Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2011 > Remembering Jawaharlal Nehru

Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 48, November 19, 2011

Remembering Jawaharlal Nehru

Monday 21 November 2011, by P R Dubhashi

On November 14, 2011, the nation observed the 122nd birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru, a great patriot who was at the forefront of the national struggle for independence and who as the first Prime Minister of free India for the initial seventeen years after independence became the builder of modern India.

Aftermath of Partition

EVEN before the attainment of independence, Nehru headed the Interim Government and had to grapple with the horrible. aftermath of partition, communal riots, killings and the consequences of mass exodus across the border. Nehru and Patel were blamed for hastily accepting partition in the face of the opposition of Mahatma Gandhi and not properly anticipating the consequences of partition and preparing the administration for dealing with them. Perhaps in the situation as it developed, partition and formation of Pakistan as an independent nation had become inevitable and the two leaders felt that there was no alternative but to accept and face the inevitable. And Nehru faced the situation bravely. While Pakistan was found on the basis of Jinnah’s two-nation theory, Nehru never accepted it and assured the Muslims, who had not migrated to Pakistan, that their future would be safe in India. He even, in his typical courageous manner, personally jumped into the streets to stop the communal frenzy. A separate Ministry of Relief and Rehalibitation was formed to provide succour to the refuges who had crossed the border leaving all their belongings behind.

Building Institutions of Democracy

THE second immediate task was to provide stability to the new-born nation, set up basic institutions of democracy, define long term goals and set the government moving towards the attainment of these goals. This required single- minded determination and ceaseless action. Nehru laboured for seventeen long years to perform those tasks.

A new nation needs a written Constitution. A Constituent Assembly was set up to undertake this immensely important task. While several other nations, sought the help of foreign experts and advisers, India did it on its own. India did not lack experts in constitutional law and related subjects in diverse fields of economics, politics and administration. The Drafting Committee under the chairmanship of Dr B.R. Ambedkar admirably performed its task of giving unto the people their own Constitution. The Government of India Act 1935 no doubt provided the admininistrative framework. But the idea of the ideological content of democracy, fundamental rights, independence of judiciary, directive principles, federal structure with a strong Centre, values of liberty, equality, fraternity and social harmony had to be provided as the keynote of the Constitution. In that task, Nehru played a key role while Sardar Patel took care of the administrative back-up needed by a democratic polity in the shape of the all-India services and giving them a measure of security. It goes to the credit of both Patel and Nehru that they did not take a vindictive attitude on the ground that they were the instruments of repression of the national movement for the colonial rulers and for putting them in jail for long years but absorbed the existing all-India services, including the police. That was the mark of their statesmanship. Within years, the Constituent Assembly finalised the Constitution and was adopted by “We, the people of India, that is, Bharat”.

But the Constitution only provides the frame-work. It can be a live document only if those at the helm of affairs make it meaningful to the people. Parliamentary democracy has to be functional. Nehru nurtured the parliamentary institutions. In his days, Parliament functioned for almost half the days in a full year. Nehru made it a point to remain present during question hour, or when important matters came up for discussion. He attentively listened to the debates, including the criticisms of the Opposition, and personally replied to the debates in a detailed manner. He gave great respect to the Speaker and bowed down before taking his seat. This was the respect he showed to Parliament— very few successive Prime Ministers did so.

The Constitution is for the people. But the people had to be held together. A constitutional document by itself cannot do so. Nehru, with his immense popularity amongst the diverse people of India in different parts of the country and his visible presence despite being a busy Prime Minister, made himself a symbol of national unity. Rajaji, who became his relentless critic in the later years of his life, admitted in the obituary tribute to him that he was a thousand times more popular than any one of them! He addressed mass meetings in which he did not indulge in demagogy but engaged in conversation with the people sharing their grief and joy.

With his immense popularity he could easily have become a dictator. One-party leadership or personal rule came to many new born countries of Asia and Africa. But Nehru never faltered or wavered on the path of democracy.

Mahtma Gandhi wanted the Congress party to be dissolved after independence so that new parties could come into existence on the basis of clear-cut political ideology. But Nehru did not follow his masters’s advice; instead he deftly used the Congress party’s heritage to remain the ruling party of India both at the Centre and in the States during his lifetime. The arrival of other parties, including the local or sectoral parties, was a phenomenon of the political scene of India only after he left.

Nehru moulded the Congress party according to his own thinking. After Patel passed away he became the undisputed single leader of the party.

Nehru was blamed for not building up the Opposition. Nehru did not accept this accusation. He said he could not be expected to build the Opposition parties. But he never put down the Opposition during his time even when the Communist Party came to power in Kerala, though, despite his unwillingness, he suspended the elected Namboodripad Government and imposed President’s Rule under the pressure of his daughter, Indira Gandhi who became the Congress President. Even though the Opposition remained weak in his time, it had articulate leaders in Parliament like J.B. Kripalani, Minoo Masani, Nath Pai, Atal Behari Vajpayee and Hiren Mukerjee whose views were taken note of by the Prime Minister.

Reorganising the States

THE nation had to be held together but the nation-state had also to be built to consolidate the national polity. The first task was to integrate the various political entities in the structure. The most important of such entities were the former princely states, some of them very large like the Hyderabad state ruled by the Nizam. It is to the lasting credit of Sardar Patel that he accomplished the task of integrating the former princely states into the Indian Union with consummate skill and a mixture of ‘carrot and stick’ in a short period of five years. In this task he was ably assisted by his Secretary, V.P. Menon. Nehru did not have much role to play in this immense operation.

Only Kashmir he kept for himself perhaps because he was a Kashmiri. But he messed up the Kashmir issue. He relied too much on Sheikh Abdullah who let him down. The Sheikh had to be removed and kept in custody in South India for many years. This was a blot on his record as a democrat and Nehru knew it. In the last years of his life, he tried to make amends for his treatment of his friend and political ally by bringing him back. But the Sheikh never gave up his wayward ways.

When Pakistan tried to take Kashmir by sending hordes of tribal warriors who indulged in killings as they attacked Srinagar, the vacillating ruler of Kashmir hastily signed the instrument of accession. Nehru quickly sent troops by air who beat back the invaders out of the Valley. But Nehru stopped short of taking the area beyond the Valley, including Gilgit and the Northern Territory, despite the willingness and ability of the Army to liberate that part as well. Instead he stopped the operation and, on the advice of Viceroy Mountbatten, approached United Nations with a complaint against Pakistani invasion. But the Security Council, dominated by the erstwhile colonial powers, let him down and Kashmir became a festering sore and remains so to this day. Many feel that Nehru should have left Jammu and Kashmir to Sardar Patel, who could have handled it in a much more decisive fashion.

Nehru’s hesitant approach was seen in regard to Goa as well. The French voluntarily left their possessions but the Portuguese refused to do so despite persuasion by the Government of India. Patel felt that it was a matter of couple of hours to liberate Goa but Nehru hesitated fearing that it will hurt the image of India as a peaceful nation. But after many years it was by an armed invasion that Goa got liberated and Nehru could not escape the criticism of the Western powers that he had strayed away from the peaceful approach though they themselves never hesitated to use military force.

The British had set up huge provinces like Bombay and Madras which put together people belonging to different languages. The Motilal Nehru Committee Report in 1927 recommended organisation of States on a linguistic basis. The Congress party was committed to this idea and its provincial Congress Committees corres-ponded to the idea of linguistic provinces. However, Nehru as the Prime Minister decided to postpone the reorganisation of provinces (called States in the Constitution) since he felt that the newly established nation-state had yet to stabilise itself and could not be entangled in the intricate problems involved in such reor-ganisation. It will open up the Pandora’s box. The first priority for him was security, stability and development, and reorganisation could, for him, wait. But he did not reckon with strong linguistic urges for separate identity. The first such claim was of the Telugu people. Potti Sriramalu sat on an indefinite fast for the formation of Andhra to be carved out of the Madras Province and set up as a separate State. Nehru did not yield and Potti died after fasting for 61 days. The event caused conflagration in the Andhra area. The Bezwada railway station was burnt, Nehru realised that the demand for Andhra had to be conceded and a separate Andhra Pradesh was born as a new State. This provided the beginning of the process of reorga-nisation of States on a linguistic basis. Nehru appointed the Fazal Ali Commission to look at the issue comprehensively. They made their recommendations some of which proved contro-versial. For example, they did not recommend Maharashtra with Bombay as its capital though the Marathi people and leaders were bent upon it. Nehru thought of Bombay as a Central territory but that made him so unpopular with Marathi people that they defeated the Congress in the polls. Nehru saw the writing on the wall and conceded the demand of the Marathi people.

Foreign Policy

INDIA as an independent sovereign nation required formulation of its foreign policy. As a member of the United Nations it needed to play its role in world affairs. External relations had to be established by setting up embassies and High Commissions in different countries of the world. These had to be staffed. A new service called the Indian Foreign Service had to be set up. Above all, the goals of the Indian foreign policy had to be defined. None was more qualified to do all this than Jawaharlal Nehru. Over the years he had links with several countries and had participated in international gatherings. London was no longer India’s window to the world. New Delhi had to have its own outlook and perspective. Nehru throughout his tenure as the Prime Minister was also the Foreign Minister. He defined the principal parameters of Indian foreign policy. They were: (1) End of colonialism – supporting the Afro-Asian countries to emerge to freedom and building Afro-Asian Society. (2) Pursuit of world peace. And (3) to realise 1 and 2 develop a policy of nonalignment steering clear of the two superpowers, the United States and USSR, and their power blocs in which the world was divided. The idea of nonalignment was that India would not be tied to the apron-strings of world powers. America did not like this independent posture. It wanted India to side with it and be a member of the military blocs in different parts of the world like NATO, CENTO and SEATO. John Faster Dules, the Secretary of State during the Eisenhower presidency, described Nehru’s foreign policy as ‘immoral’. America cold-shouldered India and set up Pakistan as a counter-weight by assisting it economically and militarily. It accused India of siding with the USSR by not condemning its actions like the invasion of Hungary. Despite
all this, India was able to establish its image as a peace loving country, taking independent positions on international issues. Some critics feel that as a democracy India should have sided with America. One has only to see what happened to Indonesia under Suharto, Pakistan under the military dictators and Iran under Shah Reza Pehlvi to realise the consequences of being a satellite of the USA.

As a strong advocate of Afro-Asian solidarity, Nehru put his weight behind the United Nation’s membership of China under communist rule despite strong opposition of the US. He enunciated the five principles (Pancha Sheel) of friendly relations with China; but China betrayed this friendship when it attacked with large number of troupes in the North-East boundary of India, threatening even Assam. Fortunately China pulled back after ‘teaching India a lesson’. This dealt a setback to Nehru’s foreign policy and defence policy. The USSR refused to help India saying that China was a brother communist country and Nehru had to seek American help. Nehru was accused of naivete in dealing with China and living in the false hope conveyed by the slogan ‘Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai’. He himself admitted that he was ‘out of touch with the reality’. As a matter of fact Nehru never trusted China. In one of his fortnightly letters to the Chief Ministers he had clearly stated that China under communist rule may be a threat to India. His conviction grew stronger as years passed by. As brought out by Inder Malhotra (The Indian Express, October 3, 2011) Nehru told G. Parthasarathi, the ambassador-designate to China—“Don’t trust the Chinese one bit. They are arrogant, deceitful, hegemonist and a thoroughly unreliable lot. Be extremely vigilant in Bejing and don’t fall for any blandishment Chines may offer. It is all deceit.” Clearly Nehru was not living in a fool’s paradise. What he did not anticipate was such a large scale invasion by China. Nehru could no longer follow Mahatma Gandhi’s advice that India should have the ‘smallest possible Army’. It started military buildup and became a large purchaser of weapons and armaments from the Western countries.

Planned Economic Development in Mixed Economy

NEHRU clearly defined his economic policy. The laissez faire approach of the British days had to be given up and purposeful planned develop-ment had to be undertaken. He set up the Planning Commission and National Develop-ment Council for the purpose. India would be a mixed economy consisting of three sectors, namely, public, private and cooperative. The public sector would gain the commanding heights of the economy. He talked of a ‘socialist pattern of society’ clearly distancing himself from doctrinaire of socialism implying whole-sale social ownership of means of production but underlining equity—both economic and social. This was consistent with the Directive Principles of the Constitution that the means of production would not be concentrated in a few hands and the fruits of development must be widely disseminated. There was a reversal of Nehru’s approach in 1991 when India went for liberalisation and privatisation. Nehru’s policy was blamed for the ‘licence permit raj’, and for stifling private entrepreneurship leading to the low rate of growth of 3.5 per cent. Actually after the stagnation era of British rule, this was a clear break. Moreover the foundations were laid for future development by bringing into existence institutions like the IITs, IIMs and a chain of National Science Laboratories. Nehru wanted science and technology as the basis of develop-ment. He emphasised the dissemination of scientific temper amongst the people at large. He fully supported Dr Homi Bhaba in the development of nuclear science and establish-ment and development of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.

Nehru the Administrator

IT is often stated that Nehru was a statesman with a vision but not an administrator like Sardar Patel. This is being less than fair to him. Nehru was a “thinking administrator”. What is the essence of good administration? It is formulating a comprehensive framework of policy and setting up administrative and institutional structures to implement the policies. Nehru’s framework of policy was truly comprehensive and not equalled by any of his successors. He recorded his personal notes on files, expressing his views and giving a sense of direction to the administration. I have seen his note running into more than ten pages giving his views on the subject of administrative reforms. Subsequent Prime Ministers rest content with initiating to register their approval to the proposals put up before them. Truly he embodied the mind of the government. I have heard many of his addresses at important national conferences and meetings including the meetings of the NDC attended by Union Ministers and Chief Ministers of States. He never read speeches written by civil servants but delivered them extempore. They were full of insights, original thinking and new initiatives. His formal letters to Chief Ministers show how deeply, carefully and in a practical manner he had analysed various problems and challenges facing the country, the alternative approaches of dealing with them and the choice the nation and government had to make.

If amongst all the developing countries India is looked upon as a successful example of development through democracy, it is because of the path laid down by Jawaharlal Nehru.

Dr Dubhashi, IAS (Retd.), is a former Secretary to the Government of India and an erstwhile Vice-Chancellor, Goa University. He is currently the Chairman, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s Pune Kendra. He can be contacted at: dubhashi@giaspn01.

Notice: The print edition of Mainstream Weekly is now discontinued & only an online edition is appearing. No subscriptions are being accepted