Tuesday, January 11

Not Aligned

(Jawaharlal Nehru, daughter Indira in tow, alights at Samarkand in 1955.)

As the Cold War developed, a number of countries found themselves unwilling to be overt parts of NATO or the Warsaw Pact because 'unlike Belgium, they were not on the invasion route', and because they valued peace for development. Looking for an ideology to underpin this self-interest, Nehru coined the term "non-aligned" in 1954 in a speech in Colombo, describing Panchasheel or the Five Restraints governing idealized relations between nation states, namely mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference in domestic affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful co-existence. Tito, Nasser and Sukarno joined Nehru in developing these ideas to a full-fledged international conference at Bandung in April 1955. The stated aims of the 29-nation Bandung Conference were to promote Afro-Asian economic and cultural cooperation, and to oppose colonialism or neocolonialism by either the United States or the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Out of this a formal Non-Aligned Movement was born.

It does not seem the USA or the USSR were very perturbed by this development. Moscow could not have seriously entertained the prospect of poor-and-populous countries like India/Indonesia/Egypt, or the historically-connected Southern-Slavs, to take, over time, positions not aligned with itself. Similarly, Washington could not have taken too seriously the prospect of the rich right-wing oil-sheikhdoms or monarchies like Saudi Arabia, Japan or Thailand acting against its own interests. Each, then, sought to fracture the Non-Aligned Movement into With Us and Without Us camps. Moscow immediately invited Nehru to a state visit in July 1955, intending to show off both the velvet glove and the iron fist.

The Russians sent Nehru off on one of the most exhausting tours ever planned for a visiting dignitary. Moscow; Stalingrad (after visiting mass Red Army graves Nehru was already complaining of an exasperating day of dust and heat and painful war memories); Crimea; Tashkent; Samarkand; swinging through Siberia and Urals, Magnitogorsk and Sverdlovsk. Everywhere, organized groups of children dancing, singing, showering flowers on his party; telegrams pouring in from Russian citizens, delivered to his hotel every day, asking permission to name their sons Jawaharlal or their daughters Indira.


Nehru clearly possessed a sharp sense of the historical connections between Central Asia and India. Between 1942 and 1946, the British colonial administration had had him jailed in Ahmednagar (in a fort built by descendants of the Tajik-Persian Bahmanids.) Writing in confinement The Discovery of India, Nehru notes:

Late in the fourteenth century, Timur, the Turk or Turco-Mongol, came down from the north in India; he came to Delhi and went back. But all along his route he created a wilderness adorned with pyramids of skulls of those he had slain; and Delhi itself became a city of the dead. Fortunately he did not go far and only some parts of the Punjab and Delhi had to suffer this terrible affliction.

Again, in Glimpses of World History:

The wealth of India attracted this savage. He had some difficulty in inducing his generals and nobles to agree to his proposal to invade India. There was a great council in Samarkand, and the nobles objected to going to India because of the great heat there. Ultimately Timur promised that he would not stay in India. He would just plunder and destroy and return. He kept his word ... So when Timur came with an army of Mongols there was not much resistance and he went on gaily with his massacres and pyramids. Both Hindus and Muslims were slain. No distinction seems to have been made. The prisoners becoming a burden, he ordered all of them killed and 100,000 were massacred ... wherever he went he spread desolation and pestilence and utter misery. His chief pleasure was the erection of enormous pyramids of skulls. But Timur was much worse. He stands apart for wanton and fiendish cruelty. In one place, it is said, he erected a tower of 2000 live men and covered them up with brick and mortar.

Even with some sense of history, Nehru seems to have been sufficiently in awe of Soviet achievement to have gone to Central Asia expecting to find a Socialist Republic; instead, he found a thriving recognizably-subcontinental culture. He was astonished. At Samarkand, schools were closed and the population came out on the streets. Raj Kapoor's Awaara, made in 1951 and nominated for the Grand Prize at Cannes in 1953, was a major hit in Uzbek cities and everyone was singing Awaara Hoon. Across the Uzbek SSR, he was greeted with salaam aleikum, thanked with rahmat for coming to visit, and fed plov with somsa, non and kebab. Nehru said he found it remarkable that the people, despite 40 years of complete isolation from the rest of Asia, "still had Asian consciousness."


Back in Moscow, the Russians maneuvered for a joint communiqué which would bring India into a new concentric ring outside the Warsaw Pact. By persistent snubbing, Nehru kept CPSU Boss Khrushchev away, making it plainly clear that he would deal only with the chief of government Bulganin and that he would not go beyond the position taken in the Bandung Conference. The Soviets threw in a secret Nehru-only tour of a nuclear plant; the Indian side wanted included in the communiqué a complete ban on nuclear weapons. A key passage was the declaration that "the legitimate rights of the Chinese People's Republic in regard to Formosa" should be satisfied. Refusal to admit Red China to the U.N., said Bulganin and Nehru, was at the root of many troubles in Asia. (The concession, in addition to the earlier recognition of Chinese sovereignty over Tibet, was repaid in 1962 by the Chinese invasion of India.)

Time magazine that week reports that at a Kremlin reception a top Russian leader said to Nehru: "Your Excellency, we Russians make very good friends and nothing can separate us, but we are bad enemies, too -- quite ruthless." Startled, Nehru paused, then replied: "We have no enemies. If there are any, we try to make friends."

(p.s: The next year, invited to Washington, Nehru made a radio address on Why India Is Non-Aligned.)


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