What if Ambedkar had shaped India’s foreign policy?

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar remains one of modern India’s towering personalities.

Written by Harish Parvathaneni | Published:March 14, 2009 12:22 am

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar remains one of modern India’s towering personalities. While his social,economic and political views are well known,his approach to foreign policy is more shadowy. Ambedkar’s interest in the area emerged clearly in his resignation letter from the Cabinet in October 1951. Five issues deserve close attention.  

First,he notes that in 1946 he had prepared a report on the condition of the scheduled castes for submission to the UN but did not do so because he felt that “it would be better to wait until the constituent assembly and the future Parliament was given a chance to deal with the matter”. Second,he wrote that the foreign policy of the country has given him “cause,not merely for dissatisfaction but for actual anxiety and even worry”. He opined: “How dangerous it has been to us this policy of doing the impossible and of being too good”.  

Third,he expressed deep dissatisfaction with “our quarrel with Pakistan” that he termed “a part of our foreign policy”. He wrote: “There are two grounds which have disturbed our relations with Pakistan — one is Kashmir and the other is the condition of our people in East Bengal. I felt that we should be more deeply concerned with East Bengal — than with Kashmir. My view has always been that the right solution is to partition Kashmir… Or if you like,divide it into three parts; the cease-fire zone,the Valley and the Jammu-Ladakh Region and have a plebiscite only in the Valley.”  

Fourth,Ambedkar bemoaned the fact that he was neither a member of the defence committee nor the foreign committee of the Cabinet and had “joint responsibility without any opportunity of taking part in the shaping of policy”.  

Fifth,he regretted that he “had hardly any time to attend to our foreign affairs” because he had been busy with the framing of the constitution.  

Ambedkar’s criticism of Nehru’s foreign policy attracted international attention.Time magazine noted: “Dr. Ambedkar is the first important Indian official who has openly attacked Nehru for being too friendly to China and not friendly enough to the US”.  

Speaking to students of Lucknow University in November 1951,he said: “The government’s foreign policy failed to make India stronger. Why should not India get a permanent seat in the UN Security Council? Why has the prime minister not tried for it? India must choose between parliamentary democracy and the Communist way of dictatorship and come to a final conclusion”.  

Ambedkar criticised Nehru’s foreign policy for trying to “solve the problems of other countries and not to solve the problems of our own country”. On China,he disagreed with the Tibet policy and felt that “there is no room for Panchsheel in politics”. He said that “if Mr. Mao had any faith in the Panchsheel,he certainly would treat the Buddhist in his own country in a very different way”. He called for a more robust approach to the Goa question,listing out annexation,purchase or lease as possible options. He felt that a small police action by the government would enable obtaining possession of Goa and criticised Nehru for only shouting against the Portuguese and doing nothing.  

Ambedkar’s solutions to the question of Pakistan were based on either reaching an agreement or resorting to arbitration. His views on Kashmir and East Bengal were significantly different from mainstream approaches on the subject.  

Ambedkar felt that close Indo-US relations premised on a natural affinity of democracies would lead to foreign assistance to India and alleviate the national burden. He repeatedly expressed the desirability of a league of democracies in Asia and beyond. He challenged the government to move away from non-alignment and come to a final decision of either aligning with democratic governments or making friends with communist ones.  

What clearly emerges is that Ambedkar had a dramatically opposite view on foreign policy from Nehru. He espoused a pragmatic approach of trying to achieve the possible than wait to realise the ideal. His fundamental tenet was premised on fashioning foreign policy for solving our problems rather than regional and global ones. He felt that foreign policy must enhance our strategic and developmental options. He envisioned a strong India that took its place in the global order based on developing its economic strength and leveraging its political alliances with other democracies.  

The India of the 1940s is unparallleled in the modern history of our country. We had been blessed with many leaders of great integrity and ability such as Ambedkar,Nehru,Gandhi,and Patel. They took on their assigned tasks and made possible the emergence of India as it stands today. Ambedkar’s efforts were totally consumed in the crafting of our Constitution and with initial legislation. If his energies were directed towards crafting the foreign policy of the new Republic,who knows what the results might have been?  

The writer is a serving IFS officer,views expressed are personal

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