INDIA: The Shade of the Big Banyan

(7 of 9)

This year, rectifying past mistakes of overplanning, India has had a better time of it economically. The sterling balance has risen about 8%, and the government recently liberalized its laws concerning foreign investment, tempting some U.S. and British firms to get in on the ground floor of a nation where there is only one watch for every 40 people, one bicycle for every 125, and one camera for every 50,000. The recovery was fortuitous, for the nation was about to be put to its severest test since independence.

The China Crisis. The crisis with China displayed all of Nehru's weaknesses. It was a threat that Nehru, typically, first tried not to see, then ignored and then tried to argue away. This spring he dismissed news stories of Tibet's revolt against the Red Chinese as "mere bazaar talk." When Tibet's religious leader, the young Dalai Lama, and 13,000 Tibetan refugees came pouring across India's border, Nehru seemed acutely uncomfortable. To Red China's hysterical charges that Indian "expansionists" were behind the revolt and that the "command center" of the rebels was in the Indian border town of Kalimpong, Nehru entered a soft denial, and said Kalimpong was indeed a nest of spies—"spies who are Communist, antiCommunist, red, yellow, pink and white." To urgent suggestions that India join with Pakistan for the united defense of the subcontinent, Nehru asked ingenuously: "Against whom?"

From angry words thrown at India, the Chinese Reds moved to actions against it: the frontier post of Longju in India's North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) was seized; Indian patrols were taken prisoner; Nehru made the shamefaced admission that he had kept secret from Parliament the fact that the Chinese two years before had built a road through Indian territory linking Tibet and the Chinese province of Sinkiang.

Finance Minister Morarji Desai angrily set out to get the facts about the Red road. Cross-questioning India's Army Chief of Staff. Lieut. General K. S. Thimayya, he asked when he first knew about the road. In 1957, said the general, and he had offered proposals to safeguard the security of India, but they were turned down by the Defense Minister, lean, rancorous V. K. Krishna Menon. "Why?" asked Desai. "Because," replied Thimayya, "he said that the enemy was on the other side [i.e., Pakistan], not on this side."

While the Chinese were boldly occupying Indian territory, Krishna Menon was rising in the U.N. to champion the admission of Peking and to lead the fight against debating the Tibet tragedy. The Hindustan Times fumed about Menon's "immoral and degrading performances." Indian students paraded in New Delhi, shouting "Menon resign! Menon resign!" General Thimayya quarreled with Menon and threatened to leave the army. Nehru talked him out of it. With his hesitant response to China's calculated attack on the Indian patrol in Ladakh, Nehru lost his once unshakable hold on the nation's intellectuals, business leaders and press. With almost one voice, Indians demanded that Nehru defend India's integrity, fire Defense Minister Krishna Menon and, above all, send troops to drive the Chinese invaders from Indian soil.