AFTER Nehru, what? The question has haunted India and the world. Then the fateful day came and passed, and superficially all seems much the same. The same Congress Party, India’s overwhelmingly dominant political party, remains in power. A brief, internal struggle eliminated for the present both extreme right and extreme left. There was no political violence, only the mass hysteria, to which Indian throngs are prone, among the five hundred thousand who tried to see the scattering of Nehru’s ashes upon the waters at the confluence of the holy rivers, Ganges arid Jumna, at Allahabad.
Substantially, the same cabinet remained in office, with only horizontal shifts from post to post and with the most powerful of the ministries, Finance, remaining in the hands of Nehru’s last selection, T. T. Krishnamachari, a moderate socialist. One new cabinet face is that of Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the deceased Prime Minister’s daughter. She was often mentioned — with deep concern from the center and the right — as her father’s successor. But Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s administration assigned her at her request to the relatively impotent Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Because of technical, economic, and cultural factors, it will be decades before radio and television make any great impact on India’s 550,000 ancient, still caste-ridden villages, where 80 percent of the world’s most populous democracy lives.
The momentary elimination of the left from the Shastri government means the elimination of V. K. Krishna Menon, who resigned as Minister of Defense at the time of the Chinese invasion in the fall of 1 962.
But two facts must be remembered. First, both Nehru and Krishna Menon protested his resignation. The account which is heard widely in India is that, upon the invasion, four powerful chief ministers of Indian states demanded that Nehru ask for Krishna Menon’s resignation. The Prime Minister is said to have replied, “If he goes, I go.” Whereupon a voice in the room answered, “Very well, you go.” Such a confrontation is possible in a country which, while democratic, is nevertheless ruled by one dominant party, the Congress Party.
Second, Nehru was a somewhat oracular man, as was Mahatma Gandhi. The outstanding characteristic of Nehru’s political life, “the affection [for him] of all classes of Indian people,” as he called it, means by that very token that all leaders will claim him in the future as they have claimed Gandhi. This generality, coupled with the specific of Nehru’s known loyalty to Krishna Menon, leaves a crack in the door for the return to power of this anti-Western politician. In such an event there would surely be a more important cabinet post for Mrs. Indira Gandhi.
But whatever strength the left has inherited from the Nehru tradition, the right inherits less. The record proves the case. In the summer of 1963 the now famous Plan of Kamaraj (then Chief Minister of the powerful South Indian state of Madras) forced a major shift in the Indian cabinet, from the right of socialist center to the center or left of center.
The plan, unique in political strategy, called upon the competent and incompetent of Congress Party cabinet members and chief ministers of states to resign their posts and take the field as party workers. It was a shrewd scheme of political reprimand. The ostensible cause of the plan was the loss of some by-elections by the Congress Party candidates. But the nub of the scheme was that in the last analysis Nehru would designate those cabinet ministers who would sacrifice their posts for party work.
In the workout of the Kamaraj Plan the chief sacrifice, on Nehru’s nomination, was made by Morarji R. Desai, Minister of Finance, the most powerful post next to that of the Prime Minister. Desai was and is India’s incorrigible puritan and prohibitionist, ideologically incorruptible, courageous and inflexible. It is true that he was replaced by a longtime political enemy, T. T. Krishnamachari. But more significant, he stood, and stands, to the right of the socialist center in India. Wall Street thinks of him as favoring free enterprise. So, for whatever it is worth, one of Nehru’s most important later acts in his seventeen years as free India’s first Prime Minister was to move a little toward the right in manning the most prestigious of India’s cabinet posts.
Socialism with a difference
Actually, American preoccupation with Indian socialism and with right and left of this or that is largely misplaced. India must industrialize or continue to starve in its ancient village society. India has elected a mixed economy: part capitalism, part state enterprise. That decision will stand for a long time.
Tags inhibit thought. For many Americans, just to know that India calls itself socialist is to block any further thought. Russia also calls itself socialist — Union of Socialist Soviet Republics. Yet the distinction between these socialisms is vast: in Russia, little individualism or freedom; in India, almost unlimited individualism and freedom. In Russia, state monopoly of production and distribution of facilities and of controls; in India, a mixture of state-owned and privately owned facilities for production and a predominantly free-enterprise distribution system.
Doctrine can pursue many vagaries, but industrialization is purely quantitative. A developing society like India, or Red China, or Russia has just so many tons of steel capacity, or so much chemical fertilizer production, or this or that capacity for producing machine tools, heavy electricals, or the products of heavy engineering. India was lagging in all of these capacities at the time of freedom from Britain in 1947 and selected what Nehru called a socialistic pattern of democracy as the preferred governmental form for acceleration of industrialization.
To illustrate the problem, India has today a little more than 6 million tons of steel capacity; China has 21 million tons; Russia has upwards of 80 million tons. India began the modern phase of its long history only 17 years ago; China, only 15 years ago. China is ahead in steel; India is ahead in democracy. The cruel fact is, however, that democracy is no substitute for steel. In terms of steel India is at the mercy of China; in terms of steel all of Southeast Asia is at the mercy of China.
Whether to relieve the grinding poverty of the Indian ages, or to defend itself against the Chinese — the latest aggressor in the centuries of Indian conquerors — or, hopefully, for both reasons, India strives to industrialize — and in substantial measure by the public-sector, stateplanning route. Important government-owned plants in machine tools, heavy engineering, heavy electricals, steel, fertilizers, and other basic products have been constructed. But for the most part, production goals have not been attained, or have been reached belatedly and at excessive cost.
Labor in many cases is undisciplined. Unions are often irresponsible. It may even be said that there is no effective unionism in India because the principal national union is only an arm of the Congress Party, led not by experienced unionists but by politicians. Most plants are heavily overmanned — four, five, six to one compared with American or Western European plants. The amount of industrialization is significant, but the pace is slow. India did not reach the targets of its first and second Five-Year Plans, and will miss the third Five-Year Plan by discouraging margins.
Blochs to progress
There are four factors which have operated to deter Indian industrial progress. The first was Nehru’s own saintly unworldliness. The point can be made quickly by comparing him with Lenin. Both men were largely ignorant of the fundamentals of management and administration. In Russia, however, the records now abundantly show that within about five years Lenin saw that discipline and authority must be restored in the industrial plants. The engineers were returned to authority.
Nehru never got that point fully. While his words often seemed to say that he saw what Lenin saw, his nonaction revealed his delusion that an Indian Civil Service bureaucracy, trained to collect taxes and keep the peace in an agrarian society, could manage the plants of an industrial society.
There is a second deterrent to Indian industrial progress in the public sector — one that is inherent in the Indian parliamentary system. All public-sector industrial developments are assigned to one of the ministries. There is a Ministry of Steel and Mines; of Industry, Heavy Engineering, and Technical Development; of Petroleums and Chemicals. Since the minister in charge must come from Parliament, he will be a politician, usually not technically trained or experienced.
This defect need not be fatal, since ministers are often bright men and can learn. But they are moved from post to post, often for no discernible reason. Thus, just as a given minister is beginning to master the fundamentals of his assignment and acquire industrial sophistication, his ministry will be split up or he will be transferred to some other post. Prime Minister Shastri, in forming his cabinet, has made some of these shifts, probably for good political reasons; but the changes clearly result in wasting much hardwon administrative experience. Every such change loses months of precious time, because each new incumbent must begin by studying everything, often with a new staff.
The third deterrent to Indian economic development is an almost universal distrust of Indians by Indians. The Indian newspapers constantly carry charges of corruption, often leveled by highly placed officials at others equally highly placed. The remedies employed to prevent corruption make such a complex of checks and balances that the cure is worse than the disease. To keep the record straight and escape criticism are more important than to get on with the battle for economic growth.
Captives of the system
Finally, there is the Hindu religion, which looks to some other life for individual perfectibility; and there is also a certain Indian intellectuality in high places which confuses concept and execution, and often deems thought without action sufficient. These factors make for a system in which more attention is paid to maintenance of social justice by negative methods than to pursuit of social improvement by pragmatic action. Many Indians are aware of these deterrents to economic growth. They will complain, as Nehru often did, of the frustrations of the system, and yet too often they consider themselves helpless captives within an ideological prison.
Will Shastri — much more worldly, more practical perhaps, than Nehru — be more effective than his predecessor in breaking out of the system? It seems almost too much to expect, especially in view of the state of his health.
Nehru never succeeded in creating a secular state. He held India with her fourteen separate languages and her disparate cultures together; yet he never got the Tamil-speaking south to accept Hindi as the national language. His wishes failed to bring compliance with his directive against ritualistic rites when his ashes were strewn.
Shastri has already proved his strength by political manipulations within his party’s usual procedures. India is almost unique among developing nations in that the army shows no signs of interfering in domestic politics. The continuing Chinese threat makes for an internally cohesive force. An armed front separates Indian and Pakistani borders in Kashmir. These are powerful factors making for Indian unity.
Perhaps the greatest threat to India’s national destiny is a widespread impatience with things as they are, plus an indiscipline which will not await lawful procedures. In India the average per capita annual income is less than $75, and the whole complex of misery — poverty, disease, hunger — is not easy to bear. If a mood to take the law into their own hands should beset the disparate, communal Indian masses, then all the substantial democratic and economic progress of the past seventeen years could be of little avail. India — the only democracy among the emerging nations — is worth keeping in the free world.