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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 48, November 19, 2011

Indira Gandhi and Third World

Monday 21 November 2011, by C Raghavan


(On November 19, falls Indira Gandhi’s ninetyfourth birth anniversary. On this occasion we reproduce the following article by a veteran journalist based in Geneva. He was the Chief of the Geneva Bureau of the Inter press Third World News Service. This article appeared in Mainstream (November 17, 1984) less than a month after our third PM’s tragic assassination.)

Indira Gandhi died as she lived—courageous and fighting.

However she is judged at home on her domestic record, in the Third World she is remembered as a courageous woman, who had braved many odds to successfully lead her country, safeguarding Indian independence and national interests, but at the same time viewing them in the wider universal context and as part of the struggle of the peoples of the Third World for peace and development with equity and justice.

In the international polity, the Third World saw her as a moderator and conciliator, who at the same time stuck to the basic ideology and needs of the nonaligned and the Third World.

The large gathering of world dignitaries, from East and West and the Third World, at her funeral in New Delhi, the extensive TV and press coverage of the assassination and the moving funeral ceremonies, and the genuine outpowerings of sympathy for Indira at its moment of travail, all testify to the place Indira Gandhi occupied in the world’s polity.

She was one of the few world politicians and leaders who commanded respect among the peoples and governments of the Third World, even when she was out of office.

This was forcefully brought home to this writer, first at the Fourth Ministerial Meeting of the Group of 77 in Arusha (Tanzania) in 1979, and later the same year at the Havana Nonaligned Summit.

When she was turned out of office by the electorate in 1977, many in India, understandably though, had viewed harshly Indira Gandhi and her actions during the Emergency. Mediamen, many of whom had not merely accepted the force majeure of the Emergency but had actively supported it, turned harshest in judging her.

But outside India, and in much of the Third World, Indira Gandhi did not lose her admirers. Even those among them who cherished the values of bourgeois democracy, and thus adjudged negatively the Emergency and its excesses, as an ‘aberration’.

Only the hard-core centres of Western Trans-national capitalism, which saw a strong and autonomously developing India as a block to their ambitions, lost no opportunity to cavil at Indira Gandhi, whether in or out of office.

But to the Third World, Indira Gandhi was and remained a historic figure, who had carried forward the policies of Jawaharlal Nehru and who had fought for and advanced the wider interests and causes of nonalignment and Third World efforts for cultural and economic decoloni-sation of the world.

Within days of Indira Gandhi’s defeat and assumption of office by the Janata in 1977, the Nonaligned Movement’s Coordinating Bureau met in New Delhi, and this brought to New Delhi more than the normal quota of members and observers at ministerial level, to see at first hand the changes in India and assess their possible impact.

The major concern of foreign friends of India in 1977 was the likely future course of Indian policies specially because of the past pro-Israeli and pro-US pronouncements of some of the important Ministers and the political parties to which they had belonged before their merger into the Janata, on non-alignment.

While those of us in India were mainly concerned about the domestic developments and the Janata promises, to the outside world possible changes in Indian foreign policies were of primary concern.

The Nonaligned Movement had seen by then several cases of change-over of governments among its member-countries, often by coups and violence leading to changes of policies by their successors. And while the Movement had survived such vicissitudes, any such change in a large country like India occupying such a strategic geo-political position, would have upset the balance in the world and dealt a severe blow to the Nonaligned Movement itself.

In my discussions, I had sought to present to these foreign friends the basic imperatives behind India’s nonalignment, involvement with the rest of the Third World, and its policies of friendship with the Soviet Union. In this frame-work I hazarded the guess that whatever the Janata Ministers might have said before, no basic changes could take place and would be tolerated by the Indian people. The foreign friends were sceptical, though they politely accepted my arguments with ‘reservations’.

But as things turned out, despite some aberrations, including the talk of ‘genuine nonalign-ment’ and the secret contacts with Israelis at top levels, India’s overall policy remained basically on course.

At Arusha in 1979, when I met some of these same friends again, they acknowledged the correctness my basic prognostications, but noted some ‘minor changes’ in Indian policies that they said would never have taken place under Indira Gandhi. Such was the confidence and faith in Indira Gandhi in large portions of the Third World.

At Arusha when the Group of 77 met to formulate a common position for UNCTAD-V, a ’minor issue’, minor for India but major for the Africa countries, related to the special treatment for the Least Developed Countries, and the programme that the UNCTAD Secretariat had mooted.

Even at UNCTAD-II India had viewed the classification of the LDCs as a special category of ‘developing countries’ as part of the efforts of the North to divide the South. At Arusha, India had been very much opposed to the special measures. In the preparations leading to Arusha, both at the preparatory official meetings in Geneva and at the Asian regional meeting, India had voiced the same view, but the thrust of its opposition was perhaps more strident.

An African Minister, from a country whose head of government had close contacts with Indira Gandhi, criticised the Indian stand in extended discussions with me, adding: ‘This would never have happened under Indira.’

In the Third World, especially among those in Africa who were in an even more disadvantageous condition than India, it was axiomatic that Indira Gandhi, while fighting for Indian national interests, would never do so at the cost of other Third World nations.

The Indian stand on the Least Developed Countries had already been the subject of internal debate and criticism among Indian officials, and when I conveyed to India’s Commerce Minister, Mohan Dharia, what the Africans were talking about, he understood the political implications, and India’s somewhat rigid stand was modified. But the Africans saw it as due to their collective position rather than as a reflection of the traditional Indian policies towards these poor African states.

By the time of the Havana Summit, the Janata had already broken up, and the Government of India was headed by Charan Singh, and there were little signs of the kind of political initiatives that India had been noted for. At Havana it was for the first time that India was not represented by the Prime Minister at a Nonaligned Summit.

And while the Indian stand at Havana was on the basis of the traditional Indian nonalignment policies, and pushing for South-South cooperation and self-reliance as a part of the efforts for North-South global negotiations initiated by Algeria, and little could be faulted with the Indian stand, many at Havana were ready looking at the changing Indian political scene and the prospects of Indira Gandhi’s return to power.

AND when in 1980, Indira Gandhi returned to power, it was widely welcomed in the Third World, which saw in it a return by India to active leadership and participation in the Non-aligned Movement and Third World issues.

And over the last four years, the Third World had not been disappointed.

In the economic crisis that enveloped the world from the end of 1980, and continues even now, despite some recovery in the North, particularly in the USA, the Third World has remained in a crisis. Many of the leading nonaligned and other Third world countries of Africa and Latin America, and Asia, have been overwhelmed by the external pressures on them due to the crisis. Under the combined onslaught of the International Monetary Fund and the bilateral pressures from the USA, they took a relatively low profile on North-South issues.

Fortunatley for India, though it could not escape the effects of the global crisis, it had been able to contain them better than others. And India under Indira Gandhi was able to stand up to external pressures, and provide a leadership to the Third World to enable it to maintain its cohesion and unity.

This was seen at Cancun and later, including at UNCTAD-VI in Belgrade where Indira Gandhi delivered the Raul Prebisch lecture and set the pace for the conference. Her lecture on ‘Peace and Development’ was a ringing political testament of the basic Third World thrust for world peace, for autonomous development through collective self-reliance and for inter-national multilateral cooperation with the North.

As UNCTAD Secretary-General Gamani Corea summed up at the memorial meeting for Indira Gandhi by the Group of 77 in Geneva on November 5, “In the political arena as Prime Minister of India and the leader of the Nonaligned Movement, Indira Gandhi had worked towards relaxation of international tensions and to create a better climate of stability and good relations throughout the world. In the economic field her goal was for a set of cooperative economic relationships in the world which would enable each country to pursue its objectives in the light of its own priorities and ideals. These two goals need to be pursued, and the best tribute we can pay to her memory is to continue in the earnest pursuit of these goals.”

Kazmir Vidas, the Yugoslav representative, made the same point when he said: “We will always remember the importance which Mrs Gandhi attached to international cooperation for development, to equitable and democratic dialogue between North and South, and in parti-cular to the enhancement of economic cooperation among developing countries. Her lasting contribution in that respect is best reflected in a comprehensive, untiring and consistent activity of India in all multilateral economic fora.”

After Belgrade, and the failure there to pursuade the North to agree on immediate measures for reactivating Third World development, Indira Gandhi tried to break the stalemated North-South dialogue through her initiative for a mini-summit at the UN General Assembly in 1983. But as in other areas, the efforts were frustrated by the stand of the United States under Ronald Reagan.

In the four years since her return to power in 1980, despite domestic preoccupations and failures, India had tried to advance the North-South dialogue and South-South cooperation, and seek to reduce East-West tensions.

And while in these four years, the South has not been able to advance at all, much of its efforts had been at preserving what it had, and stemming the US onslaught to push the Third World back.

India under Indira Gandhi contributed to this in a large measure. At GATT, IMF, UN and UNCTAD and other international forums, Indian stands helped to forge a cohesive Third World stand, and India was in the forefront to resist US pressures.

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