New Delhi: It is fashionable to denigrate Jawaharlal Nehru today especially as the Narendra Modi regime is attempting to impose Sangh/ Jan Sangh/ BJP icons on the nation. But it is astonishing to discover more than fifty years after his death how right Nehru was about most things concerning post-independence India. He correctly analyzed that India needed a planned economy till it stabilized as a market economy with adequate domestic capital to smoothly run its affairs. That situation still has not been reached although the 1991 reforms remarkably strengthened the market economy. In the circumstances, the abolishment of the Planning Commission was precipitate and unjustified, with its replacement, the Niti Ayog, struggling to give direction and content to the Indian economy. Nehru saw the future with some clarity. The present regime is clueless about getting past the day.

Nehru was still more prescient about Non-Alignment. One test of a policy, especially if it concerns geopolitics, is to gauge the responses it generates. Adverse responses deserve greater scrutiny. The United States was most upset about Non-Alignment. The nonaligned group of largely decolonized or newly independent countries floated like a massive barge in an open ocean between the mobilized forces of the two superpowers, the United States and Soviet Russia. In most circumstances, neither superpower could board the barge, but over time, Russia managed better relations with the nonaligned states than did America.

Nehru, however, was looking at nonalignment largely from an Indian perspective. He realized from his intimate studies of Indian civilization that India could never become aligned to this or that bloc being too independent. The Indian ethos was distinct. It could not merge with the Western identity nor become one with the ideology of the East represented by revolutionary Russia. Partition had left India further friendless in South Asia situated between two halves of a state which in all other circumstances should have been its closest partner if not still an ally. Alliances in this situation of perpetual absence of complementarities were out of the question and so Nehru, in association with like-minded statesmen, invented a new paradigm called Non-Alignment.

It is unlikely that Nehru could have so clearly seen the day when the Cold War would end and materialist ideology would abruptly cease to have the power to divide the world and bring it close to nuclear apocalypse. But when the Cold War wound up, Jawaharlal Nehru was proved perspicacious to keep India nonaligned. How do you survive and prosper in today’s world without ideology? By being aligned to no one.

Tactically, Nehru miscalculated about China. Even great men are liable to make mistakes. Perhaps more than his mistakes, circumstances conspired against India. The Dalai Lama’s decision to flee to India in 1959 and Nehru’s decision to grant him asylum (he could scarcely have refused) sowed the seeds of discord between India and China. It prevented Nehru’s Non-Alignment from taking full flight. But events since have shown that Jawaharlal Nehru’s basic premise was sound. India is geopolitically so unique that it cannot be an ally of any other power.

Indeed, the whole system of alliances, which began as an accursed bequest of Modern history to Europe, reached their destructive climax in the two total wars of the last century. Today, it is virtually meaningless to speak of alliances, because old alliances, such as that of NATO, are collapsing, and the new ones being made are palpably temporary, such as that between China and Russia. In the absence of universal threatening ideologies, the need to gather into alliances is less compelling. In the circumstances of broken or weakening alliances, powers are drifting apart, and to the extent that this encourages hegemony and nationalism, those are the new threats facing the international order.

Overall, however, the geopolitical conditions of the world are most encouraging of Non-Alignment. In India’s case, Non-Alignment is an imperative. India’s best hopes lie in making peace with neighbours and in initiating planned second-generation reforms of the sort that Manmohan Singh spoke of some days ago. If you defile your inheritance, your turn to meet the same fate cannot be long postponed. This was Edmund Burke’s admonishment to the French revolutionaries. Jawaharlal Nehru is the country’s tallest Prime Minister, and the sooner this is recognized by regimes in place and by those to come, the better for India. Non-Alignment or strategic autonomy as it is now called will keep India secure and strong. Jawaharlal Nehru’s geopolitical legacy is more relevant than ever.