The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project

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"THE recent general election was one of the greatest lessons you in India have taught to the other democracies of the world. I would consider it one of the greatest steps that any nation has taken for a long while", observed Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt in the course of a conversation with Mrs. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit which was broadcast on Friday night by All India Radio, Delhi.

Mrs. Roosevelt added: "I also think the decision to have a secular State, a State in which all religions were recognised and tolerated and still a Government that was not a Government motivated by a particular religion, was a very great contribution perhaps, because this is the way we feel in our home country also. The other thing that has impressed me most is your legislation against caste system. I believe that from my point of view those are the three big contributions that India has made.

Referring to India's foreign policy Mrs. Roosevelt observed: "India's policy at present fits into the struggle for peace, because it is not holding back its opinions. It is proving in many ways that it is a real democracy and cares about democracy, but at the same time it is devoting its greatest strength to success at home and I feel probably that is the greatest thing one can do at present for a democracy and in the struggle for peace.

Mrs. Roosevelt paid a tribute to the "extraordinarily vigorous way" India was tackling the numerous problems facing her and said: "I have every feeling of confidence that you are going to succeed."

Mrs. Pandit: Does the India you have seen, confirm to the ideas you had before coming here, and would you say what the standard misconceptions in the United States are about India?

Mrs. Roosevelt: "Well, I do not know that I know what exactly the standard misconceptions are, but I would say that for any one, until they come to see with their own eyes, it would be difficult to realize the magnitude of the problem that India, as a new democracy, has to face. I suppose I knew as much as one can know from reading and from hearing people and talking with people, who came from here and who had known this country and all this area of the world. And even I had little conception of what the agricultural problems were, what the refugee problem had really meant and what the simple problem of becoming a democracy in a land of so many people could be for a nation and so I could not tell you what the standard misconceptions are, but I would just feel that it was difficult for the average citizen at home in the United States to have a real picture.


Mrs. Pandit: Now that you have seen some of our villages, we should be glad to have your views on the role that village communities can play in the development of the New India.

Mrs. Roosevelt: Well, of course, from my point of view your village communities have tremendous role to play but before they can play it, a good deal has be done, because your village community is bound up with your whole agricultural problem and that is a problem primarily of the production of more food. Only your village communities can produce that food. They have to produce it but they cannot produce it until first they have water. That does not always mean a great dam. It sometimes can be done with wells, but it does mean irrigation. It means work and backing by the community and the Government. Then, secondly it means better seeds, it means better knowledge of fertilizers and how to use it.


Prime Minister opened a large Fertilizer Plant the other day, but there are other things that could be used as fertilizers and they are not as yet in your villages and it seems to me that one of the things, perhaps, which is needed before your villages can play their vital part in really furnishing the food that India must have and should not be spending her money on to buy from other nations, is an Extension Service out of your Agricultural Colleges, which will actually send people to demonstrate in every community what needs to be done.

Mrs. Pandit: I am sure that is a most valuable suggestion and it should be taken up, because really as you have pointed the big things have to be done by Government, but the smaller things have to be done more or less by the community itself. You mentioned some of our big dams. What do you think of our economic development projects, and of the constructive efforts to build up an expanding economy?

Mrs. Roosevelt: I think it is extraordinarily vigorous the way India is attacking its problems and your big development projects and their efforts to build new industries are really great achievements, but the problem of your community, its vast population, the fact that you began from a rather low standard of living and rather not having developed many of your resources fully, actually means that you are undertaking a tremendous piece of work. I have every feeling of confidence that you are going to succeed, in fact I can hardly believe that people like those I have met in the villages, along the roads and in the streets of the towns are not going to succeed, but that it is a vast undertaking any one can see.


Mrs. Pandit: What contribution could the individual make towards promoting world harmony and in making the U.N. a successful instrument for the ensuring of world peace?

Mrs. Roosevelt: My own feeling is that every individual who works in his own community to make democracy a success, to accept his full responsibility, to try and make his community live in the way that we hope eventually the world as a whole will live, is making his greatest contribution to the success of the United Nations, because the United Nations is made up of individual nations, which again is made up of individuals and it is only as they succeed in building communities and nations that have ideals that they desire peace, that they are willing to work for it, that we will bring about our aim in the United Nations.


I realise, of course, the difficulty that arises when there comes a clash of the way you do things. I have an idea that Soviet want peace as much as we do, but they happen to believe that there can only be a good world if the world is all the way they think it should be. I do not happen to believe that, but I do believe that we can live in the same world peacefully and I am hoping that as individuals if we learn to live peacefully in our communities, to find ways of working out difficulties, that we are making our contribution to the world situation in the long run.

Mrs. Pandit: That is heartening too. In other words if all of us did our duty by our neighbour and learnt a little more tolerance and forbearance and tried to discuss things rather than hastily come to decisions, we will all be helping in some way towards the greater work.

Mrs. Roosevelt: It seems so to me.

Mrs. Pandit: Yes, I believe, you are right, Mrs. Roosevelt. Do you think that India has made any significant contribution to the world in the recent past, either politically or otherwise?


Mrs. Roosevelt: Well, I think your elections in the first place was a great contribution and I also think the decision of India to have a Secular State, a State in which all religions were recognized and tolerated and still a Government that was not a Government primarily motivated by a particular religion, was a very great contribution perhaps, because that is the way we feel in our home country also and I think the other thing which has impressed me the most is your legislation against the caste system. We all know, of course, the legislation alone does not accomplish everything we want to accomplish, but it has to be there as a background and those of us who care about questions will then be able to work with something to help us do the work. And I believe that from my point of view those are the three big contributions that India has made.

Mrs. Pandit: An eminent foreign visitor the other day expressed the view that the atmosphere in India was very calm as compared with what he had seen in some other parts of the world. Does your observation, Mrs. Roosevelt, support this view and would you consider this a reflection of our philosophy of life?

Mrs. Roosevelt: Yes, I think I would. I would say that India was, that your statesmen are calm and your whole way of approaching life is a calm approach and also have an acceptance in your attitude towards life, which is perhaps more a matter of spiritual and religious upbringing than any other thing that I could see at least. But there is no question in my mind that your philosophy of life, does have a very great effect upon the whole calmness of spirit and perhaps too it has an effect upon the great dignity which one notices in people of every walk of life here. It certainly is something which a Westerner cannot quite understand perhaps—no, quite describe, but I should certainly try when I go home to give a little of the feeling that I have had in the more contacts—with the casual contacts with people in the streets and in houses since I have been in India.

Mrs. Pandit: Thank you, Mrs. Roosevelt, for finding time to talk. I hope you know that you are taking back to America the goodwill and friendship of many many people, who are anxious to help in bringing our two great countries close together.

Mrs. Roosevelt: Thank you.

Delhi Express, 22 March 1952