Nehruvian Period To Current Scenario

Prof. V.P. Gupta,Director, Rau’s IAS Study Circle, New Delhi – Jaipur – Bengaluru

This article caters to the International Relations (I.R.) section
of General Studies-Paper II and for Essay Paper in UPSC  Main Examination

There has been a recent controversy in the context of India’s permanent membership to the UN Security Council which arose due to Chinese blockage of sanctions against Masood Azhar by UNSC. It  has been alleged that the United States had suggested India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru in 1950 the desire to remove China from permanent membership of the UNSC and possibly replace it with Indian membership. It was further asserted that J. Nehru refused to take the suggestion seriously and thereby lost the opportunity to make India a permanent member of UNSC. Therefore, India’s current inability in front of China’s blockage of sanctions in UNSC is largely a consequence of ill-fated Nehruvian idealism.


It is necessary to place the recent controversy in the context of the larger scenario of international politics that existed in 1950. The Cold War was in its early stages with the two superpowers Soviet Union and the United States engaged in a confrontation in Korean War, whereby China and Soviet Union were the allies. The Korean war therefore had the capability to engulf the entire South East Asia and spread also to India and therefore any attempt by India to side with United States in removing China from the UNSC would have ensured that India is in Cold War conflict with both China and the Soviet Union and the risk of spreading the Korean War to South Asia. Apart from this, US was forming alliances and military pacts with Asian countries such as Iran, Pakistan, etc. to contain Soviet expansion.

J. Nehru was trying to carve a policy that ensured India’s security and strategic autonomy in international politics and therefore the suggestion for a permanent seat was a means to entice India to join such military alliances or pacts and thereby making India act as a US pawn in Asia to contain Soviet Union in a similar role that was played by Pakistan.

An important fact to understand is that 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. Any attempt therefore to remove China and then add India in UNSC would have required two separate amendments to UN Charter, one to remove and one to add. This would not have been possible without the support of Soviet Union and its allies and most likely, would have been vetoed by Soviet Union which was a Chinese ally at that time.

Another fact that is overlooked is that in 1955, J. Nehru stated categorically in the Lok Sabha that there has been no offer, formal or informal, of providing China’s UNSC permanent seat. Recognising Indian Power, J. Nehru believed that both India and China are entitled to their own respective permanent seat in the Security Council and there was no reason for both major Asian powers to compete for such a seat whereby any competition would have led to complete withdrawal from the policy of Asian unity against neo-imperialism. Indian view was that both European powers UK and France had seats in UNSC, both the superpowers US and USSR had permanent seat and similarly, both Asian powers India and China should get their own respective permanent seats.


The World Summit, 2005 intended to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the United Nations provided the most significant impetus to the debate on Security Council reform at the turn of the century. The summit saw a report of high level panel constituted earlier which had recommended the inclusion of more countries that contribute the most to the UN—financially, militarily and diplomatically. It suggested two possibilities: (i) creation of 6 new permanent seats, without the veto and 3 new non-permanent seats (ii) a new category of 8 seats with a 4-year renewable term, to be divided equally among the four regions: Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and the Americas.

India, Brazil, Germany and Japan had earlier formed the G-4 in 2004 whereby each country supported the membership of each other for a permanent seat of UNSC. They had promoted the idea of 6 new permanent seats: 2 to Asia, 2 to Africa and 1 each to Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean. In addition, they proposed 4 new non-permanent seats: one each to Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean. The African Union proposed a similar model of 6 new permanent seats but added one more non-permanent seat for itself.

A third proposal came from the Uniting for Consensus Group or the Coffee Club, which was formed in reaction to the G4 by countries like Argentina, Italy, Pakistan and others which had opposed the permanent membership of a rival country of G4. They rejected the idea of new permanent seats and advocated 10 new non-permanent members.

The permanent five however during that time mainly stayed out of the fray and let the others fight among themselves. As was expected, the proposals came to nothing as the regional rivals of the G-4 (Italy and Spain against Germany, Pakistan and China against India, North Korea and China against Japan and Argentina and Mexico against Brazil) fought against the reform. The smaller countries felt left out and did not take a position. The African countries were unable to decide among themselves who the two permanent members would be whereby South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Algeria and Egypt considered themselves as suitable for a permanent seat. The Security Council reform process which reached its highest culmination during the 2005 World Summit, however, did not reach a conclusion by resolving the various contentions for UNSC reform. These UNSC reform contentions that existed in 2005 still persist.


India has now made acquiring a permanent seat the centrepiece of its stand on the UN reform. An amendment to the Charter to provide India a permanent seat will require 129 votes in the General Assembly. However, amending the UN Charter is a difficult task to say the least whereby Article 23 of the Charter which gives the composition of the UNSC still continues to mention the old names, Republic of China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as permanent members.

India has acquired the support of Russia, UK and France for a permanent seat of UNSC and similarly from major powers such as Germany, Japan, South Africa and others. Several members of Coffee Club such as South Korea, Argentina, and Italy have supported India for a permanent seat even though they are opposed to their regional rivals getting a permanent seat. India has also been successful in using its diplomatic prowess to gain support of smaller UN member countries. Contrary to this, the US under the leadership of Mr. Barack Obama had shown inclination to support India for a permanent seat but this support is not reflected by the current US President Mr. Donald Trump. Similarly, Chinese opposition has been the largest roadblock in India’s gaining permanent membership to UNSC.

Indian membership to the UN Security Council during its formation year was not considered because India was still a colony and Britain under Winston Churchill that resented India, had no inclination of sharing the same stage with a former colony. The times have changed and India’s economic progress, contribution to the UN Peacekeeping Force, support to Humanitarian and Disaster response in Indian Ocean region and democratic representation of multiple languages, religions and major portion of humanity provide recognition and grounds for India to rightfully gain a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

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