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POLICIES & PRINCIPLES: The Education of a Pandit

5 minute read

Said Jawaharlal Nehru: “Sometimes when there are no new experiences, timeseems to stop.” Then, in wry reference to his years in British jails, he added: “And I have had this experience of time stopping for months and years in my life.”

Last week, India’s Prime Minister had plenty of new experiences.

The Advantage of Detachment. During a hectic week in Manhattan, before he started on his flying trip across the country, Pandit Nehru got an official reception at New York’s City Hall (which was being picketed by striking Sanitation Department workers), visited U.N., saw a stream of callers at his suite in the Waldorf-Astoria. One night, he drove up to Columbia University; at this shrine of mass education (current enrollment: 29,200), President Dwight D. Eisenhower conferred an honorary doctorate of laws on the Cambridge graduate, some 90% of whose countrymen cannot read or write. As newsmen worked over Nehru in a klieg-lit, stifling hot little room, Eisenhower nervously chewed his mortarboard, muttered: “This is a terrible way to treat a friend.” By the time the press was through with Columbia’s newest doctor—who wore a black wool achkan under his academic gown—Nehru was as wilted as the red rose in his buttonhole.

Looking more & more tired, Nehru rode back & forth between receptions, up & down Manhattan Island, preceded by wailing police sirens and greeted by politely cheering crowds. He was usually accompanied by his sister, plump Mrs. Pandit, India’s Ambassador to the U.S., and his slim daughter, Indira, both in flowing saris.

Nehru usually spoke without notes, ramblingly and frankly. At an Overseas Press Club luncheon, asked if he wished his remarks to stay off the record, he cracked: “How can you be off the record to 500 people?” In his low, Cantabrigian voice, which carried only traces of Asian inflections, he expressed a noncommittal and slightly distant good will to the U.S. India, said Pandit Nehru, does “not wish to forfeit the advantage which our present detachment gives us.” He predicted that capitalism and Marxism could not long endure in one world, and that whichever force was better able, morally and materially, “to deliver the goods” would in the end win out. But he did not say which of the two forces he considered better fit to deliver.

The Fear of Fear. Nehru delivered a major address at a dinner given jointly by the Foreign Policy Association, the India League of America, the East and West Association, and the American Institute of Pacific Relations, in the Waldorf-Astoria’s grand ballroom. Said he: “People talk about India’s desire for leadership in Asia. We have no desire for leadership . . . [But] whether we want to or not … we have to play an important role . . . There is no halfway house . . . Either India makes good [or] she just fades away.”

Nehru, visitor in a land of plenty from a land of want, spoke quietly and simply of his people’s past sufferings and of their present needs. But sometimes his words suggested that he did not want to be tainted by the riches and the power he saw about him—even though they might help India along her difficult road. Said he: “It is just like the man who possesses many valuables . . . being constantly afraid of losing or somebody stealing them . . . Possibly he might be a more comfortable man if he didn’t have them … In the terms that the world measures the nations of today, we are weak . . . We have not only not got an atomic bomb, but we rejoice in not having the atomic bomb . . .”

He moved his audience when he said of Mahatma Gandhi:

“He just went about telling us, ‘Don’t be afraid. Why are you afraid? What can happen to you?’. . . And we realized with a tremendous lifting of the burden that was within us that there was really nothing to fear. .. Even the poor peasant straightened his back a little . . . Fear was something we had created . . . We have lost all fear of external aggression . . . unless of course we ourselves go to pieces. Then it would be our fault.”

The Dismal Grownups. From New York, Nehru went to Boston, visited Harvard, M.I.T. and Wellesley, where 1,700 college girls gave him a cheery reception. He wished, he told them, that he did not have to make so many speeches in the U.S. “Grownup people like myself,” he said, “grow more & more dismal, talking dismal subjects.”

Then he left for a three-day visit to Canada; with his party he viewed Niagara Falls from Maid-of-the-Mist (see cut). This week Pandit Nehru would take off on a two-week flying trip across the U.S. to continue what he called his education.

-Right: Lester Pearson, Canada’s Minister of External Affairs.

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