Nehru and His Biggest Blunder: Spurning Membership of Security Council
Jawaharlal Nehru was the prime minister of India for 17 years from 1947 to 1964. This was the defining period of Indian history and Nehru in the afterglow of having claimed that the Congress party had won freedom for India continued to win three successive elections. The myth that independence was won under the guidance of this party and all credit should go to Nehru and Gandhi was foisted on the Indian nation by the Congress party. Great men who participated in the independence movement and had a greater effect like Subhash Chandra Bose and Sardar Patel were given a one-line reference in the history books.
The real facts were spilled by Clement Attlee, the last British prime minister who oversaw the independence of India when he stated that the effect of the movement by Gandhi for independence was minimal and the main threat was from the Indian National Army and Netaji Subash Chandra Bose.
Despite whatever had happened Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as a prime minister of India and the inheritor of the legacy of the Raj and the British Empire was required to build on the edifice left behind by the British. There are many ills of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru which I have cataloged in various other articles but in this article, I can bring out his immature and shortsighted approach to India’s membership of the Security Council.
Membership of the Security Council
Over the last few years, a discussion is going on in India regarding the offers made to India for permanent membership of the Security Council. These events took place in the 50s of the last century and the original file on the subject has never been made public.
DP Srivastava a former Indian foreign service officer has written that he had suggested that the file regarding India’s membership of the Security Council be de-classified and transferred to the national archives as it had no operational significance. This request was made in October 2000 and after that, with the Congress Party coming back to power the matter was put in cold storage.
Without going into details of the file at this stage, we can revisit the issue based on considerable material which has been declassified since then. This de-classified material includes records of Nehru’s correspondence with Soviet leaders in 1955 and also his correspondence with his sister Vijay Laxmi Pandit during her tenure as Ambassador to the United States.
A perusal of the files shows that during the mid-50s the USSR made an offer to India. Before this offer was made an earlier offer was made by the Americans. Details of this offer are available in the Nehru Memorial Library. There is also an article written by Anton of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Relations which published a research paper titled, ‘Not at the Cost of China: India and the United Nations Security Council, 1950’.
It is important to examine both the offers which emanated from the Soviet Union and earlier from the United States. The Soviet offer was for India to be inducted as a sixth permanent member, while the earlier US offer was for India to replace China in the Security Council. There was a significant difference between the two offers but the result was that India was offered a seat in the Security Council as a permanent member with full veto power.
The first offer made by the Americans was like a red rag to a bull to Pandit Nehru. Influenced by his friend and colleague Krishna Menon who had extreme leftist views, Nehru was convinced to reject the American offer. He thought it was a Western ploy to set India against China and therefore Nehru rejected it. One can now in hindsight realize the foolishness of Pandit Nehru that such a golden opportunity was spurned by him. The Soviet offer of India joining as a sixth permanent member did not pose any such dilemma.
There is a lot of truth that Nehru had really no idea of power politics and how nations are run. At that time the Soviet Prime Minister was Nikolai Bulganin who also visited India with Nikita Khrushchev in 1955. A perusal of Nehru’s Selected Works contains a record of Nehru’s discussions with Russian Prime Minister Nikolai Bulganin on the subject.
Bulganin had suggested that keeping the general international situation and reducing tension, India’s be included as a sixth member of the Security Council.
Nehru wrote back and gave a wishy -washy reply. He later commented that perhaps Bulganin knew that the USA had earlier suggested that India should replace China in the Security Council. He also went on to add that this is a ploy to create trouble between India and China and as such India is opposed to it and does not wish to be members of the Security Council at the expense of China.
Bulganin agreed not to push the matter after Nehru had unequivocally rejected Bulganin’s offer. Nehru reasons for rejecting the Soviet offer have never been amplified. Some commentators have suggested that perhaps the Soviet Union was not serious. This does not stand the test of scrutiny as the USSR was looking for friends and the relationship with China was getting fractured.
Perhaps Nehru at the back of his mind still had China and he was looking forward to how he could be friends with China, not realizing China wanted to dominate the world.
The US proposal for permanent membership for India pre-dates the Soviet proposal. Vijayalakshmi Pandit, as India’s US ambassador, reported to Nehru in August 1950 about a move in the State Department to replace China with India as a permanent member of the Security Council. She described the episode in derisive terms as being “cooked up in the State Department”. She rejected the offer and later Nehru ratified his sister’s view. In his reply, he said that such membership would mean “some kind of break between us and China”
Nehru and China
Despite the efforts of Nehru India’s relations with China deteriorated within a decade. This was not the result of American machinations, but Chinese aggression. The Chinese caught Nehru with his pants down and refused to ratify the MacMohan line as the border in the east and also acquired an area of 30,000 mi.² in the Aksai Chin. They also mounted an attack on India on 20 October 1962 and routed the Indian Army because Nehru all along had neglected the army and the soldiers were short of weapons and ammunition. It is on record that the Indian Army was sent into a battle wearing summer clothing at heights of 10,000 feet.
India came to depend on Soviet veto since the 50s. The foolishness of Nehru can be realized from the fact that India came to depend on the Soviet veto to help out on the Kashmir issue when in 1950 he could have very well become a member of the Security Council and exercised the Veto.
Who will rectify this blunder of history and for all the good Pandit Nehru may have done for the nation his acts of omission on the world stage like being boxed in by China and Pakistan show him in very poor light. This had to have an effect and after the Chinese debacle Nehru never went abroad and he was a shadow of his old self as he realized that the world was laughing at him. He died a heartbroken man.
Unlike India, the Chinese follow a relentless policy of " China first." The People’s Republic of China replaced Taiwan in the United Nations in 1971 and exercised its first veto over the admission of Bangladesh to the UN to neutralize the geopolitical gains made by India during the 71 war.
What of the future? Gaining permanent membership of the UN Security Council would require a Charter amendment, which would be subject to the Chinese veto. China relented on the Masood Azhar case with great difficulty. It continues to block India’s candidature for membership in the NSG. It is a matter of regret that China had Mao Tse Tung who thought about the future of China and domination as a world power. In contrast, India had Pandit Nehru who had no comprehension of power politics and lived in a dream world and ended up finally in shackling the Indian nation for the next hundred years.