‘Power & Diplomacy — India’s Foreign Policies during the Cold War’ review: Coming in ...

‘Power & Diplomacy — India’s Foreign Policies during the Cold War’ review: Coming in from the Cold War

Why and how India’s non-alignment policy changed over the decades

In contemporary parlance, India dropped its allegiance to ‘non-alignment’ only in the last few years. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the only Indian Prime Minister not to have referred to the term in foreign policy speeches, and he became the first to skip the summit of Non-aligned nations in Caracas in 2016 (Chaudhury Charan Singh had skipped the summit in 1979 due to upcoming elections), and didn’t send a cabinet minister to the event either.

In an academic work released this year, Power and Diplomacy: India’s Foreign Policies during the Cold War, however, author Zorawar Daulet Singh argues that non-alignment conceptualised in the 1950s under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was the only ideological application of the policy, and governments after it, beginning with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, practised only pale approximations of it.

In the introduction to the book, Singh quotes Krishna Menon as saying that non-alignment was necessitated by the world post-1945. “We would not go back to the West with its colonialism and there was no question of our going the Soviet way,” he explained.

Restrictive brace?

During the Cold War, the choice between the rival ‘Blocs’ led by Washington and Moscow became even more untenable for Nehru, argues Singh, while in contrast, Mrs. Gandhi made her choice by signing the Indo-Soviet treaty.

While Nehru saw India’s role as a ‘peacemaker’, Singh contends, his daughter was a ‘Security Seeker’. This framing of the argument would explain why although Indira Gandhi is most visibly associated with the NAM (Non-Aligned Meet), which she led for years, it is distinct from ‘Non-Alignment’ as Nehru-Menon first conceived it.

Non-Alignment 1.0 then, as practised in the first decade of the Indian republic was an ambitious, pro-active policy that empowered India to punch far above its weight. Subsequently, however, it gave India a more defensive posture, and was used as an excuse not to engage in external crises. In more recent years, of course, it has been reviled as a restrictive brace, and the cause of India’s inability to take strong action.

Model methods

Singh uses models to explain his theories, with ‘Choice Paths’ that distinguished Nehru-Menon’s way from Indira Gandhi’s on the First and Second East Bengal Crises (1950 v/s 1971), the Indo-China (Vietnam) crises in 1954 and 1965-66, and gives a detailed, descriptive account of the handling of the crises in Formosa (Taiwan) in 1954 and the annexation after referendum in Sikkim (1975).

His conclusions on India and its neighbourhood are worth studying, particularly the contrast with the Nehru period when ‘India materially towered over Southern Asia on every metric of capabilities’ to the succeeding decades when India seemed held down by its subcontinental conflicts. Singh approaches each of these as a scholar, not a commentator, and makes no judgment on either approach, but equally makes it clear that the book’s mission is to revise the view of India’s cold war policies prevalent today.

Power & Diplomacy is not an easy read, given its models and exhaustive archives-based research, but is an enriching one for the serious student of foreign policy.

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