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Succession and Division in India

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WITHIN a few months India will be holding her third general elections. The latest census tentatively places the country's population at around 468 millions which makes India the largest democracy in the world. Yet in India, as in some other Asian countries where democratic forms and the apparatus of parliamentary government subsist, democracy has still to take firm roots in the people and the rulers.

Mr. Nehru has been Prime Minister for 14 years, a term longer than any of his contemporaries with the exception of Sweden's Prime Minister Tage Erlander, who has held his post since October 1946. Even in the West, however, it is doubtful if for every ten who could name India's Prime Minister, five could identify Sweden's Premier. Despite her lack of military power and her developing but still underdeveloped economy, India exercises a moral influence in world affairs out of all proportion to her material strength. Much of the credit for this must go to Mr. Nehru who has steered his way through the jungle of international politics with consummate skill and understanding. India may be politically young but Mr. Nehru is the doyen of the Commonwealth Premiers and a veteran on the world stage.

Therein lies the paradox of India and Nehru, for while externally the Indian Prime Minister's political stature is unimpaired and to a degree enhanced, the signs internally are that his domestic prestige and reputation are at an ebb. Tibet, followed by China's territorial incursions into India (some of which, as in Ladakh, had preceded China's aggression on Tibet but were not at the time disclosed to the Indian Parliament or people), stirred public opinion deeply and generated the first defined cohesive rumblings of criticism and opposition against the establishment. Many Congressmen privately shared the disquiet felt by the opposition and publicly expressed by the Socialists, Independents and other miscellaneous groups and individuals. The Communists, also in the opposition, were caught in a cleft stick, and not for the first time their ideological schizophrenia betrayed itself in the rambling confused resolutions released after each of their increasingly frequent party conclaves.

Some years ago I asked Nehru which of our foreign missions he considered the most important and was surprised when he answered, "Pakistan." He explained this by saying that the success of a country's foreign policy was determined largely by the relations it evolved with its immediate neighbors. Judged by that yardstick India's foreign policy has failed, for while her relations with China have deteriorated dismally her relations with Pakistan have not improved to any discernible degree. By instinctive more than by rational processes the Indian public has over the years come to apply the same yardstick to the country's foreign policy as the Prime Minister did, and the impact on the people has been more immediate and sharp, particularly in relation to China. Panchsheel, as most thoughtful Indians acknowledge, is as dead as a doornail. Peace, they now realize, is a bilateral business.

This does not mean that Indian public opinion increasingly rejects the policy of non-alignment. On the contrary, the vast majority of Indians support it, though since the Hungarian uprising of 1956 a growing body of opinion, both within and outside Parliament, has insisted that in implementing the policy the scales should not always be weighted heavily in favor of the Sino-Soviet bloc. Tibet and China's aggressive attitude to India have intensified this insistence and made it more articulate. In that sense Nehru has been put on the defensive in relation to his foreign policy, and even the artful Mr. Krishna Menon's transparent efforts to distract the country's attention from China to Pakistan have failed.

If Nehru is on the defensive in regard to his foreign policy, he is even more so on the domestic front. Congress prestige has slumped heavily over the past 14 years, and though it is only since the last general elections of 1956-57 that Nehru's policies have come under more open and concentrated fire, there existed even before that a fair degree of restiveness over the direction taken by his policies, internal and external, political, economic and international. While the shibboleths of socialism, the welfare state, planning for prosperity, and peace were initially taken at their face value by the vast majority of the Indian people a growing minority has started to question the real purport and motivations behind these slogans. Need socialism sail so dangerously near Communism? Does the welfare state imply less and less room for individual enterprise and for the so-called private or business sector? Is planning for prosperity to end in the ultimate elimination of the prosperous trader, businessman and industrialist? Is peace to be bought at the price of security?

With the launching of the Second Five Year Plan in April 1956, on the eve of the second general elections, such doubts and questionings crystalized in the economic sphere while in the political field the linguistic rivalries and clashes, the internecine feuds within the Congress Party and the growing indiscipline in the country, particularly among the youth, triggered off sharp criticism of the ruling clan. The Congress emerges as the god that failed, and even Nehru's personality and prestige, powerful as they both still are, have been unable to reconcile factions inside the party or to still controversy and criticism in the country. Nehru's home state, Uttar Pradesh, along with the Punjab, Orissa, Andhra, Bihar and Mysore, are stormy centers of Congress strife which intermittently erupt and subside into uneasy calm.

These unseemly internal wrangles within the ruling party have not only damaged its prestige but demoralized the country. In Indian eyes the Congress Party had for long been identified with selfless service, sacrifice and integrity. The mistake the Congress made on assuming office was to identify the country with the party, and to project an image of itself as a group of dedicated servants of the people which, having won freedom for the country, was concerned only with continuing its tradition of service. Ten years in office have dimmed the lustre of those claims. Congress followers can no longer preen themselves on being a cut above their other countrymen. The scramble for positions of patronage and power and for lucrative appointments at home and abroad, accompanied by the usual petty intrigues and recriminations, has demeaned the Congress in the country's estimate and impaired its once unchallenged prestige.

More recently the factional trends within the Congress in various States have been highlighted by factionalism at the Center. During the Prime Minister's absences from India it has been customary for him to appoint a deputy leader who would temporarily preside over the cabinet and over the meetings of the Congress Parliamentary group. No particular significance was attached to these appointments until Nehru's last absence from India to attend the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference in London last March. Since independence, the deputy leaders appointed for a temporary period were, firstly, the late Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad and the late Gopalaswamy Aiyangar who were both ranked as deputy leaders jointly, on the basis of the former being Leader in the Lok Sabha (lower house) and the latter being leader in the Rajya Sabha (upper house). Before them Sardar Vallabhai Patel had held the rank of Deputy Prime Minister, but this office lapsed with his death in 1950. Following Mr. Gopalaswamy Aiyangar's death Maulana Azad officiated as deputy leader in the Prime Minister's absence, and he was succeeded by Pandit Pant who died during Nehru's last visit to London. Pandit Pant was seriously ill when the Prime Minister left Delhi and died before Nehru reached Geneva. The Finance Minister, Mr. Morarji Desai, was then appointed deputy leader.

This started off an unseemly controversy within the highest Congress echelons involving primarily cabinet ministers who had their eyes glued to the successorship. In terms of seniority the Communications Minister, Mr. Jagjivan Ram, who happens to be a Harijan, ranks foremost on the list, and he and his supporters were not slow to point out that his claims were overlooked. So long as the old Congress giants such as Patel, Azad and Pant lived there was neither opportunity nor inclination on the part of the lesser-known cabinet ministers to enter into the scramble for power. Today, with the exception of Nehru, the old guard has disappeared, and a special significance attaches or has suddenly attached to the minister nominated as deputy leader.

The Prime Minister is not lacking in political guile or canniness. Even when appointing Mr. Morarji Desai as deputy leader in March 1961 he was careful to point out in a directive which soon leaked that he did so with two important reservations, the first being that, though Mr. Desai would preside over cabinet meetings in his absence, a decision in the event of any controversy or difference of opinion within the cabinet would be "decided by consultation." This virtually reduced Mr. Desai to the equivocal status of not even being primus inter pares. The second reservation was more significant for it stipulated that in the field of foreign affairs, at a time when Laos was very much in the headlines, decisions should be made by Mr. Krishna Menon. As in the case of the well known English politician of the Restoration period, Mr. Desai was confronted with the discovery that "fortune had turned rotten ere it turned ripe."

Not surprisingly this was a signal for those waiting in the wings to attempt to muscle into the near-center of the stage. On his return from London, Mr. Nehru was faced with a divided cabinet and a divided Parliamentary party eager to know whether his appointment of a deputy leader signified his personal choice of successor. The Prime Minister is never more adroit than when poised on the horns of a political dilemma. Sensing the division within the inner Congress ranks and conscious that the rivalry for successorship had begun, he took immediate and drastic steps to squash both. Like Fabius, Nehru always wants to conquer by delay. Initially he temporized--but with conscious calculation. He announced that the choice of a deputy leader would be left to the election of the Congress Parliamentary party and should not be determined by his personal choice, a stratagem calculated to bring the respective rivals and their supporters out into the open and enable him to assess their individual strength and weakness. Mr. Morarji Desai, after rather pontifically declaring that he would allow himself to be put up for deputy leadership only if he were assured of a unanimous election, unwisely permitted himself to be persuaded later to let his supporters canvass for him. Meanwhile Mr. Jagjivan Ram had also entered energetically into the fray. This was the opportunity and occasion for which the Prime Minister was waiting. Nehru rebuked his cabinet ministers for unashamedly canvassing for the deputy leadership and asserted that it did not imply that the deputy leader chosen by the party was automatically next in the line of succession. He went on to say that there was no reason why any Congressman "whether eighth or ninth in the rank of cabinet seniority" should not aspire to the rank of deputy leader. His final decision was to downgrade the deputy leadership by reverting to the original system of two deputy leaders.

As a result the Prime Minister has temporarily stilled the clamor and controversy within the Congress camp as to who should succeed him. The two aspirants who revealed their hand with untimely haste have lost ground within the party and, to a degree, favor with the Prime Minister. But it would be misleading to deduce from this that as a result Nehru himself rides on the crest of a new popular wave. The open internal race for supreme power has shaken public confidence which was already deeply affected by the internecine wrangles of a party whose leaders, while quarreling within a glass house, adjured others to maintain national unity, selfless patriotism and integrity. Nehru provides the cement of his own integrity and prestige to hold together the ramshackle structure of his party. But what when he departs?

The old question still recurs: After Nehru what and who? The Prime Minister's refusal to face the issue is partly a confession of his feeling that he himself sees no one on whom he can confidently bestow the mantle of leadership and partly an expression of an escapism which seeks an intellectual excuse to avoid an urgent political exercise. Politically the Prime Minister is too strong a realist not to recognize the urgency of having a successor recognized by the Congress Party and the country at large during his lifetime. But other considerations obtrude and have prevailed. Clearly neither Morarji Desai nor Jagjivan Ram is acceptable to Nehru as his successor, since neither follows faithfully in his economic footsteps. It may be that the Prime Minister is also realistic enough to recognize that Krishna Menon has no political roots in the country and he realizes that the Congress pack will descend on Krishna Menon like hungry wolves once he himself is gone, and tear him politically apart. For these reasons Nehru prefers to say that his heirs are the people of India, whose judgment he trusts, rather than any single individual or group of individuals. Personally I feel--though this is a purely instinctive hunch--that Nehru would like to have Lal Bahadur Shastri as his successor. Shastri is devoid of personality but is dedicated to the Prime Minister's political and economic ideas. He has succeeded Pant as Home Minister and like Pant and Nehru he also comes from Uttar Pradesh, a not unimportant consideration in the Prime Minister's calculations.

The factionalism now prevailing in India is not only an internal battle within various Congress groups at the Center and in the states, animated primarily by considerations of caste, community and language, but it has also deteriorated into a tussle between one Congress-ruled state and another as evidenced in the clash between West Bengal and Assam as to what place the Bengali language should have in the latter province. The breakup a year ago of the old state of Bombay has created fresh rivalries between the two new Congress-governed states of Maharashtra and Gujarat. In turn Maharashtra has differences with Congress-governed Mysore over the border area of Belgaum. And in other states there are disputes about the division of river waters much as that which existed between India and Pakistan. Punjab poses a challenge of its own, pointing out that if New Delhi can allow the creation of a virtually Christian state in Nagaland on India's vital eastern frontier and the existence of a Muslim state in Kashmir on her equally important western frontier, the Sikhs should be trusted to rule their own state within India. The Congress argument that this would be yielding to religious jingoism is not over-convincing in the context of the new Nagaland and Kashmir.

It is always easy to be wise after the event, but looking back on developments since India's independence, we can see that Nehru's major mistake was to yield to the creation of Andhra State on linguistic grounds following the fast-unto-death of the Telegu Congressman, Potti Sriramulu, in 1953. Logically this generated a movement for linguistic states which at times found explosive expression, as between Maharashtra and Gujarat, and which could still erupt in the Punjab. Inside the Congress-governed state of Madhya Pradesh there have been Hindu-Muslim riots in Jabalpur, involving the loss of several lives, which Nehru has condemned and deplored, and the Bastar shootings which also caused considerable casualties among the aboriginal Adivasis and which a commission appointed by the Government has courageously and rightly censured. Plainly the monolithic foundations on which the Congress Party reared its Government over the entire country are being badly shaken. The basic mistake of the Congress was to identify the party with the country in the national process of reconstruction, for once the cracks showed in its own facade and foundation they were bound to be reflected in the country.

Riven itself by caste, linguistic and communal divisions, particularly as the general elections draw near, the Congress is in no position to chide other parties or groups organized on similar lines. So one finds the old communal groups such as the Muslim League, the Hindu Jan Sangh, the Kazaagam Dravida Munetra, the Scheduled Castes organizations and others rearing their heads again. Opposition to the Congress comes mainly from the Right--from the Hindu and Muslim communalists, from the princes and from the rapidly shrinking private sector represented by parties such as the Ganatantra Parishad which has its stronghold in Orissa, and the Swatantra Party which, under the 82-year-old Chakaravarti Rajagopalachari, former Congress president and former Governor General of India, is attempting to offer a strong challenge to the Congress, during the next general elections. In the last elections the only non-Congress group to succeed in forming a state government was the Communist party in Kerala, though it could not sustain its administration beyond July 1959. Whether the Swatantra Party will be able next year to capture one or more states is debatable but its leaders expect success in areas such as Orissa, where the Congress Party was able to carry on the administration only with the coöperation of the Ganatantra Parishad; in Rajasthan, where the princes are beginning to mobilize politically; and in disgruntled regions such as the Punjab and Andhra Pradesh.

For all practical purposes, as Lord Attlee confessed after a recent visit to India, the Indian Socialist Party is dead, Nehru having spiked its guns by committing the Congress and the country to a Socialist pattern of society. China for the moment has hamstrung the Communists, leaving them divided and demoralized. Nehru seems assured of another five years of office with the Congress controlling the Center even if it loses its hold on some of the states. But the Congress, already straining at the seams, is likely to burst apart with Nehru's demission from the political stage. It may then conceivably split into two main groups representing the Right and the Left, for only Nehru's presence holds the two wings uneasily together. In a sense that would be an improvement on the present position of artificial unity, for it might lead to the growth of a two-party system which would stimulate the healthy development of democracy in India. But there is also the likelihood that along with it the divisive tendencies now very much to the fore will assert themselves more actively. Only the glow of the battle for independence, according to Mr. Morarji Desai, controlled and concealed the disunity in the Congress ranks which was prevalent even before independence. It is ironic that Nehru, who throughout his political career has fought to maintain the unity and stability of India, should have failed during his long years in office to ensure it. Indeed history, one fears, will indict him for not having more consciously restrained the divisive forces which after more than a decade of independence threaten the unity and stability of India.

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