Saturday, September 16, 2006

India and the Non-Aligned Movement

As the latest summit of the Non-Aligned Movement or NAM is held in Cuba, we revisit an earlier post reflecting on India's role within the Non-Aligned Movement:

Our role in the Non-Aligned Movement always puzzled me. I understand why we joined, nay, why we founded the movement.

I can see how in the early 1950s, it wouldn't have been clear that joining the West was the way to go. Politically, the western nations, particularly the Europeans, were still unrepentently colonialist. Economically, Soviet style socialism rather than free market capitalism seemed to be the way of the future. Even the western governments were busy intervening in the economy, the debate was betwen Marx and Keynes, Hayek wasn't even on the map.

And I can see why to someone like Pundit Nehru, the Soviet bloc held no appeal. Like everyone else at the time, he obviously was fooled by the mirage of socialism. But he was acutely aware of the dangers of totalitarianism. To his credit, unlike every other leader of a newly independent nation (save probably Mr Mandela recently), he committed his country on a democratic path. Many apologists for the Raj would have you believe that Indian democracy is a gift from the British. This is hogwash. Indian democracy came with the Indian constitution, drafted by Mr Ambedkar, honoured and sustained by Nehru and his followers, and defended by the Indian people.

The newly free nations of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s invariably found their first leadership from their anti-colonial/freedom movements. Almost all these leaders came into power espousing democratic ideals. But with strong mandates and a lack of opposition, democratic institutions, or other checks and balances, there was nothing to prevent them succumbing to the lure of power, and making themselves into kings and rulers. India was the one exception, and Nehru was the only man who could have been king, but refused to become one. We Indians too often take our democratic beginnings for granted, failing to appreciate how exceptional and unique the Indian experiment has been, and how much of a debt is owed to Nehru and others for not abusing the trust reposed in them.

But what puzzles me is, why did Nehru not aggressively push democracy to his fellow leaders of the newly independent countries? The principle of non-interference in each other's affairs, you say? Blah! That principle was being violated left, and centre by others in his club. Nasser's big idea was Arab socialism and destruction of Israel. He wasn't shy about promoting that! Tito's big thing was to show the world that you could be a communist dictator independent of Moscow. The Chinese got the message, and they weren't shy about promoting people's liberation movements around the world (until they stopped it in the late 1970s, by which time they themselves stopped believing in Mao's ravings). Sukarno and Nkrumah and other lesser luminaries openly interfered in their neighbour's affairs.

Arab socialism is a thing of the past. Communism is consigned to the dust bin of history. Nehru's vision of a Noble Mansion where all people can live, a state dedicated to improving the lot of everyone, a state that is governed according to the wishes of its citizens, this vision is still relevant. Why then did he not preach this forcefully?

Imagine if Egypt had been a democracy: if Muslim Brotherhood were elected in the 1960s, their followers would not be blowing themselves up today. Imagine if Yugoslavia was a democracy: agonies of Bosnia and Kosovo would have been avoided. We can't fault Nehru because Nasser and Tito were not democrats. But we should criticise Nehru for not trying hard to turn his friends into democrats.