Two sides of Nehru

Published : Oct 22, 2010 00:00 IST

In these volumes one can discern the inconsistencies between his beliefs and practice on many issues, particularly when it involved intellectuals.

ONE looks forward to each volume in this most fascinating and instructive series Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru and one is never disappointed. First because of the sheer range of Jawaharlal Nehru's interests and concerns and next because of the contemporary relevance of what our first Prime Minister wrote. We do him no justice if we overlook his grave flaws or great qualities.

Before he assumed power, Nehru liked the company of young questioning minds and as Congress president infused life and vitality into the All India Congress Committee's (AICC) secretariat in Allahabad. One wishes the Memorial Fund would reprint the pamphlets written at his instance and published under his patronage. One was by Ram Manohar Lohia on civil liberties.

After August 15, 1947, the leader's emphases and even his outlook changed. One of the country's foremost intellectuals was almost persecuted. Nehru was furious with Nirad C. Chaudhuri for writing his book The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian (1951) when he was a government employee in All India Radio (AIR). He expressed this in a note of July 23, 1952, meant for the Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting: I do not suggest that he should be given notice to depart. But I do think that we require some kind of an explanation from him, and an account of how much time in service was spent on the book. The result was three notices on him in August by the Director-General of AIR demanding figures of his income and surrender of one-third of it to the government ( SWJN Volume 19; pages 471-472).

Nirad Chaudhuri went to the Ministry of External Affairs and began working on the Canal Water Issue. Commonwealth Secretary B.F.H.B. Tyabji's defence of the writer infuriated Nehru who doubted Nirad Chaudhuri's loyalty to India ( SWJN Volume 23; page 1,778).

Nehru was committed to democratic values and was against censorship of cables sent by foreign correspondents. But he frowned at the Civil Liberties Union when it protested against detentions in Kashmir. Apart from the fact that the Civil Liberties Union is a small organisation which is opposed to both our government and the Congress, it seems to me a little absurd for such an organisation to sit in judgment over the policies of both the Jammu and Kashmir government and the Central Government of India.

A footnote said Mridula Sarabhai had written to Nehru on November 29, 1954, seeking permission for working for the Civil Liberties Union. Nehru's reply on November 30 (not printed) stated: Instructions were issued to Congressmen by the AICC to keep away from the Civil Liberties Union because that Union had ceased to function independently and had become merely an organ of attack of present government policy.

He asked her not to send any papers regarding Kashmir and reprimanded her for her activities in strong terms.

Civil liberties were fine, but none had a right to sit in judgment over Nehru's policies. Volume 29 contains (pages 121-122) Nehru's letter of August 12, 1955, to Dr Zakir Husain pouring out his wrath on the communists. This was apropos the Union Home Ministry's objection to the grant of a scholarship to Irfan Habib, now one of the country's foremost historians, allegedly because of his links with the Communist Party of India. Nehru decided, nonetheless, in favour of Irfan Habib' albeit as a special case'.

Nehru enthusiastically supported amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code, moved by his Home Minister, Kailash Nath Katju, which confer special privileges on public servants' (Ministers as well as civil servants). The amendments are utterly unconstitutional.

This volume has his letter of March 11, 1958, to Asoka Mehta. He had apparently received a proposal from the world's most respected think tank, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC, that it would carry out studies on the Kashmir issue and the Indo Ceylon issue.

Nehru replied, with barely concealed anger:

I have your letter of the 10th January, with which you sent me a letter from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

I must confess to feeling somewhat surprised at the request made to study two issues which concerns us so intimately. We cannot prevent anyone from studying any subject or any issue, but if our cooperation is sought, we cannot give it. These are matters which are discussed between the countries concerned, and we cannot entertain the idea that an organisation should interfere in any way in our relations with another country. I am returning the Carnegie Endowment letter to you.

To suggest that a study by a think tank would interfere in any way in our relations with another country is to betray appalling ignorance of its role, especially that of Carnegie Endowment, and reveal arrogant indifference to intellectual effort on these complex issues. India's cause such as it was would not have been harmed by the Prime Minister meeting its scholars and extending his cooperation to them. The truth is that he had carefully locked a terrible skeleton in the cupboard. On Kashmir, India's case never brooked too careful a scrutiny.

In May 1948, Indira Gandhi, writing from Srinagar, warned him that he would lose the plebiscite. Which is why V.P. Menon, Secretary in the Ministry of States, began working on partition plans as U.S. Ambassador Henry F. Grady reported on May 18, 1948, adding: The GOI is beginning to doubt that it would win a plebiscite of all inhabitants of the State on the question of accession of the State to India or Pakistan ( Foreign Relations of the U.S., 1948; Volume V; page 343).

But he never had any proposal other than the status quo. That is where think tanks came in. In 1913 a Carnegie Endowment inquiry on the crisis in the Balkans created a stir by its careful analysis and thorough documentation. It was republished in 1993 with a brilliant new introduction and Reflections on the Present Conflict by the celebrated George F. Kennan ( The Other Balkan Wars; a Carnegie Endowment book).

Sheikh Abdullah was released from imprisonment in January 1958, after nearly five years, only to be imprisoned again until April 1964. On his release Nehru invited him over to be his guest and to hold talks with him. In May 1964 Nehru died. History might have taken a different turn if Nehru had extended the invitation in 1958. Instead, he wrote to Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad on January 11, 1958: When I saw Sheikh Sahib two or three months before his arrest in 1953, I came to the conclusion that he had lost his balance of mind. Reading his statements and reports of his speeches now, I am even more convinced of this. Whatever his views might be, no one in his proper senses could behave and speak in the manner he has done since his release. I need not, of course, tell you what the reaction has been among our people here. He is so unbalanced that it is difficult to predict his future actions. It would appear that his recent attitude is pretty close to Pakistan's.

The real question is not so much what he will do, but rather what the public reaction to it might be. Therefore, the thing to aim at is for the public to get tired of him and his speeches. If that happens, then Sheikh Sahib will function in a somewhat isolated way and will not be able to do much mischief.

The people disappointed Nehru. As for the Sheikh's lack of balance, talking to pressmen at Kud on January 10, Sheikh Abdullah reiterated his stand that the issue of Kashmir's accession should be resolved by holding a plebiscite, and said that the existing government of Kashmir had no legal or constitutional status. He added that it was he who had linked Kashmir with India but the Central government had neglected the interests of Kashmiri Muslims, particularly in the Army. He also expressed his warmest regards for Nehru and stated that probably the forces of the situation were such that to bring about a speedy solution he put me into prison.

Nonetheless, later Nehru flatly denied his aspersions and claimed: I have your letter of January 24. I entirely agree with you that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir State is a delicate and difficult one and should be dealt. I have had the greatest regard for Sheikh Abdullah and I do not think I have, at any time, said anything derogatory to him. The most I have said once was that I thought he was mistaken in a policy that he advocated. Unfortunately he has taken up an attitude since his release which can only add to the difficulties of the situation. Lack of balance was a Nehru favourite to describe anyone with whom he disagreed. The expression abounds in the volumes of the SWJN.

On Tibet, Nehru's stand was correct. The Jan Sangh and the Lohiaites attacked him unjustly. Nehru told Tibet's ex-Prime Minister: It was folly to think of defeating China by armed force, that India could not supply any arms, that Tibet had become so backward that change had become imperative. If the Tibetans did not change themselves, the change would come from outside. There was no possibility of putting the clock back and reverting to the previous state of Tibet remaining there. Briefly my advice was that the Tibetans should keep united and claim full autonomy. They should not challenge China's overall sovereignty. If they stood for autonomy and were united, they would be able to retain their way of life and at the same time they should try to introduce reforms.

Boundary issue

Just then the boundary issue with China was coming to the fore. Foreign Secretary Subimal Dutt informed the Prime Minister on February 3, 1958, that there seemed little doubt that the newly constructed 1,200 kilometre road connecting Gartok in Western Tibet with Yeh in Sinkiang passes through Aksai Chin, which was now being used by the Chinese. Subimal Dutt favoured Joint Secretary B.K. Acharya's suggestion of sending a reconnoitring party in the coming spring to find out if the road passed through Aksai Chin. However, if the Chinese opposed, the party could come back and the matter could be taken up diplomatically.

Nehru minuted the next day: My reaction is that we should send a reconnoitring party there in spring with clear instructions that they should not come into conflict with the Chinese. I do not think it is desirable to have air reconnaissance. In fact, I do not see what good this can do us. Even a land reconnaissance will not perhaps be very helpful. However, it may bring some further facts to our notice.

2. I do not see how we can possibly protest about the alignment of the road without being much surer than we are. What we might perhaps do is that in some communication with the Chinese government in regard to the points of dispute which have to be decided, we should mention the Aksai Chin area.

3. It is suggested that our maps should be sent to the Chinese. Certainly they can be sent through our Embassy. But I think it would be better to do this rather informally.

The memoirs of the head of the Intelligence Bureau, B.N. Mullik, a Nehru confidant, record in detail the flow of information and the gradual build-up of the problem ( My Years with Nehru: The Chinese Betrayed; Allied; pages 197-206). It was in March 1957 that the Chinese first announced the completion of the Xinjiang-Tibet highway. Work had begun in November 1952. No Indian patrol had actually traversed the portion of the road within the Aksai Chin itself.

Following Nehru's note, a patrol party was sent and its report was discussed in the Ministry of External Affairs and with the Army chief: The line taken by the Ministry was that the exact boundary of this area had not been demarcated (defined?) and so in any protest we lodged we could not be on firm grounds (page 201). In June 1958, another such meeting was held following a report from our embassy in China. Subimal Dutt said that neither the embassy report nor the I.B.'s report conclusively proved that the Sinkiang-Tibet highway actually passed through our territory (page 202).

A year and a half later, this healthy scepticism gave way to arrogant certitude, which foreclosed compromise.

It was a terrible legacy which this great man left on Kashmir and the boundary question.

It is interesting to recall that on August 20, 1948, Nehru wrote to the Chairman of the United Nations Commission on India and Pakistan (UNCIP) a special letter as distinct from another on the same day raising specifically the position of the sparsely populated and mountainous region of the Jammu and Kashmir State in the north and demanded the right to maintain garrisons at selected points in this area inter alia to guard the main trade routes from the State into Central Asia (S 1100, paragraph 80). This was beyond the UNCIP's resolution of August 13, 1948, of course.

But the area of greater consequence was the Karakoram Pass to the east and the Aksai Chin. Strange that Nehru's frontier awareness extended into the area in the west, under Pakistan's occupation, but not to the east. His object was to raise one more impossible issue to avert a plebiscite. His indifference to the Aksai Chin ended only a decade later.

The volume has useful material on the language question, Nehru's letters to Rajaji on this question being among them. It may be that our differences on this subject are not quite as broad as would appear, but it does seem that they are fairly deep, ran one Nehruvism, so typical of his ambivalent style of approach to all issues. A note of January 2, 1958, on the privileges of the Vice-President of India is relevant still.

Mundhra affair

A significant chunk of documents concern the Mundhra Affair, and the Commission of Inquiry comprising Justice M.C. Chagla and Attorney General M.C. Setalvad and its report. Setalvad complains in his memoirs that Chagla enjoyed the publicity. So did he. Neither cared to consult British precedents on Tribunals of Inquiry, on which our commissions of inquiry are based. Shockingly, they joined in refusing a hearing to Haridas Mundhra himself. After the event, Nehru cited British practice on pre-tribunal investigation by the police.

Yet he sneeringly referred to one of the best-informed MPs we have had, B. Shiva Rao, correspondent of The Hindu and the then Manchester Guardian: A great deal of reference has been made to what is the British practice and my friend, Mr. Shiva Rao, thinks that nothing in the world can be better than what is done in England. I do not wholly hold with him, although broadly we follow the practice there. But I did not know frankly. If I had known that, we probably would have followed it, which is to have a preliminary investigation to help the Judge, to help the Attorney-General, to help anybody who goes there. And now the Treasury Solicitor is put in charge of an inquiry. He is helped by the head of the police. They collect facts, they get evidence, etc., and then they present all these to the Attorney-General who places it before the Inquiry Commission. Now, it was these matters that I referred to. In this matter this type of inquiry, this method of inquiry is not the happiest way of doing it. I confess it was our fault, the government's fault for having not made it easier for the inquiring Judge by a preliminary investigation.

Why then the sneer? Shiva Rao was the driving force behind the report of the Congress Parliamentary Party's subcommittee on the jeep scandal involving Nehru's favourite, V.K. Krishna Menon. The report was not published. Shiva Rao gave a copy to G.S. Bhargava for use in the book, Political Corruption in India, he co-authored with Surendranath Dwivedi. It was not returned, Shiva Rao told this writer. A copy should exist somewhere and should be published. Nehru never forgave Shiva Rao.

T.T. Krishnamachari resigned from the Cabinet as Finance Minister. The letter Nehru wrote to him, in reply to his letter of resignation, was unfortunately worded. Despite the clear finding of the Commission, wrote Nehru, so far as you are concerned, I am most convinced that your part in this matter was the smallest and that you did not even know what was done.

After the Chagla Report was published, a very important and interesting revelation was made by Taya Zinkin in her book Reporting India. While in India she knew both Krishnamachari and H.M. Patel closely. She reveals that after giving evidence, Krishnamachari rushed to see Patel, who was then staying at A.D. Gorwala's flat. The Minister said, I let you down badly, H.M.! I am sorry. I had not expected that the Judge would ask so many questions and I got flustered.

H.M. Patel, the principal Finance Secretary, was one of the ablest civil servants. His career suffered at Nehru's hands. TTK returned to the Nehru Cabinet. If Patel had been a Nehru favourite he too would have been restored to high position. He performed courageously as an MP during the Emergency and became Finance Minister and Home Minister. His main commitment was to serve the people of his State.

K.N. Panikkar's compilation follows the format set in earlier volumes in the series. It comprises documents on the labour, peasants, students, women and depressed classes movements. The students' movement was a house divided. Dr K.M. Ashraf's remark at the All India Students' Conference on December 25, 1940, reflected the basic divide between the Left and the Congress. The Mahatma does not recognise any institution, he only recognises the individuals who approach him in a spirit of prayaschit. This the Left and Jinnah also refused to do.

Documents on the princely states, especially Kashmir and Hyderabad, reflect the fault lines that created havoc in 1947. It is a most useful volume for students of history.

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