On August 15, 1947 when Lord Mountbatten was hauling down the British flag in Delhi, many understood the significance of what was happening with a country, which some still considered the only superpower, even if it wasn't quite up to the mark in World War II. It is unclear when exactly America became the world's number one power. Was it after the Hiroshima bombing or after the white-green-saffron flag was raised over Delhi's Red Fort? At any rate, hardly anyone realized at that time that the British Empire was not simply undergoing change but was quickly melting into a regular European country.
In was clear in the early 1930s that the empire's rule over India was coming to an end. The year 1947 did not come as a complete surprise. But nobody expected India to help British society to start a change from within and largely cure it of the syndrome of complacent racist supremacy over many nations that are far more ancient and civilized than the Brits themselves. Credit for this goes to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, commonly known as Mahatma Gandhi, who was probably the greatest figure of the 20th century.
Gandhi was admired; all intellectuals (among them many British colonial administrators) were seeking an opportunity to meet this pivotal figure. He proved that subjugated nations were not second-rate, that they might be above the Europeans morally and culturally, primarily because they could reach their goals without resorting to violence. His lessons have not been learnt up to now because the return of ancient civilizations to the world's key positions is not yet over. But the British were the first to realize that this course of event was inevitable, or at least possible.
The fact that India's independence engineered a change in Soviet foreign policy, among other things, may be a peripheral issue but the world's arrangement largely depended on it for half a century.
In 1947, Stalin and his entourage could not fully grasp what was going on. India was one of the first countries to restore its independence. Many followed suit in the 1950s-1960s. China still had two years to go before the triumph of the revolution, and the Soviet bloc was not yet set up in Europe. The Soviet Union established diplomatic relations with the new India four months before it became free. But Moscow, on which it was starting to dawn that "foreign" was not necessarily a synonym for "hostile", primarily perceived India's freedom as an irritant for Britain. The big nation's potential road to socialism came second. Gandhi viewed the Stalinist regime as yet another revolutionary but a very bizarre one and totally alien.
Changes took place almost a decade later and were associated with Nikita Khrushchev and Dmitry Shepilov (his second foreign minister after Vyacheslav Molotov). Being related to the late Shepilov, your correspondent learnt many details of how Moscow's mentality was changing in the post-Stalinist era. Conflicting reports and memos by Soviet diplomats were the main instrument of a change.
It was under Shepilov that the Soviet leaders adopted the idea that the newly independent countries were natural allies, even if they were not going to enter the Soviet block and build socialism. This concept first emerged in the other fragments of the British Empire - Egypt and Syria - where Shepilov was using trial-and-error approach in a bid to find the right tone in talking with the new partners. Later on, India, Indonesia and many other countries became Soviet friends by the same token. Shepilov recalled that India had proved to Moscow that the newly-independent countries could be very big and potentially extremely powerful, that they could absolutely reject a client's dependency while being overtly friendly. Last but not the least, India made it obvious that in the future they would be of major importance for Soviet vital interests.
Under Andrei Gromyko, who replaced Shepilov as foreign minister, Moscow's relations with the "developing nations" became an ideologically streamlined system but their gist was the same as in the middle 1950s. Soviet policy towards them remained intact for almost 40 years and contributed to Moscow's geopolitical might no less than its strategic arsenal. This applies, in particular, to the economic gains yielded by what was commonly called "assistance" to foreign countries. This "assistance" made Soviet export-oriented industries competitive.
Will the Russian political class be able to exploit the success of its predecessors now that almost every sixth person in the world is an Indian, and that India is bound to be the world's second economy after China? This question is being decided these days.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.