Independent India saw a plethora of problems that had to be dealt with. The short-term problems were the refugee crisis, prevention of war, and rehabilitation of refugees. The refugee crisis in East Bengal was worse than in the Northwest as in the Northwest the migrants to Pakistan had left sizable land resources on which the incoming migrants could be resettled. Also, the linguistic integration of the incoming migrants was easier in the northwest. On the other hand, the incoming migrants from East Pakistan had to live in urban or semi-urban centers and this affected their lives. Also, they could be resettled only in Bengal, Assam, and Tripura due to linguistic differences.
The medium-term goals were to put in place a representative government at the center and states, reform the agrarian structure, and implement civil liberties. The long-term goals were to promote the process of a nation in the making, remove endemic poverty, initiate economic planning, promote national integration and initiate the planning process.
All these problems had to be built within the framework of values to which our national movement was committed to and by broad consensus.
Congress and its leaders started tackling these problems. The nation benefited from their leadership which was developed by fighting colonialism for years, participating in legislatures, organizing mass movements, and developing consensus for national programs. These leaders were present at the Center as well as the States and even outside Congress. Nehru and his ministers at the center were the most important. All leaders of India at that time had impeccable integrity and led austere lives.
Though Congress had hegemony over the independence struggle it had changed its character after independence i.e. From a movement to a Party. It had a firm grip over the masses even at the grassroots. Nobody questioned Congress and its policies [except the Communist party]. In such a situation Congress developed a truly national character by including notable non-Congressional like Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and SP Mukherjee. Thus Congress expanded the leadership at Constituent Assembly and made it truly national.
The next problem faced after the refugee crisis was the accession of princely states to India. This too was impacted by the national movement which had affected not only the people of British India but also the States. The people had struggled against Princes since the end of the 19th century. The national movement had affected them too. Thus the values and spirit of democracy were imbibed into them too and so this facilitated a fairly smooth transition of these states into India.
Communist Party and Nehru
Nehru’s government had to face strong resistance from the Communist Party of India from 1948 to 1951. The CPI declared that the Nehru government was an Imperial agent and must be removed. CPI also tried to stage militant revolts against the government through various rail strikes and protests.
Nehru though personally appalled by their violent techniques tried to avoid banning them. Finally when the evidence of violence was overwhelming CPI was banned in West Bengal only as it was most active there. After 1951, when the CPI chose to abandon violent tactics and pursue parliamentary processes Nehru removed the ban and allowed them to contest elections.
He felt that the Communists were interested in socio-economic development but their means were wrong. If they tried to pursue their goals like mainstream political parties they would be ideologically closer to Congress. However, he believed that Communalists couldn’t be evaluated under the same yardstick as they threatened the secular fabric of the society itself.
Diversity in India
The nation has tremendous diversity and so the government structure was decided as one that would combine features of a strong center while also accommodating regional diversity by having the autonomy to states organized on linguistic lines. The constitutional structure differentiated between unity and centralization and diversity and disintegration. Parliament became a great unifier where the power to govern the nation resides but at the same time, it is open to all who want to contend to participate in it.
Unity was also maintained by the political parties of India. Even during pre-independence times, the parties were created with an Indian presence and ideology based on national values. The leaders too were of diverse backgrounds representing all states and regions. The post-independence hegemony enjoyed by Congress didn’t change this. The party continued to welcome diverse political views and worked to unify different opinions. Though it reacted strongly to violence it had a sympathetic view of demands made non violently.
Indian army and administrative service too were symbols of continuity and stability. The apolitical nature of these two elements created a unifying factor for the nation. The personnel was recruited from all over India and so no disparity was seen.
The economic policy followed by the Government played a vital role in reducing poverty and regional disparity. This in turn ensured no separatist tendency amongst states. Although many differences have risen both on a linguistic and political basis they have been amicably resolved or at least didn’t escalate into major differences. This is because the most backward states are the Hindi-speaking states of UP, Bihar which can’t claim backwardness due to lack of political support as they enjoy it the most. The states that have high progress in income and standards are non-hindi speaking states like Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. These states can’t be accused of political preferential treatment too. In fact, most complaints of neglect have arisen from states like Punjab, and Haryana which have the highest growth rates.
Linguistic differences emerged among people for various issues like political power, jobs, and educational and economic development which led to political conflicts. This was inevitable in a multi-lingual country like India. These conflicts were related to the question of National language and state reorganization on linguistic lines.
Electoral Process takes Roots
The first elections in India were to be based on the principle of a universal adult electorate. The exercise for voter registration was a mammoth exercise but it was completed. The election took four months to complete. The congress would emerge as the single largest party and Communists as the second-largest party [CPI remained dominant till 1977]. The Parliament was then representative of candidates of all regions and parties. In spite of numeric domination by the Congress the system of debates and questioning was of high quality due to persons of eminence in their fields being present in the Parliament as well as Nehru’s respect for the opinion of all.
A few negatives too were seen in the elections – scramble for party tickets for the elections, squabbles amongst party-men for getting safe seats for contesting, increasing influence of caste in politics, and vote banks became important for the people.
The next few elections too witnessed an increase in voter turnout but the Congress continued to be the majority despite not having the support of the majority of voters. The Rightists and leftists made deep inroads but couldn’t dent the Congresses’ power. However, at the state level progress was made and Kerela became the first state to have a democratically elected communist government.
Elections were earlier questioned as the majority of the country was illiterate and thus the judgment of the people was questioned. Many skeptics believed that the system would be a failure as people wouldn’t grasp the complex electoral process nor could anyone organize it on such a large scale. However, the first elections put an end to the debate. Free and fair conduct of elections improved the nation’s image in the world, especially amongst ex-colonial countries.
Foreign Policy – Nehruvian Years
India’s aim was to have an independent foreign policy. Jawaharlal Nehru was the architect of this policy and wanted India to find expression in the international arena. This was given a concrete form by starting the Non-aligned movement. The World after WWII was divided into two blocs: Capitalists led by US and Communists led by USSR. India agreed to follow a policy of non-alignment which meant that all decisions shall be scrutinized and taken if they are in India’s interest and not just in the interests of any dominant power.
Non-alignment meant that India could maintain ties with both blocs and look after its own interests too. The Soviets provided India with help in building its Public sector industries something which the US wasn’t too keen on. It also was a forum for world peace as Nehru had always warned the World powers of the dangers of Nuclear War. Nehru’s ambition was to extinguish nuclear weapons from the World and saw the support of scientists like Albert Einstein himself.
Nehru also gave the World – Panchsheel which was a set of principles that would be followed by nations in maintaining bilateral relations.
Foreign Policy in action
Policy during Korean War
WWII had ended and Korea was partitioned into two parts with the North under the socialist influence and the South under influence of the US. The 38th parallel was the dividing line between the two. India had consistently maintained that the partition should be annulled and Korea should be united. When in 1950 North Korea crossed the border and attacked the Southern part, the UN resolution to make North Korea the aggressor was supported by India in spite of Chinese and Soviet wrath.
The US then attacked North Korea and pushed the forces out of the South. This action though didn’t have UN sanctions. China then joined the war on side of the North and sent volunteers to fight the war. This led to high Chinese, US, and Korean casualties. India had refused to support the UN resolution demanding Western military intervention and declaring China as the aggressor leading to US wrath. India thus should have independent foreign policy during the war. It constantly lobbied for including Communist China to be made a part of the UNSC as USSR had vacated membership in protest against Korea, a membership which India had refused.
India had to mediate the Suez dispute that arose when Egypt nationalized the canal. England and France were major users of the canal and instigated Israel to attack it. This was condemned by even US, and USSR. India though a user of the canal recognized Egypt’s sovereignty over it and wanted a settlement of disputes as per the UN charter. This was agreed to even by Egypt. Finally, even Britain recognized India’s approach and ended hostilities. This didn’t dent India’s relations with Britain.
Relations with the US
Indo US relations remained frosty for years after independence. One of the several reasons was the US war against Communism. Although Nehru also had differences with communists and had suppressed them for revolting he also disagreed that they were enemies of World peace. This view led to mistrust between US and India. The US also hated the Indian policy of non-alignment and attacked it for being amoral.
Recognition of Communist China was also a stumbling block as the US refused to do so. It also had policies that supported colonialism believing it fought communism viz. intervention of France in Indo – China, and Portuguese in Africa. Indian policy was against colonialism and in support of freedom for colonies.
The US also believed that the Indian state would disintegrate as it had a plethora of diversity. This view was partly because of British views of hate against Indian Congress leaders that had got independence for it. US-supported Pakistan by giving it secret military aid for fighting against soviet aggression but this was diverted against India. India accused the US of bringing the cold war to Asia by doing this.
The turning point of these relations came when China attacked India.
Relations with USSR
India had friendly relations with USSR right from its independence. The Soviets viewed India’s acceptance of the Commonwealth as a sad day for India. However when India became more aggressive against colonialism during Korean war and Suez crisis the Soviet stand changed. It developed friendly relations with India and also helped veto many UN resolutions on Kashmir which were anti-India. It also helped veto a resolution on the integration of Goa in India. India gained a major supporter at the UNSC which helped it vastly since UNSC was dominated by the US and its allies and mostly bowed to their aims.
Russia helped India to rebuild its Public sector industries at a time when the US remained non-committal. It also agreed to provide free military aid to India when the US gave aid to Pakistan but this was refused by India. During the Sino-Indian war, USSR remained neutral which was a major support to India. In fact, the Soviet leader of the Comintern, an international soviet pact declared China the aggressor.
After India’s defeat, many agreements were signed to make India a manufacturing center for military equipment which led to India’s victory in 1971. For USSR, Indian support was needed to counterbalance US policy. India could also be a gateway to African and ex-colonial countries which soviet wanted to appease. Thus, Indo – USSR relations were beneficial to both.
Relation with Neighbors
India had good relations with Nepal, and Bhutan but the relations with Pakistan and China were unstable. Kashmir was a princely state with a Hindu king and Muslim subjects. The nationalist movement launched by Sheikh Abdullah and National Conference also had good relations with India. When the British left India, Pakistani forces attacked Kashmir and the Maharaj signed the Instrument of Accession to India. Indian forces succeeded in repelling the enemies and gained an upper hand. However India moved the UN which passed a resolution for ceasefire. This was due to Cold War politics as Britain and US jointly followed a policy of appeasing Pakistan on Kashmir recognizing it as a potential ally. However, a plebiscite wasn’t possible till Pakistani forces withdrew from Kashmir hence it has remained a stalemate till now.
British which resented India supported the resolution in Pakistan’s favor and India had to observe the ceasefire. This was since the British supported the Muslim League that created Pakistan and wanted Pakistan as a buffer state against the Soviets. USSR also was unsure of India’s foreign policy and believed India to be a supporter of Britain and so it was non-committal on Kashmir. However later on USSR vetoed all resolutions on Kashmir unfavorable to India.
Meanwhile, the Constituent Assembly of Kashmir held its session and agreed to be an integral part of India. Kashmir issue could have been solved in 1953 due to joint declarations by PM’s of both sides but this collapsed due to Cold War politics. In 1962, Pakistan tried to take advantage of India’s defeat and demanded the whole of Kashmir but this too was thwarted. US had recognized the importance of Pakistan and continued to integrate it into the Capitalist military alliances like CEATO, Baghdad Pact, etc. Pakistan’s Muslim League had supported the British and so its current leadership too saw an advantage in the US. USSR too had for a brief period attempted to grow closer to Pakistan but it realized that Pakistan was too deeply integrated with the US system.
China too was an old ally of India. Both had a long history of struggle against imperialism. India had boycotted Japanese goods after the latter attacked China. India also became one of the first to recognize China as a country. It also acted as a link between China and the West. When China attacked Tibet, India wasn’t informed but it recognized Chinese sovereignty over Tibet. Although it gave refuge to Dalai Lama and Tibetans, it disallowed them to form a Government in exile.
Chinese shoulders attacked India and the army surrendered the Northeast without a fight. Tensions grew in India and an SOS was sent to western powers US and UK. Chinese incursion stopped and the army withdrew. PM Nehru got a shock due to the Chinese incursion and this was one reason for his demise.
In the aftermath of the war, US and UK wanted a quid pro quo for the aid. They set up massive conditions for minuscule amounts of military aid and so to counter this India grew closer to USSR. This friendship proved fruitful even during the Indo-Pak War in 1971 when US and China both supported Pakistan. Due to Soviet pressure China remained neutral. A major blow was also dealt with by the Non-aligned movement as an attack had been made by a Socialist power not a Capitalist power. Congress and Nehru suffered blows to his credibility and had to dismiss Defense Minister Krishna Menon.
Analysis of Nehruvian Foreign Policy
The Defeat of India in the 1962 war was seen as a failure of Nehruvian foreign policy but it wasn’t so.
China had become increasingly isolated as the US and the Western allies had refused to accept it as a country and continued to treat Taiwan as the real government of China. Soviets too were increasingly in conflict with China on border issues. China had been involved in Korean war but had to face a stalemate and its isolation by the West hadn’t ended. The Chinese also believed in a Policy of maintaining arms length distance from the US and the USSR and opposed India’s policy of maintaining close relations with both. It couldn’t make much headway amongst the African nations as they all were under influence of the Non-Alignment movement of India. Hence it wanted to fight a war to defeat and humiliate Nehru. They believed war should show the world futility of Nehruvian policy.
However the blame of defeat shouldn’t be on Nehru’s pacifist policies of keeping Military spending low and keeping a small army. These accusations aren’t true as the same military stalled Pakistan’s efforts of defeating India in 1965. It was a failure on the military’s part to underestimate China’s intention and fail to make a strong defense even though it had resources. The meek withdrawal from Arunachal Pradesh emboldened Chinese and they withdrew soon as India prepared for a full scale war at Assam. The nation attacked Nehru and he too panicked and appealed for US, UK intervention prematurely.
Nehru’s foreign policy of maintaining good relations with Pakistan led to the avoidance of a War on two fronts. Also his efforts of maintaining good relations with both powerful blocs got India sympathy which was unprecedented during those times.
Nehru believed more in economic development that would strengthen a country instead of piecemeal measures like purchasing arms. This policy bore fruit in the future and led to successful military campaigns.