Choosing Between Usa and Ussr1
Communist China’s aggression along our Himalayan frontier has once again posed before the nation the problem of finding friends against foes in a dangerous and divided world. The nation had faced this problem at first when Pakistan signed a military pact with the United States of America, and started talking tough in the context of her self-chosen controversy over Kashmir. During those days, at least, it was seriously apprehended by the Indian people at large that Pakistan might mount an aggression against India from a position of superior military strength. The same people now fear that a militarily mightier China may choose any day to convert isolated border incidents into an all-out war.
The Government of India had proclaimed in the midst of our first predicament that, in spite of everything that had happened in the meanwhile, India should and would continue to pursue her earlier policy of non-alignment with any power bloc, support of world peace, and friendship for all nations including Pakistan. But a vigilant and well-entrenched communist movement inside the country had used the opportunity to push our foreign policy in a definite direction till in every essential except verbiage it came quite close to Soviet foreign policy. Whatever might have been the intention of the Government of India, at least the man in the street had been led to believe that Russia was India’s unfailing friend against an America conspiring for an armed conflict between India and Pakistan. The man in the street was supported in this belief by repeated statements from Government spokesmen that an armed conflict between India and Pakistan would very soon spread into a world-wide conflagration. The one clear impression that was thus conveyed was that both Russia and America were bound to collide in an effort to help their respective friends, India and Pakistan.
In the present predicament also, the Government of India continues to proclaim the same policy of non-alignment, world peace, and friendship for all including China. Again, whatever may be the intention of the Government of India, at least the man in the street has already started looking towards America as India’s inevitable friend in the event of a showdown with China. And once again, the Government is supporting the man in the street in this belief by repeated statements that a war between India and China will very soon engulf the whole world. The one clear impression that is thus being conveyed is that, in the event of China attacking India, America will surely rush to India’s rescue and force Russia to side with her ally in the communist camp.
But with these similarities between the earlier and the present situation, there are certain clearly discernible differences as well.
First of all, there is no organised movement inside the country which may attempt to influence our foreign policy in favour of a pro-American orientation. Some isolated individuals may have occasionally advocated some sort of an alliance with America. But the political climate in the country as a whole has not evinced any marked enthusiasm for making such a commitment. India’s foreign policy has, by and large, continued to grind in its old grooves, although shorn of much of its earlier aura of infallibility so far as the mass mind in the country is concerned. There has been no mass fervour in favour of a friendship with America such as was noticed earlier in favour of Russia, though the feeling of extreme hostility towards America has tended to decline except in pockets of communist dominated public opinion.
Secondly, there is a feeling among our intelligentsia at least that, in the final round, Russia and China may not turn out to be the friends we have assumed them to be. In fact, it is believed by an important section of the intelligentsia that China has held her hand and hesitated in pressing her initial advantage to the hilt due to some direct or indirect pressure from Russia. This section also entertains the hope that, sooner or later, there is going to be a big burst-up between the two communist countries, and that Russia will certainly contain China and force her to renounce her aggressive designs against India. If it is pointed out to these people that there is also an equal possibility of an eventual patch-up inside the communist camp, they maintain that, in that event, Russia will surely secure a peaceful settlement between India and Chin-a, provided India continues to cultivate her friendship with Russia in the meanwhile.
Whatever be the line of reasoning or absence of it, this much at least is obvious that, unlike in the earlier situation when practically every political party tried to outdo the others in denouncing Pakistan’s ally in the arms pact, no section of Indian political opinion has so far stepped forward to foment a feeling of mass hostility towards China’s ally in the international alignment of forces. The feelings of our people at large as well as the relations of our Government have till now continued to be more or less normal so far as Russia is concerned. No doubt, the extreme forms of enthusiasm expressed earlier have tended to decline over a period of time. But people who entertain any serious apprehensions about Russia are few and far between.
Small wonder, therefore, that the politically informed opinion inside the country should still be debating the question whether India should continue to cultivate friendship for Russia as a solution of her difficulties with China, one way or the other, or move decisively towards America as an insurance against an eventual showdown. The Government of India is, on the whole, still sticking to its previous policy of friendship for Russia, though its earlier enthusiasm for everything Russian has declined in a marked degree, while its impeccable hostility towards America has become increasingly diluted even in the face of American insolence. But there are persistent misgivings in the minds of many patriotic people that, having failed to enter into an alliance with America in the meanwhile, India may find herself friendless in the event of a war with China. It is felt by these people that Russia is surely not going to quarrel with China over the latter’s quarrel with India, and that the timing of a burst-up between the two communist countries may not suit the strategy of India’s defence.
The result of all this shilly-shallying has been a sense of confusion amounting to callousness which ill-behoves a nation standing face to face with a calamitous situation. In the absence of a clear vision and all that follows from it, India has not been able to give any positive shape either to her military preparations and dispositions or to her foreign policy pursuits, so that if a showdown is forced upon her in the near future she is sure to be caught napping. The Government of India has not been able to make progress beyond a series of protest notes and an intermittent show of strong language against the aggressor. And the public is not at all sure which way to shape and project its agitation for a suitable change in Government policy. The total scene is one of paralysis in which hopes and fears are inextricably mixed up in one prevailing national mood of doing nothing and waiting like weaklings till some decisions are dictated by the onrush of world events.
Now, the first thing that strikes a serious observer of the political scene in India at present is her hopeful though helpless dependence on international developments, none of which she is in a position to force or frustrate by throwing into the scales her own strength. There is a blind belief in India’s political mind that India is too valuable for the forces of world democracy to be allowed to go down under the heels of a communist aggressor. There is also a cowardly calculation on the part of what passes for expert political opinion, particularly in circles close to the Government of India, that Russia is too jealous of China’s growing strength to remain a silent spectator and permit her rival in the international communist camp to gobble up India all by herself. It hardly occurs to anyone in places of power and prestige and public responsibility that nothing can be more pathetic than a modern nation of four hundred million people staking her whole future on whatever little or great interest the Big Powers may be inclined to have at any time in the preservation of her independent identity.
That is not to say that India should shut her eyes towards international developments outside her borders, or that she should refuse to turn such developments to her own advantage. India should, on the contrary, be watchful of every turn and twist in the international situation, and profit from all available opportunities to improve her position vis-a-vis China. Self-preservation is the first law of life, and so long as India is not strong enough to protect herself against aggression, she has no moral right to transgress that law out of any consideration, idealistic or otherwise. But, at the same time, India has to realise that no amount of good fortune that may flow to her as a result of fortuitous developments abroad can ever be a substitute for her own positive strength to ward off or, if need be, deliver decisive blows in the domain of international diplomacy or mobilisation of military might. India will, go down in history as an imbecile nation if she stakes her future only on clever calculations about international developments, and fails to build up and maintain that minimum of military power without which no nation, big or small, has ever counted for anything on the chess-board of world politics.
In the absence of such a perspective, the entire controversy regarding a correct policy in the face of continued Chinese aggression has reached the limits of the ludicrous. On the one hand, we have a Government which denounces as warmongers all those who advise that this battle of protest notes should stop at some stage, and that India should seriously think of doing something which can register her strength of will in the mind of a determined adversary. On the other hand, we have some small groups, particularly in the opposition parties, who are currently agitating that our army should be permitted to drive out the Chinese intruders, and that India should straightaway reverse her present policy of taking no risk of a wider conflict. Both sides are equally blind to the realities and requirements of the situation.
The plea that our Government puts forth in defence of its policy of pouring out protest notes, is that we are still not strong enough to risk a trial of strength with a massively militarised enemy. And taken by itself, this plea cannot be easily brushed aside by anyone who has some acquaintance with the facts of our military position. China has not only a larger armed force as well as an initial advantage over us in so far as she started the build-up at a time when we were fast asleep under the soporiphic of panchashil; she also has in her possession a superior air force which can operate from a number of first class bases in Tibet and pulverise in no time the entire industrial heartland of India in the northern provinces. It would indeed be sheer folly on our part to risk a showdown with China so long as we have not matched her build-up with our own and, what is more important, before we are in a position not only to intercept Chinese bombers at our very borders but also to deliver blows that tell on China’s own industrial network.
But that does not seem to be the reason why our Government has been holding up action all these days. Our present state of weakness seems to be, for our Government, only a cover for doing nothing beyond marking time till some chance turn in international events tips the scales against China and in our own favour. The Government has so far betrayed practically no intention of changing our state of weakness into a state of strength. It frittered away five years in a conspiracy of silence over what China had been doing since the middle of 1954. It admitted the truth only when it was forced to do so by the fast moving events after the sack of Tibet in 1959. And even after that, it has failed to take the nation into confidence about dimensions of the likely disaster and give a call to the people to get prepared for all eventualities. A tremendous lot could have been done during these three or four years to redress the military imbalance and discipline the nation to face and fight a fierce enemy if the worst came to the worst.
The small group which agitates for “action now” is sure that a show of strength will not lead to a general war between India and China. They suspect that, in all probability, China is playing a bluff and probing how weak-willed or determined India is at present. They advocate, therefore, that China’s bluff should be called. In their estimation, that is the best way of avoiding a war now as well as in the long run. India should, they say, better take a chance of avoiding a war at present by a positive show of strength than make it inevitable in the long run as a result of unilateral appeasement. They add that if it does not turn out to be a bluff and becomes an all-out war, India should go ahead and fight it out before China gets further entrenched and is in a position to move armoured divisions into the arena. There is, they say, as much chance of India winning this war as of China winning it. Due to the peculiar nature of the Himalayan terrain, they argue, the over-all military imbalance between India and China is not of practical importance and if the issues are joined immediately China is not in a position to move into the arena more infantry divisions than India can do from her own side.
There may be some substance in this chain of arguments, but it is certainly mixed up with a lot of ill-informed enthusiasm. To start with, the entire argument hinges on an altogether unproved hunch that China may be bluffing and may quietly take a beating at isolated points where she has penetrated or is trying to probe into Indian territory. It is assumed without any fuller finding of facts that India today is quite capable of carrying out such an operation immediately and simultaneously at all points of her encounter with the adversary. All in all, we are asked to shut our eyes to the wider implications of a war with China. It is assumed arbitrarily that such a war will not involve the use of air force and remain confined to infantry action in the mountain fastnesses. India today is supposed to be capable of fighting and winning such a war though no grounds are given in support of such a supposition.
Apart from the inner inconsistencies and unwarranted assumptions contained in this reasoning as a whole, its perspective of India’s long-term policy is more or less out of focus. The long-term intention of India’s policy should not be to risk and wage a war successfully. On the contrary, India should do everything in her power to avoid a war and wait and work for peace in collaboration with whatever international effort in this direction may be afoot at any time. No doubt, India must be fully prepared to wage a war and win it in case it is thrust upon her in spite of her best efforts to preserve peace. But India should never take chances and provoke a war by miscalculation about the intentions of the enemy. It may sound very brave to talk of taking a war in our stride. But it is the limit of irresponsibility to miss the point that a war in our times is always likely to become a catastrophe beyond all human calculation.
This, then, is the proper perspective in which India’s future policy has to be planned-preservation of peace with China so far as possible and preparedness to fight and finish successfully any war that may be forced on us. This is the perspective which must first emerge in the political mind of India before she takes into account any international developments. And the emergence of this perspective does not depend upon any outward circumstance, either in the international arena or in the political scene at home. Primarily, it has to be an effort of national will - an intellectual effort to walk out of the welter of sloganised sentimentalism and into the sunshine of a world vision which relates the highest type of idealism to the hardest of all realities; an emotional effort to look at ourselves not through the eyes of a national press preoccupied with panegyrics but through the eyes of other nations, big and small, around and away from ourselves; and, above all, a moral effort to be able to stand for truth, justice, equity, friendship, loyalty, honour, and international rule of law instead of confusing all these values with the wishes or whims of Big Powers, as we have been doing hitherto.
Let us remember that India is not a small nation like Nepal or Afghanistan or Switzerland to plead that no amount of strength she builds up out of her own resources will ever have much of a meaning in the world balance of military power. Let us remember that India is the second biggest country in terms of manpower and one of the four or five foremost nations in terms of industrial and military potential. If India looks into herself, her innermost soul, and senses the sources of her own intrinsic strength, she can become a formidable power capable of preserving not only her own independence and integrity but also of contributing to the cause of world peace. But if she fails to awaken to her own innate potentialities and persists in harbouring the illusion that her own frontiers as well as world peace will be preserved automatically by the competing interests of the Big Powers, she will surely fail and betray the trust which her hoary history has laid on her shoulders.
Meanwhile, we can analyse the international alignment of forces and find out for ourselves as to who between the USA and the USSR is likely to be our ally in the context of our quarrel with China. It is high time that we stopped this stock-taking of world politics in terms of professions made by the two Big Powers about their own policies and programmes, as we have been used to doing till today. It is high time that we took a close look at contemporary history and formed our own objective estimate of the goals which these Big Powers seem to have set for themselves, as also of the means and methods they employ for achieving those goals. The foreign policy of India, whatever be its own inspirations and aims, has to be projected on the canvass of world realities as they exist at present and are likely to be in future, rather than on wishful thinking about what those realities should be.
Ever since Comrade Zhdanov of Soviet Russia divided the world into two irreconcilably opposed camps-the camp of “socialism and peace” led by the Soviet Union, and the camp of “imperialism and war” led by the United States of America-in his Warsaw Speech in the Autumn of 1947, most of us have been inclined to take such a division for granted. Some of us may have changed the labels and described the USA as leader of the camp of “democracy and freedom”, and the Soviet Union as leader of the camp of “totalitarianism and slavery”. But the basic belief that the world has become divided into two camps between which an ideological strife is the primary inspiration for manoeuvres of international power politics, has sunk very deep into the minds of most of us. And it is this basic belief which has been, consciously or unconsciously, colouring the greater part of our thinking about political issues including the foreign policy of India.
Now, it can be admitted that till very recently the Soviet claim that she is leader of the camp of international Communism has been quite true. There has existed, till recently, such a monolithic entity as the camp of international Communism and its head as well as heart has been located in the Kremlin at Moscow. The Soviet Union has been, in effect, in more or less complete control of nations that have been taken over by communist parties, no matter whether she exercised that control through ideological indoctrination, or through use of brute force, or through a combination of both devices. There has also been an international communist party line projecting a single world-view and a single world strategy, proclaimed and practised by every communist party of the world irrespective of the national situation in which the communist party concerned has had to exist and function.
But the same cannot be said about the other camp-the camp of “imperialism” or “democracy” or whatever else one may like, to call it. The monolithic communist camp has all along been faced by a veritable mob of independent, semi-independent, and slave countries-some of them big or powerful and others small or powerless-amongst which there has not been anything in common except a cynical seeking of narrow national interests. Whenever a nation has been threatened by communist intervention from outside or a communist subversion from within, it has cried for help from non-communist nations, particularly America, and started seeing and advocating the need for an international anticommunist alliance which should strive to contain or conquer the communist camp. But whatever nations have remained free from such a threat, they have seen no harm in collaborating with Communism within its own borders as well as abroad, feeling all the time that it is too clever or too strong to be undermined in the process.
As regards the leadership of this so-called anti-communist camp, though the United States of America has all along laid claim to it, she has seldom lived upto her profession in practice. If we collect all relevant facts from the history of nations that have gone down in the face of communist onslaught, we can construct a pattern of American policy which has been fairly constant.
To start with, America encourages and sides with the communist movement inside a country and invariably uses her material resources as well as her propaganda power to strengthen and extend that movement. If there is any one thing which America hates from the bottom of her modern heart, it is the native nationalism of a country which alone is, in the last analysis, the armoury on which that nation can count in the face of the communist menace. America denounces that native nationalism by every method at her disposal and tries her utmost to see it defeated at the earliest, not only by propping up its communist enemy but also by pouring into the country concerned her own avalanche of an animal culture. America’s hatred for whatever anti-communist movement may come up spontaneously from within a country, has to be known in order to be believed. The army of American scribes and spies let loose over the world lampoons and lambasts the native anti-communist of every sort, while enormous amounts of American money are spent in order to raise and maintain a motley crowd of mercenary “anti-communists” controlled and manoeuvred by the most unintelligent of all intelligence services - the Counter-Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Washington.
In the next stage, as soon as a country is caught in the communist flood and starts sliding towards the Iron Curtain, America uses its helplessness as an opportunity to reduce it to the status of a slave to be ordered about and abused and maligned according to every passing mood of her own massive but mad press at home. Finally, that country, mauled as it has been by the communist man-eater in the meanwhile, is sold over to the communist camp in the name of saving world peace or some other such excuse. The entire operation is given a Finishing touch by a White Paper or a Senate Hearing in which chest-beating over her own mistakes is mixed up with self-congratulation for accepting the inevitable and extricating America out of a hopeless situation which no one could have helped.
That is the record of America from Eastern Europe to China to Korea to Viet Nam to Laos. It is the record of a nation sick with an incurable malady - treachery and foul play towards her friends, and a fawning and cringing fondness for her foes. If some nations in Europe and Asia have survived the plague of American friendship, it is simply because they had within them greater resources of inner strength than could be sapped by America. If America has failed to sell some of her friends in the international stock market of cowardice and cupidity, it is not because she had some scruples about it but simply because the nations concerned asserted themselves in time and saved themselves. It is, therefore, arrant nonsense to say that America is leader of any anti-communist camp in the arena of world politics.
It will be the most disastrous day in India’s long history if she ever came to depend on America either due to a mistaken belief that America can be her friend in time of need, or due to an overt situation in which she is driven to the wall on account of her own lack of will and has no course left open except that of walking into the American trap. Let no one in India befool oneself with the hope that America will be willing or able to save her from calamity if she gets caught in one. American policy will be true to its pattern again, not because there is a conscious calculation behind it, but because there is the whole complex of American culture and thought and way of life as its ultimate source and support. Conscious calculation can be changed, but a culture cannot be cured except over a period of time which is irrelevant in the present context.
But that is not to say that India should not seek and obtain America’s assistance - moral, material, military, and diplomatic - whenever and in whatever degree such assistance is available. America is an arsenal of material strength from which India can pick up practically everything she needs for her short as well as long-term build-up. But that arsenal is accessible only to those who are capable of showing some strength of will and, above all, a sense of self-respect in their dealings with America. India will be able to avail herself of American might and material resources exactly in proportion to the strength she builds up from within, particularly the strength of a national character which knows no compromise on basic principles. That is the line which India should adopt in all her relations with America, present or future. While India should give up repeating, parrot-like, those slogans about America which she has borrowed from the communist camp-including the slogan that America is an inevitable ally of nations trying to counter Communism -she should learn from the experience of other nations, particularly Nationalist China, in their relations with America.
The one lesson which the experience of every nation that has gone down with the help of America is that India should never burn her boats with the Soviet Union. China would not have been what she is today if the Chinese Nationalists had not shown such consistent loyalty towards America which, consequently, felt free to sell them down the drain. Viet Nam and Laos would not have been in the plight in which they find themselves today if they had not shown such helpless dependence upon American aid and if they had bargained for an honourable settlement with the Soviet Union as well. India should take note and refuse to follow in the footsteps of these nations, whatever the shape and size of the emergency she encounters at present.
No doubt, it is very difficult to deal with the Soviet Union which has based its strategy so far on Lenin’s famous dictum - “we support Mr. Henderson as the rope supports the hanged man”. No doubt, the Soviet Union too has her own deadly designs and dirty methods to force nation after nation behind the Iron Curtain through the instrumentality of her communist parties. No doubt, a country should be extremely cautious in bargaining with the Soviet Union and in no case an extension of the communist network within its borders should be a part of that bargain. But, after all is said and done, the Soviet Union is still easier to deal with in terms of a consciously conceived policy because she herself has a consciously conceived strategy behind all her world operations. The Soviet Union at any time is managed by one mind with which a purposeful dialogue is possible, unlike in the case of America which thinks and moves like a mob all the time.
Fortunately for India, the Soviet world strategy at present is showing some cracks through which we can peep in and explore the possibility of a purposeful dialogue. It can be assumed in all certainty that the international communist camp is no more the monolith it had been till recently, and that Russia and China are seriously at loggerheads over a number of issues including the issue of leadership inside the communist camp. Russia is, therefore, and for reasons of her own, not likely to look favourably on whatever steps the Chinese communists take to increase their power or prestige in the arena of world politics. On the contrary, Russia is more likely to try to frustrate such Chinese efforts till the Chinese surrender and fall in with the Russian Line. There can be no peace within the communist camp till the supremacy of the Kremlin over that camp is restored back to its earlier position.
But as it is inconceivable that China can be dealt with by Russia in the same way as Poland or Czechoslovakia or Hungary were dealt with, the chances are that the breach between the two will widen with the passing of each day. India should not hesitate to turn every such breach in the communist camp to her own advantage, including the offer of arms and ammunitions from Russia. In exchange, India can very well collaborate with Russia over those foreign policy issues where Russia happens to be following a line which is objectively consistent with India’s own foreign policy purposes. But all the time, India should go on building up and augmenting her own strength so that she may not be outmanoeuvred by any sudden turn in Sino-Soviet relations.
One such likely turn can be an open breach between Russia and China and a consequent cold war which both of them may try to heat up on the peripheries by using such pawns as they can find. Russia will, in that event, like to push India into a war with China so that China may be weakened and India softened sufficiently for an eventual takeover by the Communist Party of India. The Party will, in that event, leap up with patriotic cries of an immediate showdown with China. We know that the giant communist machine in this country is quite capable of mobilising our public opinion for such a mad adventure. We should be consciously prepared for such an eventuality and refuse to pull any Soviet chestnuts out of the fire. While we should be prepared to fight a war if one is forced on us, we should refuse to be pawns in the political game of any Big Power. The best course will be to keep a careful watch on the communist movement within the country while we get ready for all emergencies. That will also enhance our own manoeuvring power and leave us free to shape and pursue a policy design of our own choosing.
This article was a comment on a bunch of “intellectuals” who held a seminar in October 1962, in New Delhi, and called upon the Government of India to plunge into immediate military action China. A pamphlet, Action Now, issued at the end of the seminar pretended that the “intellectuals” were mature military strategists as well. Two of their who were the tallest of these “intellectuals” left India the very next day for taking jobs in U.S. universities, leaving it to me to translate their Action Now into Hindi. They had not thought it fit to invite me to the seminar. I was not supposed to be an “intellectual”. It was out of regard for personal friendship that I did the translation. But it left a bad taste in the mouth. ↩