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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Explained: Jaishankar and Nehru on India’s foreign policy, what they said and when

The Non-Aligned Movement is not relevant to the current geostrategic situation and India’s position in the world. A comparison between Jaishankar’s comments and something that was said by India’s first Prime Minister would be superficial.

Written by Rishika Singh , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: June 7, 2022 1:23:57 pm
External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar at the Howard University Founders Library in Washington (AP/PTI, file)

Rajya Sabha MP and Shiv Sena leader Priyanka Chaturvedi tweeted that External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s comments at the GLOBSEC 2022 forum on Friday (June 3) were “Pandit Nehru’s Non-Aligned Movement succinctly explained”.

The Non-Aligned Movement is not relevant to the current geostrategic situation and India’s position in the world. A comparison between Jaishankar’s comments and something that was said by India’s first Prime Minister would be superficial. There is, however, a certain similarity in the words and views expressed by both leaders, which underline a thread in India’s foreign policy that has endured over the decades.

Jaishankar’s comments

The External Affairs Minister was participating in a discussion about India’s foreign policy. He referenced the government’s decision to continue the purchase of oil and gas from Russia, and said “Europe has to grow out of the mindset that Europe’s problems are the world’s problems but the world’s problems are not Europe’s problems.”

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Jaishankar’s comments indicated India’s unwillingness to join the US and Europe’s strategy of sanctions against Russia. On being asked where India fits into the picture where there will be two camps of power led by the US and China, Jaishankar disagreed with the idea of India needing to choose an axis to align with.

“This is the construct you are trying to impose on me and I don’t accept it,” he said, rejecting the need for India to choose a particular side. “I am one-fifth of the world’s population, I am today the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world, I mean forget the history, civilisation bit, everyone knows that I, think I am entitled to have my own side,” he said.

The Minister’s comments assume significance as both Russia and the US and its allies in Europe have looked to India on account of its close ties with countries on both sides of the conflict. India has maintained a delicate balancing act, taking positions based on principle and its national interests, and refusing to be forced into choosing one side over the other.

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Nehru’s speech

It is not clear which speech by Nehru is being sought to be compared with Jaishankar’s statements in this instance. However, Nehru spoke of Europe at the United Nations General Assembly in November 1948 — this was at a time when India had recently become independent, and it had only been three years since the UN had come into being.

Nehru’s speech opened with a note on Europe: “May I say, as a representative from Asia, that we honour Europe for its culture and for the great advance in human civilisation which it represents?”

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He followed this up with some criticism: “May I say that we are equally interested in the solution of European problems; but may I also say that the world is something bigger than Europe, and you will not solve your problems by thinking that the problems of the world are mainly European problems? There are vast tracts of the world which may not in the past, for a few generations, have taken much part in world affairs. But they are awake.”

Nehru noted the problems of hunger and basic necessities that were affecting third world countries most severely. He said: “It is a strange thing that when the world lacks so many things, food and other necessities in many parts for the world and people are dying from hunger, the attention of this Assembly of Nations is concentrated only on a number of political problems. There are economic problems also. I wonder if it would be possible for this Assembly to take a holiday for a while from some of the acute political problems which face it, and allow men’s minds to settle down and look at the vital and urgent economic problems, and look at places in the world where food is lacking.”

The first Prime Minister also noted though India was not directly involved in some of the issues being discussed, its representation mattered.

“I feel strongly about this matter, and that is why I should like to present the views and wishes of the Indian people. And the Indian people happen to be three hundred and thirty millions in number; it is well to remember that,” he said.

The context in which Nehru spoke

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Nehru’s speech was meant to declare an independent India’s own position in an era that was soon to see competitions for supremacy among two superpowers — the USSR and the US Its own philosophy of non-alignment was yet to come about formally at the time of this speech, as the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) was founded in 1961.

Under non-alignment, India and other recently-independent countries that had emerged from colonial rule sought to be truly independent in their decision-making and foreign policy. They collectively decided to support one another and not choose one side over another in the crises and conflicts emerging at the time due to the Cold War.

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The USSR and the US were often engaged in indirect wars at that point, such as in Korea and Vietnam, but countries like India supported the cause of the independence of colonised countries rather than siding with one of the two superpowers.

Over time, the movement began to lose importance with the collapse of the USSR, as more and more countries began developing closer ties with the US. However, India has continued to follow the underlying principle of non-alignment by not joining any military alliances or blocs to date.

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In ‘The India Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World’, written by Jaishankar in 2020, there is a mention of the non-aligned approach India took: “This allowed India the leadership opportunity to build its own constituency and brand through the 1950s.”

He wrote: “Hedging is a delicate exercise, whether it is the non-alignment and strategic autonomy…or multiple engagements of the future. But there is no getting away from it in a multipolar world.”

This belief in multipolarity was echoed in the comments that he made on Friday, when he dismissed the idea of two camps and asserted India’s position.

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First published on: 05-06-2022 at 11:23:12 am
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