Opinion: In realm of diplomacy, Congress always proactive

In the Post-War period, when India had attained Independence, the fledgling nation was put to test, as the country had to face eversomany crises on the global scene. At the height of the Cold War, there were crises galore, like the Korean War, Suez Canal Crisis, Hungary, Bangladesh Liberation War, Maldives Coup Attempt, which was successfully foiled by Rajiv Gandhi in a swift operation and Sri Lankan crisis, in all of which, India acquitted herself with dignity and respect.

The BJP regime has not acquitted itself with grace and dignity in dealing with crisis situations. Despite the Saffron Brigade’s contempt for NAM, it has not been able to move away from it; though it did make clumsy attempts to dilute it.

In the Morarji Desai Government in 1977, when RSS men held key posts, Atal Behari Vajpayee was Foreign Minister. He made a determined attempt to dilute Non-Alignment Policy, by raising the bogey of Genuine Non-Alignment, which was a euphemism for its Pro-US stance.

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Moshe Dayan Secret Visit

During the Janata Party regime, Israeli Minister Moshe Dayan made a secret trip to India. That Government had no guts to openly invite the Israeli Minister.

On the other hand, when Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao established diplomatic ties, he held a breakfast meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and took him into confidence and only later signed the file.

During the IC 814 plane hijack, the nation witnessed the sad and sorry spectacle of External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh escorting dreaded terrorists to Kandahar in 1999 under the Vajpayee Government. There were eversomany plane hijack incidents but never was such an ugly spectacle witnessed.

Again, during the Vajpayee Government from 1998 to 2004, and now during the Modi Government since 2014, the Saffron Brigade could not tinker with NAM. Despite its Pro-United States leanings, it could not make India a camp-follower of the US, though constant attempts were made by the BJP, but most unsuccessfully.

Failure to Condemn US

For instance, in 2002-2003, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee almost succumbed to the US pressure to send the Indian troops in support of the US invasion of Iraq. The Congress, which was the principal Opposition party, had put down its foot, saying, India can send forces only under the aegis of the United Nations and not under the United States of America.

Similarly, when the Congress pressed for both Houses of Indian Parliament adopting a Resolution condemning the US invasion of Iraq, Vajpayee was faced with a dilemma. He could not see himself going against the US, since his party has always been Pro-US.

In a desperate gambit to wriggle out of a tight spot, Vajpayee brought the Resolution in Hindi. He tried to get away with a very mild expression, Ninda, which only means Deplores and does not mean Condemns.

Modi Clean-Chit to China

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had gone to the extent of giving a clean-chit to China by declaring that no Indian territory was under Chinese control, after the recent Chinese incursions in Galwan Valley sector.  Prime Minister Modi was not even prepared to mention the name of China, far from condemning its military adventurism.

In the latest Ukrainian crisis, as well, for the first time, India has been on the backfoot. Even with a Saffron Ideologue as External Affairs Minister, the Modi Government has been clueless about dealing with the crisis. The Modi Government is struggling to formulate its stand clearly and firm up its position on dealing with the situation in Ukraine.

First time in decades, India has been reduced to the status of a by-stander and a mere spectator. The Modi Government is unable to come to grips with the situation, in order to play a meaningful role in resolving an international crisis.

Nehru’s Stewardship

However, the Indian track-record, by and large under the Congress dispensation has been, in fact, most gratifying. India was fortunate that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru,  who took active interest in the global developments even prior to the Indian Independence, became Free India’s First Prime Minister. He became the Architect of the Indian Foreign Policy and steered it personally during his 18-year-long tenure in office, from 1946-1964.

It was early years of Indian Independence. India was neither a military, nor an economic, power. Yet, in each international crisis, India was heard with respect, for sheer moral force behind the Indian voice.

Free India’s First Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who single-handedly formulated a comprehensive and credible Indian Foreign Policy. The Policy of Panchsheel, which is part of Sino-Indian Trade Agreement, is still considered as providing the ideal framework for bilateral relationships. The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), launched by Nehru,  continues to remain the sheet-anchor of the Indian Foreign Policy.

Korean War

Under the Congress stewardship, India played a crucial role in several global crises. In 1953, during the Korean War, India played a key role. Despite not having any specific geo-political interests in the Korean Peninsula, India maintained a neutral position before and during the war years. India believed in the reunification of the Korean Peninsula. At the United Nations, V K Krishna Menon took on the responsibility of effectively articulating the Indian viewpoint.

In November, 1952, India proposed at the UN, the creation of a Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission to facilitate the repatriation of prisoners. It was chaired by India, with Lt General K S Thimmaya heading it.

It was owing to the indefatigable efforts by India that the Korean War was brought to an end. Nehru, with a brilliant team that included V K Krishna Menon, Sir B N Rau, K M Pannikar and P N Haksar, maned to successfully carry out his peace campaign in the Korean Peninsula.

Suez Canal Crisis

Nehru played a pivotal role during the Suez Canal Crisis. At a time when Gamel Abdel Nasser was spearheading Arab Nationalism, Nehru but bridges and along with the erstwhile Yugoslavian leader Josip Broz Tito, launched the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961.

During the Suez Canal Crisis, when Israel, Britain and France invaded Egyptian territory in 1956, Nehru showed solidarity.

At the UN, India’s Permanent Representative Arthur Lall was instructed to actively collaborate with the Egyptian delegate Omar Loutfi. The US-sponsored Uniting for Peace Resolution, passed on November 2, 1956, pushed fighting forces behind armistice lines, and opened the way for what came to be known as the Eisenhower-Nehru Formula. In essence, the US pushed forth at the UN in dealing with Western powers, while India led Asian and African nations, two days later, moving a 19-member Asian-African Resolution urging full compliance with previous UN Resolutions calling for a ceasefire.

Hungarian Crisis

For Nehru, the erstwhile Soviet intervention in Hungary in 1956 posed a major challenge. Nehru was criticized for his delayed response. But once Nehru was convinced that Hungarian uprising was nationalistic in character, he became vocal in his reaction to Soviet actions.

Soon Nehru demanded that the UN be allowed to do its job and send an observer team under the UN supervision, along with medical supplies and aid materials.

Indira Gandhi Initiatives

The Vajpayee Government during Kargil War had claimed that the IAF aircraft had carefully negotiated the Line of Control  (LOC), so as not to violate it, when Pakistan troops entered deep into Indian territory and with local cement built bunkers in Kargil.

Compare this with Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in the 1965 Indo-Pakistan War and again the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. India made it clear that as a peace-loving nation, she is against; but if War is thrust on India, it will be fought on enemy territory.

Prime Indira Gandhi reacted decisively to the genocide in the erstwhile East Pakistan, later Bangladesh, after Pakistan refused to honour the mandate of Pakistan General Election in 1970, when Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman emerged as Pakistan Prime Minister-Elect.

To confront the US-Pakistan-China Axis, Indira Gandhi signed the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation was signed on August 9, 1971. It was a gamechanger as the US Seventh Fleet, deployed in the Bay of Bengal in a bid to browbeat India, had to pullout. Ultimately, Indo-Pakistan War ended with the surrender of 90,000 Pakistani troops to Lt General Jagjit Singh Arora in Dhaka on December 16, 1971, by Pakistani Eastern Command head, Lt Gen A A K Niazi.

In 1979, Soviet Russia invaded Afghanistan. Indira Gandhi, who lost the General Election in 1977, came back to power in 1980, when the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan became a major challenge.

Desisting from public posturing, Indira Gandhi made it clear to the Soviets that their continued occupation of Afghanistan was unacceptable. Soviets were looking for a face-saving formula for a pullout. Finally, the Soviets announced their decision on pullout in November 1986 but completed it only in February 1989.

Indira Gandhi also staged the Six-Nation, Five-Continent Peace Initiative in 1984 against nuclear arms race.

Regional Power

Rajiv Gandhi carried it forward in 1986. In 1988, he came up with the Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan for Universal and Total Nuclear Disarmament at the Special Session of the UN General Assembly.

In 1987, following the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord, Rajiv Gandhi sent in the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lankan to help end the internecine Civil War with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of V Prabhakaran.

Similarly, when a coup was attempted in November 1988 in Maldives, acting on the SOS from the Maldives Government, Rajiv Gandhi swiftly sent in forces to foil the bid and rescue the Maldives President.

These initiatives of Rajiv Gandhi helped India to emerge as a Regional Power.

Venkat Parsa is a senior journalist and writer based in New Delhi.

Views expressed are personal

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