This post of mine appeared in Sunday Guardian. It is reproduced here with additional links for those who might want to dig deeper.
Picture this moment in history. Maulana Azad, having served as the President of the Congress Party for 6 years was making way for a new President, who Gandhi deems as the one who will go on to be the first Prime Minister of Independent India. 12 out of 15 State Congress committees had proposed Sardar’s name. A few proposed Kripalani’s name but Kripalani withdrew in favor of Nehru. Except for the working committee, no one proposed Nehru, yet Gandhi persuaded Patel to withdraw in favor of Nehru. What did the Mahatma find in Nehru that made him override the popular choice of his party? Some thoughts, all mine, on why Nehru was preferred:
- Oratory – Nehru was a good orator, especially in English. Indians (and perhaps all humans) have this fascination with people who have above average looks and speak well, which is a pity; One of India’s best Prime Ministers knew how to keep silent in 12 languages!
- Writer – A dreamer and socialist, his thoughts found expression in the form of a mix of essays and reflections titled, “Discovery of India”. He was helped in this by several prison inmates (he wrote this when he was in jail in Ahmednagar from 1942-46) such as Maulana Azad, Govind Vallabh Pant and others.
- Westernized – Nehru was more westernized than the grounded Sardar, who was never afraid to call a spade a spade. Perhaps Gandhi thought that Nehru would be a better bridge between the leaving British and a blossoming India which would be finding its feet as a nation.
Some of the decisions that Nehru took (or did not take) have haunted the sub-continent and are continuing to do so. This post is not a fault finding mission – rather an objective look at how events transpired based on the decisions of one individual.
Even as the country was being rent asunder, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, also known as Frontier Gandhi and founder of Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God) movement, wanted to be with India. But the Congress, now under Nehru, declared its acceptance of the partition plan without consulting the Khudai Khidmatgar leader of Pashtunistan, which spanned parts of current Pakistan and Afghanistan. In a subsequent meeting with the Congress , Khan told the Congress that “you have thrown us to the wolves”. By this time, it was clear that Pakistan was going to be consisting of two parts. Then why did Nehru not think of having two parts for India too? Why did he deem that Pashtunistan was too far to administer? Would that have prevented Pakistan’s subsequent adventures in Kashmir, Hyderabad and Junagadh? Probably. This move would have also kept Jinnah in check and he would not have dared to annex Balochistan. Additionally Suhrawardy was the Chief Minister of Bengal then and if he had been won over, Jinnah would have had his back to the wall just defending the concept of Pakistan. Alas, Congress did not have a Machiavelli in their ranks!
In 1947, Nehru took the responsibility of getting Kashmir to accede to India. The Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, Hari Singh hesitated to sign the accession agreement with India because he had six concerns. One of the main ones was his lack of confidence in Nehru. He sent both India and Pakistan a Standstill Agreement letter. Pakistan signed it but India just sat on it. The delay on Nehru’s part was deliberate. Maybe Nehru wanted to teach Maharaja a lesson. To understand why let us look back in time.
In 1946, Sheikh Abdullah had started a Quit Kashmir movement, to essentially unseat the Maharaja. Sheikh Abdullah was imprisoned for 3 years for this in the middle of 1946 and Nehru wanted to take up the Kashmir freedom struggle once Abdullah was arrested but the Raja forbade Nehru from entering the kingdom. There was much posturing and arm-twisting before Nehru was allowed entry into Kashmir. During the period 1945-47, Kashmir saw three Prime Ministers help the Maharaja!
When Pakistan broke the Standstill agreement and gave tacit support to Pathan rebels to “free” Kashmir on the 20th of October, 1947, the Maharaja immediately sent his new Prime Minister Mehr Chand Mahajan to negotiate the accession issue. But Nehru for some un-explainable reason, wanted the Maharaja out and Sheikh Abdullah installed before signing the papers of accession. The accession papers were finally signed on the 26th of October, 1947 by the Maharaja and the Indian army troops drove out the invaders but stopped at what is the current Line of Control (LoC) upon the insistence of Sheikh Abdullah, who was given command of the Indian Army in Kashmir.
Within weeks, Abdullah lost Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) to Pakistan on November 16th, 1947, because he did not even attempt to reclaim GB! The whole exercise of throwing Gilgit-Baltistan’s lot with Pakistan was meticulously organized by Major William Brown, an employee of the Maharaja. Brown had carefully plotted every step of the way on how to align GB with Pakistan. Whether he was acting alone or under “advice” from above is a topic for another day. Currently GB for all practical purposes is a Chinese territory as Pakistan appears to have sold it to China. How can a country “sell” a piece of land that it does not even own? Note that GB’s population is predominantly Shia.
Nehru did not realize Sheikh Abdullah’s true intentions till 1953 at which point, he imprisoned him. To this day, Kashmir is a mess thanks to Nehru’s obsession with one man.
Socialism vs Capitalism
At the end of the Second World War, Britain said that it owed India Rs. 1600 crores (at that time 1 Rupee was equal to 1 US Dollar). The money was to be given to India over a period of time. Using this money as seed capital, Nehru came up with the vision of Five Year Plans, of managed growth and License and Permit Raj. Why was Nehru fascinated by Socialism? Was it because Socialism was the hot topic raging in Cambridge in his student days or was it because he was impressed by Marxism during his travels through Europe in the 30s? Whatever be the reason, Nehru tried to shape Congress into a Socialist outfit by ensuring that his socialist colleagues Bose and Azad succeeded him as Presidents of the party (for about a decade till 1946). Sardar Patel acted as a counterbalance to Nehru’s Socialist bent but once he passed away, Nehru had a free hand to do whatever he wished with the country’s future. The other counterweight Rajaji, was sidelined and forced to start his own party.
India has always been a capitalist country and this sharp about-turn forced a young, impressionable country into a chalta-hai attitude, which persists till today. As the Five Year Plan budgets rose, Nehru resorted to borrowing from the West, which weakened the currency. By 1952 itself, the rupee had depreciated significantly, with 1 US Dollar fetching 4.75 Rupees. Was this the best direction in which to steer a new nation?
I can go on and on and hindsight is always 20-20; All three examples cited above were Binary and each decision has cost India dear. I am sure there are several other decisions that Nehru made that helped India but the fact that the first Prime Minister of the nation chose a path for the country which was 180 degrees off from the culture of the populace continues to plague India, even today.
1. Text in Blue points to additional data on the topic.
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