TLI Explains: Did Jawaharlal Nehru Give Up India’s Seat To China At UN Security Council?
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TLI Explains: Did Jawaharlal Nehru Give Up India’s Seat To China At UN Security Council?

China, a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) permanent member, for the fourth time, has quashed India’s bid to brand JeM chief Masood Azhar as a “global terrorist.” BJP hit out at the Congress, as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was the “original sinner” who favoured China over India for a permanent member seat in the UNSC.

The original mistake, both on Kashmir and China, was committed by the same person,” said Jaitley while referring to Nehru’s letter to Chief Ministers in 1955.

This comes hours after Congress president Rahul Gandhi took a jibe at PM Modi and called him “weak” and “scared” of Chinese President Xi Jinping after China blocked the resolution on Azhar for the fourth time.

The narrative that Nehru was offered a permanent seat in the UNSC twice — once in 1950 and then in 1955— has been doing rounds since last seven decades, with both the BJP and the Congress locking horns on whether India lost a chance of permanent representation at the UNSC due to Nehru’s foreign policy blunder. When we analyse the claims made by experts, one can conclude that Nehru’s reverence for the UN and foreign policy inclination towards China, may have cost India a permanent seat at the UNSC.

The UNSC was formed in 1945, in the aftermath of World War II. The geopolitical realities since then have changed drastically, yet, the composition of the UNSC has not. India became a member of the United Nations in 1945, two years before its independence. India’s bid to enter the elite council were first quashed by the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

The controversy has been primarily centred around Nehru, not taking multiple opportunities to become a UNSC permanent member, which were provided to him during the 1950s. While this has been a standard spiel against Nehru and his intentions, the narrative misses several key factors.

The 1950 offer

In a 2004 interview, former UN Under-Secretary General Shashi Tharoor said that Nehru had “declined a US offer” to India to take a permanent seat in the UNSC in 1953. Tharoor in his book Nehru -The Invention of India wrote that Nehru offered the seat, which was held by Taiwan till then, to be offered to the newly formed the People’s Republic Of China. A group of historians and experts believe that he denied the seat in order to restore stability among the Asian countries. The Diplomat in an article quotes another group of historians who say that Nehru did so to appease Mao.

Historian Anton Harder in a 2015 report titled ‘Not at the Cost of China’ said that the USA had started mounting pressure on India to take China’s place in the UNSC owing to increasing socialist influence in the council.

“Nehru’s determined rejection of the US plan to place India in China’s seat at the UN Security Council reflected the particular reverence and centrality placed on the UN by what one might call a “Nehruvian” foreign policy,” he wrote.

Nehru in a letter to his sister, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, who was India’s Ambassador to the United States in 1950 wrote, “India because of many factors, is certainly entitled to a permanent seat in the security council. But we are not going in at the cost of China.”

Relations between the US and India continued to go downhill with the Korean crisis during the mid-1950s. Nehru’s decision to reject the US offer was influenced by his concern that it would undermine the integrity of the UN to a point that it will cease to exist.

The 1955 offer

A 2002 article by historian A G Noorani cited a note written by Nehru on the US and Russian offers to the UNSC. Nehu wrote, “Informally, suggestions have been made by the United States that China should be taken into the United Nations, but not in the Security Council and that India should take her place in the Security Council. We cannot, of course, accept this as it means falling out with China and it would be very unfair for a great country like China not to be in the Security Council. We have, therefore, made it clear to those who suggested this that we cannot agree to this suggestion. We have even gone a little further and said that India is not anxious to enter the Security Council at this stage, even though as a great country she ought to be there. The first step to be taken is for China to take her rightful place and then the question of India might be considered separately.”

In a Lok Sabha reply in September 1955, Nehru took a u-turn and said, “There has been no offer, formal or informal, of this kind. Some vague references have appeared in the press about it which have no foundation in fact. The composition of the Security Council is prescribed by the UN Charter, according to which certain specified nations have permanent seats. No change or addition can be made to this without an amendment of the Charter. There is, therefore, no question of a seat being offered and India declining it. Our declared policy is to support the admission of all nations qualified for UN membership.”

Noorani however, substantiates his claims citing minutes of the meeting between USSR Prime Minister Nikolai Bulganin and Nehru on 22 June 1955, when the offer was made.

Nikolai Bulganin: Regarding your suggestion about the four power conference we would take appropriate action. While we are discussing the general international situation and reducing tension, we propose suggesting at a later stage India’s inclusion as the sixth member of the Security Council.

Jawaharlal Nehru: Perhaps Nikolai Bulganin knows that some people in USA have suggested that India should replace China in the Security Council. This is to create trouble between us and China. We are, of course, wholly opposed to it. Further, we are opposed to pushing ourselves forward to occupy certain positions because that may itself create difficulties and India might itself become a subject to controversy. If India is to be admitted to the Security Council, it raises the question of the revision of the Charter of the UN. We feel that this should not be done till the question of China’s admission and possibly of others is first solved. I feel that we should first concentrate on getting China admitted. What is Bulganin’s opinion about the revision of the Charter? In our opinion, this does not seem to be an appropriate time for it

While Nehru sought peace and stability, his socialist ideology and policies eventually proved to failure after increased tensions between China and India culminated into the Indo-China war of 1962.

Also Read: TLI Explains: Did Jawaharlal Nehru Give Up India’s Seat To China At UN Security Council?

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Editor : Sromona Bhattacharyya

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