Nehru, a ‘Queer Mixture of East and West', Led the Struggle for a Modern India

The New York Times, May 28, 1964

The story of Jawaharlal Nehru is the story of contemporary India, which he in large part has shaped. Mr. Nehru will be remembered also as the foremost exponent of the political doctrine of “nonalignment,” which influenced the foreign policy of India and many other nations emerging from colonialism.

Mr. Nehru was an accomplished politician, orator and author whose contemplative books on Indian affairs are widely read. He was best known outside his own country as a statesman with far‐reaching influence in international councils. His principal role on the world scene was that of peacemaker, although he did not shrink from use of arms when he considered the integrity of India threatened.

Students of Indian affairs knew Mr. Nehru as a complex person, embodying the clash of Eastern and Western cultures that has complicated the attempt of countries like India to leap centuries in an effort to catch up with more advanced nations.

On Aug. 15, 1947, when India became independent of Britain, Mr. Nehru began exercising firm personal control over every aspect of the nation's government. He made every major decision and many minor ones.

He was simultaneously Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, sometimes Defense Minister, and chairman of the top‐level committees on economic planning and scientific development.

He was also the chief architect of movements for far‐ranging social reforms, such as the removal of Untouchability and liberalization of laws concerning family relationships.

Untouchability is a form of social segregation applying to those born into the lowest rung of the Hindu caste structure, who traditionally have been condemned to work in demeaning occupations such as collecting refuse. The English term came into use from the ancient belief that physical contact with these unfortunates was defiling to a Hindu of higher caste.

The practice, which is known to a lesser extent in some other societies but is most commonly associated with India, is outlawed under the Indian Constitution. It has not been eradicated.

Mr. Nehru was also de facto leader, if not always titular head, of the ruling party, the Indian National Congress. Despite his other duties, he found time to keep a firm hand on all party affairs. He personally arbitrated political feuds, letting practically nothing of importance escape his attention.

To carry out his numerous functions and also to keep in touch with the varied peoples of his vast and disparate country, he embarked on frequent travels to all corners of India. In addition, frequent tours abroad took him to many countries. As at home, he was invariably greeted by huge crowds wherever he went.

Thus Mr. Nehru's death has removed a public figure of extraordinary dimensions, who probably was seen personally by more people than any other individual of his time as he moved tirelessly from city to city and village to village in his own and other lands. His most lasting impression, however, may be the imprint he has left upon India, the world's second most populous country.

Mr. Nehru furnished much of the political skill that implemented the popular spiritual appeal of Mohandas K. Gandhi to bring India's struggle for freedom to a successful conclusion. When Gandhi died from an assassin's bullet in January, 1948, Mr. Nehru was the only Indian leader to possess his mentor's mantle of near sanctity in the eyes of the Indian masses.

A man with the homely characteristics of a great natural leader as well as a great politician and far‐seeing statesman, Mr. Nehru, perhaps unconsciously, built a sharply defined public personality that was quite different from that of Gandhi.

Some years ago a village women began standing at the gate of his house in New Delhi and handing him a rose. She continued to do so until she disappeared, whereupon his gardeners kept up what had become a tradition. He always wore the flower in the button hole of his achkan, or high‐collared coat.

Until growing political maturity produced its inevitable quota of skeptics and critics, most Indians seemed content to leave every crisis to Mr. Nehru's exclusive judgment.

“Panditji knows best,” was a common saying. Learned members of the Brahmin caste, to which Mr. Nehru belonged, were commonly addressed as “Pandit,” from which the English word pundit, or sage, is derived; “ji” is a suffix conveying affection and respect.

The future leader of free India was born Nov. 14, 1889, in Allahabad, a large city on the sacred Ganges River in the state of Uttar Pradesh (formerly the United Provinces). His father, Motilal Nehru, was a vigorous, shrewd and highly successful lawyer who lived in the manner of a wealthy English gentleman and brought up his children in Western fashion. Nevertheless, the elder Nehru was a passionate nationalist who went to prison for his opposition to the British—and, according to some accounts, occasionally had champagne parties with his jailers in his cell.

Swarup Rani Nehru, Jawaharlal's Mother and Motilal's second wife, was once severely beaten as she took part in an anti‐British demonstration. Tiny and exquisite, she was married when she was 15 years old.

Women of His Family Fought British Rule

Jawaharlal Nehru had two sisters. The elder, Mrs. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, served as Indian High Commissioner in London, Ambassador to the Soviet Union and the United States, delegate to the United Nations and President of the United‐Nations General Assembly. An attractive woman, she is the widow of Ranjit Pandit, a distinguished lawyer and Sanskrit scholar.

The younger sister, Mrs. Krishna Hutheesing, was in the independence struggle but left politics after India had gained freedom. She is the wife of G. P. Hutheesing, a politician, journalist and scion of an industrial family.

In March, 1916, Jawaharlal Nehru married 17‐year‐old Kamala of the aristocratic Haul family, which, like that of Mr. Nehru, had migrated from Kashmir many generations before. Slender and tall, Kamala had a natural sweetness of temperament. She died in a Swiss sanatorium in 1936.

They had one daughter, Indira, whom they called Priyadarshina, meaning “dear to the sight.” She frequently acted as her father's hostess after she had completed her university education. She is the widow of Feroze Gandhi, who was not related to Mohandas K. Gandhi, and has two sons. In 1959 Indira Gandhi was president of the Congress party.

With thousands of other Indian women, the women in Mr. Nehru's family formed the hard core of many mass demonstrations in the years before India's freedom and nearly all the Nehru women served jail terms in connection with the independence movement.

Jawaharlal Nehru's education, until he was 16, was entrusted to tutors. One, a part‐Irish teacher named Ferdinand T. Brooks, interested the young Nehru in theosophy, a religious philosophy holding that ultimate knowledge of God is achieved by inspiration induced through intense contemplation. One of theosophy's leading exponents was Mrs. Annie Besant, an early agitator for Indian independence.

At 16 Jawaharlal entered Harrow, one of England's most prominent public schools. In England a “public” school is what Americans would call “private.” Although he was not an exceptional scholar, the youth was unusually well‐informed on current events and history. He liked the sophisticated life of London, where he was accepted in upper social circles as a young gentleman of means with an aristocratic background.

The young Nehru, who was a student of all religions, chose to call himself an agnostic. He once wrote:

Religion, as I saw it practiced, and accepted even by thinking minds, whether it was Hinduism or Islam or Buddhism or Christianity, did not attract me. It seemed to be closely associated with superstitious practices and dogmatic beliefs, and behind it lay a method of approach to life's problems which was certainly not that of science . . . Essentially I am interested in this world, in this life, not in some other world or a future life.

Politically, he became deeply interested in the Fabian socialism of George Bernard Shaw and Sidney and Beatrice Webb. He was also significantly influenced by the writings of Karl Marx, but he rejected Communism, he said later, as “too narrow a creed” that did not “resolve our basic doubt.”

“Much in the Marxist philosophical outlook I could accept without difficulty: its monism and nonduality of mind and matter, the dynamics of matter and the dialectic of continous change by evolution as well as leap, through action and interaction, cause and effect, thesis, antithesis, and synthesis,” he wrote in his book “The Discovery of India.”

However, he wrote in the same passage that Marxism “did not satisfy me completely, nor did it answer all the questions in my mind.” Many years later he was to tell his Communist critics in the Indian Parliament that Marxism had become “out of date” in the rapidly changing world of the 20th century. He described himself as “a republican and a socialist”

In October, 1907, when he was nearly 18, Mr. Nehru entered Trinity College, Cambridge, where he majored in chemistry, geology and botany without particularly distinguishing himself. But he read widely in politics, economics, history and literature. It was a time of intellectual stirring.

After Cambridge, Mr. Nehru studied law in the Inner Temple in 1911 and 1912 and was admitted to the British bar. He never practiced law for a living, however. India's fight for freedom was to be his full‐time occupation until independence was achieved, after which his career was in politics, government and international statesmanship.

Persons who recall the Nehru of Cambridge and law school remember a rather tense and well mannered young man with a slightly supercilious expression, which some presume he assumed to mask considerable shyness and aloofness. With a generous allowance from his father, he became a connoisseur of expensive clothes, good food, wine and cigars.

Ambivalence Shown Toward India

By his return to India Mr. Nehru had become so Anglicized in speech that his clipped, public‐school English was unintelligible to many of his countrymen. His command of his mother tongue, Hindi, was unsure until late in life.

Mr. Nehru's education gave him a marked ambivalence. “I have become a queer mixture of East and West, out of place everywhere, at home nowhere,” he once said.

India's untidyness and supersitition annoyed Mr. Nehru all his life. He would fly into age when Indians tried to touch his feet in a traditional gesture of respect. The esoteric rituals Of Hinduism repelled him, sometimes beyond endurance.

At the same time he believed in the greatness of Indian culture. He preferred Indian food and habitually wore the garb of his part of the country—jodhpurs and a long coat with tight collar. Sometimes he appeared in a modification of the attire seen in Kashmir, the land of his ancestors. The original Kashmiri name of his family was Kaul; it was changed to Nehru, which means “canal,” when the family moved to Delhi and lived beside a manmade waterway.

As long as he was physically able, Mr. Nehru began each day by standing on his head for a few minutes, an exercise in Yoga that he deemed mentally and physically beneficial.

“It is difficult to worry about one's troubles when seeing the world upside down,” he once said.

Prison Terms Gave Chance for Study

Mr. Nehru spent about 13 years in prison for his activities on behalf of Indian independence. Study and reading made the time behind bars more bearable. In later years he often said, only partly in jest, that he could do with another prison term to catch up on his reading.

Enduring friendships formed in prison enabled Mr. Nehru and other Indian leaders to rise above frequent differences in policy. In a sense they belonged to a fraternity in which the memory of hardships suffered together was a stronger influence than disagreements of the moment.

Mr. Nehru was imprisoned for the first of nine times in December, 1921, when he was accused falsely of being in contact with certain Afghans considered undesirable by the British. His last and longest term in prison, 1,041 days, ended June 15, 1945. Two years later he was Prime Minister of independent India.

Although the rigors of confinement varied with the prison, Mr. Nehru was usually accorded the privileged status of respected political prisoners.

Normally he was allowed books and writing materials. He never complained that the British had subjected him to onerous treatment.

Mr. Nehru and Gandhi met for the first time in December, 1916, in Lucknow. Gandhi, a tiny, toothless scrap of a man in a loin cloth, had come to wield vast power through noncooperation and massive civil disobedience. He was 20 years older than Mr. Nehru, and in their relationship Mr. Nehru played the stumbling and anguished role of disciple under the serene and self‐assured patience of Gandhi.

Middle Class Offered Political Backing

“Personally I am not a very detached person,” Mr. Nehru once said of himself. “I get excited.”

Mr. Nehru's biographers agree that, while Gandhi exerted tremendous influence with India's impoverished masses, Mr. Nehru brought to the independence movement the support of the middle classes. Anup Singh, an Indian writer, has compared the two men:

Ghandhi is profoundly religious; Nehru an agnostic. Gandhi looks back to ancient Indian ways for inspiration; Nehru is a thorough modern, influenced by modern thought … Gandhi's politics have a touch of metaphysics … Nehru divests politics of religion and emphasizes politics. Gandhi longs for a simple peasant India. Nehru strives for the thorough industrialization and urbanization of India.

Under Gandhi's usually benevolent tutelage Mr. Nehru became a political leader of the independence movement. In 1918 he joined the All‐India Congress Committee, which, until Indian independence, was the principal semi‐official consultative group under the British Crown. He was general secretary of the Congress, in 1928 and served as its president on various occasions after 1930.

Mr. Nehru and other determined independence movement leaders ignored, bypassed or otherwise made ineffectual various plans, British and Indian, to hold India under British rule. The efforts of Mr. Nehru and his associates constitute a story of mass demonstrations, sitdown strikes, hunger strikes, quarrels among themselves and some violence and assassination.

Gandhi's Philosophy Used as Model

These latter manifestations Mr. Nehru deeply deplored. In his struggle for a free India he never departed from the Gandhian tenet that good ends must have good means, although this tenet was not always followed later.

When British rule ended in India it was apparent that many of the problems posed by the withdrawal of the British were greater than those that had been posed by their presence.

Mr. Nehru was 58 years old when India attained broad Dominion status. He had spent about 27 years in arduous and often dangerous political struggle and years in British jails. At midnight on Aug. 14, 1947, amid the roll of drums before the Indian Parliament in Delhi freadom was proclaimed.

When Mr. Nehru rose to speak the great crowd saw the tense, familiar figure wearing the long, buttoned coat and handwoven visorless cloth cap. There were dark circles under his eyes and he looked tired. In his brief address, the international socialist spoke as well as the triumphant nationalist. He said:

“It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity?”

India became a sovereign republic within the British Commonwealth on Jan. 26, 1950.

Of Nehru, at this moment of his achievement, Frank Moraes, an Indian journalist, wrote that there was a “sense of history and hustle about him.” Mr. Moraes added that “Nehru's face reflects a bundle of contradictory emotions that he is, and betrays both masculine and feminine traits which constitute his character.”

The first great test of Mr. Nehru's leadership came in the religious disturbances that accompanied and followed the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent into a Hindu‐dominated India and Moslem‐dominated Pakistan. Amid flame and carnage, as many as 11 million people were on the march between Pakistan and India in one of history's most gigantic shifts of population.

Some authorities have estimated that at least a million persons died in the great migration, either in the fierce strife that accompanied displacement or from hunger, disease or exposure. Only a few officials in New Delhi realized how close the Nehru Government came to falling in those dark and bloody days.

In the same year, 1947, Moslem tribesmen from Pakistan invaded the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir to establish Pakistan's possession. Prime Minister Nehru sent troops to hold the predominantly Moslem state, at the request of its Hindu maharaja who had acceded to India. The United Nations established a cease‐fire Jan. 1, 1949, but the dispute dragged on throuh the years. Critics, of Mr. Nehru charged that he allowed sentimental ancestral ties to Kashmir to override counselors who advised a settlement with Pakistan through a plebiscite or partition of the territory.

Mr. Nehru struggled till the end to solve two of India's gravest political problems: the dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir, and the animosity between Hindus and Moslems, which often led to bloodshed.

In his last major political speech, before the central committee of the Congress party in Bombay on May 16, he strongly deplored Hindu excesses against the Moslem minority in eastern India.

Before his death, Mr. Nehru completed a series of important conferences with Sheik Mohammed Abdullah, the Kashmiri leader, who was released from prison recently after 10 years’ confinement on charges of subversion against India.

To the annoyance of many Indians, Mr. Nehru and Sheik Abdullah were reported to have discussed compromise solutions, including a condominium of the two countries in the disputed territory.

Mr. Nehru gained an international reputation for being friendly to Communist powers abroad but an implacable enemy of Communists at home. At one time he had hundreds of Indian Communists in jail. After some hesitation he invoked emergency powers to unseat a Communist government in the southern state of Kerala.

U.N. Seat for Peking Given Support

The spread of Communism in Asia necessitated some nimble diplomacy on Mr. Nehru's part. In the United Nations he had India join in condemning North Korea for the aggression that began the Korean war but he declined to censure Communist China for its entry into the conflict. Later he dispatched Indian troops, at the request of the United Nations, to carry out the exchange of prisoners between the two sides.

India was one of the first countries to recognize Communist China and consistently advocated its admission to the United Nations. Relations between New Delhi and Peking began to cool, however, when Communist China occupied Tibet in 1950.

The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan god‐king, was forced to flee to India in March, 1959. Prime Minister Nehru gave asylum to the Tibetan ruler and thousands of his followers but declined to recognize the Dalai Lama as head of a Governmentin‐Exile.

Mr. Nehru's disillusionment with Communist China became complete in 1962, when Chinese troops occupied part of Ladakh Province in the Indian‐held portion of Kashmir and penetrated into the disputed border area of the North‐East Frontier Agency.

While still holding to his policy of nonalignment with the Communist and Western power blocs, Mr. Nehru asked the United States and Britain for assistance in preparing India's forces to resist further Chinese advances. Both countries responded immediately.

The conflict with Communist China did not appear to affect Mr. Nehru's doctrine of official aloofness in the cold war between the Communist and non‐Communist worlds.

The Term ‘Neutralism’ Brought Objection

The Indian Prime Minister objected to the common description of his policy as “neutralism.” He said India was never neutral on questions of right and wrong but his Government would determine its stand on international issues according to the merits of each case. Many Asian and African states adopted the same policy as they became independent.

Mr. Nehru preferred the word “nonalignment” to describe India's policy.

“Putting it simply, we mean no ill to anybody,” he told the lower house of Parliament in 1955. “We want to be friendly with other countries. Our thinking and our approach do not fit in with this great crusade of Communism or crusade of anti‐Communism.”

Whether Mr. Nehru's policy of nonalignment will survive him is being debated by Indian and foreign political analysts.

India's relations with the United States under Mr. Nehru had been marked by decided ups and downs. He was offended by United States military aid to Pakistan, saying that neighboring Pakistan was more likely to use that aid against India than to employ it to defend herself against Communist aggression. At the same time India benefited from massive United States economic assistance, which disturbed Pakistan.

The situation was reversed when India received United States military aid following the crisis with Communist China. It then became Pakistan's turn to charge that India would use American arms against her neighbor.

Mr. Nehru visited the United States for the first time in October, 1949, during President Harry S. Truman's Administration. The visit was not returned by an American head of state until 1960, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower included New Delhi on his Asian tour.

Like many Indian intellectuals, Mr. Nehru had been critical of the “materialistic” American way of life. His impression of Americans as a nation devoted to accumulating worldly goods seemed to him to be confirmed, according to accounts at the time, when he was presented to a group of industrialists at a luncheon.

“Mr. Prime Minister,” the chairman said, “there is a billion dollars represented around this table.”

Mr. Nehru was said to have shown annoyance in referring to the incident later.

Mr. Nehru's “neutralist” diplomacy particularly annoyed the United States during the period when he leaned heavily for advice in foreign affairs upon V. K. Krishna Menon, idol of the left wing of the Congress party. Mr. Nehru was forced to dismiss Mr. Menon from the Cabinet, in which he held the post of Defense Minister, when Indian troops were routed by attacking Chinese along the border in the fall of 1962. After weeks of fighting, the Chinese ordered a cease‐fire and pulled back their troops.

Many of Mr. Nehru's associates, including members of his immediate family, professed to be baffled by the extent of Mr. Menon's influence upon the Prime Minister. Mr. Nehru was said to respect his adviser's intellectual capacities. Their friendship began when Mr. Men‐on represented the independence movement abroad, with headquarters in London.

After the Chinese affair, Mr. Nehru's judgment began to be challenged openly by conservative and pro‐Western elements, including some in his own party. As the Prime Minister aged, speculation grew as to who would be his successor. Mr. Nehru found many ways to avoid answering frequent questions as to who might follow him at the helm of government and he never appeared to favor one person over another as his political heir.

Several times, when he encountered opposition within the Congress party, Mr. Nehru offered to resign from the Gov ernment. The gesture was always sufficient to silence his critics, who would unanimously beg him to remain.

As early as 1937, Mr. Nehru recognized in himself ran unwillingness to delegate authority that disturbed some of his critics later.

“Men like Jawaharlal Nehru, with their capacity for great and good work, are unsafe in a democracy,” said a sketch of him that appeared in Indian newspapers at that time. “A little twist, and Jawaharlal might turn into a dictator, sweeping aside the paraphernalia of a slow‐moving democracy.”

Population Growth A Prime Concern

The article appealed to the Congress party not to elect Mr. Nehru president for a third consecutive term, on the ground that “he must imagine that he is indispensable, and no man must be allowed to think so.”

Only later did it become‐generally known that Mr. Nehru had written the unsigned article himself. He was not elected to the third term.

Mr. Nehru's image as a peacemaker was tarnished in the view of many when he sent his army into the Portuguese enclaves of Goa, Daman and Diu in December, 1961, and forcibly incorporated these territories into the Republic of India. Portugal, which had held these possessions for about 450 years, had consistently refused to negotiate their transfer to India. Earlier, France had turned over Pondicherry and several other small colonies without conflict.

The Prime Minister had departed previously from the Gandhian doctrine of nonviolent settlement of disputes when he sent Indian troops into Kashmir. He had also used force to take over Hyderabad and Junagadh when the rulers of these two states temporized over joining the Indian union.

One of Prime Minister Nehru's most pressing problems was the population explosion. The increase in India's population threatened to nullify all of the efforts of Mr. Nehru and his associates to raise the standard of living. Attempts to promote birth control were only partly successful.

Another pressing problem was that of maintaining national unity. Mr. Nehru struggled to marshal Indian opinion against divisive forces of religion, caste, language and provincialism.

Naga Disaffection Met With Force

For years one threat to unity was the disaffection of Naga tribesmen in northeastern India, who wished to secede from the union. Mr. Nehru met force with force, and eventually the leading Nagas settled for the demarcation of their area as a separate state within the republic.

As chairman of the Planning Commission, Mr. Nehru was the mastermind of a series of five‐year plans to improve the country's economy. He favored what he called a “mixed economy,” with nationalization of key industries but a significant role for private enterprise. After 15 years of independence a foreign critic remarked that India had “achieved a remarkable synthesis of all the weaknesses of socialism and capitalism, none of the advantages with of either.”

However, Mr. Nehru contended with the support of many foreign economists who studied the country—that India's rate of economic growth far exceeded the accomplishments of Communist China.

The democratic electoral system was highly developed in India under Mr. Nehru's leadership.

In July, 1956, A. M. Rosenthal, then The New York Times correspondent in India, wrote of Mr. Nehru: “His personality is a great stimulant, but it is also a great weight upon India. Mr. Nehru is the leader of the Government, the leader of the majority (the Congress party) … the chief economic planner, the chief social reformer, the foreign affairs analyst, the chief military thinker, the man who decides everything.”

Under the pressure, of his work, Mr. Nehru had little time for relaxation in his later years. Occasionally, perhaps once a year, he would spend a few days in Kashmir, where he would explore the countryside on horseback and play badminton. At his official residence in New Delhi he reserved a few minutes each morning to visit the small menagerie of animals that had been presented to him. His favorites were a pair of Himalayan pandas.

At official parties, Mr. Nehru would sometimes be seen standing alone and frowning, apparently so engrossed in his own thoughts that no one cared to interrupt him. At such gatherings he was always, most animated in the company of women, with whom he liked to make casual conversation, although he was impatient with small talk in contacts with men.

Throughout his active life Mr. Nehru had known little of serious illness until he suffered a mild paralytic stroke in January, 1964, while attending a meeting of the Congress party in Bhubaneswar, capital of Orissa state. For the first time since taking office he appointed deputies to handle some of the duties he had insisted upon carrying himself. Even then he returned to New Delhi against the advice of his physicians.

Courtesy: The New York Times Archives

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