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  • 8/4/2019 India and Superpowers


    India and the Super Powers: Deviation or Continuity in Foreign Policy?Author(s): Baldev Raj NayarSource: Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 12, No. 30 (Jul. 23, 1977), pp. 1185-1189Published by: Economic and Political WeeklyStable URL: .

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  • 8/4/2019 India and Superpowers



    I n d i a a n d t h e S u p e r P o w e r sDeviation or Continuity in Foreign Policy?

    BaldevRaj NayarThe drastic political changein Indiaafter the March Lok Sabhaelections could not be without amajor impact on foreign policy.However, the euphoria about foreign policy shifts following the changeof governmentrequiresaslightly more critical examination.A little historicalperspectivewill show that the initial statements ofthe new governmentmark not sb much a departureas a newstage in an evolutionarydevelopment nitiat-ed by the Congressgovernment.

    OVER the years, as a result of a clashof roles between the United Statesas a superpower and India as a mid-dle power, a structure of alignmenthad developed by the mid-70s where-by the US was linked with China,Pakistan and Iran, while India waslinked with the Soviet Union. 1 Al-though surface appearances are oftendeceptive, this structure of alignmentseemed to have acquired a frozenquality, with the different partnersapparently locked into somewhat rigidpositions. Then in mid-March 1977 amomentous event occurred in India,resulting in a massive defeat forPrime Minister Indira Gandhi andthe ruling Congress party by theJanata party consisting of a leadershipthat she had put in jail prior to theelections.There was great exultation inthe American administration at thismajor act of political surgery in India,and a keen expectation that the newgovernment would seek better rela-tions with the United States. The UShad already received strong signals inregard to the latter development.Even before the elections were com-pleted, Morarji Desai told an Ameri-can correspondent - who describedDesai as one "who strongly opposesCommunism" that as Prime Minis-ter he would immediately make apolicy declaration that would gladdenIndia's friends in the West, announc-ing a return to true non-alignment,and that he would not let the Indo-Soviet treaty stand in the way ofequal friendship with any other power.2Two days later, on March 22, 1977,after the overwhelming defeat of theCongress party had become clear, theNew York Times editorialised:

    Of partigular importance to theUnited States is the expected shiftin foreign policy. The attitude ofthe Congress party, which has ruledsince independence,, has varied from

    a self-righteous edginess toward theWest to a chilliness bordering onhostility. All indications from thevictorious alliance, known as Janata,are that a friendly attitude can beexpected toward the United States,with a noticeable cooling of feelingsfor the Soviet Union. Whatever itsforeign policy, India has begun toearn a new claim on Americansympathies, and perhaps aid.True to his word, at the press confer-ence soon after being sworn in as PrimeMinister, Desai declared in an appar-ent major foreign policy shift, "Wedo not have any special relations withany country". India, he said, wouldbe "properly non-aligned", pursuingfriendship with all countries on thebasis of reciprocity and not lettingthe Indo-Soviet treaty come in theway; he then stated somewhat provo-catively, "It is left to Russia to dowhatever they want".3

    After this declaration, the NewYork Times reported that "the im-plied Indian loosening of ties to theSoviet Union can also only be satis-fying to Washington". The US ad-ministration also "noted with inter-est" Desai's statement on abstinencefrom nuclear weapons, "suggesting ashift in India's nuclear policy thatmight move New Delhi and Washing-ton closer to agreement on the ques-tion".4 Sulzberger underlined that"Moscow's relations with India havebeen worsesnedby the election".5 Theseemingly far-reaching new possibili-ties opened up for Washington weremost dramatically expressed by JosephKraft:The setback suffered by Mrs Gandhiand the Congress party in Indiatilts the world balance of power. Itoffers fresh opportunities to thiscountry and - even more - itsquasi-ally, China, to advance theirpositions at the expense of the So-viet Union... That suggests a turn-ing to the United States and theworld community for aid... Together

    China and India would probablywork to limit Soviet influence in- Indochina... All these possibilitiesrepresent something of a windfallfor Washington.6For the obvious discomfiture causedto the Soviet Union and the prospectof Indian alienation from the SovietUnion, China too greeted fulsomelythe defeat of Indira Gandhi and hergovernment.

    Obviously, a drastic political changein India, after what many Indians havereferredcto as 'the dark night' and 'atraumatic experience', could not bewithout a major impact on policy.Often, merely change in personnel re-sults in policy shifts even as commit-ment is expressed for older postures.However, the euphoria about foreignpolicy shifts following the change ingovernment in India requires a slight-ly more critical examination. A littlehistorical perspective would demons-trate that the initial statements ofPrime Minister Desai did not mark anew departure but rather a new stagein an evolutionary development initiat-ed by Indira Gandhi and her govern-ment.

    India had deepened its relationshipwith the Soviet Union in the 1960sfollowing the American reluctance toassist it in building its military capa-bilities after the Sino-Indian borderclashes in 1962. Later, India's diplo-matic isolation and helpless plight in1971, burdened with 10 million re-fugees, while the US and China ren-dered political and material supp9rt toPakistan, tacitly and openly, droveIndia into a treaty that year with theSoviet Union to secure diplomatic pro-tection in its endeavour to cope withits critical situation. The result of theensuing war was the achievement byIndia of a pre-eminent position on thesub-continent, a status that it securedagainst the vigorous opposition of the


  • 8/4/2019 India and Superpowers


    July 23, 1977 ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLYUS and China, but with the crucialsupport of the Soviet Union. Soonthereafter, Indira Gandhi told C LSulzberger that "We Indians are un-able to be grateful to anybody", andIndia eagerly asserted its independenceby insisting on negotiating directly andbilaterally with Pakistan rather thanunder Soviet auspices as at Tashkentafter the 1965 war. Subsequently, theIndians expressed a desire for friend-ship with the US through a statementby Foreign Minister Swaran Singh-which the New York Times labled"Indian Love Call" and gratuitouslyattributed to Indian need for foodin which he underlined the sentimentthat "we cherish common values ofan abiding nature such as our beliefin democracy and a democratic wayof life, individual liberty and humandignity". A thaw gradually developedin Indo-US relations, and in duecourse the US made gestures towarda tentative, but in reality only sym-bolic, accommodation with India asthe region's pre-eminent power. Thisprocess reached its climax with Secre-tary Kissinger's visit to New Delhi in1974, when apparently "a new page"was turned, with Kissinger acceptingnon-alignment and acknowledging, that"the size and position of India give it aspecial role of leadership in South Asiaand in world affairs". Joint commis-sions were established to give moresubstance to the relationships betweenthe two countries.

    The process of reconciliation wasrudely disrupted, however, with thelifting of the arms embargo by theUS and the opening of the arms pipe-line to Pakistan in early 1975. Des-pite that, the two countries continuedto maintain a dialogue through thejoint commissions. The declaration ofthe Emergency in mid-1975 strained re-lations further, following the expers-sion of disappointment by US officialsand the strident criticism by the Ame-rican mass mec,ia. American observ-ers even speculated that India mightattack