Much has been written about ‘historical’ incidents that shaped the history of a young Independent India under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru. The rumours and facts of Nehru are mired in such a manner that it is difficult to separate truth from falsity. One such story is that had it not been for Nehru, today India would have been a permanent UNHC (United Nations Security Council) member, and a leading global nuclear power.
The most popular theory about India not becoming a UNSC member was that Jawaharlal Nehru, in his ideological arrogance, refused the proposal, and suggested China’s name instead. This is questionable because, the UNSC was formed in 1945, two years before India became an independent state, and its composition has not changed since its inception.
While UNSC was formed and UN seats were allotted in 1945, India was still under British rule. And if ever India made some noise about being a party to the council, British PM Winston Churchill would have dismissed the matter with a single ‘no’. His hatred for India and its inhabitants is well-known.
Much later, in September 1955, Nehru was questioned in the Lok Sabha about his role in India’s participation in the UNSC. He 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.”
We had studied in our Social Science classes in school that any change in the UNSC is a long formal process. It starts with an amendment in the UN Charter, with the support of two-third of its general members and the support of the big five members. Even if Nehru would have wished to be accommodated in the council post-Independence, India’s inclusion in the UNSC would not have been a cakewalk.
Besides the UNSC debate, Nehru is also accused of reducing India into a non-powerful entity in the nuclear sector. But truth be told, Nehru was not against India being a nuclear-armed state. In April 1948, while India was under Nehru’s leadership, the Atomic Energy Act was passed, that eventually set up the Indian Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC).
Nehru had said: “We must develop this atomic energy quite apart from war — indeed I think we must develop it for the purpose of using it for peaceful purposes. Of course, if we are compelled as a nation to use it for other purposes, possibly no pious sentiments of any of us will stop the nation from using it that way” (Weapons of Peace, Raj Chengappa).
Nehru didn’t influence the American President John F Kennedy for India’s nuke status. It was the other way round. The US refused to support India’s nuclear programme in a covert manner, saying it was outside their policy to lend support to any nuke set up.