Published in International Studies Journal (1964)


M.L. Sondhi

(Reader, Deptt. of International Politics & Organisation)
Indian School of International Studies

Newly independent India created a favourable image in the minds of the people of East European countries which was enhanced by the fact that before the Second World War, Indian nationalist leaders had expressed support to the rights of small states, and deplored the indifference of major Powers like Britain to the growing threat of Nazi totalitarianism.1 The communist elites of these countries, however, had reservations about the quality of Indian independence which had been achieved by the peaceful transfer of power.  This did not fit in with the ideas of violent revolution which were fashionable in Communist circles in these years.  There was for example the fantastic idea that the new Indian rulers continued t be subservient to their erstwhile Imperialist masters.2  As a corollary to such a view, some of the East European Communist parties placed their reliance o the revolutionary potential of the Communist Party of India.  Such policies were doomed to failure because the Indian party came to play a progressively declining strategic role on the Indian scene. A diametrically different image of India began to emerge gradually as Independent India asserted her individuality in foreign affairs, especially at the time of the Korean War.  Any lingering distrust in Indian-Soviet bloc relations was removed after the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU.3

Since 1955, Indian policies have had a strong appeal to the political and economic diplomacy of East European countries.  On India’s side, the chief aim in building up relations has been guided by two objectives: (i) to secure political support at world organisations; (ii) to diversify the sources of economic assistance for Indian development plans.  Indian foreign policy was faced with a dilemma: it did not want to retreat before “pactomania” and other symptoms of the “cold war” and therefore wanted to avoid the appearance of excessive concern with its security interests; in order to rid the minds of the people from obsessive concern with security, it found it necessary to take certain minimum steps towards safeguarding national security.  The support on Goa or on Kashmir (after December 1955) from the Soviet Bloc was welcomed as a contribution to the maintenance of a minimum level of security.   It is a measure of the difficulties of the world in which there is hardly any give-and-take between the two main centres of power that India’s policy has now come up against a crisis catastrophic enough to require a commitment to a search for the maximum level of security.   



Marshal Tito on a visit to India at the end of 1954 revealed a symmetry of alignment between Yugoslavia and India in their attitudes to the World blocs, and since then Yugoslavia has enjoyed a visible influence on Indian foreign policy. 4  The publication of E. Kardelj’s “Socialism and War: A Survey of Chinese Criticism of the Policy of Coexistence” undoubtedly drew India and Yugoslavia still closer.  What the Yugoslav Vice-President and Foreign Minister, Edvard Kardelj formulated in the Marxist jargon seemed to India to be implicit support for the Indian point of view.5  His view that the bellicosity of China was the result of her immense internal difficulties corresponded to the Indian view, as also the assessment that Chinese views on “peaceful coexistence” and on “national liberation wars” were related to China’s “Socialist Bonapartist adventurism.”  While it is difficult to measure the uncertainties in the future of Yugoslavia’s relationships with the Soviet bloc, she will in all probability continue to make every effort to identify herself with Indian attitudes, because what she gains by way of political influence as a result of her closeness to India cannot be compensated by any likely terms she may secure from the Soviet block, if ever her re-entry into that bloc should become a possibility in the post-Tito period.  The satisfactory development in Indo-Yugoslav economic relations gives another reason to be optimistic about a continuously close relationship between the two countries.


This is the most advanced country industrially in the communist world.  India has received technical assistance and credits for development of heavy industry, while Czechoslovakia has been able to secure important raw materials, including, iron ore, from India.  The Western view on Czechoslovakia seems to be that the changes initiated by the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union have not had their impact upon this country so much as, for example, on Poland.  For India to subscribe to such a view would be a mistake.  The Western position in Czechoslovakia is adversely effected by the past history of the Munich settlement, where as in the case of India, most Czechoslovaks recall with gratitude the support their country received from Indian national leaders at the fateful hour of history.6  Although there have been no spectacular developments in Czechoslovakia as in Poland and Hungry the Czechoslovak political system cannot be regarded as rigidly fixed in a Stalinist mould.  Whatever limited evidence is available indicates that a “domestic new course” is underway in Czechoslovakia.7 An Indian policy which increasingly takes account of these changing political factors may lay the foundations for a steady relationship in the future.  Czechoslovakia’s reported closeness to China, at one stage, was evidently due to tactical moves in response to the active wooing by China.


A very high priority in objectives of Polish foreign policy is given to securing the recognition of her present borders fro as many countries as possible.  Although the Soviet Union has always assured Poland of the protection of the Soviet bloc against any renewed German aggressiveness, it is nonetheless necessary for Poland to strengthen the legal foundations of her territorial integrity.  Poland’s diplomacy has made prodigious efforts to secure the support of non-communist countries.  India’s favourable attitude to the Oder-Neisse border, has contributed to strengthening a vital interest of Poland.   Poland has also taken the initiative in promoting suggestions for partial disarmament.  India has taken a very positive attitude to the efforts of the Polish Foreign Minister, A. Rapacki.  The revival of parliamentary life after the Polish “October” of 1956 has created a favourable impression in India, where there is a strong faith in parliamentary institutions.


India’s economic relations with Rumania have been to mutual advantage.  There is obviously a limit to the future expansion of this relationship because unlike Czechoslovakia and Poland, Rumania’s industry is still relatively under-developed.  The collaboration in the development of the oil industry in India has, however, been of importance in developing a public sector in India.  India’s support to the policy of a partial disarmament measures in the Balkans has been welcomed by Rumania. 


The events of 1956 and statements of 1.  Nagy showed that the Indian policy of Panch Sheel made a profound impact in the political circles in Hungary.  It is, an open question whether, if at that time, India had taken a more forthright stand as was taken for example by Burma, she would not have given evidence of having a more flexible policy towards Eastern Europe.  For a major country like India, there is obviously no need to fit in with overall Soviet strategy to Eastern Europe.  India’s relations with the Kadar government are friendly, and have resulted in expansion of trade and technical co-operation to the mutual advantage of both.  There is a growing independent outlook in the Kadar government which has created a favourable impression in India.

Bulgaria, Albania and East Germany 8

In the case of Bulgaria, it is important to take into account that some of her national interests clash with those of her neighbour Yugoslavia.  On account of India’s close relations with the latter, it would be necessary to give specific assurances that India’s attitude to Bulgaria would in every way be considered on an independent basis.

This applies even more to Albania which has adopted a hostile stance towards India, as part of its tactics in the Soviet-Albanian Conflict.  Albania’s real quarrel is with Yugoslavia over matters which relate not so much to ideology as to conflicting national interests.  I would be also unrealistic to write off Albania as “Stalinist.”  India should be prepared to offer significant incentives, if Albania should show a willingness to lessen its dependence on China.

The vulnerability of East Germany has made it especially eager to solicit the favour of countries like India.  The background to Indian policy towards the East German regime is provided by the earlier phases of our position in Germany after the “unconditional surrender” in 1945.  Our present attitude is undoubtedly affected by the problems posed by the “Hallstein doctrine” and the unpopularity of the Berlin wall.


After coming into power, the Chinese Communists soon realised the importance of Eastern Europe to them for their economic development.  They also seem to have understood fairly early the significance of cultivating the party elites of these countries in order to prepare for the day when the Chinese Communist Party could assume control over the international Communist movement.  During the Korean war period, the Chinese utilized the sympathy that was expressed for their sacrifices in the war against “American imperialism” to extend their political and ideological influence in these countries.  Chinese proselytisation was done through several channels, through party and front organizations, and through diplomatic missions which operated on an extravagant scale.  Thus, even when Moscow and Peking policies were coordinated on almost all points, the Chinese were keen on placing their relations with Eastern European countries on an independent footing, which provides evidence that they regarded these countries as extremely important for their messianic aims.

Chou En-lai’s diplomacy during the 1956 crises in Poland and Hungary cannot be viewed merely as a self-protective response on the part of the Chinese leaders on account of their fears about similar troubles in China.  In the light of subsequent developments, it should rather be described as an energetic trust forward in an area where the Chinese were in any case steadily preparing for a major ideological assault.

In 1957 at the conference at Moscow, Mao- Tse-tung carried forward a strategy which can now be seen as including a move to bring some of the East European states under their hegemony.  Mao’s insistence on the monolithic unity of the communist bloc turned out to be a device to rally round himself the opposition to the new line promoted by Mr. Khruschev.  It had directly the result of diminishing chances of reconciliation of Yugoslavia with the other Communist countries.  Mao’s attitude was revealing in another respect, the Chinese had shifted their position radically in their attitude to the Polish desire for autonomy.  They were now urging the bloc to accept a hard line against the “independence” of individual members.

Peking’s claim to be the source of ideological guidance for the entire bloc was carried a stage further at the Warsaw Pact meeting in 1958, where the Chinese participant struck a defiant note.

In 1959, the Chinese saw signs of a developing friction between the Soviet Union and Albania.  Peking felt that giving encouragement to the Albanians would provide a method for -----------line missing--------------------- political balance that Khruschev -----------page missing --------------------- came into being and has since provided the framework of the Chinese intra-bloc political strategy in East Europe.9  There is no reason to suggest that the Chinese did not expect to win some other converts apart from Albania.  Nor is there any reason for complacency that Chinese policy has given up the hope of others going the way of Albania.  

The mounting attacks on Khruschev, at first veiled as attacks on Yugoslavia, and later open criticism of Soviet actions, showed that by 1963 the Chinese were adopting a belligerent posture within the framework of a methodical and coherent world view.  There was in fact little to sustain the naïve view advanced by some scholars that Chinese belligerence in Asia was a regional phenomenon which could be understood in terms of China’s age long expansionist tendencies in this area.  The Chinese in keeping up their ideological attack on the Soviet Union and the East European countries, while simultaneously launching a military attack on India, directly proved the reciprocal support of their intra-bloc and extra-bloc aggressiveness.  The attack on India was evidently intended to cripple the positive effects of the Khruschevian new course by vividly bringing out the lesson which Chinese admonitions had tried to convey.10 

At the end of 1958, China after announcing the programme of setting up the communes, tried to utilize the swing in favour of “many roads to socialism” to foist an orientation on all the bloc countries which would automatically secure her ideological leadership. The Chinese were initially successful in making an impression on sections of the leadership in Bulgaria, East Germany and Czechoslovakia.11  But this was short lived.  Apart from the refusal of the Soviet Union to sanction this Chinese ideological innovation, the East Europeans themselves discovered that the much advertised policies of the Great Leap were responsible for grave internal failures in Chinese economic development.  The near-famine conditions in 1959 and 1960 could not be hidden from the East Europeans who withdrew whatever ideological support they had given to this new ideological conception.  Yugoslavia seems to have played an important role in bringing the real situation to light.12

There are various possible explanations for the Chinese promoting now a “hard line” towards India and other Asian and African countries, terminating the Bandung phase of “sweet reasonableness”.  In so far as the East European countries are concerned, it is clear that it is in their self-interest to support the Soviet Union in adhering to the new conception of the “national bourgeoisie” which has been evolved in the post-Stalin period.  The development of normal relations with the governments in Asia and Africa has helped East Europeans in at least three ways, to develop economic ties, to enhance their political importance which was adversely affected by the Western policy of “containment,” and finally to secure the mediation of India and other non-aligned countries in the East-West contest on important issues like disarmament.  The ideological pressure from China is intended to pull the East European countries away from their normal relationships with Asian and African countries and to compel them to devote their full energies in helping to bring about the seizure of power by local Communist parties.  China is confident of her ultimate ability to control the Asian and African communist parties, and hence the strategy she is suggesting for world communism is calculated to secure her exclusive influence over these areas.

The East European countries have generally looked with approval upon Khruschev’s efforts to secure a Soviet-American agreement on some outstanding issues which threaten world peace.  Indian sentiment has been strongly in favour of a détente between the two Super-powers.  The Chinese, however, decided by the time of the 1957 Moscow conference that such policies were not in accord with their objectives.  The Chinese attitude may have stemmed from their over-estimation of the advantage of the Soviet Union in the missile race, or it might have been prompted by the failure of their expectations that the Soviet Union would under all conditions support them in securing their national interests.  The East Europeans have, however, the least inclination to support China in the “brinkmanship” against the West; such behaviour would bring on them a catastrophe in which East Europe would be faced with certain annihilation even if other parts of the world (including China) would ultimately fare no better.  


The preceding discussion illustrates how the Chinese ideological challenge in Eastern Europe has an influence on the prospects of the Chinese challenge to India.13  Indian policies seem to have somewhat neglected the opportunity for developing a realistic conception of the complexity of national interests in this area in order to profit from polycentrism in intra-Communist relations.  The Chinese aggression makes the consideration of the following issues of crucial importance:

a) Will India’s national interests require the adoption of a policy which continues to subscribe to the Khruschevian conception of a “zone of peace”?  This view would postulate a certain continuing basis of common interests between India, the Soviet-led Communist bloc and China.  This was implicit in the first Tass Agency statement in 1959 which termed the India-China frontier dispute as deplorable and called upon both the countries to settle it.  Subsequent public statements by Soviet and East European leaders have varied in emphasis but have not departed in essentials from the point of view first elaborated by Khruschev at the 20th Congress which identified the Western nations as adherents of the “positions of strength” policy, and regarded them as being opposed by “a vast Zone of Peace including peace-loving states, both socialist and non-socialist of Europe and Asia.”14 In the latter were included in Khruschev’s view India and China, both of whom he regarded as Great Powers.  Events have shown that the Chinese view clearly is that India is outside the “Zone of Peace”.  Unless the Soviet Union is able to bring China to heel (of which there are no indications yet)  India will have to understand the limitations of the concept of the “Zone of Peace.”  Friendship with the Soviet Union does not automatically secure friendship with each of the Communist countries.  Indian interests will therefore have to be protected primarily by Indian policy in each Communist country. Soviet support will remain important for our vital interests.  Our interests in the East European countries cannot however be assured merely through the continuance of Soviet favour.  It would be the primary task of our diplomacy to explain the real nature of the Chinese military threat and to explicate the many global elements in the complex interaction of politics, ideology and history in Chinese aggressiveness.  It is on account of these elements that India by itself cannot adopt just a few simple measures to deter Chinese aggression.  The East Europeans can hardly accuse India as they might criticise the USA with some justification of having provoked the upsurge of militarism in China.  It is therefore certainly not India that has betrayed the “Zone of Peace”, rather the concept has proved to be unrelated to the international power transition.

b) Do India’s national interests require identification with a Western alliance system?  India is certainly justified in securing every means to strengthen her military preparedness.  The events of 1962 have undoubtedly had their influence upon India’s assessment of her foreign relationships.  The re-assessment of her foreign policy objectives in Eastern Europe and elsewhere need not be made in a prematurely pessimistic manner.  What is needed is positive action to secure a commitment from these countries to support our vital interests, without joining the Western alliance system. India’s joining the Western alliance system will almost certainly at this stage be interpreted as a hostile stance by the East European countries.        

c) Is there a good possibility of India’s vital interests being protected by her modelling her foreign policy along the pattern of Yugoslavia’s “neutralism”?  Yugoslavia’s theory and practice of foreign policy has emerged from a major effort to steer clear of the blocs without giving up her desire to innovate policies within a flexible framework of Marxism.  There are at least four factors which differentiate India from Yugoslavia in so far as the adoption of a similar programme in foreign policy is concerned.  First, the dangers which threatened Yugoslavia after expulsion from the Soviet bloc were serious but essentially undefined and vague.  There was no direct confrontation with a hostile Power, as Yugoslavia is not territorially proximate to the Soviet Union.  India and China have a live border, and hence there is a primary responsibility on the Indian Government to develop immediately a military capability.  Second, the Yugoslav Soviet controversy arose out of an ideological divergence which was exacerbated by the excesses of Stalinist policy.  The Yugoslav response could be best described as escalation from a limited hostile stance.  India has been confronted by China in a manner which is quite unprecedented in the rapidity of change from friendship to hostility.  The very minimum of military effort required by India is of a dimension which is likely to deprive her of a freedom of manoeuvre which Yugoslavia has always possessed.  Third, India must take into account the responsibilities she must naturally assume in the South East Asian region.  The switch-over from amity to hostility which China has made towards India cannot but be related to potential claims by China to the detriment of other smaller countries in this region.  Fourth, the tendency to relate Indian and Yugoslav policies has arisen on account of the delay in accepting the status of India of a Great Power.  Yugoslavia under her dynamic leadership possesses acknowledged influence, and in initiating policies for UN action or international action outside the formal organization, she is likely to continue to play an important role.  Nevertheless, there is an over-all limitation on account of the narrow potential of her resources.  In India’s case, the tremendous potential of development can hardly be anticipated.  Chinese hostility towards India if unchecked will not resemble the Stalinist aberrations with which Yugoslavia was faced, but will raise questions of total war.  Paradoxically, therefore, India’s great peril derives from the fact that she will be one day one of the world’s Great Powers.

d) Finally, can India find a new policy which would frankly accept the necessity of promoting areas of common national interest as the most important source of political action?  A test case for such a policy would be to apply it to the East European areas.

We might recall that there was some uncertainty in the response of some of the East European countries in 1959 when the facts about the India China border conflict came to be known.  It was only after the first Tass Agency statement on the India China border conflict that the East European countries fell in line with the Soviet point of view.  (Albania since her split with the Soviet Union has started holding a pro-China point of view).  It is clearly a weakness of Indian policy to place sole reliance on having the support of the Soviet government.  Such a policy underestimates the importance of the East European countries.  Despite the magnitude of Soviet power and the redoubtable leadership of Khruschev, there is no assurance that Soviet policy is immune to pressures from the smaller countries of the bloc.  Under the present conditions of diversity in the bloc, and with the open challenge of Khruschev’s leadership by China and Albania, the standing of the East European leaders has assumed an enhanced importance.

Indian foreign policy can rest on the assumption that the East Europeans realise that China has since 1957 (and perhaps even earlier) set out on what is nothing les than an ideological conquest of the Communist world.  Chinese support to “liberalise” the system during the Polish October was a good example of “aid with strings attached.”  It is therefore doubtful if the East Europeans could really believe that Chinese policy in the future offers any real hope of greater freedom to pursue national interests.15  These countries do see, however, a purpose in maintaining a relatively flexible posture, which enables them to make the Russians realize the necessity of actively wooing them for their support against the Chinese.  The issue that confronts India is that while in the long run the East Europeans are moving ideologically in a direction which will enable them to maintain and develop further friendly relations with her, yet in the short run they may hesitate to offer us their support.  Such behaviour on the part of an East European country need not derive from any hostility towards India, and could even be regarded as some sort of procedural acrobatics which are inevitable in an ideological setting.  The military confrontation of India and China, however, is not a replica of the Sino-Soviet conflict.  In the latter case, there are limits derived from its ideological setting, whereas the Sino-Indian conflict can always escalate into a major conflagration.  It is important for us that the Chinese should not have any support which might enable them to project the strength of “world communism” in their conflict with us.  The chief assumption, then, on which our new policy would be constructed, is the possibility of compelling the East European countries to cease to regard the “vital interest of India” as one of the negotiable counters in their intra-bloc diplomacy.  In the new situation in Eastern Europe, the foreign policy objectives of any country (including India) must recognize three factors which are primary influences in this area:     

1.         Resurgence of national interest as a primary factor:  De-Stalinization has generated influences of a complex nature and conditions in different countries vary.  There is, however, a general desire to reject the earlier form of outside domination and ruling elites are under strong pressure to promote policies which assert the national interests of the countries.16

2.         The concern with economic growth to meet popular expectations.  The Stalinist period was marked mainly by an indifference towards the demand for consumer goods.  There is now an incentive to reconstruct policies in accordance with the promises made by the regimes for greater provision of consumer goods and services.  Thanks to the earlier policies, there now exists an industrial base in all the countries, but correspondingly the problems which were then ignored are now plaguing the economic planners, chiefly those of raising agricultural production and of ensuring supplies of raw materials.

3.         The concern with problems of European Security.  In all the East European regimes, there is a strong tendency to view the problems of European security in terms of what they regard as the threat from the revival of military strength in West Germany.  The pronouncements against “West German revanchism” undoubtedly evoke widespread fears among their peoples, most of whom have experienced Nazi tyranny in some form or the other.

In the light of the aforesaid factors, the following policies need to be promoted in Eastern Europe:

a)                 A lack of concern for the problems of European security seems to have arisen as a result of preoccupation with the efforts to achieve a lowering of tensions between the USA and the Soviet Union.  With the development of polycentric trends in both the “Western” and “Eastern” power blocs, Indian policy would have to be modelled increasingly with a view to understanding the national security objectives of European countries.  While making every effort to understand the national security objectives of East European countries like Poland and Czechoslovakia, we should try to explain to them our security aims, and make it clear that in our view there is grave danger in their remaining on the sidelines while Indian national security is being undermined by China.  Our diplomacy should emphasise the fact that such an attitude would be contrary to the long term interests of these countries.

b)                 India should carefully consider her policy on the German question in the context of her relations with Eastern Europe obtaining significant concessions from the Soviet Bloc.  It goes without saying that the successful accomplishment of any new policy towards East Germany would have to give the most careful consideration to the actual policy choices which would maintain the stability of our diplomatic relations with West Germany.

c)                  India should be prepared to step up its economic collaboration with East European countries which sympathize with India’s determination to safeguard her territorial integrity.  On the other hand India should be prepared to withdraw economic cooperation from countries which lend their support to the destruction of our vital interests.  It should be made clear that India’s economic interests in Eastern Europe are subordinate to the overriding purpose of securing political support on the India-China border issue.

d)                 We can strengthen the East European ability to withstand an important element in ‘Chinese ideological aggression’ if we make it clear that India is impermeable to export of revolution.  Our policy should forcefully put across our determination to resist subversive activities.

e)                 The pervasive anti-war sentiment among East-Europeans should be utilized by India in her favour.  This cannot be done until we put a meaningful choice before these countries.  They have to be made aware of the necessity of discontinuing support to Chinese military preparedness, or else, forgoing India friendship which is important for stabilizing East-West tensions as the experience of the last few years has shown.

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