Nehru vs Nehru

Published : Mar 09, 2007 00:00 IST

This volume offers interesting vignettes of the man who stood for India's composite culture.

JAWAHARLAL Nehru continues to evoke admiration and to baffle; he continues above all to be relevant on the fundamentals that concern the raison d'etre of the Union of India. That is high praise for any leader more than 40 years after his death. His was a rich personality, rich in his sterling qualities and in flaws and failings, some very grave. He was utterly indifferent to inconsistencies in his policies and never hesitated to deny the obvious. His was not a case of the heart governing the head but the enslavement of both to hubris.

There are documents aplenty denying the right to self-determination when applied to Kashmir despite accords with Pakistan and the United Nations on plebiscite on its future status. But he merrily extended this right to an area to which it could not possibly apply, estranging one neighbour and complicating relations with another country in the neighbourhood. He wrote, apropos a suggestion by S.M. Haksar, Ambassador in Kabul, obviously afflicted by localitis, a disease common in infirm envoys: "The kind of statement that Haksar has suggested is practically an admission by us of the claim for Pakhtoonistan. We have never formally admitted this claim. It was none of our concern. Even in private conversation with Afghan Ambassadors, the most we have said is that we would welcome the people of that region to be given the right of self-determination" (emphasis added throughout).

Thus, he egged on the Afghan rulers and whetted their appetite for more. When he could not deliver any more, they got mad and began making noises about Kashmir. "We regret deeply a certain evidence of the Afghanistan government adopting an attitude in regard to Kashmir in their relations with India, which is not in keeping with our friendly relations and their previous attitude. We hope that this is due to some misunderstanding which should be removed. Haksar should say something to this effect to the Kabul government. All this should be done orally without any written statements, more especially, without any press statements." Very clever, indeed. The line he took continued to influence policies in that region; it continues to do so still, essentially.

Not so smart was his indifference to the simmering boundary dispute with China. His letter to the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, dated May 14, 1957, concerned the middle sector, Bara Hoti. But, as Nehru sensed, what was happening there had wider implications. What he did not realise was that they flowed inescapably from his decision in 1951 not to have a comprehensive boundary agreement, as part of the Panchsheel Agreement on Tibet in April 1954, and his decision on July 1, 1954, soon after that agreement, unilaterally to alter Indian maps to show the Aksai Chin as Indian territory. The letter deserves to be quoted in extenso: "We were not greatly worried about these particular places, and the actual territory involved was probably a few miles this way or that way. What we objected to was what appeared to us to be an aggressive way on the part of the Chinese. It is true that these disputes are old standing ones, dating back many decades. In those days, the disputes were with the Tibetan government.

"Although these particular matters were of no great importance, the really important aspect of them related to the whole border of India with China including Tibet. As you know, this border was in a way settled long ago by a tripartite meeting [in 1914] and this border line is often referred to as McMahon Line. The British governments in India and Tibet accepted it. The then Chinese government did not accept it. Ever since then, there has been no formal acceptance of this border by the Chinese government. The Chinese maps of Chiang Kai-shek's time showed quite a considerable bit of North-East India as being in Tibet. Even more recent maps issued by the Chinese government have continued to show this area as being in Tibet.

"So far as we are concerned, we have made it repeatedly clear in Parliament and elsewhere that this border is a firm one, and there was nothing to discuss about it. In fact, there was some slight attempt on the part of Chou En-lai to discuss this matter with me when I went to Peking. I told him there was nothing to discuss.

"The fact, however, remained that this could not be treated as an agreed border, between India and China, and the question might be raised at any time by China. This would affect not a few miles of mountain territory, but quite a large area. When Chou En-lai was here in India on the last occasion, he was prepared to accept this McMahon Line as the border of India and China also. I added then that quite apart from this long frontier about which there was no argument, there were two or three other small border disputes, and the sooner we settled them, the better. This settlement should take place on the basis of usage and geographical features. He agreed.

"Some time after that, we wrote to the Chinese government and suggested that we might take up one of these matters in dispute on the above suggested basis. The Chinese government agreed, and we are waiting for their representative to come to Delhi to discuss this, we should realise that these matters are being settled in conference and, what is more important, that the major border issue has already been settled for all practical purposes." This was inconsistent with what he wrote in the previous paragraph - "the question might be raised at any time by China".

This was Nehru all over - confused, indecisive, inconsistent and keeping options open all the time. Not a bit idealistic but hardline and confrontationist. A little over a year later, the dispute erupted in all its fateful intensity, but neither about Bara Hoti nor the McMahon line. Zhou Enlai raised it on January 21, 1959, over his Aksai Chin road. Significantly, Nehru's first White Paper has the first of protest notes in 1954 over Bara Hoti. Could not Nehru sense the pattern that was being unfolded before his eyes?

Now, read what he wrote to the Foreign Secretary on July 30, 1957: "Our Ambassador in Peking says that when a settlement with Burma is reached, it would be easier to deal with the Indo-Chinese border. I think there is some misappropriation in his mind. So far as we are concerned, we have never admitted that there is any dispute about our frontier with Tibet (apart from one or two minor matters). The real question was about the McMahon Line. In view of my talks with Premier Chou En-lai when he came here last, it was made clear that the McMahon Line was an accepted frontier, although this has not been formally stated in any document. The only question (that) remain were about Hoti and one other place."

Was there a boundary "dispute" or not? Surely by July 1957 he knew of the situation in the Aksai Chin. In July 1956, it was reported by the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) that the road was near completion. Its completion was officially announced by China in March 1957.

When militancy erupted in Kashmir in 1989, some in New Delhi attributed it to Zia-ul-Haq's "Operation Topac". It was in fact a document published in Indian Defence Review in July 1989 sketching a scenario in the form of a speech by Zia. For quite some time our columnists had a field day brandishing it as "evidence". Only one writer had the courage and integrity to admit the error - K. Subrahmanyam. It was a perceptive document. However, this volume contains extracts from a pamphlet written by Major-General Akbar Khan, former Chief of the General Staff, Pakistan Army. Nehru referred to it on July 26-27, 1957, in a comprehensive address to the Defence Committee of the Cabinet. One wonders how many Defence Ministers or Prime Ministers have since spoken as ably as he did. "There was the pamphlet issued by ex-Major General Akbar Khan, wherein he defined his line of action. This was to have large scale sabotage within Jammu and Kashmir State and at the same time trouble along the ceasefire line and attempts to push large numbers of people across that line. The objective appeared to be to weaken Jammu and Kashmir government and at the same time to goad India into some kind of reprisal, which would then be met by the Pakistan Army."

An editorial footnote sums up its contents. "The pamphlet contended that India would not yield an inch of territory in direct negotiations. The solution therefore lay in internal revolution in Jammu and Kashmir, which, if it is to succeed, must be organised, supported and supplied and directed from Pakistan with the covert connivance of the Government of Pakistan." Khan's conception of the internal freedom movement was not merely a movement by Kashmiris in Jammu and Kashmir, but also by Kashmiris in Pakistan. He felt that it was best to get India to negotiate under pressure. His view was that "in going ahead with the freedom movement we need not be unduly swayed by apprehension about Indian military retaliation. The risk is there, but if war comes we can look after ourselves and therefore the risk is worth taking." This was 30 years before "Op Topac". Such annotations have been a most useful feature of these volumes. Their quality has, if anything, improved over the years.

But how many - or how few - care to read them? Do our constitutional lawyers? One doubts. Ivor Jennings' works cite memoirs to distil constitutional conventions. The fact that we have a long written Constitution is no reason for neglect of the correspondence of Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel and Rajendra Prasad. They throw much light on how the Constitution must be worked, an aspect that lawyers, whose knowledge is confined to textbooks and law reports of court cases, overlook. This is what Nehru told the Lok Sabha on May 11, 1957: "It is well known that under the system of parliamentary government, while the Constitution has necessarily great force and while we have bound ourselves by oath and otherwise to abide by the terms of the Constitution, the Constitution by itself is not enough. Conventions have to grow up, habits of behaviour have to grow up and a certain tolerance of each other has to grow up, a certain attempt to understand, to adapt oneself; in other words, a House like this, Sir, has in effect to become an exemplar to the nation at large."

Nehru also concerned himself with trivia like the Italian filmmaker Roberto Rosellini's affair in Bombay (now Mumbai) with Sonali Dasgupta, the wife of a film producer. He met Rosellini's wife, the actress Ingrid Bergman, in London. A matter worthy of a busy Prime Minister's attention? One doubts. Read this: "Some time ago a large number of persons came to my house and raised some slogans. On enquiry I found that they were coming from the Delhi races and complaining of malpractices at those races. In particular, they were complaining of an individual, who apparently has control of the Club. I am not particularly interested in horse racing. But as these complaints were made, I enquired from the Chief Commissioner of Delhi who said in effect that these charges were correct and that the Delhi Race Club was controlled by a set of unscrupulous persons who were trying to make money out of it at the expense of the public."

At a meeting on slum clearance on May 2, 1957, the minutes record, "the Prime Minister enquired the present position about slum clearance in the Jama Masjid area with particular reference to the removal of fish and kabaris shops. The Chairman, Delhi Improvement Trust, explained that sanction for the construction of a market in Dujana House, to which the fish shops would be removed, had been received and that work would be taken in hand shortly. So far as the kabaris were concerned, it was decided to move them to the Idgah area. Shrimati Subhadra Joshi said that the site selected for the purpose was not considered entirely satisfactory. The Delhi State authorities explained that there would not be much difficulty in making suitable adjustment. It was decided that the matter should be looked into and necessary action taken as early as possible." That was 50 years ago.

The piece de resistance is the very first document in this volume, and it makes a timely appearance, indeed. It is a transcript of Nehru's address at the Ramlila Grounds in Delhi on May 10, 1957, on the Mutiny of 1857. It covers 13 pages. There is not only Nehru's assessment of the revolt in the context of the times but also of the `Indianness' of the Mughal rulers. "There are two or three broad facts to be kept in mind. One, there is no doubt about it that whatever the causes behind it may have been, it was an Indian struggle for Independence. It was an expression of resentment against the yoke of foreign rule and an attempt to get rid of it. What might have followed if the movement had succeeded is a different matter. Secondly, it is true that the religious sentiments of the Hindus and the Muslims were hurt by the suspicion that the British were forcing them to use bullets which had pork in it. But it is wrong to say that that was the cause of the revolt. The real reason was people's anger against British rule and other factors including religion were part of it. You will find that throughout those two years, there was no communal disharmony of any kind in spite of our ingrained habit of internecine feuds. Both Hindus and Muslims participated in the movement and in victory as well as in defeat, they marched shoulder to shoulder. This is something noteworthy."

Bahadur Shah Zafar united the nation. Why? Nehru traced the record of foreign invasions over the centuries and said: "Then came the Turks, the Afghans and the Mughals. But in a very short while they had intermingled with the local people. They had no homeland except India. So they learnt to live in amity with the others. The establishment of British rule in India is of special significance because for the first time in the thousands of years of Indian history, the foreign invaders owed loyalty to another country. India was merely a country over which they ruled. It made a great difference. In a sense, before the coming of the British, no matter who ruled India, it was independent. It had an Indian government with its roots in India's soil and which owed no allegiance to anyone else. So, in a sense, in spite of the great upheavals which took place from time to time, India remained an independent nation. For the first time in thousands of years the trend was reversed. A nation which lay thousands of miles away ruled India through its representatives. This was the great difference which the coming of the British and the establishment of their empire in India made."

It is this past that the Sangh Parivar is out to wipe out through false history and a hate campaign against the man who stood for India's composite culture. Characters who are out to make a fortune as butshikhans (idol-breakers) are a disgrace to India's public life.

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