Link Search Menu Expand Document

Nehru: The Invention of India

"Jawaharlal expressed admiration for the nationalism of Tilak and the Extremists, criticizing his father for being ‘immoderately moderate’. Years later he recognized that his father’s objections to the Extremists were based less on a dislike of their methods than on the Hindu nationalism they expressed, at odds with Motilal’s own secular cosmopolitanism."

"‘My general attitude to life at the time,’ he later wrote, ‘was a vague kind of Cyrenaicism . . . . It is easy and gratifying to give a long Greek name to the desire for a soft life and pleasant experiences.’"

"If the father set the ultimate bar very high, he also urged his son to seek smaller successes, from becoming Senior Wrangler at school to taking the Indian Civil Service (ICS) examinations (which Jawaharlal in fact never did)."

"‘education does not consist of passing examinations or knowing English or mathematics. It is a mental state.’"

"Sixteen hundred bullets were fired that day into the unarmed throng, and when the job was finished, just ten minutes later, 379 people lay dead and 1,137 lay injured, many grotesquely maimed for life. A total of 1,516 casualties from 1,600 bullets: only 84 had failed to find their mark, a measure of how simple, and how brutal, Dyer’s task was."

"the English reaction to the Massacre—Dyer was publicly feted, and a collection raised for him amongst English expatriates in India brought him the quite stupendous sum of a quarter of a million pounds—was almost as bad as the massacre itself."

"‘Senseless and criminal bigotry,’ he wrote in a speech delivered for him when he was ill in October 1923, ‘struts about in the name of religion and instils hatred and violence into the people.’ Three years later he wrote to a Muslim friend that ‘what is required in India most is a course of study of Bertrand Russell’s books.’"

"religion, Nehru wrote, was a ‘terrible burden’ that India had to get rid of if it was to ‘breathe freely or do anything useful’."

"(His admiration for China was deeply rooted in a sense of civilizational commonality, and would last through the Communist Revolution, foundering finally on the Himalayan wastes captured by the People’s Liberation Army in their war with India in 1962.)"

"No sooner had the Congress session begun than Jawaharlal was embroiled in a controversy over a draft resolution he submitted calling, in explicit detail, for complete independence for India. The party leaders, including Gandhi himself, thought this was going too far; freedom within the Empire, or Dominion Status, was the most they felt they could stake a claim for, and it was already more than the British had shown any inclination to grant."

"Jawaharlal had been ‘half-blinded with the blows’ but had had enough presence of mind to refuse the offer of two revolvers from a police agent seeking to entrap him in the midst of the melée. The grace under pressure he revealed on that occasion was also reflected in a telegram he sent anxious friends in London: ‘Thanks. Injuries severe but not serious. Hope [to] survive the British Empire.’"

"Indian and foreign Communists saw him as one who uttered Communist slogans but took no steps to achieve them; his rhetoric, they argued, aimed not at revolution but at ‘getting support from the proletariat’ for his nationalist goals."

"Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, fifteen years older than Jawaharlal and a doughty organizer who was already being thought of as the ‘Iron Man’ of the Congress, had more support than Nehru for the top job. But though the All-India Congress Committee (AICC) was not enthusiastic about Gandhi’s announcement that Jawaharlal would lead it, the party could not repudiate the Mahatma."

"‘What shall it profit you to get your empty degrees and your mess of pottage if the millions starve and your motherland continues in bondage? Who lives if India dies? Who dies if India lives?’"

"Motilal’s last words on earth were to Mahatma Gandhi, in praise of the Garhwalis, the Hindu troops who had refused to fire on the Muslim Khudai Khidmatgar protestors in Peshawar the previous year."

"‘Almost every Englishman, however advanced he may be politically, is a bit of an imperialist in matters relating to India.’"

"‘We cannot afford to get excited in politics,’ Jawaharlal advised a young party worker in 1931. ‘We must preserve our balance and not rush into any action without proper consideration . . . . [We must not] lose the benefit of collective action and of [a united] organization.’"

"In concluding the Gandhi-Irwin Pact the Viceroy disregarded one of the Mahatma’s pleas, that the lives of the young revolutionary, Bhagat Singh, and his companions, who had been arrested for throwing bombs into the Legislative Assembly, be spared."

"The Mahatma derived his ethic from God; the author of Glimpses of World History derived his from Man, or at least from his study of mankind. He found Gandhi’s ‘frequent references to God . . . most irritating.’"

"He joined her at a clinic in Badenweiler in Nazi Germany (where he made it a point to make his purchases from Jewish shopkeepers), then moved her to Lausanne, but it was all in vain."

"On his way back by air from Switzerland with Kamala’s ashes he was obliged to transit through the airport in Rome. Mussolini, Italy’s Fascist dictator, sent a message of condolences and asked to meet with the Indian nationalist hero. A man of lesser principle might have seen this as an opportunity to win some international prominence for himself and his cause, but Jawaharlal, whose abhorrence of Fascism was, if anything, even greater than his distaste of imperialism, firmly refused the invitation."

"Birla, at whose home Mahatma Gandhi could often be found, discreetly offered Jawaharlal a monthly stipend to free his mind of financial worries. Jawaharlal turned it down, furious that any capitalist could presume to place him on his payroll."

"Within a year of the election this unusual democrat pseudonymously authored a remarkable attack upon himself in the Modern Review: [Nehru] has all the makings of a dictator in him—vast popularity, a strong will directed to a well-defined purpose, energy, pride, organizational capacity, ability, hardness, and, with all his love of the crowd, an intolerance of others and a certain contempt of the weak and the inefficient . . . . From the far north to Cape Comorin he has gone like some triumphant Caesar, leaving a trail of glory and legend behind him . . . . [I]s it his will to power that is driving him from crowd to crowd? His conceit is already formidable. He must be checked. We want no Caesars."

"nationalism above socialism. His first campaign speech in Bombay, an assault on capitalism, won him cheers from the sansculottes and such opprobrium from businessmen that the British thought his leadership would divide the party irrevocably and lead it to electoral disaster. Once again, they were proved wrong; but this was at least partly because Jawaharlal chose not to go so far as to damage the party."

"Nehru bridled at what he saw as Jinnah’s pretensions, challenging the representativeness of the League’s leadership: ‘I come into greater touch with the Muslim masses,’ he declared acidly, ‘than most of the members of the Muslim League.’"

"he rejected the notion that the League (a ‘drawing-room party’) had any valid place: ‘There are only two forces in the country, the Congress and the Government. Those who are standing midway shall have to choose between the two.’"

"The lead Congress negotiator was a Muslim, Maulana Azad; the lead League negotiator was Chaudhury Khaliquzzaman, formerly a close friend of Jawaharlal’s who had often enjoyed his hospitality, staying at Anand Bhavan whenever he visited Allahabad. The two negotiators came close to an agreement. The League was even willing to merge its identity in the provincial legislature with that of the Congress, but the deal finally foundered on the League’s insistence that its legislators would be free to vote differently on ‘communal issues’."

"In a passionate letter to his old friend, Khaliquzzaman, he asked: ‘Why should I accept it [the League] as the representatives of the Muslims of India when I know it represents [only] the handful of Muslims at the top who deliberately seek refuge in the name of religion to avoid discussing mass problems?’ The Congress of Jawaharlal Nehru was committed to land reform; the League was in thrall to big Muslim landowners."

"Even some of Gandhiji’s phrases sometimes jarred upon me—thus his frequent reference to Ram Raj as a golden age which was to return.’"

"In July 1937 Jinnah issued a statement deploring the Congress’ ‘mass contact’ policy with Muslims: ‘There is plenty of scope for Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to improve his own people, the Hindus,’ he declared. Nehru replied immediately: ‘Not being religiously or communally inclined, I venture to think of my people as the Indian people as a whole.’"

"He organized demonstrations against Mussolini, a boycott of Japanese goods (over that country’s conduct in China), a China relief fund and a medical unit to serve there. When his mother passed away, after a long illness, in January 1938, and since his daughter, Indira was studying at Oxford, Jawaharlal decided to travel to Europe. This time there were no Government-imposed restrictions on his activities, and he pursued an openly political agenda, meeting with Egyptian nationalists at Alexandria before travelling overland to Spain as a guest of the Republican government. He spent five days in Barcelona, braving Franco’s air-raids, and felt strongly tempted to join the International Brigades battling Fascism there."

"met the new Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, who had succeeded Willingdon in 1936 and was then on holiday in Britain. At this meeting he declared to the nonplussed Viceroy that he ‘gave England at the outside ten years before India [became] independent.’"

"His view was that India should stay out of any such conflict until she had obtained her freedom from the imperialists who would seek to exploit her. But his abhorrence of Fascism was so great that he would gladly lead a free India into war on the side of the democracies, provided that choice was made by Indians and not imposed upon them by the British."

"Jawaharlal Nehru was in China when war broke out. He was enormously attracted to the idea of India enjoying close relations with that other great ancient Asian civilization, and he entertained romantic notions of a grand eastern alliance between the two as they each emerged from the incubus of colonialism and rose to the challenge of developing their fractured societies."

"How could a subject India be ordered to fight for a free Poland? A free and democratic India, on the other hand, would gladly fight for freedom and democracy."

"Nehru made no secret of his own anti-Nazi views; his dislike of Fascism ran so deep that he dismissed a sub-editor at the National Herald who, in an excess of patriotism, had published a pro-German headline. All he wanted was some indication from the British Government of respect for his position so that India and Britain could then gladly ‘join in a struggle for freedom.’"

"The Viceroy’s statement in October 1939 emphatically rejecting the Congress position, however, prompted the Working Committee, with Jawaharlal in the lead, to order all its provincial ministries to resign rather than continue to serve a war effort in which they had been denied an honourable role. The decision was taken on a point of principle, but politically it proved a monumental blunder. It deprived the Congress of their only leverage with the British Government, cast aside the fruits of their electoral success, and presented Jinnah with a golden opportunity. He broke off talks with the Congress—declaring the day of the Congress resignations a ‘day of deliverance’—and turned to the Viceroy instead."

"On 7 August 1942 in Bombay, the All-India Congress Committee, at the Mahatma’s urging, adopted a resolution moved by Nehru, and seconded by Patel, calling upon Britain to—in a journalistic paraphrase that became more famous than the actual words of the resolution—’Quit India’."

"The Muslims of India, he wrote, ‘are only technically a minority. They are vast in numbers and powerful in other ways, and it is patent that they cannot be coerced against their will . . . . This communal question is essentially one of protection of vested interests, and religion has always been a useful stalking horse for this purpose.’"

"Nehru, still imagining an all-powerful adversary seeking to perpetuate its hegemony, and unaware of the extent to which the League had become a popular party amongst Indian Muslims, dealt with both on erroneous premises. ‘How differently would Nehru and his colleagues have negotiated,’ Talbot wondered, ‘had they understood Britain’s weakness rather than continuing to be obsessed with its presumed strength?’ The question haunts our hindsight."

"Kashmir, a Muslim-majority area nominally outside the British Raj, whose autocratic and sybaritic Hindu Maharajah Jawaharlal despised, and whose indigenous opposition, the non-communal National Conference, was led by a friend and supporter, the Muslim socialist, Sheikh Abdullah."

"The nationalist movement’s politics of protest had made Jawaharlal a master of the futile gesture—precisely the kind of politics that had led to the resignations of the Congress ministries in 1939 and the Quit India movement in 1942, and thus paved the way for the triumph of the Muslim League."

"as riots broke out in Bihar in early November (with the Mahatma walking through the strife-torn province, single-handedly restoring calm), Jinnah declared on 14 November that the killing would not stop unless Pakistan was created."

"There is no question that Jawaharlal and Edwina indeed became close, and some circumstantial evidence that they may well have become closer at a later stage in their lives, but it does not seem likely that this occurred early enough to have any political impact (or indeed that, if it did, it would have had any such impact). Nehru was certainly no celibate; particularly after the death of Kamala when he was only forty-seven, he enjoyed close relations with a number of women friends, though he never contemplated marriage again. Nehru’s biographer Frank Moraes wrote that Edwina ‘sensed that what Nehru most wanted and did not know how to achieve was to relax.’ This she was able to get him to do, at a time of great tension. But while he enjoyed Edwina’s company, he had far more on his mind in 1947 than a dalliance with the Viceroy’s spouse."

"What Jawaharlal had thought of as a temporary secession of certain parts of India hardened into the creation of two separate and hostile states that would fight three wars with each other over the next twenty-four years."

"Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation long suppressed finds utterance."

"Even before the police arrived in force, Jawaharlal Nehru was on the scene . . ., trying to bring people to their senses. He spied a Moslem who had just been seized by Hindus. He interposed himself between the man and his attackers. Suddenly a cry went up: ‘Jawaharlal is here!’ . . . . It had a magical effect. People stood still . . . . Looted merchandise was dropped. The mob psychology disintegrated. By the time the police arrived people were dispersing. The riot was over . . . . The fact that Nehru had risked his life to save a single Moslem had a profound effect far beyond New Delhi. Many thousands of Moslems who had intended to flee to Pakistan now stayed in India, staking their lives on Nehru’s ability to protect them and assure them justice."

"By August 1953 Jawaharlal’s Kashmir policy was in a shambles. His friend and ally, Sheikh Abdullah had begun flirting with notions of independence, and Nehru made the painful decision to place him under arrest."

"One of Prasad’s first acts upon election was to ask that 26 January be changed to a date deemed more auspicious by his astrologers. Jawaharlal flatly turned him down, declaring that India would not be run by astrologers if he had anything to do with it. This time, Nehru won."

"When President Prasad sought directly to send Parliament his objections to the Hindu Code Bill (an attempt to reform Hindu personal law that Jawaharlal was strongly promoting), Nehru told him this would be an unconstitutional interference in the work of his government and threatened to resign over the issue. Prasad backed off."

"In his own constituency, Phulpur, Jawaharlal faced a Hindu sadhu who tried to exploit his co-religionists’s disillusionment with Nehru’s ‘appeasement’ of Muslims. Nehru won by 233,571 votes to 56,718."

"Nehru prompted the Government of India to adopt an Industrial Policy Resolution in April 1948 that granted the state monopolies over railways, atomic energy and defence manufacturing as well as reserved rights relating to any new enterprise in a host of vital areas, from coal and steel to shipbuilding and communications."

"Nehru placed bureaucrats rather than entrepreneurs upon the commanding heights, stifled initiative and investment, and spent the rest of his years in office presiding over a system that sought to regulate stagnation and divide poverty."

"All too often, opposition to planning was made to seem like opposition to a fundamental national interest and disloyalty to Jawaharlal himself. Under Nehru, socialism (as he practised it) became a national dogma, to which his successors stayed loyal long after other developing countries, realizing the folly of his ways, had adopted a different path."

"‘Every conceivable argument has been available to tempt Mr Nehru to forego democratic institutions in India,’ Bertrand Russell wrote. ‘Illiteracy and poverty, disease and ignorance, a great subcontinent to govern, severe differences between Muslim and Hindu, many scores of languages and varied cultures reflecting a tendency toward a breaking up of the Union . . . .’ Nehru rejected all these arguments."

"Indian diplomats who have seen the files swear that at about the same time Jawaharlal also declined a US offer to take the permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council then held, with scant credibility, by Taiwan, urging that it be offered to Beijing instead. Nehru took pride in his principled approach to world politics. But it was one thing to fulminate against Great Power machinations, another to run a national foreign policy with little regard to the imperatives of power or the need for a country to bargain from a position of strength."

"Worse, she was indiscreet enough to express her personal anti-communism to American and British diplomats without first checking for bugs, and the Russians, unamused, did not find it worthwhile to grant her an audience with Stalin."

"Nehru, ever the democrat, confronted the issue of succession directly in a 1961 interview: ‘I am not trying to start a dynasty. I am not capable of ruling from the grave. How terrible it would be if I, after all I have said about the processes of democratic government, were to attempt to handpick a successor. The best I can do for India is to help our people as a whole to generate new leadership as it may be needed.’"

"The domineering Motilal adored and spoiled his son, but may well have instilled in him a tragic flaw for a leader—an instinctive sense that the ultimate responsibility for decision lay elsewhere than in himself. Knowing that his father, and later the Mahatma, were there encouraged in Jawaharlal a tendency to temporize and vacillate, to indulge in reflection and thinking aloud, and yet not commit to a concrete decision."

"The stench of corruption reached Jawaharlal’s own circles three times in the later years of his rule: when his Finance Minister, T. T. Krishnamachari, was obliged to resign in 1958 over improprieties in a life insurance scandal (it was Feroze Gandhi’s muckraking that brought about Krishnamachari’s downfall); when his friend, Jayanti Dharma Teja, whom Nehru had helped set up a major shipping line, defaulted on loans and skipped the country; and when Jawaharlal’s own private secretary since 1946, M.O. Mathai, who was accused both of spying for the CIA and of accumulating an ill-gotten fortune, was forced to resign in 1959. In none of these cases was there the slightest suggestion that Jawaharlal had profited personally in any way from the actions of his associates, but they again confirmed that Nehru’s loyalty exceeded his judgement. (And in dozens of other cases where corruption was not an issue, he picked unsuitable aides and persisted in his support for them well after their ineptitude had been revealed.) By the late 1950s he was widely considered a poor judge of men, and not merely by his critics."

"The occasion saw the passage of various resolutions condemning war and calling for nuclear disarmament, of which Nehru was inordinately proud. It was a telling indication of the gulf between his view of the world and the international realities with which he had to deal."

"When the shooting started with a series of border incidents later that year, India was found woefully unprepared. Yet Nehru refused to believe China would ever embark on war with India, and did unconscionably little to prepare his forces for one. His Defence Minister from 1957 on was the leftist ideologue Krishna Menon, a votary of self-reliance who refused to import defence equipment and turned the military factories into production lines for hairpins and pressure-cookers. In 1959 Menon clashed publicly with the Army chief, General Thimayya, who had to be persuaded by Nehru to withdraw his resignation after being denounced as pro-West by his own minister."

"As late as August 1961 Jawaharlal told Parliament that India did not believe in war, and would not act ‘in a huff’ but behave with ‘wisdom and strength’, complacent banalities that revealed neither wisdom nor strength."

"On 8 September 1962 the Chinese crossed the McMahon Line, claiming self-defence against Indian ‘aggression’, then stopped. Nehru and Menon persuaded themselves that the incident was only a skirmish, and each travelled on planned visits abroad. But neither seemed to have realized the extent of the Chinese mobilization. On 20 October, waves of Chinese troops poured across the border. Full-fledged war had broken out."

"Three months later, in November 1963, Jawaharlal launched India’s own space programme, a moment immortalized in a photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson showing a rocket-part being carried on the back of a bicycle. Six years earlier Jawaharlal had inaugurated India’s first atomic research reactor. Nuclear power and space technology: there was no limit to his scientific aspirations for India, and yet the country was moored in the bicycle age at least partly because of his unwillingness to open it up to the world."

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep."

"Years earlier Jawaharlal had repeated a question posed to him by an American interviewer: ‘My legacy to India? Hopefully, it is 400 million people capable of governing themselves.’"

"Nehru’s impact on India rested on four major pillars—democratic institution-building, staunch pan-Indian secularism, socialist economics at home and a foreign policy of non-alignment. All four remain as official tenets of Indian governance, but all have been challenged, and strained to the breaking point, by the developments of recent years."

"there is no denying the disillusionment with aspects of Indian democracy that afflicts middle-class India; many who ought to know better lapse disturbingly into a wistful longing for benign authoritarianism. Jawaharlal’s daughter Indira suspended the country’s democratic freedoms during a twenty-two-month ‘State of Emergency’ from 1975-77, imprisoning her opponents, suspending civil rights, censoring the press. It is a measure of the values she imbibed at her father’s knee that she then held a free and fair election and lost it comprehensively."

"‘The [real] danger to India,’ Nehru declared bluntly the year before his death, ‘is Hindu right-wing communalism.’ Nehru himself was an avowed agnostic, as was his daughter until she discovered the electoral advantages of public piety."

"If Muslim politicians developed a vested interest in minorityhood, the Nehruvian state evolved a vested interest in its perpetuation: support the leaders of the minority, pre-empt their radicalization by giving them no cause to fear the state, and so co-opt them into the national consensus. When objections to national policy were voiced on religious grounds, as over the Shah Bano case in 1986, when a Supreme Court ruling granted a Muslim woman alimony in defiance of Muslim personal law, the state (under Nehru’s grandson, Rajiv Gandhi) rushed to appease the most conservative elements in the minority community. This was not particularly secular in any sense of the term, let alone Jawaharlal Nehru’s, but secularism is what Indians have called it for over five decades."

"Independent India’s determination to compensate for millennia of injustice to its social underclasses meant that, from the very first, the ‘Scheduled Castes and Tribes’ (so called because the eligible groups of Dalits and aboriginals were listed in a Schedule annexed to the Constitution) were granted guaranteed quotas in schools and colleges, in government jobs, both in officialdom and in the public sector industries, and uniquely, in Parliament. Indeed, so complete was the country’s acceptance of the principle of affirmative action that the clamour to join the bandwagon of reservations grew, and led to more and more groups wanting reservations of their own. The addition of the ‘backward classes’ as recommended by the Mandal Commission has now taken the total of reserved jobs in the federal government and national governmental institutions to 49.5 per cent, and in several states the local reservations are even higher, extending to some 69 per cent in Tamil Nadu state."

"‘In my grandparents’ time, caste governed their lives: they ate, socialized, married, lived, according to caste rules. In my parents’ time, during the nationalist movement, they were encouraged by Gandhi and Nehru to reject caste; we dropped our caste-derived surnames and declared caste a social evil. As a result, when I grew up, I was unaware of caste; it was an irrelevance at school, at work, in my social contacts; the last thing I thought about was the caste of someone I met. Now, in my children’s generation, the wheel has come full circle. Caste is all-important again. Your caste determines your opportunities, your prospects, your promotions. You can’t go forward unless you’re a Backward.’"

"most of Nehru’s public sector companies made losses, draining away the Indian taxpayers’ money. Several of the state-owned companies even today are kept running merely to provide jobs—o r, less positively, to prevent the ‘social costs’ (job losses, poverty, political fallout) that would result from closing them down. All this we owe to Nehru."

"Since economic self-sufficiency was seen by the Nehruvians as the only possible guarantee of political independence, extreme protectionism was imposed: high tariff barriers (import duties of 350 per cent were not uncommon, and the top rate as recently as 1991 was 300 per cent), severe restrictions on the entry of foreign goods, capital and technology, and great pride in the manufacture within India of goods that were obsolete,"

"It is sadly impossible to quantify the economic losses inflicted on India over decades of entrepreneurs frittering away their energies in queuing for licences rather than manufacturing products, paying bribes instead of hiring workers, wooing politicians instead of understanding consumers, ‘getting things done’ through bureaucrats rather than doing things for themselves. This, too, is Nehru’s legacy."

"The public sector, however, grew in size though not in production, to become the largest in the world outside the Communist bloc."

"India’s curse, Jagdish Bhagwati once observed, was to be afflicted by brilliant economists. Nehru had a weakness for such men: people like P.C. Mahalanobis, who combined intellectual brilliance and ideological wrong-headedness in equal measure, but who was given his head by Jawaharlal to drive India’s economy into a quicksand of regulatory red tape surrounding a mirage of Planning."

"When he took over as Minister of External Affairs in India’s first non-Congress government in 1977, Vajpayee noticed that a portrait of Nehru was missing from its usual spot in the ministerial chamber, removed in an excess of zeal by functionaries anxious to please the new rulers. The lifelong critic of the Congress demanded its return."