This year India celebrates the twenty-fifth anniversary of her independence. These have been years of change and turmoil everywhere. Deep surging forces have torn asunder our past colonial feudal structures and have combined with the tides sweeping the world to give our post-independence evolution its unique qualities. But our own unvarying concerns have been two: to safeguard our independence and to overcome the blight of poverty.

Many crises and dangers from within and without have obstructed our path but we have taken them in our stride. Contrary to predictions, the country has not broken into warring states, We have not succumbed to civil anarchy. There has been no widespread starvation; on the contrary, we have become self-sufficient in cereals. We have not jettisoned our free institutions, but instead gained greater political cohesion and economic strength. This does not justify complacency but it does give us confidence that the Indian people can rise to whatever challenge the future may hold. Under Mahatma Gandhi's inspiration, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the Congress movement formulated a set of principles which have served as our guidelines and which are still valid for us. These are democracy, socialism and secularism so far as our internal affairs are concerned, and nonalignment in our external relations. One or the other of these principles has been the subject of criticism within the country and abroad. But generally speaking, internally there is a more mature awareness of the forces and compulsions of our age, and these principles have come to form the essential elements of a national program accepted by virtually all sections of our people, even though there are differences of interpretation and regarding tactics. The massive majority with which the Congress Party was returned to power in the fifth general election in 1971 and in the state elections in 1972 is an indication of this.

What holds people together is not religion, not race, not language, not even a commitment to an economic system. It is shared experience and involvement in the conscious and continuous effort at resolving internal differences through political means. It is a sense of "Indianness" which unites our people despite ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity. Most conflicts and tensions in the world originate in the failure to take note of the importance of nationalism.

II

Two centuries and more of history marked by foreign intervention, domination and exploitation left India backward, apathetic and stagnant, The general scene was one of decay, reflected in the misery of the masses. For us, political independence became inseparable from economic freedom, which in turn could be meaningful to the extent that it served the interests not only of the few but of the many, of the nation as a whole. Hence our energies at home have been chiefly directed toward the reconstruction of our society.

Our national movement was committed not to a doctrine but to a purpose—the modernization of our society without loss of the Indian personality; the development and integration of industry and agriculture with modern science and technology; the uplift of the masses and the ending of archaic, hierarchical systems in which discrimination and exploitation had become entrenched.

In the economic field, it was clear from the beginning that we could not rely only on private enterprise and the play of market forces, that we would have to establish social control over the key sectors of the economy and adopt measures of economic planning appropriate to the stage of development reached. Our socialism is not a ready-made ideology but a flexible concept. Three successive Five-Year Plans have been implemented and we are halfway through the Fourth. None of them was beyond criticism in formulation or execution. And yet the overall progress of the last 25 years is by no means negligible. We have an impressive record of diversifying our industrial capacity and raising industrial output. The Indian peasant has quickly responded to the new strategy, with the state providing irrigation, improved seeds, better implements, fertilizers and pesticides. So marked has been the development of our industry and agriculture, our science and technology, our education and health, that some argue that India should not now be counted among the underdeveloped nations.

Although we have acquired certain features of an industrial state and although some classes and groups of our people are visibly prosperous, the vast majority still live in poverty and a substantial minority in crushing poverty. Moreover, the process of development has widened the disparities between different social classes and has created new imbalances between states and between districts within the same state.

Our very progress has drawn attention to the inadequacy of our achievement and to the magnitude of the tasks that still lie ahead. But it has increased our capacity to deal with them. We have realized that reliance on stereotyped processes of economic growth will not make an appreciable impact on the living conditions of the masses for decades to come. Hence, a basic review of our economic policies is now under way. We propose a more direct assault on poverty and its major manifestation, unemployment. Our next Five-Year Plan will emphasize investment and production programs which are closely related to a minimum level of consumption for all and are linked to the provision of employment opportunities on an extensive scale. This gigantic enterprise calls for institutional changes and innovations.

These radical policies do not conform to the code of capitalism and they may not adhere to orthodox doctrines of socialism but they are desired by the great majority of our people. The privileged do not hide their misgivings. Reform, as in every country where it has been an issue, is being hotly debated. Some of the more glaring inequities of the land system, e.g. absentee landlordism, were removed immediately after independence but the just redistribution of land and consolidation of holdings are yet to be satisfactorily completed. Industrialization and urbanization have given rise to new problems and have further accentuated disparities. However, our commitment to democracy is fundamental. Indian socialism is not a negation of democracy but its fulfillment, and democracy will be imperiled only in the measure by which we fail through lack of foresight or want of courage to respond to the aspirations of our people.

The resources for our economic development have come mostly from the sacrifices of our own people, but we have also received aid from abroad in the form of credits for the purchase of industrial equipment and food. Although aid was originally conceived of as external assistance for supplementing the self-help measures of developing countries, we have found that it is often used by some creditor governments as an instrument to enforce their short-term policy objectives and to secure political and economic concessions unrelated to our development. Aid is effective only if it is guided by considerations of development and when there is assurance of its continuity and not when it can be suspended or withdrawn abruptly, While aid is generally tied to purchases from donor countries, repayment under many of the agreements has to be made in freely convertible foreign currencies, adding to our burdens. At present more than half of the external assistance to us goes for repayments of earlier debts. It is our policy to reduce reliance on aid progressively. We are determined to mobilize internal resources and technological capacities more intensively.

III

India's foreign policy is a projection of the values which we have cherished through the centuries as well as our current concerns. We are not tied to the traditional concepts of a foreign policy designed to safeguard overseas possessions, investments, the carving out of spheres of influence and the erection of cordons sanitaires. We are not interested in exporting ideologies.

Our first concern has been to prevent any erosion of our independence. Therefore we could not be camp followers of any power, however rich or strong. We had equal interest in the maintenance and safeguarding of international peace as an essential condition of India's economic, social and political development. In the bipolar world which existed in the immediate postwar era, Jawaharlal Nehru refused to join either bloc. He decided to remain nonaligned as a means of safeguarding our independence and contributing to the maintenance of world peace. Nonalignment implied neither noninvolvement nor neutrality. It was and is an assertion of our freedom of judgment and action. We have not hesitated to express our views on any major controversy or to support just causes.

In conformity with the objectives of our foreign policy, India sought friendship with every nation. We did not allow past conflicts to impede our new links with Britain within the framework of the Commonwealth. The problem of French possessions in India, unlike those held by the Portuguese, was solved in a civilized manner by peaceful negotiations. Thereafter, our relations with France grew in cordiality. We have similar relations with the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic and other European countries, both East and West. With the nonaligned countries in Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Africa south of the Sahara, there exist special understanding and coöperation based on a common interest in safeguarding freedom and a common struggle against colonialism, neocolonialism and racialism. We have friendships with the countries of Latin America whose concern with problems of development is similar to ours. India has always held Japan in esteem as a dynamic Asian country, and our coöperation with Japan is steadily growing.

We have also tried to have normal relations with Pakistan. Yet successive governments of Pakistan based the survival and unity of their country on the idea of confrontation with India. This has stood in the way of coöperation which would have been to our mutual benefit. India was partitioned in 1947 to solve what the British portrayed as irreconcilable Hindu-Moslem antagonism. Pakistan was based on the medieval notion that religion alone constituted nationhood. Encouraged by the imperial power, the Moslem League claimed that Moslem majority areas were entitled to become an independent nation. Thus, Pakistan was born a geographical curiosity, its two halves separated by a thousand miles of Indian territory. India was left with a very large number of Moslems; they formed the largest of her many minorities. In keeping with her old tradition and the spirit of her nationalist movement, India adopted secularism—i.e. non-discrimination on grounds of religion—as a fundamental state principle. Equal rights and equal protection have been vouchsafed for the followers of all religions. The Moslem population of India has grown since partition from 35 million to 61 million. It is noteworthy that the 1971 census showed that there are 14 million Christians and 17 million others including Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Jews.

Pakistan, on the other hand, clung to the political ideology which had led to partition. Those who came to power in Pakistan had sided with the colonial power in undivided India and had opposed the national struggle. These ruling elements, especially after the establishment of military dictatorship, set Pakistan on a course of pointless and seemingly endless conflict with India. Just as in the earlier days when the colonial power had used religious sentiments to blunt the nationalist drive in India, some powers sought to use Pakistan to offset India. Pakistan joined military alliances, which had been formed ostensibly to contain international communism, but which Pakistan used primarily in order to acquire weapons to be used against India. Moreover, it suited the West to play off Pakistan against India. China gave military assistance to Pakistan with the same purpose. Later, so did the Soviet Union in order not to lose leverage, but soon discovered its hazards. The consequence of this assistance was to strengthen the militarist oligarchy in Pakistan and inhibit the growth of democratic forces there. Hatred and suspicion of India were whipped up to maintain those in power and to divert the Pakistani people's attention from their demands. Since India remained outside military systems, our defense capacity, unlike that of Pakistan, had to be built up out of our own resources. We have bought defense equipment from a number of countries, however, particularly after the Chinese invasion in 1962 when we received very modest assistance from the United States and the United Kingdom.

Kashmir, as early as October 1947, was the first victim of aggression by Pakistan. This was at a time when there were no Indian forces at all in Kashmir—as acknowledged by the Foreign Minister of Pakistan at that time in the U.N. Security Council. A large part of that state has been under Pakistan's occupation for many years. India does not intend to recapture this territory by force; on several occasions we have given this assurance to Pakistan and have offered to conclude a "no war" pact Pakistan has rejected this offer repeatedly, trying to invoke third-party intervention in our affairs. Infiltrators and saboteurs have been sent into Kashmir and other territories, notably in the northeast. Early in 1965, our Kutch area was invaded, and later the same year the infiltration was escalated into an attack on Kashmir which led to fighting all along the western front.

The immediate background to the latest aggression against us in 1971 was the other battle which Pakistan had been waging for many months against its own citizens of East Pakistan (as it then was). India had no part in the internal developments of Pakistan—West or East. We would normally have welcomed the attainment of freedom by any victim of colonial oppression but usually it would have little direct impact on us. Bangladesh, however, was a part of our subcontinent. How could we ignore a conflict which took place on our very border and overflowed into our own territory? Ten million destitute refugees poured into densely populated areas which were also politically sensitive owing to the activities of Marxists and the Left extremists we call Naxalites. This posed unbearable strains on our economy and on our social and administrative institutions. The terrible stories of genocide and the comings and goings of Mukti Bahini, the resistance force of Bangladesh, created a volatile situation for us also. Could we remain indifferent to these developments?

As I told the leaders of the various countries which I visited in October 1971, the situation could not remain static. Several border clashes took place during these tense months, and there was one serious skirmish in November; but we treated these as local incidents. In the last week of November, President Yahya Khan publicly announced that war would begin in ten days and, sure enough, on the tenth day there was a massive air attack on seven of our cities and a ground attack all along our western border. Thus did Pakistan extend its war to India.

However, when 14 days later, on December 16, 1971, Pakistani troops surrendered on the eastern front, India unilaterally announced a ceasefire on the western front also. On March 25, 1972, we withdrew our troops from Bangladesh in consultation with the new government. The political map of the subcontinent has been redrawn and the notion of an inherent and insuperable antagonism between a secular India and a predominantly Moslem state has been discredited—not through any design on our part but because the idea itself was untenable and the military dictatorship of Pakistan, totally alienated from its own people, had followed a short-sighted and unrealistic policy. In his address to the nation on June 27, 1972, President Bhutto gave a perceptive account of the events when he said: "The war we have lost was not of our making. I had warned against it but my warning fell on deaf ears of a power-drunk junta. They recklessly plunged our people into the war and involved us in an intolerable surrender and lost us half our country. The junta did not know how to make peace nor did it know how to make war."

The shock of these events compelled Pakistan to exchange military dictatorship for civilian rule and opened the door to new possibilities for the peaceful resolution of the basic issues between the two countries. I took the initiative to invite President Bhutto for discussions. These have resulted in the Simla Agreement of July 2, 1972, by which Pakistan and India have proclaimed their determination to solve their conflicts bilaterally and without recourse to force, and to seek a durable peace and growing economic and cultural coöperation. The agreement which holds the promise of settlement of the Kashmir and boundary problems, has been welcomed by almost all sections of the Indian people. It is my hope that the implementation of this agreement in the spirit in which it was made will close the 25-year-old period of Pakistan's hatred of India, and that both countries will become good neighbors. I appreciate the courage and realistic approach which enabled President Bhutto to come to India. If Pakistan also shows the wisdom to come to terms with Bangladesh which, under Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, is building a secular, Socialist-oriented democracy, the subcontinent will at long last have overcome the main obstacle to its progress.

IV

I have dwelt at length on Pakistan and the problems of the subcontinent for their impact on us is immediate and deep. But we want better relations with China also. Even when we were fully absorbed in our own struggle for liberty, we supported China's parallel fight against imperialism and sent a medical team to Mao Tse-tung's Eighth Route Army. We have respect for their culture and cherish memories of past contacts. We were among the first in 1949 to welcome the establishment of the People's Republic.

Much to our disappointment, the last two decades have failed to fulfill our initial hope that India and China, both great Asian nations newly independent and faced with similar problems, would learn from and assist each other and so coöperate on the wider international scene. We began, as we thought, with mutual confidence and good will, but the events of the 19508 brought tension and misunderstanding, culminating in the entry of Chinese troops and their occupation of thousands of square miles of Indian territory in 1962.

It would be an oversimplification to regard this merely as the result of a border dispute. Simultaneous or subsequent developments—such as China's systematic support of Pakistan against India, her provocative criticism of India for alleged subservience to the United States and later the Soviet Union, and her persistent though futile efforts to promote internal subversion—leave us no option but to infer that the border dispute was the outcome of a more complex policy which was aimed at undermining India's stability and at obstructing her rapid and orderly progress. After the Cultural Revolution, conditions seem more tranquil, and there appears to be a new orientation of China's policies. We wonder whether this new mood will also be reflected in China's policy toward India. The earlier faint signs of a thaw have receded since China's unreserved support of General Yahya Khan's campaign against Bangladesh and India. We are not engaged in any competition with China, nor have we any hostile intentions. We hope that some day China will appreciate that coöperative and friendly relations between the 560 million people of India and the 700 million people of China are in our mutual interest.

Apart from the Soviet leaders, I think my father was the first Prime Minister to pay a state visit to China. Similarly, the exchange of visits with the leaders of the Soviet Union was memorable in that it was the first time since the October Revolution that a non-Communist personality of Nehru's stature and the head of a non-Communist government was welcomed officially by the Soviet government; it was the first time, also, that Soviet leaders traveled in a country outside the Socialist bloc. The talks held in Moscow and Delhi resulted in a significant measure of understanding that had more than bilateral implications. They demonstrated that it was possible for two countries such as India and the Soviet Union to maintain good relations and to work together in a friendly spirit in spite of very different social systems and without either having to modify its policies or sacrifice its philosophy and traditions.

The Soviet Union shares the Indian view on the maintenance of peace and the elimination of racialism and colonialism. On these issues it has supported the Afro-Asian stand in the United Nations and elsewhere. When matters vitally concerning our national security and integrity, such as Goa, Kashmir and more lately Bangladesh, became subjects of international controversy, the Soviet assessment of the merits of the case coincided largely with our own. In strictly bilateral terms also, there has been a steady increase in the range and volume of our coöperation—economic, commercial and cultural—to our mutual advantage. Economic relations with the Soviet Union are easier for us since we repay them through the export of our commodities. This mode of payment makes the Soviet credits self-liquidating.

The Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Coöperation concluded last year grew logically from this expanding relationship. It affirms the determination of both countries for greater coöperation in various fields and to consult one another, if need be, on suitable measures to safeguard their peace and security. There is nothing in the treaty to which any reasonable person or government could take exception. It contains no secret clauses, nor is it aimed against any county. Yet there have been some misapprehensions that the treaty dilutes India's nonalignment. It is strange that such criticism comes mostly from those who have vehemently denounced nonalignment all along. In the text of the treaty itself there is explicit recognition and endorsement of India's policy of nonalignment.

V

Our relations with the United States started off rather well. At that time, the American people and government showed considerable sympathy for the colonial peoples who were struggling for independence, and particularly for India. However, this phase was short-lived. With the rise of the United States to a dominant world position, Washington's concern and respect for the national independence of India receded into the background. Everything was viewed solely in the context of checking communism and containing first the Soviet Union, subsequently China, and now once again the Soviet Union. There was a feverish building of military blocs and a continuous extension of a network of bases stretching across oceans and continents. The logical and practical consequence of this policy was to divide the world into two opposing camps and to expect each country to belong to one or the other—preferably the Western bloc.

A newly freed people, jealous of their independence, could not resign themselves to this position, nor could we isolate ourselves from what was happening around us. Successive U.S. administrations have ignored the fact that India must see her problems and her relationships in a different perspective. They have insisted on interpreting our nonalignment within the confines of a neutralism which they imagined to be slanted in favor of Russia. India was regarded with disapproval and resentment because of her independent policy. This could not but affect the bilateral relations between India and America. Despite fluctuations of mood, our relationship as a whole has been uneasy over a long period.

To our grave concern, U.S. policy as it developed impinged seriously on our vital interests. The admission of Pakistan into the U.S.-controlled system of alliances and the massive supply of arms to Pakistan were ostensibly part of the U.S. grand design against communism, but we cannot believe that the U.S. administration was unaware that these weapons could be and would be used only against India. We took considerable pains to point this out but our protests went unheeded.

Should not the people of the United States ask their government what they have gained from America's activities in Europe and in Asia? Has the United States succeeded in containing communism? On the contrary, has not the U.S. government been compelled to build bridges with the nonaligned and to woo the opposite bloc—the hated Communists? I have no doubt that if we had followed the advice of the Western bloc, conditions in India would have deteriorated and the extremists would have been strengthened.

In regard to Bangladesh and during the December war, the United States openly backed Pakistan at the cost of basic human values. This further strained our relations. I do not wish to analyze the U.S. role at that time or go into the misrepresentations which were circulated. But it is necessary to take note of the dispatch of the warship Enterprise to support a ruthless military dictatorship and to intimidate a democracy, and the extraordinary similarity of the attitudes adopted by the United States and China. Imagine our feelings. The original misunderstanding with the United States had arisen because of our contacts with China, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. We find it difficult to understand why, when the U.S. policy toward these countries changed, the resentment against us increased.

We do not believe in permanent estrangement. We admire the achievements of the American people. Indeed, a large number of Americans expressed sympathetic support for the cause of Bangladesh and India during the last year. We are grateful for the assistance from the United States in many areas of our development. We are ready to join in any serious effort to arrive at a deeper appreciation of each other's point of view and to improve relations. A great power must take into account the existence not only of countries with comparable power, but of the multitude of others who are no longer willing to be pawns on a global chessboard. Above all, the United States has yet to resolve the inner contradiction between the traditions of the founding fathers and of Lincoln and the external image it gives of a superpower pursuing the cold logic of power politics.

On fundamental questions such as disarmament, the abolition of nuclear weapons, the continuing struggle against colonialism and racialism, the widening gulf between the haves and have-nots, the war in Vietnam and the conflict in the Middle East, our stand has been consistent over the years and has been clearly stated in appropriate forums. In this article I have preferred to focus attention on the situation on our subcontinent because it is our special concern and has a significance beyond geographical frontiers. In considering the policies of some major powers, I have confined myself to bilateral relations which are intimately connected with their attitudes to the subcontinent as a whole.

VI

The international scene with which we had become familiar has considerably altered, Do the two recent summit meetings in Peking and Moscow indicate that communism and anticommunism will no longer be the ultimate criteria of political and moral values and that peaceful coexistence, which India has been advocating all these years, will be the governing consideration in international dealings? Whatever the motivation, the wisdom of these new approaches is beyond question, provided that the spirit of détente is also extended to other parts of the world, We cannot be sure if these flexible relationships necessarily point to a more stable world order. Coexistence by itself does not preclude policies, separately or in concert, which are detrimental to the freedom and interests of third countries. For example, coördinated action in the Security Council between China and the United States last year operated against an immediate restoration of peace in Bangladesh in keeping with the rights of its people, Agreements which promote the doctrine of balance of power or mark out spheres of influence are bound to increase tension and invite instability. No nation will be happy in a subservient role.

Europe has avoided war for more than two decades and is now attempting to build a framework of security and coöperation. But peace is indivisible and so long as there are conflicts and dissensions in Asia there will be no peace in the world. Asia has cradled many civilizations and contains a substantial section of the world's population. For more than two centuries, it has been drained of its resources and wealth which have contributed in no small measure to the industrial advance and affluence of the West. The countries of Asia are now politically free but the continuing interplay of international forces impedes our struggle against economic backwardness and the shadows of the past. We share many problems which can be solved through coöperation among ourselves rather than merely through assistance from the outside, which has tended to cause misunderstanding among us and which was motivated more by self-interest than by a genuine understanding of our needs.

Each country has its own heritage and distinct personality which it naturally wishes to develop in its own way. But we must also bear in mind our community of interests and take positive initiatives for working together among ourselves and with other countries in order to make a richer contribution toward the evolution of a world more liveable for all and of a social order more in consonance with the yearnings of modern man.

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  • Prime Minister of India from 1966-1977, 1980-1984; Leader of the Congress Party; Minister of Information and Broadcasting, 1964-66
  • More By Indira Gandhi