Here's How Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Helped Austria Gain Independence

Here's How Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Helped Austria Gain Independence

With PM Modi's Austria visit, the European nation is in the spotlight. It may seem a stretch to imagine close ties between the two distant countries, to a layman. But India and Austria have closer bonds than what it may seem. Know how India's first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru helped Austria gain independence after Second World War.

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Wednesday, July 10, 2024, 05:05 PM IST
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Jawaharlal Nehru | File

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on two-day Austria visit. Austria, a world power at the turn of the 19th century, does not assume a prominent place in collective imagination of Indians as even those in the know largely tend to view Austria as a nation in German shadow. Though it might appear that there is little to connect India and Austria, there's much to emphatically say otherwise. India's first prime minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru played an instrumental role in independence of the modern Austrian state in the wake of Second World War.

Austria was the first victim of Adolf Hitler's expansionary aspirations, something that heralded beginning of the Second World War (although formal declarations were made later on). When Nazi Germany was eventually defeated, Western allies occupied Austria and the talks for formation of a post-war Austrian state began.

The Austrian State Treaty was signed on May 15, 1955 following which Austria became an independent nation and allied forces were withdrawn.

The negotiations and Nehru's role

Before the treaty was finalised, a lot of negotiations took place. There was also a deadlock.

Soviet Russia was worried that independence of Austria and withdrawal of allied forces would make the country vulnerable to re-emergence of Nazi elements

and that it may join a military alliance in future that'll threaten peace in Europe. For Austrian political leaders, independence and re-establishment of the country's sovereignty was of utmost importance.

Enter Nehru

By the beginning of the 1950s India had already established good relations with the Soviet Union. On 20 June 1953, the then Austrian Foreign Minister Karl Gruber met Nehru on Burgenstock Mountain above Lake Lucerne. During the discussion between both leaders, Gruber requested Nehru to use India's goodwill with Soviet Russia to find a way through this situation.

Gruber told Nehru that Austria was ready to offer “guarantees against Austrian participation in military alliances”. He said that this principle would be enshrined in the constitution.

British historian Sir John Wheeler-Bennett has said that Gruber then requested Nehru to convey Austria's position to the Soviets. Nehru in effect, was to be mediator between the two countries, a role which Nehru readily accepted.

Nehru was one of the founders of Non-Alignment Movement and Austria's promise of neutrality was coinciding with principles of non-alignment. The Indian PM agreed to speak with the Soviets.

The deadlock was resolved. Austria's pledge of neutrality was included in the Moscow Memorandum of 1955. This ultimately paved way for the Austrian StateTreaty.

Recognition of Nehru's role

Nehru's role to secure Austria's independence was taken note of in the Austrian media. A newspaper Neues Österreich (The New Austria) called Nehru "most eminent" of statesmen who sought co-operation between the East and the West. It said Nehru's “willingness to act as advocate of our neglected rights (…) constitutes a fact of global political importance.”

Gruber, the Austrian foreign minister at the time also went on to acknowledge Nehru's role in memoirs he wrote in 1976.

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