B R AMBEDKAR remains a towering personality of modern India who was instrumental in igniting the minds of generations of citizens. While his views on various social, economic and political aspects have been analysed, his approaches to Indian foreign policy have remained a rain shadow area.
Ambedkar’s interest in more direct aspects of foreign policy had emerged in his resignation letter from the Union Cabinet on 10th October, 1951. Five issues that he brings out on foreign policy deserve close attention.
First, he notes that in 1946 he was consumed with great anxiety and had prepared a report on the condition of the Scheduled Castes for submission to the United Nations but did not do so because he felt that “it would be better to wait until the Constituent Assembly and the future Parliament was given a chance to deal with the matter”.
Second, he wrote that the foreign policy of the country has given him “cause, not merely for dissatisfaction but for actual anxiety and even worry”; “On 15th of August 1947 when we began our life as an independent country the world was our friend. Today, after four years, all our friends have deserted us.... How dangerous it has been to us this policy of doing the impossible and of being too good”.
Third, he expressed deep dissatisfaction with “our quarrel with Pakistan” that he termed “a part of our foreign policy”. He wrote: “There are two grounds which have disturbed our relations with Pakistan — one is Kashmir and the other is the condition of our people in East Bengal. I felt that we should be more deeply concerned with East Bengal…. than with Kashmir. My view has always been that the right solution is to partition Kashmir…. Or if you like, divide it into three parts; the ceasefire zone, the Valley and the Jammu- Ladhak region and have a plebiscite only in the Valley.” Fourth, Ambedkar bemoaned the fact that he was neither a member of defence committee nor foreign committee of the Cabinet and that “it is an impossible position” of him “having joint responsibility without any opportunity of taking part in the shaping of policy”.
Fifth, he regretted that he “had hardly any time to attend to our foreign affairs” because he had been busy with the framing of the constitution, and thereafter, with the Peoples’ Representation Bill and the delimitation orders.
Ambedkar’s criticism of Nehru’s foreign policy was highlighted by both the national and international media. The Time issue dated October 22, 1951, noted: “Ambedkar is the first important Indian official who has openly attacked Nehru for being too friendly to China and not friendly enough to the US”.
Separately, speaking at a gathering of students of Lucknow University on November 8, 1951, Ambedkar said: “The government’s foreign policy failed to make India stronger. Why should not India get a permanent seat in the UN Security Council? Why has the prime minister not tried for it? India must choose between parliamentary democracy and the Communist way of dictatorship and come to a final conclusion”.
On China he disagreed with the Tibet policy and the enunciation of Panchsheel. He said: “If Mao had any faith in the Panchsheel, he certainly would treat the Buddhist in his own country in a very different way. There is no room for Panchsheel in politics”.
Ambedkar repeatedly expressed the desirability of a league of democracies in Asia and beyond. He said: “Do you want parliamentary government? ... If you want it, then you must be friendly with those who have parliamentary government….
If you do not want it, let us join Russia and China tomorrow”. He recognised the ideological and political convulsions in the Asian continent and called on the government to align with the free nations who believe in freedom.
Ambedkar also believed in realpolitik and concrete action linked to national interest. He criticised Nehru’s foreign policy noting: “The key note of our foreign policy is to solve the problems of other countries and not to solve the problems of our own country”. He called for a more robust approach to the Goa question, listing out annexation, purchase or lease as possible policy options.
He felt that a small police action by the government would enable obtaining possession of Goa and criticised Nehru for only shouting against the Portuguese and doing nothing.
What clearly emerges is that Ambedkar was a realist and had a pragmatic approach. He preferred to achieve the possible rather than wait to realise the ideal. His fundamental approach was premised on fashioning foreign policy for solving the country’s problems in various areas rather than focusing on global and regional problems involving other nations and powers. He felt that foreign policy must enhance the country’s strategic and developmental options and make India stronger.
He envisioned a league of democracies and believed that the democracies of the world had to reach out to each other in view of the spread of communism towards which he held a deep ideological antipathy. He recognised the impact of the emergence of Asia after long years of colonialism and imperialism and wanted India to align itself with the ‘free nations’.
Ambedkar’s views on Kashmir and East Bengal were significantly different from the mainstream approaches on the subject. His solutions to the question of Pakistan were based on either reaching an agreement or resorting to arbitration. While the arbitration route between India and Pakistan was not tried in his lifetime, the Indus-water treaty incorporated mediation and arbitration as dispute resolution mechanisms.
Ambedkar felt that close Indo-US relations premised on a natural affinity of democracies would lead to foreign assistance to India in various fields, thus alleviating the national burden. He challenged the government to move away from non-alignment and come to a final decision of either aligning with democratic governments such as US or making friends with communist governments and joining Russia and China.
This was a dramatically opposite view on foreign policy as compared to Nehruvian non-alignment. He envisioned a strong India that took its place in the global order based on developing its economic strength and leveraging its political alliances with other democracies.
His belief in the balance of power is evident when he castigates the government for not trying to obtain a permanent seat in the Security Council.
The India of the ’40s is unparalleled in the modern history of our country. We had been blessed with many leaders such as Ambedkar, Nehru, Gandhi, and Patel. They took on their assigned tasks in the run-up to Independence and thereafter, and made possible the emergence of India as it stands today. Ambedkar’s efforts were totally consumed in the crafting of our constitution and with the initial legislation of a newly independent country. If his energies had been directed towards crafting the foreign policy of the new Republic, who knows what the results might have been?
(The writer is a serving IFS officer and the article is an extract from an address delivered at the 13th Foundation Day of Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University, Lucknow. The views expressed are personal.)