A feast of an anthology

Published : May 09, 2003 00:00 IST

The Essential Writings of Jawaharlal Nehru edited by S. Gopal and Uma Iyengar; Oxford University Press; Vol. 1, pages 739; Vol II, pages 741, Rs.2,450 for the set.

SARVEPALLI GOPAL, who died last year, was one of India's most distinguished academics. He will always be remembered for his stupendous work on the life and writings of Jawaharlal Nehru. Apart from writing the three volumes of Jawaharlal Nehru: A Biography, he was General Editor of the Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru; 31 volumes in the First Series and 30 in the Second Series. The latest, Volume 31, came out in December last after his death. That is not all. He edited Jawaharlal Nehru: An Anthology, which was published in 1980. Bar the Selected Works in the First Series, the rest were published by the Oxford University Press (OUP). His collaborator, Uma Iyengar, editor of The Book Review, has dedicated this feast of an anthology in two volumes to Gopal's memory. The work was completed in his lifetime. Sadly, he did not live to see its publication.

No literate Indian could be unaware of the many-splendoured personality of Jawaharlal Nehru. The sheer range of his interests, the vastness of his reading and his ability to offer lively comment even on matters mundane, such as the monsoon in Mumbai, amaze one.

It is a pity that unlike Winston Churchill he did not write essays on Great Contemporaries. But the sketches he penned reflect the depth of his understanding of human character. Two such sketches stand out. One is of C. Rajagopalachari - Rajaji as he was affectionately called - the other of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Both were scholars of spartan habits for whom Nehru had deep respect and great affection. But even while admiring their sturdy independence - they freely voiced their disagreement with Gandhiji - Nehru could discern their intellectual arrogance and the toll that development of the intellect and their aloofness exacted on their personalities. The anthology has a score of such personality sketches. There is, of course, a whole chapter on Bapu and his influence on Nehru.

Nehru's articles on press freedom, banning of books and on civil liberties have a contemporary relevance. More so his comments on politicians in an article published in 1928. It drives one to suspect that defections are in the very genes of the Indian politician.

Nehru cites instances of such persons who shifted their loyalties from one party to another even during the Raj; two decades before Independence. There has doubtless been a steep decline in political morality since. But the standards of common politicians in the country were never high.

Jaswant Singh gave currency to the libel that Nehru wanted the Army to be dissolved. It was authored by India's first Commander-in-Chief, Sir Rob Lockhart, whom Nehru sacked, gracefully, for suppressing information about the tribal raid on Kashmir in 1947. He should read an excellent note on defence which Nehru wrote on September 12, 1946, and sent to General Sir Claude Auchinleck, then Commander-in-Chief.

There is scarcely a facet of our national life, scarcely, a topic of national concern which he ignored or omitted to address. He wrote on prison reforms, on cleansing the Ganga and on cow slaughter.

In a letter dated August 7, 1947, a week before Independence Day, Nehru warned Rajendra Prasad: "There is a very strong Hindu revivalist feeling in the country at the present moment. I am greatly distressed by it because it represents the narrowest communalism." Those who misrepresent secularism should read his foreword to a book on the subject in Hindi Dharam Nirpaksh Raj by Raghunath Singh. It was published in 1961.

Never shall we see the like of this man again. The Essential Writings are a fine tribute to the work to which he dedicated his life - a democratic, secular and tolerant India.

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