Rediscovering Nehru

Students and practitioners of public diplomacy in India can learn a lesson or two from Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister. Recent news and analysis on India’s public diplomacy focus a lot on ‘culture.’ However, imaginative policies can also be harnessed to shape perceptions about a country. This is where Nehru, with his world vision for India, is relevant. Nehru’s legacy cannot be discounted even though stalwarts like Lord Bhiku Parekh and Shashi Tharoor might think otherwise.

India in the 1950s, under Nehru’s bold imaginative foreign policy, was perceived as an important peacemaker. Nehru played a prominent role in ending the Korean War.  India chaired Neutral Nations Reptatriation Commission that oversaw POW repatriation after the war. It also played interlocutor between US and China during the crisis. India played the peacemaker in the Suez Crisis to bring the war to an early end. In fact, US President Eisenhower mooted the idea of setting up an "elder statesman board of appeals" comprising of Nehru and himself to find ways to solve the crisis. Nehru partnered with China in enunciating ‘Panchasheel’, the five principles of mutual coexistence, as a legitimate doctrine of international relations. Similarly, Non Aligned Movement (NAM) helped to  keep developing countries away from superpower politics. Under Nehru, India was a founding member of United Nations,  involved in the high profile public mediation in Algerian crisis, Turko-Greece dispute over Cyprus etc.

Nehru placed India’s foreign policy in India’s civilizational and historical context to leverage for an enhanced stature in the world. He created policy initiatives that positioned India as an important player in international affairs.  India’s offices were offered by Nehru for genuine initiatives that promoted better relations among nations and enhanced India’s image. Indian diplomats under Nehru were true ‘Global Diplomats.’ Under Nehru, India engaged with the world proactively. It will be interesting to see news reports from that era and analyse what are some key words used by overseas press to describe India.

Nehru’s vision of a modern India also included a highly talented and productive human capital. This led to institutions of excellence like the IITs of today. This is another area where Nehru’s vision created soft power potential for India – the land of highly skilled and intelligent people. We are talking a lot about Commonwealth Games in India. Nehru envisioned the Asian Games way back in 1947. Consequently, the first 'Asiad' was hosted by New Delhi in 1951. Wonderful example of Nehru's foresight and vision when it came to public diplomacy.

It would help if public diplomacy in India progressively highlights strategic policy initiatives and expand the understanding and practice beyond ‘culture’. There will be more stories to tell. There will be newer stories to tell.

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur

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