Nehru, a Political life — book review

Amid the plethora of books on Nehru, this one by Judith Brown stands out in that it is not wishy washy. It doesn’t beat around the bush but hits the nail on its head straight.

Brown covers the entire lifespan of Panditji that includes some details on his ancestry, the migration of the Nehrus from Kashmir to Delhi to Rajasthan to Allahabad and then finally to Delhi. Nehru had an aristocratic childhood and continued with such a life until his entry into the freedom movement under Gandhiji.

We get to see how Panditji saw India, Europe and the world in general. We see that Panditji’s agnostic views were shaped partly by the rationalist views of his father. Panditji’s household, during his childhood, had people of many faiths and nationality employed as cooks, tutors and general care takers. This, we are given to understand, would have played a major role in shaping the worldly outlook of Panditji.

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Panditji comes out as man of temper and is always ready to blow up in the face of mediocrity and rituals. We see Panditji as a man in a hurry trying to turn, overnight, a predominantly agrarian economy into an industrialized one. But, in the hurry, he also had to share the burden of foreign policy too, for he didn’t have a full time foreign minister till the end.

We get to see Panditji’s stature among world leaders rise to meteoric levels due to his extreme interest in bringing peace to all countries. It is a pity that, in his efforts to bring peace all over the world, he loses out on the home front with the Congress party becoming an unmanageable entity, corruption becoming part of his minister’s diet and centralized planning ( modeled after the Soviet Planning Model ) resulting in not so spectacular results.

Reading the book we see a singularity of purpose- that of the unification of India and overcoming the divisive methods that have kept the country divided for long. What we also see is the visible hatred that Panditji had for religious rituals, more towards Hindu ones.

The reasons of Panditji’s blunder in Kashmir are not known yet while the reason for the blunder on China is well known — Nehru’s belief in Chou En Lai’s words and his belief that China wouldn’t be an aggressor considering the out-of-the-way helps that India had done to get China into the UN Security Council.

I got a feeling that Panditji got so carried away in the halo surrounding him due to his international stature that he failed to focus on the ground realities at home and at the border.

Panditji’s efforts to found the NAM, his anti-colonial stance in the case of the newly independent African states, his struggles to get food aid to India during her formative years and extensive travels lead to rapid deterioration of his health and results in his death in 1964.

Keeping aside all his blunders, however gargantuan they are, we cannot but be impressed at the extremes to which he had travelled to ensure the success of parliamentary democracy in India. His every thought and action had two motives : keep India united, industrialise the nation. The extent to which he had strived to bring peace in Kerala before having to dismiss the first elected communist government, the deliberations on Goa before sending in the army et al speak volumes about the patriot Nehru.

Panditji’s socialist policies don’t work today but the intent with which the policies were framed then was beyond suspicion.

Brown’s book is a voluminous yet detailed work on Panditji.

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