People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 23

June 05, 2005

  India And The Bandung Conference Of 1955 – II


 N D Jayaprakash


ANOTHER important development took place in June 1954, during a recess in the Geneva conference, when the Chinese premier Chou En-Lai accepted the invitation to visit India. The invitation had been extended to him by V K Krishna Menon, India's representative at the conference. The ensuing talks between Chou En-Lai and Nehru ended on June 28, 1954 in the signing of a joint statement on the principles on which relations between India and China were to be based. These principles, which were subsequently known as the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-Existence or Panchsheel, were: (1) mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty; (2) non-aggression; (3) non-interference in each other's internal affairs; (4) equality and mutual benefit; and (5) peaceful coexistence.




While other countries were more concerned about working out truce in Indo china, the US was busy making preparations to convene a conference of South East Asian countries at Manila to found a new military alliance to which members of the "Colombo Powers" were also invited. India firmly rejected the offer. Indonesia, Burma and Ceylon followed suit. Finally, only three Asian nations – Pakistan, Philippines and Thailand – joined the United States, Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand at the Manila conference to found the South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) on September 8, 1954.


As the Colombo conference in May 1954 had already taken a decision to hold a conference of Asian and African countries, Nehru wasted no time in confronting the aggressive stance of the United States by inviting the Indonesian prime minister to Delhi to discuss preparations for the proposed conference. In a joint statement issued on September 25, 1954, Nehru and Sastroamidjojo emphasised that the purpose of the Asian-African conference – unlike the one that was held at Manila – was to promote unity and peace. A decision was also made by them to hold a meeting of the sponsoring countries to work out the programme. 


The preparatory meeting for the Bandung Conference took place on December 28-29, 1954 at Bogor, Indonesia. Nehru's suggestions to invite about 30 countries to attend the conference, to exclude controversial issues, and to place on the agenda broad issues along the lines of the five principles of peaceful coexistence that India and China had chalked out seven months earlier, were more or less accepted. However, there was considerable difference between India and Pakistan on the objects and purpose of the conference since Pakistan had already been sucked into the aggressive military alliance of SEATO. Anyway, the Bogor meeting decided to hold the Asian-African conference at the end of April 1955 at Bandung.




All the while, Nehru was peeved at the way western nations were cagey about providing economic and technical help for India's development. Repeated requests for aid from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD or popularly known as World Bank) had not yielded any palpable results. Therefore, the Indian government was compelled to consider the Soviet proposal made in September 1954 to help with the construction of a steel production plant. The talks in Delhi with Soviet representatives, which began in November 1954, led to the signing of an agreement on February 2, 1955. This agreement was a far cry from the unfavourable agreement concluded with private West German companies Krupp and Demag --- in 1953. While the West German companies charged exorbitant annual interest rate of 12 per cent, the Soviets charged a mere 2.5 per cent, which was to be paid with Indian exports. Moreover, while the private companies sought a share of the profits, the Soviet Union made no such claim. There were several such glaring differences between the two agreements. The Indo-Soviet agreement of February 2, 1955 marked the beginning of extensive and fruitful economic co-operation between India and the Soviet Union.


Meanwhile the situation became worse in the Far East, in Formosa Strait, after the U S signed a Mutual Defence Treaty with the Chiang Kai-shek regime of Taiwan on December 2, 1954. Concurrently, a new military alliance was also set up in West Asia when Britain, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Turkey signed the Baghdad Pact on February 24, 1955. U S military aid to Pakistan, the emergence of aggressive military alliances such as SEATO and the Baghdad Pact, which were giving India, in Krishna Menon's phrase, "a sense of encirclement" and other actions by the imperialists led to the evolution of India's neutralist foreign policy to positive neutrality.




Positive neutrality consisted in non-participation in military blocs, combined with active moves against the conclusion of imperialist military alliances, and in championing general disarmament and abolition of colonialism. Also, mediation in the settlement of international disputes for the purpose of easing international tensions; anti-colonialism manifesting itself in active support of all peoples’ fighting for independence and, once that has been gained, for complete elimination of the colonial aftermath; and anti-racialism expressed in the demand for complete equality of races and the banning of discrimination of any people. India's change to positive neutrality manifested itself, above all, in a more active struggle for preserving and strengthening peace.


India made energetic diplomatic preparations for making the Bandung conference a success by seeking, among other thing the support of other countries for the principles of peaceful coexistence. At the invitation of prime minister Nasser, Nehru visited Egypt on February 15-16, 1955. Later, a Treaty of Friendship between India and Egypt was signed at Cairo. Similar treaties were also signed with Cambodia and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.


At the same time, the imperialist powers made desperate attempts to disrupt the Bandung conference. Initially, an attempt was made to dissuade about ten pro-western governments from attending the conference. However, the move was aborted after it became clear that the conference would anyway take place with about half the world's population represented. So the emphasis shifted to using the pro-western participants to influence the outcome of the conference by resisting or modifying proposals that appeared to be anti-west. Nonetheless, to prevent the Chinese from attending the conference, Chiang Kai-shek's agents, at the behest of their U S mentor --- the CIA engineered an act of terrorism.




On April 11, 1955, The Kashmir Princess, an Air India plane chartered by the People’s Republic of China to transport a group of the Chinese delegation from Hong Kong to Bandung was blown up in mid-air over the South China Sea, killing all but three of the 19 member delegation and the crew. The terrorists had presumed that the plane would be carrying the Chinese premier Chou En-Lai, whose travel plans had been kept a secret. (For more details, see Col. A K Mitra, Disaster in the Air: The Crash of the Kashmir Princess, 1955, Reliance Publishing House, New Delhi, 2001. Col. A K Mitra was then the military attaché at the Indian embassy in Jakarta and also India's representative in the inquiry commission that was set up to investigate the cause of the disaster.) These incidents point to the importance the western powers had attached to the outcome of the Bandung conference. The interest in the conference was also evident from the fact that there were 655 correspondents present and they sent daily reports on its progress.


Altogether about 340 delegates representing a population of 1440 million (almost two-thirds of the world's then population) attended the conference. The agenda, framed in accordance with the Bogor communiqué, contained the following four basic aims of the conference: to enhance goodwill and cooperation between Asian-African nations; to discuss social, economic and cultural matters between them; to discuss matters of national sovereignty, racialism, and colonialism; and to promote peace and cooperation in the world.


While the Bandung conference appeared to provide an opportunity to build solidarity of Asian and African countries, in reality that did not happen due to the acute struggle between the non-aligned countries and those countries that were under the tutelage and stranglehold of the imperialist powers. Therefore, as for the rules of procedure, it was decided that resolutions would be approved only by unanimous vote so that any one delegation could veto draft decisions. This stipulation also led to imprecise formulation of some important points in the Final Communiqué. 




Although the wording of the Final Communiqué was rather vague overall, the section on "Promotion of World Peace and Co-operation" was more precise and it stated as follows: "2…The Conference considered that disarmament and the prohibition of the production, experimentation and use of nuclear and thermo-nuclear weapons of war imperative to save [hu]mankind and civilisation from the fear and prospect of wholesale destruction. It considered that the nations of Asia and Africa assembled here have a duty towards humanity and civilisation to proclaim their support for disarmament and for the prohibition of these weapons and to appeal to nations principally concerned and to world opinion, to bring about such disarmament and prohibition…. The conference declared universal disarmament is an absolute necessity for the preservation of peace and requested the United Nations to continue its efforts and appealed to all concerned speedily to bring about the regulation, limitation, control and reduction of all armed forces and armaments, including the prohibition of the production, experimentation and use of all weapons of mass destruction, and to establish effective international control to this end."


The Final Communiqué also implored the participating nations to remain free from mistrust and fear, to show goodwill towards each other, to practice tolerance, to live together in peace with one another as good neighbors and to develop friendly cooperation on the basis of the following ten principles:

  1.  Respect for fundamental human rights and for the purposes and principles of the charter of the United Nations

  2. Respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations

  3. Recognition of the equality of all races and of the equality of all nations large and small

  4. Abstention from intervention or interference in the internal affairs of another country

  5. Respect for the right of each nation to defend itself, singly or collectively, in conformity with the charter of the United Nations

  6.  (a) Abstention from the use of arrangements of collective defence to serve any particular interests of the big powers 

          (b) Abstention by any country from exerting pressures on other countries

  1. Refraining from acts or threats of aggression or the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any country

  2.  Settlement of all international disputes by peaceful means, such as negotiation, conciliation, arbitration or judicial settlement as well as other peaceful means of the parties own choice, in conformity with the charter of the united nations

  3. Promotion of mutual interests and cooperation

  4. Respect for justice and international obligations.




Enduring unity and co-operation among the Asian and African nations, based on the above objects and principles, would have gravely affected the interests of the imperialist powers. Therefore, they did everything they could to disrupt the possibility of any such unity and co-operation. Through sustained intrigues they ensured that the friendship and good-neighbourliness which was built up especially between India and China until 1955, was suddenly turned to suspicion and bitterness in the latter half of the 1950s. This unpleasant development was no doubt a big set back for the concerns of the peace loving peoples of Asia. Thus, apart from giving the needed stimulus to the struggle to end colonialism, the purpose for which the conference was organised remained largely unfulfilled.


The failure of the Bandung conference to launch a permanent Asian-African countries organisation was a sign that it was the writ of the imperialist powers that ultimately prevailed, although Nehru did make a valiant attempt later to revive it in the form of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in 1961.