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New International, March–April 1951


Abel Baker

Books in Review

India and the U.S.


From The New International, Vol. XVII No. 2, March–April 1951, pp. 123–125.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


India and the United States,
by Lawrence Rosinger.
Macmillan, $2.75.

Rosinger’s short book is one of the few studies of relations between India and the U.S. And perhaps one of the reasons for the paucity of the literature is the paucity of the relations. For the central fact that emerges from any study is that there have never existed any major economic, political, cultural, strategic, or historic connections between these two countries. As Rosinger puts it, India is not at the center of the American consciousness.

This book is largely devoted to rounding out this idea, and to providing a cogent criticism of the U.S. attitude toward India. It might have been more useful and pointed to fill in some of the background for the actual lack of relationship which at first examination seems so strange. For it is not so much that the destinies of India and the U.S. have not been intertwined, as that their connection has been largely through Britain as intermediary. While the American colonies were fighting and winning their independence, India was being brought under the political subjugation of the British Empire, and perhaps one of the reasons for the relatively feeble display of force made by the British in America was due to its preoccupation on the Asiatic sub-continent. While the point cannot be insisted on too strongly it remains an historic possibility that had it not been for British involvement in India at the time the course of the colonial struggle here might have been quite different.

Certainly the American Civil War had a direct effect on India. As a result of the loss of cheap southern cotton supplies the newly flourishing textile industry of Lancashire and the Midlands was seriously threatened. The British sought new supplies in Egypt, as is well known. Perhaps not so commonly known is that the British also opened a vast new cotton region in the Punjab with fateful consequences down to the present day for India.

The only time any substantial numbers of Americans and Indians had occasion to meet took place with the stationing of certain U.S. Army units in India during the last war. An impact of this kind is always of a subtle cultural character at best and, despite the constant reference by India’s well-wishers in this country to this incident as a new point of departure in relations between the two countries, any major effect of this “meeting of two cultures” is in serious doubt.

Not even the struggle for independence by India during the war brought the U.S. any closer. As Rosinger shows, Roosevelt’s interventions were episodic and on only one occasion did he seem to approach the Indian Independence leaders at all. This tentative feeler was quickly withdrawn at Churchill’s protest. Roosevelt never protested Churchill’s amendment to the Atlantic Charter to the effect that it was geographically limited to providing for the Four Freedoms in countries washed by the Atlantic. And after this much has been said one has pretty well summed up just about all that was done by official Washington to assist Gandhi and his friends. Very little was said or done beyond a vague sentiment for India.

And since the war? India became a creditor nation with huge sterling surpluses; and like most other nations with even the barest wherewithal it has bought heavily from the U.S., so that for the first time in the post-war years trade between the two nations had become significant. However, this is probably already in the past. Britain has succeeded in tying India to herself quite thoroughly and has largely succeeded in re-establishing the pre-independence trade pattern. It is unlikely that the U.S. will again play as large a role in India’s imports as it did during 1946–48. Indeed as India becomes more closely linked with the Commonwealth economy, as is intended for example by the Colombo Plan, her freedom in world trade is liable to become increasingly restricted. The fact is that there never has been, and the probability is that there will not be in the future, an American economic stake in India.

For in the present as in the past the basic relations between the two countries still run through London. It is as a source of British power that India has its primary strategic significance to the U.S.

Rosinger spends considerable space examining the attitudes of American and Indian leaders toward American investment in the latter’s country. After the war and in particular, after Independence, a kind of informal international debate raged between the two, with the Americans urging various incentives and special privileges, while the newly empowered Indians were reluctant to yield any of the fruits of freedom quite so soon. Nehru eventually made a series of public speeches in which he in effect complied with the arrogant demands of the American ambassador and offered many special conditions in order to attract U.S. capital. None of Nehru’s offers seemed sufficient, however, to elicit a real response in dollar investments but only subtle pressures for more concessions.

Rosinger, however, misses the point of this incredible pantomime. There is a deep historic significance here which has great bearing on the economic future of all the new states of South Asia. The only hope that capitalism could ever develop to full bloom in this area lay in the achievement of independence while world capitalism was still a dynamic social order and while there existed powerful capitalist states with economic stakes in developing the area industrially. Certainly, European capitalism long ceased to be a possible support for such a development. The hope of the native bourgeoisie turned on help from the U.S.

If U.S. dollars could be interested in realizing the fabulous potential of the area there was still hope for a capitalist era in the new nations. But this too has not come to pass. American capital shows no interest in going into the area and there are no reasons to foresee any marked change in this trend in the future. The only American aid that reaches India, for example, is of the direct government to government kind, which is earmarked for certain general developments and does not in any substantial measure serve to buoy up national capitalism. The result is that native capitalism, suffering as it does from a natural conservation and sense of dependence and, having little confidence in its own ability or in the future of the nation, simply stagnates. Independence proves disillusioning, in the very first instance, to the native bourgeoisie which acquires the new state power.

In India capitalism is said to be on strike. There is almost no new investment to speak of; capital formation is at an ebb. The economic leaders seek constantly for international alliances to bolster their position and the only sectors of the economy which interest them are those in which they can combine with foreign trusts. This phenomenon is directly related to the unique character of the American economy and its absence of a fundamental interest in South Asia. It is one of the forces which drove India back into the Empire and which is now giving meaning to the Colombo Plan. It is also one of the realities limiting the capitalist perspective for the area.

In his final chapter Rosinger relaxes somewhat from the “pure objectivity” he so carefully pursues in his earlier chapters, to write what is probably the most lucid exposition of Indian foreign policy that has yet appeared in this country. In passing, he makes the point that it is unlikely that India will take the lead of South Asia toward any kind of regional cooperation. Rosinger claims that Nehru’s protestations that he is not interested in such leadership should be taken at face value. He bases his case on the actual performance of the New Delhi government, which has certainly been discouraging every idea of regional unity since the second inter-Asian conference on Indonesia, and on the fact that Nehru is very sensitive to India’s internal weakness and, therefore, her need to steer a non-committal course in international affairs. The responsibilities of leadership are frightening to Nehru.

This does not imply that India is really a neutral between the two world camps. Rosinger has no illusions on this score and he correctly underlines that while Nehru is above all terrified of anything which might precipitate war, nevertheless his international orientation is inevitably toward the Anglo-American orbit. Here again, however, life is more complicated than Rosinger indicates, as has become clear since the Korean war. The fact that Britain is a reluctant partner of the U.S., particularly in Far Eastern matters, gives India a far greater latitude than it might otherwise enjoy.

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