Disclaimer : I hold Panditji in high esteem and in no way would write anything to insult his memory, for I am a product of the Nehruvian socialist secular educational system and still carry many of the ideals that I had been taught.
Madhav Godbole’s book is a significantly incisive work on Panditji’s policies and their impact on India. The author, a former bureaucrat, has, in due course of the book, compared the personalities of Panditji and Patel. We get to see that, had Patel been at the helm in 1947, the fate of India would have been different.
The author does not dwell on Panditji’s life and history, but plunges into his administration and government. That is a welcome change from the maze of books that talk about Nehru’s early life and romanticize his leftist leanings.
Having been introduced to Panditji when he was an IFS probationer, the author has not been carried away by the former’s magnetic personality. Thus he produces a detailed account of what he saw of Panditji’s policies and administration.
Of particular interest are the Kashmir imbroglio and the China conundrum. The author treats us to various sources on the confusions around Kashmir and China. How Panditji despised Maharaja Hari Singh, how Sheikh Abdullah deceived Nehru and India, how Patel had judged Abdullah early on and had sounded alerts and how Panditji took Kashmir to the UN on the advice of Mountbatten and many more policy failures are laid bare in this book.
We get a feeling of ‘If only Patel had handled Kashmir.. ‘. Once into the book, we are drawn into this moment of truth when the sad reality of the present (2016) stares at us with a devilish smile.
Mountbatten repeatedly deceives Nehru on Kashmir. He hunts with the dog and runs with the hare. While being the Governor General of India, he still serves the interests of Britain and works to fulfill Clement Atlee’s wishes. In this process, he completely deceives Nehru into believing that taking the Kashmir matter to the UN would be in India’s interest. We see that Panditji is completely blown off by the personality of Mountbatten that he agrees with him after some initial murmurs of protest.
And we are left with a boiling Kashmir even after 70 years.
On China, the story is a case of extreme neglect and despair. Sardar Patel writes two very important letters to Panditji that caution him on China and her intentions. Patel is direct and explicit on the threat from the communist neighbour. He goes on to compare the imperialist colonials with the communist tyrants of China and even says that the former are a tad better as the latter are driven by an ideology and hence are more harmful. Panditji choses to ignore those and after 12 years, China gives India one of its worst defeats. If only Nehru had paid heed to the Sardar, the history of the nation could have been vastly different.
In the book we see many things that baffle us completely – Panditji lies to the Parliament on the Chinese occupation, prevaricates on equipping the army, lies again on the clothing supplied to Indian soldiers, denies knowledge of Chinese road works in the Aksai Chin area, meets alone with Chou En Lai who comes with a team of officers for discussions, and the like. What is clear is that Nehru was willing to believe in Chou En Lai than in the Indian officers on the China situation. When Chou En Lai repeatedly lies on the issue of maps, Nehru acts like a docile pet and accepts whatever the former says.
We get to see Panditji repeatedly saying that the maps that Chou En Lai had shown were old maps of the Kuomintang and that China would amend them once the country stabilized. We also get to see Panditji often misleading the nation on the China situation.
We also find that Nehru’s foreign secretary didn’t have the nerve to approach him with clarifications. One could ask as to why India’s Foreign Minister didn’t meet with Nehru to apprise him. The answer : India didn’t have a foreign minister and Panditji played foreign minister as well.
Even considering that Nehru was overwhelmed due to his age and workload, what baffles us is that he never felt the need for a Foreign Minister. Could Rajaji have filled up that position? With Rajaji’s stature and intelligence- he commanded equal respect and admiration as Panditji – the situation would have probably improved. But Nehru didn’t deem it fit to assign the Foreign Ministry to a full time minister. In an earlier book by Walter Crocker, this is attributed to Nehru’s ‘all knowing brahmanical’ attitude.
Despite the callousness shown by the Chinese media to him and the intemperate words used by the Chinese officials, Panditji fights for a permanent seat for China in the UN. Even Khurushev of the USSR hints that the USSR would recommend India to be the fifth member in the UN Security Council, but Panditji turns the offer down and instead says that including China into the UN was the need of the hour. While even the US was not in favour of another communist power being in the UN Security Council, Nehru feels otherwise.
Panditji shows undue haste in de-recognizing the Chiang-Kai-Shek led Kuomintang government in Taiwan and recognizing Mao’s communist China, despite the fact that Chiang-Kai-Shek was a friend of the Congress and Gandhiji. Nehru gives an impression that he was employed by the PRC (People’s Republic of China) as its PRO (Public Relations Officer). He speaks of recognizing China’s nationhood in every international arena possible. Though he did all these to secure a friend in the Asian context who was anti-colonial, the results were not to India’s benefit.
In spite of all these overtures, China attacked India and humiliated Panditji and the nation. We also see that Nehru sent a series of desperate telegrams to the US seeking immediate military help. This, and the humiliation in the war, dealt a death blow to the grandiose prestige, international and domestic standings of Panditji and he never recovered from that.
Fast forward to 2016 : China uses its Security Council veto power to act against Indian interests and the border dispute with China still persists.
Panditji’s stand on the Uniform Civil Code, Constitutional Amendments and looking the other way when corruption occurred – all these bring down the stature of the first Prime Minister of India. The LIC Mundhra scam, the V.K.Menon episode etc bring down Panditji’s reputation. But, by any stretch of imagination, I don’t mean to say that he was corrupt.
Being a firm believer in democracy, Panditji is seen as striving hard to uphold the democratic ideals in all his actions so much so that he lends himself to be termed ‘indecisive’. In spite of being in awe of the Soviet Union and Communism, Panditji doesn’t believe in implementing the ways of the communist state in India. However, the central planning mechanism that he had implemented has been modeled on the Soviet Union and has proved to be a huge impediment to the nation’s progress. Thankfully, the current PM Modi has done away with the commission.
Panditji is seen striving hard to uphold the system of parliamentary democracy. His many and often lengthy answers to queries in Parliament are evidences to the fact that he believed in treating parliament sacrosanct.
Page after page spews out references to books of yore, written by ex-bureaucrats who had served under the first PM of India, some leading politicians of those times, historians et al.
If you read this book you would learn :
- Why some of Panditji’s policies failed.
- Who else could have done a better job.
- What are the consequences of the failures.
If you don’t read this book:
- You would continue to believe in what the CBSE text books would have taught you about Panditji and continue to live in utopia.
P.S.: The book is available here.