By M.V. Kamath
Crossing the Rubicon: The shaping of India'snew foreign policy by C. Raja Mohan; Penguin Books, Delhi; pp 327; Rs 300.00
Throughout the thirties and forties of the twentieth century few in India would have ever given any serious thought to foreign policy, if only for the simple reason that India was not free and to think of foreign policy would have been ridiculous. Few politicians or, for that matter, even intellectuals and academicians travelled abroad specifically to understand what was going on in the world.
The United States was just a far away land discovered by Columbus, redeemed by Abraham Lincoln and straightened up by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Indian thought was centered on the United Kingdom. Hitler and Mussolini did rouse Indian thinking upto a point and Stalin was a vague figure. Among politicians Jawaharlal Nehru was about the only one who had travelled to Europe and, of course, to Britain and in his way came to hate both the European dictators, in addition to Franco. Within the Indian National Congress, it was Nehru to whom party leaders listened; he was the party'sforeign affairs expert and naturally it was inevitably he who took on the External Affairs Ministry and guided it. Nehru, of course, was greatly influenced by contact and upbringing by Britain and British leaders, especially the Labour leaders. Among his close advisers was V.K. Krishna Menon on whom Nehru leaned greatly and for obvious reasons. Menon had lived practically all his adult life in England and was in close touch with British Leftist intellectuals. He could in some ways claim to be know-ledgeable about foreign affairs.
In many ways Nehru was a novice, for all his travels and study. By the time he took over the reins of power, the Cold War had started in right earnest and decisions had to be taken. India had three options: to go along with the West, to make common cause with the Left or to stay neutral-Non-Aligned as the word went. Wisdom dictated that India should stay neutral, especially considering that Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands were, in 1947, still retaining their colonial empires and India felt rightly that it had a duty to undo the last vestiges of colonialism around the world.
As long as India goes begging from door to door to get promoted to Permanent Membership of the Security Council, it remains the porcupine. India is on its way to be a Great Power and it must act like one and be willing to bite.
That this inevitably pitched India into a certain orbit was a natural consequence. Besides, Nehru'sBrahmanical pride would not let him play second fiddle to any other power. Non-alignment, then, was the obvious option for India and Nehru played the game with some consummate skill. Nehru passed away in time. The Soviet Union broke up. Overnight, non-alignment became more of a burden than an option. Indira Gandhi had sensed it and in some ways she was ahead of her advisers. Succeeding Prime Ministers sought to find their ways through the non-aligned thicket. It wasn'tall that easy to make a switch-over, though, with the passing away of the old stalwarts like Marshal Tito, Egypt'sNasser and Indonesia'sSukarno, the way for India was wide open to forge new ties. That had become imperative. In the East, China was making rapid strides economically; in the West, the United States was beckoning. Up north, Russia was struggling for breath. Next door Pakistan was hell-bent on creating trouble.
For India there was no other option but to adopt a new policy and break away from the past. It had, as the title of this book suggests, to cross the Rubicon. The story of how it sought to do so and what difficulties came in its way form the core of this brilliant and objective narrative. India'sproblem was that psychologically it wasn'tdestined to be aggressive. For centuries it had been ruled by aliens and was not trained to be itself, self-confident and pushing. As Raj Mohan puts it, ?If a single image captured India'snational strategic style, it was that of a porcupine-vegetarian, slow-footed and prickly?. India was invariably on the defensive and never outgoing or aggressive. If the world impinged on it, India put up its sharp quills to ward off threat.
The author have a word to say about how things might have turned up had Vallabhbhai Patel, instead of Jawaharlal Nehru been the Prime Minister and External Affairs Minister as well. The Sardar was by no means cynical. Nor was he ideologically sold to either the ideological protagonists of the Cold War period. He was a realist, if ever there was one and was clear-headed. In a singularly meaningful way he was the total Indian with no western hang-ups. In any given situation he would have looked primarily to safeguard Indian interests and would have had no compunction in supporting the West if that was in the larger interests of India. Raja Mohan says that ?at the dawn of Independence, Nehru gave India a very dynamic and creative foreign policy?. Dynamic it might have been. But it was poor consolation. Nehru'sforeign policy came unstuck when China attacked India and his policy of non-alignment became the laughing stock of the world.
What Raj Mohan has done is to give a brilliant study of India'sforeign policy down the years from the time of Nehru to the present times. There hasn'tbeen another study like this from any quarter, so objective, and so clearly enunciated. It is an exercise in fair-mindedness and persuasive scholarship. Raja Mohan gives credit to Dr Manmohan Singh for changing the ?Idea of India?. That is somewhat far fetched. As long as India goes begging from door to door to get promoted to Permanent Membership of the Security Council, it remains the porcupine. India is on its way to be a Great Power and it must act like one and be willing to bite. Delhi is showing too much softness and too much humility ever to be taken seriously. Softness may reflect Indian culture, but the country has paid a very heavy price for it. Sure, its strength lies in its devotion to democracy, its openness and its value-based government. But it must learn to show its claws. It is only then that it would have truly crossed the Rubicon. What it is presently engaged in doing is merely to head towards it. It must increase its pace, if it wants to be taken seriously. Like China.