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A just India, by just means

Nehru wrote history and made it too. But it has been unkind to him.

Written by K Natwar Singh | Updated: November 14, 2014 9:59 am
nehru_m Nehru marked the 20th century with his presence.

Jawaharlal Nehru’s two speeches “A tryst with destiny” and “The light has gone out” are famous. What is not known is the statement Nehru made at his trial in Gorakhpur on November 4, 1940: “It is not me that you are seeking to judge and condemn, but rather hundreds of millions of the people of India and that is a large task even for a proud empire. Perhaps it may be that, though I am standing before you in my trial, it is the British Empire itself that is on its trial before the bar of the world. Individuals count for little, they come and go, as I shall go when my time is up. Seven times I have been tried and convicted by British authority in India, and many years of my life lie buried within prison walls. An eighth time or ninth, and a few more years, make little difference. But it is no small matter what happens to India and her millions of sons and daughters. That is the issue before me, and that ultimately is the issue before you, Sir.” Here is superb English.

An unseemly debate is taking place — who was the greater man, Nehru or Patel. Both were great. On August 15, 1947, Nehru was three months short of his 58th birthday. Patel was 72. He passed away on December 15, 1950. He was 75. Granted, he would have been a better PM than Nehru. The fact remains that he died in December 1950. Who would have succeeded him? Inevitably, Nehru.

Nehru was certainly a great man. What are the criteria for calling a man great? Isaiah Berlin, the Oxford philosopher, gave this definition:

“To call someone a great man is to claim that he has intentionally taken a large step beyond the normal capacities of men, in satisfying or materially affecting central human interests… permanently and radically alters the outlook and values of a significant body of human beings.” Nehru passes the test with flying colours.

Nehru marked the 20th century with his presence. He radically altered the outlook and values of many people in India and all over the colonial world. The “weapons” he used were truth, decency and sincerity. Nehru, idealist though he was, had an acute sense of reality and an appreciation of the values of our heritage.

Nehru read history, wrote history and made history. But history has been unkind to him. All the ills of contemporary India are attributed to him. The unkindest cut of all is that he was responsible for Partition. This is cant. Sardar Patel, Rajaji and Rajendra Prasad were equally responsible. This is a historical fact and the truth.

Another historical fact is never mentioned. Nehru’s first, 14-member cabinet included six non-Congressmen — B.R. Ambedkar, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, John Mathai, Baldev Singh, Shanmukham Chetty and C.H. Bhabha. The surprising inclusion was that of Ambedkar, who had been a severe critic of Gandhi and the Congress for 25 years. Gandhi made sure that Ambedkar joined the cabinet.

Nehru laid the foundation of a nation-state that would be democratic, secular and pluralistic. He wanted to build a just India by just means. He built dams, steel and fertiliser plants. He made the eastern part of India accessible. He worked 16 hours a day. He sat in the Lok Sabha every day during its sittings. He raised the level of the national political dialogue.

Nehru did not delegate. His selected works run into 58 volumes, each more than 500 pages. He would have saved a lot of time
and labour if he had only delegated. As external affairs minister, he replied and wrote to our ambassadors and high commissioners — something a joint secretary could do.

Nehru was a poor judge of men. The glaring examples are the “whining” Krishna Menon and “insufferable” M.O. Mathai. Both were “shady” individuals, but totally trusted by Nehru, who gave them the benefit of doubt. About Mathai, S. Gopal, the sympathetic biographer of Nehru, wrote, “He exercised vast and irregular power… Nehru was informed that Mathai could not account for his great wealth and without doubt had received from the CIA as well as from businessmen in India. It can be safely assumed that from 1946 to 1959, the CIA had access to every paper passing through Nehru’s secretariat.” [Emphasis added]

Nehru was not a great external affairs minister. Prime ministers should not become foreign ministers. Nehru made two foreign policy blunders — Kashmir and China. He internationalised a purely domestic matter by taking the Kashmir issue to the UN Security Council, under Chapter Six of the UN Charter. He should have gone to the UNSC under Chapter Seven, which addresses itself to aggression. Nehru also promised a plebiscite. It took the IFS 15 years to get rid of this absurdity. The role of Mountbatten was pernicious. The governor-general kept the king and British Prime Minister Clement Attlee informed. He did not use the MEA cipher. He went to the UK’s high commission to send messages to London without informing Nehru.

On China too, Nehru faltered badly. I have no doubt that for the border dispute, there is no solution in the near future. China practices realpolitik. We do not.

The writer is a former minister of external affairs

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More From K Natwar Singh
  1. A
    Nov 16, 2014 at 9:47 am
    India is where it is now. Its no good harping about the past. What we should definitely avoid is a succession of dynastic politics in all its form. It promotes arrogance where villagers get threatened with cut off water supply if they do not vote for particular dynasty or theer is umption there is genetic transfer of skills of governing formation of yes man round the dynasty. We must move forward by electing people on merit and politicians not grooming their children for politic because is is big business where you make millions. We have no dearth of people who like Lal Bahudar shastri have real aim of serving this great nation.
    1. K
      Kay Cee
      Nov 14, 2014 at 12:38 pm
      British of course never intended to leave India in Indian hands. It was only because of second world war that British went into huge debt to the USA, couldn't keep lid on Indian Army, especially navy units, who revolted and rammed home the point that control over India would have to go. Plus, American political pressure, who wanted to force British out of its all of its colonies ( and p on them to her!). hi, Nehru, Jinnah et all, took every advantage to fill in the power gap so created. Mountbatten, connived with Nehru at the expense of others, to try to keep as much British hold over India as possible. Indeed, left to British, Kashmir issue was created, brought to the UN, plebiscite promised- all hoping that through UN, and PM Nehru, things would stay in British hands, as far as Kashmir future was concerned. It is no coincidence that within a couple of years of Independence, all important stake holders just left the scene- hi, Jinnah, Patel and the lot. It speaks volumes about the goings on behind the scenes then.Truth very likely is that Nehru must have been a hardened politician, well versed in history, acutely aware of power equation and have had the relevant connections through his family ociation with the British, who used him and rewarded him in equal measure. But yes, Nehru had many many qualities: gifted scholar, writer and planner. He was indeed a great leader.
      1. A
        ashok manambrakaatt
        Nov 14, 2014 at 5:08 pm
        Nehru may have had great qualities, but so had many leaders of the Independence movement. The problem is that in a congress india infiltrated by marxist -socialist ideology, Nehru was defied and all the other leaders buried. His mistakes were buried and his humane nature and sensitivities glorified. We studied his letters to his daughter in schools - for what value?? He pla hook and crook to ensure that his daughter-with no experience came to power -ignoring whether it was good for the nation on not. His daughter and g children has lead India and never created a nation!!! Any one in supreme power can be magnanimous , which is glorified as his great democratic tradition, What did he lose by putting all those who opposed him in the cabinet , He only gained by killing all opposition by handing them a share of the spoils. It is this policy congress followed for the last 67 years and today too. That is what has been the destruction of a great civilization, which has excelled for thousands of years. Pockets of this excellence are still found in our ISRO's and other obscure theaters.It is a sum total of all this that today we criticize him and his mistakes. It may be more violent than normal or more extreme, but so was the adulation and glorification!!! Let us leave Nehru in 1964 and look at 2014 and ahead!!! If Natwar Singh can write a book on Nehru and his contemporaries, we can enjoy a good reading and learn more of the times. Please do so Mr. singh
        1. R
          REAL TRUTH
          Nov 14, 2014 at 7:16 pm
          Give it a rest. The man was not so great that we have heard of nothing but him and his family in the last 65 years. Give him a decent burial and be done with it. This shameless and embarring attempt to keep India enslaved to Nehru-Sonia-Rahul family and their greedy bootlickers is past its use-by datedia has had many great men and women. Enough of this one-man nautanki.
          1. B
            Nov 14, 2014 at 12:09 pm
            Nehru despite his shortcomings pertaining to (a) Jammu & Kashmir Issue (b) his wrong essment of China and excessive reliance on Chu-enLia(c) a poor judge of men working for him(d) Agreeing to Ambedker ( a dagger in the sleeve) not to have common civil laws, (e) his agreeing to plebiscite despite the fact there was no such provision in the ACT PERTAINING TO ACCESSION OF STATES TO UNIONS (f) his weakness to rely and believe his CHAMCHAS(g) his failure to judge the cunning and crooked advice Mounbattens, NEHRU WAS A GREAT MAN WHO GAVE TO INDIA SOUND INSUTE OF DEMOCRACY.
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