#1048 – Dr. Joseph Schwartzberg: Remembering India's Early Support for 'One World'

PRE-NOTE: Too rarely, in this age of sound-bites, Twitter feeds, Text messaging, analysis by headline and screen crawlers, and similar shorthand, and other often blatantly false “forwards”, comes a breath of fresh air, an actual ‘back-and-forth’: an e-mail between two friends with acknowledged expertise about their topic of conversation.
What follows is such an e-mail exchange, shared with permission of the authors, Dr. Joseph Schwartzberg, Distinguished International Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota, and Dr. Manu Bhagavan, about Dr. Bhagavan’s book “The Peacemakers”.
This e-mail was received July 23, 2015.
Dick Bernard
[Dr. Joseph Schwartzberg]:
Several friends have suggested that the following exchange between me and Manu Bhagavan, who has written an excellent book on early Indian support for world citizenship and world government might be of interest to a wider audience. Manu has encouraged its being put out in the form of a blog, which is now happening. I have edited out a few sentences that would be of interest to nobody but Manu and me and inserted, in square brackets, a few short notes for those whose knowledge of India might be a bit fuzzy. The exchange has, I believe, interest from both a historical and a human interest perspective and contains some lessons for those who see themselves as World Citizens. Manu, a historian of modern India at Hunter College of the City University of New York, is a guy you would like to know. Among his five published books is one entitled Speaking Truth to Power. His interview with Garry Davis, World Citizen No. 1, was broadcast on World Citizen Radio. He maintains a close connection with the World Federalist Movement and will likely be making a presentation to World Federalists in connection with their annual Council meeting this November in New York.
Joe Schwartzberg
Director, The Workable World Trust
Dear Manu,
Several days ago, I finished reading The Peacemakers. I thoroughly enjoyed it, It is written in a very readable, jargon-free style, tells an interesting story, and is exceedingly well documented. I learned much from reading it. . . . . .
While there is no reason why you should know this, you may be interested to learn that, on my first trip to India in 1955-56 I made a point of meeting the then head of the Indian World Federalist Movement, C.L. (Chiranjilal) Paliwal. We became and remained good friends until his death (I believe it was in the late 1970s). On that and subsequent trips I was often his house guest and had many discussions with him about world federalism, and, more generally, about world and Indian politics; and he shared with me many of his reminiscences of the freedom movement in which he played an active role as a student leader and close associate of Gandhi. (He was jailed twice for his activities.) . . . .
Another relevant outcome of my first and subsequent trips to India was that they reinforced my conviction about the potential efficacy of World Federalism, not as a global panacea, but as the most suitable system (among other possibilities) within which to address global problems, I viewed the diverse nation of India as a microcosm of the world and reasoned that, If India, despite its enormous problems and limited resources, could maintain a viable system of federal democratic governance, so too, could the world as a whole, with its comparable problems, but vastly greater resource endowment. . . . . .
I offer below what I regard as my only significant criticism of your work, namely its excessively hagiographic portrayal of Nehru and Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit [Nehru’s sister and a leading Indian diplomat]. (Your recognition of the genius and moral steadfastness of Gandhi, on the other hand, was warranted.) Of course, you are in good company in lionizing those two leaders and there was a time when I would have subscribed to your views.
As you point out , Nehru and his sister were children of enormous privilege. They moved in elite circles and habitually captivated the intelligentsia (even most of the impoverished intelligentsia), political leaders, diplomats and the media. Their vision was truly global. But, while they struggled mightily on the global stage for an independent India, embedded in “One World” [Nehru was immensely impressed with Wendell Willkie’s 1943 book with that title] with equal rights for all human beings, they never, to the best of my knowledge, engaged themselves wholeheartedly in the struggle to bring equal rights and opportunities to India’s own marginalized groups, in particular, the scheduled castes [the official name for ex-untouchables] and adibasis [tribal peoples]. They could have made a big difference, but failed to do so. They were more concerned, it appeared, with the plight of black and native Americans, than with the counterparts of those groups in India itself. . . . .
It is one thing, when one is out of power to rail against the injustices of a system that denies many groups — especially colonized peoples — their political and social due. And Nehru and Mme. Pandit were superb spokespersons for a moral agenda to which millions of people worldwide could resonate, And they basked in the adulation that came their way. (I think here of Barack Obama’s undeserved Nobel Peace Prize.) But talk is cheap. What really constitutes a test of character is what one does when one actually holds power and has to make tough and binding decisions. Nehru failed the test in Kashmir, in Goa and later, disastrously so, in his handling of the Sino-Indian boundary disputes. [The failure in Kashmir was not following through on his 1947 promise to hold a UN-directed plebiscite to determine the state’s future; in Goa it was the seizure in 1961 of territory by military force; and in the dispute with China it was India’s unwillingness to consider very reasonable compromise proposals put forward by Zhou En-lai in 1960,]
On p. 161 of your book, you quote Nehru as saying, in the wake of the 1962 military debacle in its border encounter with China: “We were living in a world of illusion. … [W]e were getting out of touch with reality in the modern world and were living in an artificial world of our own creation. We have been shocked out of it.” You then go on to argue that, Nehru’s disillusionment notwithstanding, Mme, Pandit kept the faith. I disagree. In 1963 or’64 (as I recall),when the University of Pennsylvania, where I was then teaching, awarded her an honorary doctorate, she made a speech about India’s border disputes with China that I thought was exceedingly bellicose, inappropriate, and often factually inaccurate. It went over well, however, because China was then the bad guy du jour (not to mention her enduring charisma); so I found myself in a small minority of dissenters.
To return to the global stage, it is one thing to proclaim lofty goals, such as those embodied in the two major human rights conventions and pretend that they have the force of international law (which, in theory, they do), but quite another thing to follow through meaningfully on the implicit promise of such conventions by establishing a system of enforcement and of punishment for offenders. The longer the disconnect continues, the greater the loss of respect for the system as a whole. Happily, a beginning has been made in rectifying this problem globally with the creation of the ICC and the adoption of the R2P paradigm. But we have a long, long way to go.
Once, when I was having dinner at the home of Ashish Bose, India’s leading demographer, another guest, his aunt, a member of the Lok Sabha [the lower house of india’s Parliament] from Assam, asked him, “Well, what do you think, Ashish? Should I introduce a bill raising the legal age for marriage from 16 to 18?” I then asked her: “Wouldn’t it be better to enforce the laws you already have than to enact bigger and better laws that few people will take seriously?” To this, Ashish responded: “You don’ understand, Joe, India wants to be judged by the enlightened nature of its laws, not by what it actually does?” This applies, I’m afraid, to much of what Nehru and Mme. Pandit were doing , or arguing for, at the UN. They knew the problems in theory, but they didn’t demonstrate a good grasp of what the real world was like.
This criticism, I would argue,applies to most of my World Federalist friends and renders them fair targets for the accusation of being naive utopians. Obviously, ideals are important; but to achieve lasting changes, one has to find or create a workable mix of idealism with an understanding of real world power relationships. Otherwise, one loses credibility and effectiveness. That is why I’ve scaled down my emphasis on World Government as our common goal (while noting that it remains my preferred goal; cf. 2nd full paragraph of page 2 of my book and 1st full paragraph of p.297). I argue instead for the creation of a workable, though clearly imperfect, world. That is a general goal on which virtually all people of good will can agree. But it will garner little support unless one can demonstrate that there are, in fact, ways of dealing with problems much better than those on which the UN presently relies, mired as it is an anachronistic Westphalian rule system. Hence, the “Designs” in the title of my book.
[Manu Bhagavan]
Dear Joe:
Thank you, so much, for this careful reading of my book. I am grateful for the considered engagement. I’d be very happy if you chose to publish this somewhere, either as a review, or, less formally, as a blog post. It’s a great way to promote debate around the issues. . . . .
I’d love to see the Paliwal interview and to discuss other aspects of your experience. I’d really appreciate your insights.
Of course, I think we may have a few disagreements, but perhaps not as many as you describe. For instance, I concede in the book that Kashmir, Goa, and the Sino-Indian war were tripping points. But mistakes or shortcomings do not negate everything else, and there is much that Nehru and his sister accomplished, and where they were true to their ideals.
On the 3 major faults: I have a paper coming out on human rights, self-determination, and the question of Kashmir. I concede, as I indicate in the book, that this was the one issue on which Nehru ultimately was not able to rise above. Goa and the Sino-Indian conflict I largely chalk up to Krishna Menon, [India’s then Minister of Defence], though of course Nehru went along. I have another paper coming out where I discuss the Sino-Indian issue briefly, . . . . I’ll be bringing out an edited book that will address some of this in more detail shortly. . . . .
I agree that Nehru could have done much more to address the problem of caste, though I think we could have a fruitful discussion on the issue, and on locating Nehru somewhere between Gandhi and Ambedkar [an ex-untouchable who was the chief architect of India’s Constitiution] on the spectrum of moralism and law in change making.
I don’t think that your assessment of Mme Pandit, based on her Penn talk, is particularly fair, as you might have guessed. I don’t know what she said there, of course, but considering the nature of the setback and the humiliation following the war, and her brother’s despair, I think it hardly unexpected that she would give a rousing defense of India’s position in a foreign forum in the immediate aftermath. But she did deal in more internal ways with the critics, as I indicate. And, importantly, she also returned to speak for the old internationalist vision in the years that followed, in public and private settings. Her general position remained Nehruvian internationalist, and the talk you mention seems the exception. Most significantly, she and her daughter broke publicly with Indira Gandhi, and suffered for it, when they thought she was going down a dark path [initiating a period off emergency rule that lasted from 1975 to 1978], and taking the country with her. I’d say that that is indeed indicative of someone who “kept the faith.”
I don’t think it fair, either, to claim that Nehru was about showpiece laws and not about real change. Almost all of the new scholarship reassessing the Nehruvian period, whether economically or socially, reveals substantive progress on many an issue. This isn’t to say that everything was perfect. Nehru was powerful, but he wasn’t a dictator. He held the foreign minister portfolio, and so was much freer to act internationally, and domestically was much more constrained by cacophonous parliamentary democracy.
My position . . . . is that Indira Gandhi systematically undermined and destroyed the Nehruvian state. Nehru’s was an imperfect model, but what it could accomplish was going to take time. . . . .
Both the ICC and R2P [International Criminal Court and the Responsibility to Protect] have come under withering criticism from numerous scholars for being neo-imperial western tools. I don’t think that they are an unmitigated good. But I agree that they are, overall, positive steps, but ones that must take place in concert with other major changes to make the system more effective and fair. (I say this as someone who has heard Kofi Annan explain the reasons for R2P and who has met Ocampo and Bensouda [ICC prosecutors] on occasions, and who deeply admires Bill Pace and the work he has done.)
Anyhow, I say all of this only in the spirit of engagement. Not at all to be defensive. I love the fact that you have such a passionate take on the book, and that you have taken the time to write. Thank you!! . . . .

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.