"INDIA AND THE SIXTIES"
An Address by THE HON. C. S. VENKATACHAR High Commissioner for India
Thursday, January 28th, 1960
CHAIRMAN: The President, Mr. Harold R. Lawson.
MR. LAWSON: India is a land of paradox. Its hopes and fears for the future both revolve around the immensity of its population, 415 million people, more than all of South America, Africa and Australia put together.
On the one hand many of these millions are underfed, badly housed and racked by disease. They have an average life expectancy of 321/2 years. Unemployment, ignorance and superstition are rampant. The picture, in Nehru's words, is "a sluggish stream, living in the past, moving slowly through the accumulations of dead centuries." On the other hand Indian domestic airline pilots fly more than 25 million miles a year and jet fighters are being built in Indian factories by Indian workmen. Bustling factories turn out everything from locomotives to toothbrushes, from diesel engines to radio sets. The country is forging ahead in atomic energy, quadrupling its steel capacity in a few years' time, rushing to completion a vast network of irrigation canals and hydro-electric plants.
Politically India is the world's largest democracy. It is also a nation with built-in foreign problems, for the armed might of Communist China bristles at its border. Fortunately leadership is not lacking. Prime Minister Nehru is widely recognized as one of the most able and enlightened statesmen in the world and he is surrounded by a fine corps of government officials, one of whom we have the honour of receiving as our guest today.
Mr. C. S. Venkatachar joined the Indian civil service in 1923. He has filled many posts including the prime ministership of the former princely State of Jodhpur and later of Bikaner. In 1951 he became Secretary to the Ministry of States and in 1955 Secretary to the President of India. For the past two years he has been High Commissioner to Canada.
It is a pleasure to introduce the Hon. C. S. Venkatachar who will speak to us on "India and the Sixties".
MR. VENKATACHAR: It is a happy coincidence I am addressing you immediately after the tenth anniversary of the Indian Republic. Ten years is a short period in the life of a young, vibrant and ambitious Republic. But in the bewildering and breathtaking changes in Asia it undoubtedly marks a milestone in India's destiny and the profound influence that destiny may have on world problems in the coming decades.
In the last ten years India has accomplished many striking objectives. I shall not detail them. I shall say, however, something of the significance and meaning of what we have been striving for.
Indians have lived and toiled for a decade in the pursuit of peace and happiness under the aegis of their own Constitution. That in itself is a remarkable achievement, remarkable for the steadfast exhibition of their faith in constitutional democracy. It has been sustained in the face of the strident challenges of an alien system and the retreat of democracy itself in most of India's Asian neighbours, leaving behind the retreat, the by no means fragrant smell of gun powder.
In 1947, a departing British official, a good friend of mine, remarked that for two decades Indians had been taught the habit of disobedience. Now that India was independent, he hoped that Indians would learn the art of obedience to their own government. The Fifties have disproved his well-meant fears. Indians are traditionally a law abiding people, but over and above that they have learnt to obey constituted authority.
An Indian scholar has shrewdly observed that the basic problem in democracy for Afro-Asian societies is what may be called the doctrine of obedience. This may sound elementary to western ears, but it is the core of the problem for societies which till yesterday were traditional and gave obedience to a hereditary ruler or a monarch. The orders of the Emperor of China ended with the formula "tremble and obey". The people did tremble and obey. The sanction available to the monarch was absolute. In the greatest of the Hindu epics there is an interesting discussion about the duty of obedience to a king. The question was posed as to why the king should be obeyed when he had only two eyes, two arms, etc., like any other man. The answer is interesting. If there is no visible final authority in a State man will fall back to a state of anarchy which is picturesquely described as the law of the fish, that of the big fish eating the small ones.
The Indian Constitution has given a firm shape to this problem of obedience. For the first time in India's history, the Constitution established the proposition that the new Indian State is a legal association and as such an association it observes a common law and its members enjoy the rights and perform duties which are guaranteed under the law. The foundations of this association have been strengthened by respect for rule of law and the integrity and independence of the judiciary. In the sphere of law the western influence has not only survived but freedom is anchored on it.
The meaning of securing obedience through legal association, briefly stated, is this. Ancient India possessed social uniformity without political unity. There was then greater organic unity in India than in the contemporaneous western civilization. Society in India was hierarchical and was divided into small independent worlds, not necessarily cooperative but neither one dominated another.
In such a state of affairs Government was no concern of the masses of people. The greatest of India's patriots before the days of Mahatma Gandhi preached the idea that politics must be spiritualized. In those days the idea that the ordinary man had anything to do with politics was unheard of. Today politics is for the masses.
The Indian Constitution was designed with purpose for a mass society which at present is neither bourgeois nor proletarian. The Indian nationalist revolution broke down age-long barriers of tradition and custom and confronted the masses with the problem of coming to terms within the twentieth century.
The old order is not yet dead; neither has the new order fully emerged. The old order was motivated mainly by a passionate interest in religion. The object is now different. The State and its politics are orientated towards secularization. They are material and worldly: release from poverty and insecurity and admission to an equal status with the privileged classes and peoples.
India is modernizing her society far more drastically than the old colonialism ever dared to do. There are others who are doing this much more drastically than India. As the historian Christopher Dawson observes, "This tendency is most pronounced in communist states where the traditional and religious foundation of oriental culture are being destroyed as ruthlessly as the alien power of western capitalism which is much less deeply rooted."
In the fifties India made her own evaluation on the problem of modernization and reached some definite conclusions. The price which communism demands for modernizing an Asian society, as seen from the example of China, are fourfold. Firstly, certain institutions like centralized party cadres, youth organisations have to replace the crumbling traditional ones like the family, religion, etc. Secondly, the past has to be ruthlessly obliterated so as to erase our old memories and facilitate the planting of new ideas. Thirdly, a rigid doctrinal framework from which there could be no deviation acts as a strait-jacket of cultural outfit. Fourthly, all organs of society have to contribute to the accumulation of total power to the State.
As India is modernizing her society she is furnishing answers to all these. The traditional society in its passage through a transitional stage is held together and integrated by democratic processes which provide the institutional framework. Indians somehow feel confident that they can accomplish the trick of coming to terms with problems of the twentieth century through a process of synthesis of ideas in place of a rigid doctrine which communism postulates. What is, therefore, happening is the blending of the past with the present; in other words, there is going on a process of rejection, borrowing and synthesis. This may not be so apparent, when a people are in the midst of changes.
Professor Norman Brown of the University of Pennsylvania recently writing in the American journal of `Folklore' on cultural traditions in India has this to say of this daringly adventurous process of synthesis of ideas: "I cannot help feeling that India is still characteristically Indian and not anything else. Perhaps the enduring thing which has animated that civilization so long is the tolerance of the new, the unusual and the different, a capacity to reshape itself in changed conditions, a quickness of comprehension and a willingness to seek for new solutions to new problems. India can keep the old if it is useful, because she can uncomplainingly give up the old when it is no longer useful. She does not have to experience a violent conversion to get rid of her past at once and suddenly to become something different. She can instead progress by successive steps, even by steps taken in quick succession. She can always be adapting herself without experiencing feeling of guilt in doing so."
This typically Indian synthesis may well take the form of a spectrum band of ideas wide enough to accommodate what may appear to the West as many a contradictory idea. They may not appear so to the Indian mind. Once they are assimilated to the Indian thought they attain an inner meaning to the Indians. When the present inequalities are replaced by some form of political and economic egalitarianism, the future Indian society will neither be bourgeois nor proletarian in western terms. When the Indian industrial revolution is completed the social structure will be neither communistic nor capitalistic. Democracy in India will have moved away from its orthodox western counter-part. This need not cause any surprise as surely American democracy under Eisenhower is not the same as the democracy of Jefferson.
Finally, the Indian Constitution with its provisions for vigorous provincial life, autonomy, decentralization and distribution of powers is a bulwark against totalitarianism. Fortunately a void in Indian historical experience and memory is the nature of power. At no time India has had any tradition of Caesarism. On the other hand many Indian oligarchs were remarkably inefficient with little knowledge of concentration of power. The Constitution of India protects the people of India from the terrible risks and penalties of unfettered power.
Such in brief is the outline of the Indian State as it has emerged through the fifties. A western observer recently hazarded the opinion that India faces two painful alternatives when the present democratic glow fades away. Either chaos will spread or a post-Nehru authoritarian regime tackles India's basic problems without recourse to revolutionary methods. I do not wish to be a prophet of the future. India has attained such great stability that there is no question of her sliding into chaos. India may have an authoritarian version of democracy but it will not be so horrible as its label may suggest. In fact Indian democracy may be strengthened from two sources which may give it an attribute of what is loosely termed as authoritarianism.
The first of it is the strengthening of the executive authority of the Government. Let us recall that India emerged into independence through an Administrative State which was authoritarian and bureaucratic with no claims to parliamentary government as its handiwork. When the character of that State changed it had inevitably to expose the surface area which it had covered so long. The Congress Party threw a democratic mantel over it.
It is possible that two developments may take place. India will assuredly move away from the old-fashioned seventeenth-century Whig doctrine of the omnipotence of the legislative state of England of which Blackstone spoke as being `supreme, irresistible, absolute and uncontrolled authority'. In Indian history Parliament has had no significance at all and the national struggle was extra-parliamentary. Indian democracy will have to seek a balance between the executive and legislative authority. In doing so it will have to shed another Whig heresy that legislative power is essentially popular and executive power is not. The Whigs conveniently associated legislative power with their own supremacy and wrongly thought that executive power was monarchical. It is curious that this Whig distortion spread to America and found a lodgement in Indian legal mind which heavily contributed to the drafting of the Indian Constitution.
In an underdeveloped economy a democratic State has survival value when it functions as an Administrative State in the sense that under democratic processes it is a service rendering agency. So it must be reasonably efficient, moderately intelligent, free from corruption and possess a sense of purpose. In the present Asian world when freedom even in a democracy must yield to efficiency, regard must be paid to the fact that administration is no longer the task for an intelligent amateur. This is not to suggest, however, that bureaucrats and technologists should rule. That is impossible. The Minister will be less and less an old-fashioned party politician and more and more a knowledgeable and competent administrator.
The other tendency towards authoritarianism is the existence of a single ruling party. In India at present there is virtually a one-party rule, opposition being feeble if not nonexistent. For some time at any rate a powerful opposition cannot be artificially foisted, not even hired. Even on a long-term consideration it is doubtful whether a genuine two-party system of the western pattern will evolve in Asian and African societies. Therefore, a single-party rule must be appraised from a straight political criterion and not confused by reference to political ideologies or theories.
The criterion is this: Does a single party dominate all the institutions, political and economic, is it run without any internal democratic checks and does it hold in its firm grip the movement, behaviour and way of life of its members? If it does not and it obeys the checks and balances of the legal and constitutional organs of Government, then the party is not infused with a totalitarian spirit. In this sense the Congress Party in India has worked for progress of democracy during the last decade.
An attempt to equate the single-party system in the newly emergent nations of Asia with the single-party system of the communistic society is based on the worries of the West itself being a relic of imperialist feeling that a single-party system will subvert the inexperienced and weak democracies. You must credit the Asian societies with some shrewdness to reach their own conclusions. How far this fear is valid I cannot say. But there is something to be said in favour of the view put forward in the September 1959 issue of the Round Table, an English quarterly devoted to Commonwealth affairs. "The more successfully free Asian countries imitate Communist institutions they happen to admire, the more secure they are against Communism; for they just prove the party to be unnecessary. If, on the other hand, that imitation is a failure, most of their citizens will conclude that communism is a bad thing."
Neither the strengthening of the executive authority of the State nor the continuance of the single party system will make the Indian democracy totalitarian. Its democratic character rests on principles, which are essential for permanency and universality of democracy. In substance they are control of political power by the people and their representation, popular participation in decision making and in matters social, and control of economic power leading to social justice. These principles in association with respect for law and order, regard for individual freedom and periodical renewal of the mandate to rule through fair and free elections, are adequate to distinguish India's democracy in the sixties from the parliamentary democracy of the West and communist patterns of government.
Democracy is in fact subordinated to the main problem of modernization, that of bringing about rapid economic changes. In the days of her nationalism India decided she will never go wholly West. After independence India has decided she is not going to remain wholly oriental. In economic matters India has taken a similar firm decision. She will not bring about the industrial revolution by suppressing freedom. She is determined to modernize herself but not at the cost of destroying the foundations of her culture and civilization.
Indian instincts have been justified by recent events. We have been witnessing an aggressiveness and a strange paranoia in China while bringing about changes by turning the country upside down. Undoubtedly doubt has been raised whether it is possible to bring about an industrial revolution through democratic methods in an underdeveloped economy which is also faced with the problem of the so-called explosive population increase. Despite this misgiving India will persist in her endeavours and the sixties will be crucial for the economic transformation of her society.
India has endeavoured to help herself before she has called upon others to assist her. The things she has accomplished in the last decade may not be massive but they are not unsubstantial. On the crucial issue of domestic saving India could only mobilise eight per cent of her national income whereas Chinese savings have never been less than twenty per cent. In the first five year plan 6.5 billion dollars were invested and the second five year plan is in the order of 13 billion. During this period India has received aids and loans from friendly countries to the extent of 2 billion dollars. It cannot be said that India has not relied on herself in a major part of her effort. The size of the third Plan is under discussion. Tentatively, a sum in the neighbourhood of about 20 billion dollars has been suggested of which the foreign exchange component may not be more than 5 or 6 billion dollars. Even for a modest increase in the national income of 5 per cent India had to gamble on two things--large scale loans from capital rich countries and deficit financing. It is clear from all this that India cannot accomplish her economic growth without aid. The bare fact is that she cannot do it alone.
The economists' prescriptions for undeveloped economies are now familiar enough. For economic growth and the so-called take-off, it is necessary to raise the rate of investment and the stock of capital per head. With a capital output ratio of about 3 to 1, a society that invests more than 10 per cent of its national income will outstrip any likely population growth and a regular increase in output can be assured. This is the formula. A specific prescription for India is that the annual rate of expansion in national income must be of the order of 6 per cent. Of this 2 per cent is for the growth of population, 2 per cent for raising living standards and 2 per cent for further investment. By 1966 the national income will have to rise by 13 per cent and so on.
The Indian effort typifies the central theme of challenge in the economy of the underdeveloped peoples. The challenge is one of organizing economic growth without suppressing the possibility of political freedom during the period of "take-off". That is why the problem of aid of underdeveloped and poorer countries opens up a new chapter in international relations. The various aid programme efforts of the fifties will assume greater coherence and will lift the problem of aid out of the present ruts into a wider horizon. Three issues are becoming clearer. Firstly, who are the rich who are expected to give; secondly, what they have to give and thirdly, the spirit of giving. The richer people in the world today are the United States and Canada, the white members of the Commonwealth, most of Western Europe and the United Kingdom. Then there is the U.S.S.R. As to what to give, they, in the order of descending importance, are: firstly, machinery and capital; secondly, scientific knowledge, training of scientists and technical know-how and lastly, food as an aid to the extent of assisting capital formation. Aid is no longer a charity to backward and less advanced people nor is it merely a matter of altruism, a contribution from affluent societies of the West to the needy poor of the East. The size of the aid and the method of rendering aid is important but far more important is the realization of what is at stake for the West itself.
On the need for such realization, it is appropriate to hear the authentic voice of an authority from the West. Barbara Ward writing in the New York Times of December 27, 1959, has clearly stated the nature of the stake:
"We have only two choices. We can follow the fatal road of other wealthy elites, like the pampered Court of Cnossos or the French nobility at Versailles, or we can use our wealth to redeem the promise of our free society.... The Sixties will compel us the taking of this decision. On it, in great measure, our future in freedom depends."
All this leads to the lesson of interdependence which the rich and poor nations alike have to learn. Isolation in any sense may well be out by the end of the Sixties. This should give us heart to go ahead with confidence.
Significantly enough, India's first entry into international relations after she attained independence was in the field of interdependence. It is good that India's foreign policy has been subjected to criticism both at home and abroad. Ideas when hammered gain malleability, acquire resilience and cease to be some kind of exotic rigid doctrine.
Mr. Nehru's breadth of vision helped the transformation of the old British Commonwealth into the new Commonwealth of multi-lingual, multi-racial sovereign nations. Mr. Nehru has never been a narrow-minded nationalist. His great humanism transcends national boundaries. He saw earlier than most of his countrymen that an independent India had to live in peace in an interdependent world. Free from any trace of xenophobia, he saw much more clearly than any other statesman that the West was confronted with the dilemma of the emergent nations of Asia and Africa. He could have withheld his cooperation but that is not his philosophy of life. He saw ahead of his countrymen that the Commonwealth was based on equality in interdependence. The Commonwealth may go on defying its own description. Its strength may well lay in the common pursuit of the ideal of equality in interdependence which inspires and animates the members of this unique association.
Mr. Nehru also saw with remarkable insight and prescience that the bipolarized world of power was a distorted image. Nuclear power had brought about a stalemated world. Force as an instrument of war and foreign policy had become immobilized.
Co-existence is another aspect of interdependence. You cannot go on altering the balance of everything, because you do not like it. You have to take things as they are and make the best use of them. Whether communism is good or bad we have to accept the fact that it has come to stay and we have to live alongside communism. You cannot ignore China because it is a communist country. Western Christendom had to co-exist with Islam for eight centuries.
Another source of imbalance is the standard of living. Just as in national societies we cannot have the privileged few and the vast masses of disinherited many, so too amongst nations there cannot be for all time a few rich and affluent nations and the rest permanently condemned behind the barrier of poverty. The wars of the twentieth century have demonstrated clearly that without balanced development nations acquire special hungers which can only be satisfied at the expense of others.
In this connection I am reminded of the words of an Englishman written forty years ago at the end of the first World War: "Do you realize that we have now made a circuit and that every system is now a closed system and that you can now alter nothing without altering the balance of everything and that there are no more desert shores on which jetsam of incomplete thought can rest undisturbed? Let us attempt logical and symmetric thought but practical cautious action because we have to deal with the mighty-going concern. If you stop it or even slow down its running it will punish you relentlessly. If you let it run without guidance it will take you over the cataract again. You cannot guide by setting up more fences, because this going concern consists of hundreds of millions of human beings who are desirous of pursuing happiness and they will swarm over your fences like an army of ants. You can only guide humanity by the attraction of ideals."
There are, it seems, two ideals for guidance. One is to learn the lesson of interdependence and through that lesson secure a balanced world. Then the world will be happy because it is balanced and free. The old political balance in the world was centred in Western Europe. It was supported by Britain's power which had enveloped seven-eighths of the world. It was sustained by the inertia of the non-European world. Once these sleeping dragons were roused and millions of people woke up from their sleep and resumed their march, the old balance was irretrievably destroyed.
Neither can civilization survive, in the words of the late Harold Innis of the University of Toronto, a dumb-bell arrangement with its energies drawn to two centres of power nor an arrangement dominated by one or other power group. The West everywhere confronts the new frontierless areas of misery and poverty of Asia and Africa. Our minds have to revolve round new concepts of geographical regions based on political and economic considerations but all linked together for the purpose of organization for peace and prosperity.
Archimedes said he could lift the world if he could find a fulcrum on which to rest its lever. All the world cannot be lifted back to prosperity at once. The first enterprise undertaken in economic rebuilding after the Second World War,
the Marshall Plan, restored prosperity to Western Europe. This first case of lifting towards economic prosperity cannot end there. The North American continent and Western Europe is obviously the fulcrum for lifting the underdeveloped world into prosperity. But that opportunity may not remain open for ever. If it is now made use of then the ordering of the underdeveloped world outside Europe and North America may be relatively easy. Herein lies the importance of helping India in her determined adventure of building for a 400 millon a new way of life, neither quite eastern nor quite western.
In the specious days of Imperialism, Curzon described India as a fortress, with a vast moat of the sea on two of her faces and with mountains for her wall on the remainder. All that conception of Imperial defence has gone. The fortress has been breached by revolutionary changes in Asia. But in the strategy for securing peace, happiness and a balanced world India still continues to occupy her pivotal position in the great arc of the underdeveloped areas of the world.
So we conclude with this lesson for the world in the Sixties: in politics equality in inter-dependence; in economics, fraternity of the interdependence between the rich and the poor nations.
THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Rev. Reginald M. Bennett.