India's Non-alignment Doctrine as a foreign policy precept was formulated by India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. He continued as India's Prime Minister from its independence in 1947 until his death in 1964, a long spell of seventeen long years. He dominated India's political scene as the indisputable leader of the ruling Congress Party and in the process established India's ruling political dynasty which extends till today. The aura which he acquired as the more visible face of the Congress freedom struggle led to the endowment of a political charisma on him as the Prime Minister of the Congress Party which began governing India in 1947. As a consequence his political decisions became unquestionable including those in the foreign policy field. Foreign policy formulation became personalized in the person of the Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru and continued as such even in the tenures of his dynastic successors, namely his daughter Indira Gandhi and his grandson, Rajiv Gandhi.
India's Non-alignment Doctrine was formulated by Nehru as the touchstone of new India's foreign policy and Nehru steered India in the international community accordingly. Nehru's passionate obsession to non-alignment led him to establish the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) which he did in the company of leaders like President Tito of Yugoslavia, President Nasser of Egypt, President Sukarno of Indonesia and President Nkrumah of Ghana. They all were leaders of newly independent countries that emerged in the wake of the end of the Second World War and the shake'off of colonial rule of the European powers. But this did not deflect the first major criticism of international observers, and especially Western leaders that Nehru as a highly professed democrat had to rely on the dubious company of military dictators and civil autocrats as founding fathers of the NAM. This criticism grew over the years as NAM expanded and most of the members that were added to ultimately reach a figure of over seventy had similar backgrounds, more or less. It also included countries that were openly allied with the Soviet bloc like Cuba.
Nehru, it seems was attempting to craft a Third World Bloc in the bipolar structure of the Cold War era with idealistic hopes that the newly independent under-developed countries as a bloc could emerge as a ginger group in international affairs and extract maximum concessions from the Big Powers. Also, it was hoped that NAM and India in particular, would be able to stay clear of Cold War entanglement and conflicts. In the process, Nehru reveled in occupying the centre-stage of global politics with his high flown idealistic moral posturing. India gradually started losing international relevance in USA and the Western group of advanced industrialized countries as India's moral hectoring grew and India began adopting double standards in the Cold War standards.
The end of the Cold War and the new international realities that emerged forced India to recognize that non-alignment without political, economic and military muscle was not a workable concept and that if India was to actualize its latent great power potential, it had to shed its ideological obsession with non-alignment and join the international power game in the spirit of the REALISM school of political thought.
This was a total turnaround from the Nehruvian Doctrine of Non-Alignment and obviously had to be taken by a Prime Minister from outside the fold of the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty. The man of the moment for this bold reversal of Indian foreign policy was P V Narasimha Rao. Subsequently, the BJP Govt under Vajpayee enlarged and added new horizons to India's foreign policy including the defining momentof the 1998 nuclear weapons tests. This has catapulted India into the Big Power league and has made Indian foreign policy trends so initiated as irreversible. So much so that the current Congress Government despite the Nehruvian Foreign Minister (since sacked over the Volcker Report) and Leftists pressure has found it prudent to stay the course set by the BJP Govt.
India today is being widely accepted as an emerging key global player and figuring in the strategic calculus of USA, Russia, China and the EU as a force to reckon with It has achieved this only after discarding the archaic concept of Non-Alignment that it obsessively followed for four decades. Indians of the current generation who would be moving India to its rightful future would naturally question India's losses as a result of the Non-Alignment Doctrine of India's foreign policy?
The answers in brief of India's losses are as follows:
- National Security
It suffered as threat perceptions were de-emphasized and defence preparedness was ignored. It led to India's military debacle against China in 1962. It also severely impeded the evolution of independent India's appropriate strategic culture with the obsessive commitment to Pacifism and peace even at the cost of national security interests.
- Political Influence
It stood confined to NAM countries as political penetration into global political groupings and strategic partnerships was a taboo as per non-alignment precepts and these partnerships were not open to India bound down by such precepts.
- Economic Losses
India was self-prevented from integrating itself into a globalized economy and reaping the benefits of FDI, income generation and jobs generation. Socialistic pattern of economies was the hallmark of NAM countries. The result was poor rates of economic growth and stagnant economies which India could ill-afford for poverty-alleviation for its large population.
- Nuclear Weapons as Currency of Power
BJP Foreign Minister was right in pointing out that a 'moralistic nuclear policy' (which again was a spin-off from non-alignment moralism) paid no dividends to India. India's defining moment to catapult into the Big League was delayed for a quarter of a century with all the attendant losses.
India's Non-Alignment Doctrine as a foreign policy precept, therefore, has been a monumental failure. It was more idealistic than visionary and lacked the vital content of any foreign policy, namely, realism and realpolitik to secure India's national security interests. It was a poignant failure for Nehru that at the most critical moment of his political career as Prime Minister, the 1962 Sino-Indian Conflict his NAM colleagues failed to come out in his favor the Chinese line; a factor that hastened his death in 1964. So much for non-alignment.