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WHY HE STILL MATTERS BY PRATAP BHANU MEHTA

MJ AKBAR SWAPAN DASGUPTA TUNKU VARADARAJAN SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY PRIYAMVADA GOPAL SUMANTRA BOSE YUSUF AHMAD ANSARI MADHAV KHOSLA AND MORE


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Contents

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Editor S Prasannarajan managing Editor PR Ramesh Deputy Editors Aresh Shirali, Ullekh NP art director Madhu Bhaskar Senior Editors Kishore Seram,

Haima Deshpande (Mumbai) Mumbai bureau chief Madhavankutty Pillai Associate Editors V Shoba, Vijay K Soni (Web) assistant editors

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Anil Budur Lulla (Bangalore), Shahina KK, Chinki Sinha, Sunaina Kumar, Rajni George, Kumar Anshuman Special Correspondents Aanchal Bansal, Lhendup Gyatso Bhutia (Mumbai), Gunjeet Sra, Shreya Sethuraman senior copy editor Aditya Wig copy editor Sneha Bhura Assistant Art Director Anirban Ghosh SENIOR DESIGNERs Anup Banerjee, Veer Pal Singh assistant Photo editor Ritesh Uttamchandani (Mumbai) Staff Photographers Ashish Sharma, Raul Irani photo Researcher Abhinav Saha

EDITOR’S NOTE Bigger than the Sum of His Imperfections Pratap Bhanu Mehta

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First a Democrat, Then a Socialist MJ Akbar

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Associate publisher Deepa Gopinath Associate general managers (advertisement) Karl Mistry (West),

Sorry, It’s Not his India Priyamvada Gopal

Krishnanand Nair (South)

National Head—Distribution and Sales

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Ajay Gupta regional heads—circulation D Charles

(South), Melvin George (West), Basab Ghosh (East) Head—production Maneesh Tyagi pre-press manager Sharad Tailang

The Clever Panditji and the Emotional Netaji Swapan Dasgupta

cfo Anil Bisht hEAD—it Hamendra Singh

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Homeless in Allahabad

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Glimpses of Leadership

PR Ramesh

Chief Executive & Publisher

Mohit Hira

All rights reserved throughout the world. Reproduction in any manner is prohibited. Editor: S Prasannarajan. Printed and published by Mohit Hira on behalf of the owner, Open Media Network Pvt Ltd. Printed at Thomson Press India Ltd., 18-35 Milestone, Delhi Mathura Road, Faridabad—121007, (Haryana). Published at 4, DDA Commercial Complex, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110017. Ph: (011) 30934199; Fax: (011) 30934162

Jawaharlal Nehru, Edited by Madhav Khosla

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His Honourable Son-in-Law Yusuf Ahmad Ansari

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To subscribe, sms ‘openmagazine’ to 56070 or log on to www.openthemagazine.com Or call our Toll Free Number 1800 300 22 000 or email at: subscription@openmedianetwork.in For corporate sales, email ajay@openmedianetwork.in For marketing alliances, email alliances@openmedianetwork.in For advertising, email advt@openmedianetwork.in

How the Pandit Lost the Valley Sumantra Bose

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Nehru, the Lady and Middle-age Morality Sunanda K Datta-Ray

Volume 6 Issue 46 For the week 18—24 November 2014 Total No. of pages 64 + Covers

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52

The Last Stylist Tunku Varadarajan

Documentary Dictatorship Sunil Raman

mindspace 56 Power of Two | Divya Unny 60 The Universal Islamist | 63 Not People Like Us | Rajeev Masand

Ranjit Hoskote

Pictures on pages 10, 22, 26, 27, 28, 30, 37 and 47 courtesy The Nehrus: Personal Histories by Mushirul Hasan and Priya Kapoor (Roli Books) 1 open 24 november 2014 www.openthemagazine.com


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CONTRIBUTORS MJ Akbar

is an eminent editor, columnist and author of several books, including the seminal biography of India’s first Prime Minister, Nehru: The Making of India. He is an occasional contributor to Open page 14

Swapan Dasgupta

Pratap Bhanu Mehta is president of the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi. He is one of India’s most popular columnists and public intellectuals page 6

Priyamvada Gopal

is a member of the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge page 18

is India’s foremost Conservative writer and columnist. He is an occasional contributor to Open page 22

Yusuf Ahmad Ansari

Madhav Khosla

is a PhD candidate in the Department of Government at Harvard. He is the editor of Letters for a Nation: From Jawaharlal Nehru to His Chief Ministers (1947–1963) page 32

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Tunku Varadarajan

is the Virginia Hobbs Carpenter Fellow in Journalism at the Hoover Institution at Stanford Sunanda K Datta-Ray University. He is working on a book on the political legacy is the former editor of of the Shah Bano case, The Statesman. He is a The Divorce That Rocked India. columnist and author of He is a regular contributor several books. He is a regular to Open contributor to Open page 48 page 44

is currently completing a biography of Feroze Gandhi for Roli Books and a biography of Sumantra Bose Mughal Emperor Akbar is Professor of International for Penguin India and Comparative Politics at the page 36 London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and the author ofTransforming India: Challenges to the World’s Largest Democracy page 40

Sunil Raman

is a former BBC journalist. He is the co-author of Delhi Durbar 1911: The Complete Story page 52


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EDITOR’S NOTE

S PRASANNARAJAN

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e have this amazing capacity to turn complex characters from history, I mean characters who have shaped or even distorted our national identity, into talismanic refrains. We, as appropriators, apostles, iconoclasts, believers, and lazy caricaturists, reduce them to the size of our collective miscomprehension. The past is another country where our desperations, political as well as cultural, are being played out. It is also a place where politicians starved of ideas or an attitude to deal with the demands of a changing world shop for names they think will enhance their slogans. And it is where the proofreaders of our cultural heritage decipher the palimpsests of—what else?—Indianness. If historical figures are permanent reinventions in any society that is inquisitive, unforgiving, and conversational, India is that rare fertile field where variations of the original are born every other day. We reinvent them to feed our mytho-mania. So Gandhi, the Mahatma-ised father of the nation assassinated by a misplaced argument on the nation, is a moralist incompatible with modernity. His idea of living in truth, or his experiments with his desires and fears, continues to be denied its subtleties of psychology and the mysteries of a man so certain about himself without being dogmatic. But blame-it-on-Gandhi is a drawing room simplicity, maybe only rivalled nowadays by the Patel-rap of national priapism. Great man that he is, Patel is being monumentalised at the risk of his being reduced to the one-dimensional Strongman of India. This appropriation disengages him from the larger narrative of brotherhood built on mutual respect and appreciation that was the national movement to some extent, in spite of the presence of such an array of formidable minds at play. Unarguably, the most formidable of minds was the one that turns 125 today. In this commemorative moment, Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, is the Congress party’s private asset, maybe a necessary historical glow set against the dying embers of the Dynasty. The funny part is that the Nehru revellers of Indraprastha are the delegitimised custodians of his legacy. And they have kept the current Prime Minister of India, the so-called usurper of Nehruvian India, out of the birthday bash. But the usurper has gone one step further. He will not be the one to say that Nehru has been made redundant by the trajectory of his own ideals and the politics of his descendants. The year-long Government-sponsored celebrations only show that the Nehruvian adjective is still useful for someone determined to perfect his own iconography as a unifying nationalist and a pragmatic internationalist. What lies beyond the hyperbole of birthday literature is the truth of how the Nehru project set ideological conditions for the growth of the nation he built. He was the moderniser who borrowed his models from the


oversized industrialisation of Stalin. But he was never an apologist for Stalinism. He was a true internationalist, swayed by the idea that the shared destinies of nations let the true statesman rise above the limits of geography. But his internationalism, in the end, was a testament of Third Worldism, a mindset that is still prevalent in the Indian Establishment. The Non-Aligned Movement was a euphemism for anti-Americanism and closet Sovietism, and it was populated by, apart from a few good men, liberators-turned-cannibals and other sundry sociopaths. That said, the Nehruvian worldview was a romance of the liberated. The sight of free India’s first parliamentarians taking their oath in the name of global peace and harmony was something original—and daring. Wars still rage near and far but we have somehow lost our national sensitivity to align with the struggle of others. The Nehruvians have been particularly mute. They have not inherited the Nehruvian idealism. The idealistic do not always win. But the mark of their idealism is the longevity of their To indulge in argument. If the secular idyll was an aesthetic of the brutality of Nehruvianism, the first turning one of the Prime Minister, like any most sophisticated overreaching idealist, was a victim of his own intellects in mind. The Nehruvian politics into a New Man—secular, scientifically tempered, one-dimensional and God-proof—was an man is a crime ambitious project, and the closeness of his against good taste origin to the social engineering perfected by communists elsewhere was not coincidental at all. Nehru the intellectual could not have missed the anomaly of creating such a model citizen untouched by the most intimate tradition of man: religion. The tyranny of reason ensured the unfeasibility of the New Man. And the secular ideal, when imposed from above, degenerated into a ghetto-friendly ism. Isms are artificial, manipulative, and oppressive. The state of being secular, without official guidance, is the natural instinct of those who adhere to the dignities and decencies of communities. The statemanaged ism divided the mind of India. Still, the Nehruvian mind is what we miss the most today in the political arena where shrill statements are being accepted as arguments and crassness is being promoted as originality. Political power has, with rare exceptions, become incompatible with intellectual and cultural sophistication. Nehru was the philosopher-king of the East, who loved a good sentence as much as he loved the

illustration BY anirban ghosh

idea of a freedom that was more than political. Nation building can be the mission of a beautiful mind, he showed us. Rarely has such elegance had a tryst with the destiny of a billion people. Imagine a conversation between the great man and his great grandson, who had promised a new Congress a while ago, to realise the generational descent of the Nehruvian mind: from the sublime to the ridiculous. And to indulge in the brutality of turning one of the most sophisticated intellects in politics into a one-dimensional man is a crime against good taste. India of the moment may be a rejoinder to Nehruvian assumptions. But, as the following essays by some of India’s brightest and boldest in the business of arguments illustrate, India’s conversation with the remains and romance of the Nehruvian legacy will continue to be inconclusive. That’s the beauty of a good argument—and enjoy a fabulous few in this collector’s edition of Open. The Nehru issue remains, as befits the man, unresolved. n 5 open 24 november 2014 www.openthemagazine.com


Mondadori Portfolio/Getty Images

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by PRATAP BHANU MEHTA

Bigger than the Sum of his Imperfections He did a far better job of gaining knowledge of the larger sweep of history than any of his contemporaries. The confidence with which we condemn Nehru exposes the narrowness of our certainties more than it detracts from his achievements

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t is perhaps the fate of all great

democratic statesmen that in the shadow of their achievement it is also possible to draw an indictment against them. This is true of Lincoln and Roosevelt, as it is of Nehru. Lincoln, for all his manifest greatness, has never stopped being accused of less than noble intentions. Did he compromise a commitment to full equality as a price for abolishing slavery? Was a brutal war that resulted in, on one estimate, a million deaths, a necessary price for his moral objectives? Did he at some point subordinate the moral ambition of equality to a more elusive idea of preserving ‘union in perpetuity’? Roosevelt is similarly indicted. Here is a president who saved both liberal democracy and capitalism at the moment of its greatest historical crisis. Yet it was an achievement founded on sordid compromise: he had to leave the structure of Southern racial discrimination intact. The New Deal was often on the verge of failing; and some have argued Roosevelt’s misjudgement at Yalta gave the Soviets more room than necessary to divide the world in the

way it eventually got divided during the Cold War. And yet, despite these judgments, there seems something almost indispensible about these men; as if, despite their imperfections, they and they alone, could gather the tides of history to articulate and preserve something that remained and offer an enduring beacon of hope. The achievement survives more grandly than the imperfections that attend it. In fact, the mistakes make their greatness even more of an achievement; for it makes the achievement all the more human, not mythical or god like. Such indeed is also the fate of Jawaharlal Nehru. At this historical juncture, with a public discourse besotted by the condescension of hindsight, it is easy to draw a litany of indictments against Nehru: his economic policies were misguided, he was naive about China’s geopolitical intentions, he often compromised on the purest version of secularism that he embodied by instinct, he was often too sure of himself and centralised power, his lapses of judgment contributed to Partition, his handling of Kashmir was unpardonable, he failed to notice adequately that he was creating a party structure prone to corruption and he was often more sanctimonious than strategic. But such is the alchemy of statesmanship that these critiques, in the final analysis, How did this cannot detract from his achievement. It is easy aristocrat become to point out that on this or that matter, someone else, Patel or Rajaji, might have exercised better an everyman? judgment. In a lot of individual instances, that Part of the answer is true. But it is another matter whether there surely is that Nehru was any comparable leader at the time who could exercise leadership in a way that could did not appear to create a whole that was larger than the sum of its parts. Almost all of his contemporaries have any trace of and detractors recognised that the historical condescension for mission of crafting a new republic out of the raw his fellow citizens materials served by history, was not a matter of 7 open 24 november 2014 www.openthemagazine.com


Bert Hardy/Getty Images

this or that particular judgment or skill. It required an extraordinary ability to earn the trust of millions in a way no one could rival, and then manoeuvre their conflicts and contradictions, their virtues and vices, fears and hopes, into an enduring republic. We so take for granted the Republic whose values we cherish and freedoms we enjoy, that we often forget what a singular and fragile achievement it is. Nehru is one of those handful of legislators who truly is amongst the founders of a republic that will endure beyond its individual triumphs and failures. What kind of knowledge is appropriate to judge statesmanship of this order? This question is particularly pertinent for Nehru who was himself aware of the tortured uncertainties that anyone who engages with tides of history faces. As Sunil Khilnani pointed out, it is hard to read the closing pages of Discovery of India without appreciating Nehru’s own self doubts. He is constantly wracked by that haunting question, ‘Do we really know what we, who claim to have taken the tides of history into our hands really know what we are doing?’ Suspend for a moment the easy certainties that hindsight gives. Who Nehru at a Constituent Assembly meeting at the Council House Library in Delhi could imagine what an India of the future would look like? In the 1930s, what would it have been like to imagine a democracy with universal suffrage in a poor unlettered country? What ideological proclivities. But it is an would it have been like to imagine how to transform a bankrupt country, teeter- altogether more complicated measure ing at the edge of starvation, into an economically sustainable giant? What would to judge a statesman in relation to have been the consequences if any of the other proposed solutions to India’s history. One of the greatest American novelists of the twentieth century, John challenging problems been enacted? On the central question that dominated Indian politics, the ‘Hindu-Muslim Williams, in Augustus, his magnificent Question’, did anyone have the right answer? Azad was for unity, but it would have novel on the Roman Emperor, wrote: come at the price of entrenching social orthodoxy in both communities. Lala Lajpat ‘The moralist is the most useless and Rai very rightly wanted a politics shorn of religious identity. But the carriers of this contemptible of creatures. He is useless doctrine could not enact their politics in their conduct. Would a harder line have in that he would expend his energies produced more polarisation or more peace? Does compromise calm or embolden upon making judgements rather than your adversaries? These are questions of political agency and historical knowledge upon gaining knowledge, for the reason that are often answered after the fact. As Nehru himself wrote: ‘I feel terribly that judgement is easy and knowledge distressed about it and ashamed… I have not been able to contribute anything difficult. He is contemptible in that his substantial towards [the Hindu-Muslim question’s] solution. I must confess to you judgements reflect a vision of himself that in this matter I have lost confidence in myself, though I am not usually given that he would impose upon the world.’ that way.’ In a curious way, his acknowledgment of his lack of confidence made Nehru was not perfect. But on any him a far more credible figure than any of his contemporaries. measure, he did a far better job of gainWe are too used to thinking and judging the protagonists of that enormous ing knowledge of the larger sweep of ferment of the nationalist period in terms of whether they correspond to our history than any of his contemporaries. 8 open 24 november 2014


The confidence with which we condemn Nehru exposes more the narrowness of our certainties than it detracts from his achievement.

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n some ways, Nehru is now a victim

of easy judgment more than hardwon knowledge. In some measure, his contemporaries were wiser in recognising his power. One of the marks of a great statesman is that he drives his most talented opponents to the point of infuriation. They are able to point out and detect his faults. But if they have even the slightest trace of generosity left, they have to come to terms with the fact that they are dealing with a figure larger than a sum of his mistakes. Nehru had many gifted adversaries and

critics: Patel, Lohia, Rajaji, Jaiprakash Narayan. All of them, on many occasions, expressed their near exasperation with Nehru. But all of them had to labour under the rather disquieting thought that the more they attacked him, the more his stature grew; the more they questioned his legitimacy, the more it revealed the fact that they could in no way dislodge him as a democratic prince. It is a measure of Nehru’s hold on hearts and minds that he could drive such talented adversaries to a degree of uncharacteristic pettiness. The tribute that best captured the essence of Nehru is perhaps, not surprisingly, that of Atal Behari Vajpayee, who, of all Indian politicians, was probably most like Nehru in his sheer sense of curiosity and fun about people, especially of women perhaps. He described Nehru as the “orchestrator of the impossible and the inconceivable.” But he mentions a peculiar quality. Nehru was not someone “who was afraid to compromise but he would never compromise under duress.” Compromise is a bad word in politics. But it is, in some ways, the essence of democratic politics. What made him a genuine politician was precisely this characteristic: that for all his own intellectual Nehru had that certainties, he never succumbed to the illusion that history would be simply his intention writ synthetic ability large. He always knew that he acted in a field full that democracy of other agents, who would have to be the object required: between of public reason and persuasion. This is perhaps what sets him apart from left and right, almost all the major leaders of his time, both conservatism and domestically and internationally. India was one of the few post colonial countries whose nationprogressivism, alist movement was not scripted either by the force and extreme left or the extreme right. Unlike postcolonial movements buttressed by commupersuasion, high nism, which treated society as a blank slate and idealism and violently tried to reconstruct it in the image of low politics its own ideology, India’s politics has always been compromising and gradual. And unlike right-wing nationalist movements, bent on expunging what they think are the nation’s cultural impurities, India carried along a vast confluence of cultures as if it was her own. In what is probably his most memorable line, he wrote that India is ‘akin to some ancient palimpsest on which layer upon layer of thought and reverie had been inscribed, and yet no succeeding layer had completely hidden or erased what had been written previously’. India could not be reduced to a single identity or benchmark: that would be the end of genuine ‘thought and reverie’. In some ways, this figure, accused of being deracinated, understood more deeply the depth of civilisation and the complexity that made him possible. But this sense of complexity and compromise was also unique in his leadership style. For a moment, consider him in relation to his gifted contemporaries. There were three kinds of leaders. There were the moralists. Gandhi was an extraordinary figure of the kind the world had not seen: a brilliant organiser and moralist. But in some ways, he was peculiarly unsuited for the hurly-burly of normal democratic politics: with its compromises, its combination of low interest and imperfect idealism. For these figures, politics, in the end was pure morality writ large. It made them, in some ways, inherently intransigent. Gandhi’s extraordinary greatness was that he recognised this about himself, and gradually made himself marginal to the conduct of normal politics. Most Gandhians therefore had enormous influence outside the bylanes of politics. Sometimes Gandhians like Jaiprakash Narayan could exercise influence over politics. But their moral 9 open 24 november 2014 www.openthemagazine.com


thetic ability that democracy required: between left and right, conservatism and progressivism, force and persuasion, high idealism and low politics. He sometimes got the balance wrong, but that balance was required was a proposition from which he never wavered. His commitment, and in a deeper sense lack of condescension, is apparent in his campaigns as well as letters. His letters to chief ministers, now made conveniently available in an excellent new volume by Madhav Khosla (see extracts on page 32), are foundational documents displaying how a democracy reasons itself through problems. Nehru may have occasionally set a bad precedent by imposing a chief minister or two on a state, but his conduct and attempts to reach out to them, his commitment to the idea that he needed to justify and explain what he was doing, weaved them into a partnership that far transcended his individual lapses.

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Nehru with Vallabhbhai Patel

intransigence put severe limits on how much they could accomplish. The same was true of lesser ideologues like Lohia. The second group of gifted leaders like Patel had great tenacity and dedication, and in some ways their single mindedness and focus made them see farther than Nehru on many issues. But the biggest strength of these leaders was also often their weakness. They often displayed—to borrow a phrase from John Stuart Mill—the completeness of limited men. They displayed a single-minded commitment to the task at hand, often against great odds. But whether they would have been equal to the constant and expansive improvisations that modern nation building requires, is an open question. The third sets of leaders were, if you like, more factional. They rose on the basis of a social grouping or regional identity. They had commitments to larger causes, but there were limits to how much they could transcend their social base. It is not an accident that in such a landscape Nehru seemed like the natural choice to lead the country unchallenged for so long. Even his most dogged critics had to admit that he was unique amongst the pantheon of national leaders. We do not notice how rare his qualities were because we take them so much for granted. He, almost alone, had that syn10 open 24 november 2014

ehru’s finest hour is shepherding India’s Constituent Assembly. Given the globally dismal record of most attempts at writing a workable constitution, India’s achievement stands out. In part, it was made possible by extraordinary gestures: Nehru making sure that talented individuals from both the left and right, most notably Ambedkar but even KM Munshi and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, remained central to this process. The promulgation of India’s Constitution was made possible by a sensibility that few contemporary historians can recover. While the Constitution was an extraordinary work of synthesis, our historical imagination is given to divisiveness. There is no more striking example of this than the way in which members of the Constituent Assembly have been divided up and appropriated, rather than seen in relation to each other. Ambedkar, Patel, Nehru, Prasad and a host of others are now icons in partisan ideological battles, as if to describe Ambedkar as a Dalit, or Patel as proto-BJP, or Nehru as a Congressman exhausts all that needs


be said about them. The greatness of each one of them consists not The tribute that just in the distinctive points of view they best captures brought together, but their extraordinary ability to work together despite so many differences. the essence of The Congress itself facilitated the entry of severNehru is perhaps al people with an anti-Congress past into key roles in the Assembly. It takes a willful historical Vajpayee’s: amnesia to forget the fact that the men and he described women of the Assembly worked with an exNehru as the traordinary consciousness that they needed and each other. The historiography of the “orchestrator of the completed Constituent Assembly has not regarded it as an impossible and the exemplar of constitutional morality. It has assessed it on a much more ideological yardstick. inconceivable” The ability to work with difference was augmented by another quality that is rarer still: the ability to acknowledge true value. This may be attributed to the sheer intellect of so many of the Assembly’s members. Their collective philosophical depth, historical knowledge, legal and forensic acumen and sheer command over language is enviable. It ensured that the grounds of discussion remained intellectual. Also remarkable was their ability to acknowledge greatness in others. It was this quality that allowed Nehru and Patel, despite deep differences in outlook and temperament, to acknowledge each other. Their statesmanship was to not let their differences produce a debilitating polarisation, one that could have wrecked India. They combined loyalty and frankness. Even as partial a biographer of Nehru as S Gopal conceded that what prevented the rupture was their ‘mutual regard and Patel’s stoic decency.’ Nehru’s answer to Patel’s worry that Nehru was losing confidence in him was to acknowledge that Nehru was losing confidence in himself. It is a tribute to that generation that it did not let differences devolve into debilitating factionalism, as many assemblies do. But part of what made that synthesis possible Bandeep Singh/India Today/Getty Images was Nehru, providing the broadest possible canvas, which could accommodate so many different palettes. He was the synthetic figure, the whole that made the sum larger than the parts.

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ne way of bringing down Nehru is to use the cute description ‘the last

Englishman’, an aristocrat out of tune with Indian realities. It was too easy to point out the gap between Nehru’s ideals and the realities of Indian society, as if Nehru represented some kind of usurpation of the Indian space. Indeed, much of the contemporary right-wing criticism of Nehru implicitly accuses him of usurping India, taking it in a direction its history does not warrant: his secularism is seen an assault on Indian religiosity, his attempt to craft a non-sectarian history a rewriting of the Indian past, his scientific temper incapable of coming to terms with a world more traditionally enchanted, and his social progressivism out of

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place in a society fundamentally conservative. Yet all these critics have never faced up to the fact that this leader who, considered in most of his attributes, did not belong with the masses, became the cynosure of their eyes. How did this aristocrat become an everyman? How did this politician, haughty and almighty to his adversaries, come to be seen by his countrymen as embodying democratic virtue? Part of the answer surely is that Nehru did not appear to have any trace of condescension for his fellow citizens. Quite the contrary, despite his occasional despair of India’s future, he never gave up the thought that his citizens would be open to democratic persuasion. It is almost as if in speaking above his citizens, he avoided speaking down to them. He displayed a trust in them that was far deeper than those who challenged him in the name of the people or tradition. And they trusted him in turn. Nehru made serious mistakes. In its particulars, whether it was his economic policies or his stance on the first amendment, his preference for centralisation or control, his institutional imprint needs to be overcome. But as we make our choices, we need to remember him for three things: making possible the republic that allows us to make ‘retrievable mistakes’, inculcating a sensibility that is democratic in the deeply psychological sense of looking for intelligent compromises rather than intransigence, and for providing a vision of how men of such unrivalled power can serve democratic ends. As The Guardian put it, to see Nehru is to ‘get a glimpse of the blazing power that commands the affection and loyalty of several hundred million people in Asia...put it simply it is the power of a man who is a father, teacher, older brother rolled into one... The total impression is of a man who is humorous, tolerant wise and absolutely honest.’ The Indian people may have disagreed with him on many accounts. But they knew that in elevating him, they were elevating themselves. In pulling him down, without understanding his achievement, we reveal our own smallness. n


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First a Democrat,

express archives


Then a Socialist What would Nehru have done if he were alive today, amidst the war between modernity and religiosity?

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Jawaharlal Nehru at his swearing-in ceremony as Prime Minister, 15 August 1947

ow relevant is Mao Zedong to contemporary China? That is as good a

starting point as any for an appraisal of Jawaharlal Nehru’s place in the continuing project called Modern India. Mao’s portrait still dominates the iconic Tiananmen Square in Beijing, and his enigmatic half-smile stares warily from Chinese currency notes. But would Mao smile or rage at the China refashioned by his steely successor Deng Ziaoping’s famous prescription for national revival from economic stagnation and political instability? Deng did not care what the colour of the cat was so long as it caught mice. Mao, conversely, was ideologically fixated on red, both on his flag and in policies washed by shades of blood, a price he considered well worth paying in the pursuit of his ideas. Mao saw human beings through the cold eye of statistics; to him, individual life was worthless before common interest, except of course his own. Would Comrade Xi Jinping, president of China today, consider writing a little red book of his own and launch a hundred million purges in a 21st century Cultural Revolution? No. China is ruled now by victims of that misbegotten hysterical outburst sponsored by Mao and a coterie around him commanded by his wife. The interesting aspect is that Chinese Communism has survived and indeed flourished precisely because it reinvented a creed that demanded devotion to the point of rigidity. The only constant in democracy, by contrast, is change. Governments change and bring with them fresh eyes and minds that can recognise when an idea, however sacrosanct at birth, has outlived its utility. Nehru has more streets and spaces named after him than you could count through a lazy weekend, and long may they last. But how valid, in the 21st century, are his two most Nehru’s firm famous, and self-perpetuating doctrines: a faith in democracy socialist economy and non-alignment? should never be Nehru was a democrat first and socialist second. His thinking was a product of egalitarian underestimated or objectives. He was a child of luxury, but once he taken for granted. entered public life he could see the physical and emotional devastation caused by hunger and He became Prime terrifying famine. Famine was not a curse of Minister at a time nature, but of a colonial government that placed British interests above that of the people. In his when France intellectual and living experience, capitalism had not given was the avaricious handmaiden of colonialism, women the vote selling guns for gunboat diplomacy and 15 open 24 november 2014 www.openthemagazine.com


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reaping the rewards of protected trade and commerce. His socialism was an antidote more than original thought. His logic suggested that an elected government of an independent India would perforce be pro-people, and hence the legitimate custodian of its economy. He proudly handed the commanding heights of a flat economy to the State and set up a Planning Commission to drive the decision forward. By the time Nehru died in 1964, it was obvious to any objective analyst that those alleged heights were little more than bumps; and that Planning had lost its way. But foundational myths are hugely resistant to reality. It took Congress more than 15 years after 1964 to recognise that quasi-socialism, now blanketed by Mrs Indira Gandhi’s fleabitten political slogans, had become seriously counter-productive. For understandable reasons, the Congress could not find the will to officially abandon its inheritance, but the price of uncertainty and compromise has been heavy, both for India and the party. India will recover, because democracy has created an alternative. We shall have to wait and see what happens to Congress. It is clear, though, that the party cannot resurrect itself without new (Left to right) Gamal Abdel Nasser, Jawaharlal Nehru and Josip Broz Tito after signing the Brioni declaration, the founding clarity on its economic framework. That is the crux; the rest is semantics. If we want to understand how easily Nehru’s unswerving faith in democracy should never be underestimated, let alone taken for granted. He became Prime Minister at a time when France had not he might have slipped, all we have given women the vote. Adult franchise was not considered such a good idea by to do is note that just a decade after his many of Nehru’s most famous contemporaries: Mao, at one side of spectrum, death, his daughter Indira Gandhi sneered, and Winston Churchill, at the other, waited for uppity India to sink into imposed dictatorship upon India chaos. The environment was deeply troubled by post-colonial partitions even as through an Emergency. And if she had the fog of a Cold War engulfed continents. America had no time for the shaded continued to be guided by her son nuances of democratic opinion when it strode across like a white knight chasing Sanjay, instead of recalling the spirit of fire-breathing red dragons. her father, India might have been under dictators for another two decades with who knows what implihe story from the newly-independent nations was not encouraging cations. Of course, the Indian people either. Almost all the great figures of what came to be known, inelegantly, as the saved democracy when the crisis came, Third World, quickly used the pretext of problems to set themselves up as dictators but Nehru understood the power and despots for life. When wasteful royals became unacceptable, or irresponsible of practice and precedence. He set legislatures could not function, generals stepped in to ‘save the nation’. Nehru was the patterns, and strengthened the aware of the temptations of Ceasardom long before he became Prime Minister. In country’s institutions—not least of a well-known short essay, he mocked himself for entertaining pretensions, even them being the media, which would if only in his imagination. keep democracy alive through falter-

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shield India from war. But he was so fixated by the prospect of war between nuclear superpowers, that he quite forgot that wars have more than one dimension. This is surprising, given that Pakistan’s very first decision as an independent state was to launch a war to seize Kashmir, which quickly expanded into a war against India. Nehru was so determined to find peace that he dismissed Pakistan’s invasion as a seasonal aberration. And he dismissed any possibility of a war with China in the curious conviction that such a conflict would lead to a world war, which China would never risk.

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document of the Non-Aligned Movement, in 1956

ing democratic governance. It has taken 30 years for Indian democracy to re-elect a stable government, but at no point in this difficult period was democracy ever under question. What is under question, and probably deserves a quiet burial, is the other pillar of Nehruvianism: non-alignment. Nehru’s mind was obviously shaped by the horrors of the 1940s, an age when nations committed genocide and fought wars with a barbaric ferocity that is both inconceivable and incomprehensible. India compounded this with Partition. When everything turned into ash, Nehru found himself in charge of the ash-heap. The great driving force behind his commitment to non-alignment was the desire to

on-alignment failed India even at the height of its glory days. No nonaligned country stirred when Chinese troops broke through the Himalayas. It was left to a supremely aligned United States to come to India’s rescue. Mao’s forces withdrew to a line that they still hold across 4,000 kilometres. India, in a display of collective inertia, remained loyal to non-alignment even when Pakistan repeated its invasion in 1965. It was a close run. But for a bold decision taken What is under by Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri to defend Kashmir through a counter-offensive question, and in Punjab, India’s external boundaries and probably deserves internal stability might have been shattered. But the great betrayal was not the predictable a quiet burial, is behaviour of Pakistan. A large number of nonthe other pillar of aligned countries abandoned any pretence of neutrality and supported Pakistan with Nehruvianism: material and moral support during the fightnon-alignment. ing. Once again, India was isolated. What was our generic response once the This policy dust had settled with the Tashkent Agreement in January 1966? Our foreign policy mandarins failed India began to prepare for the next non-aligned even at the height conference. Mao, perhaps because he had a better underof its glory days standing of strategic dangers, protected China with a true leap forward when he triangulated the fixed lines of Communist alliance and reached out to America. China is still reaping the advantages of that historic move. What did we do? We clung to a straw floating on international affairs in the hope that it would save us from drowning. Indira Gandhi corrected this illusion with the Indo-Soviet treaty in 1971. And yet, such is our ability to fool ourselves, we still pretended that there was some merit left in a theory that had become as moribund as a swamp. Another complex war is raging through large parts of Asia and Africa. It is an ideological war between democrats and theocrats; between nations that seek modernity and militias determined to impose deadwood religiosity upon their polity. The Islamic Jihad, which in fact is not very Islamic and certainly not Jihad in its original sense, has laid waste a stretch of the globe from the borders of India to north Africa. India is not without options. For prosperity, we need alliances with nations that recognise the chaos that threatens us all, and have the will to sacrifice blood and treasure in this epochal challenge. What would Jawaharlal Nehru have done if he were alive today? To claim that he would have stuck to an idea that served the purpose of the 1950s is to condemn Nehru as a leader with a dead mind. That is an injustice to his memory. n 17 open 24 november 2014 www.openthemagazine.com


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by Priyamvada Gopal

Sorry, It’s Not His T

here has been some discussion recently about how the ongoing project of normalising India’s Hindu majoritarian Government—and rehabilitating the reputation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to reconfigure him as a man of impeccable, if improbable, secular credentials—has involved appropriating iconic national patriarchs such as Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel. Both Nehru and Gandhi undoubtedly espoused different sets of ideological commitments from Modi and his Sangh Parivar, and had ideas of India that were quite different from each other’s and from his. Whatever Nehru’s failings in policy and practice, he certainly did not envision an India run by implacable votaries of Hindu majority dominance. While it will simply not do, as the ultra-radical sometimes tend to, to claim that there is no meaningful difference between the Nehruvian vision of a secular and plural India, and the rather more insidious brand of majority ‘tolerationism’currently on offer to India’s minorities— whereby they will be tolerated as long as they defer in docility to majority rule— it is worth asking one question: Was there something about the moment of Nehru’s ascendance and the forging of the socalled ‘Nehruvian Consensus’ that paved the way for the present, the era of Modi’s yet to be manifested ‘Achche Din’? The answer is ‘yes’ and the reasons for it lie in a concept I have touched upon before in Open: India’s ‘arrested’ and incomplete decolonisation, which has as much to do with Nehru’s own ambivalences and compromises as it does with the existence of powerful retrograde forces which sought to hijack the new nation birthed from the ruins of empire. For all the triumphalist bluster about self-reliance and sovereignty, the India of Modi is one that is being taken back towards, not away from, the toxic, hierarchical and exploitative vision of the world set up by the British Empire, one in which the worship of corporate profit merges seamlessly with religio-cultural triumphalism. The seeds for this lethal cocktail were sown during the immediate postIndependence era, when India, despite the great strides made by its freedom struggle, set off down a path of partial decolonisation, one which failed to break entirely from the Was there structures, practices and habits of thought put in place by two centuries of British something about imperial rule. For all the important gains of the forging of Independence and the anti-colonial visions behind it, the truth enshrined in the national the ‘Nehruvian motto—‘Satyamev Jayate’—demands that we Consensus’ that acknowledge the many ways in which postpaved the way for colonial India has itself become a colonial state. This claim can be exemplified by many aspects the present, the of India’s present, but I will restrict myself to era of Modi’s yet three related spheres which also, unsurprisingly, constitute three areas of conflict: land and to be manifested resources, militarism and repression, and ‘Achche Din’? finally, religious nationalism and communal-

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ism. In these, the heavy imprint of colonial ideologies can be seen, with populations displaced and impoverished, innocents shot down by military forces, and divide-and-rule manifesting in riots conveniently instigated just before elections. How is it, we must ask, that a land once subjugated is becoming—or has become—one that subjugates?

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hat is colonialism in the first instance? After its initial trading ventures, Britain came to dominate India in order to feed its quest, fuelled by the Industrial Revolution, for natural resources and eventually cheap labour and markets for its goods. In the process, Britain deforested India extensively, partly to build the railways, taking over forests through legislation which also disastrously restricted the rural poor’s access to them as well as other resources traditionally held as ‘commons’. The quest for fixed land revenues and land for lucrative plantations, for instance, displaced millions of the poor, who attempted, then as now, to resist, only to be brutalised by the forces of the colonial state. Were these processes of expropriation arrested by Independence in 1947? Despite some limited land reforms and labour legislation, the key feature of Nehru’s ‘mixed economy’ still entailed capital-intensive industrialisation accompanied by the unsustainable and cheap extraction of resources, with heavy pollution part of the fallout. The Land Acquisition Act of 1894, not amended till recently, granted the State enormous power in appropriating land without adequate compensation to the poor who were displaced in large


Ajay Aggarwal/Hindustan Times/Getty Images

India

How Hindu majoritarianism has undermined the Nehruvian legacy


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

numbers, not least for dams, Nehru’s beloved ‘temples of modern India.’ Following liberalisation in the 1990s and the ongoing erosion of the few environmental and labour protections in place accompanied by swifter clearances for industrial and mining projects, exploitation, displacement and environmental degradation have taken on gargantuan and unchecked proportions. India is still a site for a multinational corporate scramble for resources, with hugely damaging consequences for people and the ecology; this scramble is now being extended to parts of Africa by Indian companies. To raise concerns is to be accused of failing to ‘Let India Develop’, development that has overwhelmingly favoured the urban middle class and elites. Madhusree Mukerjee, reviewing the book Churning the Earth: The Making of Global India by Aseem Shrivastava and Ashish Kothari, notes that the capacity of India’s natural resources to sustain its people has almost halved over the past 40 years with India as a whole actually losing wealth, if ecological resources are accounted for. People’s rights campaigners Felix Padel and Samarendra Das argue that the ‘internal colonialism’ that takes the form of large-scale privatisation of resources and appropriation of cultivable tracts of land by mining companies in places like Orissa are tantamount to ‘cultural genocide’, with hundreds of communities, particularly Adivasi ones, simply ceasing to exist. To resist, which people do, is to invite being branded a ‘Maoist’ and to face the barrels of State weaponry, literally and judicially. The ‘drain theory’ Dadabhai Naoroji propounded by people like Dadabhai Naoroji condemned the way in which India’s resources and wealth were siphoned off to Britain; if you are a poor person in rural India today, your experience is not very different. Colonialism is to hold down a population by superior military technology, ostensibly ‘for its own good.’ Britain’s possession of India using a coercive state apparatus was justified in terms of security threats from Russia and later from Germany and Japan. Now it is Pakistan that provides justification. The great achievement in breaking free of colonial rule might have given India an ethos of sympathy for national sentiments and the will to self-determination. It was this ethos which ostensibly drove India to support Bangladesh in its liberation war against Pakistan. Why then has the Indian state resorted to such enormous violence in holding down the people of Kashmir—and in repressing insurgency in the Northeast? Is being ‘Indian’ something to be voluntarily embraced or is it something, like the ‘civilisation’ that the British claimed they gave us, to be shoved down reluctant throats? Whatever the complexities of the Kashmir issue and the fact that it has become political football with an equally belligerent Pakistan, the 20 open 24 november 2014

fact remains that in Kashmir and also towards the Kashmiri people, the Indian state behaves much like the British did towards its Indian possessions and the people of India, using ‘security’ and ‘order’ as its mantras. No surprise then, that like many other pieces of repressive legislation, including anti-sedition and Emergency laws, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)—which has shielded the Indian Army from accountability for thousands of deaths, ‘disappearances’ and rapes—was originally a colonial creation, brought into force as an ordinance by Lord Linlithgow to


crush the Quit India movement, killing thousands. Nehru’s Government reworked this ordinance and passed the AFSPA in 1958 to crush a Naga rebellion. Today, as Irom Sharmila fasts bravely— for the fifteenth year running—for the utterly indefensible AFSPA to be repealed, the Army in Kashmir finds itself once again with the blood of teenage innocents on its hands. In steadfastly refusing to address the question of self-determination for Kashmir, which Nehru left in the limbo of Section 370, and letting militarism run riot in the name of fighting Pakistani terrorism, how are the Republic of India’s behaviour and methods different from those of a heavily armed Britannic empire 70 years ago? The British Empire, of course, began as a multinational corporation, the East India Company. Mired in scandals, the Raj of the ‘Kampani Bahadur’ came under direct Crown rule. What did not change was the primacy of the ‘sacred hunger’, as the novelist Barry Unsworth once put it, for huge corporate profits. Nehru’s famous ‘socialistic’ leanings did not obstruct a select handful of big business houses making money through good old-fashioned capitalism —particularly in resource-intensive sectors such as coal and steel—assisted lavishly by state subsidies. Nationalism, as Burton Stein notes, was good for business. Liberalisation under Rajiv Gandhi loosened the hated bureaucratic Licence Raj and fostered a prosperous middle-class, but also made way for rampant privatisation, undermined safety nets and widened wealthy disparities: today a mere hundred Indians own assets worth a quarter of the nation’s economy. The British put in place a formidable state apparatus aimed at suppressing labour unrest and this too was deployed by the postcolonial Indian state which also failed to ratify international regulations of the ILO for recognition of trade unions. Some anti-union laws were resisted, unsuccessfully, by Muslim and Dalit groups, not Nehru. Today, the process of safeguarding the interests of business at the expense of labour has intensified,

with Prime Minister Modi promising ‘minimum government’ as part of so-called ‘shrameva jayate’—this means fewer labour inspections, easier firing of workers, and an erosion of protections including those pertaining to paid leave, maternity and retirement benefits, apart from workplace safety.

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olonialism also draws on a powerful sense of civilisational superiority.

While Nehru was both an internationalist and personally committed to a genuinely multi-religious polity, the Nehruvian Consensus that emerged stressed national ‘unity’ and ‘integrity’ over the claims of different communities. Where Nehru did attempt to articulate an expansive sense of nationhood, he had to give in to pressures from the right, refusing necessary safeguards for religious minorities and insisting on the need for their assimilation with the larger national culture which was rendered in a Hindu-ised language. Hindu nationalism meanwhile simply parroted the claims that votaries of British civilisation made: Indian antiquity was falsely represented as Hindu and Brahminical, steeped in greatness, a just society organised by divisions of labour rather than caste hierarchies. The same bombastic claims that Macaulay made for English as the greatest language were made for Sanskrit. The peculiar claims made by Prime Minister Modi of the existence of ancient plastic surgeons or Vedic rockets are not new; one way of dealing with British arrogance was to simply echo it by claiming that what was great about the West was already The ‘drain theory’ inherent in Indian culture. The approval of affluent Western countries, being visited by propounded Modi in a parade of triumphant trips, seems as by people like important to him today as it was to Indian elites who did well collaborating with the British Dadabhai Naoroji Empire. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, theorist condemned the of Hindutva, was a self-declared atheist who explicitly modelled his idea of Hindu India on way in which Western theories of nationhood based on a linIndia’s resources guistic, cultural and religious homogeneity. As and wealth in post-imperial Britain even today, minorities and outsiders are acceptable so long as they aswere siphoned similate with British culture just as minorities off to Britain in India are expected to agree that Hindu culture is the ‘national culture’ (an idea mirrored by Pakistani Islamists). Nehru, to his credit, did not see secularism as an ‘amazingly generous’ or a ‘very mighty’ gesture on the part of the majority community as it is by some today: ‘We have only done something which every country does except a few very misguided and backward countries.’ While Independence brought India hard-won gains, the Indian state retained far too much of the apparatus and habits of thought put in place by two centuries of British rule. Yet, India is also fortunate in having other resources to draw on, more expansive ways of thinking about collectivity that are in danger of being suppressed or forgotten. In the recent controversy over ‘disrespecting’ the national anthem, one thing was forgotten: its author, Rabindranath Tagore, firmly refused a conception of the nation as an ideologically limited and culturally restricted entity which could exercise force to ensure compliance. Today, as India faces the prospect of turning into the mirror image of its erstwhile colonial oppressor, we could do worse than remember the great poet’s willingness to speak unwelcome truths both to foreigner and countryman: ‘Never think for a moment that the hurts you inflict upon other races will not infect you, or that the enmities you sow around your homes will be a wall of protection to you for all time to come. n 21 open 24 november 2014 www.openthemagazine.com


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by SWAPAN DASGUPTA

The Clever Panditji and

Nehru bided his time and came out trumps. Bose rebelled against the mainstream and

(From left to right) Subhas Chandra Bose, Jamnalal Bajaj, Jawaharlal Nehru and Acharya Kripalani at the Haripura session of the Indian National Congress in 1938


the Emotional Netaji found himself as an unsuccessful De Gaulle

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t is by now a cardinal rule that wars over India’s history invariably erupt

whenever a non-Congress dispensation assumes charge in Delhi. This was first evident during the short-lived Janata Party dispensation after the Emergency; it resurfaced during Atal Behari Vajpayee’s otherwise benign six-year rule; and in the run-up to the advent of the Modi sarkar, it has smuggled itself into the intellectual discourse through an abstruse debate on the Idea of India. At the heart of the dispute are two pieces of conventional wisdom. The first, nurtured through decades of the Congress’ monopoly over political power, is the belief that the future of India must be shaped through adherence to what is loosely called the ‘Nehruvian consensus.’ By implication, this conviction attaches disproportionate importance to the legacy of India’s first Prime Minister and his contribution to the creation of the post-Independence nation-state. If Mahatma Gandhi is viewed as the ‘Father of the Nation’—the presumption is that India didn’t really exist prior to the Gandhian phase of the national movement— Jawaharlal Nehru is deemed to be the Father of the Republic. The second belief is that those who opposed the Nehruvian project were either representatives of a feudal order or groups espousing crude xenophobia. In a recent article, Pankaj Mishra Now that the went a step further and endorsed a view that afanti-Nehruvians ter Modi’s electoral victory India’s public life seems dominated by ‘sociopaths and are in a majority, criminally insane persons… whose lust for there is a rush power poisons the very air we breathe.’ Mishra, to re-discover of course, inhales the Indian air seasonally, but his intemperate rant is indicative. India’s political stalwarts dominant intellectuals—well ensconced in the whose views were social science departments of universities—are willing to seriously debate the critique of at variance with Gandhi and Nehru proffered by the Communist those of Nehru movement but they are unwilling to accord respectability to alternatives that were offshoots of more indigenous traditions. Thanks to this policy of intellectual exclusion, Indian conservatism was nurtured after 1947 as a protest movement. Now that the anti-Nehruvians have found themselves in a parliamentary majority, their ranks replenished by those committed to non-statist economic policies, there is a sudden rush to re-discover and even appropriate political stalwarts whose views were at variance with those of Nehru. The old icons of Hindu nationalism such as Swami Vivekananda, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Madan Mohan Malaviya and VD Savarkar have been bolstered by the inclusion of the likes of Vallabhbhai Patel, Subhas Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh. The long-standing complaint that the Congress’ political dominance led to India’s past being seen only through the prism of Gandhi and the Nehru-Gandhi family has been sought to be addressed—to begin with, symbolically. 23 open 24 november 2014 www.openthemagazine.com


Rudrangshu Mukherjee’s study of the parallel lives of Nehru and Bose—Nehru and Bose: Parallel Lives—was probably conceived without an eye to the larger political changes that engulfed India in May 2014. For the past two decades, Mukherjee has worn two hats: as the opinions editor of The Telegraph and as a historian. Few have managed to successfully straddle the two divergent worlds of history and contemporary politics. Mukherjee is a rare individual who has— perhaps by maintaining a detachment from the partisan pulls and pressures of ‘breaking news’. As such, despite his disclosure of inherited partiality for Nehru, he has approached the subject with good, old-fashioned empirical rigour, allowing the documentary evidence to do the talking.

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he results are heartening. First, Mukherjee has written an eminently read-

able narrative history that should please both generalists and specialists. It is necessary to emphasise the smooth flow of his prose for the simple reason that India’s historians have recently been disinclined to place any premium on readability. The Marxists, neo-Marxists and post-modernists are most guilty. Together, they have reduced riveting tales of the past to jargon that can at best be understood by a small clutch of those Alan Bloom once described as ‘tenured cretins’. Mukherjee offers a refreshing break from the tendency of modern social scientists to massacre the English language. Second, this study is focused on two individuals, their mental make-up and the choices they exercised in complex situations. Of course, their actions can’t be separated from the larger historical backdrop, but at least Mukherjee has refrained from delivering pompous sermons on imperialism and the so-called ‘final’ crisis of capitalism that has been upon the world since the time Communist agitators started penning manifestoes and political resolutions. The only criticism that can be made is that Mukherjee is over-reliant on the public speeches and private correspondence of both Nehru and Gandhi. A little more focus on how the two were viewed by contemporaries—and how these varied regionally—may have made the narrative even richer. What emerges from Mukherjee’s exploration of the parallel lives is the paramount importance of Gandhi in making or breaking political careers. Nehru was fascinated by the mass appeal of the Mahatma and his ability to almost instinctively understand popular impulses and aspirations. Gandhi’s larger worldview, particularly his trenchant disavowal of modernity and Western civilisation, left him unmoved. But he sublimated these doubts cleverly and generously reciprocated Gandhi’s indulgence of him. Bose, on the other hand, while appreciative of Gandhi’s mass following, viewed the leader as a drag on what he felt should be an uncompromising war against British rule. Influenced in large measure by the emotive anti-British strand among Bengal’s militant nationalists, Bose often overestimated the willingness of Indians to fight a no-holds-barred struggle against imperial rule. However, whereas Gandhi was indulgent towards Nehru’s flirtations with trendy socialist thought, he was less approving of Bose’s desire to develop an alternative radical current. Bose felt that Gandhi deliberately favoured Nehru as a clever ploy to split the radicals and he could never digest the Mahatma’s cunning. His natural impulsiveness led him to write many premature obituaries of Gandhi, something Nehru always refrained from doing despite expressing his private anguish in personal correspondence. In time, Bose began to see Nehru as someone who was willing to shed all beliefs and cosy up to the Mahatma to further his own standing within the Congress. Interestingly, even Patel and Rajendra Prasad—committed followers of the Mahatma with no socialist pretensions—shared these feelings. In Mukherjee’s study, Nehru comes across as a cleverer politician. In identifying himself with the ‘left wing’ of the Congress, Nehru was very vocal—he even

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Bose began to see Nehru as someone who was willing to shed all beliefs and cosy up to the Mahatma to further his own standing within the Congress. Interestingly, even Patel and Rajendra Prasad shared these feelings

Gandhi with (foreground) Subhas Chandra Bose and Vallabhbhai Patel at the 51st session of the Indian National Congress

addressed Congress delegates as ‘Comrades’ and was (like most Communists) forever going on about the international crisis of imperialism. Bose, on the other hand, devoted as much energy to faction fights within the Bengal Congress as he did to positioning himself as an intransigent, pan-Indian, anti-imperialist. Despite radical posturing, he was quite firmly rooted to the regional base of the Congress. Indeed, Malcolm Muggeridge, employed as a leader writer in The Statesman in Calcutta, remarked on the curious mismatch between the radical pretensions of the anglicised Bengali Congressmen and their social preferences. ‘Our parts in history are allotted, not chosen,’ he wrote, ‘and their belonged to the Raj, which they hated, rather than to the Swaraj, whose coming to pass they sought.’ The same, arguably, could have


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been said of Nehru with one difference: Nehru never developed local roots. The Cambridge historian argued that Bengal’s Congress leaders that included the Bose brothers, Sarat and Subhas, could never transcend their social status and were victims of it. It is doubtful if he would have extended the argument to Allahabad’s Jawaharlal. Nehru was the epitome of the deracinated and, ironically, this has come to be celebrated by Nehruvians as a virtue. Whatever rootedness he possessed was courtesy his status as Gandhi’s favourite son. In hindsight, the simmering NehruBose tensions have come to be located in Nehru’s distaste for Bose’s soft corner for the fascist regimes in Europe. It is true that Bose believed that Germany (and, subsequently, Japan) was India’s natural ally against the British Empire. It is also likely that Bose’s relationship with the Austrian Emilie Schenkl may

have blinded him to the jagged edges of Hitler’s regime. However, in hoping for a confused synthesis between Communism and Fascism, Bose was merely articulating contemporary concerns. Nehru may have embraced Stalin’s Soviet Union uncritically—as many of his upper-class English contemporaries did. However, rather than view Bose as a closet fascist, it may be more instructive to view him among the many leaders from Europe and Asia who sincerely believed that the Axis powers were going to create a more equitable world order. It is worth remembering that the horrors of Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’ were not widely known until the end of World War II in 1945. Bose’s my-enemy’s-enemy-is-my-friend approach was characteristic of his desire to put emotion above calculation. In sum, Mukherjee’s study reveals that both Bose and Nehru were out of tune with the main body of Congress thinking that was personified by Gandhi’s gradualism. Perhaps it is because the battle against British rule was not totally uninhibited that India survived as a democracy after 1947. Bose rebelled against the mainstream and found himself as an unsuccessful De Gaulle in Japan. Nehru merely bided his time and came out trumps. However, once the checks were removed after the deaths of Gandhi and Patel and the marginalisation of Prasad, Nehru’s confusions became India’s long-standing national consensus. n

Nehru and Bose: Parallel Lives, by Rudrangshu Mukherjee, Penguin Viking; 265 pages; Rs 599 25 open 24 november 2014 www.openthemagazine.com


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by PR RAMESH

Homeless in Alla

A

llahabad is India’s oldest city after Varanasi. Prayag Sharma, a grocer here, is proud that he wears the other name of this ancient holy city, the much older one, as his first name. Prayag means ‘the place of offering’, he explains, invoking the deep association the town has with Hinduism. It is the seat of the Kumbh Mela, the confluence of holy rivers, he goes on. Prayag doesn’t know that the city, which was earlier called Kaushambi, was renamed Prayag by Mughal Emperor Akbar. He is pleasantly surprised to hear this, and expresses pride in its centuries-old heritage and importance to his religion. Then he says, “I have never associated this city with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru though there are houses and memorials associated with him here. That is alright, but nobody talks about him here anymore. Maybe you should try visiting Srinagar.” Aakash Kumar, a college student, seated in a bus stop not far from Allahabad’s imposing New Yamuna Bridge, knows from history books that the first Prime Minister’s family has deep roots in this city, and that Nehru himself had lived here for years. “But the city has moved on. He may have been a great leader and a statesman, but I don’t know how relevant he is to us now. He has presided over our destiny through various generations that came after him, but not anymore,” says he, emphasising that his economic policies have “no chance” in today’s India. Shyampal, a tea vendor who lives near the Allahabad railway station, says he traditionally voted for the Congress. He still admires Nehru. “You can’t blame him just because the Congress did not do good governance after he was gone. He had come here in Allahabad the 1950s and then he looked like God to me, with all his good looks and sophistication,” he says. “Maybe he lost his charisma because they kept using him like a football.” By ‘they’, he is referring to the Congress party and the Nehru-Gandhi family. Surprisingly, in the leader’s hometown of Allahabad, where he was born in 1888, his memory is not even political football anymore. The last time that the Congress won from here was in 1984, when Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan rode a nationwide sympathy wave following the assassination of Indira Gandhi at the hands of her (Above) Nehru with his daughter Indira (left) body guards. The party here has and his neice; At a fancy dress party (facing page, centre, with turban) long lost its electoral appeal. It is 26 open 24 november 2014


habad

In his hometown, Nehru is an outsider who has little relevance beyond the arcana of history


(Left) The ‘new’ Anand Bhavan, built in 1927 after Motilal Nehru donated the ‘old’ one to the Congress party; Anand Bhavan today, a museum since 1970

1 Church Road, Allahabad, was where Indira Gandhi was born. Motilal Nehru donated this house to the Congress, and it was renamed ‘Swaraj Bhavan’ quite a wonder now that this was where Nehru won his first election, in 1952, and Lal Bahadur Shastri his, in 1957. Yet, Shyampal, who is in his seventies, isn’t completely off the mark when he describes Nehru as a ‘football’. To be sure, instead of evaluating the historical relevance of the first Prime Minister of India through research and indepth studies, the Congress party, for long, has used his name to justify whatever they did, be it for political or other gains, kicking him around as it were. The National Advisory Council (NAC) headed by Sonia Gandhi to remote control the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), for example, was peddled as a Nehruvian vision of governance. Efforts to cling on to outmoded ideas, portrayed as Nehruvian values or philosophy, were more of the same. Down the decades, demigod status was sought to be bestowed on him, an exercise that went against the principles of democracy. The Grand Old Party of India has never let go of this obsessive attachment, and continues to invoke Nehru to justify itself. Playing politics with his name, however, only depreciates his worth as a democrat and statesman, leaving him to languish as an over-used political symbol of a dynasty-centric party. Historian Ramachandra Guha has often quoted sociologist André Béteille to explain Nehru’s predicament: In the Bible, it is said that the sins of the father will be visited upon seven successive generations. In Nehru’s case, the sins of the daughter, grandsons, granddaughter-in-law and great-grandson have been retrospectively visited upon him, Béteille had noted. During his lifetime, Nehru, a liberal democrat whose refinement of manner matched that of the English elite in political discourse, was India’s undisputed leader. His daughter Indira Gandhi, on the other hand, had none of his sophistication. She wanted her socialist slogans and rhetoric against entrepreneurship to 28 open 24 november 2014

be perceived as Nehru’s own. Most of what she did, she did in the name of championing Nehruvian values.

M

uch of Allahabad may not real-

ise it today, but the Nehru family’s bonds with the city are real. Jawaharlal was born in a rented house in the crowded Mirganj locality of Allahabad. As his father Motilal’s practice as a barrister at the Allahabad High Court began to flourish, the family moved out of that locality to a new residence at 9 Elgin Road in the city’s leafy Civil Lines area. This is the house where all family members, in keeping with an upwardly mobile Westernised lifestyle, were directed to speak only in English. The two buildings—Swaraj Bhawan and Anand Bhawan—associated with three generations of the Nehrus became family residences much later. Swaraj Bhawan, located at 1 Church Road, was once owned by the first


India Picture

Indian Judge of the Allahabad High Court, Syed Mahmud, who had bought the property for Rs 9,000 back in 1888 and sold it six years later to Raja Jaikishen Das, a close family friend, for Rs 13,250. Das’ son Kunwar Parmanand Pathak, a pleader in the High Court, offered to sell it to his friend Motilal Nehru when the latter was looking to move into a bigger house. After buying it for a princely sum of Rs 20,000, Jawaharlal’s father renamed it Anand Bhawan. This is the house where Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, was born in 1917. After coming under the spell of Mahatma Gandhi in 1926, Motilal Nehru decided to donate this house to the Congress party, and it came to be known as Swaraj Bhawan. Party workers turned it into a hospital to treat injured freedom fighters that had been thrashed by policemen asked by their British masters to crack down on them. This house is fondly mentioned

by Nehru in his memoirs, An Autobiography, as the place where he enjoyed playing as a child; and it was in the swimming pool here that he learnt how to swim. It was after turning that house over to the Congress that Motilal built a new one on the same estate—1927— and named it Anand Bhawan, as Swaraj Bhawan was once called. In 1970, Indira Gandhi turned this family home—which had hosted a galaxy of leaders during the freedom movement—into a museum dedicated to the nation. After winning Allahabad’s Lok Sabha seat in 1952, India’s first Prime Minister was re-elected to the House in 1957 and 1962 from the nearby Phulpur constituency, which comprises several Assembly constituencies of Allahabad is Allahabad district.

where Jawaharlal Nehru was first elected to the Lok Sabha, in 1952. He was re-elected in 1957 and 1962 from the nearby Phulpur seat

T

he Allahabadi disconnect with Nehru

mirrors how policymakers of today view the first premier of Independent India. Thanks to the sins of his followers, the word ‘Nehruvian’ has acquired undertones that he would not be proud of. Of the 60-plus years since Nehru’s death, his party has been in power for 37, but his legacy and values do not find much favour with the non-Congress Government that has came to power by unseating the Congress in a land-

29 open 24 november 2014 www.openthemagazine.com


Jawaharlal Nehru after immersing his mother’s ashes at Allahabad on 10 January 1938

mark election earlier this year. Indeed, popular disaffection with prolonged Congress rule has translated into distrust of anything Nehruvian. For the new dispensation, led by the indomitable Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Nehruvian thought is of academic interest alone, if at all. And not without reason. Nehru’s influence has diminished considerably. This is expected of any historical figure, but a look at this phenomenon field by field is quite revealing. His influence persists in parliamentary democracy, one of his key contributions and the bedrock of his style of governance. Indian democracy is now so secure that those who Unlike Nehru, think it can be undone or diluted are likely to be Modi is interested dismissed as lunatics. His example as a committed democrat is now emulated by every Indian in pursuing party, much to his credit. Even if some of these economic parties harbour authoritarian instincts, there is little they can do about it. The only leader who diplomacy and tried to challenge this aspect of Nehru’s legacy getting rid of was his daughter Indira, who, apart from creating an air of suspicion, dread and fear throughthe NAM mindset out her time in power as India’s Prime Minister, and associated also imposed the draconian Emergency in 1975, anti-US posturing a rank subversion of the democratic values 30 open 24 november 2014

that he stood for. About a decade later, Nehru’s grandson Rajiv bowed to Muslim extremists (by backing Islamic clerics in the Shah Bano case), and indeed, rightwing sentiment of all hues while he was in power until 1989, abandoning Nehru’s secular values. As for Nehru’s socialist economic policies, they have been jettisoned almost entirely, most dramatically in 1991 by the Congress under PV Narasimha Rao, although earlier governments had already made some shifts away. Liberalisation kicked off in the 1990s and changed all that. Only the ‘NAC crowd’ wants to go back to that age of Nehruvian socialism now. Ironically, the result of NAC-directed governance during the Manmohan Singh years—which highlighted the ease with which Nehru’s descendants could misuse his name—was a severe


Ashok Dutta/Hindustan Times/ Getty Images

AK Antony, hobbled the country’s armed forces, neglecting their need of modernisation and thus forcing them to rely on Soviet-era weaponry and endanger the lives of Indian soldiers. The Congress regime was also known for promoting cronyism, awarding licences to favourites among India Inc. Unfortunately, all that cronyism was conducted under the garb of Nehruvian values. Where India is expected to make a big departure from Nehru’s time is on the foreign policy front. While it is well known that non-alignment has no significance in this day and age, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to dismantle the framework of foreign relations espoused by Nehru. Like India’s first Prime Minister of India, Modi too has managed to win accolades abroad in the short period he has been in power. He has also taken apart the ideological fixations that underpin the Nehruvian framework.

I

n doing so, Modi has begun to

reorient India’s foreign policy to meet the demands of current geopolitical realities. Modi is interested Narendra Modi performing aarti at Varanasi on 8 November 2014 in pursuing economic diplomacy and ridding India of its Nonright-wing backlash at the hustings. Aligned Movement mindset and associated anti-US postures. His efforts Modi, for his part, wants to make up are to hardsell India to the world as an investment destination so as to exfor lost time by fast-tracking economic pand the economy. In the meantime, Modi also wants to ensure peaceful reforms and creating a favourable conditions suitable for investment in the Subcontinent. In what foreign environment for entrepreneurs. The policy wonks call a ‘pragmatic nationalist approach’, he is focusing on countries UPA Government led by Manmohan like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Myanmar. The Prime Minister was clear Singh had come under criticism from that India will do well not to follow China in quarrelling with its numerous several quarters, with corporate leaders neighbours. His cordiality was on full display at his swearing-in ceremony on complaining that the Environment 26 May this year, to which he invited the likes of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Ministry had become a thorn in their Pakistan and Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka despite protests. flesh. Many big-ticket projects were Leaders of most members of the South Asian Association for Regional denied green clearances by ministers Cooperation (SAARC) turned up for the grand ceremony. While Modi laid emphalike Jairam Ramesh and Jayanthi sis on the importance of trade within the region in his talks with Sharif and others, Natarajan, often with no clear reason his first visit to a foreign country was to India’s northeastern neighbour Bhutan. cited. In Delhi’s corridors of power, He has also built a good rapport with Japanese leader Shinzo Abe, a nationalist like there was this saying that you had to Modi, while strengthening commercial ties with China. Nehru’s aims were far less pay “Jayanthi tax” to get work done, pragmatic, and most of his successors followed suit. Modi has changed all that, makindicating at an alleged to bribe to ing the country’s emergence as a modern economy the aim of his foreign policy. As the country pushes ahead with neo-realism in foreign policy and rings manage licences. Defence contractors from the United States and elsewhere out non-alignment, it is not surprising to see why even Allahabadis feel that began speaking of an ‘India fatigue’ Nehruvian ideas are out of place in the modern world. Nehru is so near by history, after the Defence Ministry, led by yet so far by appeal. n 31 open 24 november 2014 www.openthemagazine.com


nehru the

i s s u e

by jawaharlal nehru

edited by Madhav Khosla

Glimpses of Leadership The letters of India’s first Prime Minister to his chief ministers are lessons that are not always socialist in nation building 17 October 1952 I have sometimes received complaints from Christian missions and missionaries, both foreign and Indian, about the differential treatment accorded to them in some States. It is said that there is some kind of harassment also occasionally. Some instances of this kind have come to my notice. I hope that your Government will take particular care that there is no such discrimination, much less harassment. I know that there is a hangover still of the old prejudice against Christian missions and missionaries. In the old days, many of them, except in the far South, where they were indigenous, represented the foreign power and sometimes even acted more or less as its agents. I know also that some of them in the north-east encouraged separatist and disruptive movements. That phase is over. If any person, foreign or Indian, behaves in that way still, certainly we should take suitable action. But we must remember that Christianity is a religion of large numbers of people in India and that it came to the South of India nearly 2000 years ago. It is as much part of the Indian scene as any other religion. Our policy of religious neutrality and protection of minorities must not be affected or sullied by discriminatory treatment or harassment. While Christian missionaries have sometimes behaved objectionably from the political point of view, they have undoubtedly done great service to India in the social fields and they continue to give that service... We permit, by our Constitution, not only freedom of conscience and belief but even proselytism. Personally I do not like proselytism and it is rather opposed to the old Indian outlook which is, in this matter, one of live and let live. But I do not wish to come in other people’s ways provided they are not objectionable in any other sense. In particular, I would welcome any form of real social service by any one, missionary or not. A question arises, however, how far we should encourage foreigners to come here for purely evangelical work. Often these foreign missionaries raise funds in foreign countries on the plea of converting the savage heathen. I do not want anyone to come here who looks upon me as a savage heathen, Our policy of not that I mind being called a heathen or a pagan by anybody. But I do not want any forreligious neutrality eigners to come who look down upon us or and protection of who speak about us in their own countries minorities must in terms of contempt. But if any foreigner wants to come here for social service, I would not be affected welcome him. 20 September 1953 I want to share with you a certain apprehension that is growing within me. I feel that in many ways the position relating to minority 32 open 24 november 2014

or sullied by discriminatory treatment or harassment

groups in India is deteriorating. Our Constitution is good and we do not make any distinction in our rules and regulations or laws. But, in effect, changes creep in because of administrative practices or officers. Often these changes are not deliberate, sometimes they are so. In the Services, generally speaking, the representation of the minority communities is lessening. In some cases, it is very poor indeed. It is true that some of the highest offices in the land are occupied by members of these minority communities. They occupy high places also in our foreign missions. But in looking through Central Government figures, as well as some others, I am distressed to find that the position is very disadvantageous to them, chiefly to the Muslims and sometimes others also... It is all very well for us to say that we shall not pay any attention to communal and like considerations in appointments. I am no lover of communalism and its works. Indeed, I think it is the most dangerous tendency in India and has to be combated on all fronts. But, at the same time, we have to realize that in a vast and mixed country like India we must produce a sense of balance and of assurance of a square deal and future prospects in all parts of the country and in all communities of India. If the tendency is to upset any balance or to emphasize one aspect at the cost of another, the result is a lack of equilibrium and dissatisfaction and frustration among large groups. This is exactly what is happening and it is not a good thing. I think we should make a very special effort to


HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES

Jawaharlal Nehru with K Kamaraj, Chief Minister of the erstwhile Madras State, at an AICC meeting in Madurai

check this wrong tendency in so far as the Services are concerned. The question is a wider one than the Services, although the Services are an imporant part in the texture of India. We have to create a sense of partnership in every group and individual in the country, a sense of being a full sharer in the benefits and opportunities that are offered. It is only then that we produce the right attitude of mind. Nothing seems to me so un-becoming as to preach loyalty to others, meaning by that word ‘loyalty’ that everyone should fall in step with us. This is very much like the approach of the Communists in some parts of the world and of the Americans in other parts of the world, each of whom demand uniformity and submission... .

24 December 1954 You will have observed that the Lok Sabha, in considering the economic policy resolution, passed almost unanimously an amendment laying down that the pattern of society to be aimed at should be socialistic. This does not mean our adherence to any rigid of doctrinaire pattern, but it does mean that, broadly speaking, we are aiming at a particular type of society where there will be an approach to equality and where the State owns or controls the means of production. This does not mean that the State should own everything, but it must control all strategic points. There has frequently been an argument about the public and private sectors. The argument discloses somewhat different approaches to the problem. But the argument by itself, without relation to actualities, tends to become unrealistic. It is far better for us to consider these matters from a practical point of view of increasing production and decreasing unemployment and at the same time, going firmly towards that pattern of society which we aim at. We have to take into consideration all the time the present situation in the country and take advantage of every factor that helps. In this present situation, I have no doubt that the private sector can help considerably and therefore should be allowed, and even encouraged, to help within the broad limits of our planning and general control. Another aspect of this question which is often argued is that of nationalization of existing industries. The Socialist Party lays the greatest stress upon this, as if it 33 open 24 november 2014 www.openthemagazine.com


Vasily Yegorov/ TASS/dinodia photos

Nehru at the Red Square in Moscow, Russia

was the solvent of all our ills. Our own policy has been repeatedly declared. With limited resources, there is absolutely no point in our applying them merely to acquire State control over existing industries, except when this is considered necessary. It is far better to apply the existing resources in new plants which are so much needed. Those plants can be owned by the State. We are not sufficiently developed to be able to rely on a State pattern entirely. Also, there is some advantage in having a kind of competition between the public and the private. This will keep the public sector up to the mark. There can be no doubt the public sector has to grow and will dominate the scene. Many people are anxious to see the rapid growth of the public sector. Some even talk about ending private sector and industry. But, oddly enough, where the public is functioning today, there is constant criticism, even in regard to small matters. It is for this reason that we decided long ago to have our major State enterprises in the form of autonomous corporations so that there is no day to day interference with their work. 20 July 1955 It must be remembered that practically everyone under fifty in Russia, that is, almost the entire active population, has grown up under the Soviet system and has been fully conditioned by it, not only by propaganda but much more so by his entire environment. Some old people might complain or think of the good old days but I doubt very much if there is any marked desire in the Soviet Union for a reversion to the old days. Indeed, I do not think it is conceivable that any major change can take place in the economic system. There may be, and probably will be, 34 open 24 november 2014

minor changes and adaptations, but the basic economic structure in the industry and land will continue. In establishing this structure and, more especially, in collectivization of land, a tremendous price in human suffering was paid. That price has been paid and a completely new structure has arisen and been well established. There can be no going back upon this... We thus see in the Soviet Union a new type of society growing up. It is a vital society, expanding not only in numbers and in the construction of new towns and cities and factories, etc., but fully conditioned to believe in the environment in which it lives. This society is becoming increasingly technical and fairly well-read. Its standards will necessarily go up with increasing production, provided there are no wars or big upsets. How far political restriction and lack of civil liberties will continue, I cannot say. I imagine that if fear of war and attack goes, there will be a progressive approach to normality and a measure of individual freedom may also come in its train. I do not think this will lead to the type of individual freedom that is known in some countries in the West, but a well-read and well-trained society is not likely to submit for long to many restrictions on individual freedom. I am not discussing communism, either its technique or its ideology but rather thinking in terms of the gradual development of the Soviet people under pressure of various events. Marxism as applied to Russia by Lenin was probably somewhat different from what Marx himself thought. Stalin varied this still more, and I have no doubt that this process of variation will continue. n

Excerpts from Letters for a Nation: From Jawaharlal Nehru to His Chief Ministers 1947–1963, edited by Madhav Khosla; Penguin India; 352 pages; Rs 599


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nehru the

i s s u e

by YUSUF AHMAD ANSARI

His Honourable Son-in-Law The uneasy relationship between the proud Feroze Gandhi and the detached Jawaharlal Nehru

L

ate on the morning of 8 September 1960, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s

first Prime Minister, heavily lugged himself up the staircase at Teen Murti Bhavan, the Prime Minister’s residence in New Delhi, to his bedroom on the first floor. His energy was sapped and his visage, usually radiant and glowing, wore a fallen look. He slumped into a chair and sat speechless for a good while, visibly shaken. Outside, the temperature climbed to 35 degrees Celsius, and as the sun bore down on the gardens of Teen Murti’s sprawling estate, its gates and walkways were thronged with thousands of people. Thousands more continued to stream towards the residence along South Avenue and Willingdon Crescent. By the afternoon the rooms and lawns of Teen Murti were packed with people while outside there was little room left on the roads for any vehicular movement. Politicians of every wing, party workers from disparate political groups, friends, critics, journalists, cronies and diplomats; a myriad mass of humanity, mingled uncontrollably sharing the grief and disbelief their Prime Minister and his family were struck with that day. At 7.45 that morning, Feroze Gandhi, MP, had passed away following a heart attack the previous day. Since 1952, he had represented the constituency of Pratapgarh (West) cum Rae-Bareli (East) in the Lok Sabha. In a relatively short span of eight years, Gandhi had registered a singularly impressive record as a parliamentarian who spoke fearlessly and objectively (usually against his own party, the Indian National Congress) on important national issues. His interventions were legendary, welcomed and heard by all corners of the House. Among the many tributes paid to Feroze As Nehru’s Gandhi, one by Ashok Mehta, at the time son-in-law, Chairman of the opposition Praja Socialist Feroze Gandhi Party, represented the sentiment of many MPs. “Death robs Parliament,” he observed, “of an enjoyed a level of outstanding member, and the underprivileged immunity in the of a tireless champion. His sympathies were as catholic as his interests were wide. Our public ‘establishment’ life is not rich in dedicated men; that a man and he took of Mr Gandhi’s attainments should have been plucked away in the prime of life aggravates advantage of our impoverishment.” it to challenge The funeral cortege left Teen Murti Bhavan ‘yesmanship’ late afternoon and was followed by a two-mile

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long procession. Panditji exclaimed, to no one in particular, “I did not know Feroze was so popular… I did not know he had done so much good for the people of India.” The remark was a telling one and reveals the extent to which the Prime Minister and his late son-inlaw Feroze Gandhi had drifted apart; particularly over their politics in the preceding few years. Pandit Nehru and Feroze Gandhi’s relationship had come to resemble a tension-filled duel of regular sparring and frequent misunderstanding, punctuated by occasional flashes of temper. Throughout his life, Feroze held a deep admiration for Pandit Nehru. Nonetheless, this devotion was tempered by a strong sense of perspective, at odds with the prevailing culture of hero-worship the Congress party had of its leader and India’s Prime Minister. The creation of a cult around him is something that alarmed Nehru himself, perhaps more than anyone else, but he was helpless in changing it. As the Prime Minister’s son-in-law, Feroze Gandhi certainly enjoyed a level of immunity in the Congress ‘Establishment’ and within Parliamentary circles, much more so than other backbenchers. What is striking is Feroze took advantage of this unofficial immunity to challenge sycophancy and the creeping culture of political ‘yesmanship’ that had begun to take root in his party. For years, the spirited son-in-law


Jawaharlal Nehru with Indira Gandhi, Feroze Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi at Anand Bhawan, Allahabad, June 1945

37 open 24 november 2014 www.openthemagazine.com


keystone/hulton archive/Getty Images

yearned to be taken seriously by his polymath father-in-law. For years the father-in-law, darling of the democratic world and unchallenged leader of his people was not quite sure about the handsome, happy-go-lucky son-in-law who had courted and (against much opposition) married Nehru’s daughter Indira. As long ago as 1935, Pandit Nehru had written to his sister Mrs Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit about Feroze saying: ‘…We have grown fond of the boy because he is a brave lad and has the makings of a man in him. He has our good wishes in every way and we hope that he will train himself and educate himself in accordance with his own wishes and those of his family for any work that he chooses. It is not for us to interfere…’ This passage though fondly articulated, is characteristic of the famous Nehruvian detachment Panditji displayed towards Feroze. Sadly, he only fully realised what a man Feroze had made of himself when he saw the grieving multitudes at his son-in-law’s funeral.

S

ince he was a teenager, Feroze had been actively involved in the Independence

struggle, as an organiser, a writer, a ‘doer’, but he had never really had a job, only a talent for diligent research and a marshalling of facts. Pandit Nehru did much to help Feroze ‘start-up’ as a family man with professional security when he appointed him Managing Director of The National Herald, Panditji’s own newspaper that had begun reprinting in September 1946. A monthly salary of Rs 600 and a lot of hard work saw Feroze and his small family ensconced in Lucknow, finally living the life of a normal, married couple. The campaigns of the Independence movement had robbed them of this normalcy in the past; Panditji’s elevation to Prime Ministership ensured the future of their marriage had to endure other strains. The Prime Minister needed an official consort and a host to run Teen Murti, his official residence, and only Mrs Gandhi could do it. “I felt it was my duty to help my father… and there was no one else but me,” she had noted. Her position was difficult. Pandit Nehru himself never drew on the Rs 500 allowance for expenses he was entitled to at Teen Murti. Even with Indira Gandhi there as the official hostess and both Nayantara Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi spending time at the Sehgal recalls Prime Minister’s residence, Pandit Nehru would draw up invoices of their expenses and forward that Feroze, them to Feroze, alongwith the payment. While “always welcome Indira divided her time between her father, husband and sons (Sanjay Gandhi was born at Teen Murti… in December 1946), Feroze became resentful chose to treat of this intrusion in their marriage, and this, perhaps more than anything else, created a himself as an wedge between him and his father-in-law. outsider and With his election as MP in 1952, Feroze behaved with moved to Delhi at a time when ‘he could have risen to the top position in the newspaper scant courtesy” world of this country’, according to Ramnath Goenka. Nonetheless, it was as a parliamentarian that he became a national figure and though largely forgotten now, his speeches and interventions in the Lok Sabha were based on meticulous detail and wrought serious consequences, usually upon members and sections of his own Congress party. With such few people willing or able to challenge Pandit Nehru, Feroze took it upon himself to correct the course the Congress party sometimes appeared to be taking, prompting some MPs to call him “a misfit in the Congress benches.” Their interactions in Parliament were varied. One particularly memorable

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exchange between them never fades with repetition. In the fallout of the Dalmia-Jain scandal, unearthed by Feroze, which led to the resignation of the Union Finance Minister at the time, Ramakrishna Dalmia had been arrested. Dalmia’s son-in-law SP Jain posted his bail. While the Lok Sabha debated the finer points of the case anxiously, Feroze raised the question, directly to Prime Minister Nehru: “Will the Prime Minister be pleased to state the relationship of the surety to accused?” Panditji replied, “The same as that of the questioner to the answerer” and successfully diffused the tensionof the House. In a motion discussing the Defence Minister’s statement to the Lok Sabha, in April 1960, Feroze Gandhi had taken an aggressive line against his own government, rising on a Point of Order and persistently arguing with the Chair


For years, Nehru was not quite sure about the handsome, happy-go-lucky Feroze who had, against much opposition, courted and married his daughter

Feroze and Indira Gandhi at their wedding in Allahabad, 1942

to be allowed to speak: “I raise the point of order because a grave violation of the Constitution has taken place. Where else can I go? You allow every Member there to say what he likes, but when we want to say anything, you say we cannot.” The House was in chaos until an exasperated Pandit Nehru himself rose to counsel his son-in-law saying, “…If the Honourable Member feels that an important constitutional issue has been raised, let it be considered. If he wants, let him bring a proper motion to consider it. I do not think it would be proper to consider it in this way.” Feroze Gandhi’s response to the Prime Minister’s intervention was surprisingly deferential: “I am sorry. I would like to express my regrets to you. This is the first time I got a little excited. If I have said anything please forget it.” Luckily, this exchange was not expunged from

the parliamentary record and gives us a good indication of Feroze’s sense of respect for his father-in-law, against the background of his role as an ‘unofficial opposition’. On other occasions, Feroze could be bruising, even in public. At a meeting of the All India Congress Committee, just as Panditji was chiding party members for bringing their spouses to party conventions, Feroze interrupted him, “It wasn’t I who brought my wife here…” directing his words towards Indira Gandhi sitting next to Panditji on the platform. Nayantara Sehgal recalls that Feroze, “always welcome at Teen Murti…chose to treat himself as an outsider and behaved with scant courtesy.” Proud of his roots, strong in his convictions and independent in his views, Feroze Gandhi could not bear the oppression of pretence. According to one of his friends, Prema Mandi, “Feroze was egotistical. Any lesser man would have enjoyed the role [of being connected with the Prime Minister] but he had a very deep-seated grouse against himself for being in that situation.” Politically, Feroze Gandhi personified, in full measure, what the Congress party (and Pandit Nehru) originally stood for and what India’s Grand Old Party has lost since the breakdown of the ‘Nehruvian Consensus’. His was a robust opposition to economic monopoly or crony capitalism, an uncompromising commitment to internal democracy and a strong dislike for the chronic dominance of professional apparatchiks within the party that prevails today. Like his father-in-law, he took the secular foundations and identity of India’s culture and politics for granted. Unwittingly, perhaps, he was a more eminent Nehruvian than he cared to admit, or Panditji cared to recognise until it was too late. n 39 open 24 november 2014 www.openthemagazine.com


nehru the

i s s u e

by Sumantra Bose

How the Pandit Lost the Valley It was in 1953 that Kashmir’s estrangement from the Indian Union began. Blame it on Nehru

P

andit Jawaharlal Nehru’s tryst with Kashmir, his ancestral land,

spanned the last quarter-century of his life. In 1940, he visited the Kashmir Valley at the invitation of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. The 1930s had witnessed a mass awakening in the Valley, starting with the incident on 13 July 1931 when the princely state’s police fired on demonstrators in Srinagar, killing 22 people. Sheikh Abdullah was the charismatic face of the popular movement for change that developed in the Valley through the 1930s. In 1938, Abdullah’s group was behind the Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference’s resolution to ‘end communalism by ceasing to think in terms of Muslims and non-Muslims’ and its invitation to ‘all Hindus and Sikhs who believe in the freedom of their country from an irresponsible rule’ to join the struggle. In 1939, the Muslim Conference was re-named the National Conference to reflect this spirit of inclusivity. In 1945, shortly after his release from prison, Nehru returned to the Valley to attend the National Conference’s annual convention. He was accompanied by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. A year earlier, in September 1944, the National Conference leadership had met in Sopore and declared the ‘Naya Kashmir’ manifesto, a republican and socialist charter. Nehru’s convictions made him a natural sympathiser of this political line. By then, the princely state’s popular politics was becoming polarised between the National Conference and the Muslim Conference, revived in 1941 by religious and social conservatives based mostly in the Jammu region with support from anti-Abdullah elements In 1953, Nehru in the Valley. The National Conference was domjustified the inant in the Valley, but its rival had much influchange of regime ence in the Jammu districts, on both sides of what was to become the Ceasefire Line in 1949 in Srinagar on and the Line of Control in 1972. In 1944, Jinnah the grounds that had visited the Kashmir Valley, and, in an address to the Muslim Conference’s annual gathAbdullah had lost ering, proclaimed it to be representative of “99 the confidence per cent” of the princely state’s Muslims. This snub to Abdullah’s party reinforced its tilt toof three of his wards the Indian National Congress. When in four cabinet April 1946 the National Conference launched its colleagues ‘Quit Kashmir’ mass agitation against the Dogra

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monarchy—a movement inspired by and modelled on Congress’s ‘Quit India’ call of 1942—the Muslim Conference leader Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas described it as “an agitation started at the behest of Hindu [read Congress] leaders”. The battlelines had been drawn for the events of late 1947 in Kashmir. When the accession of the princely state to India was sealed on 26-27 October 1947, Abdullah was staying at Nehru’s residence, having arrived in Delhi on the evening of 25 October. Had Nehru’s government not taken the Kashmir issue to the United Nations in January 1948—a move which eventually led to a ceasefire in Kashmir on 1 January 1949—it is possible that the Indian Army would have rolled back regular and irregular Pakistani forces further towards the borders of the princely state over one or two years of continued hostilities. There is no certainty, however, that this counterfactual scenario would have materialised, and pursuing it would have been risky and bloody. It is also flawed to assume that had it materialised, the Kashmir issue would have been laid to rest. India would have had to deal with a much larger pro-Pakistan population had possession of all or almost all of the princely state been regained. Concentrated in the western Jammu districts comprising the socalled ‘Azad Jammu and Kashmir’, the strongholds of the Muslim Conference


india pictures

(Left to right) Nehru, Sheikh Abdullah and Maulana Azad at a boat procession on the Jhelum in Srinagar, 1950

and pro-Pakistan sardars (landed chieftains), this population would have meant trouble, whether from within or as refugees in Pakistan. That would have compounded the thorny dilemma represented for Indian policy by Abdullah, who, as events by the early 1950s revealed, viewed himself as an equal ally rather than a docile subordinate of Nehru’s government in New Delhi. That dilemma came to a head in 1953, when Sheikh Abdullah was summarily ejected from office and imprisoned. While he was formally dismissed by Karan Singh, the sadr-e-riyasat (titular head of state), the extraordinary turn of events in August 1953 could only have happened with the sanction of Nehru, at the very least, and given its magnitude and ramifications, Abdullah’s ouster was likely cho-

reographed in New Delhi. The ideological affinities and personal ties between Nehru and Abdullah proved flimsy in the cold, cruel light of realpolitik. In September 1953, Nehru justified the change of regime in Srinagar in the Lok Sabha on the grounds that Abdullah had lost the confidence of three of his four cabinet colleagues—Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, Pandit Shyamlal

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Saraf and Giridharilal Dogra, leaving Mirza Afzal Beg as his only supporter—and that Abdullah’s actions had caused “distress to the people”. Certainly, Abdullah’s behaviour in the run-up to August 1953 presented plenty of cause for alarm in New Delhi. In negotiations with Nehru in Delhi in JuneJuly 1952, Abdullah dug in his heels on ‘maximum autonomy’ for J&K and rejected most of the Government of India’s proposals for greater integration with the Union. Nehru’s report of the talks to the Lok Sabha in August 1952 had a tone of weary resignation—he wanted “no forced unions”, he said, and if the government of J&K wished “to part company with us, they can go their way and we shall go our way”. In summer 1953 Abdullah—fortified by the massive public response in the Valley to his government’s extensive land reforms between 1950 and 1952 and beleaguered by the Praja Parishad’s escalating agitation for J&K’s ‘full integration’ with the Union in the southern Jammu districts—upped the ante. A National Conference sub-committee appointed to examine options for J&K’s future status recommended four options in June, all involving a plebiscite and independence for part or all of the former princely state. Abdullah refused to back down in correspondence during July with Nehru as well as Azad. Instead, he announced that his party’s working committee and general council would discuss the proposals and also take them to the public in the second half of August. So Nehru can be regarded as having acted to protect India’s territorial integrity and vital national interests in 1953. The problem was that the episode marked the beginning of the Kashmir Valley’s bitter estrangement from the Indian Union, as Abdullah had Nehru can be messiah-like status in the eyes of the vast maregarded as having jority of the Valley’s people. Syed Mir Qasim, a acted to protect National Conference leader in Anantnag, sided with the New Delhi-backed group and imIndia’s interests in mediately became a minister in Bakshi 1953. The problem Ghulam Mohammad’s cabinet; he was later J&K’s Chief Minister from 1971 to 1975. He was that Abdullah writes in his memoir, published in 1992, that had messiah-like the putsch ‘gave rise to a grim situation and a bitter sense of betrayal… giving rise to widestatus with the vast spread agitations and protest marches. In majority of the Anantnag… I sat in my law chamber for three Valley’s people days, watching wave after wave of protest marches surge past. Some people were killed in police firing’. On 12 August, Qasim set out for Srinagar with GM Sadiq, a top National Conference leader who also sided with New Delhi. As they passed through the towns of Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama they ‘saw the people’s angry, rebellious mood’. In Kulgam, crowds at a graveyard where people killed in police firing were being buried asked on seeing him with a police escort: “So you are also with them?” ‘In Shopian we faced a graver situation’, as ‘a 20,000-strong crowd menacingly surged towards where we were staying, to attack us’. Sadiq and Qasim arrived in Srinagar to find the city ‘in chaos’— ‘Bakshi Saheb’s own house, despite the police guard, was under attack. He was nervous and wanted to step down as Prime Minister in favour of Mr Sadiq.’ Nehru was unrelenting. When in 1954 an attempt by the Praja Socialist Party to open an office in Srinagar was prevented by the Bakshi regime’s goons, the Prime Minister of India reacted by accusing the PSP of “join[ing] hands with the enemies of the country”. Around the same time the late Jammu-based journalist and activist Balraj Puri met Nehru and pleaded that pro-Abdullah elements be allowed some political space to operate in the Valley. Puri recalls that Nehru agreed in principle but “argued that India’s case [on Kashmir] now revolved around 42 open 24 november 2014

Bakshi and so…his government had to be strengthened”. According to Puri, Nehru said that the Valley’s politics “revolved around personalities” and there was “no material for democracy there”. In 1955, Abdullah’s supporters formed the Jammu & Kashmir Plebiscite Front, which commanded mass support in the Valley till its disbandment in 1975. In the 1962 J&K Legislative Assembly elections, the official National Conference won 68 of the 74 seats; the Praja Parishad won three in Jammu and three other seats went to independents, one of whom was the head of the Buddhist


james burke/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Pro-Abdullah demonstrators headed for Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad’s official residence in Srinagar are thwarted by Indian Army troops and the Kashmir Police

clergy of Ladakh. Of the Valley’s 43 seats, 32 were decided without any contest. Nehru then wrote to Bakshi: ‘It would strengthen your position if you lost a few seats to bona fide opponents.’ The last months of Jawaharlal Nehru’s life coincided with the outbreak of a major crisis in the Kashmir Valley. The mysterious disappearance of the ‘holy hair’ of Prophet Muhammad from Srinagar’s Hazratbal shrine in late December 1963—the relic re-appeared just as mysteriously a week later—sparked an uprising of unprecedented proportions in the Valley, surpassed in scale and inten-

sity only in 1990. The relic issue was a trigger for the resentment that had been festering in the Valley for a decade at police-state repression and farcical elections. The crisis led to the release of Sheikh Abdullah who, The Times of India reported, ‘entered Srinagar and was greeted by a delirious crowd of 250,000 people’ on 18 April 1964. The ‘Srinagar Spring’ soon dissipated. A slew of measures integrating J&K with the Union were unilaterally enacted from New Delhi between December 1964 and March 1965, and in January 1965 the official National Conference, led by Sadiq and Qasim, dissolved itself and announced its new avatar—the Jammu & Kashmir Pradesh Congress. Amid renewed unrest and turmoil, Sheikh Abdullah was rearrested in May and the countdown to the opportunist Pakistani aggression of autumn 1965 began. The roots of the Kashmir Valley’s estrangement from the Indian Union are located squarely in the Nehruvian period of India’s democracy. The toxic legacy was carried forward and aggravated in the 1970s and 1980s by his daughter and later his grandson. The nation lives with the burden 50 years after Nehru’s passing. n 43 open 24 november 2014 www.openthemagazine.com


nehru the

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by SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY

Nehru, the Lady and middle-age morality Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

How he juggled with supreme ease the personal and the public

Jawaharlal Nehru with Edwina Mountbatten


J

awaharlal

Nehru

was

described, probably by NB Khare, the Hindu Mahasabha president, as “English by education, Muslim by culture and Hindu by accident.” Did he take this catholicity to the extent of marrying a Muslim? A Hindu-Muslim marriage might be lauded today as a triumph of integration. Then, it could have been the unmaking of Motilal Nehru’s intensely ambitious heir. Realising this, was the future apostle of secularism calculating and ruthless enough to remove all trace of his youthful folly? A confidential British Intelligence report called the supposed marriage and its suppression ‘the most formative event in Nehru’s life’. Yet, there’s nary a word of it in his autobiography, which has been praised as ‘the most perfect piece of self-revelation since Rousseau’s Confessions’. Some might see this as evidence of extraordinary duplicity. No, this isn’t BJP denigration of Nehru to deify Vallabhbhai Patel. It’s what Wing Commander Alan CampbellJohnson of the Supreme Allied Command South-East Asia (SACSEA for short), reported to the Supremo, Lord Louis Mountbatten, on the eve of Nehru’s controversial visit to Singapore in 1946. The secret information that ‘when Jawaharlal, a Brahmin, married a Moslem woman, jeopardizing his whole position within the Hindu social system, it was Gandhi’s personal intervention as a religious leader which saved him from the full consequences of his action’ would have given Mountbatten a powerful hold over Nehru. Campbell-Johnson later became Mountbatten’s press attaché in New Delhi and wrote Mission with Mountbatten. He collected the information on Nehru before joining SACSEA when he was in India working on a life of Lord Halifax who was viceroy (1926-31) as Lord Irwin. I read his ‘off the record’ report in Singapore when researching my book, Looking East to Look West: Lee Kuan Yew’s Mission India. SR Nathan, then

Confidential Note dated 16 March 1946 from the British Archives claiming Mahatma Gandhi helped suppress Jawaharlal Nehru’s secret marriage to a Muslim woman. Wing-Commander Alan Campbell-Johnson, recorder, Supreme Allied Command South-East Asia, submitted this explosive information to the Supremo, Lord Louis Mountbatten, during discussions on whether or not Nehru should be allowed to visit Singapore to inspect captured Indian National Army troops at the end of World War II. All British officials, with the solitary exception of Mountbatten, opposed the visit. ‘Sinclair’ in the last paragraph who thought Nehru resembled Sir Stafford Cripps (‘Stifford Crapps’ Churchill jeered) was the British Liberal Party leader who hosted a lunch for Nehru at the House of Commons. The note has not been published before

President of Singapore, generously offered me a large cloth bag stuffed with papers from the British archives. Nathan formerly headed Singapore’s Security and Intelligence Division, and many of the documents were Intelligence reports. No one had examined them until he urged me to do so. That’s how I learnt Nehru’s first fateful encounter with Edwina Mountbatten almost didn’t happen. As soon as World War II ended, Nehru announced he would go to Singapore. The excuse was to check how Mountbatten’s British Military Administration was treating Indian National Army troops and to arrange for their legal defence. His relations with Subhas Chandra Bose were hardly cordial but Nehru knew what the Indian public wanted. Sir Hubert Elvin Rance, Burma’s last British governor, refused transit facilities. Air Vice-Marshall LF Pendred, the BMA’s intelligence chief, thought Nehru’s request ‘should be refused’. SACSEA officials were determined to make things as uncomfortable as possible if he insisted on going. He wouldn’t get official transport. Indian troops would be confined to barracks, and his presence played down in every way. They reckoned without Mountbatten’s political antennae which were fully as 45 open 24 november 2014 www.openthemagazine.com


sensitive as Nehru’s. The Supremo had unsuccessfully tried to see Nehru when he visited Bombay in January 1944 and Nehru was imprisoned in the nearby Ahmadnagar Fort writing The Discovery of India. Determined to make up for that failure, the Supremo told the BMA he was “extremely displeased” it didn’t realise Nehru was “one of the most important political figures in the world.” Apart from being “disloyal” to him “personally”, the BMA’s churlishness “would invite worldwide criticism which Nehru would not fail to exploit.” At the same time, Mountbatten told SK Chettur, British India’s ICS representative in Singapore, Nehru was “a man of honour” who would not embarrass him “by carrying out any agitational activities”. Mountbatten invited Nehru ‘as an official representative of the All-India Congress’ and treated him to almost head of government honours. Two senior British staff officers received him at Singapore’s Kallang airport with Brigadier JN (Muchu) Chaudhuri, later India’s Chief of the Army Staff, who became his personal aide during the visit. Chettur, Rajabali Jumabhoy, a prominent local businessman, and Tan Kah Kee, an overseas Chinese who was so important that when he died in Beijing in 1961 Zhou Enlai personally supervised his state funeral, were also present. Formalities over, Chaudhuri took Nehru through about 2,000 men in INA uniform with tricolour badges (courtesy Mountbatten) to Government House (today’s Istana or presidential palace) where India’s future (and last) viceroy entertained India’s future (and first) Prime Minister over tea. Mountbatten and Nehru then ‘rode in state’ in an open car past the 300 INA men who had marched to Government House shouting revolutionary slogans, to the Indian YMCA Welfare Centre in Stamford Road. Edwina waited there with Indian Red Cross workers. The Tamil Murasu newspaper called it ‘the neatest diplomatic stroke and so casually executed that Lord Louis Mountbatten displayed real genius.’ The cheering crowds included many ‘former Indian soldiers’ (euphemism for INA personnel who were technically rebels) whose “Nehruji ki jai!” was laced with cries of “Lord Louis Mountbatten ki jai!” setting the precedent for Delhi’s adulatory mobs in 1947. Meanwhile, a ‘seething and bubbling mass ... just boiled all round the YMCA’. Mountbatten also records that just as he and Nehru entered the building, ‘a roar as of a dam bursting fell upon our ears, and the crowd burst through every door and window ... in no time they were upon us.’ Edwina was knocked down and disappeared under the mob. ‘The Pandit screaming: “Your wife; your wife; we must go to her”, linked arms with me and together we charged into the crowd in an endeavour to find her. Meanwhile, she had crawled between the people’s legs and had come out at the far end of the room, got on a table and shouted to us that she was all right.’ Nehru’s account of what he called his ‘unusual introduction’ to Edwina sounded prosaic in comparison. Writing to Dorothy Norman 17 years later, he mentioned ‘a wild rush of Indian soldiers, presumably wanting to see me’. Edwina had disappeared when they entered the room. ‘I think I got up on a chair to have a look around. Nehru and Soon Lady Mountbatten crawled out of the Edwina milling crowd. She had evidently been stumbled into knocked down by the soldiers rushing in.’ Mountbatten gave a small dinner party that the relationship, evening for Nehru who told ‘Chaudhuri on his which Mountbatten way back he hadn’t enjoyed an evening with English people so much since he had come down made the most from Oxford (actually, Nehru was at Cambridge) of. He ‘bewitched’ more than 30 years ago.’ Nehru acquiesced when Mountbatten asked him not Nehru 46 open 24 november 2014

to lay a wreath at the INA’s War Memorial ‘since they had fought not only against us but against the local people of Malaya.’ He also promised not to incite the Indian troops. Mountbatten ‘found him most reasonable.’ Whatever he had promised, Nehru wasn’t going to alienate a significant political constituency. ‘He slipped away quietly the following day and left his personal wreath’—some roses Singaporeans thought he had bought for Edwina—at the memorial. This was a wooden replica of the original monument Mountbatten had destroyed. It was hastily erected on the same spot and quickly dismantled after Nehru’s car sped away and the 300-strong crowd dispersed. Nehru also did his duty by Bose by instructing a local lawyer, Radhakrishna Ramani, to see to the INA’s legal needs.

T

he Mountbattens were free of

conventional prejudice. Edwina was especially oblivious of differences. Their daughter, Lady Pamela Hicks, says her mother couldn’t remember once whether the “lively” man next to her at dinner was Black or White. Her association with the Caribbean singer Leslie Hutchinson scandalised London society; Paul Robeson was a family friend. But Mountbatten was also an operator. He didn’t only turn a blind eye to Nehru’s truancy, he colluded with it. The wooden replica could hardly have been built and dismantled so swiftly without his consent. His motives were as devious as his assessment of Nehru was ambivalent. He hoped friendship with the British would diminish Nehru: ardent nationalists would suspect “that one who fraternized openly with representatives of the British Raj was a bit of a Quisling”. That might also temper Nehru’s radicalism. Both calculations seemed fulfilled in Singapore’s Jalan Besar Stadium. The INA had rallied in full force with tricolour flags, a large portrait of Netaji in military attire, uniformed guards of honour and a brass band playing martial Azad


Nehru with the Mountbattens at an official reception at India House, London, 1955

Hind tunes like Dilli Chalo! Malay, Chinese (including Communists) and Indonesian groups had also turned up with banners and flags. The British feared hostile rioting. Nehru saved the day by rebuking the packed crowd for chanting the INA’s “Blood! Blood! Blood!” slogan. Netaji had done great work, he said, but the time had come to abandon ‘provocative and unwise’ rhetoric for peaceful, disciplined and constructive effort. Instead of hurling abuse at the Raj he urged them to realise his dream of a united Asia. The British were delighted to see disappointed soldiers slipping away from the stadium. Mountbatten gloated in his diary, ‘Altogether we must have stolen part of the old boy’s thunder, besides publicly linking him up with us ...’ He didn’t know then that British rule in India would end so soon or that Nehru himself would want him as viceroy. But that day’s happenings

forged lifelong links. Nehru and Edwina stumbled into the relationship, which Mountbatten made the most of. He ‘bewitched’ Nehru, according to a biographer. Pamela believes her mother and Nehru fell deeply in love in Singapore but the relationship remained platonic. A packet of Nehru’s letters was by Lady Mountbatten’s bedside when she died in her sleep in Borneo in 1960. She willed the entire collection of his letters to her husband. Given this attachment, a private marriage was unlikely during the 28 years of Nehru’s widowhood. Apart from Edwina, there was his daughter to consider. The scandal-mongering MO Mathai was around some of the time. Gandhi wasn’t. If Campbell-Johnson is right, the event must have taken place before 1916 when Nehru, aged 27, had an arranged marriage with the simple Kamala Kaul 10 years his junior. Young men who sow wild oats (unlike Oscar Wilde who boasted ‘I have never sowed wild oats but I have planted a few orchids’) merit indulgence. Fifty-three years ago, I read scrawled on a wall in rural Bengal, ‘The sins of youth are hardly sins,/ So frank and free are they./ ’Tis but in middle age that we/ have need of morality.’ No wonder Gandhi who by his own admission knew a great deal about sex and sin helped out. But perhaps Campbell-Johnson made a colossal mistake. Perhaps he confused Nehru with his sister Vijayalakshmi. Her involvement with Sayed Hussein, the handsome, aristocratic British-educated editor of Motilal Nehru’s paper, The Independent, and later India’s first ambassador to Egypt, was once the talk of the town. Otherwise, history would be forced to re-evaluate the long-term political implications for India of its first Prime Minister’s ability to dissimulate and juggle personal and public obligations. n 47 open 24 november 2014 www.openthemagazine.com


nehru the

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by TUNKU VARADARAJAN

The Last Stylist

From his sartorial elegance to linguistic flair to sexual charisma, Nehru was the aesthete-moderniser

H

ow low India has sunk in the sartorial stakes can be seen in the touting

(by some) of Narendra Modi as a species of fashion mannequin—all on account of a few brightly coloured waistcoats. In the eye-wateringly dingy world of our professional political class, an ochre or green ‘bandi’ is seen as the acme of style, a jaunty change of pace from the monochrome netas and bureaucrats who offend our aesthetic sensibilities daily. But Modi is as nothing compared with the true style icon of Indian political history, Jawaharlal Nehru, whose renowned jacket manages—somehow—to be both eponymous and a misnomer. We call it the Nehru Jacket, yet Nehru never really wore it, favouring instead the longer achkan. ‘His’ jacket is really (and more accurately) the Jodhpuri coat; but who cares? Any coat that is buttoned up to the throat and topped with a mandarin collar is referred to, outside India, as the Nehru Jacket. Blame the Beatles for that, or Time magazine. This is not an essay about Nehru’s dress style. It is, more broadly, a meditation on Nehru’s aesthetics. But first we should get a few truths out of the way: Nehru is the only modern Indian politician to be a global romantic icon. I hesitate to call him a ‘sex symbol’ because he was, for much of his prime ministership, an avuncular man. But I only hesitate; I do not reject the notion. As Ramachandra Guha wrote in his essay, Verdicts on Nehru: The Rise and Fall of a Reputation, ‘Women adored Jawaharlal Nehru—Brahmin women, working-class women, Hindu and Muslim and Christian and Parsi women.’ Guha writes of how his mother ‘worshipped’ Nehru, and donated her gold bangles to the National Defence Fund in the aftermath of India’s humiliation in the 1962 war with China. Of course, part of the adoration Indian women had for Nehru was for him as the national leader. But there can be no doubting the effect of his slim build, his handsome face, his fine clothes, his red rose, on women who gazed upon him from afar. With all respect to Guha’s mother’s, there has to have been something psycho-sexual—however deeply embedded in the subconscious—in the offering up of jewellery to this strong and charismatic man who was not her husband. Thousands of women did the same.

N

ehru had sexual charisma. He was a man unafraid of being attractive, and

disinclined to be plain and self-effacing in the traditional Indian manner. Not for him the elaborate theatre of an abnegation of his sexuality, a la Gandhi. In his relationship with Edwina Mountbatten—and whether or not they ‘did it’—he offered India a delicious breach of interracial sensual taboos. Gandhi experimented

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wolf suschitzky/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images


ap

afp/getty images

Gandhi with his nieces; (Right) Jawaharlal Nehru with Edwina Mountbatten

(denial) with his nieces. Nehru carried on with the viceroy’s wife. Nehru was a In truth, Nehru was adored, let us admit, man unafraid of because he was such a refreshing contrast to Gandhi. To an India that was parched of being attractive. glamour in its leaders—to an India that had Gandhi suffocated in the airless dowdiness of the Mahatma—Prime Minister Nehru was an experimented aesthetic godsend. After the ascetic strictness of (denial) with his the freedom movement, with its sartorial scolds and the oppression of khadi, the Nehru of Free nieces. Nehru India brought a gust of panache into the nation’s carried on consciousness. His message was: Indians didn’t with the have to be plain. Indians didn’t have to be drab. Nehru’s aesthetic predisposition wasn’t Viceroy’s wife confined to his clothes and bearing. It also controlled his politics and his thought. Any discussion of his ‘style’ must also include his political philosophy and preferences. His vision for India sought to ensure that the country embarked on a path that was seemly. He was obsessively careful to thwart ugliness. “Never speak to me of profit,” he told JRD Tata, “it is a dirty word.” His secularism was also an aesthetic inclination. He was repulsed by religious ideologues, and was forever concerned with how they made India look—especially in the eyes of foreigners. Writing to Chief Ministers on 1 August 1951, Nehru said: ‘Whatever harm communalism may do in India, and it can do great harm because it is a disruptive and degrading force, the harm it does to India in other countries is tremendous. Immediately the higher edifice that we have built up in their eyes begins to crack up and totter and we appear to them as narrow-minded bigots following social customs which nobody in the world understands or appreciates.’ What will they think of us? This is a political concern. It is also an aesthetic worry.

I

ndia’s industrialisation, and the modernisation wrought by massive infrastructural projects, were also regarded as essentially elegant objectives, ‘a fascinating vision of the future which fills one with enthusiasm.’ In April 1948,

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Nehru the aesthete-moderniser wrote these remarkable lines, again in a letter to his Chief Ministers (I quote from Letters for a Nation, edited by Madhav Khosla, published recently by Penguin): ‘As I threw in some concrete, which was to form the base of the great Hirakud Dam, a sense of adventure siezed me and I forgot for a while the many troubles that beset us.’ The leader throws wet concrete, an adoring nation looks on. This perfect, escapist Nehruvian theatre sets India’s future in motion. Evident in these few lines I quote—as well as in the majestic books he wrote— is his beautiful facility with language. His prose was irrefutably elegant, and it was the elegance of a man with an uncluttered mind. His use of the English language was his greatest stylistic marker, and while his prose was not always as stirring as Churchill’s, it was frequently the equal of the Englishman’s in clarity and cadence. Ugly English pained him, and he was to write in lament of the decline of the language in India in the early years after Independence. “The kind of English that is written [by university students] is deplorable. Indeed, it is not English at all.” Nehru had every right to pass stylistic judgment: After all, as the critic Chandrahas Choudhury has observed, ‘the most stirring sentences of Twentieth-century Indian writing in English were composed by Nehru’. n


nehru the

i s s u e

by Sunil Raman

Jack Birns/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Documentary Dictat

Pandit Nehru at his desk

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o work on modern Indian history can be written without a trip to the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, housed within the complex of the imposing Teen Murti House, once the official residence of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Converted into a museum by an order of interim Prime Minister Gulzari Lal Nanda, the library came up in the early 1970s when Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister, to house one of the most comprehensive collections of private letters, papers, writings and diaries of Nehru and many of his contemporaries. Over the years, the collection has been expanded to include the private papers of educationists, economists, editors and senior civil servants. But, as the country observes Nehru’s 125th birth anniversary, there is need to revisit and review the issue of restricted access to his private papers. On the upper floor of the library building, private papers are stored in boxes and cartons in a tubelight-lit hall, the entry to which is guarded by staff who take little time to pull out files for researchers and scholars from shelves with neat stacks of reading material. Requests for the Nehru Papers are met with a stern response, and curious researchers are informed that “written permission is needed” to view those files.

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After Nehru’s death in 1964, his daughter Indira Gandhi became the custodian of his papers. This, despite the fact that a Prime Minister’s private papers should belong to the nation and not a private individual or family. Instead, Indira Gandhi, as the donor of those papers, decided to introduce a rule that forbade anyone from looking at these documents without her permission. A rule such as this, classifying certain collections of private papers as ‘restricted’ or ‘closed’, defeats the very purpose of setting up an institution to store them at the expense of taxpayers. There are some other collections as well in the ‘closed’ category, like the private papers of former diplomat and


orship

Shame: the Nehru Papers are still inaccessible to most Indian scholars and researchers

Indira Gandhi’s principal secretary PN Haksar, who was her chief strategist in her early years as an inexperienced Prime Minister. Haksar’s papers were donated to the Nehru Memorial with a caveat that they could be made public only 30 years after his death. Any researcher keen to look at the Haksar Papers had to write to his daughter and lawyer, Nandita Haksar, for permission to view the files. This stipulation was challenged by constitutional expert AG Noorani, who invoked the Right to Information Act in 2007 to access them; under the law, he argued, all papers in the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, funded by the Government, should be publicly accessible. Indira Gandhi willed the Nehru Papers to Congress Vicepresident Rahul Gandhi and her own papers to his sister, Priyanka Gandhi. Royalties from The Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru were willed to Varun Gandhi. The Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in turn became the custodian of these papers.

U

nder the law, every 25 years all

government documents have to be made public after declassifying them. Ample safeguards are provided for documents classified under the Official Secrets Act and the Government of the day is expected not to make such articles public. However, successive governments have shied away from making even declassified documents public. Such is the secrecy, that one RTI applicant found out to his shock a few years ago that the rules governing the classification and declassification of official documents was also a secret manual that the Home Ministry refused to share. In 2012, the Foreign Ministry de-

classified 70,000 documents of assorted dates until 1972 and passed them on to the custodian of all government archival material, the National Archives of India. Most other ministries are indifferent to this policy. The PMO and Home Ministry have sat tight on documents of former Prime Ministers. As the custodian of the Nehru Papers and Indira Gandhi Papers, Congress President Sonia Gandhi controls all access to these documents that hold important information and provide insights into the thought processes and decisions of leaders like Nehru. Unlike the pre-1946 papers that need written permission from the Nehru Memorial Director, papers from 1946 onwards need the written assent of Sonia Gandhi. Insiders say that Mrs Gandhi has been particularly choosy about granting access to these papers, and that the historian Sunil Demands had Khilnani, author of The Idea of India, is one of the few who have been lucky enough to has arisen even seen those documents. within the Nehru The historian Ramachandra Guha, on the other hand, ended up writing India after Memorial that the Gandhi without looking into the private Nehru Papers be papers and documents of Nehru. Contacted, digitised and made Guha says his efforts to get permission to see the Nehru and Indira Gandhi papers available to all. were unsuccessful. According to him, he This suggestion, wrote several times for permission between 2002 and 2007, but his letters were not however, was even acknowledged. dismissed Most democracies around the world regularly declassify official documents. Nehru, the democrat, would be quite ashamed to see how successive governments of India—and his family in particular—have kept a tight control on these documents and papers. Inder Malhotra, veteran journalist and author of Indira Gandhi: A Personal and Political Biography, calls India “the largest democracy that is the worst violator in flouting the 25-year-rule” that obliges the Government to make documents, official papers and letters public after a specific period of time. Malhotra, disallowed from looking at the Nehru and Indira Gandhi’s papers, had to write his biography on the basis of material and information provided by an ageing Haksar. It is ironic that some of the documents and letters of Nehru that were not made public by the Indian Government have entered the public domain from the UK, where official papers are regularly declassified and put out every 30 years. The Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru was published by the Nehru Memorial Fund, which has put out 55 volumes of his letters and papers until 1959 and hopes to do likewise for the period until his death by 2016. As the name of the project suggests, these are Nehru’s ‘selected’ works and not exhaustive. A few people familiar with the working of the Nehru Memorial say that demands have arisen within the institution that the Nehru Papers be digitised and made available to all. This suggestion, however, has been dismissed. n 53 open 24 november 2014 www.openthemagazine.com


cinema

The lake of dreams

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o p e n s pa c e

Saif Ali Khan Rishi Kapoor

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Iqbal: The life of a poet, philosopher and politician by Zafar Anjum

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Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah

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mindspace

On a gondola ride in Las Vegas, 2003

Ethan Miller/REUTERS

The First Couple of Parallel Cinema Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah 56


cinema

Power of Two Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah on three decades of togetherness and the creative dynamics of a partnership that tells the story of acting in India Divya Unny

H

e first experienced the magic of theatre

while performing William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice in school at 14. She had access to the backstage from her earliest years. His father strongly disapproved of a profession to do with the arts. For her, the smell of greasepaint was as familiar as that of her mother’s touch. He came from an orthodox Muslim family of nonactors. Almost everyone in her immediate family (from mother Dina Pathak to aunt Shanta Gandhi) was a popular theatre or film artist. “Theatre introduced me to everyone, from Shaw to Samuel Beckett,” he says. “For me it was about the fun of watching people rehearse and then the chai and samosa breaks they’d take!” she adds. Here is a couple that looked at the stage from opposite sides of the curtain almost all their lives, till they found each other. Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah, often referred to as the first cou56 open

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ritesh uttamchandani

Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah at their residence in Mumbai 24 november 2014

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couple of the Indian stage as well as the new wave of Indian cinema, came from worlds that were poles apart. Yet, this morning, as they share the breakfast table at their home in Bandra—which looks exactly as one would expect, with bookshelves and paintings wherever you turn—it’s difficult to say they aren’t cut from the same cloth. She’s reading a newspaper review of their newest play, Einstein. “The first half has many chuckle-worthy and light moments,” she reads out loud to him, adjusting her glasses, with great emphasis on ‘chuckle-worthy’. He takes a sip of his chai and fervently shakes his head as if to ask, ‘Does it really matter?’ Einstein, co-directed by her and performed by him as a solo act, is the most recent form of collaboration by the husband and wife whose marriage is defined by a creative partnership that spans more than three decades and defines the course of Indian acting itself, on stage and in cinema. It premiered at the ongoing Prithvi Theatre Festival this month and explores the life and mind of the legendary scientist. “I was allergic to physics in school. I had no idea what the theory of relativity was. I am still not quite sure I completely understand it,” confesses Naseer who is probably the only Indian actor who looks the part and could attempt it with as much conviction. “I still did it because I really believe it’s the play that chooses us.” The script of Einstein lay in his drawer for years. So did plays like The Caine Mutiny Court Martial (1990) and Ismat Apa Ke Naam (2009), the best among many staged by their theatre group Motley, formed in 1979. “You have to wait for the right time to do it,” he says. “A person like Einstein doesn’t live by emotions as much as the mind and thought. Whereas an actor lives by his emotions. So how do you play that out?” she asks hoping to find more answers over the next few shows in which the production is expected to evolve. For Naseer, this play disproved legendary director Satyadev Dubey’s famous dictum. “Dubey always said, ‘Theatre cannot be democratic.’ He said, ‘You need one person to crack the whip.’ But here there was nobody cracking it. Everyone was working together.”

Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah in the play Bali

D

ubey is their mentor and the man

largely responsible for Naseer and Ratna’s first ever encounter almost 40 years ago. At a sugarcane juice stall outside National College in Mumbai, a bearded kurta -clad student of theatre spotted a radiant college girl with sharp eyes and sparkling diction. “I was first impressed by how clear her speech was and the fact that she spoke Hindi very well, which was a rarity in Bombay.” And then he wooed her. “Assiduously!” he adds. They started to work together in Dubey’s production Sambhog Se Sanyas Tak (1975), which almost prophetically flagged off their love story. “Getting to know Naseer was partly inspiring and partly disturbing,” she says, “It made me aware of my short comings and how little I knew. That’s what inspired me greatly to go to the [National School of Drama].” “An actor basically trains himself or herself, there is no textbook. Just that being in an institute is conducive to learning,” Naseer says. “It gives you the opportunity to try out what your ideas are,” Ratna adds. “And you are exposed to a lot more than you will be otherwise,” he concludes. They don’t just complete each other’s

thoughts. It’s a lot more than that. An almost manic devotion towards their passion has kept them together for 32 years now. After six years of knowing each other, they tied the knot in an inconspicuous ceremony in their Mumbai home in 1982. He had separated from his first wife Manara Sikri (the mother of his oldest child, Heeba) within a year of marriage. Naseer was just 20 at the time. Twelve years later, he was most certain of his union with Ratna. “What were your thoughts on marriage? Did you think it’s going to tie you down forever?” she prods him with a smile, “I thought I’d make him a better man, you see.” “That she has,” he admits, “Without a doubt!” Both their careers, however, took very different trajectories. Naseer was constantly employed and the only work Ratna was being offered was by Dubey. It was also a time when actors like Naseer, Om Puri, Smita Patil, Farooq Sheikh, Shabana Azmi and Deepti Naval were redefining cinema in the 70s and 80s. The divide between art house and commercial cinema broadened. Naseeruddin Shah soon became the face of the offbeat. Some of his best work, including films like Ardh Satya, Jaane Bhi 24 november 2014


Do Yaaron and Masoom, came to him post-marriage. “I wouldn’t say it in an unqualified way that all of my best work came in the 80s. There was a lot of rubbish also at that time in the guise of art,” he says. “But that’s alright. What vanity it is to expect that you will get great work all your life!” she counters. She was always his voice of reason. He’d bounce his scripts off her, but wouldn’t always follow her advice. “Thank God for that!” she says. “Naseer has an instinctive ability to see through that proposal of what makes a ‘hit’ film. His interest is always on the work and not on the peripherals of that work. What will I gain from it, will I get another film like this, will I get the money, will I build a network—all these were things most actors, myself included, were going on and on about. But Naseer had only one notion: ‘What interests me’,” she says.

comparison, isn’t it?” she asks him. “Yes,” he says, “Considering there is a ‘slight’ difference in star stature between Rajesh Khanna and me.” Despite being fine actors in their own league, Naseer and Ratna did not choose to work together very often. They have only four films together: Mandi (1983), Mirch Masala (1985), Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na (2008) and The Coffin Maker (2011). “I work better with actors I don’t have a personal equation with,” says Naseer. “We had one scene in Mirch Masala where Ratna was a village girl and I had called her into my tent to seduce her. I was very uncomfortable doing that scene. The camera catches moments you don’t intend to—and that may or may not be a good thing.” The stage, however, he points out, is different. “Which is why you often see husbandwife teams in theatre, but not many in cinema.”

We are the last of the bloody liberals left. Today girls are doing karva chauth! C’mon, that’s what we fought against ” RATNA PATHAK SHAH Being idealistic about the work one wants to do is never easy and so there were times when Naseer decided to bite the bullet. “The money is not to be sneezed at, but I don’t think I’ve ever done a film only for the money. Except maybe this film called Jackpot [in 2013]. There was a time when I wanted to increase my audience base and I never felt the need to justify why. Mujhe hero banna thha…kisko nahi banna hai?” he asks bluntly. Then came a film called Tridev (1989), which Ratna confesses ran their kitchen for a long time. “He’s always been nervous about dancing, but when I saw him in Oye Oye, I thought he was doing whatever he was expected to very comfortably. I can’t say that he was enjoying himself in the way a Shammi Kapoor does, but then I don’t know too many other actors who do that. At least he had worked harder than Rajesh Khanna ever did on dancing,” she says. “Oh no, that’s actually a horrible 24 november 2014

Apart from their choice of roles, they are one couple who are famous for not mincing words in expressing their opinions, both political and personal. It is indeed rare in an industry where outspokenness is considered a vice. Naseer recently called Farhan Akhtar’s Bhaag Milkha Bhaag a ‘fake film’ since he saw it as a movie more about Farhan’s physique and less about Milkha Singh’s achievements as an athlete. She, on the other hand, found Sholay “deeply embarrassing” to watch. “I don’t think I’m misunderstood. They understand me and that is why they take offence. No regrets, though. I have friends who have stayed and those who have fallen by the wayside weren’t friends in the first place,” says Naseer.

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or Ratna, the times we live in

today are worrisome. “We are the last of the bloody liberals left. Today, girls are doing karva chauth! C’mon, that’s what

we fought against,” she says. “Today, girls as young as two are wearing hijabs. Muslim boys are growing beards claiming it’s a sense of identity,” says Naseer. “We lived in much more liberal times where you were expected to have your own opinion. Now everyone wants to have one opinion—which is a dangerous thing for us,” she adds. That may perhaps be why the cinema their children are part of today hardly makes the kind of statement it did in their time. “Naseer and I have a longlasting battle about talent. He doesn’t think there’s any such thing as talent. But as Robert de Niro once said, ‘Talent consists of the choices you make.’ To me, that is a very good description because that really separates the wheat from the chaff.” And what of the future? Theatre will obviously continue so long as they live. “I owe everything to theatre. My learning, my understanding of life. Why do you think I keep going back to it?” says Naseer. However, what they do wish is for their children to find a lot more than just cinematic success. Naseer’s recently released autobiography And Then One Day has a moving account of his unresolved relationship with his father. It is something he was keen not to replicate with his own children Heeba, Vivaan and Imaad. “We have enjoyed having our bachchas,” they say almost in unison. “Our kids enjoy spending time with us—which not many kids feel like doing today. I certainly did not when I was 20 or 21 and neither did Ratna. We don’t impose ourselves on them. We let them be,” he adds. But they do have some advice for them. He says, “If our children choose to make films a profession, good luck to them. My wish really is that they can do something more with their lives than just be Hindi film stars.” She adds, “Becoming a star is an ephemeral thing. Anyone can make money, but to make a life for yourself, something that will keep you happy to wake up every morning, that will be a life with purpose.” Says Naseer, “That’s all that one can hope. And one hopes that Hindi commercial cinema will improve.” “It’s like wishing for… the moon,” she finishes for him. n open www.openthemagazine.com 59


books The Universal Islamist This biography of Allama Muhammad Iqbal redeems


the philosopher-poet from political and nationalist stereotypes RANJIT HOSKOTE IQBAL: THE LIFE OF A POET, PHILOSOPHER AND POLITICIAN

Zafar Anjum RANDOM HOUSE INDIA | 320 pages | Rs 499

W

hen Prime Minister Indira Gandhi asked India’s

first cosmonaut, Rakesh Sharma, at a video conference in April 1984, how India looked from space, he replied without missing a beat: “Saare jahan se achcha.” Every schoolchild in India recognised the phrase, for it comes from a song composed by Allama Muhammad Iqbal (1877–1938), and is deeply identified with the Indian nationalist struggle. At the same time, many in South Asia regard the same man as the ideological father of Pakistan. Partisans on either side of the Iqbal debate sometimes forget that the dominant motif in Iqbal’s thought was the pan-Islamic global community or umma, rather than a regional Muslim state. Was Iqbal, then, a visionary of the global umma or was he an activist whose anxiety for his co-religionists informed his correspondence with Jinnah, and his belief, in his last years, that South Asian Muslims ought to have a territorial federation of their own? The binaristic phrasing of such a question is itself an error. Indeed, I have often been struck by the number of misconceptions or partial images that circulate about Iqbal, who should in fact be regarded as one of South Asia’s most seminal modern thinkers. It is tragic that his public reputation should today be based on a few fragments culled from his erudite and moving corpus of writing across several genres. These fragments occupy an ahistorical vacuum, shorn of the texture of circumstance from which they emerged, and are quoted approvingly or in condemnation of their author, depending on the observer’s ideological preference. Iqbal has thus been variously labelled, stigmatised or venerated, not on the basis of an engagement with his complex evolution across several phases as a poet and thinker, but on the basis of a few verses from one poem or another. To what period in his life does the Iqbal poem of one’s choice belong, and what was the context in which he composed it? Which ‘Iqbal’ are we speaking about, actually, when we blithely speak of Iqbal? Would that be the author of ‘Naya Shivala’, who described Rama as the Imam-e Hind, drew on the Gayatri Mantra in his poem, ‘Aftaab’, infused his Urdu poetry with the repertoire of Sanskrit imagery, and admired Dara

Shikoh, the philosopher-prince who dreamed of a confluence of Hinduism and Islam? Or are we speaking of the author of ‘Shikwa’(1909) and ‘Jawaab-e Shikwa’ (1912), radicalised by his years as a student of philosophy in Europe and his awareness of the subjugation of the Ottoman Empire—and hence the Caliphate—by Europe, who presented himself as an heir to Hali, urging Muslims to emerge from their weakness and torpor to reclaim the expansive heritage of early Islam as a global community? Or are we discussing the scholar who wrote The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam? Or the author of the Persian poem, ‘Asrar-i-Khudi’ (1915), who developed a concept of selfhood and agency based on an active relationship both with the Divine and the historical condition of one’s religious community? To his great credit, Singapore-based writer, editor and filmmaker Zafar Anjum pursues these questions in Iqbal: The Life of a Poet, Philosopher and Politician. Anjum, whose previous books include a collection of short stories, The Singapore Decalogue: Episodes in the Life of a Foreign Talent, adopts a biographical approach. In developing an account of the various aspects of Iqbal’s thought, the trajectory of his intellectual influences and commitments, Anjum’s book invites its readers to acquaint themselves with the monumental and multi-directional nature of Iqbal’s life, work and achievement. While this book does not include any material that was not previously available, or offer startling new perspectives on its subject, its strength lies in its refreshing tonality. Anjum presents his subject in accessible terms to a new and popular readership. Could one, before this, have imagined the Allama on vacation? Here is Anjum, describing the great man as a student on an Alpine picnic in the summer of 1907: ‘[His friends] reach the summit of the hill while singing operatic songs. Iqbal joins them in the singing but he is obviously off key, and out of tune.’ And again, conveying his subject’s ability to entertain plural, seemingly opposed tendencies at the same time (Anjum employs, throughout, a historical present as his preferred tense): ‘Even though Iqbal believes in a purist form of Islam, there is still room in his spiritual life for mystics and mysticism. In 1923, the same year that he is knighted, he visits the dargah of Shaikh Ahmed Sirhindi Mujaddid Alf-e Sani. There he prays for a son and also makes a tryst that if his prayer is answered, he will revisit the mausoleum with his son.’ It would be difficult, after reading this book, for even casual observers to bury Iqbal under half-truths.

The book’s strength lies in its refreshing tonality. Anjum presents his subject in accessible terms to a new and popular readership. Could one, before this, have imagined the Allama on vacation?

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n the course of a Twitter discus-

sion last year, I offended some of my Punjabi interlocutors unwittingly—by

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reminding them that Iqbal, who is often thought to be Punjabi, was in fact Kashmiri, a descendant of Kashmiri Brahmin converts. My intention, I clarified, was not to claim the Allama on ethnic grounds, but rather, to draw attention to the profound centrality of the question of identity for him. An inheritor of multiple religious and cultural lineages, multiple cartographies of the self, he was always wrestling with the profound and potentially productive instability of affiliation. His thought is inspired by the key questions of where and how to belong. It might be argued that his various shifts of emphasis demonstrate the manner in which he constantly framed, reframed and crafted forms of belonging for himself: the confluential tradition, the emergent nation, the umma, the sectarian enclave, all these could then be regarded as provisional resolutions he considered at various times. Anjum traces Iqbal’s life from his childhood in Sialkot and his student years in Lahore through his formative encounter with Europe (1905–08), following his subject to London, Cambridge, Heidelberg and Munich. Anjum’s account of the social and political paradigm shifts that were underway in Europe in the first decade of 20th century Europe is particularly instructive. He invokes the intellectual upheavals of the time, in which Ibsen, Oscar Wilde and HG Wells played a role; as well as the unrest among feminists demanding suffrage, the contrast between the precarious lives of the industrial proletariat and East European expatriates in London and the life of scholarship and writing within the hallowed portals of Trinity College, Cambridge, where Iqbal arrived in September 1905. It was Iqbal’s time in Germany, at the universities of Heidelberg and Munich, that brought him into contact with the vigorous philosophical tradition of Central Europe. To this period, we may trace his preoccupation with the thought of Nietzsche and Bergson, his understanding of Nietzsche’s existentialist notion of amor fati, the embracing of one’s fate again and again with courage, fortitude and improvisatory energy, and of Bergson’s concept of the élan vital, the life force that animates individuals as well as societies. These would inform his central idea of khudi, a declaration of agency by the self, approaching the Divine without recourse to theological doxa or social convention. Indeed, as his critics pointed out, khudi takes him to the edge of blasphemy, since, in one way of reading ‘Jawaab-e Shikwa’, he assumes the prerogative of speaking in the voice of God, addressing the historical predicament of His perplexed believers. In Europe, too, Iqbal studied the tradition of Islamic thought, the critical engagements of the School of Baghdad with the School of Athens, the manner in which thinkers of the stature of al-Razi, al-Kindi, Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd had extended the Aristotelian tradition. There, he first formulated his critique of the imperial and colonial expansion by

which Western capitalism had swallowed up the globe. And, once again, it was Europe that reminded him of the glories of the Islamic ecumene that had once extended from Spain to the Philippines (in 1933, he was to realise his dream of visiting Spain; a peak experience during this trip was his visit to the grand cathedral of Córdoba, which had been the city’s grand mosque in the days of al-Andalus and retains much of its original architectural character). Anjum’s account of Iqbal’s subsequent life, his various political explorations and his exchanges with Nehru and Jinnah, all cover well-worn territory; one is left wishing the author had focused on the student years and addressed himself to the task of outlining an intellectual biography instead. In the same vein, one wishes Anjum had expanded on Iqbal’s intellectual afterlife in Iran and Egypt. Iqbal was acknowledged as an inspiration, for instance, by major thinkers like Ali Shariati, who played a role in the first phase (1978) of the Iranian Revolution. However, one must not carp; Anjum includes, as appendices that amplify our sense of Iqbal’s political years, some important primary material, including Iqbal’s 1930 Presidential address to the 25th session of the All-India Muslim League, two of his letters to Jinnah, and Lala Lajpat Rai’s thoughtful critique of Hindu and Muslim sectarianism. Ultimately, Anjum’s biography leaves us with two illuminating realisations, rich in paradox. First, that Iqbal—whatever the pragmatic concerns of his final years—was, like Gandhi and Tagore, a critic of nationalism and the nation-state as a political and cultural project. All three recognised and cautioned against the coercive, machine-like aspect of the nation-state, its demand of obeisance from the individual. In an essay, Iqbal once asked rhetorically: ‘What is patriotism but a subtle form of idolatry?’ And second, that Iqbal’s greatest poems cannot be separated from his politics, as some have suggested. His greatest poems emerge from, and express, his political convictions. And here we must face a moment of reckoning. In his account of a universal Islam whose promise of inclusive solidarity overrides local and regional affiliations, Iqbal shares an affinity with the Tablighi and the Salafi visions. In this sense, he must take his place as one of the foundational thinkers of present-day Islamism, alongside Maulana Maududi and Sayyid Qutb. This may be bitter medicine for nationalists, whether Indian or Pakistani, to swallow, but it must be considered. The visceral reality is that we may be deeply moved by the poetry, if it is beautiful, enigmatic and tapestried with plural strands of sense and cadence, of an individual whose political vision we might not share. n

It was Iqbal’s time in Germany that brought him into contact with the vigorous philosophical tradition of Central Europe, which would inform his central idea of khudi, a declaration of agency by the self

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Ranjit Hoskote is a poet, cultural theorist and curator, and the author of several volumes of poetry and criticism 24 NOVEMBER 2014


Not People Like Us

R aj e e v M asa n d

Theatrical Launch of a Hospital

You already know that virtually all of Bollywood’s biggest names showed up for a meet-and-greet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the launch of Mukesh and Nita Ambani’s HN Hospital recently. What you’re likely unaware of is all the drama that went down among the filmi crowd on that eventful day. For one, former BFFs Karan Johar and Kajol, who’ve been in a cold war of sorts lately, found themselves in an awkward situation when they were assigned seats side by side. The pair—that has made every effort to avoid running into each other publicly in order to save themselves the embarrassment of having to turn away without speaking to the other—was visibly uncomfortable when they discovered the seating arrangements. But it was Karan who reportedly broke the ice by turning to his childhood friend and shrugging his shoulders while saying to her: “I guess we’re stuck!” Apparently the two of them literally kissed and made up then and there, putting an end to months of animosity. In another incident at the same occasion, a prominent television channel baron and wife of a leading Congressman reportedly fainted and became unconscious in the crowded waiting area where the stars had been holed up before the PM showed up. Turns out Varun Dhawan quickly jumped to the rescue, laying his hands on a bottle of water and splashing it in the lady’s face, hoping to revive her. Even as the others began rallying around her, it was Saif Ali Khan, typically unconcerned with anything or anyone other than himself, who grabbed the bottle out of Varun’s hand and proceeded to drink from it, explaining coolly, “My lips are parched from having to wait here so long.” His filmi colleagues were stunned, then amused by the actor’s sheer disregard for the drama that was unfolding before his eyes.

Airborne Disturbances

Speaking of Saif Ali Khan, the star was on a British Airways flight recently chatting away with a Sindhi lady in the first class cabin, with Rishi Kapoor seated in the row behind them. The senior actor (and uncle of Saif’s wife, Kareena) was reportedly playing music on his iPod speaker a little too loud, and inadvertently drowning out the conversation 24 november 2014

Saif and the lady were trying to have. Not pleased, the lady asked the stewardess to request “the gentleman behind us to turn down the music”. Saif, although embarrassed at what his lady friend had done, apparently said nothing. Within minutes, the music was turned down. But 10 minutes later the same stewardess interrupted Saif’s conversation with the lady to convey that the gentleman in the row behind them was asking for them to keep their volume down as he was trying to sleep. Ouch! That’s Rishi Kapoor for you.

The Open Diary of a Resentful Mother

A very prominent leading man’s mother has been the subject of Bollywood gossip lately, for routinely ‘forgetting’ her private diary at the homes of her friends. If the bored housewives of leading Bollywood stars are to be believed, this stylish and mildmannered lady, with quite the busy social life, has the bad habit of ‘accidentally’ leaving behind her diary at friends’ homes after attending kitty parties and card sessions. The diary, allegedly filled with entries about her occasional squabbles with family members and her general frustration, is usually returned to her by the hostess the following day, but after being pored over in some detail. She invariably apologises for leaving it behind and thanks her friends for ensuring its safe delivery back to her. There have been murmurs of domestic issues in the lady’s house for some years now. At least one marriage in that home took an ugly turn recently. Still, the folks put up a united front in public, regularly posing with smiles for pictures and pretending to be the ultimate portrait of a happy unit. On one occasion, the lady ‘forgot’ her diary at the home of a close friend of another family member, and its contents were promptly relayed to her understandably upset relative who was very offended that she had been playing the victim card for all and sundry. n Rajeev Masand is entertainment editor and film critic at CNN-IBN open www.openthemagazine.com 63


open space

sati sahni/nehru’s kashmir

The Lake of Dreams

A rare photograph of Jawaharlal Nehru at the Dal Lake in Srinagar. Sati Sahni, who shot this photograph, kept his promise to Nehru not to publish any of the candid photos he shot of him during his lifetime. After Nehru’s death, Sahni extended the embargo to his own lifetime. Sahni’s family published Nehru’s Kashmir, a book based on those photographs, only later

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24 november 2014


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Etihad Airways B787 flying from Mumbai in 2015.


OPEN Magazine 24 November 2014  

OPEN Magazine 24 November 2014