Ups and downs in India’s trajectory of world-power ambition? – Part II

Amjed Jaaved

India’s significant post-partition “Asian Great Power” initiatives

Convinced of being heir-apparent to Imperial India, Nehru organised Asian Relations Conference a few months before the country’s independence in March-April 1947 (India became independent on August 15, 1947). In January 1949, India organised a conference on Indonesia to deal specifically with Asian issues, particularly Indonesian independence from the Dutch. At the same time, India forgave debts owed by Burma (Myanmar) to India during its separation from India in 1937.

In 1951, India signed a security treaty with Indonesia. A few months later, it signed a similar treaty with Burma. During the early postcolonial year, Burma behaved as if it was India’s vassal. India dictated Burma even on the latter’s internal security issues. In 1952, India signed a treaty with the Philippines that amounted to a non-aggression pact. This “pact” was signed amid an environment in which China in the post-War (post-Colonial) context appeared to assume a threatening posture in view of the situation emerging in Korea and Indo-China. An Indian chairman happened to head each of the three International Commissions of Supervision and C control for Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, created at Geneva in 1951.

Ascending on the great-Asian power trajectory, India signed security arrangements with the Indonesian Air Force in 1956, with the navy in 1958, and the army in 1960.

Forays into North East Asia

Engrossed with great-power ambition, India did not confine its foreign-policy endeavours to Southeast Asia. It dabbled into Northeast Asian affairs also. Even without any direct diplomatic ties, the Korean peninsula was de facto divided during 1950-53 (in the wake of the Second World War).  India continued to maintain a facade of non-alignment despite the desire and initiatives to forge security alliances with several countries.

India irks China and the then Soviet Union

Diplomacy is like the acrobatics of balancing on a tightrope. Though the USA opposed, India recognised de jure the People’s Republic of China. The USA, under Harry S. Truman (1956) began to suspect India as a Communist-China sympathiser.

Throughout the 1950s, India supported China’s inclusion in the United Nations Security Council. Besides, it introduced Communist China to the Afro-Asian countries at Bandung in 1955.

 India even legitimized China’s invasion and annexation of Tibet by signing the 1954 panchsheel agreement. India under Nehru also acted as a diplomatic interlocutor between China and Tibet after India had granted refuge to Dalai Lama in the wake of the Lhasa Uprising.

China and the Soviet Union become suspicious of India’s equivocal foreign policy

India continued making goodwill gestures to both China and the Soviet Union.  But, both countries construed Indian policies as a conundrum.  To their chagrin, India supported the US-sponsored resolution on Korea. This gesture annoyed both the Soviet Union and China. They became skeptical of India’s nonalignment credentials.

India’s role in repatriation of Korean prisoners of war (POW)

India shrugged off China’s and Soviet Union’s annoyance and lobbied hard for the repatriation of the Korean POW. Though India’s effort, some 23000 POW happened to be repatriated through it then appeared to be a Herculean job. Under India’s Lieutenant General KS Thimayya, Major General SPP Thorat leading some 6000 Indian troops and administrative personnel in the Custodian force (that landed in Korea) accomplished the POW’s exchange.

India woos Japan (Far East)

At the International Military Tribunal for the Far East in Tokyo, all the 25 top Japanese leaders were charged with Class A war crimes. Indian judge Radhabinod Paul declared all of them “not guilty”.

India regarded the USA’s San Francisco Peace Treaty with Japan as “unfair”. This treaty-bound Japan to pay war-time reparations. India signed a separate treaty, the first-ever with Japan, waiving all war-time reparations.

Under Nehru, India invited Japan to the 1955 Bandung Conference even though Japan was not then a member of the United Nations. Japan became a member of the UN later in 1956.  

How did the Sino Indian bonhomie end?

China suspected India was bent upon reverting Tibet into its pre-1950-51 status as a buffer state between India and China. India’s disastrous defeat in 1962 Sino-Indian War buried India’s ambition to emerge as a major Asian power for the remainder of the Cold War period.

India hails Galwan (Ladakh) unarmed clashes as a “victory”. But, in actual fact, the clashes were a storm in a teacup. India’s stand-in media contradicted its official stand. India admits China “did not annex an inch of Indian territory” (so said Indian prime minister Narendra Modi at the all-party political moot).

End of World-power ambition

The 1962 Sino-Indian War and Galwan clashes portrayed India as a power that could not stand China without external military support. India was forced to revert conceptually to the subcontinent as her primary area of concern. Despite Pakistan’s vivisection in 1971, India remained a regional power.

Pakistan’s moves to cut India to size

Pakistan facilitated the USA’s tacit alliance with China. It achieved nuclear parity with India. It prevented India from emerging even as an undisputed regional bully.

In 1972, the then Shah of Iran declared “any attack on Pakistan would be tantamount to an attack on Iran and that Teheran was committed to the territorial integrity of Pakistan”.

India’s Indira Doctrine

In the aftermath of India’s “victory over Pakistan”, India embarked upon Indira Doctrine (ID).  This doctrine is akin to Monroe Doctrine. The ID postulated “South Asia was India’s sphere of influence and India would not tolerate the intervention of any extra-regional power here unless it was on India’s terms. At the same time, India would not intervene in the domestic affairs of the regional states unless requested to do so”.

Application

Within the framework of this doctrine, India intervened in the Sri Lankan Civil War (1983-1990), forestalled a coup in the Maldives (1988) and blockaded Nepal during 1989-90 to force it to toe India’s diktat in economic and diplomatic relations.

India’s post-1991 (Cold War) major Asian-power policy (Look East Policy)

Subdued by several events, India appears to have now abandoned world-power ambition. It is concentrating on consolidating its position as a major Asian power. Under Manmohan Singh, India undertook structural economic reforms that banked on Japan, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank.

India strengthened its naval command in Andaman and Nicobar Islands and began conducting joint naval exercises with Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore (Lion King annual bilateral submarine warfare exercise). India trained Malaysian pilots to fly MiG-29 aircraft and upgraded defence cooperation with Vietnam.

Concluding remarks

India sees itself as “indispensable to the strategic balance of power in Asia”. It abhors China’s dominance in the region.

A series of jolts reduced India’s world-power inspiration to major Asian-power ambition. Nehru declared, ` India was bound to play the role of “leading and interpreting Asia and specifically South East Asia to the wider world’ Manmohan Singh, the architect of India’s Look East policy, stressed, ‘India’s Look East Policy was not merely an external economic policy, it was also a strategic shift in India’s vision of the world and India’s place in evolving global economy.

India’s great-power dream will remain unrealized unless it mends its fence with Pakistan. Sandwiched between China and Pakistan, India is unlikely to win a two-front war.

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