Indian Foreign Policy during the Early Cold War: Realist or Idealist? | Wilson Center
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Indian Foreign Policy during the Early Cold War: Realist or Idealist?

Historians tend to use the term “nonalignment” to describe India’s place in the world during the Cold War era, and depict idealistic leaders like Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his main advisor V.K. Krishna Menon as the primary drivers of Indian foreign policy.

In fact, India (as well as Pakistan) relied on a cadre of experienced, British trained diplomats who had a different idea of national interest than Nehru did – one that favored alignment and was realist, pro-Western, and staunchly anti-communist. The key figure of this movement, Secretary-General of the Ministry of External Affairs Girja Shankar Bajpai and his disciples, all former officers of the Indian Civil Service of the colonial period, exercised heavy influence on Indian foreign policy. The ongoing struggle between leftist politicians and a realist foreign service partly explains the many ups and downs of the Nehru years.

In this lecture, Dr. Amit Das Gupta, an expert on Indian foreign policy, will analyze the background and mindset of a realist school of thought in Indian foreign affairs and contrast it with Nehru and Menon’s idealist and partly ideological policy. He will show how the conflict between these two schools of thought manifested itself during major crises of the Cold War, such as the Hungarian uprising of 1956 and India’s boundary dispute with China. His presentation will be based on extensive research in Indian archival materials, some of which remain classified.

Amit Das Gupta is a specialist in international relations in the Cold War with a focus on Germany and South Asia. He is a senior researcher with the University of the Federal Army in Munich. After publishing his doctoral thesis on Western Germany’s South Asia policy between 1949 and 1966 (Handel, Hilfe, Hallstein-Doktrin), in 2017 he authored a political biography of India’s longest-serving Foreign Secretary Subimal Dutt (Serving India), whose career spanned from 1928 to 1974. He also recently co-edited a volume on the 1962 war between India and China (The Sino-Indian War of 1962: New Perspectives). His monograph on the impact of officers of the Indian Civil Service on Indian foreign affairs will be available in early 2020. Das Gupta is currently researching donor strategies in the development consortia for India, Pakistan, and Turkey.

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