When in 1928 Jawaharlal Nehru received his first blows in a Police lathi-charge, Gandhi sent him a telegram saying, “It was done bravely. You have braver things to do. May God spare you for many a long year to come and may you be the chosen instrument for freeing India from the yoke”.
A year later, Nehru became the President of the Congress, and declared Independence, full freedom, as India's goal. By 1945, the era of Gandhi was over and that of Nehru had begun. By the time Independence was achieved and the sun had started to set on the British Empire in 1947, Nehru had become Gandhi's acknowledged successor, “I have said that he (Jawaharlal Nehru) was virtually my heir. This means that he will take my place when I have gone”.
Contrasts between Gandhi and Nehru
It is conventional to dwell on the contrasts between the two though they are not always well captured. Nehru was a generation younger, of handsome appearance, came from a much higher social class, had an elite education in the West and lacked religious beliefs. He was inducted into the national movement by his wealthy father, a pillar of Congress since the 1890s and fell under Gandhi's spell in his late twenties, at a time when he had few political ideas of his own. A decade later, when he had acquired notions of Independence and socialism Gandhi did not share, and was nearly forty, he was still writing to him, “Am I not your child in politics, though perhaps a truant and errant child ?”
Perry Anderson, well-known writer and historian, who has been hailed as” one of the best political, historical and literary essayists of the age”, is of opinion that the note of infantilism was not misplaced and the truancy, in practice, was little more than coquetry.
Different strands were intertwined in the Gandhi-Nehru relationship. Quasi-filial infatuation with Gandhi was not peculiar to Nehru, but the depth of parental affection - withheld, often with extraordinary harshness, from his own children-Gandhi felt for Nehru was unique. It is said that mingled with these emotional bonds were calculations of mutual interest.
Beginning of the Nehru Era
When the Nehru era began the time had come for him and his party to redeem the pledges they had made in the past. Nehru was aware of the huge task awaiting him. In the famous speech at midnight of 14 - 15th August 1947, he spoke of India's tryst with destiny and the opportunity that had come with Independence to redeem the pledge that had been taken about seventeen years earlier. At that time he was already fifty-eight and had another seventeen years to complete his life's work.
Nehru had copied the stanza quoted below from “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, a poem of Robert Frost, sometime before his death, in his own hand and always kept it by his side –
The Woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
These lines seem to have been the summing of Nehru's mood during the last days of his life. In a general way it would have been true to say of him that such was his mood at any time, for nearly fifty years of his life, when he worked and toiled indefatigably for India.
Jawaharlal Nehru saw the light of day on November 14th 1889. The story of his life makes fascinating reading and a lot has been said and written about him, his relatives and his life. One of his biographers writes, “Nehru had enjoyed the higher education Gandhi did not have and an intellectual development not arrested by intense religious beliefs. These advances, however, yielded less than might be thought. He seems to have learnt very little at Cambridge, scraping a mediocre degree in natural sciences that left no trace thereafter, did poorly in his bar exams and was not much of a success when he returned to practise law in his father's footsteps”.
The contrast with Subhas Chandra Bose, a brilliant student of Philosophy at Cambridge, who was the first native to pass the exams into the elite ranks of the Indian Civil Service and then decline entry to it on patriotic grounds, is striking. But an indifferent beginning is no obstacle to subsequent flowering. In due course, Nehru became a competent orator and a prolific writer.
He cannot be ignored as a personality. He exercised absolute power and opinions differ as to his performance. Some have praised him in no uncertain terms for his wisdom, vision and the tremendous job he did in laying the foundation of a free, forward-looking, secular, socialistic, democratic welfare state. His detractors are of opinion that for all the seemingly vast quantity of work put in, precious little of any real wroth has been achieved.
From whatever angle we may view it, the political ethos Nehru promoted was characterized by democratic institution building, staunch pan-Indian secularism, socialist economics at home and a foreign policy of non-alignment. These concerns form the principal pillars of Nehru's legacy to India - the four pillars of Nehruvianism.
A Song Has Become Silent
Atal Behari Vajpayee, the opposition Jana Sangh leader, who would succeed Nehru as Prime Minister in 1996 and a poet in his own right, on hearing about Nehru's demise remarked, “a dream has remained half-fulfilled, a song has become silent, and a flame has vanished into the Unknown. The dream was of a world free from fear and hunger ; the song a great epic resonant with the spirit of the Gita and as fragrant as a rose ; the flame a candle which burnt all night long, showing us the way”.
There were no succession squabbles. Lal Bahadur Shastri, a modest figure of unimpeachable integrity and considerable political and administrative acumen, was elected India's second Prime Minister. India moved on.
People who knew Nehru say that he could be impetuous, indiscreet and impromptu. Above everything else, he was an uncommon man with an uncommon zest for life. To this date India bears the stamp of his legacy. Undeniably.