Zorawar Daulet Singh has made a very impressive intervention into the historiography of Indian foreign relations in the Cold War. His close historical study of the diplomacy of both Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi reveals profound differences. The book benefits immensely from the new sources deployed; foremost among these are the Jawaharlal Nehru Papers, but also those of PN Haksar and TN Kaul, now accessible at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, as well as interviews with many retired officials. A highly skilled historian whose work is tightly framed within a clear conceptual apparatus, Daulet Singh also consciously addresses those debating India’s contemporary international posture.
Daulet Singh argues that the key to understanding India’s foreign policy in the Cold War era is to go beyond the apparent continuities of nonalignment and explore instead the major differences between Nehru and Indira Gandhi. Refreshingly putting nonalignment to one side, he uses International Relations theory to argue that these leaders had contrasting ‘role-conceptions’, meaning the way they envisioned India’s function in international affairs, based on different ‘beliefs’ and ‘images’. Nehru’s ‘peace-maker’ role-conception stemmed from his Asia-based internationalism, his rejection of the realist logic of balance-of-power, and his conviction that international security was ‘indivisible’ and that it was in India’s interest therefore to strive to expand areas of peace in global politics. Furthermore, Nehru preferred persuasion to coercion in foreign relations.
Partly due to the traumas of the 1962 and 1965 wars with China and Pakistan, it is argued, Indira Gandhi took power with quite a different ‘security-seeker’ role-conception. Her role-conception also had three sources: a narrow focus on the subcontinent, a sense of security as divisible, and a willingness to use the balance-of-power logic to India’s advantage. And, finally, force and coercion were regarded as legitimate tools of diplomacy in the Indira Gandhi era.
The book uses six case studies of regional crises to show that Nehru sought to be a peace-maker in the wider Asian region, while Indira Gandhi prioritized security in the immediate periphery: East Bengal in 1950, Indochina and the Geneva Conference of 1954, the Taiwan Straits conflict of 1954-55, US escalation in Vietnam in 1965, the Second East Bengal Crisis of 1971, and Sikkim, 1970-75. Daulet Singh concludes that beliefs and images held by policymakers are more important to policymakers’ decisions than the material reality which they confront. He then intervenes into contemporary foreign policy debates by claiming that India does have a realpolitik tradition of its own and that prior to the assumed watershed of 1991 Indian foreign policy varied far more than complacent assumptions of nonaligned continuity imply.