An Address by GEORGE V. FERGUSON, B.A. (Oxon). Editor-in-Chief, Montreal "Star"
Thursday, November 23, 1950
CHAIRMAN: The President, Mr. Sydney Hermant.
MR. HERMANT: Members and Guests of The Empire Club of Canada: We are to hear an Address today by Mr. George V. Ferguson, Editor-in-Chief of the Montreal Daily Star which, according to its letterhead, is Canada's Greatest Newspaper. Mr. Ferguson was born in Scotland moving out to the Province of Alberta at an early age. He attended the University of Alberta where he won a Rhodes Scholarship and proceeded to Oxford University to obtain his Bachelor of Arts Degree. He interrupted his studies at Oxford during the First War to serve with the First Canadian Mounted Rifles. In 1925 he returned to Canada to join the staff of the Winnipeg Free Press. And from 1934 to 1946 he was Managing Editor of that great Liberal newspaper. From 1946 until the present time he has been Editor-in-Chief of the Montreal Daily Star. Mr. Ferguson was a delegate to the Institute of Pacific Relations Conference just concluded at Lucknow, India, and he is going to speak to us on the subject: "India Today".
MR. FERGUSON: It is permissible, so the experts say, to talk about India only if you have been there for ten years--or ten days. My own experience falls into the latter category and I confess to a strong sense of apprehension that the experts are at least half wrong. Ten days seem hardly enough, particularly as I noted during those ten days--wait, let me do myself full justice, it was 14 days--that some of my fellow experts in the ten-day field were getting impressions and ideas quite different from those I was getting. We all felt, I think, very like a group of blind men and the elephant, each one describing the elephant only in terms of whether he was touching its tusk, trunk or tail.
Be that as it may, however, I will tell you briefly what my ten-day credentials are. Most of my time was spent at Lucknow at a purely unofficial conference attended by men and women from all over the Pacific area. The rest of it, was spent in the capital, New Delhi, talking endlessly to cabinet ministers, government servants and newspapermen, together with a bit of informal cruising about with a single companion, talking to anyone who would talk to us. And because the Indian is an infinitely patient and courteous person, this added up to quite a number. I have, in a long life of confusion, never been quite so confused before; and never before quite so appalled by the exigencies of a profession which demands that, as soon as one sets foot in a new country, one begins to write about it.
What makes it possible to do so much in so few days is, of course, largely due to the prior existence of British rule. English is still, and for some years yet, will remain the lingua franca of India. This will not always be so, for in 15 years or so the official language becomes Hindi, whose script is unintelligible to western eyes. But today every public man, every public official, is bi-lingual; and the English-speaking visitor profits thereby. In addition it is a fact that the British are still heartily and warmly welcome in India; and this applies perhaps with even greater force to citizens, like ourselves, of Commonwealth countries. One would have thought that the British would remain the symbol of India's ancient conquest. Hardly a man in India's public life but has spent some years in jail, put there by the British, and, at one newspaper party I attended, one editor I was talking to almost apologized for not having been in prison. All the other guests had been there, but he had been ordered to stay out and keep the paper running, and he felt as if he had been cheated out of the Military Cross.
But today in India the British are looked on as old and trusted friends who understand the people and their ways, and there is an astonishing lack of any tradition of bitterness. This is partly because India is full of praise for the clean-cut and complete manner in which the British finally laid down the reins of power and got out. It is partly--and this is less flattering--because in the world of today India believes the British no longer capable of exercising imperialistic sway. The deep-seated fears and suspicions of India on the subject of imperialism are now heaped, not on the British, but on American shoulders. I will talk more about that later on.
Meanwhile the new India has wiped out all the old social discriminations which its conquerors traditionally imposed upon them, and has not replaced them with new discriminations of their own. There is no xenophobia, and this, it seems to me, is one of the valuable elements in the Indian tradition, the fruit of their age-old devotion to Hinduism. That religion has done much which retards the prospect of rapid material progress in India, but it is, of all the world's great religions, the most completely tolerant. It has it militant sects, to be sure. But the Hindu has a deep respect for fundamental individualist values. It is true that he respects even the snake that bites him to death, but he respects also his fellowmen and assumes both political and social obligations toward them. They may not be democrats in the full sense of that word. But if democracy is based upon human values, if it sets the state in subordination to the individual, it meets, in those respects, the mind and spirit of the Hindu.
Politically the India of 1950 is the creation of western political thinking and jurisprudence; and this is, I believe, the aspect of British rule in which Britain can take most permanent pride. The record is not all good. There are black spots in it but Britain has left a permanent mark for good upon its one-time possession. In the first place, they were India's first conquerors to unify the country completely, thus making for the first time possible the dream of Indian thinkers for the last three thousand years. In the next place, the British created in India, again for the first time in its history, the reign of law and equality before it. Next it opened to Indian minds, again for the first time, the whole literature of political freedom. Thomas Babington Macaulay's memorandum of education was in some respects ill-adapted to India needs. But its typically western insistence upon freedom opened the doors which in due course made India's own demands for independence inevitable. Lastly, it was British scholars who re-awakened among the Indians themselves interest and research into the treasures of Hindu art and culture; and thus helped to re-awaken a sense of pride and glory among a race which has been long in political servitude.
When you go to India today you find nothing more glorious to look at than the great palaces and mosques built by the Moghul emperors like Akbar the Great and the Shah Jihan, both themselves conquerors of India. But the legacies left to India by the British are more enduring. Their physical memorials are utilitarian. The railway network is theirs the dams and irrigation canals. These, even by moonlight, do not surpass the Taj Mahal. But literacy, political freedom and the art of government are not a heritage to be despised, and these were the things left behind by Britain when they went away. They perhaps help to explain the lack of bitterness among the Indians who now rule themselves.
In 1947, when independence came, there was in India a general feeling that the main battles had been won. There was exhilaration and joy everywhere in the land. What was for the moment forgotten was that the immemorial problems of India still remained to be faced. Today, after three years of it, the mood is one of deadly seriousness and fatigue. Freedom of itself did not bring bread. The food production of India today is no greater than it was in 1938, yet there are 15,000,000 more mouths to feed: and today 130,000,000 men and women are on a daily 12 oz. ration of food--l2 ounces, 1,500 calories, a diet, that is to say, of bare subsistence, below which actual starvation sets in. This has not been the Indian fault. The life-giving monsoons have been poor. But it is natural that many Indians should be asking their government where the bright promises of freedom have vanished to. This, then, is the basic, age-old problem of India asserting itself--that of hunger.
It is, of course, vastly complicated by the communal dispute between Hindu and Muslim. Part of the price paid for freedom was partition, partition of a sub-continent which had only been completely unified a century or so before. Now, here in Canada, we know a good deal about economic consequences of the division of a continent. A good deal of our history and that of the United States has revolved around the problem of how best to develop the resources of a continent which has been split in half by politics. The relations between India and Pakistan, unhappily, have yet to develop any major plan of cooperation. Four major disputes bedevil the sub-continent. What gives ground for hope is the amazing fact that the disputes have already cost something like a million lives in bitter and terrible border massacres, yet war has not broken out. I know no other part of the world that has endured such a test without the creation of eternal wars and bitterness. Yet both parties to these disputes, the leaders of India and Pakistan, are obviously prepared to continue the search for a settlement; and, indeed, when the massacres themselves were at their height, the premiers of both Pakistan and India toured the blood-stained areas together and implored their peoples to stop the slaughter.
Meanwhile, so far as India is concerned, it is spending more on defence than was spent by a united India before the war--between 40 and 50 per cent of its total budget--and this goes some way to explain the reluctance of Prime Minister Nehru to accept more external commitments than he already has on his hands now. It is, however, a lamentable thing to see these two young countries, artificially divided, in so great a state of deadlock. The great jute trade, the greatest single earner of dollars between Karachi and Tokyo, is at a standstill. Vital irrigation projects are halted because the rivers, rising in Kashmir, flow through one or other of the countries on their way to the sea, and neither India nor Pakistan trusts the other any more than Canada trusted Chicago when that great city's drainage canal was lowering the levels of the Great Lakes. Both countries, because of partial economic paralysis and because of their defence programmes are drawing heavily on the big sterling balances they accumulated in London during the war, not for invaluable and necessary capital expenditures but for current expenses, and for the resettlement of ten million miserable refugees driven from their homes when Muslim and Hindu were at each other's throats.
This is the black side of the picture. There are other, better and more cheerful aspects of it. The foreign delegates who went to the Lucknow conference all had one question in the front of their minds, as there is only one big question in ours. "The cold war is under way. Whose side are you on?" The answer given by India was complex, for it is not a simple country with simple answers. India, for instance, has a great, though very objective admiration for the achievements of the Soviet Union. It is indeed, as one Indian delegate remarked, the last stronghold of "The Soviet Myth". The Indians regard Russia as a poor country, like India, as opposed to what seems like the incredible wealth of North America and western Europe. The Soviet Union represents to Indian eyes a nation which, by its own unaided efforts, pulled itself out of abject poverty and is on its way to higher standards of living. So far as I could tell, the Indians were not particularly interested in socialization as a theory. Nor were they particularly attracted to capitalism as a system. They identify capitalism with black marketeers and speculators rather than with the creative, entrepreneurial types with which we are so familiar.
But for Communism and for Communists they have no use at all, and this for a reason peculiar and distinctive to India itself. Some 15 years ago the Communist party was strong and well-organized, and making some progress in the conversion of the urban workers. But the year 1942 was its Waterloo. In those days in India no political party had a present or future unless it was playing its full share in the great nationalist movement for political freedom. This, the Communist party took full advantage of. But in 1942 Gandhi realized that, politically the time had come to press home the drive for liberty. With Japan at India's eastern gateway, he issued his Quit India manifesto, and like one man every political party in India followed him, all that is, save one, for the Communists, obedient to the Moscow party line, declared the war to be a people's war and that all else must be set to one side. In no time at all the Communists lost whatever prestige they had won. They were revealed as stooges of a foreign power and the Indian people deserted them en masse. Ironically enough, the British, in this situation, actively supported the Communists and provided them with buildings, printing machinery and funds. This had the effect of branding the Indian Communists as the agents of the historic and greatly feared foreign imperialism. The net result--a curious, delayed dividend for the western world--is that the Communists have lost whatever influence they had, and special legislation, known as the Preventive Legislation Act, rigorously applied makes it certain that few Communist leaders ever see the outside of a prison.
India is very likely to develop powerful, left-wing movements but, so long as the memory of the fight for freedom lasts, it is highly unlikely that Communism on the Moscow plan will make much headway. This, in terms of present-day Asia, is a fact of the utmost importance.
Why then, you may ask, does Indian foreign policy appear to falter when faced by the issues of the Cold War as we know it? Again the answers are not simple. The first is that India is only now, for the first time, getting a taste of the aggressive, expansionist side of internationalism communism. That is in Tibet. The crisis arose after I had left the country, but, while I was there, newspaper reports of Indian-Tibetan negotiations gave me a feeling that something odd was brewing. I made inquiries, and got laughed at for my pains. The questions, however, in the light of what has happened since, were sensible enough: but India is curiously insulated from the rest of the world. Its rich plains, great rivers and lovely hills are cut off by the Himalayan range from the rest of Asia. Though all her conquerors, with the single exception of the British, have entered India through those mountain ranges, they have come only at intervals of hundreds of years, and the Indians forget. They are more prone than most folk to say firmly, "It can't happen here". They are, that is to say, by nature supreme isolationists and, here on this continent, isolationism is something we all understand even if we do not sympathize with it.
To this powerful, native, geographical isolationism must now be added another powerful element. It is India's urgent and terrible need to be left alone to work out some of the tremendous projects they believed would be possible once they were on their own. They believed--all of them--that independence would bring them the chance to raise their miserable standards of living. They now find themselves in a distracted post-war world where peoples everywhere are being driven to arm themselves in self-defence. They know that, for India to join one or other of the two big power blocs spells the end of their plans for domestic self-improvement. It is natural, even if it is both short-sighted and illogical, for them to try to stand aloof; and, even if their leaders recognized the dangers more clearly than I think they do, they would run into an uncomprehending public opinion which would be deeply reluctant to make a move.
To make matters more difficult still, they see in the Americans, the re-incarnation of all they used to fear in the British. They believe, as I mentioned earlier, that they need no longer fear British imperialism. But they have shifted their suspicions now to the richer and more numerous Americans. Let me list to you some of the fears which were given expression at the Lucknow conference:
Was Korea a fight for the principle of collective security, or must Korea be added to the growing list of American military outposts in the Pacific?
Is American security synonymous with American imperialism? Has Asia been chosen as America's battleground against Russia because of America's European allies' reluctance to fight?
Is not the Marshall Plan merely a weapon to force Europe to trade with America and thus deprive Asia of the goods it needs?
Why was Asia chosen as the testing ground for the atom bomb? Hiroshima is proof that America has no respect for Asiatic life.
Why does not America offer loans without attaching political conditions to them? Dollar imperialism is as bad as any other kind of imperialism.
What sinister motive lay behind the quick and decisive action of the United Nations against the North Korean aggression when the United Nations refused to brand Pakistan as an aggressor in Kashmir?
The offer of American help in Asia is predicated upon the acceptance by Asia of private enterprise.
The climax was reached when one critic, after denouncing the arrival of American troops in Korea, pointed out that the North Korean aggression would never have taken place had not the United States withdrawn its occupation force.
And so on, and so on. Arguing with this particular brand of Indian at Lucknow was like nothing so much as trying to argue collective security with Le Devoir in Montreal. The man who wants to be left alone can find a thousand bad reasons to back up his position. None of them mean very much. All they do mean is that he wants to be left alone, and you knew that before you started the argument.
But, out of the confusion of controversy and argument, there emerged for me one or two very definite conclusions. The first of these was that an India which three years ago denied that it needed foreign economic aid, and did not want it, now knows--that is, the thinking part of India--that foreign capital is essential to it. Another conclusion is that the Hindu shrinks violently away from the ruthlessness of Communism, and that his principal leaders, above all Prime Minister Nehru, are men who, faced with alternatives neither of which they like, are bound to come down on our side. There is far more in common between the politics and policies of India and the West than there is between India and the Soviet Union, and this fact is now being driven home to India by the obvious tactics of China in Tibet and Korea. If India felt insulated three weeks ago from the chilly winds of conflicting ideologies and rival power blocs, it is certain that her assurance today is far weaker than it was. Official circles in New Delhi are not wholly without the traditional fears of external and imperialist pressures, the legacy of its long years of subordination. But the extremities and illogicalities of the fears I heard expressed in Lucknow are no part of official thinking. The basic forces now in play in India are all working to bring it finally within the circle of the really free and peace-loving world.
If India does not get foreign aid; or, if it gets it, and does not apply it wisely, we increase the chances of disintegration of a state only now beginning to find its feet. It is therefore for the West to decide whether it will extend that aid or not. To my way of thinking, the risks involved in giving help are far greater than those involved in withholding it, particularly if the programme is designed to meet as quickly as possible the critical needs of the India of today. What that involves is a programme which will meet the major problem of hunger, the problem I mentioned earlier in this talk. It should not be hard to increase substantially the food production of the country as a whole. When you see India, you are astonished by the amount of apparently unused land. The astonishment is based very largely on ignorance. The likelihood is that if land is not being tilled in India, it is not worth the tilling. There is not much scientific knowledge of India's soils, but its peasants have been working it for many centuries; and the judgments of science very often accord with the judgments of usage, just as grandmother's remedies often prove that the old lady's knowledge of vitamins and minerals is equal to that possessed by the modern nutrition laboratory.
But what every Indian knows is the value of water, and India's irrigation system is very far indeed from making use of all the water available. Every Indian knows too that the soil is rich and that it could be made to yield more if better tools were employed. By this I don't mean tractors, or collectivized farming. The peasant's ignorance precludes the use of the first and its social system precludes the use of the latter. Both may come later, but what is needed now is an emergency programme that will put food in people's mouths next year or the year after. A steel plough would be better than the present wooden ploughs that scratch only the surface. And better stock could haul the deeper ploughing tool. A scientific Indian farmer, with capital at his disposal but no machinery, told me that he had increased the yield of his acres by 500 per cent. Even a ten or fifteen per cent increase would banish the spectre that hangs over the India of today. This could be at least part of a programme the need for which is as great as anything in the world. As to the rest, the field of development is almost unlimited. India today stands, in the development of its resources, just about where Russia stood on the eve of its revolution. The not inconsiderable achievements of that country are possible for India, too, but it would be nothing but good sense for the western lands to help her.
This is not, I think, a point of view that has much support in this country. We are absorbed in our own problems, and our attention nowadays is concentrated upon issues which themselves are concentrated upon the thrust of Communism westward through Europe. Because of that we grow easily impatient of people who do not in every respect see eye to eye with us on that. India, moreover, seems very far away,--a fact which we take in our stride, forgetting perhaps that this should make us understand in turn that, to Indians, it is Canada which seems very far away. Yet this absorption in our selves and in our most immediate and narrow interests is not a policy which has ever paid Canada well. Whatever greatness we possess, and whatever respect we have won has come through exercise of our imagination and vision. This has been shown a score of times in our history, from the farsighted action of the Fathers of Confederation eighty years ago to the many risks we have run, both at home and overseas, to develop our resources and, with them, our character. The biggest lesson we have learned is that we can never stand alone, and that we must at all times so act that we gather friends to our side, whom we will help and who, in turn will give us vital help when we need it most.
With some deliberation I have tried to tell you as much as I could discover of India's present weaknesses and of what seem to me to be certain flaws in her approach to the problems of international co-operation. You may agree with some of my American friends at Lucknow, after they had listened to those criticisms which I have outlined to you today, that the West, so far as India is concerned, is damned if it doesn't, and damned if it does, give aid. It is my belief, however, that the risks involved in a plan of economic aid for India and its neighbours are no greater than the risks involved in the far-sighted and beneficent Marshall Plan for Europe. If that plan has paid off, a plan for Asia will pay off likewise.
A programme for aid has been drawn up. It was devised at a meeting in London, held in the last week of September, and it involves a total expenditure of some $3 billions, spread over six years. Though it is based to a certain extent on American dollars, the major contributions are to come from Commonwealth countries. The approach is a deft one, for the. Commonwealth represents an international basis for aid which, to a large extent, overcomes the more irrational fears entertained by both India and Pakistan of the possible effects of Dollar Imperialism.
The plan, moreover, represents a continuation, in a new form, of the substantial help which Britain, all through its darkest postwar years, has been extending to the Dominions of Asia. Britain has received substantial dollar aid through the Marshall Plan. At the same time, Britain has been releasing to India, Pakistan and Ceylon, large sums from its sterling balances which, on a strict and narrow basis of British interests, could have been withheld. The Commonwealth basis of the new plan means that the beneficiaries themselves would police the grants made. The argument that it means a re-assertion of British or a new pressure of imperialism from America therefore falls to the ground.
But this background of Indian fears means that, for real political success, Australian, New Zealand and Canadian participation--above all Canadian, because of our position in the dollar bloc--is essential.
Canada hitherto has not been backward in its recognition of the long-range moral responsibilities involved in the formulation of its external policies. The grant of a credit of $1,250,000,000 to the United Kingdom when the war came to an end is proof of that. The time has came when the extension of further grants, this time to India and its Asiatic neighbours, would be a similar act of far-sighted statesmanship. The scale of the credits would not be so great as those given to Britain, but they would be invaluable in the unfolding of a long-range world programme.
We have a responsibility here that we cannot ignore. It will complicate the problems of our Minister of Finance. It is possible that the addition of such credits will increase to some slight extent the commitments, if not the immediate payments, of our taxpayers. But I know nothing which will pay us better--again in the long run--than to help a nation now standing on the edge of starvation to a position in which it will ultimately become a bulwark in Asia against the tide of Communist, imperialist aggression.
VOTE OF THANKS, moved by the Rt. Hon. Arthur Meighan.