Jawaharlal Nehru spearheaded India after its independence as prime minister of the polity. He led India from 1947 to 1964 till his demise as prime minister. During his period, he furthered policies of Indian national congress (founding party of the country) to consolidate independence of India by uniting diverse communities and distinct regions in order to ensure territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country.
He advocated an autonomous course of foreign and security policy without signing partnership agreements with USA and USSR during the cold war era. His personality played the great role in the shaping of early defence and foreign policies of the country which were enshrined in India’s metadiscourse of non-alignment and unique strategic culture.
Non-Alignment: A Strategic Choice
Non-alignment was a response to the strategic environment of cold war. CoThe colder resulted in the emergence of two political, economic and military power blocs led by the United States of America and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (current Russian federation) after world war two. These blocs struggled to set the future world order suiting their ideational and material interests. India under Nehru advocated a clear refrain from joining these alliances rather tried to emerge as the third pool of power advocating independent foreign and security policy to protect vital national interests and maintain independent stature of the country.
The country’s commitment to nonalignment led to the adoption of a particular set of significant policy choices. This doctrine of Nonalignment was based on the set of clear policy principals which included anti-imperialism, anti-colonialism, support of freedom movements across the world, autonomous foreign economic and security policy of nation-state, abiding the UN Charter and development of defensive power capabilities while expressed detest for aggression.
Nehru’s commitment to non-alignment shaped the contours of Indian foreign and security policy over the next two decades which emerged as principal of strategic autonomy. This Nehruvian approach to international relations was based on Nehru’s vision for India, his understanding of an international system and prevailing strategic environment of entangled alliances. However, he never advocated isolation of India rather adopted a novel approach to foreign policy which was based on bilateralism.
Therefore, bilateralism became the dominant norm of practising Indian diplomacy. Nehruvian internationalism entailed foreign political, economic and security relations of the state based on mutual reciprocity and equality similar to the nature of foreign relations advocated by classical Indian political thinker Kautilya in his Mandala framework. Kautilya advocated material national interest-based foreign relations of the state while advised refrain from joining entangled military alliances.
Geopolitics of India under Nehru
Kautilya’s notion of geography as the main determinant of security of state seemed operating central place in Nehru’s approach to the security of India. Nehru avoided joining entangled military blocs of the Cold War politics at the international level but he remained cognizant of internal security needs of the polity and its immediate regional neighbourhood security environment.
Nehru was of the firm opinion that India’s national security is closely attached to its immediate surrounding; that is, the regional environment. Nehru’s personality, as a primary security steward, dominated security policymaking and execution in India which resulted in lack of clearly institutionalized national security policy yet it led to the emergence of peculiar strategic culture in the country.
Nehru’s prime contribution to the internal security of India is the settlement of civil-military relations in the strategic culture of the country. This resulted in the overarching supremacy of civilian parliamentary authority on military in decision making related to the foreign policy, defence and strategic planning of the country. Nehru planned to modernize armed forces of India in order to bolster defence after the immediate post-Independence in order to meet security threats. This plan for military modernization stemmed from the security needs and national threat matrix which included both internal and external security threats.
Internally, the presence of independent princely states posed a major potential security challenge to the integration and unity of India. Nehru recognized this existential challenge to the security of India. He employed all available diplomatic, coercive and military means to make sure their annexation and integration in the union of India. He used the carrot and stick policy to persuade the leadership of these autonomous entities to sign the document of accusation with India.
Nehru ordered Indian armed forces intervention in State of Jammu and Kashmir, the forceful annexation of the States of Junagadh and Hyderabad due to their strategic location in order to plug the potential threats during 1948-49 through use of force. Nehru managed to handle critical security threats by integrating the princely states into the Union of India. This forceful annexation against the ill of commons sued long seeds of hatred and resentment in locals of these regions which resulted in separatist movements in Kashmir and the other South Indian States. Owing to this political repression, these separatist movements still haunt the security of India.
Externally, India under Nehru faced main security threats in consolidating its International borders and presence of foreign powers mainly Portuguese in Goa which was their colony. Goa was the important strategic port of India incorporate by Nehru in 1961 into India which has now developed into a lucrative recreation and trade venue. India was constrained to use force on 18 December 1961 to integrate Goa into the Indian Union.
Nehru justified the action by arguing that a dead end had been reached in India’s dealing with Portugal.  Nehru attempted to resolve these security issues during his tenure by applying principals of power, coercive diplomacy and war as and when needed. However, he faced the main failure on the Kashmir front against Pakistan and the Indo-China border. Other regional states were coerced by India to accept its conditions and recognize the international border of India.
Security and Nehru’s Policy of Regionalism:
India entered into numerous bilateral agreements with neighbouring states which included treaties with Bhutan (1949), Sikkim (1950), Nepal (1950), Burma (1951) and Ceylon in 1954. These treaties imposed conditions on these neighbouring states to consider India’s concerns before joining any major international or bilateral agreement with the external power which questions their strategic autonomy in foreign and security policy.
This stark reality of India’s approach of dealing with its neighbours is based on regional hegemonic ambitions which contradict with the Non-Alignment doctrine of Nehru. Hence, it reveals that Nehru’s strategic choice of non-alignment was more as a strategy rather an ideology which suited his ambitious foreign policy given the paucity of economic and military resources.
Indian attempt to dominate South Asia became the cornerstone of Indian strategic culture under Nehru’s leadership. The major setback to Nehru’s approach of regionalism came from Pakistan and China on the territorial disputes of Kashmir and Tibet. India fought wars over Kashmir in 1948 and Tibet region in 1962 in order to annex them within the territory of India but faced failures. The pursuit of such a policy left India utterly unprepared to cope with a serious security threat from the People’s Republic of China and culminated in a disastrous border war in 1962.
Nehru faced criticism for dealing with Pakistan on Kashmir through UN resolutions and bilateral agreement of Panchceel (five principals for bilateral peace) with China. These two wars resulted in internalization of these territorial disputes and border conflicts with Pakistan and China in strategic calculus of India which was conceived as “two front threats to India.” Internal security challengers made the other “half front” and it laid the foundation of “two and half front phenomenon” in threat matrix and security calculus of India.
Military Modernization Drive of India:
In order to mitigate these threats through the use of force, Nehru initiated robust modernization plans for conventional and strategic armed forces of India. However, research and development remained central to his premise of defence capability building in order to attain self-reliance. This norm still inspires India’s means and measures to match its security needs.
Nehru along with founding father Gandhi approached Tata in 1945 for funding to establish the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) for research in nuclear physics. Nehru recognized the significance of nuclear energy for economic development and nuclear power as the currency of international politics. Many attribute him as the true founder of the Indian nuclear program. Drive for indigenization of defence production and the nuclear program were also set in motion in the 1950s and 1960s, respectively. The foundation of a nuclear India was laid down during Nehru’s time.
By the end of 1957, Defence Science Organization established institutions including Defence Science Laboratory, the Psychological Research Wing, the Institute of Armament Studies, the Naval Dockyard Laboratory and the Naval Physical and Oceanographic Laboratory. The Research Development R&D department of MoD to foster indigenous research was established in 1958. The Nehru administration continued military modernization and capability building of conventional armed forces of India.
India modernized and restructured its armed forces immediately after its independence. Restructuring of Indian armed forces was followed by the modernization of their arsenal and military firepower capacity building. India under Nehru continued efforts and arrangements for defence imports from USA, France and Great Britain for the needs of its Army, Airforce and Navy.
Britain emerged as the major exporter of weapons and aircraft for the defence needs of India. Nehru administration continued its diplomatic relations with Commonwealth nations by continuing membership of commonwealth despite its narrative of Non-alignment which rejected membership of international blocs but commonwealth was diplomatic and political multilateral body unlike Cold war blocs of USA and USSR which had military bodies Such as NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and Warsaw Pact. Hence, it testifies the argument that India under Nehru adopted nonalignment as a strategy to avert military blocs but continued its international politics on the diplomatic front to address its economic and military needs.
The unique feature of Indian strategy under Nehru’s influence was its politic of nonalignment which provided India opportunities to continue plans for military modernization at conventional and strategic levels without joining military blocs of the cold war. However, Nehru continued India’s international presence. This strategy lacked to develop effective military power capable of addressing its security needs emanating from two and half front.
China-Pakistan Conundrum in Strategic Culture of India:
Issues with China and Pakistan remained unaddressed rather Indo-China war of 1962 exposed sever capability deficit in defence forces and military doctrine of India. G.C. Thomas in his book “The Defence of India: A Budgetary Perspective of Strategy and Politics” written that India embarked on a substantial program of military modernization after these failures. It committed itself to the creation of a million man-strong army with ten new mountain divisions equipped and trained for high altitude warfare, a 45-squadron air force with supersonic aircraft and a modest program of naval expansion including the acquisition of naval fleet equipped with modern naval arsenal.
Pakistan emerged as the main challenge to Indian primacy in the region while India aimed to change Pakistan’s behaviour through the use of force on its principal stance for the plebiscite in Kashmir. Pakistan’s response to this regional militaristic policy resulted in Pakistan-India wars of 1965 and 1971. The need to balance Chinese military power became another main incentive for India’s drift toward more rigorous and militaristic policy of India under India Gandhi, the second next Prime minister of India after Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri.
Internal secessionist movements posed a national security threat to India which was attempted to address by use of force which faced severe setbacks. This scenario paved way for the emergence of Indira Gandhi doctrine in security and foreign policy of India. Nehru’s contribution in setting the peculiar strategic culture of India was unique and pervasive which guided Indian security and foreign policy in coming times. Understanding of Nehru’s influence on strategic culture is important to understand security and foreign policy of contemporary India.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.
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Muhammad Ayaz Nazar is an independent researcher having M. Phil in International Relations from Quaid-i-Azam University. His areas of Interest are included geopolitics, politics of South Asia, especially focusing on India-Pakistan relations.