By Jawaharlal Nehru
“The very structure of British imperialist rule has been, and is, such as to aggravate our problems and not to solve any of them,” wrote Jawaharlal Nehru, a leader of India’s independence movement and the country’s first prime minister, in Foreign Affairs in 1938. Although achieving independence would be “a hard task,” India, with its “vital spirit” awakened, “will no longer be merely a passive instrument of destiny or of another’s will.”
India’s anticolonial struggle had been gaining momentum for decades. But, as the journalist B. Shiva Rao described in 1941, negotiation of the terms and the timeline of self-rule was made more complex by the onset of World War II and disagreement among India’s leading political parties about the nature of a post-independence state. And when the British Parliament passed the Indian Independence Act of 1947, establishing autonomous India and Pakistan, the transfer of sovereignty was accompanied by a bloody partition.
Later that year, Foreign Affairs published an essay by the Earl of Halifax, viceroy of India from 1926 to 1931, reflecting on the history of British India—and insisting that, despite some “mistakes,” the country’s record was “something of which the British people may rightly be proud.” Two years later, an anonymous Indian official struck a different chord. On matters of foreign policy, the West could be assured that India’s objectives would be “wholly pacific and constructive,” the official wrote. But after centuries of domination, the country was not about to simply follow the lead of its former rulers. India would chart its own path—and seek “a new relationship between east and west.”
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