Indo-Soviet relations have been greatly strengthened by the three-day visit of Mr.Mikhail Gorbachev to New Delhi — his first abroad visit on taking over as the President of the Soviet Presidium. Some cynics and others sharply disagree with this assessment. They see the visit as lacking “genuine warmth and spontaneity” on the part of the Soviet leader. They also view it as being intended mainly to serve notice on New Delhi of its new emerging relationship with the US and, importantly, with China. Further, they see it as a precursor of a shift in the Soviet policy towards India. The truth, however, is otherwise. The visit was proved to be more successful than expected. Mr.Gorbachev and Mr.Rajiv Gandhi have further enlarged their rapport, first struck during the latter’s visit to the Soviet capital in 1985. Understanding between the top leaders of the two countries is not new. It goes back to the days of Nehru and Khruschev and thereafter to Indira Gandhi and Brezhnev. But, according to knowledgeable observers, the rapport now established is qualitatively different. It has grown greatly and become more meaningful.
Not a little credit for this goes to the success of Mr. Gorbachev’s last visit to New Delhi two years ago and the deep satisfaction stemming frommuch that has since come to pass. The two leaders then signed the Delhi Declaration embodying the basic tenets of survival and progress in the nuclear and space age. These principles have generated an increasingly wide response all over the world and shown that given the political will a new concept of a safer and more just world can acquire universal acceptance. Indeed, what has been described as the “timeliness and vitality of the “Delhi Declaration” has been demonstrated by the signing of the INF Treaty,the Geneva Accords on Afghanistan,the cease-fire in the Iran-Iraq war and the positive moves for a settlement of conflicts in South-East Asia and the South-West Africa. The recent visit of the Soviet leader has shown a refreshing identity of views between the two countries on the elimination of nuclear arms and other international issues. This should give a new confidence to the people all over the world striving for peace, independence and democracy — and a new international economic order.
Equally important bilaterally was the reaffirmation by Mr.Gorbachev of his country’s commitment to its “fundamental policy of strong friendship and cooperation with India”. Within hours of his arrival in New Delhi, he scotched speculative reports in a section of the Western, Japanese and Indian Press that the Soviet Union was changing its priorities and “even becoming cool towards India”. Speaking at the banquet hosted by the President of India, the Soviet leader asserted: “I shall not dignify with an answer to such totally groundless and obviously speculative assertions.” In fact, Mr. Gorbachev did not stop there in his determined bid to set at rest all doubts in the matter — doubts mainly stimulated, according to Mr.T.N. Kaul, India’s popular Ambassador to the Soviet Union,by the Soviet leader’s decision not to give an interview to Doordarshan on the eve of his visit or to hold a Press Conference at the end of his talks. He and his colleagues affirmed repeatedly Moscow’s abiding interest in strengthening his friendship with India as also his wish to spend the maximum time with Mr. Gandhi. Eventually, the two leaders exchanged views for well over nine hours.
Mr.Gorbachev’s basic approach towards India was eloquently reflected, for instance, at the top-level meeting held on economic cooperation. At one stage, the Soviet President interrupted his colleague, Mr.Vladimir Kamentsev, Deputy Prime Minister, to ask in so many words: “Comrade, before you proceed with your review, could you please tell me: What is the level of trade between us and Rumania, between us and Hungary and between us and Poland”? Mr. Kamentsev replied: “It is 40 billion Roubles with one, some 50 billion Roubles with the second and some 60 billion rubles with Poland.” Mr. Gorbachev next asked: “What is the level of trade with India and what is the future target?” When Mr. Kamentsev replied: “Three billion Roubles presently which we hope to double by the year 2000”, Mr. Gorbachev queried: “Are you satisfied? India and the Soviet Union are supposed to be good and great friends. Look at the population of our two countries in comparison with those of Poland, Hungary and Rumania” Should we be satisfied with just three billion Roubles and a target of six billion Roubles?”
Interestingly, Mr.Gorbachev went on: “Sometimes I feel we should abolish our Commerce Ministry to get things moving.” He then looked at Mr. Gandhi who, I am told, good-humouredly quipped. “Mr. President, before we wind up our Commerce Ministry, let us see what our Commerce Minister,Mr. Dinesh Singh has to say?” Mr.Dinesh Singh, thereupon told Mr.Gorbachev that India had gone ahead and done its bit in enlarging the area of economic cooperation as decided at the 1986 summit. Some 65 proposals for joint collaboration had been processed and sent to Moscow two years ago. But only eleven had been cleared by Moscow, leaving a balance of 54. Mr. Dinesh Singh also pointed out the difficulties faced by Indian industrialists and businessmen in getting visas, hotel accommodation etc and appointment for pursing the proposals. However, before he could say more, Mr. Gorbachev intervened to ask: “Mr. Minister, you have not answered my specific question? Are you satisfied with the present level of trade?” When Mr. Dinesh Singh replied that no Commerce Minister could ever be happy enough, Mr. Gorbachev replied: “Please don’t give me a philosophical answer.Give me a political answer. Are you friends satisfied…?”
The Soviet leader thereupon said in so many words: “Every country nowadays wants more and more economic cooperation. Take Brazil. Take China. We must move ahead even though bureaucracies invariably create problems… We must restructure…” he then reportedly gave an example of how this might be achieved on the basis of his talk with Mr. Ram Niwas Mirdha, Minister of Textiles. Said he: “I have been talking to Mr. Mirdha. He tells me that some parties in India have imported textile machinery from the Soviet Union and are exporting textiles back to our country. Why can’t we,for instance, have more people doing the same? There is great scope…” Mr. Gandhi soon agreedwith the views and sentiments voiced by Mr. Gorbachev and said: “Perhaps we should set up a group to go into the matter, eliminate delays and hurdles and chart out new directions…” Mr. Gorbachev agreed. The discussion concluded on what was later described as a heart-warming and elevating note. Echoing a once famous remark by Nehru, Mr.Gorbachev said: “We must think big, to act big!”
Also reflective of Mr. Gorbachev’s basic approach of strengthening friendly ties was his response to strong feelings expressed by New Delhi against racismpractised by Col Rabuka against Indians in Fiji, which once advertised itself as “a paradise on earth”. In April 1987, Col Rabuka brought about a military coup aimed against the Indians, who constitute 49 per cent of Fiji’s population, claiming to prevent them from exercising their majority to change the Constitution and allegedly exploit the natives, who total 43 percent, further by removing the land-owning rights guaranteed to the natives. (The Indians have no such guaranteed rights.) Indians have been harassed ever since.Most of the talented and wealthy among them have been forced to flee the island. Unnoticed by most observers, the Gorbachev-Gandhi summit statement opens the para on racialism with the following sentence at New Delhi’s instance: “The Soviet Union and India strongly condemn racialismin all its forms wherever it may occur… In this context, they recall that the UN Charter envisages a number of measures, including the imposition of comprehensive and mandatory sanctions for dismantling racismand apartheid.”
Much has been made by someof the reference by Mr. Gorbachev to China in his speech after receiving the Indira Gandhi Award. The Soviet leader, it may be recalled, made two points. First, that good relations between the Soviet Union, India and China “are extremely important for the destinies of Asia and for global progress.” Second, that the Soviet Union was “pleased to see signs of improvement in Indo-Chinese relations.” Further, that the Soviet Union’s own relations with China were “also evolving in an encouraging way”. Even some CPM MPs have taken exception to the reference. Said one: “Where was the need to talk about China in New Delhi?” But the objection is not valid. The two leaders, after all, exchanged thoughts on the proposed Sino-Indian and Sino-Soviet summits. There was thus nothing wrong on Mr. Gorbachev’s part to refer to them in one of his speeches. Appropriately, reference to China was avoided in the summit statement, essentially bilateral. Incidentally, Mr. Gorbachev expressed himself in favour of good relations between the three countries at his Press Conference in New Delhi in November 1985 also!
Both India and the Soviet Union now exude greater confidence and trust in each other’s friendship. Indeed, this inspired Mr.Rajiv Gandhi to tell the Rajya Sabha on Monday last week that China was “unimportant” in Indo-Soviet relations. Of course, China is important not only for India and the Soviet Union but for the entire world. But the PrimeMinister’s remark was only intended to convey one basic fact: Indo-Soviet closeness and friendship is not going to be influenced adversely by any new relationship that either country forges with China. Significantly, India and the Soviet Union have reaffirmed their faith and commitment to Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace and Friendship.Mr.Gorbachev, moreover, conveyed meaningful felicitations from the people of the Soviet Union to the people of India “for strengthening the unity of India and the inviolability of its frontiers” at the magnificent closing of the Soviet festival. All in all, the Gorbachev visit has brought Moscow and New Delhi closer to each other than ever before — and raised their friendship to a new, higher plane.