20. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • For India
  • Prime Minister Nehru
  • Shri M.J. Desai, Foreign Secretary
  • Shri R.K. Nehru, Secretary General, External Affairs Ministry
  • S.K. Banerji, Chief of Protocol
  • For the United States
  • Vice President Johnson
  • Ambassador John K. Galbraith
  • Stephen Smith
  • Carl T. Rowan

Vice President Johnson opened the session by explaining that his party had come to India at the request of President Kennedy to deliver [Page 41]personally a letter from the President to India’s Prime Minister1 and to engage in such discussions as might help the United States to take actions in South and Southeast Asia that would be beneficial to the peoples of that area and to the cause of human liberty. The Vice President said that he had come also because President Kennedy wanted the people of the area to know that the United States was aware of the need for economic progress in the area, and that the United States was determined to work in close cooperation with those nations attempting to raise the living standards of their people.

The Vice President said it was the belief of the Kennedy Administration that military force alone can never be a permanent bulwark against Communist activities which are leading to widespread discontent, and in some cases violent insurrection, in Asia. He warned that he was in no position to make specific commitments as to the degree of United States participation in any development program, because only Congress has authority to make the necessary appropriations. He said that he felt confident that, given a full understanding of the difficulties and challenges in the area, Congress would respond with the necessary boldness.

Prime Minister Nehru expressed great pleasure at this line of talk, asserting that economic development is “a subject that fills my heart and mind.” He said that India is struggling to raise standards of living and develop the country’s resources “without resorting to a doctrinaire approach.”

The Prime Minister seemed emotionally touched when he referred to the letter from President Kennedy that Mr. Johnson delivered. He said that he and India “appreciate President Kennedy’s concern and generosity.” Mr. Nehru went on to express the opinion that poverty—the whole economic problem—is at the heart of the problems of Asia and Africa. “All other problems in India are secondary to the economic problem, and in many cases are affected by it.” He continued, “We have a politically-conscious mass of people who think that they deserve everything—and they do—but India is unable to supply it.”

The Prime Minister said that he was sure that Ambassador Galbraith and other Americans could understand the economic or surface aspect of this dilemma, but that he doubted that they could understand the emotional aspects of it the way Mr. Nehru did.

[Page 42]

Vice President Johnson and the Prime Minister then discussed at some length India’s third Five Year Plan. The Prime Minister said that progress under this scheme was aimed at aiding India’s 16 million unemployed, and that about 13 million workers would be absorbed in the plan, but that the employment problem would probably be even more acute at the end of five years because the development program will not keep up with the population increase.

The two leaders then discussed education and necessity of spreading it throughout the population if the country is to make real progress against poverty, illiteracy and disease. Mr. Nehru said that currently only 60% of India’s boys and 20% to 30% of her girls are in school, but that the hope is at the end of the third Five Year Plan free and compulsory education will be available for every boy and girl in the 7 to 11 age group.

The Vice President inquired as to the size and goals of India’s third Five Year Plan. Ambassador Galbraith pointed out that the plan involves an investment of 102 billion rupees or almost 20 billion dollars, as compared with 67 billion rupees (13-1/2 billion dollars) in India’s second Five Year Plan.

Mr. Nehru said that the external segment of the third plan, which includes private investments, is about 6 billion dollars.

Ambassador Galbraith pointed out that India’s planning for economic development is greatly admired, and that India is representative of the nations the United States wants most to work with, because India’s leaders are determined to see that the mass of the people benefit.

The Vice President then discussed the impact of reform programs and efforts to extend social justice in any movement to create political stability. He asked Mr. Nehru’s advice with regard to South and Southeast Asia. The Prime Minister said that he was reluctant to talk about other countries but that he felt any progress must have impact on the people generally. He said that he was certain that people would be willing to wait, and would not fall for the lure of totalitarianism if they could see a trend of progress moving in their direction. He said that in the case of India it was absolutely essential to build up industry, because progress never could be sufficient as long as 80% of the people depended on agriculture for their livelihood. He said that India is decentralizing and giving more authority to village councils in order to get human beings interested in their country and its problems.

Vice President Johnson lauded those steps as a grass roots movement certain to have a remarkable effect.

The two then discussed farming cooperatives, land reform, irrigation and rural electrification. Mr. Nehru said that taking electric power to rural areas is one of the biggest revolutionary forces operating in less developed areas. Near the end of the discussion the Vice President asked the Prime Minister for his advice as to how situations such as that existing [Page 43]in Laos might be avoided, thus giving the peoples of the area the opportunity to make the progress of which the two leaders had spoken. Mr. Nehru said that he would reiterate that there must be social and economic approaches to the problems of Southeast Asia, because military solutions alone never did work. He said that land reform was vitally necessary, pointing to Iran as a good example of a country where poor land ownership policies make the country vulnerable to outside interference and agitation.

When the session was terminated because of another appointment of the Vice President, Prime Minister Nehru said that he would welcome further discussions.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, International Meetings and Travel File, Vice President Johnson’s Trip to the Far East, May 61. Confidential. Vice President Johnson left Washington on May 10 for a 2-week tour of South and Southeast Asia, which included stops in Vietnam, the Philippines, the Republic of China, Thailand, India, and Pakistan.
  2. In this letter, dated May 8, Kennedy expressed the hope that Nehru and Johnson would enjoy a fruitful exchange of views, and that Johnson would be able to observe and report on economic progress in India. Kennedy applauded India’s efforts to promote such progress and noted that his administration was engaged in reorganizing its aid programs to be able to enter into longer-range commitments to better support such efforts. He also expressed appreciation for Nehru’s support for the attempt to achieve a cease-fire agreement in Laos. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, India, Nehru Correspondence, 4/1/61-10/31/61)