Not Just Another Recession
Why the Global Economy May Never Be the Same
THE lovely island of Ceylon, which had been a British Crown Colony since 1798, could have become completely independent in 1948 if its political class had so decided. In the vast, comprehensive arrangements which followed quickly upon the mission of Lord Mountbatten to India in the spring of 1947, the whole of the nineteenth century Indian Empire was liquidated. Burma, or the Burmese nationalists who spoke for Burma, decided upon complete independence. India herself, like the truncated Moslem state of Pakistan, left the ultimate decision for a future date, and has in 1949 formulated a new concept, that of an independent Republic as a free member of the British Commonwealth. Ceylon alone, of these once imperial territories, has firmly chosen Dominion status and apparently intends to remain there.
The reasons, psychologically speaking, seem to me more interesting than any statistical analysis could show. It would be quite easy to demonstrate that Ceylon's wealth derives largely from tea and rubber and that these great plantations are to a considerable extent under British control, depending upon British banking and shipping for their effective exploitation. It is also demonstrable that the racial and religious heterogeneity in Ceylon is such that the Sinhalese governing groups feel safer with British support. But behind and above such reasons there is one other which comes as something of a surprise to the American mind: that is, that Ceylon has an inherited, congenital and still quite lively fear of India.
This fear is ancient indeed: most of Ceylon's history consists of stories of invasions from India. The Ramayana, second in antiquity only to the Mahabharata, is the mythological and poetic narrative of a war in which the hero and god Rama made war upon the wicked Rawana, king of Lanka (Ceylon), to rescue his abducted wife Sita. For a thousand years, more or less, the Sinhalese kings, who were originally Aryan-speaking invaders from northern India, kept their capital at Anuradhapura or Polannaruwa and fought off invading princes from South India. (This era stretches from the sixth century B.C. to the fifteenth A.D.) There were 140 years of Portuguese misgovernment and exploitation, followed by the same period of Dutch rule, before the advent of the British at the end of the eighteenth century; but at no time even during these periods of European domination did the Sinhalese forget their fear of India.
In modern times it revived for economic reasons. The native races of Ceylon, whether low-country Sinhalese or Kandyan (up-country) Sinhalese, are not preëminently disposed to hard labor; neither their temperament, climate nor economic necessity has historically driven them in that direction. It became convenient for the Europeans, therefore, to import south Indian workers into the island for the exploitation of the great agricultural enterprises, first of coffee, then of tea and then of rubber. The Indian newcomers spoke Tamil and were, of course, Hindus by religion. They have formed enclaves in the north and are more or less scattered through the whole island by now, achieving by their extreme diligence and parsimonious habits an economic position superior to that of the Sinhalese. They form at the present moment about 10 percent of the population of the island, with a political coherence and leadership which often gives alarm to the majority.
But more than any concern over this large minority is the concern one finds among educated Sinhalese about India herself. The new India has emerged from the turmoil of 1947-1948 with a prestige which, in spite of numerous calamities, stands very high indeed in Asia. There is an Indian nationalism, not expressed by the government of India itself but noticeable in the other currents of life, which has visibly expansionist tendencies. This is what disturbs some of India's neighbors. Ceylon, in particular (which is smaller than Ireland, with an area of 25,481 square miles), cannot fail to observe that India possesses an army of considerable quality, is acquiring a navy, has ambitious schemes of internal development, great potentialities in material wealth and an immense, industrious and ever-increasing population. The geographical position of Ceylon, like a pearl pendant from the neck of such a giant, does not encourage tranquillity about the future on any long view. The Sinhalese leaders will freely admit that they have no cause for anxiety about the present Indian government or its intentions, but they believe (as I do not) that the character of the government may change.
These considerations all came into play during 1949 with respect to two conferences called by Pandit Nehru in Delhi. The first was the Asian Conference (January 20) on Indonesia, in which countries all the way from Egypt to the Philippines were included. This was skilfully managed, was kept within the framework of the United Nations, and did much to increase the respect with which the new India is held in Asia. The second conference, in March, was a more practical matter: the rice crop of Burma, important to all that part of the world but especially to India, was gravely endangered by the many-sided civil war going on there, and the government of India offered its good offices in putting an end to that state of affairs. The government of Burma declined any practical aid, and some weeks later came up with a request for arms from India -- arms which, under the conditions, no Burmese government could guarantee to hold onto for more than a few days. The government of India would then have been (if it had granted the request) providing arms which, by passing from one faction to another, would only increase the extent of the violence which it wished to discourage.
In the progression of these events it was noticeable that Ceylon had a cool, or perhaps even chilly, attitude towards any initiative taken by the Government of India. More than anything else, the idea that the Delhi formation -- the association or assembly or council of the independent nations of Asia -- might be made permanent in some degree or respect, with a consultative apparatus at Lake Success or at Delhi itself, was ill-received in Colombo. The able Prime Minister of Ceylon, Mr. Senanayake, although himself a nationalist, a friend of India and an admirer of Pandit Nehru, opposed any such notion and so instructed his ambassadors. It was in fact the Philippine delegate, General Carlos Romulo, who made himself the advocate of a permanent consultative arrangement along the lines of the Delhi conference. The Philippine Republic is not only far from India but has political arrangements of its own which preclude any feeling of anxiety in that quarter.
Mr. Senanayake is quoted as having said: "The only association or grouping to which Ceylon wishes to belong, so long as it is to her advantage, is the British Commonwealth of Nations."
An element of new power is about to be introduced into the relations of the states of Asia by what is now known as Point Four: that is, the doctrine enunciated by President Truman in his inauguration address, that the undeveloped countries of the world should receive material aid in their struggle to catch up with the age we live in. The government at Colombo, although it is obviously just as anxious as any other government to receive such assistance, would dislike having it come in a form which -- on the pattern of E.C.A. and O.E.E.C. -- might create permanent consultative bodies of Asian countries. It is apparently felt that the leadership of India would emerge just as strongly in such associations as in the Delhi conference itself. The belief in Colombo is that Point Four can be given practical form by direct negotiation between governments with their existing ambassadors and means of communication. The delays and difficulties in the way of producing any result by such means do not outweigh, in Sinhalese eyes, the disadvantages of a conference method in which India's natural leadership could not be gainsaid.
The economy of Ceylon is still, of course, colonial, with Sinhalese and Tamils, Eurasians and Burghers (descendants of the Dutch) from the more privileged classes participating in the exploitation of the country's wealth along with the British. The big banks and shipping companies, the insurance system, the market for modern engineering equipment, and in a general way the entire market including that for consumers' goods, belong to the British. In Colombo, quite as much as in Singapore if not more so, one feels that the war of 1939-1945 made no great difference to these arrangements. (The presence of a powerful and wealthy Chinese community is what distinguishes Singapore from other prosperous colonial capitals.) There is far less poverty apparent in the villages of Ceylon, up as far as Anuradhapura, than there is anywhere in India. All sorts of consumer goods of cheap quality appear to be in plentiful supply, although the prices of less cheap goods are elevated indeed. The monetary exchange is in some danger and is protected by the usual complicated regulations under which the Ceylon rupee cannot be exported at all. The great crops -- tea, rubber and the various products of the coconut -- are cultivated, as is usual in colonial economies, in huge estates covering contiguous territories, so that a failure of the one crop would throw a whole area into famine. Such exploitation gives the maximum cash return for an investment, and is readily exportable for dollar exchange, but it offers the Sinhalese peasant no kind of security. Diversification of agriculture has hardly been initiated yet, and it has been necessary to import rice for over 20 years now. Any application of Point Four to Ceylon would necessarily take into account all these conditions, which one might expect to operate as a limiting factor. There are not many congressmen, at any rate, who would be anxious to fortify what looks like a faintly disguised colonial imperialism.
Nationalist feeling in Ceylon has, even so, been strong for more than 30 years. It arose to its first height in 1915, when a brawl of religious origin (betwen Buddhists and Mohammedans or "Moors") spread into something like a revolt and was repressed by the British military with untoward severity. The 1915 outbreak occupies in the story of Ceylon's nationalism something like the place taken by the Amritsar massacre in the history of Indian nationalism. An educated political class, of which the present government are the heirs, was able to take advantage of the rising tide of national feeling to obtain successive concessions from the British, leading towards the present political government under Dominion status. In this nationalist movement, at once more complicated and more restricted than the great and relatively simple Indian movement, an immense part has been played by religious and racial combinations, antagonisms, accidents and beliefs.
The Sinhalese are, of course, almost entirely Buddhists. Modo grosso, it can be said that anybody who speaks Sinhalese is accounted a Sinhalese -- the language, which is of Aryan origin and related to Pali, being the only means of determining the "race." These people have been Buddhists since the time of the Emperor Asoka (307 B.C.), who sent his sister and his son Mahinda, a Buddhist monk, to convert them. Much pious invention has gone into the development of Buddhism in Ceylon. For example, the legend has it that Gautama Buddha himself thrice visited the island, and although no scholar entertains that idea for a moment, it is still canonical belief in Ceylon and it would be political suicide for any public figure to cast doubt upon it. These putative visits of the Tathagatha are of course miraculous, surrounded by many tales; and what is more, the visit of Asoka's son Mahinda, which is historical, has also been made into a miracle. It is historical that the Portuguese cremated and destroyed the great Sinhalese relic of the Buddha's tooth; but the monks have since then made it compulsory belief that this was a false tooth, and that the real one is the one preserved in the Tooth Temple at Kandy.
The Buddhism of Ceylon belongs, of course, to the oldest canon, that which westerners are accustomed (following the Chinese) to call "Hinayana," or the Lower Vehicle. It was from Ceylon that Buddhism spread in this form, the simplest and purest, to Siam, Burma and Indo-China. The "Mahayana," or Greater Vehicle, with its metaphysical incrustations, was a development of China and Tibet. Neither one of these great historical schools would seem, to a western mind, to have much to do with the teachings of the Buddha, although the Hinayana is perhaps in aspiration a little closer. (It at least counsels the believer to follow those teachings.)
For example, Buddhism in Ceylon is quite militant, in a spirit which would seem to be utterly alien from that of the detached sage. Internal and external politics have been, throughout Sinhalese history, influenced or even determined by this militant Buddhism. It is still so today. Some of the great internal disturbances, including the rebellion of 1915, have been caused by militant Buddhism. The ill-advised militancy of certain Christian missionaries, advertising their contempt for what they call "the heathen," introduced a new element in the nineteenth century, which was imitated in Buddhist society with surprising results. Young Men's Buddhist Associations and Young Women's Buddhist Associations have been formed throughout the island and play an active and even at times aggressive part in social and political life. It would be as impossible for a Sinhalese politician to disagree with them as it would be for a New York politician to disagree with the Zionist Organization of America. The assertive Buddhist layman -- which would seem to us to be a contradiction in terms -- is a reality in Ceylon; and no policy, internal or external, can disregard it.
This, again, is a reason why Ceylon grows cool to India. The distrust of the Hindu, widespread in southeast Asia, is more Buddhist than it is racial.
An interesting example of the interplay of religion and politics in this part of the world was afforded last January 14 when relics of the disciples Mogallana and Sariputta were ceremonially returned to India for ultimate enthronement at Sanchi, where they were originally found by the British over a hundred years ago. Mogallana and Sariputta were favorite disciples of the Lord Buddha and are frequently mentioned in the ancient scriptures. Some relics of theirs were actually enshrined at Sanchi, in what has been the state of Baroda, during the time of the Emperor Asoka (3rd century B.C.) -- that is to say, a little over 200 years after the death of the Enlightened One. There is no reason, archaeologically speaking, to doubt the antiquity of these relics at least as far back as the monuments of Sanchi, which would probably make them the oldest relics in the world -- the oldest bits of human dust, let us say. Beyond the third century perhaps they do not go; who knows? In any case human belief and reverence has been lavished upon them for many centuries, and for the Buddhist world their return to India was a matter of great importance. The British Government sent them as far as Ceylon by battleship, and in Ceylon they remained for a year, being adored by the multitude. From Ceylon they were brought to Calcutta by a cruiser of the Indian Navy (January 1949) and the celebrations, both popular and official, were tremendous. Pandit Nehru received them at Government House in the name of the government of India; every Buddhist country (except Japan) was represented by high government officials or reigning princes. Sikkim, Nepal, Burma, Tibet, China, Thailand, Indo-China and Ceylon all contributed speeches of importance at a mass meeting in the great Maidan of Calcutta, which can accommodate about two million people. It was of special interest to me that the representative of Ceylon -- the Minister for External Affairs -- took pains to declare in his speech, with considerable emphasis, that the Lord Buddha had thrice visited the island. As I remarked earlier, to doubt this story would be political suicide in Ceylon.
Prosperous and beautiful, the island has much to offer its 7,000,000 -- or almost 7,000,000 -- inhabitants. They do not go abroad as much as Indians do; they are not subject to the same economic stresses. Their chief difficulty, or so they seem to think, is to keep foreigners (particularly Indians) from coming in. The government has social and educational schemes which should in time produce for the people a general level of welfare about as high as Asia has ever seen. Ceylon is the only country known to me where all education, including that at the universities, is free. The future should be fair indeed, unless -- as is true of every other Asiatic country -- some tide of conquest overruns the land.