Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Non-alignment

Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister, is frequently held responsible for a lot of India's problems, including many that he did nothing to create by the way. In fact it is fashionable in contemporary India to assign the responsibility for just about any problem to him, to the point where one still gets to hear people holding him responsible for India's poverty to this day (never mind that the man has been dead since six and forty years now). To be sure, the mess that is Kashmir is a Nehruvian legacy and his handling of the China issue was an unqualified disaster. His economic policies resulted in a food crisis that effectively brought us down to our knees by the time Nehru passed away.

And yet, one of Nehru's many enduring legacies is non alignment. India championed the NAM (Non-aligned movement) in the years after independence. Despite India's gravitation towards the Soviet Union in the late 60s and beyond, non-alignment remains one of the cornerstones of Indian foreign to this day. In the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, most Indians were of the view that they had backed the wrong horse in those crucial years after independence: At a time when the USA was the undisputed world leader (in Bill Clinton's words, "the most indispensable country in the world") India was at an obvious disadvantage as a backward country that did not enjoy the backing of the lone superpower.

At this distance in time with the benefit of knowledge provided by that most perfect of sciences, hindsight, its clear that non-alignment has worked to India's advantage. Having made giant strides over the last fifteen years or so, India is now the 4th biggest economy in the world (in terms of Purchasing Power Parity), growing at 8-10% per annum at a time when most western economies are struggling to avoid negative growth. Not surprisingly, her clout in the international stage too has grown dramatically over that period. Having opted to remain unaligned, India is now free to pursue her own agenda at the international stage.

Just to illustrate the point, look at what has happened to India's neighbours to the west. Pakistan was once regarded as the model for other countries to emulate, having grown in the region of 5 to 6% during the 70s and up into the 80s. True, military rule has destroyed that country but the military would never have become all powerful but for their collaboration with the USA during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Look what three decades of that collaboration has done to that country: from having a state with an army, they now have an army with a state. Pakistan's economy is in shambles. Unemployment and poverty have reached such catastrophic proportions as to drive the flower of its youth into the hands of terrorists and fundamentalists. The young men lucky enough to make it to the army serve as cannon fodder in someone else's quest for unbridled power.

As recently as 2003, there were many in India who advocated our joining America in their Mesopotamian adventure, if only to curry favour with Uncle Sam. Fortunately, the naysayers far outnumbered the ones who said 'I do'. It needs no genius to say that India would have ended up a junior partner in the marriage, irrespective of the status of her economy. One only needs to look at the way the USA treats its junior partners to know how humiliating a subordinate relationship can be. What foreign statesperson would dare to order aerial bombings on Indian territory? Would any foreigner dare to even suggest to the Indian government how and where it is to deploy its soldiers, much less pressurise it on that score?

What can be more humiliating for a country than to have foreigners (under any pretext, whatsoever) instructing her and deciding the course of her policies? Make no mistake, that is the very fate that would have befallen India, had she chosen to depend on someone else's strength. Having escaped the worst effects of the global crisis, largely due to the conservative attitude of the regulatory authorities (that western observers criticised for so long), there has been a growing realisation that India's path towards development has to necessarily be an autochtonous one.

Nehru made his blunders, some of which haunt India to this day. Nevertheless, one area in which he embarked on the right path was foreign policy. Whatever the reasoning behind the stance he took (India was the first country that refuse to align itself with either side in the cold war), history has vindicated Jawaharlal Nehru. On this count, at least, he got it right.

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