227 Moodie to McIntyre

Letter CANBERRA, 17 February 1949

personal and confidential

You may be interested to hear something about the Asian Conference in New Delhi. I am also writing to people at several other posts.

As you probably gathered, there was considerable doubt in Ministerial circles as to whether participation would be justified. The method of calling the Conference was very sudden, arising out of a speech [1] made by Nehru in Allahabad in one of his more impetuous moods. Thereafter the Government of India was committed and also, I imagine, there was a desire to take the initiative ahead of any other country in the area. Things were complicated here by the fact that our Minister [2] was on the high seas, the Prime Minister [3] was holidaying in Hobart and Mr.

Dedman, who was in charge in Canberra, felt some doubt as to the desirability and extent of our participation. (The Prime Minister's original proposal was that Mr. Dedman should go.) I personally think we were committed by our previous action and events proved the wisdom of our not limiting participation to observer status.

The press here was extremely suspicious and critical of 'little men running all over the world talking out of turn and too much'.

However, Burton was looking forward to attending the Conference and I was pleased to be returning to New Delhi, a pleasure tempered with apprehension about the hard work inevitably arising from any association with that human dynamo we have for a Secretary. Also I had a theory-quickly dispelled-that I might be able to have a couple of weeks' spell in India after the Conference and go up to the North-East frontier, or call in Afghanistan to deliver an overdue wedding present to some friends.

The Conference turned out well-far beyond the expectations of either of us. In the first place, the Indian organization was admirable. Things that I had expected would break down regularly (like transport) functioned smoothly all the time, except when we bungled it ourselves. We did have, of course, to contend at the lower levels with the inevitable Indian anxiety to please, coupled with inability to deliver the goods; but the people actually running the Conference were really good. Even John admitted this.

Nehru himself was Chairman all the way through and knew his facts.

Bajpai, Secretary-General of the Ministry of External Affairs and Commonwealth Relations, acted as principal adviser, and a younger man I knew before, called Dayal, was Secretary. This triumvirate were mainly responsible for the effectiveness of the arrangements.

We had anticipated arriving in New Delhi well equipped with documentation and ideas and finding all sorts of gaps in the Indian information and no very clear idea in their minds of what the Conference should do. However, at our preliminary discussions with Bajpai it was politely but firmly made clear to us that the Indians were well able to run their Conference without any preliminary help from us. Events proved that they were correct.

They had the whole thing mapped out, on the theory that if you do the work for other people they will generally accept the fruits of your labours.

The second impressive thing was the moderateness of all delegates.

There was no tendency either in public or private sessions to indulge in tirades or advocate impracticable schemes. We suspected that the Indians must have done some effective behind the scenes organising, but be that as it may, no country at any time suggested that anything should be done outside the United Nations, or even that there should be discussion on the form sanctions imposed by the Security Council against the Dutch might take. This was no small achievement with a collection of countries ranging from Ethiopia to the Philippines. In addition, in the private sessions everyone spoke briefly and to the point.

Four countries did most of the effective work: India, Pakistan, Ceylon and Australia. All four were put on the Drafting Committee which actually prepared the text of the resolutions [4], although here again Bajpai quickly asserted himself as primus inter pares and invariably had draft resolutions ready for discussion whenever the drafters met. The Pakistan party were led by Zafrullah Khan, who was perhaps the outstanding man at the Conference and obviously the Arab States represented there looked to him to give them a lead. There were no signs of bickering between Zafrullah Khan and Nehru in spite of the many differences between the two countries. In fact, in the Committee stages, everyone showed a marked readiness to compromise. Several times Nehru gave way to Australia on matters which we did not wish to have included in resolutions, e.g. consultation on questions other than Indonesia or a specific commitment to turn this Conference into an accepted regional organisation. In fact, they were leaning over backwards to ensure that they should not get tied to such a wide regional organisation.

The only discussion which might have become acrimonious developed over the question of a permanent regional organisation for all the countries represented at the Conference. Pakistan clearly favoured it and Syria also spoke strongly in support and asked why some countries were afraid of closer relationship. However, Zafrullah Khan did not wish to press the point. Hence the fairly innocuous wording of the third resolution about exploring means of collaboration, having regard to the areas concerned.

I am not sure of the Indian attitude on this point. I do not think they mind much whether there is one regional organisation or two, provided that they have a place in each. The fact that they took the initiative immediately the Conference was over in seeking formally the views of Governments represented proves that they want quick developments one way or another. [5]

Our position is rather uncertain. The Minister has said publicly that he favours a regional organisation for South East Asia, the idea presumably being that we would work in partnership with India. In practice, however, this would be difficult. On the one hand there are considerable doubts at home and in the Government as to the advisability of getting too closely tied to Asiatic countries. On the other there is India's own approach. India does desire to become the leading power in Asia and has no wish to have us, or anyone else, as her associate on equal terms in this process. She would be agreeable to a closer association with us in all sorts of ways, including defence, but she will want to be in the box seat herself. She will want to have the main say, despite official protestations to the contrary. I suspect this may not square with our line.

This brings us to a fundamental point, and one on which my ideas are pretty tentative. I would have liked two or three weeks in India to confirm them. The place has changed remarkably since I left in July, 1947, not only in geographical and political configuration, but in the attitude of the Indians themselves. In the period 1944 to 1947 their energies were concentrated on attaining independence and they seized very willingly on any gesture at all of sympathy and friendliness. Now that they have got their independence they have gained confidence and shed a good deal of their historical introspection. Indian political leaders don't feel any sense of isolation, and are satisfied that they have a good deal to give the world. (It is difficult without having lived in India to realise the contempt many educated Indians have for the Western countries which have been involved in two world wars in three decades.) All this means that they will collaborate with other countries but on their own terms. They do not feel any strong desire to join hands in equal partnership. The Hyderabad episode [6] makes it plain that they are capable of determined and ruthless action. So we needn't feel that they will feel any strong sense of gratitude just because we say nice things about them.

Nehru himself is undoubtedly a great inspiration, although vain and impetuous. I do not altogether trust some of his entourage-and this includes Bajpai-his sister, Mrs. Pandit, and some other members of the family group are not a good influence on him. I had several talks with a few people well placed in the administrative machine, like Lall, Secretary to the Governor-General and Bai, Nehru's Principal Private Secretary, and I gathered that India's official affairs are run on a somewhat 'personal' basis, also that no one in the Indian Government, except Nehru and Ayengar, has many clues on foreign affairs.

This new Indian attitude calls for different qualities in the people who are sent there. Our participation in the Conference was a good thing and John Burton made an extremely good impression on Nehru and the other Indians he met. That was quite obvious from the very marked contrast in their attitudes when we came and when we left-suspicion and caution in the first place, and smiles and friendliness at the end. But really that was primarily because we had served their purpose and I don't think we should count too much upon the goodwill we may have acquired at present. It could easily be dissipated.

Incidentally, the private sessions of the Conference were held in Hyderabad House, which shows that the Indians have not got much sense of humour.

1 See Document 3.

2 H.V. Evatt.

3 J.B. Chifley.

4 Document 144.

5 See note 2 to Document 181.

6 See note 2 to Document 298 in Volume XIII.

[AA : A1838, 383/1/25]