The Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s placed newly-independent India in a liminal ideological position: as a committed representative democracy, India seemed a natural ally for the United States, but its socialist, planned economy was patterned on that of the Soviet Union. Pressed by both Cold War blocs to adopt an alignment, India’s leaders instead adopted a policy of ‘non-alignment’, pursuing good relations with both factions while maintaining independence in international affairs. India’s economic realities, however, belied this independence; the new nation was impoverished, with faltering industry and a failing agricultural sector. India’s survival and development in its first decades depended on international economic aid from a number of nations, chiefly the Soviet Union and NATO countries such as its former colonial ruler, Britain, and the United States.
India’s diplomatic efforts towards the United States in the 1960s therefore centered around soliciting aid, while maintaining its non-aligned posture. This essay argues that the key to its success was not impersonal international politics but rather the personal mode of diplomacy employed by leaders and diplomats on both sides. Through the lens of two such diplomats in the 1960s - Chester Bowles, United States Ambassador to India, and Braj Kumar Nehru, Indian Ambassador to the United States - it contends that individual diplomats were political actors in their own right who enjoyed considerable agency in working towards their personal visions of the Indo-American relationship, even when such a vision was at odds with the policies of their governments.
Sankaran, Sahaj, "Ambassadors Extraordinary: Chester Bowles, B.K. Nehru, and Ambassadorial Agency in Indo-American Relations, 1961-1969" (2020). MSSA Kaplan Prize for Use of MSSA Collections. 22.