balancing both realism and idealism. The element of idealism may have acted as appeasement for realism as the Goan debacle would show. For fear that he would be accused of hypocrisy in foreign policy; the oppressive Portuguese colonialism on Indian soil had to be tolerated for fourteen years before authorising force liberate Goa. In India’s relations with China too Nehru hesitancy was evident in addressing the border question; due to fear that it may ruin the bonhomie between them. There is no doubt that this deviant quest of idealism in foreign policy did have a deleterious effect on national security and pursuit of national interest. Nehru acknowledged that the professing of peace and economic compulsions had adversely affected defence preparedness “We were anxious to save money in defence…. We were very stingy about defence spending… we possibly agreed to about one-tenths of what they (the army generals) had asked for, and nine tenths we did not agree to.” [6] 

26. The innocence of idealism was lost with the Korean War, when India actively took on the mantle of a mediator between the two blocs. That role though deeply resented by the US and its allies won India great international appreciation and acclaim. From then on India began to muster support, on the basis of its high ideals, from the growing number of newly independent states across the developing world on various international issues. This brought India in direct conflict with US interests and US suspected that India was engineering realignment of political forces especially weaning away China and Japan from the two blocs under Asian nationalism. US retaliated by exposing India’s hollowness in practising idealism without sufficient hard power backing when it decided to arm Pakistan in the pretext of countering Soviet Union. India was thus forced to carry out an appraisal of its national security and address the issues with greater seriousness in response to pressures from the international system in the form of US as well as regionally from Pakistan.

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27. The US substantial military aid to Pakistan in 1954 for the modernization and expansion of its armed forces was a significant development for the subcontinent. It was the first open intervention in the affairs of the subcontinent in the post-war period by a superpower, which had until then been outside the conflict zone the two blocs. Keeping the Kashmir war of 1948 in perspective and notwithstanding the good neighbourly overtures by Nehru to Pakistan, India objected to the US aid on the grounds that such supply of arms would not only escalate cold war tension in South Asian region but also instigate Pakistan to use force against India to solve Kashmir dispute [7] . With the arming of Pakistan by US the issue of Indian defence preparedness came into focus. Nehru moved toward closer diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union and China and inaugurated a euphoric period of friendship with them [8] . Nehru was reluctant to sacrifice economic development for a military build up to counter US military aid to Pakistan and chose to create a balance of power, but through political military means. He exploited the situation by obtaining considerable economic aid not only from the Soviet Union to build heavy industry, including steel plants but also from the US, including considerable quantities of PL-480 food grains. However, the US intervention in the affairs of South Asia by arming Pakistan brought in lessons of realpolitik to India.

28. The Sino-India War of 1962 in which India suffered severe reverses became a watershed in the Indian approach to international affairs. It delivered a severe blow to India’s reputation and resulted in a traumatic setback to foreign policy. The war crushed the reputation of Nehru curtailing his role as an international statesman and champion of peace but he had become the focal point of national and international sympathy. [9] In the period that followed India embarked on a massive reequipping and reorganisation of its armed forces. The Soviets were involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis and could not offer any immediate help. However From 1963 to 1965 there was a burst of military cooperation with West. [10] In the face of immense sympathy and material support from the Western bloc, there was pressure on Nehru to abandon nonalignment and join the bloc for national security from continued threat from China. However, Nehru refused to budge and felt that it will not be in the overall national interest

30. The US arms supply relationship with Pakistan and the Sino-India War of 1962 made India to come to terms with realism in international arena and the need to have a balance between goals and capabilities. The period of consolidation that followed the 1962 debacle saw India abandoning the pacifist role, taking the bait and confronting Pakistan in 1965 by going in for an all out war. Though India continued on the path of non alignment in international affairs it did not shy away from the need to lean towards the Soviet bloc to achieve its national interests and to build military capabilities and become self reliant. In 1971 under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at the helm India demonstrated a major change in the approach to regional problems. Though India’s military action was termed as a humanitarian intervention out of compulsion, it was a half step towards power politics. [11] While officially India remained nonaligned in international power system, India no longer had the luxury to abandon power politics or balance-of-power policies especially in the immediate neighbourhood.

31. The short period of Rajiv Gandhi as the Indian Prime Minister in the 1980s was to witness a clear departure from the Nehruvian legacy. Rajiv Gandhi shared his grandfather’s idealism and conviction; yet his tenure saw India become more assertive in power terms in the immediate region. His despatched troops to foil a military coup in Maldives and an Indian peacekeeping force to Sri Lanka to help the government curb insurgency and authorised trade restrictions against Nepal to convey Indian concern of its links with China. He went in for significant purchases of military hardware and encouraged modernization of India’s Armed Forces. Importantly, after 1987 when the Pakistani acquisition of nuclear weapons with the assistance of China became apparent, he gave a go ahead to Indian nuclear weapon programme. Soon missile delivery systems were tested and by 1990 India had developed a covert nuclear deterrent in response to Pakistan’s prior acquisition of nuclear weapons capability. In the final analysis, India became liberated from the constraints of its idealistic past only with the end of the Cold War and demise of Soviet Union as a superpower, and consequently the loss of relevance of the nonaligned movement; to embark on a path of unbridled foreign policy based on its own security concerns.


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