Modi on path paved by Nehru
In mid-June 1955, the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru visited the then Soviet Union. For 10 <g data-gr-id="77">days</g> he was boarding one train after another to reach <g data-gr-id="71">to </g>the states of USSR–Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. 60 years later fifteenth Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi has visited the same lands, which are now independent nations. Modi’s visit to “Stan” countries might yield the results of three-fold focus with which Nehru had gone to these areas– energy, exports and a counterpoint to China’s inroads in the region. These five countries control the most energy-diverse and oil-rich parts of the world.
Kazakhstan is a major oil producer. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have the biggest natural gas reserves. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have considerable untapped reserves. Kazakhstan is world’s 9th largest country area wise, larger than the whole of western Europe. With a population only around 1.9 <g data-gr-id="82">crore</g>, its oil wealth has <g data-gr-id="83">tremendous</g> potential of making the country one of the richest on our planet. With a population of only 55 Lac, Turkmenistan possesses the world’s <g data-gr-id="73">fourth largest</g> reserves of natural gas resources. Most of the country is covered by the Karakum (Black Sand) Desert. Tajikistan, with its 90 lac population and Kyrgyzstan, with its 60 lac population are fast coming out of the clutches of hardships and focusing to tap their resources. Uzbekistan has fourth largest gold deposits in the world. It also has massive copper and uranium deposits.
After Chinese President Xi Jinping’s 2013 visit to all five “Stans”, when he announced billions of dollars in loans to these countries to build energy and transport infrastructure, Modi’s visit must be seen as a well-deserved step in a direction for which Nehru had paved the way. Nehru had been to Soviet Russia before as well. In 1927, Nehru, with his father Pt. Motilal Nehru, had gone to Soviet Russia. Both attended the Tenth anniversary celebrations of Bolshevik revolution. Young Nehru was then an upcoming leader of Indian National Congress. During 1930s Nehru was known as an admirer of the Soviet experiment in lifting millions out of poverty and apathy.
Though Nehru had several questions in his mind for certain less democratic methods Soviets were applying to achieve their goal, he felt that many problems of independent India would be similar to what Soviets faced in the years after revolution. So, Nehru wanted to find an Indian model of solutions on Soviet lines.
In 1955, eight years after taking over the reins of our country, when Nehru went to Soviet Russia, he had specific domestic and international factors in his mind. That was the time when China and Pakistan were receiving massive assistance from the superpowers. Pakistan had joined the US-led military pacts and China was receiving Soviet support. Nehru knew that this situation was jeopardising Indian security interests and he has a clear roadmap to take corrective measures. Nehru’s first Five Year Plan, that started in 1951, was well on its way and he was poised for second Five Year Plan. Nehru was confident that his five-year plans will accelerate India’s economic growth. Ruling Congress party was moving slowly but steadily towards the goals of establishing a socialist society in India. It was quite natural for Nehru to think that Indo-Soviet partnership is in the best interest for our country ideologically and geo-strategically. Nehru was right. His 1955 visit brought <g data-gr-id="75">long term</g> strategic benefits over the period of time for India.
Nehru had gone to <g data-gr-id="108">Soviet Union</g> after the Bandung Conference. He made a remarkable speech at Moscow University during this visit. Nehru did not know that sitting in the audience listening to him carefully was a young law student named Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev who will change the course of world politics through his policies of Glasnost and Perestroika decades later as the head of Soviet Union. Gorbachev had a strong impact of Nehru’s speech on his entire thought process. Gorbachev recalled, in his memoirs, “Obviously, we students were still very far from understanding the principles of democracy.... The simplified black-and-white picture of the <g data-gr-id="105">world as presented by our propaganda</g> was even then considered rather sceptically by the students.... Jawaharlal Nehru’s visit to Moscow in June 1955 was an unexpected stimulus for me in this respect.....This amazing man, his noble bearing, keen eyes and warm and disarming smile, made a deep impression on me.” Thirty years after hearing Nehru, when Nehru’s grandson Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister of India, Gorbachev played <g data-gr-id="103">a important</g> role in bringing a peaceful end to the Cold War. He permitted a transition to democracy in Eastern Europe. Soviet rulers in 1956, 1968, and 1979 sent troops into Soviet satellites when people wanted an end to Stalinist one-party regimes. But, Gorbachev did not opt for this when it came to him. I am sure the early exposure to Jawaharlal Nehru must have played some part in the reformist and reconciling politics of Gorbachev.
Soviet Union reciprocated Nehru’s visit in November 1955. Khrushchev and Bulganin came to India. The reception for them was so warm wherever they went in India that it was a new experience for the Soviet leaders. They expressed support for India’s stance on Kashmir and on Goa which was still under Portuguese occupation. <g data-gr-id="100">Soviet Union</g> generously assisted India in different areas of nation building including defense in coming decades. It was the result of the foundation of strong relations with <g data-gr-id="98">Soviet Union</g> that Indira Gandhi could deal with <g data-gr-id="97">crisis</g> of East Pakistan in 1971 and the entire map of the continent was changed. One must give credit to Nehru’s vision that even after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russia retained its close partnership in defense with India.
I would appreciate Narendra Modi for his understanding of the importance of Nehru’s 1955 visit and his realisation of the fact that Nehru’s efforts in reshaping geopolitics holds relevance even in 2015. Modi knows that Russia’s relations with the West are deteriorating and the clouds of Cold War tensions of <g data-gr-id="79">1950s</g> are emerging on the political horizon. The situation is pushing Russia closer to China. What at one time was the ideology which brought China and Russia closer, now has turned into shared interests. Prime Minister Modi has been doing his bit to engage West and China and it is the right time for India to play its role to reassure relations with Russia in current geopolitical setting.
(Author is Editor and CEO of News Views India)