India's military humiliation at the hands of China in 1962 set in motion a process of internal political deterioration which still continues. The first impact of the unimpeded Chinese advance had brought a temporary surge of fellow feeling and patriotic fervor; but the deeper and more lasting consequence of the rout at Bomdila was the virtual destruction of the unprecedented sense of national confidence so carefully nurtured by Nehru during his years of leadership. What was left of dynamism and élan soon faded away as India's inability to strike back in the foreseeable future became more and more abundantly clear to a demoralized nationalist élite.
Nehru had consistently addressed his domestic and foreign policies to the legacy of self-doubt arising out of the millennial failure of Indian nationalism. The deluge he feared most after his death was a return to the age-old nightmare of balkanization and internecine strife characteristic of India in the prelude to Mogul and British rule. Although his neutralist foreign policy grew out of a complex of factors, Nehru saw it in the last analysis as the emblem of a renascent national pride, a reminder to the heterogeneous Indian people of their new collective identity in international affairs. By projecting New Delhi onto the world stage as a free-wheeling entity pursuing its own national interests, Nehru deliberately held out before Bengalis and Marathas and Tamils a mirror image of themselves as Indians.
The fact that he was riding for a fall dawned on remarkably few of his countrymen during the euphoric years when India played its role as a peacemaker and go-between in the company of the superpowers. Indians did indeed begin to see themselves in an inflated mirror-image as citizens of a country that had already arrived-a country held in universal respect-and to attach increased value to their national identity. This was a great source of strength for Nehru in his efforts to control divisive stresses holding back the Five Year Plans. It provided the unifying momentum for
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