Was Nehru’s action 55 years ago an unpardonable ?

Since long India has been fighting for a place as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). However, this struggle for a permanent UNSC seat is turning out to be a losing battle and would seemingly continue to be so for a variety of reasons for possibly many more decades to come. Before going into the pros and cons of the intriguing international situation, so vitally associated with the entry of a new permanent member to the UNSC, over a billion people in India reserve the right to question as to why the first Prime Minister of the country, Jawaharlal Nehru, refused the offer of a permanent UNSC seat made by the United States in 1955. Was it an unpardonable bungling by Nehru or a clever diplomatic move to save India from ignominy and enmity of powerful nations?

Very few people know that in 1955 the then US President Dwight David Eisenhower was caught in an unenviable situation of choosing between the People’s Republic of China under the Communist regime led by Mao Tse Tung and the then Formosa or the present Republic of China for a permanent seat at the UNSC. While Communist revolution was new and was beginning to find a firm footing in the Chinese mainland or the present People’s Republic of China, Washington’s blue-eyed boy Seng Kai Sek was compelled to find shelter in the island of Formosa after fleeing from the Chinese mainland. While the US was dead against Communist China becoming a permanent member of the UNSC, Eisenhower could clearly visualize that any offer made in favour of Formosa, then ruled by a fleeing dictator, would be vehemently opposed by other permanent members of the UNSC, more particularly by the then Communist USSR.

With the Cold War between the NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries being the order of the day in 1955 and India maintaining equidistance from both the blocks, perhaps President Eisenhower thought it prudent that India could fit into the permanent Asian seat in the UNSC, and accordingly the offer was made.

On the other hand, reports indicate that the then Communist USSR, a permanent member in the UNSC, mounted pressure on New Delhi to vouch for Communist China for the permanent Asian seat in the UNSC, promising that an elusive sixth UNSC permanent member seat to be offered to India in the coming years.

Today, 55 years later, as New Delhi runs from pillar to post for a permanent member seat in the UNSC, a review of Nehru’s decision to go by Moscow’s persuasion and plea in favour of China for a permanent UNSC seat could be of great significance. Perhaps a leader with lesser understanding of the then international scenario would have jumped to the conclusion of saying ‘‘Yes’’ to the US offer and possibly would have landed up biting dust. The crux of the matter at that point of time was the Cold War. The US, UK and France openly belonged to one block while of the Warsaw Pact countries USSR was the sole member in the UNSC. Moscow’s gameplan was obviously to have another Communist power as a permanent member in the UNSC to face the challenge of the NATO even within the security council. And hence the pressure on New Delhi to surrender the US offer in favour of China.

Any observer with adequate knowledge of the raging Cold War and the international scenario in 1955 would agree that Washington’s offer of a permanent UNSC seat could never ensure India a cake walk into the Security Council. With every permanent member enjoying veto power it was clear as daylight that any proposal for the fifth member’s name made by a member of one block would be vetoed by the member(s) of the other block. Accordingly, in the face of a standing US offer, possibly Nehru could see through the Soviet gameplan of vetoing any member’s name till China made the entry into the Security Council as the permanent member from Asia. Perhaps realizing a near impossible task of making way to the Security Council with the two Cold War blocks calling the shots in tune with their confrontation, Nehru possibly could clearly visualize the ineffectiveness of the US offer and hence turned down the offer.

Another reason why Nehru possibly rejected the US offer could possibly be to maintain friendly relations with all countries, regardless of blocks, or at least not to incur the wrath of any country, more particularly powerful nations. Perhaps Nehru was highly convinced that the American gameplan would come a cropper, leaving India to bite dust while relations with the Soviet Union and China would deteriorate to an all-time low. With the situation ensuring an almost certain fall and ignominy, it was only natural for New Delhi to reject the US offer. After all, any fool can aim for the moon, but the wise and the intelligent would always consider if a greater risk of crash-landing or still worse nose-landing could be on the cards. And certainly Nehru did not want to see India crestfallen after fighting a losing battle.

Meanwhile, much water has flowed down the Mississipi, the Volga, the Ganga and the Yangtze Kiang in the last 55 years. Looking back now, nothing perhaps is as easy as criticizing Nehru for giving up the Security Council permanent member seat even by one without any knowledge of the Cold War that raged for decades together till the Soviet Union collapsed in the eighties.

However, it is most unfortunate and ironic that today China is apparently turning out to be a mighty roadblock in India’s quest for a permanent seat in the UNSC. Likewise, the United States also has a different gameplan. Washington would not like to offend Pakistan, one of its frontline buyers of arms and other goods, by supporting India in the matter of a permanent seat in the UNSC. Ironically, today India can almost be certain of Moscow’s support among the powers enjoying veto in the Security Council. However, with raging turbulence than ever before on all fronts in the international arena, one can never be sure as to how many more decades India may have to wait for an opportune moment to enter the Security Council as a permanent member or if a UNSC permanent seat would remain an elusive dream for this nation for all times to come.

Talmizur Rahman

The Style Souk