Jawaharlal Nehru | Baron/Getty Images
File photo of Jawaharlal Nehru | Baron/Getty Images
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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.

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.

Also read:Responsible UNSC members may pursue other actions, says UN diplomat on Masood Azhar

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.”

Also readThis is how India can ‘punish’ China for protecting Masood Azhar at UN

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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  1. On one hand Nehru gets accused of being a Soviet Asset and of being anti-west and anti-capitalist. Same people turn around and claim USA and UK eagerly offering UNSC Seat and Nuclear Weapons. Why doesn’t anybody see the contradiction? At least one if not both claims are false!

  2. Good the column puts things in perspective about how at that time the U.N.S.C seat offer for India was more like joint the American block.But I am ready to concede Nehru going soft on China was wrong although he did take in Dalai Lama.Now Modi is making the same mistakes of going soft on that ungrateful nation.He should be tough with China.

  3. The reasoning in this article is very poor. BEFORE any formal or “official” offer, a VOTE of UNSC or UN is taken. BEFORE THAT happens, an informal offer is put forward.
    NEHRU CLEARLY rejected the offer at the informal stage. So where was the question of proceeding to an “official” offer?

  4. It’s funny how everything going wrong in India is blamed on Nehru’s deeds some 60 years back. Where’s Modi’s blatant mistakes like demonitisation has already causing problems in just 5 years. Imagine 60 years from now when we or our next generation looks back at Modi’s misdeeds, they’ll start blaming everything on Modi then. The truth is no human being Nehru or Modi can be correct every time, all the time. A comparison between the 2 is such a uneven ine. Nehru was a scholar of the highest category. Modi hardly has any education. Imagine you have two sons: Nehru & Modi. You may put all your money effort behind Nehru and Modi … Well you might disown him for being a waste of a son.

  5. NEHRU had the courage to give political asylam to Dalai Lama but modi goverment is so weak and coward that they rejected the asylum request of baloch freedom fighter in india. Stop spreading lies .

  6. Even if what the author claims to be a fact is true, there is no historical evidence provided to defend Nehru, except the words of K. Shankar Bajpai. One man’s word against others is hardly foolproof evidence either way. Even if Nehru did not make way for China, his foreign policy blunders plague India to date. Of course he is not solely to blame. There were others ( colleagues, opposition etc. ) who could have kept a check on him. Sadly that never happened.

  7. If this guy Nehru hadn’t existed, India would have been in a much better position overall. He created so much of problems for generations of Indians.

    • If he had not existed we would have been a failed state for sure. A person of humongous stature that holded India for 17 years. But now today it is a fashion to abuse and discredit anyone

  8. SO IT IS ESTABLISHED: Nehru was an idiot. He supported North Korea, a dangerous regime and USA a protective force working under the UN.

    Again a booboo like (1) Signing of the annexation of Kashmir that could have ben with no conditions (2) ignoring Sardar who told him to go get rid of the Chinese from Tibet. India was stronger than China militarily at the time and Mao was not popular around the world (3) Keeping Mountbatten so he could bang the lady at will

  9. India has many options. It is no longer the India of the 2010. It now has the 5th largest GDP and is on its way to be the 3rd largest.
    1) Let the UN know that India cannot continue its active role if it does not have a equitable platform.
    2) Threaten to leave the UN if UN does not control its member from terrorist activities against India. Give the UN a 90 day notice with a timetable of leaving and LEAVE if the UN does not act.
    3) Start a military industry and build missiles and other technology that can evaporate Pakistan in 2 hours. UN will take notice.

    Openly say the UN Security Council is not representative of the World today and India does not recognize it.

  10. Contrary to what the Print’s writers seem to think, something, as momentous as permanent membership in the UNSC, cannot be achieved in an instant, like some modern-day instant personal loan.

    The facts:
    with proper negotiation, either the US or the USSR *might* have been amenable to helping India gain membership. Of course, this assistance would’ve come at a price, something Nehru with his delusions of a third, powerful, non-aligned, front would have not been even willing to entertain.

    what happened to China should not have counted. A country should always consider it’s own needs first and foremost. Wailing over China ending up in a civil war and the injustice of them not having / losing membership is the height of stupidity – would they have cared had the positions been reversed?

    Nehru was not simply ‘a deep idealist’ – if, after all those years playing politics in the Congress, he had not understood how the world worked, then he was simply too incompetent to be the leader of a sovereign nation.

  11. For India’s first PM is a whipping boy to cover up their failure. In social media it is easy to put blame on Nehru and youngsters who were not born or even their parents would naturally lap it as they have neither time or inclination to reseac to check the verocty of claim made by Jaitley. BJP can even go the extent of blaming Nehruji for FOB in Mumbai last evening

  12. There is a lot of stupidity in this article. No one is gonna offer you on a platter a big thing like UNSC without you working for it. The facts cited in this article are incomplete but the article also admits that Nehru put China first over India. Which is a shame. His plans to not make China angry proved hollow with 1962 attack. I find it funny how how Indian intelligentsia chose to keep blind eye on Nehru’s follis which are the principle reasons behind india’s current situation

    • America offered UNSC Seat to Nehru within 3 years of him being the Prime Minister. Modi could not get any such offer in 5 years! Worse, he cannot even get a resolution passed against Masood Azhar. That is the difference!

      • Modi couldnt get as UNSC has fixed number of chairs . That time koraen and Japanese war was supported by india in UN resolution what war US does now to get Modis support ? Nehru was offered the Chair and Nehru Wrote letter to all permanent members to give it to China ? It was usa need that time they offered . But the bigger crime was to give it to China . Today China is there coz Nehru . Indian used to get Green card in 5 years in Usa during Indira gandhis time Today it takes double why ? Coz that time there were counted Indians in usa and thus usa was in need of cheap labour . Now USA has over supply thus they are even Rejecting temporary visa also . No credit of Nehru he was just aPM when India had only 10 Crore people .

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