B S Raghavan

Nehruvian stamp on India's security doctrine

Updated on: Mar 17, 2011

The formulation of a credible and durable national security doctrine for India, in the light of my immediately preceding two columns, has necessarily to take account of, if not at places build on, the legacy of India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

This is because, for a long time to come, whether one acknowledges it or not, the doctrine will be influenced by the vision and the mission he laid down for it.

Indeed, that part of the history of India after Independence has a significant bearing on the many facets of security policy planning and provides the setting for the whole exercise.

India has been fortunate in having had at the helm of its affairs, for 17 years after Independence, a leader who not only had his finger on the national pulse, from his frequent travels and mingling with vast masses of people in every nook and corner of the country, but was a keen and sensitive student of the nuances of events and forces that shaped the destinies of different countries of the world.

Almost from the time of his joining the freedom struggle, Nehru commanded the unchallenged authority of an analyst and interpreter of foreign affairs within the Indian National Congress.

Like all great persons, he also had his share of mis-judgments, but it will be churlish, on that score, to deny or discount his monumental contributions to the framing of overarching national policy goals.

While blaming him for a blunder here or a misstep there, it must, in fairness, be remembered that those were defects of his virtues — which were his Gandhian upbringing, his trust in the UN as a problem-solver, conciliator and facilitator, and his allergy for any kind of ganging up of nations for undercutting, containing or lording it over each other.

That explains his taking recourse to mediation by the UN on Kashmir, his giving Portugal a long rope in respect of its colonial possessions in India before kicking it out, his indulgence to Mao's China to the extent of continuing to support its admission to the UN even after it tore the Panch Sheel to pieces and invaded India, his keeping his distance from the US, repelled by its self-righteous and domineering propensity, and his predisposition for the Soviet Union which, he believed, was doing its best to raise the standard of life of the people.

Benign concern

Also, his era was bedevilled by the intrusion of the compulsions of the Cold War in national and international affairs, and he had to steer the ship of state through the shoals and sandbars of a world riven by ideological blocs and military pacts.

His revulsion for them was entirely justified and his forging of non-alignment was a master-stroke that just fitted the times.

More than any leader past and present, he unreservedly identified himself with the lot of neighbouring countries, as also developing and least developed ones.

They looked up to him for sage counsel and concrete help in times of need. Likewise, he was the one whose empathic understanding of the susceptibilities and aspirations of the tribal population has not been equalled since.

Nehru, finally, was nothing if not totally transparent. He never hesitated to give public expression in unmistakable language to his innermost thoughts on any event and issue.

This was sometimes criticised as being preachy and causing affront to the individuals or countries concerned, but it also in its own way helped dispel doubts about his stance or course of action and in moulding public opinion along lines he considered best suited to the national interest.

In sum, from a study of the Nehruvian legacy, tolerance, togetherness, trust and transparency emerge as the governing principles of relations within and among nations, India's security planning too cannot be divorced from them. From this standpoint, what should be the vision and mission built into it? Watch this space!

Published on March 29, 2011

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