J N Dixit
in Allahabad. Grows up in an influential political
family with European governesses and tutors.
Takes the Tripos in Natural Sciences at Trinity
College, Cambridge and joins Inner Temple, London.
1912: Returns to India.
Joins the Allahabad High Court Bar. 1916: Marries
Kamala Kaul. Their only child, Indira, is born the
next year. 1919: The
turning point in his life. While travelling on a train,
he overhears General Dyer gloating over the Jallianwala
Bagh massacre. Nehru vows to fight the British. 1920:
Begins public career in the United Provinces (now
Uttar Pradesh). Attends special session of Congress
at Calcutta as a delegate. 1930s:
Forms the left wing of the Congress -- the
Congress Socialist Party.
victory of the Congress, Nehru disagrees to a coalition
with the Muslim League. Also refuses to join hands
with Fazul Haque's Krishak Party as well, throwing
Punjab and Bengal into the waiting arms of the League.
1938-39: Openly supports
Gandhian philosophy in the Gandhi-S.C. Bose rift.
Bose resigns as Congress president.
1946: Declares that the
Cabinet Mission Plan would be altered once Congress
is in power. Sparks insecurity in the League, leading
to Jinnah's call for Direct Action.
1947: Nehru becomes
the first prime minister of Independent India.
1950s: Charts the course
of India's development with his Five-Year Plan. Entrusts
responsibility of mobilising resources to the public
1950s: Nehru outlines
his foreign policy with disarmament as its focus.
He spearheads the Non-Aligned Movement. The debacle
with China in 1962 makes him realises he cannot ignore
brewing tensions in neighbouring countries. Foreign
policy is accordingly redefined. 1964:
Dies in Delhi.
He had been alive, Jawaharlal Nehru would have been 110
years and one month old at the turn of the century. It
is 36 years since his moving away from the centrestage
of Indian and world politics. With death and with the
passage of time, great leaders undergo a process of demystification
. Distances in terms of time and the elimination of the
physical presence of these larger-than-life figures enable
succeeding generations to a assess their lives more objectively,
without being afflicted by their charisma and power, whatever
the ingredients of that power might have been.
even during his life-time went through the spectrum of
individual and collective reactions to his leadership,
from being adored as a revolutionary and vibrant personification
of the forward-looking spirit of India to being described
as a pampered young man who accidentally acquired national
leadership due to the influence of his father and the
favouritism of Mahatma Gandhi. He has been admired as
a leader of the freedom movements, as the founding father
of institutional democracy in India and as the architect
of India's policy in all its manifestations, being the
longest serving prime minister of India (from 1946 to
would be pertinent to evaluate Nehru as a leader and a
statesman because of the decisive and over-arching role
that he played in Indian history in the 20th century.
Regardless of criticisms, he was one of the most influential
leaders of our freedom struggle. He was a pioneering articulator
of Asian resurgence and was an unusually idealistic advocate
of conscience in international politics. India's parliamentary
democracy, free judiciary and media, the apolitical civil
servants and armed forces, the commitment to secularism,
social justice and equality before law, all originated
in the blue print for free India which he worked out.
had a profound belief in India's destiny as a moral and
stabilizing force in inter-state relations. He had faith
in the Indian people and an equally strong hope that their
maturity and civilisational wisdom would ensure for India
an important role in the world. His education in the West,
and his exposure to the political movements of Europe
in the first three decades of this century, combined with
his eclectic sense of history, made him realise that science,
technology and economic modernisation and development
were essential pre-requisites to fulfill the vision of
a free India that he had in mind and to which he devoted
three-fourths of his life.
ingredients and influences, cannot be denied in generic
terms but in is necessary to assess Nehru through the
prism of India's realities today, and to judge him in
the context of criticisms leveled against him as an individual
and as a public figure.
exercise should necessarily be an assessment of him as
a leader of the freedom struggle, as a founding ideologue
of the Indian Republic, as the prime minister, as an international
statesman and as a leader beloved of the people of India,
second only to Gandhi in this century. I can do no better
than to recall two remarks made by senior members of the
Congress over his role as leader of the freedom struggle.
Acharya Kripalani, speaking at a seminar of the Gandhi
Vichar Parishad in Wardha in 1954, said Nehru became a
prominent leader of the freedom struggle basically because
of the colonial mindset of the Indians. "He is an Englishman
in Indian clothing." So the respect for him. I was one
of the audience to which this remark was made. Though
we were very young, we did not accept this assessment.
We attributed it to the breaking away of Jayaprakash Narayan
and Kriplani from the Congress at the point of time.
second view was expressed years later by former prime
minister P.V. Narasimha Rao when I asked him how Nehru
came to such prominence in the freedom struggle. He said
Congressmen made him their leader because of their conviction
that he was committed to the cause of freedom and to the
service of the people of India. But he also reminded me
that Nehru had worked his way up through municipal elections
in Allahabad and through mass movements in Pratapgarh
of Uttar Pradesh.
the ideologue of the Indian Constitution and the Indian
polity, Nehru's contributions cannot be denied. It is
his implementation of the doctrine of secularism and his
approach to harmonizing the diversities of India which
seem flawed in retrospect. The basic reasoning of secularism
which he put forward was valid -- that a plural, multi-religious,
civil society like that of India's could remain harmonious
and united only if it is underpinned by religious tolerance
and separation of religion from politics. The flaw, however,
was that he did not underline the fact that the secular
ethos of Indian society was rooted in two factors. That
Hindus constituted the majority of the people of the country
and that Hindu ethos at the profoundest intellectual and
spiritual levels believed deeply in religious tolerance
and respect for other religions.
the majority of people in India were not Hindus, India
would not have been a secular country. Instead of emphasising
this, Nehru put the Hindu majority somewhat on the defensive,
predicating Indian secularism on certification by the
minorities, that the majority is secular. This resulted
in a certain defensiveness and self-conscious denial of
their religious and cultural identity by the Hindu community,
which has perhaps made secularism a surface phenomenon
in India's socio-political processes.
Nehru's decision to reorganise the states on the basis
of languages, while being good-intentioned, perhaps germinated
the seeds of the present centrifugal territorial demands,
affecting the unity of our country. While he was the builder
of democratic institutions and conventions, one has to
acknowledge that he did not groom a second generation
of leadership in the party or the country, nor did he
show any awareness of the need for anchoring the Congress
in a trained cadre of party workers. He presumed that
the commitment and organisational cohesion of the Congress
during the freedom struggle would continue which was not
to be because the party in a freedom movement is always
different from a party in power in terms of ethos and
is fashionable now to criticise Nehru's economic policies.
He is castigated for making the public sector occupy the
commanding heights of Indian economy. He is criticised
for not linking up with western market economies.
has to be remembered that the Indian private sector did
not have the resources and motivation to invest in infrastructural
sectors of the economy which required long-term investments
and gestation periods. More importantly, between 1947
and 1955, all his efforts to get the major western powers
involved in infrastructural development did not get a
positive response. It was in consequence of this predicament
that he entrusted the responsibility of mobilising resources
and channelling them to fundamental sectors of the Indian
economy to the government and the public sector.
the decisions that he took seem logical and relevant to
those times, the question to be answered is whether he
would have continued the same policies had he lived into
the '80s. Whatever his faults, he was alert and sensitive
to changing domestic and international situations. Who
knows, he might have been an equally active participant
in the process of economic liberalisation and modernisation?
an international statesman and foreign minister, there
is a questioning of his founding the Non-Aligned Movement
and its relevance today. It is true that the movement
has not been very effective in safeguarding the interests
of its member countries, particularly India. Two facts
have to be kept in mind while evaluating Nehru's adherence
to the movement. First, he made a distinction between
being "non-aligned" and being part of "the Non-Aligned
believed in non-alignment as a guiding principle of India's
foreign policy so that India is assured of having the
freedom of choice in making decisions responsive to its
national interests without being subject to external influences.
He articulated apprehensions about being part of a movement
which in itself could become a bloc of countries. It was
Krishna Menon who ultimately persuaded him to make India
join the movement, arguing that the parallel interests
of the countries of the movement would increase their
influence in international transactions.
did not believe in the non-aligned movement as a dogma.
He rightly believed in non-alignment (as distinct from
neutrality) as a guiding principle of India's foreign
and security policies. Nehru can certainly be faulted
for his idealism and belief in the sanctity of international
law and agreements, in the light of his decision to go
to the United Nations on the Kashmir issue and his faith
in morality and goodwill as effective principles in inter-state
relations. It was only at the end of 1962 after the military
debacle against China that he acknowledged this reality,
but it was too late. He can be blamed with Vallabhbhai
Patel for the impatience which led to Partition about
which Maulana Azad has written. In retrospect, Partition
was good. It is preferable to India facing more profound
centrifugal alienations than it is facing now.
was the beloved leader of his people. But when one intermeshes
his individual persona with his public persona, one cannot
but come to the conclusion that he was for the people,
was committed to India's destiny being governed by the
people but to a great extent was not "of the people".
He was essentially a remote, aristocratic, glamorous and
private person. Gandhi, Patel and Ambedkar were perhaps
more immersed in the mass identity of Indians.
of the fault lines, Nehru remains the most important architect
of free India. The words of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes
come to mind here. "A great man represents a great ganglion
in the nerves of society, or to vary the figure, at a
strategic point in the campaign of history and his greatness
consists in seizing that opportunity and being there at
that particular strategic point."
Dixit is a former foreign secretary, and the
last generation to serve under Nehru as foreign minister.
Among others, he is the author of Across Borders: 50 Years
of India's Foreign Policy.