Nehru didn't keep India out of UNSC or reject Kennedy offer, it is just rhetoric

In a bid to discredit former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, dozens of myths are being propagated to make him look like a half-wit, whose policies and ideology somehow deprived India of its deserved status of a global superpower and pegged the country back by several years.

Add to this list another fantastic claim: John F Kennedy offered India nukes on a platter but Nehru rejected it. And that Nehru spurned offers for India's permanent inclusion in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

Writing for Firstpost, Prakash Nanda argues: "... a majority of Indians do not know that but for Nehru, India would have been a permanent member of the UNSC, a legitimate nuclear power and a leading global power in the 1950s."

Nehru and UNSC

That Nehru deprived India of a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council is standard spiel of the anti-Nehru camp. But, it ignores several key facts.

The UNSC was formed in 1945 and its composition has not altered even once since then.

In 1945, when seats on UNSC were being allotted, India was not even an Independent country. To add to Indian woes, whatever claims India made for seeking entry into the elite council were opposed by British PM Winston Churchill.

 Nehru didnt keep India out of UNSC or reject Kennedy offer, it is just rhetoric

Former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. GettyImages

Was India offered a membership after that? In September 1955, Nehru categorically denied getting any offer in Parliament. He made this statement, in reply to a short notice question in the Lok Sabha on 27 September by Dr JN Parekh whether India had refused a seat informally offered to her in the Security Council. The prime minister 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. Our declared policy is to support the admission of all nations qualified for UN membership.''

It has been almost 50 years since Nehru died. If, as his critics argue, Nehru was not keen on the UNSC membership, what have his successors, including Atal Bihari Vajpayee, achieved in these years?

The problem with the UNSC is that altering its composition takes a lot. First, it entails an amendment in the UN Charter, which can be done only with the support of two-third of its general members and the support of the big five in the UNSC. And second, India is not the only country with a strong claim. Germany, Japan, Brazil and many other developing countries have also been lobbying for a seat on the UNSC table.

To assume that all these impediments could have been swept aside if Nehru would have said yes is wishful simplification of the complex problem.

Nehru, Kennedy and Nukes

Nanda claims India could have become a nuclear power if he had accepted Kennedy's offer to handhold our way into the elite club. His argument is based on former foreign secretary MK Rasgotra's assertion that Kennedy offered India help in developing nuclear bombs, but the Indian PM turned down a handwritten letter in which the offer was made. Rasgotra was the Indian foreign secretary in the Rajiv Gandhi government, a good 20 years after Nehru's death.


Though Nehru was a vocal proponent of non-alignment and a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi's ahimsa doctrine, India always kept the nuclear option.

In April 1948, within a year of Independence, India passed the Atomic Energy Act that led to the creation of Indian Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC). At that time Nehru 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, HarperCollins Publishers India, pg 79)

It is clear that Nehru was keen that India pursue nuclear research and keep its options open for future deployment in war. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that Homi Bhabha was once just a year from testing a nuclear device during Nehru's tenure. But, it is also true that he asked Bhabha to keep the programme in abeyance.

The key question here is this: Did the US under Kennedy try to help India fastrack the bomb to counter China?

Several experts argue that Kennedy's secretary of state Dean Rusk toyed with the idea of helping India develop nukes to keep China under control. But, in his book, India's Nuclear Bomb, The Impact on Global Proliferation, strategic affairs expert George Perkovitch writes the idea was never implemented. The US home department found seven problems with the strategy of extending covert support to India's nuclear programme and ultimately rejected it saying it was not convinced that the US should depart from its stated policy of opposition to extension of nuclear capabilities.

The truth is, during Kennedy's tenure, the US was tilting more towards Pakistan than India. George Perkovitch writes in India's Nuclear Bomb, in 1961, when US Vice-President Lyndon Johnson visited the two countries, he preferred the Pakistani dictator Ayub Khan. On several occasions, the US tried to leverage its position to force India to accept a settlement on Kashmir to appease Pakistan. But, Nehru maintained a measured distance from the US, much to the chagrin of the superpower.

Apart from assuming, without proffering credible evidence, that nukes were offered on a platter to Nehru, the former PM's critics, of course, make the mistake of arguing that an entry into the club would have been the shortest route to super powerdom and global hegemony.

For sobering thoughts, they need only to look at Pakistan, an ally of the US much before the Kennedy era.

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Updated Date: Jun 18, 2016 14:58:10 IST