New Delhi: After China blocked the listing of Masood Azhar as United Nations Security Council (UNSC)-designated terrorist Wednesday, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has a new line of attack against the Congress, which accused it of compromising India’s interests with friendly overtures to China.
True to its habit of blaming all of India’s ills on Congress stalwart and India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the BJP is now propagating an old theory that Nehru declined an offer to join the UNSC as a permanent member and “gifted” the spot to China.
China wouldn't be in UNSC had your great grandfather not 'gifted' it to them at India’s cost.
India is undoing all mistakes of your family. Be assured that India will win the fight against terror.
Leave it to PM Modi while you keep cosying up with the Chinese envoys secretly. https://t.co/lAyp12CXBD
— BJP (@BJP4India) March 14, 2019
This theory, which often finds mention in common talk, is without any basis.
The simple fact is that no official offer was ever made to Nehru or the Indian government to become a permanent member of the UNSC. At best, there were ideas, floated by US officials, which suffered premature deaths.
K. Shankar Bajpai, former secretary at the Ministry of External Affairs and India’s ambassador to the US and China, told ThePrint, “It has become a fashion to blame Nehru for everything. To think that India could have taken China’s seat is utter nonsense.”
With the BJP officially taking to this theory, ThePrint takes a look at the history of the claims and what the ‘actual offer’ for India was.
Claims and actuality
There are two separate claims of Nehru being offered the UNSC permanent membership.
The first is that the US offered India to replace China as a permanent UNSC member in 1950 and Nehru declined the offer.
The second claim is that the Soviet Union offered Nehru a permanent seat in 1955, and Nehru again declined the offer.
Exchanges between Nehru and Nikolai Bulganin, then premier of the Soviet Union, demonstrate that this was not a serious offer, and just a means of “sounding out India’s views”. Moreover, lawyer and constitutional expert A.G. Noorani has already debunked this claim.
But the claim about US offering India a permanent UNSC seat and Nehru declining it is way more complex than it seems.
There are different aspects to this piece of history and only when considered in adjunction can we make sense of what transpired back then.
UNSC formation and People’s Republic of China
Before this claim can be inspected, a bit of historical context is required.
The idea of a UNSC was first cemented in 1942, whereby during the Second World War, the US, Soviet Union, the UK, and China signed a short document that came to be known as the United Nations Declaration. And once the war ended in 1945, the UNSC was formed with the four states along with France, as the five permanent members.
The war had completely transformed the global balance of power and the UNSC was the embodiment of that change. In a nutshell, the UNSC was a club of the winners of the Second World War.
A few years later, in 1949, a communist revolution changed the leadership in China.
The older leadership, headed by Chiang Kai-Shek had escaped to modern-day Taiwan, and established the Republic of China (ROC). And the new communist leadership controlled all of Mainland China, thus establishing the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
From 1949 to 1971, ROC continued to represent China at the UNSC. And the US or its allies did not recognise PRC as a legitimate state.
The American offer
Understanding this massive asymmetry, whereby a tiny island was representing a permanent member of the UNSC, is essential to contextualising the so-called American offer to Nehru.
Back in 1950s, US foreign policy was driven by a clear logic of combating the Soviet Union and the spread of communism. And in that context, then Republican leader and later secretary of state John Foster Dulles floated the idea of replacing China as a UNSC member by India. His idea was to induct India into the UNSC, and rework the institution to reflect American interests.
Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, Nehru’s sister and India’s then ambassador to the US, wrote to Nehru in August 1950 talking about how officials in the State Department were thinking of replacing China as a permanent member of the UNSC, with India.
“Last week I had interviews with [John Foster] Dulles and [Philip] Jessup … Both brought up this question and Dulles seemed particularly anxious that a move in this direction should be started. Last night I heard from Marquis Childs, an influential columnist of Washington, that Dulles has asked him on behalf of the State Department to build up public opinion along these lines,” her letter further noted.
Philip Jessup was US’s first ambassador-at-large.
Nehru responded by unequivocally rejecting the so-called offer. His letter to Pandit noted, “It would be a clear affront to China and it would mean some kind of a break between us and China. I suppose the state department would not like that, but we have no intention of following that course.”
Decoding the offer
What prompted the US to consider offering India a seat?
For a brief period in the 1950s, the Americans perceived a convergence of US and Indian interests.
Scholar Anton Harder of the University of Nottingham argued that US officials had closely followed Nehru’s trip to South East Asia in June 1950. During his trip, they perceived that Nehru was beginning to take a nuanced stand on communism.
Moreover, India had supported US’s first UNSC resolution on North Korea. Although reluctantly, India also supported their second resolution, which talked about aiding South Koreans with arms.
But during the third resolution, which was about US taking over command of all the UN forces in the Korean War, India refused to vote in favour of America.
With that, the whole idea of establishing India as an American ally effectively ended, and, consequently, US’s attempts to induct India into the UNSC, wrote Harder.
What prompted Nehru’s decision to decline the offer?
During the aforementioned period, Nehru was still a deep idealist on matters of foreign policy. He believed that the UNSC could emerge as a medium of resolving interstate conflicts.
Given his beliefs, Nehru thought that if China would be removed from the UNSC, the character of the very institution would change. Thus, given his interest in the longevity of the UNSC, he insisted that China should continue to be a part of the UNSC.
Providing more insight, Bajpai told ThePrint, “How could have India taken China’s seat? China’s name is on the official (UN) charter. The only question at that point of time was which delegation will represent China (at the UNSC).”
Bajpai questioned the political logic of India being inducted into the UNSC by the US.
“The idea of the US offering India a (permanent) seat at the UNSC is wild. During Nehru’s time, India had massive disagreements with the US regarding the Japanese Treaty and Korean War,” said Bajpai.
On a more fundamental level, Bajpai said that over the years he has seen no evidence of Nehru being offered a permanent UNSC seat.
“Some casual offer by a (US) State Department official does not amount to a serious offer.”
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