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The Indian Advocacy of Internationalism in the Nehru Years

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  • November 19, 2010
    Fellows' Seminar


    As the title suggests, the paper examines one of the significant aspects of Indian foreign policy which was greatly influenced by Nehru’s ideas on internationalism. The purpose of the paper is to explore how this idea of internationalism evolved during the freedom struggle and made a passage thereon to be a part of independent India’s foreign policy. Nehru’s aim in advocating the principles of internationalism was to realise the creation of the ideal of One World centred on the United Nations which represented the world community. Keeping this in mind, he crafted independent India’s foreign policy composed of five elements: opposition to colonialism, imperialism and racialism; concept of non-alignment vis-à-vis the two Cold War blocs to preserve Asia in particular as an ‘area of peace’; prevent internationalization of conflict; disarmament; and peaceful co-existence as embodied in the Panchsheel agreement for the evolution of a peaceful and co-operative international order, thus paving the way for realising the ideal of One World. These elements became the framework through which the foreign policy of India was conducted, mostly connected and identified with ‘non-alignment’. The author clearly expresses that all these elements including non-alignment were designed for the realization of the ideal of One World.

    The paper is composed of four sections. First the paper discusses the origins of Indian internationalism and how it emerged as an integral part of the expression of Indian nationalism, particularly from the 1920s. This had much to do with the developments within Asia in this period. ‘Anti-imperialism’ and ‘solidarity’ with colonised states as well as the idea of ‘Asianism’ were an integral part of the views of the Congress on foreign affairs. This was entwined with the goal of attaining independence and the call for co-operation among nations fighting imperialism. Hence, Congress and Nehru expressed a commitment to the goals of anti-imperialism and nationalism along with internationalism. Here the paper points to the Congress policy of India not becoming a party to an imperialist war or being forced into one, thus suggesting the direction of independent India’s foreign relations. These ideas and principles became the key pillars of Indian foreign policy after independence.

    The second section focuses on the dilemma that Indian nationalists faced in terms of reconciling their demand for independence from British imperialism with the internationalist responsibility of opposing Nazism, Fascism and Militarism, and how they sought to reconcile the two, particularly in the Quit India Resolution. The Quit India Resolution clearly expressed the Indian approach of internationalism in terms of anti-imperialism, anti-racialism and freedom for all peoples, particularly in Asia; the idea of free nations joining together to form the future UN; the importance of the UN serving as the mainstay of a new international order, a world federation that would work for the common good of all humanity; and global disarmament.

    Section three discusses the idea of Pan-Asianism, which provided the backdrop for independent India’s emphasis on Asian solidarity vis-á-vis European imperialism. Nehru’s thoughts in this regard were articulated in his works, proposing the formation of an “Asiatic Federation of Nations”. The outcome of these ideas, along with those of the Congress and other Indian thinkers, was the idea of rallying all Asian countries to promote peace and fashion a normative international order by supporting the UN. This was to lead in the direction of realising the ideal of One World.

    Section four parses through select speeches of Nehru to demonstrate the internationalist framework that guided Indian foreign policy during the Nehru years and argues that the above mentioned ideals, ideas, and goals were incorporated since Nehru’s incumbency as Prime Minister in the interim government. Anti-imperialism and non-alignment were a result of the expression of Indian nationalism from the 1920s. This was put to practice along with others: prevention of internationalization of conflict; disarmament; and peaceful co-existence. These elements were incorporated in the wake of developments in Asia—SEATO and CENTO alliances in Asia, war in the Korean Peninsula, etc.—which portended possibilities of a world war. The fact that all these elements were an integral part of a unified conception of internationalism and of the imperative of nudging the world towards the ideal of One World centred on the United Nations is clearly evident in Nehru’s speech at the UN General Assembly on 20 Dec. 1956, wherein he emphasised the significance of UN as representing the world community and how the Cold War and arms race were impediments to realising the ideal of One World.

    The paper ends by noting that internationalism was replaced by national interest in subsequent years due to the security concerns faced by India. The paper gives a normative conclusion that national power should be married with the ideals of internationalism.

    External Discussant

    Prof. Pusphesh Pant: Extolled the paper in terms of the relevance of the subject. However suggestions were made in terms of: the need to contextualize, and on the paper being Nehru-centric. It was pointed out that the time-line dates back much before the Nehruvian period regarding internationalism. Also there were thinkers within India who had similar or contending views on internationalism. Bearing in mind the age of Nehru, with regard to his earlier works, the importance of periodization or framing of exact time-lines on Nehru’s advocacy was stressed upon. Thirdly, there were movements like the Khilafat which went beyond Pan-Asianism. Fourth, it was to be noted that Nehru was not a complete idealist. He was practical on matters like the Sino-Indian border issue, Tibet etc. Fifth, the need to clarify the context in which internationalism was defined in the paper; Asian solidarity or Afro-Asian solidarity or world solidarity.

    Internal Discussants

    V. Krishnappa: Commended that the author had included Nehru’s advocacy of a global order as the latter could foresee the world in terms of global networks in play. This was important from the strategic as well as the national interest perspective. With regard to the time-line of Nehru’s advocacy, suggestions were made that it could be located within contemporary representations of Nehru. One of the comments was on how Pan-Asianism could be reconciled with internationalism when materialism had taken over Asia.

    Dr. Rajaram Panda: Reiterated the need for the timeline and contextualisation. He mentioned his reservation regarding the use of phrase -‘surrender of sovereignty’. The paper would also benefit if detailed analysis was made on the role played by India in the Korean War. Inclusion of events like the Japanese victory over China; Tagore’s dialogue with the Japanese philosopher Okakura Tenshin on Asian identity; possibilities of atomic war and Japanese annexation of Korea, were all imperative. Stress was laid on the need to clarify the context of Pan-Asianism and also the need to categorize the regions of Asia. As it was pointed out in the paper on possibilities of a third World War with regard to Asian developments viz., Indo-China War and Korean War, the significance of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis which brought the world to the brink of a world war needs to be included in this context as well. Suggestion was made on the need to mention Radha Binod Bihari Pal’s dissenting judgment at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East and how this judgment boosted the morale of the Japanese after their defeat in WW-II. Lastly, as the conclusion was abrupt, he suggested that the paper would need more elaboration.

    General Discussion

    Several comments were made in terms of the paper being a framework of Nehru’s ideas. Nehru, Tagore, Gandhi were personalities of their own. The 1920s were different from the 1930s and Nehru’s views on internationalism were not necessarily shared by his colleagues. Nevertheless, Congress was led to a great degree by Nehru. Differentiation has to be made between Nehru the thinker and Nehru the statesman. As the world is coming close to Nehru/Gandhi ideals, especially with Obama advocating a world without nuclear weapons, the need for reviving these themes highlighted in the paper was significant.

    Chair’s Summary

    Prof. Sumit Ganguly: Noted that changes and comments suggested were vast and hence a book in the making would be a good idea. Prof. Ganguly made three organisational comments: one, on sections being far too long and thus the need to break them further into sections, secondly the usefulness of having clearer time-lines or historical periodization, and finally the conclusion being compressed and abrupt.

    He also made substantive comments: whether there was even the prospect of UN during 1942 when the Quit India Resolution was pronounced. Discussion and themes are not connected, but descriptive. For instance, India’s role in the Korean War needs to be more detailed. Importance to be given to India-China agreement on Tibet as it was a pivotal movement. This should lead and continue the debate on Nehru’s stand. Thirdly, there is a highly idealized view on Pan-Asianism between pages 14 to 17 which evaporates after the war. No mention of the viciousness of Japan is made. Fourth, one should note, as Prof. Pant said, that Nehru was in the Ahmednagar prison without access to material and news. Nevertheless, he brilliantly prophesized that Britain would not stand up to Hitler. This suggests that Nehru was not an idealist as he was made out to be.

    Report prepared by Joyce Sabina Lobo, Research Assistant at IDSA.