chapter  9
Visions of History, Trajectories of Power: China and India since Decolonization
Pages 14

The vision of Chinese and Indian leaders of the mid-twentieth century such as Gandhi and Mao was hardly limited to their nations alone. The epic proportions of their experimentation with social justice, and their selfperception as inheritors of two great world civilizations, ensured that they saw it as their destiny to transform not only themselves, but the world. As the decolonization process unfolded after World War II, their bona fide antiimperialist credentials presented an opportunity for these nations to offer an alternative to the colonial past. This chapter seeks to track the relationship between the two nation-states as uneasy partners and rivals in the projection of their ideals and power in Asia. Gandhi’s assassination in 1948, soon after independence, cut short the

impact of his ideas on Indian nation-building. Although Jawaharlal Nehru, who became the undisputed leader and first prime minister of independent India, was committed to building a modern, industrialized state, he was nonetheless committed to several Gandhian goals with respect to decolonization. He was a committed anti-imperialist, supporting independence movements in Asia and Africa, the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, and the Civil Rights movement in the USA, and he was the most ardent spokesman for the non-aligned movement in its early years. Most of all, perhaps, Nehru was devoted to the Gandhian ideal of pacifism, an ideal that fellow Indians would blame for leading him unsuspectingly into the ‘betrayal by China’ in 1962. In the immediate post-war period, Nehru considered India to be just as

qualified as China to lead Asia and the decolonizing world. Indeed, after 1949 Nehru sought to exercise this leadership precisely by bringing communist China into a realm of engagement with non-communist societies in Asia and the West. This scenario, however, changed rapidly during the 1950s, and India soon found itself preoccupied with issues in South Asia itself. By contrast, during the 1950s Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, who were

largely responsible for designing and conducting the foreign policy of the People’s Republic, were more successful in extending the ideals of communism to several of China’s neighbors, while also increasing the position and prestige of China among the newly independent nations of the world.