Apparently spurred by criticism at home, the Indian Information Service here has in recent weeks somewhat broadened the scope of its activities to include background material on China. One of these backgrounders recalls Mr Mao Tse-tung’s famous statement of 1949 in which he said that every nation must choose between the western and the Soviet bloc and that a third road did not exist, to prove that China does not believe in the policy of neutrality. The whole effort is rather thin.
Another similar piece seeks to show that even after excluding “hidden” expenditure shown under other heads, China’s defence expenditure in the last decade exceeded an average of Rs 10,000 million annually, 4.6 to eight per cent of her gross national product. This is contrasted with India’s defence expenditure in the same period when it never exceeded Rs 2,570 million in any year, less than two per cent of gross national product. The purpose of this exercise is to rebut the Chinese charge that India has been pursuing an expansionist policy.
It might be useful to circulate this kind of material in Asia and Africa. Here no student of Chinese affairs is likely to take this puny effort seriously. For instance, even a casual perusal of Chinese activities, pronouncements and documents is enough to show that the Chinese rulers spare no effort to cultivate non-aligned countries of Asia and Africa. The one consistent theme in their propaganda is India is no longer non-aligned if she ever was. The impressive evidence of their good relations with Burma, Nepal, Ceylon, Indonesia and even Pakistan, to name only some of India’s own neighbours, cannot be dismissed by the citation of Mr Mao Tse-tung’s oft-repeated statement. Above all, how relevant is it to prove our neutrality in this country?
In the western world the defence expenditure of 4.6 to 8 per cent of gross national product is not considered abnormal. For years Britain has been spending over seven per cent of her national income on defence and America 10 to 11 per cent. The figure for West Germany and France is about the same as for Britain. Of even greater relevance is the fact that most commentators here would regard the doubling of India’s own defence budget as only proper. Only last week in a special supplement on India, The Economist said, “At a little more than five per cent, it (defence budget) would still be lower than the level maintained by a number of countries no more developed and industrialised than India.” Our own reaction to this view is a separate matter.
The western world does not stand in need of being enlightened regarding China. Western experts have known details of China’s armed strength all along. Most of what we know now about the Chinese concentration in Tibet and along the Indian border has come from them. The American mission in Hongkong has been an invaluable source of information. Only recently The Sunday Telegraph here was able to publish secret letters exchanged between China and the Soviet Union on the current ideological dispute and neither Government has challenged their authenticity. China’s aggressive character might be a new discovery for us in India. The western world has never been in doubt about it.
In a broad sense the main job of the Indian High Commission, which includes the information service, here remains what it was before the Chinese aggression and the resignation of Mr Krishna Menon as Defence Minister last October. Rightly or wrongly the impression created here in the past was that Indian leaders were soft towards Communist aggression and unduly hostile to western interests on the one hand and intransigent on the issue of Kashmir on the other. The utterances of Mr Krishna Menon provided the necessary arguments in support of all of these suspicions. The treatment meted out to western oil companies in India also has had an adverse effect. The task of India’s spokesman is to remove these suspicions and apprehensions as far as it is possible within the limitations of the country’s overall foreign policy.
It seems to me that due to our undue sensitiveness to criticism on specific issues like Kashmir and Goa, we often tend to overlook the large reservoir of goodwill and friendship we enjoy in this country. The official as well as unofficial response at the time of the Chinese invasion should have settled that question once for all. Only last month two major papers, The Financial Times and The Economist produced special supplements on our economy and both made a passionate plea for greater western assistance. The Federation of British Industries whose influence cannot be exaggerated has reinforced this plea to impress on the British Government the imperative necessity of going all out to support India’s plans of economic expansion. The Federation’s report is a document which deserves to be pondered over carefully in New Delhi.
Several reasons account for this goodwill. The most important clearly is the success India has made of democratic institutions. Unfortunately it feared here that democracy is far from stable in India. At least partly, we are ourselves to blame for spreading the erroneous impression that the success of the democratic experiment has so far been wholly dependent on one man. This has tended to weaken confidence in India’s political stability in the long run and in turn discouraged private foreign investment. Till recently it produced exaggerated fears of a communist takeover after Mr Nehru. The change in the army command under Mr Menon and the Soviet bloc aid and trade got linked with these fears.
India’s image in this part of the world has also been damaged by the relatively poor economic performance, relative, that is, not to Japan but to other Asian countries not better placed than India herself, and by ill-conceived utterances which gave the impression of a doctrinaire and rigid approach to the problems of economic expansion. Well known economists have made this criticism even after taking into consideration the unavoidable heavy outlay on basic industries and multipurpose river projects. So sympathetic an economist as Mrs Barbara Ward, author of the well-known book “India and the West”, has drawn pointed attention to the failures of the public sector in respect of thermal power and transport.
Economic failures cannot easily be covered up by effective public relations. But it should have been within the capacity of our representatives to remove the apprehension that Indian democracy is basically unstable. Instead they strengthened this apprehension, even if inadvertently, by concentrating all their efforts on publicising almost exclusively and indiscriminately the utterances of the Prime Minister. As far as I can see, little effort has been made by them to dispel the view, assiduously spread by well-intentioned but badly informed left-wing writers, that most of the other Congress leaders are rightist reactionaries who would be willing to make common cause with big business, communal organisations and the army officer corps to throttle infant democratic institutions.
On the question of the Chinese aggression the whole approach has been warped. Even after the occupation of Aksaichin became public knowledge in 1959 and the Chinese moved into Longju and fired on our border patrol in Ladakh, the problem was not taken up with the British Government. On the contrary, hints were dropped that India would not welcome British interest in the problem. I am told that even documents essential to the presentation of India’s case were collected in London through non-official channels. During this period the old links between the Indian and the British armies were considerably weakened. Now we have successfully created total confusion about the nature of our response to the Chinese menace.
Public relations has never been and can never be a substitute for performance. In India’s case the test still is rapid economic expansion which means the cuttings down of red tape and greater flexibility of approach in the allocation of available resources to the two sectors. Even the best of public relations cannot sell every policy. In our case Kashmir is one such case and amateur Sinology can invite only ridicule. In the west Sinology has a very long tradition. In public relations, personal contacts based on confidence and mutual respect are more effective than the issuing of routine handouts. We tend to swing between the two extremes of arrogant self-righteousness and meek submission, ill-informed in both cases. The first posture provokes the charge of intransigence and a holier-than-thou attitude and the latter creates the impression that we can be pushed around. There is no short cut to effective public relations and the first step has to be the political education of those who engage in it.
The Times of India, 2 March 1963