India has been trying to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for a long time, begging all nations—big and small—including China. But, over five decades ago India was getting the UNSC seat unasked—on a platter! And, Nehru chose to rebuff the offer!! Why? Nehru wanted the position to be given to the People’s Republic of China instead! Being generous at India’s cost!! But, note the contrast. In 2008, in a conclave of foreign ministers of BRIC countries, when Russia proposed that the BRIC countries support India’s Permanent Membership of the UNSC, it was strongly opposed by China!

First, the background. On account of the failure of the League of Nations to prevent World War II, United Nations Organisation (UNO) was formed in 1945 after World War II by the main allies in the War: US, UK, USSR, France and China—ROC (Republic of China) headed by Chiang Kai-shek. These five became the Permanent Members of the UNSC, with veto powers. UNSC also has 10 rotating non-permanent members with a term of two years.

In 1949, Communists took over China and founded People’s Republic of China (PRC ) under Mao. Chiang Kai-shek and his ROC were driven away to Formosa—now called Taiwan. ROC continued to be a member of the UN till 1971, and not PRC, as US and allies refused to recognise it. They did not wish to have another communist country as a member of the UNSC.

The move by the US to have India in the UNSC in lieu of China started in 1950. In that context, in response to the letter of his sister Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, who was then the ambassador in the US, Nehru wrote:
“In your letter you mention that the State Department is trying to unseat China as a Permanent Member of the Security Council and to put India in her place. So far as we are concerned, we are not going to countenance it. That would be bad from every point of view. It would be a clear affront to China and it would mean some kind of a break between us and China. I suppose the state department would not like that, but we have no intention of following that course. We shall go on pressing for China’s admission in the UN and the Security Council. I suppose that a crisis will come during the next sessions of the General Assembly of the UN on this issue. The people’s government of China is sending a full delegation there. If they fail to get in there will be trouble which might even result in the USSR and some other countries finally quitting the UN. That may please the State Department, but it would mean the end of the UN as we have known it. That would also mean a further drift towards war. 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.”

Was India under Nehru trying to take a high moral ground? But, why? Why not look to your own country’s interest? Besides, was Nehru’s stand even ethical, moral, and principled? No. Why support an aggressor of Tibet for the UN and the UNSC? Correct ethical and moral position for India should have dictated trenchant opposition of China for the UN and the UNSC as long as it did not vacate Tibet.

What was bizarre was that even though never requested by China, India had been voluntarily and vigorously advocating Peoples Republic of China (PRC) for the Permanent Membership of the UNSC in lieu of Taiwan! India lobbied with all nations for the UN membership and UNSC permanent seat, not for itself, but for China!

Even though China had invaded Tibet, KM Panikkar, the Indian Ambassador in Beijing, stated that to protest the Chinese invasion of Tibet would be an interference to India’s efforts on behalf of China in the UN! That is, complaining against China on behalf of Tibet would show China in bad light—as an aggressor—when it was more important for India to ensure China’s entry into the UN, for which India had been trying, and ensure that this effort of India was not thwarted by taking up China’s Tibet aggression!

What kind of crazy Nehruvian foreign policy was this? Our own national security interests and the interests of Tibet were sought to be sacrificed to help China enter the UN!!

Incidentally, there was another irony to India advocating the UN membership of China in the fifties. As per ‘Mao: The Unknown Story’ by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday{JC} , and other books, India thought it was doing a great favour to China by advocating its membership of the UN, and expecting it to feel obliged; however, China resented such overtures, for it abhorred the patronizing attitude of Nehru—more so because China considered itself to be the real leader of Asia, and contemptuously looked at India’s pretensions to being a great power merely on rhetoric, with nothing to show for it. Further, China did not really care then—in the fifties—of the UN membership. In fact, it thought that becoming a member would oblige it to abide by the UN charter, when it wanted to actually have a free hand in dealing with Korea and Tibet.

Both the US and the USSR were willing to accommodate India as a Permanent Member of the UNSC (United Nations Security Council) in 1955, in lieu of Taiwan, or in addition to it as a sixth member, after amending the UN charter. This Nehru refused! Wrote Nehru in his note of 1 August 1955 on his tour of the Soviet Union and other countries during June-July 1955:
“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.”

It was almost as if Nehru, for reasons one cannot fathom, totally ignored India’s own strategic interests! It is possible that the US and the USSR were more keen to show PRC its place, than to really promote India. But, so what —if it also served India’s interests. India should have been alive to its own self-interest. Why should Nehru have been generous to China at the cost of India! Shashi Tharoor states in ‘Nehru: The Invention of India’:
“Indian diplomats who have seen the files swear that at about the same time Jawaharlal also declined a US offer to take the permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council then held, with scant credibility, by Taiwan, urging that it be offered to Beijing instead… But it was one thing to fulminate against Great Power machinations, another to run a national foreign policy with little regard to the imperatives of power or the need of a country to bargain from a position of strength.”

Reads a ‘Business Line’ article ‘UN reforms—a fading mirage?’ of 16 September 2009:
“Ironically, around 1955, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was offered the disputed Chinese Permanent Security Council seat by the US to keep out the People’s Republic of China, and he also was sounded out by the USSR Prime Minister, Nikolai Bulganin, to allow China to take this seat while giving India a sixth permanent seat in the Security Council. Nehru rejected this offer in deference to China. History may have been different if this offer had been subjected to serious negotiations. Through the decades since, we have been struggling for this seat.”

S Gopal wrote in his book ‘Jawaharlal Nehru: A Biography’ (vol-2): “He (Jawaharlal Nehru) rejected the Soviet offer to propose India as the sixth permanent member of the Security Council and insisted that priority be given to China’s admission to the United Nations.” 

When an MP JN Parekh raised a short notice question in the Lok Sabha on whether India had refused a UNSC seat informally offered to her, Nehru’s reply was apparently less than honest: “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.”

A Wilson Centre report of 11 March 2015 titled ‘Not at the Cost of China: India and the United Nations Security Council, 1950’ states that both the US and the USSR offered India permanent membership in the UNSC but Nehru refused to accept it, and wanted it to be given to China instead.

Writes Arun Shourie in ‘Are we deceiving ourselves again?’:
“…The Communists seize power [in China]. Panditji [Nehru] is the first to ensure that India recognizes the new Government. He also urges countries like U.K. to hasten recognition. Although, it is Chiang Kai-shek who has supported India’s struggle for independence…Panditji immediately begins championing the cause of the new Government [of China]. He urges the British, the Americans, in fact everyone he can reach, that the Nationalist Government [of Chiang Kai-shek] must be made to vacate its seat in the United Nations, and that seat—which means necessarily the seat both in the General Assembly and the Security Council—must be given over to the Communist Government…”

What was even more bizarre was that even after the 1962 India-China war, India supported China in the UN. Declared Nehru’s sister Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, who was leading a delegation to the UN in 1963, that she “doesn’t understand that why a world-class organization such as the United Nations has not included a big and powerful country like China.”

If you analyse India’s actions and moves then, we appear to be novices and simpletons! Speaking to students of Lucknow University in November 1951, Ambedkar had 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?”


Share this post