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Mainstream, Vol. XLVI, No 23

Reflections on Nehru

Wednesday 28 May 2008, by Sajjad Zaheer


I loved and respected him, worked with him and even followed him in many ways, and yet I was among his severest critics, and perhaps no one was a greater disappointment to me and to my group than Jawaharlal Nehru.

Our two families were known to each other, from Lucknow and Allahabad, so it was not difficult for me when I came back from England in 1935, an Oxonian and a barrister-at-law, to be taken under the protective wing of Nehru. He knew, of course, that I was a red-hot Communist, but those were the halcyon days of the national united front, and except for the downright Rightists in the Congress, like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Acharya J. B. Kripalani, who looked with extreme disfavour and hostility at the advent of Communists in the Congress, everyone else welcomed the development, including, I think, Gandhiji.

I must mention that some of our own comrades also were not happy over this development—bourgeois intellectuals ourselves, how easy it was to slip from the narrow straight path of Red Revolution to the pleasant green pastures of Nehruism!

Sharp Differences

I worked feverishly in those days—in the Congress, where with Nehru’s benevolent support I was installed in many high offices: the AICC, UP Congress Executive, etc. Then there was the work of the underground Communist Party, the trade unions, the workers’ movement, the Congress Socialist Party.

On many occasions sharp differences arose with Nehru. Did I believe in non-violence as the only method of achieving Indian independence? Most definitely no. Did I believe that the existing leadership of the Congress would lead our country to independence? No! Was the Congress organisation, as it then existed, capable of being the instrument of the Indian Revolution? Again an emphatic, no. And, then, of the socio-Revolution? Again an emphatic, no. And then the socio-religious ideas of Gandhiji—his spinning wheel and khaddar, his concept of Ram Rajya, his antipathy to industrialisation were all such a lot of medieval nonsense. How could Nehru, with his modern rational outlook and with his declared belief in socialism, swallow all this and on every crucial turn of the Indian freedom movement compromise with the Rightist Gandhian leadership? Did this leadership not work always for a servile compromise with British imperialism, for restraining and containing, rather than expanding and advancing the Indian people’s revolutionary movement?

Nehru listened to our views, sometimes with great patience, sometimes losing his temper in that characteristically endearing manner. And he tried to make us understand again and again that in spite of all its weaknesses and shortcomings, the Congress did represent the biggest people’s movement in India, that its weaknesses and shortcomings should be removed and it should be made an effective instrument to carry forward the Indian freedom struggle to a successful conclusion. But, he emphasised, in this process, the unity which had already been built round the Congress and mainly under the leadership of Gandhiji should not be sacrificed. A pragmatist and a practicalist, he had little patience with our class analysis of the Indian social and political set-up.

When pressed, he of course conceded to us many of our points, but I suppose, in his heart of hearts judged us by our practical worth: what was the independent strength of the Red Flag in India? How many millions could it mobilise to meet the onslaught of the imperialists? Were we not bookish, mere theoreticians of the Revolution, rather than its practical votaries? And, after all, we led under our independent leadership not millions but only a few hundred thousands.

I have a feeling that during this period Nehru wished us to be what we professed. His deep love and affection for the group of young Communists who had joined the Congress—Ashraf, Iftikharuddin, Hiren Mukherjee, Mahmud-uz-Zafar, Z.A. Ahmad and myself—manifested itself in so many ways. And in spite of abiding differences, he helped and encouraged us to work in the Congress, in the way we liked, that is, try and develop it as an active mass organisation, a united national front capable of giving battle to the imperialists. May be he liked us also because, after all, we were also of the same social origin as he was; received the same kind of education as he had and were modern in our outlook and behaviour.

But more than this, I think, he conceded to us sincerity of character, devotion to our socialist ideals, capacity to work and to sacrifice for the great cause of Indian liberation, and above all our having a certain adventurousness of spirit, a quality which Nehru valued most of all in human beings.

Our Exasperation

WHAT exasperated us then, as in later years after the achievement of independence, when he was our Prime Minister, supreme leader of the Indian State and the Indian people, was that, with all the thrilling qualities of his leadership, his magnificent vision o a world free of all imperialist domination, a world rid of poverty and backwardness, both material and spiritual, of humanity as a whole marching towards its high destiny of eternal peace and boundless happiness, why did he not, fearless and brave as he was, plunge into the boldest of all the adventures of his life and drive all the pharisees and all the agents and servitors of vile vested interests from the Congress and the machinery of State, from all the positions of power and authority, and taking the overwhelming majority of the Indian people and all their progressive forces with him, realise his own dream of a truly democratic, forward-looking and Socialist India? But this was not to be. And I think it would be wrong to blame Nehru alone for it. This was not only Nehru’s failure, but of the entire Indian Left—a measure of the still existing weakness of the Indian progressive forces, of our democratic movement as a whole.

This grandest of all the adventures is still to be made by all of us; and on this occasion of Nehru’s death anniversary, I seem to see a vision of this grand man and his sad smile and eyes mirroring, as it were, all the sorrows and sufferings of his well-beloved Indian people beckoning us to take the plunge, which he did not, but which he wanted us with all his heart and soul, his countrymen, to take.

The author, a distinguished Indian writer who played a seminal role in the Afro-Asian writers’ movement, was the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Pakistan in the fifties before his arrest and incarceration there and subsequent return to India.

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