M.L. Sondhi

Pacific Community, October 1976

Many political observers were taken by surprise by what appeared to be a sudden move by India to send an ambassador to Peking.  An examination of the Indian and Chinese pronouncements indicate a less strained relationship between the two countries but there is no indication of any significant advance on the formidable questions which led to hostilities in 1962 and to a bellicose stalemate thereafter.  The new innovative spirit of Indian diplomacy and its future course runs the risk of over-generalising when it is seen as parallel with the “normalisation” policies of other frozen situations like those in Sino-American and Sino-Japanese relations.  The first thing to seize upon  the possible diplomatic means of overcoming the obstacles which have bedevilled Sino-Indian cooperation, is that even in the situation of acute political frustration following 1962, both India and China discovered a steady mutual interest in maintaining diplomatic relations between themselves.  Elsewhere, when mutual relations between two countries have deteriorated in order to dramatise their disagreement, the rupture of diplomatic relations is used to achieve mutual excommunication from the interdependence envisaged by international society.  The machinery for a direct bilateral dialogue between the two Asian countries was never dismantled although “trigger” mechanisms on the Sino-Indian border went off on several occasions, like, for example, in the 1967 episode when the Chinese in turn suffered severe loss of human lives in a clash on the Nathu La.  All this adds up to the conclusion that the diplomatic initiative of India is not so much the reestablishment of normal relations, since formal diplomatic ties were never ruptured; it is rather the beginning of an affirmative relationship in place of “absent-mindedness” towards China on the diplomatic plane which was created by a combination of international and domestic pressures.


Several factors were of crucial importance in 1970-73 in shaping inherent limitations on the selection of an optimum China policy choice by New Delhi:

First, for historical, geographical and political reasons there was a high degree of political consensus in India that the country’s armed forces must maintain a high degree of readiness and equipment all along the Himalayan border.  The debate on the adequacy of national security policy did not look for hard evidence of the historical legacy of Manchu Imperialism nor did it make more explicit the framework of assumptions about what the Chinese side claimed was a territorial dispute.  Indian military planning focussed on a force structure in the Himalayas which would eliminate the possibility of embroilment in another 1962 type conflict, by convincing the Chinese to take more seriously the readiness of Indian forces to undertake an early and effective response.  Even at the risk of overemphasis India continued to work for a local equilibrium of strength in the Himalayas in the short run, while leaving the relationship of its military planning and general security equilibrium in Asia to more synoptic assessments of long-term policy planning.

Second, broadly speaking, India was interested in gaining a clearer perception of the shift in United States diplomatic and strategic thought as the Americans sought to gain greater flexibility towards China.  From the perspective of India, a change in United States China policy was not opposed to her own long-professed goal of acceptance of Peking by the world community.  Indian decision-makers were, however, highly sensitive to any tacit compromise which would serve to unite American and Chinese “hegemonial interests” in Asia.  A mood of cautious pragmatism dictated that New Delhi should wait for the reorganising of Sino-American relations, since its own bilateralism with China would be affected by the evolution of Sino-American relations on a global scale.

Third, an effective and meaningful policy towards China called for further evaluation of the prima facie evidence of an immensely complicated situation in East Bengal.  Would the Chinese make the grave mistake of getting involved in Pakistan’s repressive measures against the Bengali population of its eastern wing?  Some Chinese actions and statements constituted a foot in the door, but Indian decision-makers questioned the likelihood of any serious future intervention by Peking.  The political infeasibility of any massive measure by the Chinese was conclusively established only when, despite promise of “all-out support,” Peking gave not even cursory attention to the maintenance of “territorial integrity” of Pakistan.  This was an important and hopeful change in the situation as perceived from New Delhi.  Any attempt to create a better relationship between India and China would, however, have proved abortive till the internal feuding in Pakistan was resolved one way or the other.  India was fully occupied in gauging the true measure of the importance of the developments of the Bangla “cause.”  If this struggle came to a favourable climax, it could lead to either an augmentation or a decrease of the chances of actual conflict with China.  One may doubt whether there was a crying need for the Indo-Soviet Treaty, but it can hardly be doubted that it was propitious for encouraging a notably defensive attitude on the part of China, and thus altered the political situation to India’s advantage during the Bangla crisis.


The question of a proper Indian posture towards China was considered in a more realistic vein after the conclusion of the Indo-Pakistan hostilities and the emergence of Bangla Desh as an independent state.  India was not prepared to counterpose the Indo-Soviet relationship and a dialogue with China as doctrinaire alternatives.  There was no question of returning to the euphoria of the “Bandung days” but the task of innovation was to put Sino-Indian relations on a bilateral basis in which differences were not glossed over but would be looked at from the standpoint of availability and choice of policy options.  India thought too much was being made of random reflections on the Indo-Soviet Treaty.  For the establishment of better relations between India and China, it should be borne in mind that India’s national capability in foreign affairs expressed in her political support for non-alignment was not seriously disturbed by the treaty relationship with the Soviet Union.  The Indian leaders asserted with increasing frequency in 1973 and 1974 that India was free to deal with China independently and was not subject to outside dictation.  The Chinese relationship with Pakistan, however, produced profound repercussions in inhibiting Chinese overtures towards India.

The implosion of a nuclear device by India on May 18, 1974, had a highly destabilising effect on the bilateral discussions between India and Pakistan.  The same could not be said about China, because by August the same year the Indian Foreign Minister, Mr. Swaran Singh, was not too sceptical about the chances of a  “response” by China to an Indian initiative at the UN, however, the Chinese reverted to an offensive against India.  Speaking on September 25, Chinese delegate Lin Fang condemned India in these words: “The pursuance of a policy of nuclear blackmail and nuclear threat by any country in this region against other countries and its annexation of a small neighbour cannot but evoke the concern and anxiety of other countries in the Indian Ocean.”  Looking to the future he affirmed that such a country “will eventually eat the bitter fruit of its own making.”  On balance, it would seems that India did not expect any serious consequences from this bitter attack or from the hostile statement that was issued on the question of Sikkim by the Chinese Government: in which it was stated it “absolutely does not recognise India’s illegal annexation of Sikkim and firmly supports the people of Sikkim in their just struggle for national independence and sovereignty against Indian expansionists.”

In the mid-fifties, such a statement challenging the validity of Sikkim’s closer association with India would have been a traumatic experience for New Delhi and led to deep anxieties about the increase of tension between the two sides.  An important strand in the strengthening of India’s diplomatic “patience” has been the utilisation by New Delhi of objectively constructive appraisals of China’s India policy.  The Indian press, for example, prominently displayed an exploration of this issue by the Special Envoy of the Head of Government of Afghanistan, Mr. Mohd. Naim after his return from Peking.  The members of the Afghan delegation to China were firmly convinced that the Peking leadership was seeking a lessening of tension between India and China.  The stabilising source of India’s expectation of fruitful relations with Peking, inspite of the schizophrenia manifest in Chinese public statements relevant to Sino-Indian relations, was most probably an assurance of rational rethinking of Chinese policies towards India obtained from an East European country.  Apart from being a useful analysis of the objectives of Chinese foreign policy towards India, which was helpful for a more explicit diagnosis of the imponderables facing Indian policy-makers, the East European initiative provided exploratory soundings of the procedure for ending the “semi-isolation” between New Delhi and Peking.  That China was keen to avoid “diplomatic paralysis” was indicated in an important speech by Mr. Chiao Kuan-hua who did not revive the charge of “nuclear blackmail” against India.  New Delhi had still to read with care every Chinese statement but it seemed to have become propitious to do so within the framework of  a “peace diplomacy”.

The Sino-Indian dialogue at the ambassadorial level ended in 1961 when India withdrew its ambassador from Peking although the Chinese retained an ambassador at New Delhi for some more months.  The presentation of his credentials by Mr. K.R. Narayanan on July 25, 1976, to the Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, Mr. Wu The, in Peking marks the beginning of a new period of coexistence and an opportunity on the diplomatic level to settle outstanding questions between the two countries.  Six years after the famous “smile” from Mao Tse-tung for the Indian Charge d’Affaires at a May Day reception, international politics and internal politics provide contemporary observers with a flow of perceptual interpretations about new situations to which sterile conformism cannot provide adequate answers.  Several questions arise as India outlines the tasks for its prospective diplomacy in Peking: 

1.                   Does the international climate encourage or inhibit a “peace diplomacy” between New Delhi and Peking?

2.                   What effects will the new phase in China’s internal affairs – the creeping end of the Mao era – have on relations between India and China?

3.                   What should be India’s responses to Chinese communication and political and ideological exposure keeping in view the domestic political dividends of the Indian Emergency and the concomitant “era of discipline” for the Indian body politic?

4.                   Taking into account the developing position of China vis-à-vis the Soviet Union, what is India’s potential for meaningful negotiations with China?

5.                   Could decreased tension in the South Asian area make it less susceptible to Chinese pressure and ultimately reduce Chinese competitive ambitions?


Indian policy-makers perceive the new international epoch as one in which international compromises are practical diplomatic tasks.  Rejection of mutual dependence is no longer a sustainable thesis in the international political community.  External security cannot be considered as an argument for snapping all links with a potential adversary power.  On the contrary diplomatic steps have to be deliberately designed in order to build confidence.  The problem facing India, therefore, is to functionally interrelate the structures of cooperation and competition with China.  The current evidence is that there is no intrinsic enmity between India and China in Southeast Asia where the outcomes are not predictable in the post-Viet Nam period.  India has made special efforts to analyse the potentialities of a developing situation in which there is hope of a rapid decline of fear and suspicion between the Indochinese states and the ASEAN group of countries.  Sino-Indian relations are not, therefore, limited to the Himalayan context in which the conflict situation developed.  The political activities of the Chinese in the Himalayan states will continue to produce a profound effect on Sino-Indian relations.  The position, however, is not one of static stability, which should force India into a state of artificial isolation vis-à-vis China.  Both India and China can contribute to the processes of adjustment in the radically changed Asian situation after the American withdrawal from Viet Nam.  Both countries have their own security dilemmas, but the international and Asian situations invite the need for fresh evaluations and judgements through the promotion of diplomatic dialogue.

The uniqueness of the power transition as the Mao era draws to a close in China lies in the differentiated functions and role perceptions of the different political groups in the Communist Party of China and the People’s Liberation Army who may assert their political-ideological influences either in an integrated matrix or may allow their partisanship to produce fatal weakness in the political and socio-cultural heritage of Maoism.  The Indian Ambassador in Peking will have to watch these developments and formulate ideas about China’s internal politics and in particular to give early warning to New Delhi about the likely danger of any collisions as a result of new military attitudes and fresh strategic thinking of the winning political groups. Even if abrupt and violent political change takes place in China, Indian diplomacy would do well to think less in terms of the political vulnerability of the new leaders in Peking and to try to interpret the volatility and confusion of the succession struggle in terms of deeper underlying processes of the Chinese style of communism.  What Indian decision-makers need at this time is an objective picture of the Chinese political and military framework as the competing factions measure their strength with each other.  Diplomatic means and methods can serve the purpose of improving communications between the two sides and reasonable and realistic assessments can check the harmful effects of emotional rhetoric.

A major change in India’s domestic environment will certainly figure in China’s attitude towards India, both in the context of diplomacy and ideological criticism.  The political reconstruction after the declaration of Emergency in India in 1975 may have checked facile generalisations about escalation of violent conflict within Indian society and may have even produced an impression of Indian impregnability.  While the Chinese Communists may not see tangible signs of the transformation of the class character of the Indian state, they would not find it difficult to see the parameters of a social policy which introduced a mentality of discipline and sought to mobilise and coordinate efforts in wide strata of Indian society.  How would the Chinese perceive the strife and disunity of the Indian left?  The question is difficult to answer conclusively.  A more realistic stance would provide Peking with very good reasons to refrain from supporting so-called Maoist groups in India.  The Chinese should also be able to recognise that if they strike an interim balance of political forces in India, the pro-Soviet C.P.I. cannot be identified as an “overwhelming” influence on Sino-Indian problems.  As a manifestation of national self-reliance, the changes in India should make it that much easier for the Chinese to exchange views with India, given their contemporary emphasis on resistance to “Super Power” locus and distribution of influence.

As long as China is alienated from the Soviet Union, India’s political prognosis takes into account the stability of Soviet deterrence during a possible Sino-Indian crisis-situation.  Delicate problems would arise, however, if relations between China and the Soviet Union become comparatively more stable in the post-Mao period.  Indian foreign policy, however, in general terms is based on the rationale of gaining security through reduction of international tensions.  Thus India perceives evolutionary options with both the Soviet Union and China.  Indian diplomacy has correctly avoided echoing the hypersensitive and distorted language of Sino-Soviet polemics in its own diplomatic intercourse.  Indian diplomacy should attempt to achieve greater flexibility in view of the ever-present possibility of new turns in Sino-Soviet relations, but it is quite apparent that New Delhi is doing its homework on the subject in a way which will not jeopardise its long-term credibility with Moscow.

The arithmetic of power in South Asia after the 1971 events has encouraged the establishment of an equilibrium of peace.  Among the positive reasons for the moves towards the creation of economic and political links in the South Asian region one can point to the position and prestige of the Shah of Iran, who has made constructive proposals regarding multilateral relations among the Indian Ocean states and has tenaciously supported a serious attempt at solving outstanding problems between India and Pakistan.  The decreased tension in South Asia will put into motion forces of stability and economic integration and reverse the tendency towards exaggerated national claims.  The Chinese must reckon with the new prospects of understanding and cooperation among the South Asian countries, and it is likely that they will respond with less of tendentious statements and more with proposals which are based on the premise of a South Asian détente policy.


It is not possible to identify the prophylactic capabilities of either India or China for coping with serious external risks, without taking into account visible clues as well as hidden interlocking relationships. The concrete steps India may take in the future to avoid diplomatic confrontation with China would require precise understanding of the extent to which the policy environment of China is analogous to that of India. The following schematic explanation conveys in a very rough way the factors, in order of significance, which on either side appear to control the options in foreign policy:

                              India                                                                                       China

               1.  Territorial integrity                                          1.  Military posture of the Soviet Union
               2.  Deterrence through the Indo-                      2.  Strategic importance of India on
                    Soviet Treaty                                                         China’s southern flank
               3.  Prospects for Indian foreign policy             3.  The effectiveness of India’s political
                     in Third World/Non-aligned states.                   and social model in the context of
                                                                                                       the conflict of social systems
               4.  Changes in relationship between              4.  American interest in Sino-Indian
                     China and the Soviet Union                              détente
                5.  Improvement of relations with other           5.  The threat of Soviet “hegemony” in
                     & regional powers in South Asia                         Asia

The seriousness and steadiness of Indian diplomacy towards China lies in its not seeking rapid augmentation of political and economic contacts but in emphasising the creative character of small steps.  Where problems cannot be solved immediately, India will work to move away from ideological disputes to strengthening political procedures of diplomacy.  For establishing these procedures in response to the new realities of India’s position in the international polity, the following propositions seem to be widely accepted:

1.                   India sees manifold opportunities to improve its political influence by having clear priorities in its diplomatic efforts.  Looking at power relations on the global and regional scale and the accompanying military stalemate diplomacy is a primary focus of national effort for the Indian leadership, in the mid-seventies.  India’s nuclear potential together with the restructuring of the Indian armed forces after 1962 has given India a self-assurance in the military sphere.  The political psyche of India finds expression not in warlike behaviour but in finding new avenues for negotiation.  Indian Ambassador Narayanan belongs to the generation of Indian diplomats who have a sound grasp of the contingent historical circumstances of Sino-Indian relations and also a sound appreciation of the reality of social contradictions which have transformed the social scene in the Third World.  If and when China is prepared for frank talks Indian self-identity and self-confidence will be expressed in “accepting realities” in Asia, but India’s conciliatory posture will not be at the cost of ignoring the territorial and military dimension of Sino-Indian relations.

2.                   The changes that have taken place in Indian perceptions of strategic interests compel a framework of a common policy with neighbouring countries.  India has good reason to see the Middle East not as a “faraway area”.  The new Indian security policy is based on a subtle but clear widening of outlook.  It is no longer a case of sporadic recognition of trouble spots outside the subcontinent.  There is a fundamental shift in national attitude towards Iran and the Arab states and Indian policy-makers are engaged in an intensive study of the underlying trends and likely future developments in what is regarded as the manipulation of the Indian Ocean powers from outside.  Increasingly, New Delhi is seeking concerted action with the Southeast Asian countries to strengthen and extend economic and political as well cultural relations. All these are central factors which require integration of strategic, technological and economic elements to create a broader view of foreign policy.  Although China is unlikely to become a major trading partner of India in the foreseeable future, there are powerful incentives for generating a positive thrust in Indian policies in the context of interacting Indian and Chinese social and political systems.  It is clear that there is a mutual concern about the nature of nuclear developments, although it is too early to evaluate the Indian nuclear commitment.

3.                   In recent years Indo-Soviet cooperation in one form or the other has been a source of uncertainty and anxiety to the Chinese.  Their suspicions of the relations between New Delhi and Moscow extend to matters of defence and international affairs.  It is generally accepted that there is a resilience in the Indo-Soviet relationship, and there are at least three aspects which should be taken into consideration:  (a) The Indian Government perceives Soviet assistance as a support for neutralising economic and political pressures which would provide a powerful pull in favour of private capital.  In practical terms Soviet cooperation is viewed as having strengthened economic sovereignty and galvanised efforts to strengthen the Indian State. (b) At a time when alternative sources of assistance for industrial expansion could be tapped only at a serious disadvantage, Soviet support for Indian industrialisation marked a definite step forward.  There is a common and enduring interest in the strengthening of this relationship, although as the Rupee-Rouble rate controversy shows, the Indians find the Soviets adhering to a dogmatic approach without studying objectively the specialised role of India in the world economy. (c) In spite of its limitations, the Soviet connection has had a significant impact on the Indian public imagination.  Although there are divergent opinions on the “generosity” of Soviet help, there is general agreement that a basic characteristic of economic assistance by the Soviet Union to India is its dependability. The Soviet Union may not have the capacity to satisfy Indian demands, but when India has been faced with a genuine difficulty and turned to Moscow, the Soviets have grappled with difficult decisions.

 It would not be unwise if the Chinese were to reverse their tendency of drawing immoderate conclusions about the character of Indo-Soviet relations.  There is nothing to suggest that Indo-Soviet friendship requires inflexible hostility between India and China.  It only obscures important aspects of India’s foreign policy when Peking gives extreme interpretations to the agreements reached between New Delhi and Moscow.

4.                   At one time it was widely assumed that the logic of China’s ideological-strategic action would make peace-keeping in Asia a difficult undertaking on account of Peking’s disruptive behaviour. Understandably many in India had reacted to the Chinese “menace” in Tibet, and that was the starting point for any discussion of Sino-Indian relations.  It has now become necessary to elaborate on the social and political phenomena in terms of the repercussions that can be detected in the recent events in China.  It is recognised in New Delhi that Chinese self-assertiveness will be of a very different quality as the Mao era recedes into history.  India is prepared to take measure of the efforts of the new Chinese leadership in extending Chinese influence in Asia.  There are also vague hints that China is no longer adhering to apocalyptic visions of liberation wars based on the specific revolutionary experience of the Chinese Communist Party.  There are special problems associated with Chinese help to Naga and Mizo elements in Northeast India, but New Delhi is definitely prepared to examine in concrete detail many of the questions that arise in connection with Chinese sponsored “subversion.”  The willingness and capability of China to play a “responsible” role in Asian politics is also an important part of the frame of reference of Indian decision-makers.  To understand the realities of change New Delhi needs neither pervasive scepticism nor morbid optimism.

5.                   The frictions that arose between India and China are connected with Chinese military planning after the occupation of Tibet in 1950.  A new dimension which adds to Indian anxieties is the shifting of the nuclear testing range from its earlier location at Lop Nor in Sinkiang to Nagchu in Tibet.  The international military environment facing China in the seventies and eighties calls for closer attention to the capabilities of the Soviet Union, the United States and Japan, and by contrast from the Chinese point of view India would be peripheral.  This is not to ignore the possibility that under certain conditions the Chinese could indeed precipitate new conflicts in the Himalayan region.  The cognitive orientation of the Chinese inevitably directs their attention to a pre-emptive attack from the Soviet Union and therefore, Peking is preoccupied with the inexorable requirements of the concept of deterrence in the US-Soviet relations.  Seeing it in the short run the Chinese may well realise that India does not add significantly to the complexity of their national security problems.  If India is not perceived as a strategic threat, appropriate foreign policy postures by India will be taken cautiously into account as “independent” initiatives by Peking.

6.                  What had not been fully apprehended in 1971 was that from India’s point of view Sino-United States “collusion” was not free of mixed aspirations.  New Delhi now appears to have achieved a mature blend of the factors that tend towards unity between Washington and Peking and the complications that beset this relationship, and the contemporary judgement is that whatever collusion exists is within tolerable limits.

7.               Chinese statements regarding Soviet policies in the Third World are a melange of logical arguments, critiques of ideological innovations, and scattered strands of extraneous norms.  All this appears to be highly exaggerated in Indian eyes, and New Delhi is in favour of a more lucid diagnosis.  India is not attracted by some of the “empty” universal formulae through which China expresses its historico-political analysis of “social imperialism.”  By contrast Indo-Soviet cooperation is embedded in a positive assessment of the Soviet experience in the Third World.


In most discussions about Sino-Indian relations an archaic habit of thought seems to dominate, that is to think of Indian foreign policy in a uni-dimensional manner.  A coherent effort to evaluate the chances for the success of the new initiatives in diplomacy between India and China demands an analysis of the adequacy of the adjustments made by India to ensure viable foreign and defence policies.  Pragmatic considerations of international politics have also to be related to the domestic policy concepts which are ultimately endorsed by the Indian parliament.

Undoubtedly there was a debilitating effect of the 1962 conflict with China.  A decade later India had already tackled a number of military and strategic problems, and strict bilateralism became a prime guideline to an internally consistent and coherent diplomacy.  What can be said with certainty is that, inspite of considerable differences in motivations in signing the Indo-Soviet Treaty, direct cooperation between New Delhi and Moscow has matured with an identity of its own.  It has nothing of the monotonisation to which the Soviet-East European relations bear testimony.  As the recent Brezhnev-Indira Gandhi summit showed both sides posses a diplomatic machinery with “a built-in dialogue,” however inconsistent their ideological views.  Indian diplomacy has carefully avoided a love-hate syndrome with the Soviet Union.  The deep-seated frustration that Sadat experienced in Egyptian-Soviet relations has not much relevance to Indo-Soviet relations.  A mono-causal explanation which sees the improvement of Sino-Indian relations as having a high potential for undermining Indo-Soviet relationship would be lacking in both balance and detail.

In the long run, the politico-military features of Sino-Indian relations would determine the nature of the balancing process between the two Asian giants.  Critical discussion of this larger question shows that a change in emphasis in foreign policy achieves short-term aims and offers better possibilities for progressive negotiations which in turn provide reasonable suggestions for a way out of a long-standing impasse.

A “peace diplomacy” does not mean that disequilibrium cannot occur.  Some controversy is bound to loom large in Sino-Indian relations and the incompatibility of Indian and Chinese views on the border are still visible.  There is no point in repeating the old arguments.  A new way of looking at problems has to be found in which diametrically opposed formulations are avoided.  This is not the place to enter into a detailed discussion on the disappearance of Tibet as a buffer between two dynamic nationalisms.  To make a rational computation of future trends it is enough to remember the evolutionary process through which so-called irrevocable developments have been put aside by the achievement of a diplomatic breakthrough.  The Austrian problem in Central Europe was solved by conference diplomacy which produced an agreement for guaranteeing the country’s neutrality.  It may prove useful for the Chinese to see whether some amelioration and limited changes in the policy of Sinification may convert Tibet from a bridge-head of conflict to a symbol of hope of an enduring and congenial relationship with India.

Clearly in the immediate phase Indian diplomacy will not raise such long-standing questions; at this stage it has initiated a movement and the onus is on the new rulers of China to remove some of their ideological stumbling blocks in the interest of a new peace order in Asia.

Mainstream, December 30, 1989

Czechoslovakia 1989

From Husak to Havel
M.L. Sondhi

I was leaving for Oslo to attend the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony for His Holiness the Dalai Lama scheduled for December 10, 1989, when I happened to meet Dr. Miloslav Jezil, the thoughtful Ambassador of Czechoslovakia.  His response when I asked him for a visa to pay a short visit to his country was positive. He also promised to inform Dr. M. Krasa, the expert on India at the Oriental Institute, whom I had known since the late fifties, when I was a diplomat in Prague.

After participating in the stately Prize Awarding Ceremony in Oslo and in the heart-warming torchlight procession in which the citizens of Norway’s capital voiced their emotional appeal on behalf of the people of Tibet, I found myself in Prague after a short transit through West Germany.

The sun rose in the east in a clear winter sky as I drove in a Skoda car with an old Czech friend out of the Hlavni Nadrazi (the Main Railway Station) into Vaclavske Namesti (Wenceslas Square).  I now saw with my own eyes the Peaceful Revolution initiated by the Civic Forum.  On the roadside groups of young people were lighting candles wherever on November 17, 1989 the Special Police Unit had beaten up the peaceful student demonstration.

On Vaclavske Namesti and on Jungmannova Namesti where the Obcanske Forum (Civic Forum) has its coordination centre, we entered upon a remarkable scene with hundreds of citizens standing around video-sets watching special programmes on the radical and humane movement supporting Vaclav Havel for the Czechoslovak Presidency and seeking radical political and economic reform together with an affirmation of human rights.  In Havel – till yesterday only known as a man of literature and a human rights activist – Czechoslovakia has produced a leader who is unequivocal on the question of strict adherence to truth and non-violence.

Where is one to place Vaclav Havel and his supporters in the Czechoslovak political developments?  What had changed since I was last in Prague shortly after the Prague Spring of 1968 was stifled by the Brezhnev doctrine in 1968?  At that time the reform Communists, Alexander Dubcek, Cernik, Zdenek Mlynar, Smrkovsky,  Ota Sik, Radoslav Selucky and others were singing praises of “socialism with a humane face”, although the Bilak group by its behaviour in the Cierna-nad-Tisou talks with the Soviet side had shown that neo-Stalinism still had its following in the Czechoslovak Party.

Characteristic of the changed mood in Prague in 1989 is a widened intellectual horizon which can only be described as a neo-Gandhism.  The remodelling of the political systems in East Europe along the humanistic values of non-violence and ecology is no longer regarded as utopian.  The central value of this new political consciousness is fully endorsed by the Obcanske Forum and by the welcome extended to the Greenpeace Organisation which was leading the campaign against both nuclear weapons and nuclear energy in the very heart of the capital city.  A huge Greenpeace Wagon was parked in Vaclavske Namesti and was conducting its high-powered publicity campaign for post-materialist values.

Vaclav Havel’s weltanchauung can be traced to a few value premises.  The first is his human and moral concern which transcends politics.  When he took up the defence of the non- conformist musicians he had stated his viewpoint succinctly in these words:  “It has nothing to do with the struggle between two political groups.  It is much worse since it is an attack by the totalitarian system on life itself and on essential human freedom and human integrity.”

The second premise is that both Communist and non-Communists authors have to come together to develop the principles of equality and pluralism in order to establish a regime of human rights.  Havel alongwith other cultural personalities like Pavel Kohout, Ludvik Vaculik, Jiri Kolar, Josep Topol and others has helped to create understanding, goodwill and friendship across a wide ideological range in defence of humane values through samizdat literature.  The help given by the late George Theiner, a Czech exile and editor of Index on Censorship was crucial, since in his translations he combined sensitivity and moral responsibility for which all dissident writers are grateful to him today. 

The third premise is expressed in the Open Letter from Vaclav Havel which was published in the mid-seventies, and which embodies his total support to the principle of personal responsibility towards History.  This letter can be compared to some of the famous letters of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, such as his letter renouncing his knighthood at the time of Jallianwala Bagh.  Like many of Tagore’s political writings, Havel’s Open Letter has already passed into the great Czech literature of his epoch.

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