Date: March 25, 2012
Venue: Karad, Maharashtra
The Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), New Delhi in partnership with Sou. Venutai Smarak Trust and Sanskriti Manch, organized the Y B Chavan Memorial National Seminar on India’s Defence and Foreign Policy: Role of Yashwantraoji Chavan on March 25, 2012 at Karad, Maharashtra. The national seminar was held to commemorate the birth centenary celebrations of Shri Y B Chavan, former defence and foreign minister of India. A number of important dignitaries graced the occasion and prominent among those were the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Shri Prithviraj Chavan, Shri Patangrao Kadam, State Forest Minister, Shri Ramraje Naik-Nimbalkar, Minister for Water Resources [Krishna Valley Irrigation Corporation] and Shri Balasaheb Patil, Executive Trustee of Sou Venutai Smarak Public Charitable trust.
Speaking on the occasion, Ambassador Sudhir Devare, Director General of ICWA, in his welcome remarks paid rich tributes to Shri YB Chavan and stated that Shri Chavan took up the mantle of defence minister when India was passing through difficult times. After the 1962 attack by China, the morale of the defence forces was very low and the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru wanted an able and confident person to look after defence preparedness of the Indian armed forces and also to boost the morale of the armed forces. Shri Chavan undertook the responsibility to bridge the civil-military tension and restructured the military and brought about major changes including in the organizational set up. This helped India to defeat Pakistan during the 1965 war. His stint as the foreign minister (1974-1977) was full of challenges; he had to face the difficult situation following the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman in Bangladesh and the post break up situation in Pakistan. He overcame these challenges with great political and diplomatic acumen. He worked closely with major powers of the world and restored full diplomatic relations with China. This clearly showed his deep understanding of international relations and leadership. It was for his focus on specific India-related issues and solutions that he was regarded by one author as the most ‘India centric foreign minister’ till his time. DG, ICWA said that his tenure as foreign minister should be researched further so that it can provide new insights into India’s foreign policy matters in the changing times. This will be an excellent study and reference for our foreign policy makers today.
In his keynote address, Shri Prithviraj Chavan, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra stated that it gave him greater satisfaction to address the people in Karad which nurtured a prominent leader like Shri Y B Chavan. He said that the problems that India faced during the mid sixties and early seventies were critical in shaping India’s foreign policy for the future. Shri Chavan’s approach towards cooperation and the need for dialogue led to the resolution of several foreign policy challenges facing India and also projected India as the leader of the developing nations. He further added that during Shri Chavan’s time the relations with US and also Soviet Union were managed in the best possible way because of his personal rapport with Mr. Henry Kissinger and many of the erstwhile Soviet Union leaders. Shri Chavan addressed India’s defence requirements at a very critical time after the Chinese attack in October 1962 and stressed on the modernization of the Indian armed forces including its air force, commissioning of the first aircraft carrier of India, INS Vikrant etc. Shri YB Chavan had the unique privilege of holding the charge of the Defence, Home, Foreign and Finance ministries. The approach that Shri YB Chavan adopted was more persuasive and cooperative in nature. Shri Chavan’s was also instrumental in getting the Soviet defence equipment and addressing pressing needs of India’s defense ministry to upgrade its air and naval arms. Shri Chavan’s efforts paved the way for the induction of the MIG series aircraft in the Indian Air Force (IAF) and strengthened ties between India and the erstwhile Soviet Union. India again is facing immense challenges and so the time has come to recall Shri YB Chavan’s policy choices, discourses etc. His decision-making ways should be studied and researched. This will give new inputs and insights into the decision making process. There is also a need for public discourse on foreign policy matters and to evolve a better consensus on the challenges facing the country.
Earlier Shri Ramraje Naik-Nimbalkar, Minister for Water Resources, Maharashtra stated that it was an honour that the function was being held in Karad which was Shri Chavan’s “Karmabhoomi”(place of work) and it gives him immense satisfaction that his contribution to Maharashtra and especially to this region is being acknowledged . He further added that Shri Chavan was not only the leader of Maharashtra but was the son of India who steered India’s defence and foreign policy during difficult times.
Shri Balasaheb Patil thanked the Ministers for their enlightening speeches and hoped that Shri YB Chavan’s thinking on policy matters will continue to be relevant and useful in the new approaches on Indian defence and foreign policy formulation.
The other speakers at the event included Ambassador Ronen Sen, former Indian Ambassador to the US, Shri Dilip Padgaonker, a well known columnist , Air Commodore Jasjit Singh, a noted strategic analyst, Prof Varun Sahni, former VC of Jammu university, Prof Shrikant Paranjpe, head of strategic affairs department , University of Pune and Dr. Vijay Sakhuja, a naval expert who made candid remarks about the strategic and defence outlook of the country. Ambassador Ronen Sen stated that Shri YB Chavan handled with great understanding and skill the defence and foreign policy in the country during the period of the Cold War. He was of the view that Shri Chavan’s statesmanship and his erudite understanding of the conditions helped in overcoming serious challenges. He observed that being a deft statesman, Shri Chavan’s dealt with the major powers in a sophisticated manner and his defence outlook resonates in the defence establishment till date. He further added that Shri Chavan initiated a national debate on defence and gave talks and speeches all across the country which clearly shows that he wanted to have a national consensus on foreign policy and defence matters. Not only that, Shri Chavan was also instrumental in boosting the morale of the forces and had put the preparedness of the armed forces highest on its agenda. He understood the compulsions in the wake of the food crisis and how India was forced into war with Pakistan which was taxing on the already tethering Indian economy. Ambassador Ronen Sen stated that Shri Chavan’s work need to be translated and should be provided to a large audience so that the people in India understand the nuances of foreign and defence policy making.
Shri Dilip Padgaonker addressed the fact that there is a need for national debate on national security issues and in the technology obsessed world there is hardly any consensus on policy matters. There is also a need for people to understand the diplomatic and defence compulsions and even the political leadership should discuss these in their respective constituencies to awaken masses and seek enlightened mass support towards building the foreign policy. He recalled that how Yashwantraoji maintained a regular dialogue with common people on issues such as defence and foreign policy. Shri Padgaonker felt it would be highly useful to compile Yashwantraoji’s speeches and talks on these subjects in the form of publications in English and Hindi.
Air Commodore Jasjit Singh recalled his first interaction with Shri YB Chavan in the sixties as the defence minister. Defence Minister personally interviewed him and spoke about the importance of India’s mission in a friendly country like Iraq. Air Commodore Jasjit Singh was posted to Iraq as part of the IAF training team for Iraqi pilots. Air Commodore Jasjit Singh felt that the best way to pay a tribute to for a visionary like Shri YB Chavan was to refresh the memories and draw lessons from Shri Chavan’s life to project India in the comity of nations.Air Commodore Jasjit Singh recalled Shri Chavan’s rich contribution to India’s defence and integrity in 1965 war against Pakistan and said that a large credit for India’s sterling performance went to PM Lal Bahadur Shastri and Defence Minister Chavan’s leadership.
Prof. Varun Sahni made an important point that from the defeat in 1962 to victory in 1965 and 1971, India came a long way in just nine years. Professor Sahni outlined the compulsions of international politics and how there was a serious need for introspection in the national policy on these matters. A wider debate and understanding on the foreign policy compulsions was required. India needs to get out of being the ‘shy’ superpower syndrome and find its place in the international system. There would be obligations and responsibilities, but the time has come to address all these questions with a sound understanding on the issues of national interest and debate.
Prof Shrikant Paranjpe recalled the role played by Shri YB Chavan in Maharashtra’s growth and remembered how he guided the national policy. He added that there was need for regional centres in the country to come up with new solutions to national problems and the solutions should not be vested only in Delhi.
Dr. Vijay Sakhuja highlighted the naval compulsions in the changing geo strategic situation and stated that for the high seas to remains secure, India will have to undertake comprehensive study of these issues so that its maritime domain remains safe and secure. While highlighting the role of Shri YB Chavan in national security and foreign policy making, he said that for a visionary approach to the foreign policy and defence matters, YB Chavan could be a good reference point.
The seminar was attended by over two hundred professors, teachers, students etc. form several universities and colleges from across Maharashtra and other neighbouring states. More than twenty papers were presented on the occasion. The organisers of the seminar propose to bring out a volume on the proceedings of this seminar.