One of India’s enduring debates has been that Jawaharlal Nehru allegedly sacrificed a UN Security Council seat in favor of China. In the 1950s, both the Soviet Union and the US offered India a seat in the Security Council. India rejected it. Critics of India’s first Prime Minister termed this decision as mere ‘naive idealism’ and said that India had to pay the price for it.
It is argued in defense of Nehru’s decision that there were many reasons for not taking a seat in the UN Security Council which should be readily believed. The seat of the Security Council was first introduced in 1950 by the US (via Alan Foster Dulles) and later by Russia (via Nikolai Bulganin) in the mid-fifties. At first Nehru suspected that both America and Russia had their own reasons for not giving a seat to China and giving a seat to India. Clearly, the US saw China as a communist threat, and by the mid-50s Russia also saw China as a rebel country and a threat to its supremacy in the communist world. Nehru believed that both America and Russia wanted to pit India against China and at that time India was not in a position to conflict with its northern neighbour.
This was a period when the Cold War had started. The West and the Soviet Union formed military factions and here India took the lead in starting the Non-Aligned Movement. Meaning India will maintain equal distance from both the blocks and will also protect the newly independent countries from the wrath of any block. Nehru probably looked at this proposal closely and found that it was just a message and not a concrete proposal. Actually both the blocks were testing the water to know which side India is inclined towards.
Many scholars, especially AG Noorani, have written about the reasons for rejecting this proposal. After reading those reasons, it comes to know that this decision was not taken under extreme internationalism, but it was a very deliberate decision in view of the situation at that time. There is a project of the Wilson Center on this subject – Not at the Cost of China: India and the United Security Council, 1950. In this project, Anton Harder has shed some new light on this controversy.
Inclusion of the PRC in the international community was a central pillar of foreign policy
“Nehru’s rejection of the US offer actually underscores the continuity of his conviction. Nehru believed that the legitimate interests of the PRC (People’s Republic of China) should be acknowledged in order to reduce international tensions. The inclusion of the PRC in the international community by rightfully giving China its seat on the Security Council was in fact a central pillar of Nehru’s foreign policy. Nehru’s skepticism about accepting this proposal and thus hindering the movement of the United Nations shows that he had great respect for this international organization, despite all its flaws.
Noorani’s article “The Nehruvian Approach”, published by Frontline in 2002, was also quoted by Anton Harder. Noorani’s article reproduces a note written by former Prime Minister Nehru when he was on a visit to the then Soviet Union in 1955:
“Informally the United States has suggested that China should be taken in the United Nations but not in the Security Council and that India should take its place in the Security Council. We certainly cannot accept it because it means quarreling with China and it would be very unfair for a great country like China not to be on the Security Council. Therefore, we have made it clear to those suggesting that we cannot agree with this suggestion. We have gone a little further and said that India is a great country and should be in the Security Council but India is not keen to enter the Security Council at this point of time. The first step is that China takes its rightful place and then the question of India should be considered separately.
India has to pay a heavy price for this
The reason for reviving an old controversy is to seek something of relevance in the present. Whether Nehru was right or wrong in getting China involved is now a purely academic study. His argument may have been relevant at that time, but when we look back, we find that India has to pay a heavy price for it. India is no longer a third world country in the 50s and 60s. It is a world power and all countries appreciate it. India is able to handle itself with confidence at the global level. Now India should abandon the strategy of contesting elections for a two-year term in the Security Council along with smaller countries. In fact, the time has come when India should occupy a permanent seat in the Security Council.
India has been demanding the reorganization of the United Nations. India has said that the usefulness of its present incarnation has ended decades ago. India has asserted that the emergence of new world powers after the Cold War has changed the international balance of power.
Often P-5 countries have not spoken clearly about India’s inclusion in the Security Council. He has said that India should join the Security Council without veto power. This proposal is undoubtedly meaningless. In order to be relevant and effective today, the Security Council must deal with the realities of today, not the realities of seven decades ago.
However, the fact that the Security Council can have two categories of members—those who have vetoes and those who do not—is itself a violation of the United Nations Charter.
The Charter of the United Nations states that “the United Nations reaffirms the belief in the fundamental human rights of all, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small…
India cannot be placed in the Security Council without veto power
India cannot be placed without veto power in the Security Council with veto power. The Security Council is ready to open doors for countries like India, Japan, Brazil and South Africa to be admitted to the permanent member club but does not want to give them veto power. In such a situation, the veto power of P-5 countries should also be abolished, only then the council can be considered a representative body in the true sense.
If India does not get its right for a seat of the Supreme Council in the United Nations soon, then India should register its protest, even if it is symbolic. India should consider voluntary suspension of its membership of the United Nations for a brief period. This may prompt the organization to consider the need for improvement.
To prove its point, India should also vote in favor of the Lichtenstein resolution. Even if this proposal is a trick of western countries with political motive and goes against Russia. This will not harm Russia, but will certainly annoy China. And occasionally angering Beijing is worthwhile.