Nehru’s approach

Print edition : May 02, 2014
Two volumes of Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, about the early 1959 period when relations with China were strained and corruption and communalism were on the rise.

THESE two volumes cover the phase when the crisis in India’s relations with China had begun. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Premier Zhou En-lai had exchanged letters squarely joining issue on the boundary dispute. The Dalai Lama entered India on March 31, 1959, adding to the tension. The volumes also cover a host of matters of domestic policy. No other Prime Minister had Nehru’s range of interests; no other spoke to the people as a teacher at mass gatherings as he did. The volumes have the texts of his speeches, besides his correspondence.

As ever, one is dependent on the editor of the compilation for the selection of the articles. Sheikh Abdullah’s letter to Nehru from prison on April 6, 1959, is set out, complaining of harassment to defence counsel in the Conspiracy Case, filed at Nehru’s instance, and its lethargic progress. Thanks for small mercies. Nehru unfailingly replied to letters. His reply is not reproduced, only a perfunctory letter to Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad asking him to look into the matter. The student is handicapped because access to the Nehru papers is difficult.

Two problems predominate in this period —the rise in communalism fostered by the Jana Sangh, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) ancestor, and the growth of corruption. There are other issues besides, which the volumes cover, namely, the Sea Custom’s attempt to prevent entry of the novel Lolita. Bombay’s Commissioner of Police, the Law Minister and the Collector of Customs found nothing objectionable. Union Finance Minister Morarji Desai minuted: “I do not know what book can be called obscene if this cannot be. It is sex perversion.” He was overruled, fortunately. The Customs allowed the book to be imported into the country; no rise in “sex perversion” was detected thereafter.

Already by May 1959, well before the armed clash in Longju in August 1959, the opposition parties had sensed an opportunity to use the crisis in Sino-Indian relations as a stick with which to beat Nehru. He wrote to G. Parthasarathi, Ambassador to China, on May 10, 1957. “It must be remembered, even though the Chinese do not appreciate it, that there are many parties in India functioning with complete freedom and every opposition party, except the Communist in this case, are bent on saying hard things about China chiefly to embarrass our government…. Parliament has now adjourned for three months…. But I think that some kind of anti-China propaganda will be carried on by some opposition parties and individuals, chiefly as an attack on our government.”

Not that China was restrained. Nehru wrote to Parthasarathi again on April 30.

“We realise that Tibet is very backward. Nevertheless, the regimented and virulent attacks on India in China and their insistence on patent falsehoods have surprised and distressed me. It seems to me that Chinese authorities have developed a habit of trying to bully and imagine that offensive language will produce the results they desire. It produces exactly opposite results in any self-respecting country. It is difficult enough to restrain these strong reactions in India, but we shall do so. Our general policy will remain firm though not unfriendly to China. We realise the importance of these friendly relations, but friendship cannot be obtained by threats and coercive attitude. If Chinese friendship is necessary for India, so is Indian friendship for China.”

The entire series of Nehru’s Selected Works is simply invaluable to any student of Indian affairs. It is surely time that access to the Nehru papers is freely allowed, 50 years after the national hero sadly died.