Articles

BLAIR FRASER ASKS: ..."WHO LEADS ASIA?"

“If there is an ideological war between India and China today,” says this Maclean’s editor, “China looks more like a winner”

May 25 1957
Articles

BLAIR FRASER ASKS: ..."WHO LEADS ASIA?"

“If there is an ideological war between India and China today,” says this Maclean’s editor, “China looks more like a winner”

May 25 1957

BLAIR FRASER ASKS: ..."WHO LEADS ASIA?"

“If there is an ideological war between India and China today,” says this Maclean’s editor, “China looks more like a winner”

"One question people ask a traveler returned from Asia is, “Who's winning, India or China? Which is going to he the leader of the Far East?"

Before I went away that question seemed the most natural and one of the most important in the world. China and India were the respective champions, in a bloodless trial by combat, of communism and democracy. Canada's share in the Colombo Plan, like the foreign-aid program of the United States, was a contribution to our side in this political conflict. The conflict itself was a substitute, more civilized but no less decisive, for war.

Now, as 1 look back from Ottawa on a long and confusing journey, the question seems more artificial than natural and I am no longer so sure of its importance. I'm not certain whether the conflict exists at all, except in the minds of the West.

On the other hand, this new appraisal may be mere wishful thinking, the urge to believe that the grapes we can't reach are sour. If there is an ideological war between India and China

today, China looks more like a winner than India does. The westbound observer gets this impression before he even sets foot on the Indian subcontinent.

An hour east of Calcutta on the flight from Hong Kong to Delhi the stewardess handed out currency declaration forms. They were not for the central government of India, she said, just for the city authorities of Calcutta, but even transit passengers had to fill them in before the one-hour stop at the airport.

As we left the plane we gave our declarations to a young man in spotless white, who initialed them and handed them back. Later, as the flight departure was called, they were gathered up by a small black man in the khaki dress of a sweeper. No one ever explained the ostensible purpose of this exercise. Its real purpose, apparently, was to give employment to the young man in white, and to the clerks in downtown Calcutta who file the declarations for posterity.

For a traveler fresh from Peking it was a disconcerting introcontinued on page 72

Continued from page 23

“in China, at any hom*, you’H find someone hard at work, in India someone, is fast asleep”

suit, and millions like him all over the country, make it impossible even to guess the true unemployment there. The word has no clear meaning. If a landless laborer in a village works a few months for the “rich” neighbor who owns five acres, and if he subsists for the rest of the year by selling the milk of his water buffalo, is he employed or unemployed? A quarter of all Indian villagers are in this plight. Not counting them, and not counting beggars who do not seek work, and making no allowance for a caste system that sets four or five men to do one man’s job, the Indians who have no employment of any kind are officially estimated at five million. Other sober guesses run as high as twenty-five million. Also, a net two million new people enter the Indian labor force each year.

In a way it is a greater shock to come to India westbound, from China, than to arrive from Europe. The newcomer from the West is startled by the dreadful poverty, but humbled by the patient good cheer and fortitude with which the people hear it. The net impression, in my case anyway, was a kind of horrified admiration as well as sympathy.

After China the impression is not quite the same. China, too, has a living standard appallingly low and a birth rate that may drag it even lower. China, too, attained all the targets of a First FiveYear Plan without lifting her people out of desperate poverty. But in China, at any hour of night, if you look about you see somebody hard at work. In India, at any hour of day, if you look about you see a man fast asleep. This is the contrast that sticks in the mind of the traveler home from Asia.

Indians are less dismayed by it than Westerners are.

“Employment is not the social problem with us that it would be with you,” said one of the ablest journalists in New Delhi. “To a certain extent this condition has always been with us. Your people no doubt would find it intolerable. Ours do not. They accept it as one of the natural hazards of life.”

But a high official of the Indian government. one directly concerned with economic policy, took a less complacent view. I had asked what becomes of a man in India who loses or who cannot find a job, what provision the state makes for keeping such men alive.

“No provision at all,” he answered. “We have nothing like your unemployment insurance. We haven’t even records of unemployment—nobody knows how many Indians are out of work.

“Our unemployed are supported by the joint family system of India. A man who has no job goes to live with his father or his brother or his third cousin. But the old family system is breaking down. It cannot stand the weight we are putting on it nowadays.”

One way of dealing with the problem has already been tried: the multiplication of government jobs, like that which occupied the young man in the white suit at Calcutta airport. India has a ministry of transport and a ministry of railways and a ministry of communications, each

with its full bureaucratic establishment. It has also a ministry of iron and steel, a ministry of heavy industry, a ministry of production, a ministry of irrigation and power and a ministry of works, housing and supply.

In spite of this quadruplication of paperwork. India cannot find enough jobs for her educated men. Naturally the problem is most acute in the regions where the school system is most advanced.

Some years ago Nik Cavell, now director of Canada’s part in the Colombo Plan but then a captain in the Indian Army, was seconded to act as a magistrate in a rural district of south India. One day while court was adjourned, a man burst into his office and began declaiming English iambic pentameters that Cavell recognized, after a while, as King Lear.

Half way through the first act the man paused in his recitation, looked accusingly at Cavell, and asked, “Could you do that?”

Certainly not, said Cavell.

“Then you admit,” said the man, “that I am better educated than you are?”

If an ability to recite King Lear was the test of education, that was true.

“You admit I am better educated than you,” the man repeated, “and yet you, here in my country, have a job. I am thirty-two years old and I have never had a job.”

Where’s the Iron Curtain?

The incident took place in TravancoreCochin, which by a series of historical accidents has the highest literacy rate in India. Travancore-Cochin is now called Kerala, one of the states of the Indian Union. Last March a Communist government was elected in Kerala, the first Communist government ever to win an election anywhere in the world.

To anyone who thinks about Asia in the political clichés of the West, this is all very depressing. Half the people of the world live in Asia, and nearly hall of all Asians are under Communist rule already. The rest, roughly a quarter of the human race, make up twenty-odd nations with every other kind of government known to man. Because they are not Communist we tend to lump them all together, place them on our side of something we still call the “Iron Curtain,” and hope to count them as allies in a “cold war” against the “Communist world.”

Fortunately or not. all these metaphors turn out to be meaningless when the realities of Asia are seen at close range.

“Curtain” is not quite the word for a Chinese frontier that is crossed even day by several thousand people. At Sheng-chin, the border point between Canton and Hong Kong, the daily average each way is about fifteen hundred, some of them on their way to Canada as immigrant relatives of Canadian Chinese. Sheng-chin is no ordinary border point, for no trains go right through— everyone must get out and walk, carry-

ing bags and bundles, over the wooden bridge to the Hong Kong side—but it is not a very formidable barrier nowadays. Europeans can get visas to China with some trouble and delay, Asians with no trouble at all. Mail from Peking reaches Toronto as fast as from New Delhi, and is not censored.

“Cold war” is even more misleading for the social turbulence that churns and bubbles everywhere from Japan to the Dardanelles. If there is in Asia any sort of contest between communism and democracy it is less like a war than like Alice in Wonderland's caucus race: “They began running when they liked and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over.” Contestants have the same expectations as the Dodo, too: “Everybody has won, and all must have prizes.”

Indians do not think of themselves as opponents, and perhaps not even as rivals, of the Communist Chinese. They see only one enemy on their horizon, America’s ally Pakistan. They wish China well; indeed, they seem in many ways to like Red China better than they like the West. They have a fellow feeling for another ex-victim of Western economic imperialism. When the Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung says “China is standing up,” Indians too feel a thrill of pride in the new independent Asia.

It is true that China and India do present, if not a contest, at least a controlled experiment that the rest of Asia is watching. China, after a century of chaos, has a well-established government and is now beginning to increase production and raise the standard of living. India is trying to do the same by methods that are different and, by democratic standards, much better—persuasion instead of coercion. If China succeeds and

India fails, communism will have a boost and democracy a setback among other nations of Asia.

Thus to all who think communism an evil and its spread a calamity, it is important that India should not fail. Whether the West can do anything significant to help her is another matter.

So far, the big round figures show that both India and China have made con-

Answer

to Who is it? on page 66

Brooke Claxton, former minister of national defense and now vice-president for Canada of the Metropolitan l ife Insurance Co. and chairman of the Canada Council.

sidcrable progress in their several ways. Unlike China, which adopted the Communist formula and put heavy stress on building up heavy industry, India concentrated on the people’s immediate need, food and clothing. The results are quite impressive.

Counting the bumper crop of 1954, India's food production rose by one quarter in the five years. Even omitting the bulge of that big harvest and reckoning normal crops only, it went up by more than a sixth. People who once drew a daily ration of twelve ounces of grain now average eighteen ounces, and who once bought ten yards of cotton a year now buy eighteen yards each.

These are not mere accidental effects

of good weather, cither. Twenty million acres were added to the irrigated land of India in the last five years, an increase of forty percent. Indian farmers last year used three times as much fertilizer as they did in 1951. Community development projects, by which modern farm techniques are taught and village improvement organized, now serve no fewer than eighty million people of the three hundred million in rural India.

China’s gains in food and textile production have been no greater than India’s, and quite possibly smaller. The grain crop last year was eighteen percent higher than in 1952, but the Chinese themselves say their new collective farms tended to overemphasize grain at the expense of other crops, and they also admit their crop figures are a bit inflated by overenthusiastic reports.

In heavy industry, though, the picture is different. China has almost doubled her coal production, more than tripled steel production and raised other industrial output like cement and electric power by equally startling factors. India’s steel production, which is only a third of her present requirements, rose very little. Increases in other industrial output were also small. Worst of all, the employment situation during the First Five-Year Plan actually grew worse instead of better.

The Second Five-Year Plan launched in 1956 is designed to repair these lacks. Steel production is to be tripled, coal increased sixty percent, electric power doubled, and so on. Eleven million new jobs are envisaged, though even then, says the official summary, “the impact on the problem of unemployment will not be as great as the situation demands.”

Unhappily the Second Five-Year Plan contains a large element of wishful think-

ing. Only half the money it proposes to invest is actually available. Of the remainder, half is put down as “deficit financing,” which means inflation in an economy as tightly stretched as India’s. Another third is “external assistance,” though the foreign aid now in sight is only a fraction of this sum. The rest is described with touching frankness as “uncovered gap.”

Already it is recognized that the gaps are too wide. Even if the foreign-aid program of the United States were waxing instead of waning in popularity, and even if American admiration for India were at its peak instead of its nadir, the Indian hopes for dollar aid would still be disappointed. Attainment of all the goals of the Second Five-Year Plan i hardly possible.

Of course the mere failure to achieve targets that exist only on paper is not in itself a national disaster. So long as food production continues to rise a little faster than population, India will not b actually worse off than she is today. The question is whether holding her own will be enough. India has problems of quality as well as of quantity, which are even more difficult and perhaps even more important.

On a Sunday morning in Delhi I went out with a government information officer to inspect two villages a few miles from town. One of them was an “improved” village with a thriving community development project; the other was just as it had been for years.

Nangli-Poona, the unimproved village, was a shocker all right. Its seventy families of the higher castes looked poor enough, in all conscience: the women busy from dawn to dark at spinning by hand, grinding corn by hand, gathering cow dung by hand to be dried for fuel; the

men ploughing minute fields with wooden ploughs and skinny little bullocks. But the real poverty was among the thirty families of harijans—untouchables —who were still treated as actually and literally untouchable by the fellow villagers who lived in houses almost equally squalid only thirty yards away.

“We used to be able to rent land,” one of the untouchables said, "but now the people who own it farm it all themselves. They’re afraid there might be a land reform to take away any they might have rented out.”

What did they live on now?

“There is no work here except at harvest time,” he answered. “Some of us go to town (a good ten miles away) to get jobs. Mostly we live by selling the milk of our buffaloes.”

When they did have work, what did they earn?

“Less than a rupee a day.” A rupee is twenty-one cents.

A few miles farther out, at Mukhmelpur, we found a much pleasanter situation. Here, the information officer said proudly, "untouchability is no longer practiced.” This village had a community development project assisted by the state, and the great thing about these projects is that they must be available to all castes.

Here in Mukhmelpur was one properly covered well, originally installed for untouchables but now used even by Brahmins. So were the little community hall of which they were immensely proud, and the new primary school, and the more or less rat-proof warehouse for storage of grain, and the rather flyblown dispensary where a district nurse gave out medicines.

Farming methods in Mukhmelpur had been improved, and some crops had been increased as much as fifty percent. A farm co-operative had been organized; only eleven of two hundred families were in it so far, but more were expected after the success of the last crop.

But even in Mukhmelpur, where such long strides had been taken, there was still a very long way to go. Of the two hundred families one hundred, and the larger number of individuals, were harijans or former untouchables. Even though they were no longer complete outcasts, they still had no land.

“For them,” said my guide, “there has not been any economic change as yet.”

Land reform in India, though still incomplete, has gone a long way for both tenant and small owner. Even before the British withdrew, tenancy acts in most Indian states put ceilings on the rents that tenant farmers had to pay. The rents are still fixed, in cash amounts, while the prices of farm products have quadrupled. Thus the landlord, even where he remains legally in possession of his acres, no longer weighs heavily on the peasantry. Ownership of the land is no longer the issue it once was.

But not much has yet been done to raise the general standards of life in the villages, and nothing at all has been done for the landless twenty-five percent of the rural population. There is a little more food, for those who have acres on which to raise it or money with which to buy it. Otherwise, not much change. And the load of the dead past is heavier in India than anywhere else in the whole world.

India’s two hundred million cows make up half the cattle population of the globe. They are so poör that the best of them do not come up to the world’s average as milk producers. The worst of them are entirely worthless.

If half or thnse quarters of these useless cattle were to be killed, the Indian

food supply would change overnight. It has been estimated, indeed, that if Indians would eat everything the Chinese eat, their standard of living would rise fifty percent.

T here is no prospect whatever that these commonsense steps will be taken.

In the recent Indian election Prime Minister Nehru was opposed personally, in his own riding, by three candidates. All campaigned mainly against the slaughter of the sacred cow. When Nehru remarked that he had a high regard not only for the cow but also for the horse, one of his opponents took action against him in court. The grounds were that he had insulted the whole Hindu community by comparing the cow to the horse.

The 1957 election gave Nehru’s Congress Party a smaller majority and made the Communists the official opposition. Nevertheless, many observers say the real opposition in India is not the Communist Party. It is still, they think, the illiterate right wing of ancient orthodox Hinduism. Hindu extremists have a party of their own, which is little and weak, but their real strength is contained within the Congress Party itself. Idolatrous masses vote for the sacred memory of Gandhi and the living image of Nehru, without adopting or even comprehending the ideas of either.

It is this deep hidden fissure in the Indian nation that makes the Kashmir dispute so dangerous. In terms of abstract legalism the Indian case convinces nobody but the Indians themselves; the Soviet bloc accepts it for policy reasons, but neutral outsiders find it specious and thin. They can see no justification in theory for refusing to the Kashmiri people a free choice by plebiscite between India and Pakistan, and still less for keeping the Kashmiri leader Abdullah in jail without trial, as the Indians have done for four years.

In practice, though, many of these same neutrals in Delhi believe the best thing to do in Kashmir is nothing at all. Even the threat of a change, they say, even the beginning of a plebiscite campaign, would set off communal riots in India, which the government could not control. Forty million Moslems who still live in India—more than half as many as live in Pakistan—would at best be driven out as homeless destitute refugees, at worst be killed by Hindu mobs.

The same volcano underlies all the critical problems of India. Westerners tend to assume that if economic distress becomes unbearable, India will turn to communism. This is quite possible. But it is equally if not more than likely that India might collapse into a welter of anarchic violence, with mobs slaughtering each other because one language or religious group is incautiously favored, or because someone is suspected of killing a cow.

Solution for the sacred cow

All these dangers are recognized in India. By their nature they must be dealt with carefully and quietly, but they are not being ignored.

The cow problem, for instance, may be solved within a few years. Wholesale slaughter of useless beasts is out of the question. So is the castration of bulls, which to devout Hindus would be just as much a sacrilege as killing them. But in more and more “improved” villages the community development projects include large pens for scrub bulls. They may not be killed or mutilated, but they are to be prevented from breeding.

The community development program is also helping to reduce unemployment. Within the last three years Japanese methods of rice cultivation have been introduced in many parts of south India. Three million new jobs on the land

have been created, and a million tons added to the rice crop.

There is no evidence that communism would do better than democracy in the unique social conditions of India. China, of all countries in the world, is least encumbered with religious taboos and superstition, but China has a tradition of ancestor worship. Graves of his forefathers dot the best fields of many a Chinese peasant, and altogether keep thousands of acres out of cultivation. The Communists have not yet dared to suppress this ancient custom; on a train journey through north China I saw hundreds of graves still preserved in the open fields.

But for one such problem in China there are hundreds in India. China has advantages of climate, of tradition and national temperament, of social organization that have nothing to do with communism, but that will bring her faster along the road to economic sufficiency. If we insist on viewing Asia as a battlefield of the cold war, we are inviting despair.

In fact there is more reason for hope than for discouragement. These countries are not fighting each other; they are fighting off starvation, and no one but a monster would wish either of them anything but good luck in that vital struggle for the right to live.

Canadians have every reason to be proud of the help we have given to India. It hasn’t made the difference between success and failure—no amount of for eign aid can do that; the Indians will have to rely mainly on themselves. But they've had enough help to feel that they have friends, that they aren’t abandoned or ignored, that the West does care whether brown men live or die.

This feeling is an absolute gain. It will not be destroyed if Communist China becomes, as in fact she is becoming, the centre of gravity in Asia. ★