INDIA: The Shade of the Big Banyan

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Under Nehru, India has had generally sound government, a stable currency and a working democracy through its years of independence. The press is free, the restraints of free speech and assembly are minimal. Forty million Indians attend school and college, and the number is to be doubled in five years. If any one man can claim the credit, it is Nehru, and all Indians know it. Scarcely anyone now remembers the 1947 warning of Sir Winston Churchill that "we are turning over India to men of straw, like the caste Hindu, Mr, Nehru, of whom, in a few years, no trace will remain."

Churchill was wrong, and Nehru remains today what he was twelve years ago: the biggest man in India. But at a considerable cost to the nation and himself. Last year Nehru told newsmen that he was feeling "flat and stale," and wanted to retire as Prime Minister. He was ravaged by the ceaseless struggle to get things done in the timeless, bottomless morass of India. Food production is still at the mercy of the nation's cycles of flood and drought. Huge, multipurpose economic projects start out magnificently and then gradually fall farther and farther behind schedule. The second five-year plan had to be abruptly cut back because it was creating a profitless drain on foreign exchange. "We are riding the tiger of industrialization and can't get off," said Finance Minister T. T. Krishnamachari. Severe restrictions on imports, and new taxes on wealth and expenditures wrung outraged cries from the business community. There were strikes and food riots from Calcutta to Madras.

Some of India's difficulties can be laid at Nehru's door. He has tried, on occasion, to translate into action his vague and intensely personal theories about socialism, e.g., his plan to spread farm cooperatives across the land. Snapped the Indian Express: "This is not economic realism; this is economic rubbish." Even socialist leaders such as Asoka Mehta complain that for ten years India has been plagued by socialist slogans, "and what have we got? Nothing." Seemingly, the only purpose the slogans and all the patronizing remarks about "the private sector" have served is to frighten away foreign investors.

The Asset. As a result of these and other troubles, Nehru's petulance and quick temper flared more and more frequently. He railed against the ingrained Indian habits of inefficiency, tardiness and cheerful anarchy. He stormed at the prevalence of holidays, cows and fraudulent holy men, yet did nothing about them. He pleaded with his colleagues in the governing Congress Party to abandon red tape, corruption and nepotism; they listened, and went back to their old ways.

Nehru grew increasingly waspish to reporters and his own subordinates, and could not stand being contradicted. He angrily insisted that he had to do everything himself or it would not be done, and he spent as much time on unimportant household details as on national problems. He suddenly began to look older.