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Articles and Speeches on Nehru

Jawaharlal Nehru Arnold Toynbee
I did not know Nehru at all intimately, in fact I did not even meet him many times. But his personality made an immediate impression at one’s first meeting with him, and this impression did not change over the years. Nor was the effect he made just an impression - the word is too weak and too cold. ‘Captivation’ comes nearer to the truth. Here was a human being who could win one’s heart and keep it.

This would be something remarkable in anyone in any walk of life; but in someone whose position was humble and obscure it might not be so surprising as it was in a world-famous states-man who has left a deep mark, and this on the whole world and not just on his own country. In this great statesman, the lovable human being was not smothered by the eminent public figure. I should say that, in Nehru, there was not even the faintest touch of pomposity, self-importance, or self-consciousness. He retained the spontaneity and the buoyancy of youth even after carrying for years an unusually heavy burden of office. It was not till his last years that the unforeseen breach between India and China began to bow him down under its weight.

My first meeting with Nehru happened to bring out the essence of his personality in a way that was amusing but also illuminating and, above all, morally impressive. The date was one of the inter-war years and Nehru had just finished serving one of his terms of imprisonment by the British Government of India. He had come out of prison and had come to England for a holiday. An English lady invited me to lunch in her house to meet him. Nehru was already there when I arrived, but, when the door opened for the next guest, it was a British general in uniform and, when the general saw Nehru, his jaw dropped. Apparently he had been implicated in some way in the sentence that Nehru had just been serving. (I never could discover whether our hostess’ act, in inviting the general and Nehru to meet each other, had been deliberate or inadvertent. I dare say it was inadvertent. Her husband’s family had a long- standing connection with India, and she may have thought vaguely that two men who were both connected with India in some way or other would probably fit well at the same lunch party.)

I wondered how Nehru was going to take the situation. During the few minutes of conversation before the general’s arrival, Nehru had left us in no doubt about his militancy. Manifestly, he was going all out to win India’s independence from Britain; he was in the battle up to the hilt. Would his reception of the embarrassed British general be stiff? Would it be grim? This question was answered instantaneously by a twinkle that came into Nehru’s eye. The situation had struck him as being funny, and he entertained us by teasing the general ever so gently-making him become more and more nervously conciliatory at each sly poke. This incident, though trifling in itself, was a revelation. I was in the presence of a human being who could fight - and fight with might and main-without hating his human opponents. There was plenty of fuel for resentment in Nehru’s experience at British hands. Terms of imprisonment take painful bite out of a brief human life; and the fighters for India’s independence were being imprisoned by the British for acting under the inspiration of ideals to which the British themselves officially subscribed and which they took seriously, for their own benefit, at home. Here were grounds for bitterness, but Nehru showed none. I had known that fighting without hating was one of Mahatma Gandhi’s principles. Here, in one of his chief companions, I was seeing something out of the Sermon on the Mount being practised in real life, and this without any smugness and without any apparent effort. That bowled me over, and the memory of that lunch is as vivid in my mind today as if it had happened yesterday, and not thirty years ago.

Another personal memory of mine involves an incident which was still slighter, but it, too, is revealing. One day in 1956 the University of Delhi was doing me the honour of conferring a degree on me, and I was still far from the university precincts when the hour fixed for the ceremony overtook me. The university is in the old Civil Lines at the opposite end of the seven (or is it fourteen?) Delhi’s from the Ashoka Hotel, and we had been held up by the traffic in the crowded streets of Shahjehanabad. When we were, at last, within about a quarter of a mile of the university (but about three-quarters of an hour late) I was taken aback by the sudden appearance of Nehru running towards us. How could the Prime Minister have made the time to honour and please me by taking a personal part in the academic proceedings? And why was it he, of all people, who had set out in search of me? I had wasted an additional three- quarters of an hour of his time, but he was not cross. The sufferers were his security men. When we arrived together at the university, we found them in a flap at having failed to prevent the Prime Minister from darting out through their cordon. That anxiety was well justified. Had not Mahatma Gandhi been assassinated? And was not the Prime Minister the man on whom Gandhi’s mantle had fallen?

The last time that I met Nehru was in 1960, and it was sad to see him, not changed in spirit, but now visibly laboring under his load. He had asked me to come and visit him and, at our meeting, I tried to keep off the subject of China, since this was, I knew, what was most tormenting him at the time. It was no use. He raised the subject himself and was evidently harrowed and almost obsessed by it. It was a striking contrast to previous meetings; but then, as each time before, came the human act that took one by surprise. I was in New Delhi to give the second series of Azad Memorial lectures (Nehru himself had been the first lecturer). I had just got to my feet to begin my first lecture when the Prime Minister came into the hall. Once again, he had made the time to take a personal part in academic proceedings in order to give pleasure to a guest. This was generous in a Prime Minister, but it was also most moving on a day on which he had suffered a grievous personal loss. It was the day of Lady Mountbatten’s death. Lady Mountbatten and Pandit Nehru had been particularly close personal friends. And, for Nehru’s warm heart, close friendships counted, I should guess, for even more than they count for most of us. Again, I was deeply touched.

It seems certain that, for ages to come, Nehru will be remembered as an historic figure, but what is the future picture of him going to be? The lovable human being - whom his intimate friends knew much better than I did-made his impression on one through one’s meeting him in the flesh. At second or seventieth hand, this vivid personal impression will be dimmed, at best, and, in time, may be almost effaced.

Will Nehru be remembered as a great statesman? Unquestionably he was that. But I have suggested and here I believe I am right, that his eminence in public affairs was not the distinctive thing about him. One must be thankful when a noble soul takes on itself the burden of political leadership, for politics are always in need of redeeming. They are a backward field of human activity in which our average standard of behavior is decidedly lower than it is in family life or in our professional vocations. A noble soul goes into politics at its peril, for politics are as difficult to redeem as they are in need of redemption. Politics are intractable. They cannot be redeemed in one short lifetime even by one' of those rare spirits that combine high idealism with practical genius. The noblest-minded statesman cannot altogether escape becoming a bondsman of his imperious circumstances. To be caught on the sorrowful wheel is part of the personal price that the statesman-idealist has to pay. It is more blessed to be imprisoned for the sake of one’s ideals than to imprison other people, incongruously, in the name of the same ideals. Nehru lived to have both experiences. This was the nemesis of taking over the responsibility for the government of a great country.

For Nehru himself, his political career, eminent though it was, was not, I believe, the most important thing in his lift because, for him, it was not an end in itself. For him, it was a means of serving his fellow human beings - his Indian fellow countrymen in the first place, but not them alone; for his feeling for his fellows embraced the whole of mankind. Nehru has virtually said as much in more than one of his public utterance He did care intensely for mankind’s welfare and destiny, and his vision of this will be the thing in him for which he will be remembered by posterity, if the verdict of history faithfully reflects the fundamental truth about him.

I find it difficult to pigeon-hole this human personality in any of those impersonal categories in which historians deal. But, if constrained to try my hand at this, I should say that Nehru served his fellow-men most fruitfully and most characteristically by taking his place in a series of interpreters and mediators between the civilisation of the West and the other living civilisations. In modern times the West has been making a revolutionary impact on the rest of the world. The impact has been so potent that non-Westerners have been confronted with the choice of coming to terms with it or being hopelessly over-whelmed by it. Conversely, the West is now finding that it, for its own part, has to come to terms with the non-Western majority of the human race. We seem, in fact, to be in the birth - throes of a new society embracing the whole human race, with all the manifold and contradictory traditions of its formerly segregated sections. This seems to be the goal towards which the last four or five hundred years of the world’s history have been leading. If this diagnosis is correct, the role of interpretation and mediation is the key role in the present age . It is a more important role than the mere statesman’s; and, in fact, some of the most effective of the interpreters have done their work outside the political arena. They have done it as scholars, writers, artists, poets, and prophets. Nehru was one of those who have played this part on the political stage; and, among the statesmen-interpreters of one civilisation to another, one can distinguish more than one type. There is the ruthless sergeant-major who dragoons his troops into putting themselves through the excruciating process of cultural mutation; and there is the seer who inspires his followers to tread the same painful path voluntarily. Famous representatives of the first of these two types were Peter the Great, Mohammed Ali, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and, in a rather more deft and light-handed way, the authors of the Meiji Revolution in Japan.

Jawaharlal Nehru is evidently a representative of the type that moves mankind, not by coercion, but by persuasion; and the other representatives of this kind of leader who first come into my mind are all Indians, like Nehru himself. One of them is the Emperor Ashoka, who was converted, by his experience of life, from being a coercionist into becoming a missionary, but who did his life~work, throughout, on the political stage. The other two whom I think of first are Ram Mohan Roy, the founder of the Brahmo Samaj, and, of course, Jawaharlal Nehru’s master and mentor, Mahatma Gandhi.

This is the company to which Nehru belongs, and in which he deserves to be remembered and to be immortalised.