• Email
  • Print

Indignation over India

In response to:

A Passage to Pakistan from the March 23, 1972 issue

To the Editors:

Mr. Neville Maxwell writes, “The Indians…clung to [the Bengali refugees], rejecting any proposal that looked to their return to a united Pakistan.” And he asserts they did this to justify military action. This is the position that Henry Kissinger and President Nixon have argued, but where is the evidence for it? “Clung” suggests that the Indian government held on to the refugees to prevent their return. Does Mr. Maxwell know of any efforts of the Indian government to prevent the refugees from returning to East Pakistan, as it then was? Just what “proposals” were made, and by whom? Kissinger, in his originally anonymous backgrounder to the press, seemed to think such proposals existed, or would soon exist, but no one else has heard of them. What were they? Or is it that what Mr. Maxwell is really suggesting is that India should have driven the 10 million refugees back into East Pakistan to provide further victims for slaughter and rape to the Pakistani army?

Mr. Maxwell makes clear his disdain for “India’s present form of government,” whose continuance, he sneers, “is held to be of the highest value among Western liberals,” though he concedes that India is, “after all, a democracy.” No soft Western liberal he: he goes in for discipline imposed on those slack Indians, whether by the British Empire or Communist China. But whatever his views of democracy, as an informed observer he should have recognized that no Indian government can make as light of Indian democracy as he does: there are opposition parties, an opposition press, and an informed public opinion, which would not allow an Indian government to refuse refuge to people fleeing from slaughter in East Pakistan, and would certainly not allow it to force Hindus—the great majority of the refugees—back into the slaughterhouse.

There is no problem understanding Mr. Maxwell’s position: as against Indian democracy, he prefers either the government of the former British Raj or of present-day Communist China. (One might have expected, however, grudging acknowledgment that it is Indian democracy that makes possible the critical literature on which he bases his review.) What is hardly to be understood is why, despite his known position as an apologist for Chinese aggression against India, The New York Review should have chosen him to review this group of books. Or is that just the point?

Nathan Glazer

Stanford, California

Neville Maxwell replies:

Mr. Plastrik’s criticism reminds me strongly of another outburst which similarly charged me with pessimism and malice. The occasion for that attack (an editorial in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn) was a report I had written on East Pakistan, describing the attitudes the Bengalis there held toward their then compatriots in the western wing of the country. I had reported that the Bengalis resented the West Pakistanis, who were felt to treat them like a subject race, and I had foreseen “strains and storms inherent in President Ayub’s insistence on a unitary form of government.” Dawn said all that was vicious, “double-distilled poison,” and charged that I was trying to “drive a wedge between the people of Pakistan’s two wings.” That was January-February 1961.

Specifically, what incensed Mr. Plastrik in my review seems to have been this passage:

…India’s essential political problem is the same as that of the Pakistan that was—unity; and, although it is by no means so developed (because unlike Pakistan, India is a contiguous whole), the same centrifugal force that destroyed Pakistan is already at work in India.

(It is typical of this kind of reaction that it contains some misrepresentation. For example, Mr. Plastrik says, “Maxwell states that India will ‘inevitably’ fall apart,” although I make no such statement. The phrase, “the inevitability of it all,” which Mr. Plastrik quotes, referred in my review to events in the final phase of the dissolution of Pakistan.)

But, generally, what irks Mr. Plastrik is my belief that Pakistan is politically and socially comparable to India, and to refute that he points out that Pakistan was “an artificial creation.” I know that, and suggested as much in my review; where I part company with him is in his belief that India, on the contrary, has “a solid national base.” The class in India which succeeded the British as rulers is certainly more potent, and possibly more significant, than that part of the same class which sought its privileges in Pakistan. But I believe that the pan-Indian nationalism which that class feels and represents is shallower and weaker than the native nationalisms of south Asia, such as those of the Bengalis and the Tamils, for example; and that the two kinds of nationalism are on a collision course in India, as they were in Pakistan—and in fact are still in what is left of Pakistan. (Mr. Plastrik should not imagine that the view I quoted, that “there is not, and never was, an India…” was limited to the Raj. At about the same time as Strachey wrote the passage I cited, Tilak, the Hindu leader, was saying: “It is wrong to conclude that the Marathas, Punjabis, Bengalis, etc., all these different peoples, have one nationality.”)

Mr. Plastrik challenges me to name a separatist independence movement in India today—but could he have named a separatist independence movement in Pakistan before March 26, 1971? Sheikh Mujib and the Awami League hotly denied that their movement was any such thing. But, as the book I was reviewing pointed out, while the Awami League’s program “might call for mere autonomy, and not spell out secession…, secession would be its effect.” As for India, it has already been noted there that the chief minister of Tamilnadu is presenting himself explicitly as the “Mujib of Tamilnadu,” and implicitly comparing Mrs. Gandhi’s government with the Yahya Khan regime in Pakistan. As the left-wing and strongly nationalist Indian newsmagazine Link recently put it, “The tongue-in-cheek praise of the Prime Minister by Karunanidhi [chief minister of Tamilnadu] as a democrat who would grant autonomy for his state in just the same way she helped Mujib to liberate Bangladesh added to the Congress fear that the DMK [Karunanidhi’s party] may be planning to go beyond the autonomy demand—probably back to its original moorings” (Link, March 19, 1972, pp. 25-7).

The “original moorings” referred to there were the openly secessionist demand for a separate, sovereign Dravidian state, which the DMK insistently advanced until 1963—when an amendment of the Indian constitution made it a crime to advocate secession!

As for India’s democracy, I wonder whether Mr. Plastrik and I are really so far apart as his indignation suggests. He concludes with the admission that the task of ending mass poverty in India, introducing agrarian reform, extending industrialization, eradicating caste, etc., is “an impossibly heavy load” for the present political system. Just so.

Mr. Glazer sounds like another one of those who, in their jubilation at the survival of democratic forms in India, ignore the fact that the relevance of any polity there must be judged by the economic progress made and the social reforms achieved. It was in that context that one of the authors I was reviewing dismissed India’s parliamentary forms as a charade; and that I was led, after nearly eight years in India reporting the political processes, to write that democracy there was “government of the politician, by the politician, and for the politician.” (Perhaps I should have written “the political classes,” but otherwise it still seems apt.)

It also sounds as if Mr. Glazer does not follow events in South Asia with any attention. Simple ignorance seems the likeliest explanation for his balking at my point that the Indian government rejected proposals looking to the return of the refugees to a united Pakistan. Mrs. Gandhi herself, referring like Mr. Glazer to the likelihood of further massacre and rape, repeatedly said that there could be no question of the refugees being returned to an East Pakistan still under Pakistani military oppression—which oppression was by that time, of course, the only thing that retained some bloody semblance of a united Pakistan.

As for the proposals (looking to the ultimate return of the refugees) which the Indians rejected, I had in mind such as President Yahya Khan’s suggestions of summit talks with Mrs. Gandhi; of reciprocal military disengagement from the borders in the east; and the proposal that UN observers be admitted to the refugee camps in India.

Editor’s Note: Concerning Mr. Glazer’s statement about “Chinese aggression against India,” we refer readers to John K. Fairbank’s review in this paper (April 22, 1971) of Mr. Maxwell’s India’s China War.

  • Email
  • Print