Free Asia's revolt against Western ways
Democracy is headed for a crisis in Asia. In Ceylon and Pakistan the crisis has begun; in India it will come when Jawaharlal Nehru disappears, and Nehru is seventy-one this year.
Communists arc not manufacturing these troubles — they may become the heirs of all Asia in the end. but if so it will be by default. In Asian democracies, communism tori appears as a Western philosophy, and what is maturing in Asia is a revolt against the West — not against Western nations but against Western thought. Western techniques, and the Western-educated minority that is Free Asia's ruling class.
In Pakistan the forms of democracy have already broken down in corruption and incompetence, and have been replaced by the mild but sterile dictatorship of General Ayub Khan. In Ceylon anti-Western feeling overthrew a corrupt but stable government four years ago. and began a period of near-chaos that culminated in a wild outburst of race riots and the murder of a prime minister.
In India the revolt is not yet clearly evident. The Westernized fraction of the population (which fiercely resents being called Westernized) remains in control of a state that is closer to Western-style democracy than any other east of Suez. But in India too there are signs that calm acceptance of Western ways will not outlast Prime Minister Nehru.
About one percent of India's four hundred million people speak English, and the proportion in Pakistan and Ceylon is about the same. They are the only channel for Western
aid and Western skills lo the Asian masses, the only voice ol Tree Asia to the world. They are also the links among cultural groups within Free Asia Urdu and Bengali. Tamil and Sinhalese. Hindi and a dozen others. Thus they hold a natural monopoly of political power.
On the balcony of a dingy little fiat in Old Delhi, looking down on a street that swarmed with sacred cows, bullock carts, peddlers and beggars. 1 listened to a remarkable Indian explain why this monopoly of power couldn't last much longer.
" There are two Indias." he said. "There is the one you visitors meet — Westernized people who call themselves Indian nationalists, but who think and dream in English. That's the India of Nehru's Congress Party, parliamentary democracy, the Indian civil service. Maybe one percent of the population, if that. CONTINUED ON PAGE 50
Free Asia's revolt against Western ways continued from page 11
The poor of Delhi: "They lived in tents of sacking; what they lived on, I couldn't make out"
“You don’t meet the others, the real India — the farmers, the people of small towns, the poor. But even you visitors know as much about the real India as the Congress wallahs and the civil servants do. There is no contact between the two
Indias, none. The real India goes its own way as it has done for so many hundreds of years.”
The man who uttered these heresies was very far from being a typical Indian. His name is N. C. Chaudhuri, and he is a
fanatical, emotional (even, his enemies say. a professional) Anglophile. Although he never saw England until he was fiftyseven, he is intellectually and spiritually an Englishman under his brown Bengali skin. If anvone can be called a minor-
Servants arc relatively rich
ity of one among four hundred million, it is N. C. Chaudhuri.
I was interviewing Chaudhuri for the CBC, and some Indian officials were annoyed that we interviewed such a man at all. Said one: “He used to be in the pay of the (British) India Office, and now he’s in the pay of the British Council." Chaudhuri himself admits that he is completely ostracized by the people of his own class, the English-educated bourgeois who run India today. But he says this ostracism, intended to cut him off from his own people, has in fact had the opposite effect. It has forced him into close touch with “the real India,” the illiterate poor.
To show us the people he was talking about he had only to point. In the park beyond the old city wall (built by Shah Jahan. who also built the Taj Mahal) laundrymen were spreading out linen to dry. Others were still washing, in the scummy ditch that was also the only sewer available to a nearby encampment of "refugees.” They are called refugees by a polite official fiction: actually they are migrant poor from the countryside who turn up in Delhi every winter, and who would probably stay where they were for another three months. They lived in tents of sacking; what they lived un, I couldn't quite make out.
Western visitors are not encouraged to meet such people. I had been out in the streets of Old Delhi with a CBC camera crew the day before, and we very nearly caused a riot. The better-dressed among the passers-by were furiously indignant at us for spreading such an impression of India abroad.
After that rather harassing afternoon. I drove our interpreter home. She is a beautiful young Sikh of good family, who lives in a modest but well-appointed flat in the outskirts of New Delhi, a city far more like Washington than it is like the old Indian capital only five or six miles away. She was rather shaken by the angry abuse she had taken for collaborating with us Westerners, but she wasn't sorry.
“It is good for people like me to go out and see how the poor of India live." she said. “We seldom meet them at all. We think of our own servants as "the poor,' though in fact of course they are relatively well oil."
But it is not only the urban poor who seem to be cut off from the Englisheducated dominant minority. The villagers who make up the vast majority of all India are equally remote. We ran across an example in the village of Kanpur, near Delhi, which was chosen by the Ford Foundation not long ago as a model village to demonstrate what could be done to improve the standard of life in rural India. The idea was to take the only power resource available to an Indian village, bullock power, and turn it to more efficient use.
The project had been tested with care. An American engineer designed a cheap, simple machine; by hitching onto it a bullock team it could pump more water in eight hours than could be raised in twenty-four by the ancient Persian wheel with its leaky leather buckets. The bullock power thus set free, harnessed to
another similar machine, could generate enough electricity to light the village benight and drive a small woodworking factory by day, thus employing two hundred jobless, landless poor. Each operation was tried in New Delhi and found to be workable.
In the village itself, though, the project roused a violent controversy between the two rival family groups that make up Kanpur. The hostile faction said "the Americans want to steal our land." Only after much bitter squabbling was the new pump installed, the houses wired for lighting, the factory erected and equipped with its little power saws. The faction of modern progress won the village election lr, live votes, and just before our visit the mayor decided to buy the new machine for permanent use.
As told by the handsome, intelligent, voluble young Indian who is the Ford Foundation's agent on the spot, the whole thing sounded like a success story, lokt bv the village mayor through an interpreter, it sounded less so. He was the leader of the progressive group in Kanpur. but he was evidently a disenchanted man.
"We were promised." he said, that Kanpur would have electric light, but the lights had worked for only a few days and then had broken down. "We were promised" the woodworking plant would employ the two hundred jobless, and it too had failed. So had a new brick plant, erected along with the other marvels and now standing cold and empty. Of all the things “we were promised,” only the water pump was actually working.
The Ford Foundation man could hardly contain his indignation during this recital. Nothing had been "promised." he explained. He had warned the villagers that the bullock-powered generator would produce only enough electricity for one small bulb in each house. I he sly villagers had bought wire and tape and extra plugs, which overloaded the trail power system and caused it to break down. An extra saw had the same eflect on the woodworking factory. Moreover, the villagers would not pool their bullocks for the public good to keep the generator running — the Ford Foundation had to hire animals for the purpose. at six or eight rupees a day.
It was obvious that the Foundation man held these bumpkins in the deepest contempt. I asked il he himself had grown up in a village, and he quickly answered no. He'd been born near Lahore in what is now Pakistan and had come as a child to Delhi. Even now he didn't live in Kanpur, but in Delhi, and drove out from town each morning.
He had only one qualification for his important job, but it was a decisive one. He could speak English.
The one percent in Free Asia who speak English include every political group that a westerner can recognize —not only the Right Wing rich but also the
I eft Wing well-to-do. The communist ex-premier of Kerala, the only communist in the world who ever won a free election (and then lost the next one), is a middle-aged man with a gentle smile and a disarming stutter, who talks exactly like a member ol the British Labor Party.
II such a man ever leads a national government in India many things will be changed, but the structure and thought behind Indian policies will still be intelligible. even familiar, to Western minds. He too is part of the English-educated minority.
So. of course, is Prime Minister Nehru himself, the idol of the Indian masses. II it be true that the Westernized minority is losing its monopoly of power, why
does Nehru's party continue to win elections? Our friend N. C. Chaudhuri had an answer:
"It is because of the figure of Nehru, nothing else. The people worship him. Not because of his ideas — they haven't the slightest notion what his ideas are. They worship him as the anointed successor of Gandhi, and Gandhi as the symbol and saint of free India. To them. Nehru is not so much a leader as a sacred image, and as long as he lives the Congress government will be secure. When Nehru goes, the Congress and the
Westernized minority will simply disappear. for it has no authority of its own. India will go back to the old Indian ways, and ignore the West altogether."
Whether this will be a true prophecy for India, we must wait and see. But it gains considerable strength from the recent experience of a neighboring Commonwealth country. Ceylon.
Nowhere in Asia, until lately, was the English-educated minority so complacent, so apparently secure as in Ceylon. Gandhi called them "black Englishmen," so faithfully did they imitate the masters
from over the sea. Independence came to Ceylon without a struggle, and the men who took over the government were the same men who had been running it under British tutelage for years.
When the "black Englishmen" went to the people in a routine election four years ago. they took it for granted they would be returned to power as usual. There had been a little trouble with Leftleaning trades unions in urban industries and on the tea estates up country, and they'd had some bitter family quarrels in their own ranks, but it never occurred
Io them or to any foreign observer that they might be defeated, in fact, they were tin ned out of office by an electoral revolt so decisive that the old ruling party retained no more than half a dozen seats.
The nature of the revolt was not apparent at once. The new prime minister, Solomon Bandaranaike. was a relative of his defeated predecessor and was himself an English-educated man. a onetime secretary of the Oxford Union. (In the election for that post he had beaten a fellow undergraduate named Malcolm Macdonald. later British High Commissioner to Canada and to India.) Also. Bandaranaike's electoral platform was an untidy conglomeration of everybody's grievances, and it thus bore some resemblance to the platform of all the I eft Wing parties in Ceylon. It was easy, therefore, to translate his victory into trite western terms as a triumph of l eft over Right.
But the force that did more than any other to put Bandaranaike in. and to put out the orthodox pro-Western government of Sir John Kotelawala. was the army of twelve thousand Buddhist monks who are custodians of the ancient tradition and culture of Ceylon, fliese yellow-robed clerics play a unique role, a combination of landlord, moneylender, soothsayer, doctor and priest. In sum they represent the old ways and the old wisdom, in opposition to the alien and the newfangled.
What happened then is complex and obscure. The terrible race riots of 1958 were an outburst not only against Europeans but against the Tamil speaking Hindu minority that came originally from South India and is an even more hated challenge to Sinhalese culture than the English-educated few. The murder of Prime Minister Bandaranaike last September was a squalid affair, more like a gangster killing than a political assassination.
But the man who shot Bandaranaike was a Buddhist monk, who was caught literally red-handed. Of the men accused as co-conspirators, one is an ayurvedic doctor, a practitioner of the old traditional medicine. And the chief, the alleged organizer of the plot, is a fat. coldeyed man who sits in the prisoner's dock still shaven-pated and still wearing the saff ron robes of his holy order. I he Crown's case is that Bandaranaike was murdered for disappointing the hopes and ambitions of the Buddhist clerics who put him into office and whose aim is to go back to the ancient ways of Ceylon.
Since then, a new election has left Ceylon without a stable government, and a run-off this month offers rather precarious hope of doing better. I he general atmosphere of chaos, of blind reaction against the twentieth century, is still present.
In Pakistan the collapse of a pseudodemocracy led to a mild and seemingly popular dictatorship, which to Westerners has a familiar and rather attractive look. President Ayub Khan is a Sandhurst man. tall and straight-backed. He speaks beautiful English in the clipped accents, and through the clipped mustache, of an old Indian army officer in the days of British rule—which of course he was.
Most of the things Ayub has done are admirable. He has cleaned up the mess of corruption into which Pakistan's socalled democracy dissolved. He and his brother officers, with the help of old-line civil servants, are beginning to bring efficiency into Pakistan's administration, f oreign diplomats admire him. especially the Indians, for Ayub has done much to thaw the cold war between Rawalpindi and New Delhi.
It's only when you turn to the positive side that doubts arise. Ayub really has
no philosophy of government. He thinks of the nation as if it were a regiment, and his system of “basic democracy," by which one “elector” is chosen for each one thousand of population and the “electors" then get special education, is a training scheme for political NCOs. Whatever may grow out of "basic democracy." it will bear no resemblance to the democracy we know in the west.
The Indian democracy, unlike the Pakistani, still functions fairly well. But what does startle the visiting westerner, especia 11 y if he has been in India before, is the second-hand evidence of corruption. nepotism, and the kind of incompetence that approaches tyranny —the second-hand evidence of the Indian press. The chronic and virulent cynicism, the daily reports of scandal in government, the innuendo and outright libel in editorials are quite shocking.
But for reasons as understandable as they are nonsensical, Indians tend to
blame their spiritual ailments on the west. We went up into the Punjab to interview Vinoba Bhave. the disciple and imitator of Mahatma Gandhi who goes about India on foot, exhorting people to give away land to the poor. Among his motley entourage I met an Englishspeaking Indian who said:
"Vinoba Bhave is leading us back to our own spiritual values, and away from the materialism that you Westerners have infected us with."
To many Europeans in India, this selfrighteous complacency is exasperating and difficult, often, to meet without a cynical reaction. India's ‘’spiritual values" don't really stand much scrutiny. Of all the horrors that strike a visitor’s eye in India, the worst is the one most seldom reported—the moral corrosion that comes of extreme poverty. Even the much publicized "land-gift movement” of Vinoba Bhave offers some ground for cynicism. The "gifts" to Bhave’s movement total millions of acres, but less than half have actually been distributed to the poor, and a large though undetermined fraction is barren and worthless land. Bhave himself is sufficiently aware of this to be sensitive about it — he won’t answer questions on the subject at all.
But the cynic does not get the whole story either. India really has "spiritual values” that the West knows not of. and the greatest of these is the ability to recognize and appreciate spiritual grandeur. In the supposedly Christian countries of the West, it is extremely doubtful if Jesus of Nazareth could win an election. Gandhi, preaching a kindred doctrine of peace and love, could carry a whole people with him. In India a Christlike way of life is still revered, even if not imitated.
Nehru himself is a rationalist and an agnostic, a Harrow and Cambridge man whose mother tongue is English and who still, they say. speaks Hindi with a foreign accent. Nevertheless he is a man of tremendous and visible spiritual force.
His cabinet ministers, able as some of them are. quite lack this special quality. They are competent but ordinary men. with ordinary European minds, and it is easy to believe that when Nehru goes, they will vanish. But India has other potential leaders who are not now holders of office, and who may inherit the true power by which Gandhi and Nehru have swayed two generations.
The most impressive man I met was not Vinoba Bhave himself (whose saintliness is so naïve and self-conscious that it strikes a Western visitor as false ) but one of Bhave’s disciples, a younger man named Jayaprakash Narayan.
Jayaprakash Narayan was once the leader of the Praja (People's) Socialist Party, which is still the main opposition (albeit a feeble one) to the ruling Congress Party. He was then a professed Marxist, though never an orthodox communist, and he is still much farther Left in his views than the average North American. He was once regarded fondly by Nehru, and widely hailed as the heir apparent to leadership in the present government of India, but that ended long ago —he is now an outspoken critic who has said, among other heresies, "At all costs Nehru must go." Several years ago he gave up party politics altogether and devoted himself to Vinoba Bhave’s “land - gift movement." and he is still resisting appeals to return to the political arena.
If Jayaprakash Narayan were directing India's destiny he would be looking inward rather than outward as Nehru has done. He would try to build a peculiarly Indian economy of small industries in small places — not the hand-spinning economy of Gandhi's dream, but not the gigantic production machine of North America and Europe. Like Nehru he has no religious orthodoxy, but like Nehru he is a kind of secular mystic, a man who finds material things unsatisfying and fundamentally trivial. To me he seems to embody all that is most attractive, most deserving of respect, in the Indian way of thought and life.
Whether his fellow countrymen will so regard him. whether they will make him the successor of Nehru as some believe, only the event can show. But one thing even the most casual visitor can predict with some assurance:
Whoever takes up the mantle that the aging Nehru must shed before long, the leader of the future will be truly Indian and not just a Westerner with a brown skin. The time of Western domination is near its end. No western leadership, however benign, will last much longer, nor any "foreign aid" that contains a hint of patronage or fatherly guidance. If an Indian democracy survives at till, it will survive in an Indian form — perhaps one that Westerners won't recognize. ★
(Some of these interviews will he broadcast on CUC program Close-Up July 7.)