Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, occupies a very important position in modern Indian history. His political career can be divided into two phases. Between 1929 and 1946 he was a prominent leader of Indian National Congress and played a vital role in the Gandhian independence struggle of India. Between 1947 and 1964, he was the first Prime Minister of newly independent India. But the first Prime Minister of India was not elected. He was selected and pushed to the chair un-democratically by Gandhi depriving Sardar Patel who was elected to the post. Gandhi justified his manipulation by saying that Nehru was the only English feather in his cap. Thus free India started its journey as an extension of British rule. This article tries to look at a few aspects of the second phase of Nehru’s political career in a critical way.
Richard Nixon, ex-President of USA and a known India-Nehru-Indira hater visited India in 1953 when he was Vice President under Eisenhower. Nixon’s meeting with Nehru during that visit was bitter and Nixon later called Nehru “arrogant, abrasive, and suffocatingly self-righteous”. Brigadier John P. Dalvi of Indian Army was taken by Chinese People’s Army as prisoner of war during 1962 Sino-Indian war. Later, in his book Himalayan Blunder, Dalvi had mentioned the ill feeling of Chinese Army Officers about Nehru. The Chinese hated Nehru for his arrogance and big brother like attitude while leading with Chinese leaders.
Nehru’s propaganda and involvement in Non-Align Movement (NAM) was fraudulent. In the height of Cold War, the philosophy of non-alignment was romantically acceptable to him. But NAM consisted of a group of developing and poor nations in post colonial Asia and Africa. The NAM had no power to modify the Cold War. The NAM was a futile effort by those backward countries to demand relevance in international politics. However, India’s leaning towards USSR became too obvious after 1947. The success of October Revolution of USSR in 1917 stimulated Nehru ideologically and continued to influence him after 1947. So, India’s participation in NAM, under the intellectual patronage of Nehru, was more of propaganda than reality. The NAM began with 29 member countries in 1961 and presently has 120 member countries. Nobody knows what NAM did for the peace of the world, except some resolutions.
The Five Principles or Panchsheel, as stated in the Sino–Indian Agreement 1954 included, mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit. The Panchsheel was Nehru’s ideological but wishful love child which turned into Frankenstein after eight years.
On 7 November 1950, a month after China’s new Communist regime invaded and captured Tibet, India’s Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Patel wrote to Prime Minister Nehru, “The Chinese government has tried to delude us by professions of peaceful intention… They managed to instill into our Ambassador a false sense of confidence in their so called desire to settle the Tibetan problem by peaceful means… The action of the Chinese, in my judgment, is little short of perfidy.” Patel’s said letter was long and described in detail the situation along the northern border of India with China and warned against the possibility of future Chinese invasion. Patel advised the Government of India to take all appropriate actions. But Nehru ignored and relied on his inflated wisdom of Panchsheel with a humiliating consequence.
Chinese were furious on Nehru for his remark of 12 October 1962 in Madras Airport, while going to Colombo, that his government had directed the Indian Army “to free our territory in the northeast frontier”, implying that India had decided to engage China in a full-scale war. Nehru was also known for his sense of self-importance, self-entitlement. He was politically romantic to the point of being delusional. He wanted to play the role of a prominent leader of Asia and Africa, but did not have the leadership caliber for that. He thus tried to compensate his weakness by using high sounding words and morally charged political discourse.
Krishna Menon, the blue eyed boy of Nehru with a Socialist leaning, was made Defense Minister of India in 1957. Menon throttled all up-gradation and modernization efforts of Indian Army to show his power and contempt for men in uniform. The rest was the tragic defeat of India in the hands of China in 1962 war. China declared unilateral ceasefire on 20 November 1962 and took away Aksai Chin area of Indian Ladakh. Nehru made the loss of Aksai Chin a small issue by telling the Parliament that a blade of grass did not grow there. Indians were thoroughly sad and demoralized. The anger within Congress Party against Menon was at peak. Even after that Nehru was not interested in ousting Menon. It was only after President Radhakrishnan told Indira Gandhi privately about a possible political coup against her father for retaining Menon, that the later was sacked from the ministry.
Shortly after independence of India, General Lockhart, the then Chief of Indian Army, took a strategic plan to the Prime Minister Nehru, asking for a government directive on the defense policy. He came back shell-shocked. When asked what happened, Lockhart replied that Nehru took one look at his paper and blew his top. Nehru shouted that his paper was rubbish! Nehru even cried “We don’t need a defense plan. Our policy is Ahimsa. We foresee no military threats. Scrap the army! The police are good enough to meet our security needs”. It was the October 1947 Pakistani attack in Kashmir that saved Indian defense forces from being scrapped. But after that also Nehru kept on cultivating a conviction that, following the human sufferings of WW-II, no nation would use war as a tool to settle dispute with other country. That conviction was purely quixotic. After India’s 1962 defeat by China, Nehru was twice bitten once shy.
Nehru was prone to develop intimate relationship with women. Among them, Edwina Mountbatten, Padmaja Naidu and Shradha Mata were prominent. Edwina-Nehru love affair was mentioned by Edwina’s daughter also. Edwina had strong influence on Nehru and she was used by her husband to influence Nehru’s decisions on some occasions. It is now speculated that Nehru did some behind-the-screen settlements with British administration under the influence of Edwina which were against the spirit of independent India. Spying on Netaji’s family in Calcutta, declaring Netaji a proclaimed enemy of India and Britain, keeping a British (Mountbatten) as first Governor General of Independent India, India’s inclusion in the Common Wealth, adopting British system of Parliamentary democracy, and taking of Kashmir issue to United Nations could be a few of those.
After Mountbatten couple left India, Nehru used to write long personal letters to Edwina even from his busy election campaign of 1952. In those letters Nehru shared important information about India and his government with her. Thus, Nehru was influenced to continue the British legacy in India even after its independence. The details are most expectedly to be found in the personal diaries of Edwina and her husband. But British government has refused to declassify those diaries till date and fighting case in the Court to stop declassification. Nehru’s personal life was nobody’s concern so long it did not shape his decision making about India.
Nehru was grossly confused with Kashmir. As per Indian Independence Act, all 565 Princely states were given the choice to remain independent or become part of India or Pakistan. The rulers were given the sole authority to choose any option. Kashmir being Muslim majority and connected with Pakistan in its Western border posed a problem when its Hindu King Maharaja Hari Singh started to procrastinate after 15 August 1947. Pakistan took the chance and attacked Kashmir on 22 October 1947 to capture the state. Hari Singh in a hurry acceded to India and Indian forces liberated Kashmir (except PoK) from Pakistani aggression.
But Kashmir never became like any other state of India until 5 August 2019. Nehru’s obsession with Muslim leaning secularism and the God-knew-what Kashmiriyat made Kashmir like a state within state in India. Kashmir was given its own Constitution, own flag and the post of own Prime Minister (the post of Prime Minister was replaced by Chief Minister in June 1965). Article 370 and 35-A was also given to Kashmir by Nehru as the icing on the Islamic cake of Kashmir. Nehru thought that special appeasement would integrate Kashmiri Muslims with India. But that back fired badly due to inherent teaching of Islam. And rest was history. Nehru neither knew Islam nor Hinduism. His made The Discovery of India through the eyes of Westerners.
Nehru refused to accept India’s permanent membership in the UNSC and pleaded for the claim of China instead. After seventy years now, India is running from pillar to post to get permanent membership in that UNSC and China is opposing India’s demand. Nehru objected to the restoration of Somnath Temple. He was vehemently against anything Hindu. He called India’s newly constructed dams as Temples of Modern India. But he was careful not to tell those as Mosques or Churches of Modern India. Nehru tried to obstruct Patel’s plan to liberate Hyderabad also. In 1955 Nehru managed to get Bharat Ratna award for himself through self recommendation. After his death in 1964, Nehru’s birthday (14 November) is celebrated as Children’s Day in India. After Gandhi became Bapu, Nehru became Chacha of Indians. This the brief story of India’s visionary first Prime Minister.