IDEAS: Pandit's Mind

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One summer, a quarter of a century ago, streams of Hindu pilgrims came for their annual ritual bath at the confluence of the holy rivers Ganges and Jumna. The British authorities, noting that the currents were dangerously fierce that year, forbade the ablutions, and erected a high palisade to keep the pilgrims from the water. Thereupon thousands of Hindus, disciples of Gandhi, squatted before the palisade in the scorching sun, hour after nonviolent hour. Among them was a young, Cambridge-educated Brahman named Jawaharlal Nehru. As he recalls:

"I was fed up with sitting there. So I suggested to those sitting near me that we might as well cross over the palisade, and I mounted it ... Somebody gave me a national flag, and I stuck it on top of the palisade, where I continued to sit."

This uncomfortable, prominent and median posture accurately describes Jawaharlal Nehru's position in the world today.

A Disappointment. The legs-astride position of Prime Minister Nehru on the vast fence that runs through the world is of considerable importance to the U.S. If this great, learned and widely beloved man swings a few inches either way—toward the democratic West or toward Communism—his shift can sway the suspended minds of millions in India and throughout Asia. The future of the democratic West depends in large measure on whether it can succeed in winning the confidence and friendship of the Asian peoples whom, until recently, it ruled. Western policymakers have hoped that Nehru—a man with known Western sympathies—is the Asian statesman who could lead a non-Communist Asia into the Western camp.

Nehru has dashed these hopes.

He has told his countrymen and all Asians that the West is their traditional enemy, and that the conflict between Communism and the West is not their concern. Nehru has tried to persuade the U.S. that it should end the Korean war by giving in to Chinese Communist demands, including Peking's admission to U.N. In speeches, formal notes, and through his ambassadors, Nehru has tirelessly urged his proposals—and has denounced the U.S. for not accepting them. He has also helped create, in Europe and in Asia, the mood known as "neutralism."

Americans, on whose affairs and prospects the mind of Jawaharlal Nehru thus has considerable influence, would like to understand that mind.

A Moralist. In many ways Nehru is a deeply appealing figure to Americans. Some of them had a fleeting glimpse of him when he came to the U.S. in 1949 and thought him mighty civil and handsome. No other living Asian leader, with the exception of Chiang Kaishek, has fought so doggedly for his country's aspirations. He is not the kind of man who invites a slap on the back and a friendly "Hi, Pandit" (which, according to Geoffrey Gorer, a studious misinterpreter of U.S. folkways, is the only basis on which Americans really like anybody). Nehru has said of himself that he failed to identify himself with the unending procession of humanity, "and then I would separate myself and, as from a hilltop, apart, look down at the valley below."

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