The Rajpal Abeynayake column:
Non-alignment and survival – whereon from Tehran?
Tehran as a venue for the Non-aligned conference may not be suffused
with symbolism, but that choice of venue is also definitely a modern day
ode to the concept of non-alignment, such as there exists.
The heyday of non-alignment may surely have passed – and people may
be asking, so non-aligned to what? Does it mean non-aligned to the
declining Empire, the defining power of the uni-polar world?
All that comes to mind is that, surely, time has passed. It used to
be in these very pages of the Sunday Observer that the foreign policy
pundits of yore wrote lilting odes to non-alignment, as if the idea
itself was the sizzling tonic that rejuvenated the poor and the
unwashed. Tehran on the other hand, must have been under the jackboot of
a very aligned Czar, then.
Non-alignment was religion at that time. How things have (almost)
come a full circle, with non-alignment soon passing onto irrelevancy, to
be reinvented naturally when everybody’s favourite slogan now is that
‘capitalism has died’…
If in fact capitalism has died, that is when non-alignment probably
becomes irrelevant, because without capitalism the Empire would have
died, and there would be nothing to be non-aligned to, but global
affairs do not connect in that way curiously …
Non-alignment represented above all else, an ideal. Non-alignment in
the main, sought to steer clear of the fallout of unbridled capitalism.
That’s why when the Nehrus and the Nassers jostled with the
Bandaranaikes, there was an electrifying copy written by the likes of
Mervyn Silva in these pages, because they saw that there was something
more than the baser instincts of mankind that were being celebrated
through the agency of the movement.
Now when there is a cry that capitalism is at an end, and those such
as George Monibot in the left leaning UK Guardian are calling for
something like a quasi-socialist ideal state, those leaders and other
leading men who are meeting in Tehran (and women of course) can have the
But of course, some of the non-aligned states of today – Indonesia,
and of course India – are members of the powerful G 20, and almost by
virtue of that, identified with the United States. So the praxis of
being non-aligned, (‘not neutral but non-aligned’ as one Indian foreign
minister stressed cleverly in the 60s …), is seen to be a little tricky.
Instead, it’s the ideal of non-alignment and a lesson from history
that survives mostly, but this is intensely valuable. They say that some
of the non-aligned nations themselves have been far from ‘peaceful, or
progressive’ – these shibboleths being the original Nehruvian ideals for
non-alignment. A good many of the non-aligned nations were wracked by
internal conflict, and shopped at the arms marketplaces of the world,
which of course enriched the capitalist powers that these nations were
But yet, non-alignment was still a cherished ideal precisely due to
the uglier side of superpower capitalism, which thrived on the arms
trade among other things.
But suddenly one finds that capitalism is in decline, and even
non-aligned observer China is now reneging on the World Bank’s plans for
that country, by going against the pundits and encouraging state
investment! The Chinese leadership learnt rather surprisingly slowly
that there is no point in following the recipe of the declining Empire,
when these policies prescribed by the World Bank have created havoc and
a depression and untold misery to the under-classes, not to mention the
white collar middle-classes of the model nations of the capitalist
So in this backdrop the Non-aligned movement today basically
represents an ideological vindication —- which means that the founding
fathers of the non-aligned club can from their mokshas be gratified that
it is their ideal that prevailed, however flawed it may have seemed in
the countries that they brought together as the Non-aligned movement.
Many of the 120 or so nations in the Non-aligned movement have been
trying to be non-aligned in the meanwhile, outside of the forums and the
ambit of the non-aligned club itself, but without much success. How
could they not be drawn into the ambit of the sole surviving major
power, when the Cold War was comprehensively won by that side?
But events never hugged a linear trajectory, and after the Soviet
Union imploded and the Cold War was over, now we see that there are
signs that capitalism just might implode in the same way.
But of course, capitalism cannot die and be replaced just like that
in the near future. In the first place, there must be something to
replace the sick model with, and after the Cold War experience, that
something is definitely not going to be socialism.
Capitalism therefore survives by default, and exists, as does running
water — being there and flowing on, because it is there. The idealism
that saw capitalism as being utterly flawed, is now stronger than ever,
and the Non-aligned movement is but one reminder of the fact that
idealism prevails and can be decanted from the most physically flawed
receptacles’ i.e.; countries that are far from ideal themselves, can now
say, ‘look, we told you, that Empire thing wasn’t going to work.’ ….
Whether mankind would evolve to a next level of economic management,
or be resigned to a moribund form of capitalism is still to be seen
however. Answers to questions such as these will not come quickly, and
they will not come from the Non-aligned movement.
But, the Nehruvian ideals need to be — in this context — resurrected,
then dissected. There may be some answers there, in the long decried and
pooh-poohed ideals propounded by the founders of the movement, that are
more relevant than ever today, though forgotten due to the powerful
headwinds of Empire that followed after the end of the Cold War.
These profoundly angst-ridden difficult days, are probably also by
virtue of these difficulties that face the human family, also the most
There is room as never before, for new men, for new and sustainable
ideals, and for the obscure to emerge as the defining. We are
collectively in search of salvation, and any idea is good enough to be
considered at times like these.
No banking denizens either from the World Bank or any of the other
prominent commercial financial operations can be judgemental or
condescending anymore. Bankers, and economists least of all, can
ill-afford to be leery these days. So it is a time though ridden with
anxiety, that says, old time-worn movements, and old time-worn ideals,
may also have their day — and prevail in the last lap for enduring
ideas, when everybody had counted them out …