by Norman St. John Stevas
MRS. INDIRA GHANDI is the mother of India, and as with every mother, her Lhildren have a love-hate relationship with her. Her features, in a photograph which does her much less than justice, beam down on one from every public building and airport lounge: the President, Dr. Husain, also looks down benevolently but one hardly notices him.
Mrs. Ghandi is, in fact, if not in theory Queen of India. although unlike Queen Elizabeth II she arouses a very wide range of emotions from near worship to the most acrid detestation.
The daughter of Jawaharal Nehru with all the prestige that goes with that name in India, a widow with two children, she finds herself at the age of 53 and in her prime, leading one of the most populous and complicated countries in the world.
She received us quite informally in her study in the Lok Sabha (the Indian House of Commons), welcoming us with a Western handshake and not with the Indian bow and hand salutation, which personally I find infinitely more pleasing than the Western handclasp. (Why do we not use the Eastern form of greeting when meeting bishops; it would be different, dignified, and solve the vexing question of ring-pecking?) Her public relations smile banished, she was revealed as a reflective, highly intelligent and attractive woman. Her features could not be described as beautiful: a long. thin, energetic nose and pursed lips would not do for a chocolate box, but somehow beauty hovers over her face without quite taking possession: perhaps her eyes arc responsible for this effect: they are brooding and inscrutable.
When she assumed the premiership on the untimely death of her father's successor, Mr. Shastri, many thought she was only a puppet of a section of the Congress party, but. like Pope John in a different context, she soon put this error to rights.
She has displayed a capacity for swift and decisive, even ruthless action, which has confounded and bamboozled some of her slower-moving political opponents. With her own Congress party split and not in command of a political majority in Parliament. survival in parliamentary terms is Mrs. Ghandi's first objective.
She has achieved this by moving to the left and relies for support on the respectable pro-Soviet section of the Communist party which is itself split. Her relations with Mr. Kosygin are reputedly close, but in fact she is not so much pro-Soviet as pro-Indian.
Mrs. Ghandi's parliamentary mandate, such as it is. will last until 1972, but she is quite capable of springing an early election on the country, provided that she can see a reasonable chance of winning. In Delhi. the parliamentarians, concerned like Members of Parliament everywhere for the safety of their seats, watch her nervously like mice gazing at a cat.
In foreign policy Mrs. Ghandi follows her father's policy of non-alignment---a course which in the Indian context makes considerable sense although it has caused some irritation in Britain.
She is against the sale of arms to South Africa, but would not, I judge, carry her opposition to the point of leaving the Commonwealth on the issue. although she will be under some pressure to do so.
I put to her the alternative of a regional defence pact covering the whole of the Indian Ocean with Australia, New Zealand. South Africa, India and some of the black African States taking part. This was received rather less than rapturously.
Pacts and alliances do not appeal to Mrs. Ghandi: if, she remarked sharply. one forms one alliance, it inevitably leads to the formation of a counter-bloc. Her meeting in January with the British Prime Minister should be an interesting one and quite unpredictable. It will either be a great success or the reverse: a neutral encounter seems out of the question.
Future of Catholicism
I WAS naturally anxious to see anything I could of Indian religion although a parliamentary visit is not ideal for such investigations. India has mothered many religions and the people are profoundly religious in their thought and attitudes.
The vast majority of Indians are Hindus, but there are Moslems, Buddhists, Sikhs and Christians. Hinduism had never much appealed to me and I was aware before going to India only of a sense of distaste for idolatry and of a dislike of a religion which has some cruel and Bacchanalian aspects.
These undoubtedly are a part of Hinduism, but it has produced artistic manifestations which show that there is much more to it than that. I was particularly moved by the magnificent three-headed sculpture of Mahesha-Murti at Bombay, the famous Trimurthi, carved out of the wall of a cave on the nearby island of Elephanta. The sculpture depicts three aspects of God, Brahma the central figure as the Creator, Vishnu as the Preserver, and Siva as the Destroyer of evil.
I shall never forget the serenity and the beauty of that face of Brahma and as I walked away I reflected on this Eastern image of the Trinity so near to Christianity, and to the oddity of the proximity of the Phallic symbols worshipped in the next door cave which seemed to indicate an unbridgeable gap. Christians are few in India and Catholics a minority of a minority. In the whole sub-continent there are only five million Catholics, most of them concentrated in the South and West.
The Indian Hierarchy is conservative, hard working and not intellectually distinguished: the Church, especially in the West, as I was told by the Editor of the Indian Catholic Herald, is suffering from a lack of leadership made worse by emigration.
Yet I felt inwardly that Catholicism has a great future in India and that India may perhaps offer back to Christianity the contelmplative insights which have been lost, in the west.
St. Francis Xavier had his vision for the East and before him St. Thomas the Apostle, round whose three shrines in Madras I led the parliamentary delegation. A Christian East in our time—how magnificent that would be—it might even lead to a Christian West.