Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first PM. We are not going to discuss the conspiracy theories behind Nehru here, which can be found in abundance (some of them true as well). Instead we are going to discuss only facts. Most of the references are from the book ‘Tibet: An unfinished story’ by Lezlee Brown Halper and Stephan Halper. So this article is mostly going be about Nehru in context with China and US.
After India attained her independence, Nehru was invited to US, within the first year of independence. Such was his reputation that US arranged a huge feast for him which was described as a feast that could put the most lavish kings to shame. The guest list was prepared specially keeping in mind the company Nehru preferred, which was “beautiful and smart women’’. Special care was taken as Nehru’s reputation was of a person whose professional decisions would be affected even by the impressions of the wives of officials he would be discussing political business with (so very professional).
The US agenda for the meeting with Nehru was to stop the rise of communism in Asia and also save Tibet from Chinese occupation. USSR was already a communist state and China will have been taken over by PRC (People’s Republic of China) by 1949. US had no other option but to put their faith in India being an ally. An alliance with India would have given US a vantage point in Asia, and a big one at that. And to meet their target US left no stone unturned to please Nehru.
To the disappointment of the US, Nehru came with mental baggage. Nehru was too loyal to former colonial rulers of the country he represented. Having studied law in London, Nehru had a close circle of college ‘buddies’, who had helped develop a negative image of US in his mind. And that’s the mindset he took to US with him.
US was ready to offer everything they thought India needed to develop, namely, military as well as economic assistance. But being stubborn and too proud Nehru rejected everything and announced that India is going to be a “non-aligned’’ nation also. He also declared that India can take care of itself. Later, Nehru himself went on and asked for help from US, as India was critically short on wheat for the people. US obliged, even though Nehru stayed adamant on his stance and still did not do US any favors or align with them. Moreover, Indian ambassador to US was none other than Madame Pandit (Nehru’s sister). So basically, when it came to US, there was only one perspective, and that was Nehru’s.
The ‘non-alignment’ really alienated the US congress. This made US turn towards Pakistan as an Asian ally. Which, as US later realized, benefitted no one except Pakistan and the Chinese communists. Nehru was particularly offended by the fact that the US government was advising Nehru on matters concerning his neighbours, when in fact, he thought, he was smarter and better than them at handling international politics. He had his own ideas of handling PRC. He had decided by himself that US trying to go behind the back of China to help Tibet was not the right thing to do and he could single handedly control PRC by being friendly with them.
Now we come to Indian relations with China through the initial years of communist takeover. The first Indian ambassador to China, K.M. Panikkar, was a communist sympathizer. This would eventually turn out to be a major factor in everything that followed. Being a long way away, US had no eyes in China. So they had to rely mainly on Panikkar for information. Panikkar misinformed India, and in turn US, about the PRC’s intents and progress. Hence, the eyes that India had in China were now actually blind.
On the other hand, Nehru was very proud and highly egoistic. On the first trip to India, communist China’s first foreign minister Zhou Enlai, hugely praised Nehru and in turn managed to make him a Chinese pet. Hence, India jumped from a ‘non-aligned’ nation to a communist sympathizer. US allying with Pakistan hurt Nehru so much that India’s new friends were USSR and China. Such was Nehru’s self-esteem, that logic and common interest did not matter to him anymore.
US was trying everything they could to keep communists at bay, which actually was not much… without India’s help. In a later attempt to get India to align with US, they offered India a permanent seat in the UN Security Council in 1955. This was rejected by Nehru. Moreover, Nehru became the sole champion in giving the seat to China instead. Basically, Nehru was too proud to consider the US point of view towards communists and decided to do things his own way.
This is the time Nehru came up with the “Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai” (Indians and Chinese are brothers) campaign. Zhou Enlai and later PRC premier Mao found a very easy way to tame Nehru. They just heaped praises for Nehru and he could see no further than himself. On one hand, Nehru had hated the reception he received in US (so much money spent on a feast, even though many Indians were starving). On the other hand, a similar type of reception by the Chinese counterparts was thought by him to be a show of respect towards Nehru.
So blinded was Nehru with his campaign that he wasn’t ready to see the truth even when it was shining bright right in front of his face. On his first trip to China, Nehru chanced upon a few Chinese maps. The maps showed Aksai-Chin and Arunachal Pradesh as parts of China along with Tibet. Nehru questioned his Chinese counterparts about the maps. They straight forward answered that those were the maps drawn by the newly exiled government and the communist government will change such maps.
As we all know, that never happened. Every time Nehru or Panikkar approached the communist China’s government with the issue, they got a standard reply, “We haven’t gotten the time to correct the maps yet”. Nehru did all he could to hide this fact from the Indian Parliament and because of lack of communication technology back then, he succeeded in doing so. Most parliamentarians were still in dark even while the Indo-Sino war loomed over India’s head. Even when the army reported of the Chinese presence in Aksai-Chin, Nehru tried to hide the matter from the Parliament.
When finally the matter was discussed in Parliament, Nehru turned apologetic and made random excuses, ranging from ‘this is not true’ or ‘this matter has been taken care of’ or ‘China is ready to back off’ to ‘not even a single blade of grass grows in Aksai-Chin’.
By 1949, Nehru had gifted Pakistan a very useful friend in form of US by deciding to go with a ‘non-alignment’ foreign policy.
By 1955, Nehru had gifted UNSC permanent seat to China. Though, this materialized for PRC only in 1971, when it was recognized as the legal representative of China.
By 1959, Nehru had helped PRC take over Tibet, by not letting US help Tibet. Being a land locked “country”, there were only three ways to help Tibet, through USSR, through China and through India. USSR was a cold war enemy of US while China was the actual enemy which Tibet needed saving from and India, through Nehru, had managed to align with China, even though on papers he was non-aligned.
By 1962, Nehru had gifted Aksai-Chin and more to China because of his sheer lack of leadership. India was far more capable with air force than Chinese counterparts, even though we lagged behind in the ground forces. Alas, air force was never deployed.
Looking back now, India would have done better had Nehru decided to align with US instead of USSR and China. None of these countries turned out to be friends. With China blatantly backstabbing India and USSR being USSR was never a friend to anyone other than themselves.
Non-alignment can never be a success in international politics. You either align with the suppressed or you are automatically agreeing with the oppressor. And in Nehru’s case, the non-alignment was barely superficial. As soon as US turned towards Pakistan, Nehru raced to China and USSR and aligned with both dominant communist governments.
Nehru was too used to being surrounded by “yes-men” and could not bear being advised by US on international political matters. He had his own plans and being the “spoiled brat” that he was, he had no intent of doing the right thing. He just went with what he wanted or whatever satisfied his huge ego and in the process harmed India in more than one way.
Let’s discuss the following in comments section:
- Do you think alignment with US would have helped India?
- Do you think by helping Tibet, India could have helped itself?
- Do you think Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel or Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose would have made a better PM than Nehru?
—-> Madhur Goyal