India’s first prime minister was a man of many parts. Be it J&K, China, or the integration of princely states with the Union of India, he showed an astuteness, unwavering determination, and a temperament cultivated in high philosophy. The confluence of an iron-will and democratic disposition in Nehru was seasonable for a newly independent India, writes MOHAMMED WASIM.
“What is the position of Jammu and Kashmir State vis-à-vis India? Looking at it objectively, this State is of importance, both form the strategic and other points of view, to both India and Pakistan. Hence, the conflict between the two. We are not prepared to give in to Pakistan on that issue, even though it means war. The utmost we can do is to give in so far as that area is occupied by Pakistan ….Thus, purely from the point of view of India’s national interest, we cannot agree, unless circumstances force us, to see this part of Kashmir go to Pakistan. There are no circumstances visible that can force us to do this. Pakistan cannot. The United Nations cannot override our wishes in this matter.”
—Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Series 2, Volume 19, page 326 in a note to Sheikh Abdulla on 25.08.1952.
THESE excerpts in relation to the integration of J&K with the Union of India run counter to Jawaharlal Nehru’s popularly sculptured image of an ingenuous democrat. Neither is this an occasional effusion of resolve on his part. We see in his writings and actions a constant refrain to this effect wherever the national interest of India or his core ideologies are concerned.
INTEGRATE J&K WITH INDIA
Contrary to the popularly held view that his idealism jeopardised a conclusive integration of J&K, his writings on the Kashmir question in Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru reveal an unwavering determination to integrate the state with India. That he wanted to do it with the actual or apparent willingness of the people of the state was crucial to India’s unity and integrity, as it had applied the same principle for the integration of other princely states and cannot be seen to be dithering from it where it was expedient.
Contrary to the popularly held view that his idealism jeopardised a conclusive integration of J&K, his writings on the Kashmir question in Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru reveal an unwavering determination to integrate the state with India.
Equally important was the perception of the emergence of a benevolent and democratic power for India’s international standing. But his skillful diplomacy in the form of earlier support for the people’s democratic movement in J&K and his proximity to Sheikh Abdullah ensured that the integration of the state, which had conditionally acceded to India on October 26, 1947, was a fait accompli a year later, towards the end of the summer of 1948.
What remained to be decided was the nature of integration, i.e., the constitutional character of relation between the Union of India and J&K. The same was subsequently achieved as early as 1954 through a presidential order on May 14, 1954. Though we may debate the ethicality or the legality of the same, Jawaharlal Nehru’s indefatigable efforts towards the integration of the state were singular.
Furthermore, it was to his credit that he stressed the insertion of Article 370 into the Constitution of India in order to concretise the relationship between India and J&K, rather than leave it amorphous, governed only by an Instrument of Accession. The very entry of J&K into the Union of India under Article 1 was realised through Article 370. The suggestion of rabble-rousers to the opposite is a schnapsidee that would have caused irreparable damage to India’s national interest.
Furthermore, it was to his credit that he stressed the insertion of Article 370 into the Constitution of India in order to concretise the relationship between India and J&K, rather than leave it amorphous, governed only by an Instrument of Accession. The very entry of J&K into the Union of India under Article 1 was realised through Article 370.
TOUGH ON CHINA
His standpoint with respect to the international boundary with China was none too different. His policies and actions paint an iron-willed administrator determined to have his way as manifest in the directive (below) dated July 1, 1954, as part of a policy measure initiated in 1953 with respect to the boundary question with China, but issued immediately after the Panchsheel agreement. These are taken from the “Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Series 2, Volume 26, Pg 482, Memoranda dated 01.07.1954” under the Section “Trade and Frontier with China”.
“8. Both as flowing from our policy and as a consequence of our Agreement with China, this frontier should be considered a firm and definite one which is not open to discussion with anybody. There may be very minor points of discussion. Even these should not be raised by us. It is necessary that the system of check posts should be spread along this entire frontier. More especially, we should have check posts in such places which might be considered disputed areas.”
His standpoint with respect to the international boundary with China was none too different. His policies and actions paint an iron-willed administrator determined to have his way.
It is important to understand the boundary situation with respect to Tibet and China that existed at the time of India’s Independence. The boundary with China in the western sector, i.e., Ladakh’s border with Yarkand and Tibet was “undefined”. This was reflected in official maps of India at the time. In fact, cost considerations made British administrators prefer a Karakoram alignment as against the farther Kuenlun Shan lineament. China, on the other hand, lacked any boundary consciousness in this sector, resulting effectively in a no-man’s land between the Karakoram and Kuenlun Shan.
In the eastern sector, McMohan Line was agreed upon between the Indian and the Tibetan plenipotentiary in the 1914 Simla Conference, which was also initialed by Chinese plenipotentiary but was subsequently repudiated by the Chinese government due to disagreement on a different issue of the boundary between Inner and the autonomous Outer Tibet. Thereafter China made repeated representation to the British government about the acceptability of all aspects of the Simla Agreement except the aforementioned issue of the boundary between Inner and the autonomous Outer Tibet.
But the British government did not act upon securing India’s frontier up to McMohan Line as it was a tribal hill tract with insignificant revenue possibilities and significantly higher cost implications. The result was that the Tibetan government was collecting revenues far to the south of McMohan Line in the Tawang region, whereas tribal areas to the east were left unattended, even though the Tibetan government had accepted the line as the international boundary and China did not object to it.
It was in such a scenario that Jawaharlal Nehru, upon India’s independence, took firm measures for securing the Northeast frontier up to McMohan Line and put forth a claim to Kuenlun lineament as the boundary in the western sector. However, lack of resources, military and otherwise, impeded the measures for establishing check posts and undertaking patrol in the barren Depsang Plain beyond the Karakoram.
Jawaharlal Nehru, upon India’s independence, took firm measures for securing the Northeast frontier up to McMohan Line and put forth a claim to Kuenlun lineament as the boundary in the western sector. However, lack of resources, military and otherwise, impeded the measures for establishing check posts and undertaking patrol in the barren Depsang Plain beyond the Karakoram.
The image of a credulous democrat relying on the slogan of Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai is conclusively dismantled on a perusal of his numerous notes and memoranda on the subject. In a note titled “Tibet and China” dated June 18, 1954, Para 4, he emphasizes: “No country can ultimately rely upon the permanent goodwill or bonafide of another country, even though they might be in close friendship with each other.” He added: “It is not inconceivable that China and the Soviet Union may not continue to be as friendly as they are now. Certainly it is conceivable that our relation with China might worsen, although there is no immediate likelihood of that. Therefore, we have always to keep in mind the possibility of a change and not be taken unawares.” In the very next paragraph, he warned that both the China and Soviet Union were expansionist; Chinese expansionism had been witnessed for a thousand years or so and that China was again in a new period of expansionism.
The securing of India’s frontiers was still a work in progress when the crossing of Dalai Lama over the McMohan Line precipitated a Chinese reaction in 1962. Though the wisdom of allowing Dalai Lama, and even India’s defense preparedness 15 years after Independence may be a matter of debate, it was Jawaharlal Nehru who lay claim to a farther boundary than ever existed. For this, there as not even an iota of evidence could be gathered, particularly in relation to the Ladakh-Tibet segment.
In fact, public perception of a much remote boundary in the sector was fostered by him only to mobilise both domestic and international support for the purpose. The inability to achieve what was always a difficult proposition, especially after the completion of NH across Aksai Chin in 1956, earned him brickbats, for which his aspiration rather than his idealism, was responsible.
INDIA INDEPENDENCE ACT
The amalgam of mettle and diplomacy on his part is not limited only to J&K and Indo-China boundary issues. His active support and organisation of a popular movement in princely states as well as an emphasis on the legal interpretation that the India Independence Act, 1947 did not provide the option of independence to princely states, an interpretation not so unambiguous, softened the attitude of the rulers of these states towards accession to India. This would finally be sealed under the astute and pertinacious command of Vallabhbhai Patel. In 1961, Jawaharlal Nehru even sent an army to gain independence and integration of Goa, which was proving to be an intractable problem then.
Nehru’s active support and organisation of a popular movement in princely states as well as an emphasis on the legal interpretation that the India Independence Act, 1947 did not provide the option of independence to princely states, an interpretation not so unambiguous, softened the attitude of the rulers of these states towards accession to India.
Does it mean that his democratic disposition was a public façade for popular and international consumption? Was it what Japanese call tatemae, i.e, publicly held views according to what is socially acceptable? Was administration with an iron hand his hone, i.e., privately held view that he was loath to accept in public? This dilemma may be resolved in his own words in Discovery of India, Penguin World Classics, Chapter1:Ahmadnagar Fort, Pg. 8:
“I do not usually burden my mind with such philosophical or metaphysical problems, which escape solution. Sometimes they come to me unawares in the long silences of prison, or even in the midst of intensity of action, bringing with them a sense of detachment and consolation in the face of some painful experience. But usually it is action and the thought of action that fills me, and when action is denied, I imagine that I am preparing for action.”
And later, under “Life’s Philosophy”, he wrote: “All thinking persons, to a greater or less degree, dabble in metaphysics and philosophy, for not to do so is to ignore many of the aspects of this universe of ours.”
The above writings reveal a man who took delight in philosophical ruminations and conversations, but it was not merely philosophy for its own sake. The same provided a coherent backdrop to his actions. There is little doubt that he was a democrat, and the same is attributable to a temperament cultivated in high philosophy as well as the needs of a fledgling nation that was to be developed on the bedrock of democracy.
At the stroke of that momentous hour when India traversed the hazy distances from colonial servility to popular sovereignty, it was necessary to cultivate democratic political culture and institutions in order to decisively break away from the habit of life under authoritarian foreign rule and to promote a way of living as enshrined in the Constitution of India. The prime minister, a man of considerable intellectual prowess and one who was aware of modern political thought, had a duty to be democratic and to appear democratic, both for a healthy domestic political culture and for India’s international standing as an emerging democratic power. This duty, he carried out assiduously for the next 17 years.
The political education of people and of politico-administrative functionaries was of particular importance. Through notes, memoranda, explainers and speeches, he would painstakingly explain various policy measures and the rationale behind them. He was prompt and scrupulous in replying to all the letters written to him by the Members of the Houses of Parliament and relevant political leaders. He played a singular role in laying the foundations of a vibrant parliamentary democracy, and laid emphasis on detailed discussions and consultations on various policy issues even though Congress had a resounding majority in both the Houses of Parliament.
Even on the international stage, he supported colonial and ex-colonial states in their quest for attaining and maintaining freedom, e.g. Indonesia, Congo and such countries. He condemned the aggressions by Nazi and fascist forces in Czechoslovakia, Abyssinia and China and actively garnered international support for republican forces in Spain.
Even in the domestic sphere, he encouraged a people’s movement for democracy in various princely states, actively supported the All India States Peoples Conference that was formed for the purpose, and presided over it from 1939 to 1946, leading to the states’ eventual integration with a democratic India.
His democratic temperament pervaded both his political and personal spheres. Jawaharlal Nehru had a predilection for his diplomatic protégé V. K. Krishna Menon despite various detractors of the latter and his shortcomings on occasions. This was explained by Alva Myrdal, Sweden’s ambassador in India at the time: “The prime minister knew Menon’s shortcomings but kept listening to him because of his brilliance. Menon was the only genuine intellectual foil Nehru had in the government.” The irresistible need for a counterpoint is the essence of democratic ethos.
There is little doubt that he was a democrat, and the same is attributable to a temperament cultivated in high philosophy as well as the needs of a fledgling nation that was to be developed on the bedrock of democracy.
His democratic credo derived strength from his conviction in Kantian ethics of man as an end himself. The only rationale for any political system and organisation lay in how far it served the basic needs and the dignity of an individual. He observed: “Democracy…is a means to an end. What is the end we aim at? I do not know if everybody will agree with me, but I would say the end is the good life for the individual. What form it should take can be argued about but the good life certainly must imply a certain satisfaction of the essential economic needs which will release him from continuous oppression, and which will give him a chance to develop creative faculties.”
A RESPONSIBLE PM
The confluence of an iron-will and democratic disposition in Jawaharlal Nehru was seasonable for a newly independent India. He was consciously aware of his duties as the prime minister of a nascent sovereign democratic nation. This he repeatedly points out in his letters and notes to his colleagues, functionaries and diplomats. His method of reaching decisions was democratic, so long as it did not impinge upon national interest, but the decisions once reached were to be implemented in a business-like and pragmatic manner.
The instances cited above show this pragmatism and resolute pursuance of national interest. That the national interest itself lay, inter alia, in maintaining unity in diversity, meeting the basic necessities of the citizens, promoting peace and security, and ensuring India’s global standing as a benevolent power required an iron will rooted in a democratic consciousness, a disposition inimitably possessed by Jawaharlal Nehru. Maya Angelou’s observation: “The quality of strength lined with tenderness is an unbeatable combination” echoes true for him.