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
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 regulated economy fit well with the
Soviet command economy. …