WE arrived in India in September, reeling under the impact of news from the erstwhile Soviet Union. Banner headlines, a revolution on TV. But in India the response was guarded, troubled, fearful. The United States celebrated; freedom had triumphed over tyranny. In India the mood was something like mourning; a dear friend had passed away.
India's national press - sophisticated, cosmopolitan, full of lively editorial analysis - sees the world differently, and never more so than since Aug. 19. Americans saw the second Russian Revolution as the breaking out of freedom; Boris Yeltsin, the freedom fighter, courageously defied the tanks of totalitarianism. It was the end of a dark era, welcome even in the face of anxiety about who controls the nuclear warheads and whether chaos can be averted.
Not so in Delhi. India's guarded media reaction to the coup, its ignominious failure, and the reverberating upheavals that followed reflect India's markedly different attitude toward the Soviet Union. India feels orphaned - ideologically, strategically, economically. The Soviet Union was not just India's friend and neighbor. Socialism, secularism, and democracy comprise the Congress Party's ideological trinity. Being progressive, on the cutting edge of historical change and on moral high ground, meant sympathy for - though not emulation of - the Bolshevik Revolution.
India's ideological identity was intertwined with that of the Soviet Union. Jawaharlal Nehru thought he could industrialize India democratically by combining Soviet-style planning with parliamentary democracy. The Bolshevik Revolution purported to be anti-colonial and anti-imperialist, stands that appealed to Indian nationalists who had won independence from a British empire that circled the globe.
After Nikita Khrushchev's 1955 visit, India began to rely on the Soviet Union's strategic support. The Soviets cast vetoes at the UN for India - when India used force to erase the remnants of Portugese colonialism and the Kashmir question appeared on the agenda. It supported India in wars with China in 1962 and with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971. The cold war spawned the nonaligned movement that gave India a world role and opened the way for Pakistan to challenge and the Soviet Union to support India's dominant role in South Asia. And its nuclear arsenal helped India to avoid an overt answer to China and Pakistan.
The Soviet Union was critical in India's economic calculations. One of the word's leading arms buyers in the 1980s, India acquired most of its arms from the Soviet Union at bargain basement rupee prices. India's protected and …