To the Editor:
In Walter Laqueur’s collapsing international house of cards [“The Gathering Storm,” August 1974], India is considered the trigger card. Although one cannot deny that India is a functioning anarchy, neither can one deny that it is also one of the few genuinely functioning democracies in the world. Contrary to the usual residual racist Western shibboleths, India has steadfastly adhered to free institutions, and her illiterate peasants have shown a degree of political sophistication which matches the best in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts or Cook County, Illinois. Recalling the Indian general elections of 1967, one is struck by the selective turning out of the rascals. That same electorate can be counted on to turn out the current crop of Congress party leaders who are to be blamed for most of the ills of India today. Unless Mrs. Gandhi rapidly improves her performance, it is reasonable to expect a quick change at the top which, thanks to the parliamentary form of government, will be achieved without the trauma recently witnessed in the United States. Indeed, one can already see changes in Mrs. Gandhi’s rhetoric and policies. She has imposed the most stringent incomes policy in the world to contain runaway inflation at 36 per cent, although it is not clear whether incomes policy is relevant in a society where 70 per cent of the transactions are associated with food production and consumption. Nevertheless, the imposition of such a policy does indicate that Indian leaders do make hard decisions when compelled to, as in any free society. In addition, Mrs. Gandhi has quietly replaced anti-American and anti-Western firebrands and, swallowing her pride in the interest of India, has asked for and gotten food aid (“long-term and low interest”) from the United States. In the name of curbing inflation she forcefully put down a strike of the powerful railway workers union. Mrs. Gandhi is assiduously courting the Shah of Iran for some of his petrodollars and the indications are that she will succeed. The so-called intractable Kashmir problem may be nearing a solution, thanks to her bold and risky initiatives. These are not the actions of a government which is on the brink of collapse, but rather those of a government which is strong and self-confident.
Similarly, any talk of the disintegration of the Congress party is at best premature. The party has consistently won a minimum plurality of 40 per cent of the electorate. The Congress party is in fact very similar to the Democratic party in the United States in that it acts as a vehicle for achieving power which is itself devoid of ideological content, although ritual incantations of socialism are pronounced at party conventions. . . . As long as access to power is fairly open and the Congress party continues to play its accustomed role as mediator . . . , it is hard to see how the party will disintegrate. . . .
Some years ago a perceptive French ambassador to India stated that in France things are always serious but never disastrous whereas in India things are always disastrous but never serious. This state of affairs is likely to continue in the foreseeable future. As of now, there is no evidence to support the assertion that India is going to set off the dominoes by its collapse.
N. M. Katary
University of Wisconsin
Walter Laqueur writes:
Nowhere in my article did I state, suggest, infer, or imply that India could be the “trigger card in the collapsing international house of cards” or that it is “going to set off the dominoes by its collapse.” Otherwise, I am grateful for Mr. Katary’s interesting observations on the state of India.