It is just unfortunate that our President, Dr Radhakrishnan’s first state visit to this country should have coincided with the worst phase of the political storm provoked by the Profumo affair. It so happened that Mr Profumo chose or felt compelled to blurt out the truth on the eve of the visit, Mr Macmillan convened the first meeting of the Cabinet to discuss his resignation and its consequences the day the President arrived on June 12. The most crucial debate since the Suez took place during the visit last Monday. It is a real tribute to the President that he has commanded public attention in spite of the overwhelming preoccupation with the Profumo affair.
No one could have foreseen this coincidence. As such no one is to blame for the timing. There could, however, be doubts about the timing of the visit on another ground. One could ask whether it was really wise of New Delhi from the long term point of view to take the risk of allowing the President’s visit to be linked, however indirectly, with its search for aid. Coming as it did in the wake of a number of missions that have been here in recent months to canvass economic and military aid and the rather unseemly controversies in respect of the arms aid there was a danger that the President’s visit might be interpreted as part of the same drive. Happily this mix-up did not take place.
On the eve of the President’s visit here there was speculation in the press that the occasion would be utilised by the British Government to discuss political problems particularly the Anglo-American proposal to arrange mediation over the intractable Kashmir issue. For all we know, no such discussions took place. Mr Macmillan and his colleagues had other more urgent matters to deal with. In the present circumstances at least, the press reports turned out to be unfounded. All the same, the warning should be heeded.
While it is no use pretending that economic and military aid do not influence Indo-British relations, the fact needs to be emphasised that Indo-British friendship is not wholly dependent on it. There is something special about Indo-British relations. On our side we do not have anyone better fitted than the President to bring out the lasting bonds between the two nations and he did it both by his mere presence on British soil and his speeches. His own connections with this country date as far back as 1926. The Queen herself emphasised it on the first public occasion available to her and so did the newspapers. When the Queen conferred the Order of Merit on Dr Radhakrishnan she honoured him both as an outstanding individual and Head of the Indian State and in both capacities the President bore testimony to the continuity of Indo-British relations.
In India we might be so accustomed to the President’s austere simplicity that we hardly notice it. Here this fact stood out among the pomp and pageantry of the ceremonial reception, state drive, banquets, Guildhall luncheon and so on. At least during my stay in this country I have not seen such praise lavished on any visiting dignitary as on our President. The editorial that The Daily Telegraph carried last Saturday is specially noteworthy in view of the papers generally critical attitude towards Indian policies.
It deplored that the President should be visiting Britain when the whole people were feeling humiliated by the disclosure of corruption in high places and added, “and yet, we have a mind to pull ourselves together after a grievous moral shock, we may find a salutary stimulus in the presence among us of the President of India, whose sole career has exemplified what Lord Bryce claimed as the ‘soul and essence’ of the medieval empire he so much admired – the love of peace, the sense of brotherhood of mankind, the recognition of the sacredness and supremacy of the spiritual life.”,
Like other papers, it said: “No other living Head of State in the world approaches his intellectual distinction that such a man should have been elevated by a great people to the first place in its polity, rather than one immersed in the controversies of politics, is a remarkable evidence that India sees society, of which the President is the supreme representative, as something greater than, and including, the State”. A more eloquent tribute is difficult to imagine.
The President’s visit helped to underscore that by and large Indo-British relations were above party politics. But the very intimate and extensive nature of these relations complicates the picture. It is only honest to admit that often India finds greater understanding and sympathy in the Labour party than among the titled Knights and brigadiers on the back benches of the Conservative party. There are strong historical and psychological reasons for it. These have often been discussed and need not be stated again. But it needs to be emphasised that our representatives should not have allowed our old ties with the Labour party to languish even during the long Conservative rule.
For years the late Mr Aneurin Bevan canvassed support for India in the Labour party. It was a matter of good luck that the late Mr Hugh Gaitskell had equally warm feelings for India, partly because of his family’s long association with the country. But I wonder if any Indian can legitimately lay claim to personal friendship with Mr Harold Wilson. It is true that his rise in the party and the country has been unexpectedly rapid. But he was a reckonable factor even when Mr Gaitskell was alive.
In the brief months that Mr Wilson has been the Labour leader he has established such complete ascendancy as the party has not known since Lord Attlee’s retirement. This means that he has the opportunity to impress his personality and views on the party. He is known to be left of centre. He inherited the present shadow cabinet from Mr Gaitskell who was often right of centre and only towards the end of his life took up a centrist position. There are reasonable chances that we shall have a number of new faces on the front bench if the Labour party forms the next government which is only too likely.
On the basis of the information then available I hazarded the view last week in these columns that after the attempt on Miss Christine Keeler’s life by one of her West Indian friends, Mr Edgecombe, last December, it should have been possible for the authorities to take stock of the situation and avert the present scandal by asking Mr Profumo to resign. It now transpires that they knew nothing of Mr Profumo’s relations with Miss Keeler till early this year when they were told about it by a newspaper. From Mr Macmillan’s narration of the events it appears that Dr Stephen Ward, the central figure in the scandal, lied when he claimed that he had told the security services of this relationship in 1961 itself.
The overall impression that emerged from Mr Macmillan’s narration of the events last Monday was summed up with devastating accuracy by The Guardian’s headline: “Mr Macmillan, the man who did not know.” No one told him anything till a newspaper executive on his own initiative called on his private secretary on February 1, 1963. On this account there is a great deal of sympathy for him. This is, however, largely cancelled because even after February 1 he made no serious effort to establish the truth for himself. We shall never know whether he gambled, as Mr Wilson alleged, in the hope that the truth would not be out. Whatever the truth, it is tragic that his career should end in this squalid manner. He studiously cultivated the image of an Edwardian gentleman. The image became the reality. He lost touch with the times he was living in. The result is tragic but not surprising.
The Times of India, 22 June 1963