Detail of JAWAHARLAL NEHRU (1889-64)

JAWAHARLAL NEHRU (1889-64)

JAWAHARLAL NEHRU (1889-64)

Nehru : Introduction

Nature and circumstance were both kind to Jawaharlal Nehru. He was born into the Kashmiri Brahmin community, the most aristocratic sub-caste in the Hindu social system. His father was a distinguished and wealthy barrister, modern, urbane, highly cultivated and lavishly generous. As an only son-and the only child for eleven years- Jawaharlal was the focus of concentrated affection. He had, too the leisure and learning of an English aristocrat in the secure atmosphere of the Edwardian Age- private tutors, Harrow, Cambridge and the Inner Temple. When he was drawn to the political arena soon after his return to India, his path was eased by the guidance and support of his father and Gandhi. Prime Minister Nehru recalled this head-start in a modest portrait of his past seen forty years later. "My growth to public prominence, you know, was not by sharp stages. It was, rather, a steady development over a long period of time. And if I may say so," he added dryly, "I began at a fairly high level."

Belief in the Welfare of Mankind

            It was his identification with the interests and welfare of mankind in general that made Jawaharlal Nehru hate the idea of India becoming insular, now that she is independent. He wanted her to keep her doors open so that the winds of knowledge and culture might be wafted across the seas to her shores to enrich her children, even as in past centuries men from Greece and Rome came to her temples of learning and took back with them rare treasures of illumination for mind and soul. "In every matter, be it education, science or culture or anything," he declared, "I dislike nothing so much as the narrowly nationalistic approach which makes us think that we have attained the summit of wisdom and that we need not learn anything-I am all for opening out our minds to every kind of knowledge or information that can be obtained."

            A man of wide vision and board outlook, Nehru did not subscribe to the doctrine that the end justifies the means. He writes that a worthy end should have worthy means leading up to it. That seems not only a good ethical doctrine, but sound practical politics, for the means that are not good often defeat the end in view and raise new problems and difficulties. And then it appears so unbecoming, so degrading to the self-respect of an individual or a nation to submit to such means, to go through the mire. Again and again Nehru told his audiences, both in India and abroad, that this principle of right means leading up to right results should be adopted in international relations also.

            Nehru was a most affable and charming man. Indeed, he had the gift, rare among statesman, of inspiring genuine regard and affection from persons ranging over the whole spectrum of political opinion at home and abroad. But an inner quality of aloofness prevented him from reciprocating, even with colleagues of long standing. His early life in Allahabad strengthened a natural reticence, and so did a British public-school education. Nehru himself underlined this element in his make-up in a letter to an Indian friend : "Yes, we did not discuss personal matters. You ought to know me sufficiently to initiative. I would not do so even with Kamala (his wife) or Indu (his daughter). Such has been my training." So it continued down to the last day of his life.

            This quality should not be construed as mistrust or indifference to the welfare of others. On the contrary, Nehru was sustained in trial by a strong faith in man. Moreover, colleagues, friends and subordinates spoke in glowing terms of his kindness and consideration, in matters vital and trivial. There is the story of a salary increase given to his servants during the Second World War, because their responsibilities increased when he went to prison! According to one official who worked closely with him for some years, "Nehru is not a demonstrative person; in that respect he is very much the English public school type. He will never tell you that he appreciates your work but he shows his affection and kind-heartedness in indirect ways." Though born and bred in luxury and wealth, Nehru had a genuine love and sympathy for the poor. He was deeply interested in the common people, their ways of life, their problems and pursuits, and fully dedicated himself to the uplift of the underdog.

Nehru's Faith in Democracy

            As he had a strong faith in man's wisdom and his equality in almost all the spheres of human life, Nehru considered democracy to be the best government. He always found himself safe in a democracy. In fact, the Indian experiment in constitutional democracy owes more to Nehru than to anyone else or to any combination of factors. Aware of his autocratic tendencies, he had striven successfully to curb them lest India should revert to the condition of benevolent despotism. Few men with these talents could have resisted the inducements to exercise dictatorial powers. Some frustrated Indians regretted his reluctance to do so. Some Westerners would do well to appreciate this aspect of Nehru's leadership.

            Always a passionate faith in democracy coloured his thoughts and ideas. To him, like Mill, democracy in practice does not mean the stifling of the voice of minority by a majority through its sheer voting strength. According to him, democracy means tolerance not merely of those who agree with us, but of those who do not agree with us. He believed that the method of democracy was discussion, argument, persuasion and ultimate decision and acceptance of that decision even though it might to against our grain. "Otherwise, the bigger lathi or the bigger bomb prevails and that is not the democratic method. The problem is the same whether atomic bombs are involved or street demonstrations." He did not object to demonstrations, but he had no liking for violence, resulting from them. In of course, ability and devotion to work. But it also demands a large measures of co-operation, of self-discipline, of restraint. "Parliamentary democracy," he told his countrymen, "is not something which can be created in a country by some magic wand-Parliamentary democracy naturally involves peaceful method of action, peaceful acceptance of decisions taken, and attempts to change them through peaceful ways again.

            Nehru was quite Confident of the fact that democracy cannot work successfully, and achieve its aims or ideals without the goodwill of the people and their co-operation. Like Thomas Jefferson, he also accepted the truth that democracy cannot go against the people. Even an autocratic government has to have a measure of goodwill. It cannot function without it. In the ultimate analysis, a government functions because of certain sanctions which it has and which are represented by its army or police force. If the government is in line with the thought of a majority of the people, it is a democratic government and only a very small minority of the people will feel its pressure. Now, if an individual refuses to be afraid of these sanctions, what is government to do about it? He may be sent to jail and of all these things; he is even ready to face the death. In such case, the government will have to face a crisis; that is, a government, in spite of its great power, cannot really conquer an individual. That is failure on the part of the government. Nehru was fully conscious of this fact, and he therefore, accepted that "a government, which is essentially based upon the sanctions it has, comes up against something- the spirit of man which refuses to be afraid of those sanction."

            It is a truism of history that democracy is the best from of government, because it preserves the highest human values. That is why, India has chosen democracy. And Nehru was so hopeful about its success in India that he remarked, "We will resist the imposition of any other concept here or any other practice." But he quite reasonably thought, as we all think, that war puts an end to the very values that democracy cherishes. It was his firm belief that "democracy, in fact, is a casualty of war in the world today. It does not mean to function properly any more. That has been the tragedy of the last two World wars and something infinitely worse is likely to happen if there is another war.

            The true measure of Nehru's humanism, his tolerance and his liberalism, is perhaps best revealed in the following extemporaneous reflections on 'what constitute a good society and good life?'

            "Broadly speaking, apart from the material things that are necessary, obviously, certain individual growth in the society, not only the corporate social growth but the individual growth. For I do believe that ultimately it is the individual that counts. I cannot say that I believe in it because I have no proof, but the idea appeals to me without belief, the old Hindu idea that if there is any divine essence in the world every individual possessed a bit of it-and he can develop it. Therefore, no individual is trivial. Every individual has an importance and he should be given full opportunities to develop material opportunities naturally, food,  clothing, education, housing, health etc. They should be common to everybody. The difficulty comes in about the moral aspect, the moral aspect of religion. I am not at all concerned about the hereafter. It does not worry me; I do not see why it should worry people whether the next world is or is not there. And I am not prepared to deny many  things. I just do not know! The most correct attitude, if I may say so, is that of the Buddha who did not deny it and did not assert it." He further remarked that "this life is enough for me and when you do not know about something why talk about it. I do believe in certain standards. They are important in any individual and in any social group. And if they fade away, I think that all the material advancement you may have, will lead to nothing worthwhile. How to maintain them I do not know; I mean to say, there is the religious approach. If a person feels  person feels comforted by worshipping a stone why should I come in his why? If it raises him above his normal level it is good for him. Whatever raises a person above his normal level is good, however he approaches that, provided he does not sit on somebody and force him to do it. That is a different matter. So while I attach very considerable value to moral and spiritual standards, apart from religion as such, I do not quite know how one maintains them in modern life. It is a problem."

Belief in Gandhian Methods

            Nehru had deliberately chosen not to go beyond the Gandhian analysis for a number of reasons. First, Gandhi's language is native to India and is understood by everybody; it has that ethical basis and religious colouration to which India is accustomed: it carries far more weight than any purely intellectual argument.

            Secondly, it must be admitted that Nehru's acquaintance with communist theory and dialectic was limited in spite of the fact that he spent nearly ten years in reading the communist literature. He himself admitted this fact. He read Marx when was in prison. He was acquainted with Lenin's development of dialectical materialism. But he had never really had time to explore that mass of argumentation which constituted the Russian Communist structure, and he had made no attempt to do so. He did not engage in the argument a fond; he, at any rate, never had said that this was an erroneous theory of human society and history, that it did not fit the facts and that it could not permanently prevail. Even through his own instinct told him told him that economic materialism was no inadequate thesis for the human complex, he did not feel qualified to make such a declaration. It seemed to him pontifical, to say the least, and perhaps also wrong. He preferred the Socratic answer : "I do not know, but I know that I do not know."

            And thirdly, as everybody understands, India's two neighbours to the north are the most powerful of Communist States, and India's primary necessity is to keep the peace. The 'five principles of co-existence', to which Nehru had recourse, represent the admission of this fact. They are not the creation of negative or ignorance, as so many bumptious editorialists in the United States have assumed, but they are a postulate of super-realism, which, very often indeed in human affairs, may bring about that condition which they postulate.

Policy of Peaceful Co-existence

            It was in tune with his synthetic approach to democracy and socialism at home that Nehru had chosen the policy of mutual understanding and peaceful co-existence to reduce the world tension. The Panch Sheel approach of peaceful co-existence and non-interference between states, religions or ideologies, which requires a change of mind and heart to be realistic and fruitful, is most suited to present times when nuclear weapons have more or less outlawed the other solution of war and the other military approach. So India, through Panch Sheel, has something like a solution to offer for the troubles, passions and conflicts some powers are involves in. Nehru was quite definite about the soundness of such a peaceful and  constructive strategy. He often stated : "It would be totally unrealistic to suggest that India possesses some magic or mantra to end these evils, but it is our responsibility as members of the human family to advocate a course of action which might lessen international tensions and ultimately remove the sources and causes of conflicts." He further stated that we could not escape certain responsibilities of an international  nature, and we should try to discharge them to the best of our ability. In his opinion, this approach and philosophy which we have inherited from Asoka, Gandhi and other great rulers and thinkers, the philosophy of live and let live, of non-violence, toleration and co-existence, could provide the only practical solution to the problem of these times.

            Panch Sheel is not so much a course of action as a new mental approach, not any kind of military or 'cold war' approach, but a peaceful approach, followed by political and economic policies in tune with it. "In our opinion," he remarked, "the Panch Sheel, or Five Foundations of Peaceful Co-existence, offers the correct approach." Thus, Nehru strongly pleaded in favour of Panch Sheel, a policy of co-operation and co-existence, not only for reducing international  tension, but also for solving many Indian problems. Without such an attitude of goodwill and co-operation, according to him, democracy or socialism cannot be established or made safe anywhere in the world. That is why Nehru insisted on a policy of constructive co-operation and peaceful co-existence both for India and the outside world.

            Nehru had made a constant efforts, since he had come to power, to seek peaceful solutions for international disputes. He was predisposed by nature, training and reflection to these courses, but regarded them also as being imposed upon him by the legacy of Gandhi. He was no saint-far- from it- and he was liable to lose his temper as early as the next one. He had resentments and fiery impulses, like everybody else. But he saw no health, progress or advantage for India in abandoning the course laid down by Gandhi, which he defined as 'the pursuit of peace-when possible.' If I am permitted to put my personal opinion, it is that Nehru knew, better than most statesmen, what was possible.

            In the realm of thought Nehru had always been a lonely traveller seeking answers to a myriad of problems, answers that seemed to elude his grasp. To his keen and receptive mind almost all the ideological currents of the past half-century appealed at various stages in his growth to intellectual maturity: first in time was classical liberalism with its emphasis on individual rights; then at Cambridge, he was drawn to Fabien Socialism; thereafter, he was influenced by the Gandhian stress on the purity of means and the massage of non-violence; and in the late 'twenties' and thirties by Marxist theory and the gospel of a classless society. He was also attracted to the ethical norms of Western humanism, and later, during his long war-time imprisonment, to the precepts of the Vedanta, the ancient system of  Hindu philosophy, but stripped of its purely metaphysical and religious beliefs. Underlying all was a passionate devotion to the ideas of nationalism and recial equality. None of these dominated his outlook; all of them influenced his thought. Indeed, the key to his thinking was a perennial scepticism about all claims to absolute truth and virtue.