Monday, Jul. 30, 1956

The Uncertain Bellwether

(See Cover)

In a Paris hotel one sunny morning in 1926, a serious-minded young Hindu aristocrat took upon himself a delicate task. Resolutely he squared his slim shoulders and summoned out onto the balcony his younger sister, a lively 19-year-old who, under his watchful eye, was getting her first taste of life in Europe. "Darling," he began, "you go out alone with a lot of young men. That is as it should be, but I hope you know all about everything—er, you know, er—I suppose every girl must know, dash it all."

Politely, but in some confusion, the young man's sister informed him that she had no idea what he was talking about. "But don't you understand," he persisted, "that when a girl goes out with a boy alone anything might happen?"

"What could happen?" asked the girl.

At this the young man lost his temper. "You are exceedingly stupid," he snapped. "If you don't know what I mean, well, let us leave it at that and trust to God that nothing happens."

Compulsive Adviser. In the 30 years since that day in Paris, nothing has shaken Jawaharlal Nehru's profound conviction that it is up to him to set people straight on the facts of life. Incurable victim of what he himself recognizes as a compulsion to give advice, India's Prime Minister indefatigably ladles out instruction to family, friends, his 382 million countrymen and the world at large.

In the past decade entire nations have come to know the puzzlement and irritation that Nehru's sister Krishna described in a Ladies' Home Journal article last year. Nonetheless, in much of the world, anything that Nehru has to say is listened to with respect and attention. This is partly because Jawaharlal Nehru, whatever his faults, is an impressive man and can be a charming one, but it is primarily because he speaks in the name of an otherwise largely silent segment of mankind—one-seventh of the human race.

The Humane Alternative. Not long ago U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas predicted that "the Big Six of the last half of the 20th century" would be Russia, China, Japan, Germany, the U.S.—and India. Whether or not Douglas' prophecy is borne out, India is already one of the world's pivotal powers, important less for demonstrated strength or wisdom or stability than as a bellwether, however uncertain of place and leadership, for the rest of Asia.

In Asia today there are 13 new nations, with a population of 635 million, which have won their independence during and since World War II.* Against heavy odds they are desperately intent on gaining that other fundamental element of modern power—an up-to-date industrial economy. Obsessed by the desire to change from their primitive agricultural present, Asians are powerfully attracted by the example of the U.S.S.R., which since 1917 has transformed itself from a nation of peasants into the world's second-greatest industrial power. The price the U.S.S.R. paid—total suppression of human liberties and the sacrifice of two generations of Russians—does not appall many Asians as much as it does Westerners.

So far, only one significant challenge to the Soviet method has appeared in Asia. That challenge is posed by India. Under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, India is striving to build a planned industrial economy that will be made safe for democracy. In the abstract, Nehru's humane alternative is clearly preferable to Asians, but today's Asia is impatient and pragmatic. If India fails to make rapid economic progress or even if her rate of economic growth lags too far behind that of Red China, most of Asia, including India itself, may succumb in time to the clanking siren song of Communism.

Jawaharlal Nehru works hard at the role of bellwether. He grows furious when Western powers ("these people who try to run Asia without us") refuse to accept India's judgment as the final word on Asian problems. And under his leadership India has become a Mecca for the increasing number of Asian nations whose foreign policies rest on the twin foundations of "anticolonialism," i.e., anti-Westernism, and "nonalignment," i.e., no commitment in the worldwide struggle between Communism and freedom.

His partisans go further and claim that Nehru speaks for all Asia. This is manifest nonsense. Nehru does not speak for Mao's China, for Japan, for the Philippines, for Formosa, for Korea, for Thailand, for North or South Viet Nam, for Afghanistan, for Pakistan. His influence is principally felt in Ceylon, Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Malaya and Indonesia.

It is an influence that is often confused with views he does not represent. In Nehru's name it is argued that Asians possess a spirituality of nature that is superior to Western materialism. But Nehru himself, admired as he is by many Hindus and Buddhists, holds to no spiritual beliefs, and only last week in West Germany said: "As for myself, I believe in no religion or dogma or faith." He berates the world for its use of force, but he holds Kashmir by force; he talks of the rights of people, but he denies Kashmir a plebiscite; he resents the intrusions of other people in Indian affairs, but he is always ready to intrude elsewhere.

Lost in the Desert Sands. Nehru's increasing influence in Southeast Asia has been matched by a growing disenchantment with him in the U.S. In the beginning, the U.S. greeted Indian independence in 1947 with pleasure. Thoreau and Jefferson, cried the cheerleaders, had inspired India's rebels. Nehru, said Pundit Walter Lippmann, is "certainly the greatest figure in Asia."

What finally and perhaps irrevocably ended unquestioning U.S. admiration of India was India's role in the Korean war, where Nehru showed himself neutral in favor of Communist China, which he fears as he does not fear the U.S. It was possible to understand Indian neutrality during the fighting. It was all but impossible to forgive the fact that as the pivotal member of the Korean Armistice Commission, India, at Nehru's personal insistence, abandoned the traditional impartiality of neutral arbiters. In an apparent attempt to win the confidence of Mao Tse-tung, it tried to force 22,500 anti-Communist Chinese P.W.s to return to Red China.

"Has the clear mountain flood of [Gandhi's] spiritual influence . . . lost itself in the desert sands of Nehru's day?" demanded Vermont's Republican Senator Ralph Flanders. Today U.S. views range from Justice Douglas' conviction that Nehru is "the most effective opponent of Communism in Asia" to A.F.L.-C.I.O. President George Meany's belief that Nehru is an aide and ally of Communist imperialism—"in fact and in effect, if not in diplomatic verbiage."

The most audible American voice on Indian affairs, onetime U.S. Ambassador Chester Bowles, sometimes sounds as if the chief object of U.S. foreign and domestic policy should be to make the U.S. over to something Nehru would find acceptable. Somewhere beyond this is a view, often expressed on the clubwomen's circuit, that if only Nehru knew Americans better he would understand them. The difficulty with this notion is that Nehru himself knows all he wants to know about the U.S. and understands what he wants to understand about the U.S. It is bootless to measure Nehru as a friend of the U.S., which he is not particularly. Nor does he ask to be so measured.

The Doer. Officially, Jawaharlal Nehru is not only India's Prime Minister but Foreign Minister and Minister of Atomic Energy as well. Unofficially, he is India's chief planner, chief policymaker, chief reformer and universal straw boss. Proud of his command of English (developed at Harrow and Cambridge), Nehru will sign no letter prepared by anyone else, and he personally dictates the great bulk of cables going to Indian ambassadors abroad. His Cabinet ministers have long since become accustomed to being awakened in the middle of the night by "urgent" Nehru messages complaining about an unpainted government housing project or a trash can that sits too far out in a road. Nehru, complains one close acquaintance, "often has the feeling that if he can't get to an issue it might just as well not be done." All hands agree, however, that for a man of 66 India's Prime Minister manages to get to an amazing number of issues.

Nehru starts off each day at New Delhi at 6:15 in the morning with 20 minutes of yoga exercises that invariably include a few headstands ("Standing on my head increases my good humor"). By 7:45 he has showered, scanned Delhi's English-language papers, and is in his teak-lined study reading cables from his ambassadors and signing correspondence that he dictated the night before. (Two three-secretary shifts work a total of 19 hours a day, handling his home dictation.)

Promptly at 8:30, after a three-minute breakfast with Daughter Indira and her two sons, Nehru moves into the big, carpeted living room of his 20-room house, once the residence of the chief of staff of the British Indian army. Here, waiting his arrival, there is always an assemblage of petitioners, laborers, peasants and refugees, some of whom have walked in from as far as 200 miles away to state their grievances to Nehru personally. The Prime Minister talks with each, often dictates on the spot a letter to appropriate officials.

In Parliament Nehru resembles nothing so much as a crotchety schoolmaster leading a class discussion. He constantly pops up to interrupt, discourses firmly on everything from the evils of too many cocktail parties to what kind of clothing M.P.s should wear. Often these casual expressions of personal opinion determine national policies. One such statement resulted in the banning in India of films that show Africans in a "degrading light,"' e.g., as bearers on safari. Another killed a widely supported proposal to put a $5,000 ceiling on personal income in India.

Opium of the Masses. Jawaharlal Nehru, however, is far more than just a political boss. In the Indian mystique he is a national symbol, almost the embodiment of India, and he receives from his countrymen probably more unbounded and unabashed hero worship than any other national leader in the world.

Ostensibly this disgusts Nehru. He knocks away people who try to kiss his feet, swings his ivory-tipped, teakwood swagger stick at crowds which come too close. Yet, like Antaeus touching earth, he seeks out crowds, often giving as many as ten speeches a week when he is in New Delhi, and many more when he is traveling.

The performance is almost always the same. As Nehru steps out of his black Cadillac and climbs onto the speaker's platform, he is approached by women bearing wreaths. He allows one wreath to be placed around his neck, but a second later abruptly jerks it off and throws it on a table. With patent impatience he fiddles with the microphones before him, readjusting their height and position. Finally the speech begins. It is made without notes and sounds less like a political address than a passage from a stream-of-consciousness novel. Almost invariably, it will include sharp attacks on some of India's most cherished beliefs—Hinduism ("a religion that enslaves you") or astrology ("silly nonsense"). Sometimes, with all the outrage of an Englishman or American whose patience has been tried beyond endurance by Indian backwardness and inefficiency, Nehru verbally assaults the crowd itself. "You are a people of cow-dung mentality, living in a cow-dung world," he bawled at one group early this year.

None of this, nor the fact that many do not even know the language he addresses them in, bothers his audience. They have come not to hear Nehru but for darshan, the spiritual impact of being in the presence of a great personality. When the speech is over, the crowd cheers, and amidst the applause Nehru bounds down from the platform, smiling at everyone, his irritability gone. "Nehru," says one American familiar with these spectacles, "is the opium of the Indian masses—and they are his."

The English Heritage. Yet a great gulf separates Nehru from the Indian masses —a gulf inherent in Nehru's origin and widened by his English education. Nehru's father, Motilal Nehru, was a wealthy lawyer. Determined to give his only son an English gentleman's education, Motilal put him in the hands of an Irish tutor, Ferdinand Brooks. Under Brooks's guidance, Jawaharlal ranged widely through English literature, one of his favorite authors being that apostle of the white man's burden, Rudyard Kipling.

The Enduring Marks. At 15, Nehru was sent to Harrow. "I well remember," he wrote in his autobiography, "that when the time came to part [from Harrow], tears came to my eyes." Moving on to Cambridge, where he specialized in chemistry, botany and geology, Nehru along with many of his British contemporaries acquired a faith in science as the universal nostrum. "Those were the days," recalls one of Nehru's English friends, "when Socialism was a pretty vague thing. Earnest young men at Oxford and Cambridge talked ethics, politics and economics in the same breath, without knowing exactly what they wanted."

This schoolboy's vision of scientifically organized socialist society, based essentially on an esthetic distaste for poverty and an aristocratic contempt for "shopkeepers." was made to order for a Harrovian Brahman, and it was one of the enduring marks which Nehru bore when he returned to India in 1912. "Do what I will," he admitted years later, "I cannot get out of the habits of mind and the standards and ways of judging other countries, as well as life generally, which I acquired in school and college in England."

Nehru's English patina, however, was deceptive. "Behind me," he wrote years after his return from Britain, "lie somewhere the subconscious racial memories of a hundred generations of Brahmans." Behind him, too, were conscious memories of hearing since childhood of the "overbearing character and insulting manner of English people . . . toward Indians." Those memories made him a champion of the underdog and filled him with his own intense brand of racial prejudice. "I try to be impartial and objective," he noted in his autobiography, "but the Asiatic in me influences my judgment whenever an Asiatic people are concerned."

The Discovery of India. For a few years after his return to India, the rebel in Nehru was submerged in the English gentleman. He settled down in Allahabad, married a suitable Kashmiri Brahman girl (chosen by his father) and practiced law in desultory fashion. But before long, boredom and the rising tide of Indian nationalism swept him into the revolutionary politics of the Indian National Congress Party. And once he met Gandhi, the die was cast. Two men more diverse than Nehru and the frail little Mahatma could hardly be imagined. Devoted to the scientific socialism of the tractor and the big machine, Nehru could scarcely comprehend the distrust of machine civilization which Gandhi symbolized with his home spinning wheel, and he was outraged when Gandhi proclaimed a disastrous earthquake to be divine punishment for India's moral imperfections.

Following Gandhi cost Nehru dear. He spent 14 years in British prisons. His wife Kamala and his father, both of whom joined the independence movement under his influence, died after repeated imprisonments. Nonetheless, it was the fight for independence that focused Nehru's talents and made him a man of destiny. Through it, he discovered peasant India and the fact that, somehow or other, he could manipulate its soul. And it was primarily for this skill that Gandhi, who may have been a saint but was above all a shrewd politician, named Nehru heir to the leadership of India.

Problems of Power. It was in most respects an appalling heritage. When independence finally came, and Nehru took the reins of power, it scarcely seemed as if he had even the raw material for a nation. The people with whom he had to work were among the world's poorest and most backward. Even today 325 million Indians (85% of the population) are illiterate, and their per capita income is only $57 a year (v. $49 in China, $143 in Japan). Some 68 million—the equivalent of the total U.S. labor force—are unemployed. In summer in 120° heat, millions of city workers go without water because they cannot afford to buy it at one-fifth of a cent a glass. In Calcutta (pop. 2,568,000) it is still cheaper to hire a man or a boy to pull a cart than to hire a bullock, and thousands of people sleep on the streets every night.

There were also immense problems of diversity and disunity. Indians speak some 200 dialects, including 14 distinct major languages. India's teeming masses are bedeviled by almost every form of intolerance known to man. The mutual religious antipathy between Hindus (303 million), Moslems (35.4 million) and Sikhs (6.2 million) is always close to the boiling point. The nation's 50 million untouchables suffer from caste discrimination, resting, in the words of an Indian government official, on "prejudices deeper than the one against Negroes in the U.S." The 26 million ebony-colored Tamils claim that fair-skinned northerners (like Nehru) persecute them because of their color.

Armageddon Postponed. In the first year of India's life, it seemed as though religious hatred by itself would tear the nation apart. Hindus, Sikhs and Moslems battled all over India in an orgy of violence which claimed up to half a million lives. Somehow, through the public shock of Gandhi's assassination and by the determined use of power, the slaughter was finally checked. Nehru could at last turn his attention to other problems. He and his government forced through laws forbidding social and religious discrimination against untouchables. They incorporated into free India 552 princely states which the British had allowed to fester in medi eval autonomy. They held free elections—the world's largest—and by a mixture of force and political guile staved off Communist Party bids to win control of provincial governments.

As a solution to the nation's economic problems, Nehru advanced what he vaguely called "a socialist pattern of society."

This involved a certain amount of nationalization (insurance, some banks, transport, armaments), but primarily Nehru sought to expand the government's role in the Indian economy, not by taking over established industries but by developing new ones. Taking a leaf from the Russian book, India went in for five-year plans. Between 1951 and 1956 the first five-year plan pumped about $5 billion into India's economy, mostly in the form of irrigation and agricultural projects. The second plan, announced last May, calls for an outlay of $15 billion on increased industrial plant, a prime objective being to triple India's steel production. To achieve this, Nehru, to the great relief of India's businessmen, took pains to make it clear that the Armageddon of private industry in India was still some way off. "Why," asked he recently, "should we fritter away our energy pushing out someone who is doing a job in the private sector?" Nehru's reassurances, however, have yet to overcome the wariness of U.S. private enterprises whose investment in India at the end of 1954 totaled only $92 million.

Danger from Within. So far, the results of Nehru's ambitious programs have been spotty. Legally, untouchables are now entitled to eat in the same restaurants as their higher-caste countrymen, but all over Saurashtra state near Bombay a few weeks ago, restaurants in which district magistrates had entertained untouchables were being picketed. Legally, Moslems and Hindus are co-equal citizens of India, but in Old Delhi last month Hindus were tossing homemade bombs at Moslem shopkeepers. Even more questionable were the results of the first five-year plan. Superficially, the plan achieved its most important goal, boosting the nation's food production by 18%. But it did not reduce unemployment and failed to increase per capita income significantly. (Because of price increases, per capita purchasing power actually dropped 5% between 1952 and 1955.) Much of the extra food went unsold because the people who needed it were not able to buy it. The dedicated efforts of civil servants and planners are largely frustrated by India's birth rate. The population increases at the rate of 5,000,000 a year.

On at least one crucial issue Nehru has clearly lost ground: his attempt to overcome the fragmentary force of local linguistic loyalty. In 1953 an old Gandhi disciple named Pod Sriramulu began to agitate for a separate state for the 33 million Indians who speak Telugu. When Sriramulu died while fasting for the cause, his Telugu followers, whipped to a frenzy, began to riot. Nehru, shocked by this violence, bowed and agreed to the establishment of the Telugu-speaking state of Andhra. Emboldened, other language groups began to press their claims. The latest of these agitations were last January's Bombay riots, which killed 250 people. Deeply troubled by the linguistic riots, Nehru nowadays believes that "disunity is our greatest enemy."

If this upsurge of regionalism continues, it is likely to have ominous consequences for India. Perhaps the only thing that could prevent so disruptive a force from reducing the central government to impotence is a leader with nationwide appeal and moral authority. Since Gandhi's death, India has been left with only one man of such stature—Nehru himself.

The Possible Caesar. An article in an Indian magazine, the Modern Review, written in 1936, described Nehru in this fashion: "Men like Jawaharlal, with all their capacity for great and good work, are unsafe in a democracy. He calls himself a democrat and a socialist, and no doubt he does so in all earnestness, but every psychologist knows that the mind is ultimately slave to the heart . . . Jawahar has all the makings of a dictator in him—vast popularity, a strong will, ability, hardness, an intolerance for others and a certain contempt for the weak and inefficient... Is it not possible that Jawahar might fancy himself as a Caesar?"

Years later the anonymous author of this trenchant judgment announced his identity. It was Nehru himself. Today Nehru is very close to being Caesar. Critics complain that his Cabinet consists not of ministers but of courtiers like the mercurial former U.N. delegate Krishna Menon, who is almost as unpopular in India as in the U.S. They charge, too, that Nehru's personal interference in every detail of government has sapped the initiative of his subordinates and prevented the emergence of potential national leaders.

When he becomes bored or frustrated by domestic affairs, Nehru frequently flees to the greener fields of foreign policy, where the unpleasant consequences of irresponsibility are generally slower to appear. As Nehru himself sees it, India's foreign policy is based on two rational and respectable principles: self-interest and hatred of colonialism (which in Indian terms means domination of colored people by white people; subjugation of whites by other whites is irrelevant). To outsiders, however, Indian policy seems to be heavily influenced by a number of purely emotional considerations personal to Nehru.

Indian policy toward Russia is affected to an incalculable degree by the fact that, like many another old Fabian Socialist, Nehru has never been quite able to get over the exultation he felt in 1917 when the Russian Revolution opened up a "Socialist" era in history. To an equally incalculable degree, India's policy toward the U.S. is affected by Nehru's upper-class Edwardian English contempt for the U.S. as a nation of "vulgar" people who talk about money. To a highly measurable degree, India's behavior toward any power is affected by the extent to which that power feeds Nehru's vanity by seeking his advice on Asian affairs. The British, Russians and Chinese do, and Nehru forgives them even when he disapproves of their actions. The U.S. does not, and Nehru is openly elated by each U.S. discomfiture in Asia.

Essentially Right. The start of his serious animosity toward the U.S. came in 1954 when the U.S. agreed to supply arms to Pakistan—the only nation India regards as an enemy. To Nehru, this was bringing the cold war to India's door. He was also discomfited by Red China's seizure of Tibet, just across his northern border, but has been noticeably quieter about that. At the Bandung Conference last year, Nehru led the fight against inclusion of any denunciation of Communist imperialism in the official communiqués. Early this year during the Bulganin-Khrushchev visit to India, he listened unprotestingly while the Russian leaders vilified the U.S. and other Western powers. In private conversation later, an acquaintance expressed dismay at the Russian falsifications, and Nehru replied blandly, "After all, they were essentially right."

The cast of mind that made possible such a remark (as well as the B. & K. visit) has helped to create in India an ideological climate which may in time constitute Nehru's one great disservice to his country. Russian aid to India, which so far has consisted chiefly of a promise to build a 1,000,000-ton steel plant on an $80 million-$95 million loan, has been received with a fanfare of publicity. U.S. loans and gifts, which during the first five-year plan amounted to $538 million, have been accepted grudgingly. The posters everywhere greeting B. & K. with "India and Russia are brothers" were Nehru's doing. By this kind of "impartiality" Nehru has not only instilled in many Indians a deep suspicion of the .U.S., but has also failed to alert his people to the danger of Soviet imperialism. Simultaneously, he has aroused in much of the U.S. Congress and population an almost irresistible desire to cut off aid to India and leave her to her own devices. This is the more regrettable since many Americans have long felt a deep sympathy for India and Indians, and in the end, U.S. policy hopes for India only what India hopes for itself: that it be healthy and free.

The Measuring Rod. History has not yet balanced its books on Jawaharlal Nehru. If, despite his Caesarism and his ill-conceived sponsorship of Bulganin and Khrushchev, India survives as a unified nation without going Communist, Nehru's vanities and eccentricities will become merely a playground for biographers. Even his role in international affairs will seem neither so mischievous as his critics now think, nor so important as his admirers believe. History may not judge Nehru by his foreign policy, which, because it is essentially negative, may loom less large as time goes by.

It will give him high marks for doing as much as he has to lessen his people's poverty, cure their diseases, school them and make a nation of them. It will recognize, too, that Nehru, like China's Sun Yat-sen and Turkey's Kemal Ataturk, has had a difficult and frustrating role to .play in bringing his people into democratic nationhood under tutelage. In these pursuits, Jawaharlal Nehru has his high place, even though he will not be an ally, and is not particularly a friend.

* Not including the Philippine Republic, to which the U.S., on March 24, 1934, promised independence ten years after inauguration of the Philippine commonwealth government. The Philippines became an independent nation on July 4, 1946, exactly on the date promised.