India's Crisis: A Diary
New Delhi, November 8, 1962.
“Krishna Menon dismissed,” ran the London headlines as we were leaving England, “India on the move.” That was a week ago. Nehru had made his great, brave confession: “We have been living in a dreamworld. India has been out of touch with reality. . . . Nehru’s face on television: still gentle, but hurt and angry, sad and contemptuous, a Brahmin bewildered at the ways of barbarians. “It may be a turning point in the history of Asia.” Well, we shall see.
At Palam Airport, minor rumors of war. “No photographs, please.” Indian air force jets in the air, on the runway. Newly delivered? Probably not. The round-the-clock U.S. arms airlift flies in to Calcutta (later, we hear Indian editors have been advised not to print photographs: nominally for security reasons, but in fact to keep the Russian Bear docile and non-alignment afloat).
Rao, our host, picks us up in his Ford Consul. Rao is a journalist on a big Indian daily. Lean, emphatic, voluble, he says all is to be well now Menon’s gone. Menon has been the bête noire of the anti-neutralist faction. Acharya Kripalani, once president of Nehru’s Congress party, now Nehru’s opponent, ran against Menon in North Bombay only ten months before—and was soundly defeated. Yet Rao assures us that Menon never enjoyed popular support. A paradox? I think not: when Bombay voted for him, it was voting not for Menon but for Nehru, its beloved Panditji.
All talk in India—our drive into Delhi is no exception—begins and ends with Panditji. Political argument is devious but circular: Panditji proposes, Panditji disposes. Thus, our host. “But wasn’t Panditji responsible too?” we ask. “For the Bandung neutralist euphoria, for the writing-off of Tibet, for the neglect of the army?” At once, we encounter a block. No, all is explained by the spell Menon put on his master. Nehru always needed a guru—first his father, then Gandhi. Menon took over the role. The man is a devil, a Rasputin. We are skeptical: Menon is nobody’s favorite, but this Rasputin-Menon is too bad to be true.
Are we not convinced? We are taken to a well-known lawyer the same evening, to be convinced. Our lawyer friend claims he has evidence that Menon is a crypto-Communist. He is said to have been a Party member in the 30’s during his long residence in London. Our friend has evidence of financial machinations, of funds supplied to leftist publications. At the Defense Ministry it was a question, he thinks, not of neglect, but of sabotage. “Take the case of General T . . . . . . .” “But surely,” we protest, “if Menon were a saboteur, the Russians wouldn’t show him such open favor.” Fellow-traveler or secret agent; a man may be the one or the other, but the craft is different. No, no, there is evidence, hard evidence: the man’s a devil, he has corrupted Panditji. He ought to be shot.
The argument pursues us around India. The leftists, Menon’s allies, are taking a new line. Menon is the willing scapegoat; he has sacrificed himself for the nation. If he spent too little on armaments, if he feared Pakistan more than China, if his ordnance factories—the joke of the season, this—have been busy turning out coffee percolators . . . “Well, that was Panditji’s doing, wasn’t it?” By resigning, Menon is shielding Panditji from his newly emboldened critics. Whatever its motives, this line of argument strikes one as plausible. Kripalani, Menon’s sworn enemy, agrees: “Menon Nehru’s Rasputin? What nonsense! He was Panditji’s instrument. The one’s as responsible as the other.”
But if Panditji was wrong, who was right? Where is the opposition? Kripalani, certainly. But Kripalani has paid the price of opposition in Nehru’s India: political oblivion. A paradox, again, of Panditji’s Raj. Nehru is a democrat in theory, an autocrat in practice. Parliamentary forms are preserved—Nehru is punctilious about question time, about protocol, about the rights of minorities. Yet, in fifteen years of formal democracy, Nehru’s Raj has broken all its opponents. His old Congress colleagues—Rajagopalachari, M. R. Masani, Jayaprakash Narayan, Asoka Mehta—are active in politics, in the rightist Swatrantra party, and in the anti-Communist Praja Socialist party. But are they an opposition? The people have made a god of Panditji; and their god must be strong and jealous—Hindus are not the natural polytheists Westerners (wrongly, one is assured) take them to be. If Panditji has no rivals, it’s the people’s choice. Says Kripalani: “Public opinion? Nonsense! Panditji’s a tribal chieftain.”
Yet there has been dissent; it has only not made itself heard. This is true even inside the government. We visit Morarji Desai, once Chief Minister in Bombay, now Finance Minister. It’s eight in the morning; Morarji—as everybody calls him—has risen at five, performed complex Hindu ablutions, done an hour’s spinning. A large, unhumorous man, with a reputation for religious and financial orthodoxy. Respected, not popular. A fanatic, according to some. Among idealists, his supporters declare him the one man with his feet on the ground. What will Morarji say?
Our talk is not off the record; yet Morarji’s frankness owes a little, one can’t but feel, to the mood of the crisis. “Fellow-wanderers, I call ‘em . . . soft-headed, you know,” says Morarji, miming the appropriate gesture. Not Panditji, of course, but still those who thought like him, who shouted “Hindi-Chini bhai bhai” (“Indians and Chinese are brothers”) when fraternization was still fashionable. “Of course, I was always against that, you know,” says Morarji. He’s not being indiscreet; his views have always been known. He is now for serious rearmament, no nonsense about aid from “the socialist camp.” He does not believe that the MIG’s Russia has promised to send India will ever arrive; if they do, they will be no more than a gesture. There is no doubt where Morarji stands. After much glib Delhi talk, his gloom is infectious.
Yet it is all very odd. Indiscreet to ask why, if he was against the appeasement of China, Morarji never thought of resigning his post in the government. Obviously, he never did. But why? Morarji is a resolute, plain-spoken character. He is of the Gandhian Old Guard. He has a strong following inside the Congress party.
There’s a hint of why he never spoke up, perhaps, in some other comments of Morarji’s. I ask about currency restrictions: students—indeed most people—find it hard to travel. There seems to be less contact—I tell him our impressions—between India and the West now than before Independence. The old links from the days of the Independence struggle—links with the English Left of the 30’s, through the Left Book Club and the New Statesman—have been weakened. In the 70’s M.I.T. may be doing for India what the London School of Economics, under Harold Laski, used to do in the 30’s. But it’s a slow process. America is still somewhat patronized; students still prefer Oxford and Cambridge, if they’re given the choice.
Morarji is unsympathetic. His experience is different: they go abroad, these students, and what do they find? A higher standard of living than anything in India. They get dissatisfied. Either they stay and are lost to India; or they come back, complaining about discrimination. Once home, they’re doubly dissatisfied. They despise India’s backwardness, and what colleagues call their arrogance makes it harder for them to conform. As Morarji tells it, the story is sad indeed.
Of course, to a great extent, Morarji is right. What he says fits in with what we’ve seen of Indians returned from abroad. Anti-Western sentiment is rare among the stay-at-homes, common among those who’ve lived in the West. Morarji is the one case, Krishna Menon the other.
Morarji’s solution is breathtaking: it is better not to go. It all costs the Exchequer valuable rupees; and the results are incommensurate, are even counter-productive. “After all,” says Morarji, “I was never abroad myself till 1958.”
It’s a remark of some interest. They laugh at Morarji, of course, for his hand-spinning and his zeal for prohibition. But in Morarji one grasps what Gandhi did for India. Gandhi created a new kind of leader, rooted in popular Hinduism, tempered by long imprisonment, self-confident as Indians had not been for generations. It was a necessary thing; but Gandhi’s victory cost a certain narrowing. Nehru alone was exempt. That is why he was India’s only possible Prime Minister; only Nehru knew about foreign affairs.
It’s also why Morarji kept his mouth shut all these years. Morarji’s instincts—one can’t but think—were much sounder than Nehru’s. But no one in the Congress party had the self-confidence to stand up to Panditji. It is India’s old trouble in finding a “synthesis.” Panditji, of course, is a living synthesis—three parts Cambridge to one part Hindu. But Gandhism, in one aspect at least, was atavistic, a rejection of synthesis. “For East is East, and West is West. . . .” Morarji would not disagree.
So that was Delhi, in the third week of the second round of the Great Game. (The Great Game is what Kipling called it: in Kim it was played against the Czar.) The first round was 1959, the year Tibet fell and Nehru had to acknowledge China’s annexation of Indian territory in Kashmir’s mountainous Ladakh and in the wild, tribal northeast frontier province. Nehru had liked to dismiss the Great Game, Kipling’s old cut-and-thrust on the Roof of the World, as imperialist knavery. In 1959, India was still a spectator. Now, she must play willy-nilly. From what we have seen in Delhi, she does it with unexpected gusto: “We Pledge Our Last Drop of Blood to the Motherland”; “Mao—the New Hitler”; “Make the Chink Stink.” The newspapers and billboards blare out the slogans. Who said India was pacifist?
Bombay, November 15th.
“India’s not one nation, you know, it’s twenty. India’s like Europe. . . .” Thus do Delhi’s Old India Hands love to confound the visitor. The piece of India you know is never the real India: that is always elsewhere. A transparent ploy, perhaps, or is there truth in it?
A month or so back, it might have seemed plausible. After much dispute, India had re-divided herself into Linguistic States. The change had logic on its side. The pessimists, who argued that the old lack-logic boundaries might be safer, were overridden. An administrative unit, the old state could not be a focus of local loyalties. The new Linguistic State might become dangerously self-assertive: India would become indeed not one, but twenty nations. Panditji’s authority gone, India would disintegrate.
It was a respectable thesis. American scholars wrote books about it; Nehru himself was alarmed. Like many a doomy thesis, it was taken very seriously—more, it seems now, than it deserved. Perhaps the Chinese, too, were inclined to take it too seriously. Is it, indeed, one motive for the present aggression? If it is, they would seem to have miscalculated.
For what strikes the visitor—no matter what Old India Hands tell you—is India’s essential unity. “Go to Bombay, ask what they think about the war,” one was told in Delhi. “Go to Madras: you’ll find it very quiet down there; they’re a long way from the firing-line.” Well, we went, and it was not like that at all.
Of course, Bombay was different. Bombay is big, cosmopolitan, worldly—a relief from Delhi’s graceless, sprawling suburbanity. Bombay has modern traffic. Delhi’s thoroughfares resemble Kipling’s Grand Trunk Road, a deafening stampede of motor-rickshaws, bicycles, bullock carts. Bombay’s a great city; Delhi’s a great village.
And Bombay always was different. Where Delhi has its head in the clouds—under Panditji, as in the days of the Viceroy—Bombay is businesslike and bustling. The patriotic street-slogans are much as in Delhi, the mood different. A quip of A. D. Gorwala, a well-known Indian political commentator, catches it nicely. Just back from Delhi—it is the day the Chinese break through the front—he exclaims indignantly: “In Delhi, they only talk about ‘saving world peace.’ Fine! But I’d like to save the country, too.” True, Menon beat Kripalani in working-class North Bombay only ten months back. But business Bombay has always been an island of hard-headed common sense in Panditji’s India.
A safe rule for the visitor: In India, the fool sees two sides to every question, the wise man half-a-dozen. Consider these paradoxes: Is India a socialist country? Yes, she has a socialist Prime Minister. Which party supports Mr. Nehru? The Congress party. Who supports the Congress party? The peasantry, the lower middle class, big business. Do these support socialism? No sir.
A supplementary paradox: Has India a socialist economy? Yes, she has a Five Year Plan and almost seven per cent of her economy is nationalized. Has America a socialist economy? No, she has no Five Year Plan and a much larger percentage of her economy is nationalized.
The mistake, no doubt, is to apply a Western yardstick to so different a politics. Congress is more like the British Conservative party (or the German CDU) than any socialist party. Yet its applied socialism—its Five Year Plan, its schemes for village improvement—is more ambitious than anything European socialists hope for. Business, apparently, does not object. Why? Partly because socialism is “what Panditji wants.” Partly because India is used to state dirigisme—that is how her railways were built—from British days. Partly, too, because business is interested in the contracts Delhi is able to bestow. So India is a socialist country. The socialists, of course, are in favor. So are the intellectuals. So are the Communists. Who is against?
The answer almost seems to be: Mr. Mineo Masani. Masani is the Secretary of the newly-founded Swatrantra party. His career is interesting. In the 30’s, he was one of the leaders of the anti-Communist faction in the Congress socialist movement—at a time when other socialists like Jayaprakash Narayan were flirting with a Popular Front. Since then—his opponents would say—Masani has drifted far to the Right.
Masani himself denies this. He maintains that Swantrantra is a liberal party, though closer to the Free Democrats of Germany than to the British Liberals. He is proud of his party’s affiliation in the Liberal International. What he maintains still more strongly—and with greater justice—is that in Swatrantra he has built up the true opposition party in India.
At the last elections, Swatrantra did well. It left the socialists and the Hindu religious extremists (the Jan Sangh) far behind, and almost equalled Communist parliamentary strength. Masani, a superb organizer, had every reason to be pleased. (The efficient man stands out in India: a member of a well-known Bombay family, Masani has long been associated with Tata’s, the great industrial combine run by that most Westernized of India’s minority groups, the Parsees.) Yet we were told that, as Maharaja after Maharaja galloped home on the Swatrantra ticket, Masani turned a little sour. With the peasantry’s loyalty to their old rulers, and Tata’s money, Swatrantra had won a remarkable victory. But it was not quite the liberal triumph Masani had hoped for.
Still it was a victory. And the party had in Rajagopalachari, last Governor-General of India, an imposing national figure to lead it. “Rajaji,” as he is called, is no figurehead. At 83, he is immensely active, writing weekly editorials for Swarajya and making, even from distant Madras, his formidable presence felt in the country. His mind is still razor-sharp—he has that Hindu “cleverness” Nehru oddly lacks but which is so characteristic of men like Gandhi, Patel, and Kripalani.
When the Chinese invaded, Masani relates, Rajaji at once descended on Delhi. He confronted his central committee with that rare Indian thing: a clear alternative. “Either we admit defeat, sue for peace, acknowledge China as the superior power, and go on as before—or we build up an army, ask the West for aid, switch to a war economy, and drive the Chinese out. Which shall it be, gentlemen?” Rajaji won the day.
Naturally, government circles regard Swatrantra as “irresponsible”—which some recent right-wing criticism has certainly been. Still, Swatrantra—together with the socialists—has acted as a catalyst during the crisis; and for this India has reason to be grateful. But the pro-Westerners are often their own worst enemies. It’s not easy, of course, to know how strong anti-Western sentiment really is. Just now, the West is very popular indeed; but that could quickly change in mercurial India. Naturally, the Westerner is most at ease with a journalist like Gorwala or a politician like Masani. But aren’t these men, he can’t but think, so rational and so sophisticated, too Westernized, too rational, too little rooted ever to exercise power in India? Doesn’t Hindu India prefer her Morarji Desai, fads and all? Certainly Morarji and Masani would seem to be antithetical, almost mutually exclusive. Is it Panditji’s strength, once again, that he represents a synthesis?
Or is this to complicate matters unduly? “After Nehru—what?” the visitor asks. “After Nehru—Congress,” replies Gorwala. He may well be right. Western talk of a military takeover after Nehru is undoubtedly unjustified. On our last day in Bombay we see General Thorat, one of the generals who took his leave rather than work with Krishna Menon. About Menon, Thorat is enormously discreet, refuses to be drawn out. “Never cared for the man,” is the most he will say: the rest is Sandhurst.
It is British Sandhurst training that stands between this army and any coup d’état. The Indian army has its traditions, and revolution is not one of them. In a sense, this is what Menon and others held against it. The Indian army, taken over from the British, played a rather negative role during the struggle for Independence. (A Sikh taxi-driver gave us his opinion of the new India: “Bloody Hindu Raj.” He’d been a sergeant in the old army, seen thirty-five years’ service; his comments on the present mess were given in choice, but unprintable, British army slang.) But the new army serves its new masters as faithfully as it served the British. Congress has nothing to fear from that quarter.
There’s a rumor Thorat’s to go to Delhi with Chavan, the new Defense Minister who has replaced Menon. Chavan has been Chief Minister here in Bombay for some years; after the Menon affair, he offered Thorat a job. Chavan is forty-seven, the youngest of Congress’s Chief Ministers in the States. This evening, we are to watch him say goodbye to the State of Maharashtra on the Chaupati, Bombay’s sea-front Speaker’s Corner. It is a great occasion for Bombay; Chavan is a local boy made good. There are songs and garlands, a platform gaily festooned and decorated with that ancient Hindu symbol, the swastika. There are prayers in Sanskrit and Arabic, blessings from a rabbi, a Parsee, a Jain, an Anglican complete with dog collar and Authorized Version. Children bawl; the women offer gold and silver ornaments to Chavan for the National Defense Fund.
“After Nehru—Congress,” Gorwala had remarked. Now it is being said: “After Nehru—Chavan.” Is this likely? On the face of it, Chavan suffers from some of Morarji’s disabilities: he has never, I think, been outside India. But he lacks the faddish fanaticism of the Gandhian Old Guard. First arrested at sixteen as an anti-British terrorist, he is descended from the war-like Marathi whom it took the three long Maratha Wars to subdue. In Bombay, he has shown firmness and flexibility. In many ways the tough Tammany Hall boss, he piloted Bombay through the stormy controversies about the merit of the Linguistic State. Unlike Menon, he’ll have strong backing within the Congress party. Though he lacks Nehru’s charismatic charm, Chavan is a man of the people, of the earth. On the platform, his manner is cheery, salty, forceful. He speaks of the war effort, and conveys a determination none of Nehru’s speeches during the crisis had managed to convey. No demagogue, he can carry a crowd with ease. The relaxed, self-confident teddy-bear manner is impressive, as is the tolerant good humor. It is significant, friends remark, that Chavan makes no mention of Nehru: this is India’s war, not Nehru’s. Under Chavan, they say, India will have come of age. . . .
Are the claims pitched too high? They may be: Chavan is not one of the great charismatic leaders—so much is clear. But after Panditji—might that not be a relief? Chavan could be India’s Truman, and a Truman could be what India will need.
Calcutta, November 20th.
We’re in luck. An international flight from Bombay to Calcutta is available—all internal air services have been cancelled.
Later we learn why. The last two days have seen a disastrous collapse of the Indian front. Bombay knows what it knows from the newspapers—as yet, not much. Calcutta knows a little more. The city thrives on rumor; and the front is near enough for a fraction to be true. The hotel lobby is already crowded: these are the first refugees, English planters’ families from the tea estates of Assam. Certainly, the war is closer here than in Bombay or Delhi; but the atmosphere is equally unreal. Might the Chinese bomb Calcutta? “Very possible,” we are told. No preparations have been made.
Calcutta is a stronghold of the Communists—also of the Chinese. Belatedly and confusedly, a security drive has been launched. It is bad to have a yellow skin. Hastily, the resident Japanese paste “Japanese” on their car windows. On Chawringhee and Park Street, there is a rush to eliminate the offending “Chinese” from Chinese restaurants. The press, to its credit, protests at the hysteria. There is, after all, little in India that Mao’s men don’t know. Many of the Calcutta Chinese are refugees from his regime.
The truth is, India has no security. Her armed forces, her civil service, her police are hopelessly infiltrated: “After ten years of Hindi Chini bhai bhai,” friends ask, “what else do you expect?” Equally, India has no military intelligence: nothing was known of Chinese preparations in Tibet, nothing of the outflanking movements which—only two days back—cost India two divisions on Sela Pass in the northeast. The feeling is strong that something should be done.
But what can be done? Perhaps it’s too late; if the Chinese want Assam, it’s theirs for the taking. Nehru has appealed to Kennedy for help—for men now, not only for arms. If Assam falls, Bengal could be a second Korea—perhaps fear of that may hold back the Chinese? Otherwise, what can India do? To use its air power to block China’s communications in the Himalayan passes would provoke air attacks on Calcutta. West of Calcutta lie India’s new steel towns. Against a superior Chinese air force, it would be madness to attack. The paralysis seems total.
And the Communists? In Calcutta we have no luck: Jhoti Basu, a local Communist boss we had hoped to meet, has just been arrested. There is relief that the government has acted at last. The Calcutta Communists, we are told, have been caught distributing candy together with little maps of the Near East frontier, marked with the Chinese version of the MacMahon Line. A canard, possibly; but in chaotic, teeming Calcutta almost anything is plausible, and little can be checked. Outside our hotel, a boy sells “patent ink-remover.” He offers two brands, labeled Yuri Gagarin and U-2 Flight.
Frivolous, but tempting to see this too as just part of the Indian political comedy. The Communists are known to be strong here; strong enough, perhaps, to organize a putsch if the Chinese should advance. Our friend, Mr. Majumder, assistant editor of Calcutta’s conservative Statesman, offers a cheerful perspective. “The thing about the Communist party,” he tells us “is that it’s like most other things in India: not much good.” He proposes Majumder’s Law, affecting the relation between a given underdeveloped country and its Communist party. This runs: “A Communist party is in no case less corrupt and incompetent than the rest of a country’s other public institutions.” Majumder’s Law is intriguing, we agree. But does it apply to Chiang and Mao? Majumder admits it does not: he had been thinking of India.
Talking with Majumder is a relief, a sharp ray of cynicism in the fog of India’s drôle de guerre. If the Communists take power, after all, it won’t be by distributing candy—or ink-remover. In any case, the Party is now in some disarray. Basu and many others have been arrested as “pro-Chinese” Communists; but “pro-Russian” Communists have not been touched. To the outsider, the distinction seems quaint; but it is rigorously applied. Dange, leader of the “pro-Russian” wing of the Party, has flown to Moscow—in effect on a mission for Nehru, though this is denied. Everywhere, the “pro-Russians” clamor to join local defense committees. The government is resisting this, though with a bad conscience. “The war,” Panditji has said, “is not against Communism, it is against Chinese imperialism.” It’s clear that Nehru hopes to keep Russia’s favor by protecting the “pro-Russians.” In any case, the distinction is taken seriously—though not applied to everybody’s satisfaction. A Communist delegation has been to Panditji to complain; it appears a mistake has been made. In the town of B., the wrong Communists have been arrested. . . .
We are in Calcutta when the cease-fire is announced. What do the Chinese want? How will India take the cease-fire? The immediate reaction is ominous: the unreal tension of the past weeks being relaxed, the old complacency rears its head.
Certainly, people are more skeptical now of Chinese intentions—there will be no return to the past. But confusion has succeeded panic; new monsters of wishful thinking are in the offing. Why have the Chinese stopped? Here are some of the current explanations;
China’s forces are over-extended, a crushing Indian counter-blow was expected, so China has chosen the better part of valor . . .
China’s aggression has aroused the Kremlin’s ire, as Suez did Washington’s; for the sake of World Communism, the Kremlin has stopped China by threatening to cut off her oil . . .
China’s aggression has so damaged her prestige in the uncommitted world, and among “decent” Communists, that pressure of world opinion has made her draw back . . .
China has miscalculated. She thought India would disintegrate under the attack; in fact India is more united than before. The spectacle of India at bay has compelled the Chinese to back down.
As for the last explanation, can they really be thinking that? They can. We see a double cartoon today in the local press. On one page: Mao, a grinning urchin pulling at a sleeping tiger’s tail. Turn over: tiger awake and snarling, Mao in full flight. The tiger is meant to represent—what else?—the patriotic fury of the Great Indian Public.
Tomorrow, back to Delhi. Perhaps, in the capital, a more realistic assessment awaits us. Or will Rao, our charming and sanguine host, and always a trustworthy barometer, have recovered by now his habitual optimism?
Delhi, November 27th.
Needless to say, he has. Rao is in excellent spirits. Why? we probed. Well, Chavan is at the Defense Ministry now, and wonders may be expected. There is to be a two-million-man army, a strong air force. The people want it, and Western help will be forthcoming. In two, three years—no matter how long—India is going to be strong, and able to hit back. And the Chinese, why have they stopped? The explanations he gives are familiar: we have heard them in Calcutta.
How can Chavan do all this, without Panditji’s backing or strong popular pressure? We are skeptical. Already, Panditji is being ambiguous again about a Kashmir settlement. And public opinion? The new complacency looks like a true reflection of it. According to Kripalani, India has no such thing as public opinion, Panditji’s a tribal chieftain. Perhaps Kripalani is right; perhaps this is the secret of Panditji’s strength. A telepathic bond between tribe and chieftain.
Kingsley Martin, former editor of the New Statesman and the oldest of Old India Hands among English political journalists, is in town. I had seen him before leaving London; he had been most generous with advice. Having followed his Indian reporting for so long, I was anxious to see him in an Indian context. No other Englishman—the late Harold Laski, perhaps, excepted—has had so enormous an influence on modern India. What would Kingsley Martin’s reaction be to the new, angry mood of the Indian people, so unlike the India he had admired?
In London, he had been apprehensive. It would not be the old India. There had been no more loyal supporter of the old Indian nationalism; but jingoism was another matter. He was not looking forward to the trip. Once in India, he told us, it had been as he expected. The Indians were being chauvinistic and silly; the country was drifting to the Right. He was beginning to fear Nehru’s work might be undone.
Sitting in Delhi’s brilliant winter sunshine, we debate the point. “It’s the best weather in the world,” cries Kingsley, one arm flung sunward. One senses, in the remark and the gesture, something of his feeling for India. It is the European’s India of saints and sages: the land where the lost promises of Europe are magically fulfilled. How right that Kingsley should look sunward, where most visitors see only the surface, the confusion and the decay! What’s unique in Kingsley, and appealing, is the way he has secularized his India: the Wisdom of the East is no longer the Bhagavadgita, but the Five Year Plan—and it’s easy to forget how much the Five Year Plan, on which India’s progress hinges, owes to Kingsley Martin’s preaching.
Yet these weeks are a tragic conjunction, and he is not unaware of it. His vision—it was also Nehru’s—had presupposed an India at peace, a hortus inclusus in a world of Realpolitik and raison d’état. Suddenly, violently, there’s a gulf between that visionary India and the angry, wounded, disillusioned India of these weeks. In her fury, India is turning on those she blames for deceiving her. (The truth is, she deceived herself: seduced by a flattering role as the world’s moral arbiter.) The name of Kingsley Martin has suddenly lost its magic, his remark about Indian jingoism is deeply resented. Yet all that has happened is that India has grown up. In Kingsley’s own words, “Mao’s saddest achievement is that India is now behaving like any other nation.”
Is that quite true? Perhaps it’s too early to say. Has India discovered a new taste for the concrete and down-to-earth? The welcome given to Chavan could be a sign of it. Negatively, too, there are new signs of impatience with theory.
We meet Jayaprakash Narayan, former leader of the Socialist party, perhaps the most attractive personality in Indian politics. Jayaprakash has time for a few words before a political rally he is to address. “How would the West react, d’you think, if India recognized the Dalai Lama as the head of a Tibetan government in exile?”
An interesting idea. The move would be awkward for the Chinese, and would not make the lot of the Tibetans worse than it is. Indeed, it might make it possible for India to assist the Khampa guerillas. It would, at least, be a moral gesture to a people India has done little to help. Still, if India does not mean to liberate Tibet—and Jayaprakash does not suggest it—ought she to encourage armed resistance? Jayaprakash agrees: it’s the same dilemma the West had to face in Hungary.
Later, the rally. Jayaprakash speaks in his slow, patient, unemphatic way—like all Indian politicians, he speaks in public as though he were teaching backward children. But it is not the same Jayaprakash. He speaks of non-violence, Gandhian ahimsa. Ahimsa is not, he explains, non-resistance. Not to resist evil is itself evil. But the means—Gandhiji taught us—are all-important. Total non-violence remains the idea. Impractical? But no, if we were perfect in ahimsa, we would be irresistible. (Unkindly, an Indian friend suggests that those who preach ahimsa should go and practice it—on the northeast frontier But the implication is unfair. Jayaprakash would go.) His conclusion? We should seek, while resisting the aggressor—if necessary by violence—to put our own house in order, to redistribute the land, to build more hospitals. . . .
It is magnificent, but somehow it is not politics. One senses, too, that this is the opinion of the crowd. This is not what they have come to hear: they have heard it too often before. In the new mood, Jayaprakash’s views seem oddly irrelevant, a relic from the Gandhian past. Indian friends feel this. From now on, they say, an Indian politician who doesn’t take into account what these weeks have done to India will not be listened to.
Nehru knows this. That is why he never was in real danger during the crisis—despite what the commentators said. His sense of the people’s will is uncanny: if the people want peace, he will provide it; if the people want war, he will be their Churchill. The strains of wartime leadership may—as is being said—destroy him physically. Spiritually, he dominates India.
Early in December, we are granted an interview with him. Like all Indian politicans, Nehru is charmingly accessible. A little late, he is apologetic and offers to share our consolatory tea-and-biscuits. It is seven in the evening; Panditji is tired, disposed to chat rather than be questioned. He speaks of the Indian Communists—with a merry twinkle: “They’re in bad shape, don’t you think?” He speaks of non-violence, echoing much of what Jayaprakash is thinking, but stressing the practical aspects more, the spiritual less. It is the same with non-alignment. We sit beneath photographs of Nasser, Nkrumah, and Sukarno. “Ah, yes,” he says, “there’s non-alignment in theory. . . .But we’re not non-aligned against China, are we?” He’s evidently anxious for the West not to misunderstand. Ahimsa is an ideal; but India will defend herself, one way or the other. That is why he is bitter, as are so many, with what Kingsley Martin has written in his recent pieces for the New Statesman. “He thinks we’re jingoistic, does he? What does he expect?” The promised ten minutes stretch, orientally and imperceptibly, to forty-five. We move to go. Courteous in all things, Panditji sees us to the door and into the waiting taxi.
It is now mid-December. The Colombo Conference of neutral powers has met, and disappointed India by refusing to take sides. The Chinese are withdrawing; negotiations are hinted at, officially denied, tacitly confirmed. “My assessment? The war’s over,” declares Kripalani. Kriplanai looks to be right. China will wait till the spring; India can do nothing but accept her defeat.
Conclusions? A handful: negative and positive. Chavan and Thorat are at the Defense Ministry; that mess will be cleared up. There will be Western arms aid on a considerable scale; the old inhibitions are gone—even Panditji can’t revive them. “India has found a new unity”: that is also true—though Indians are optimistic if they think China has taken fright at the spectacle. Non-alignment now exists only “in theory.” For her defense, India must look to herself—and her friends. Independence looks to be more expensive now than it once did.
But an optimistic assessment could be badly wrong. In India, moods quickly evaporate, the “new unity” may be no more than talk.
On our last day, we hear a sad story, which we know to be true and hope to be untypical. A friend’s wife, two weeks back, asked the wives of her Delhi locality to form a first-aid group. There was general enthusiasm: the group, thirty strong, would meet at our friend’s house for its first instruction. In the meantime, the cease-fire is announced. The meeting is duly held: five volunteers appear; the group dissolves.
“Some people feel pretty happy the Chinese stopped when they did,” is our friend’s comment. “Personally, I feel they stopped too soon.”
London, New Year 1963.
A postscript. Why did the Chinese stop? If they start again, can the Indians stop them? Will India join the West? What happens when China gets the Bomb? London’s awakened to India again, suddenly, after a fifteen-year oblivion. There’s a readiness to help; but a feeling that it’s America’s baby now. For what it’s worth, I offer friends my guesses on the Sino-Soviet riddle. No, they didn’t stop because Moscow whistled them back. Yes, their communications were pretty stretched, and they didn’t want Western intervention. Can the Indians stop them? Yes, if—. Will India drop non-alignment? Yes and No. She’ll take arms from the West, but she’ll need to keep Russia sweet.
Paradoxically, then, my guess is that we’ll all get what we want in the end, if the Chinese don’t have another go. India will get her arms. The West will get a new friend. China has staked her claim, rather formidably, to be top dog in Asia (and spoiled Nehru’s reputation as the high priest of non-alignment). Russia hasn’t done as well, but she’s decided, apparently, that she’d rather see a pro-Western India than a pro-Chinese one. My estimate: India should take the hint. Indian pro-Westerners are now all eager to rush India into our embraces. I don’t agree. Russian advances to India mustn’t be spurned hastily. True, it isn’t love, but it may be something better: self-interest. Is non-alignment dead, then? Not so fast. There’s life in the old dog yet.