freedom is menaced or justice threatened or where aggression takes
place, we cannot be and shall not be neutral."
Jawaharlal Nehru, addressing a joint session of US House and Senate
October 13, 1949
Let us put
Nehru's words in context: here is the leader of a country still
dependent on foreign aid for food, militarily negligible, a country
of crushing poverty, invited to address the Congress of the United
States. We watch him treat the superpower as an equal, recalling
it to its highest values. It lionizes him. JFK's first State of
the Union speech invokes the "soaring idealism of Nehru".
In 1962, C. Rajagopalachari (also known as Rajaji, an associate
of the Mahatma and a political opponent of Nehru) visits the US
and the USSR promoting the importance of nuclear disarmament.
President Kennedy listens with rapt attention, later recalling
his meeting with Rajagopalachari as "one of the most civilizing
influences on me".
It was an
era when India was regarded everywhere as a moral superpower,
even if it was poor in material wealth. The authority India wielded
on the world stage was lopsided, totally out of proportion to
its military or economic power. Why was this so? Every country
wants its people to eat well, but India, like America, represented
something more -- the inspiration of high purpose. Gandhi's freedom
movement set minds everywhere on fire. This was followed, after
independence, by Nehru's forging of the entirely new paradigm
of non-alignment where India refused to trade political allegiance
for economic blandishment.
today, when India is an expanding power, exporting not just food
but steel, with rising incomes, foreign acquisitions and a nuclear
bomb, she is often viewed as nothing more than "a country
with a middle class of 400 million". And the moral voice?
It hasn't been heard from in years! There was courage in rags,
but there is only meekness and timidity in riches. And the bomb,
far from emboldening us, seems only to have induced servility.
This week, for regularizing a nuclear deal with the US, among
other economic aims, India rolls out the red carpet to an American
president who has sullied everything noble about America.
invaded Iraq in 2003, India remained mute, likely weighing the
forfeiture of any potential contracts in post-war Iraq. How electrifying
it would have been for India to resume its role as the world's
moral superpower, to condemn the invasion from the rooftops, to
recall its ambassador from Washington? India would have become
the beacon of the world.
But all that
is unimaginable today. For we are now rich, nuclear -- and fearful.
In the words of my father, KG Ramakrishnan, "where there was the
torment of the soul, there now was the swagger of the body."
country of four hundred million "subjects" overthrew
the mightiest empire known to history, the weight of four hundred
million "consumers" forces a free nation to acquiesce
in a fresh imperialism. Far from not remaining neutral in the
face of aggression, as Nehru said, India this week is actually
feting the aggressor! As Mahatma Gandhi wrote, "How heavy is the
toll of sins and wrongs that wealth, power and prestige exact
Ramakrishnan is a writer living on the West Coast. His writings
can be found on http://www.indogram.com.
He can be reached at email@example.com
or visit http://njn-blogogram.blogspot.com