5 JUNE 1964, Page 3

New Delhi

WITH Nehru gone, New Delhi becomes a less important place, at least for a time. His being there made it an almost automatic stoppingxplace for world leaders travelling East or West, for Asian consulta- tions, Commonwealth exchanges or for plot- ting the strategy of non-alignment. Now, however, the danger is that it might slide down even on the Indian scale,. let alone internationally.

The federalism of the Indian constitution is a veneer. The Centre has almost irresis- tible powers—if there is a Prime Minister strong enough and prominent enough to ex- ercise them. With Nehru, there was never any doubt where the balance lay. But already in his lifetime things were changing, with the states asserting themselves more and more against New Delhi—and against each other. There was growing pressure for the further use of the Hindu language : the dominance of the state of Uttar Pradesh (with 86 of the 500 seats in the Lower House) was being challenged. Kashmir re- mained something vastly more than a simple territorial problem. The flight of Hindus from Pakistan is still 3,000 a day, and is clearly leading to resentment all over India. If the Centre's influence continues to weaken, India's problems will become immeasurably more difficult. Economic de- velopment, for instance, has always been planned on the basis of Indian unity, and is perhaps impossible without it. The Kashmir problem could become insoluble..

Indian foreign policy was very much Nehru's child. Till the dispute with China it seemed—sometimes irritatingly to the West —`friendly to neutrals, neutral to enemies, hostile to friends.' But China changed all that. The Sino-Soviet split, of course, made Indian friendship with Russia more likely and the growing voice of the Afro-Asian group made India adopt a markedly more anti-colonial stance in order to retain her stature in that part of the world. But it was the Chinese attack that really rung in the changes. India was forced to try desperately to win back prestige in Asia and counter the Chinese bid for leadership. Nehru chose at the same time to attempt to moderate the frenetic anti-colonialism of the Bandung powers, to accept arms from the West with- out alienating the Soviets and yet without accepting the West's promptings over Kash- mir. Above all, he had to work out satis- factory relationships with his neighbours— Nepal, Burma, Sikkim, Bhutan and Pakistan. It cannot honestly be said that Mr. Nehru at the end was always successful in these perhaps impossible tasks. Some of his best friends, like U Nu of Burma and President Sukarno of Indonesia, were either thrown or turned away. After China, it was hard to play the traditional role of mediator. Some countries, Burma for instance, are even `neutral' in the dispute; others, like Cam- bodia, are teetering on the edge of the Chinese camp, while non-alignment still makes it difficult for India to join forces with the Philippines, Thailand or even with Malaysia where the Tunku has been India's only unequivocal supporter. India's at times aloof attitude to Asian groupings and rival- ries has not helped. Even now, relations with Japan, an obvious possible partner in Asian stability, are only formally cordial. One of the most immediate tasks of the new Government, indeed, will be to give Indian policy in Asia a new direction.

Almost inevitably, India's tie with the Commonwealth will wear thin—unless there are some sweeping new proposals for partnership at the coming Prime Ministers' Conference. It was Mr. Nehru who led India into the Commonwealth on the grounds that it was wrong to contribute to • the break-up of any free association of States, and that anyway her membership could do no harm. The friendship for India felt by many British people is probably greater than most Indians care to realise and the links of education and intellectual exchange are strong. But they are weaken- ing, and India can hardly remain insensitive to some British criticisms of the Common- wealth. 'Out for what she can get,' are words that Indians can equally well apply to Britain.

It is hard to speak of Mr. Nehru's succes- sor, easier to speak of his successors—even after the impressive manner of Mr. Shastri', election. But for all, or perhaps because of, his never having been out of Asia, Mr. Shastri has one great advantage—he is a conciliator. India's two great problems, Mr. Shastri rightly said, are poverty and hunger. There is, also the problem of getting people of different race and religion to live side by side. So many of India's problems with her neighbours spring -from the fact that her own people live together in a state of con- tinual tension. If Mr. Shastri can solve this, and it is a task with which he is admirably fitted to deal, he will have served his people well. New Delhi may no longer be the sym- bol. of international peacekeeping. If it can become a symbol of different races living at peace in one country, then its significance in time may be just as great.