Why Jawaharlal Nehru Can Be Called A Racist, And Why He Wasn’t One 

Why Jawaharlal Nehru Can Be Called A Racist, And Why He Wasn’t One 

by Aravindan Neelakandan - May 23, 2020 02:12 PM +05:30 IST
Why Jawaharlal Nehru Can Be Called A Racist, And Why He Wasn’t One Jawaharlal Nehru (STAFF/AFP/Getty Images) 
  • If the critera which are invoked to label Hindutva icons as ‘fascist’ are applied on Nehru, then certainly he would have to be called ‘racist’.

    And yet, that was not the case.

Recently, ThePrint.in published an excerpt from an essay by philosopher and writer, the late Raja Rao (1908-2006). This piece was about his first meeting with Jawaharlal Nehru.

The piece has a provocative title: ‘Nehru told Raja Rao: Enough of Rama, Krishna — 3,000 yrs of deities got us slavery, poverty.’

The very next essay in the book from which this essay is taken describes the meeting of French author Andre Malraux and Nehru, as witnessed by Raja Rao.

Malraux speaks of the Bhagavad Gita as ‘the great book, revolutionary book that is a bible for the Real Revolution’.

Raja Rao describes the scene of Malraux saying good bye to ‘Panditji’, where the Frenchman said:

Duality and death are the only two enemies of man. When you become the Prime Minister of India, or if you will, because Mahatma Gandhi will never become an official of any government - he is too much the chief of all men - remember me and let me tell you finally what I have to say. Let the great Shankaracharya, let him guide India. Such is my prayer.

Both the essays unwittingly reveal the intellectual caliber of Nehru.

In his conversation with Raja Rao, the subject of the The Print piece, Nehru gets into a small mystic-trip with a ‘Buddha hat.’

Nehru says that ‘man is not a ... biological phenomenon'. And then, 'Yes, Buddhism comes quite near it; that ism there is something which must be, and which connects and sustains.'

'But that's Vedanta', Raja Rao pointed out, 'The Buddha was a phenomenologist. Beyond manifestation, the void'.

Nehru's response is at best evasive.

But Raja Rao, determined to see a Bodhisattva in Nehru, takes that evasiveness for ‘a deep wealth of rising sensibility’.

In the next essay, when Malraux hits 'Monsieur Nehru' with the question that 'what relation has metapsychosis with non-violence' all Nehru could come up with was a pathetic 'I am afraid I have never thought of it.'

Nehru then speaks of Shri Krishna as part of the Vedic tradition which he considers as rational.

For all his knowledge deficiencies, Nehru was charismatic. Part of his charisma came from the aura of Gandhi and part from the very heritage of India which he despised.

What one saw in Nehru is a common phenomenon. Ambitious men with mediocre minds becoming cunning manipulators.

When speaking with foreigners like Malraux, Nehru knew not to criticise the Indian spiritual tradition that gave him his charisma. With Raja Rao he could. The same Krishna who was blamed by Nehru for poverty became part of the glorious ‘rational’ tradition of Vedic India in conversation with Malraux.

Or did Nehru have a change of heart?

Nehru did have at least a partial comprehension of the genius of India – as is seen in his book, Discovery of India.

But that would come later, in which case, the remarks he made on Hindu deities should not be presented as his final view but only as a fleeting glimpse of the views of politician not yet mature, and possibly distressed by his wife’s condition.

Yet, Nehru always had this dichotomy.

While he behaved with extreme charm, courtesy and gentleness, befitting a Bodhisattva, with the foreign personalities and media men, with Indian counterparts he behaved in a rude manner.

The aversion for ordinary Indians which Nehru had was often portrayed by Nehruvian propagandists as a quirky virtue.

Writer Sitaram Goel has narrated two incidents where he witnessed the violent behaviour of Nehru.

The year was 1934 or 35 'and Goel was then a student of seventh standard’. There was a public meeting in the Gandhi Grounds of Delhi. When the mic failed, Nehru slapped the Congress leader who was standing next to him on the platform. Even as he was shouting the mic started functioning. Goel heard Nehru yelling: 'Dilli ki Congress ke karkun kamine hain, razil hain, namaqul hain.' (The leaders of the Congress in Delhi are lowbred, mean, and mindless people.)

Once the temper tantrum got heard by the crowds, there was pin drop silence for a moment ‘followed by another thunderous applause'.

Goel writes that 'the face of Congress leader who had been slapped was bathed in smiles as if he had won some coveted prize.'

Elsewhere Goel had also written about an American journalist narrating to him how Nehru and his sister Vijayalakshmi Pandit had physically assaulted Hindu sadhus. Goel had assumed that it was to do with the cow protection movement.

It could, and will be argued, that since Goel was anti-Nehru, his account cannot be relied upon.

Though Goel had an aversion for Nehru, he was a lover of empirical evidence.

This incident happened on 1 August,1947.

Writer Nisid Hajari in his acclaimed work Midnight’s Furies states that Time magazine correspondent Robert Neville witnessed how when sadhus were demonstrating against Partition, Nehru ‘leaped out in a rage and started kicking the Hindu holy men’ while his sister ‘quickly joined him, then his servants arrived armed with sticks.’ At least one of the sadhus was later hauled off to the hospital, beaten and bloody, writes Hajari.

There are other instances as well – narrated by admirers of Nehru, at that.

In 1939, the Congress session was being held at Tripuri. Subhas Bose was attending the session despite his ill-health. He was brought in a stretcher and his mother and sisters were attending to him.

Nehru was giving a talk attacking Bose. From Madras, a group of journalists, including a photographer, was there. A Bengali journalist interrupted Nehru and asked questions. Nehru warned him not to interrupt. But the Bengali persisted. Nehru jumped out and violently snatched his notebook and pencil.

A reporter from Madras, N.R., saw this and asked his photographer to take the photo of Nehru snatching the reporter’s notebook. Nehru saw that and again raised his hand threateningly.

Later, N.R. recalled the incident in an issue devoted mostly to Nehru, and revealed that this threatening act made him a lifelong fan of Nehru. ‘In due course I became his slave’.

Another two incidents were narrated by C.H.V. Pathi, a journalist who adored Nehru and was quite close to him. In Ananta Vikatan, a Tamil weekly, he had written a reminiscence ‘Forty years with Nehru’, in 1964.

In the first incident, Nehru got down at Madras Central Station. A Congress worker who did not know Nehru in person stopped him, not realising that he was the man they had come to receive. (Nehru in person looked different from his photos, something Raja Rao also points out.) Nehru did not explain who he was. Before anyone could intervene, he punched the Congress worker in the face. Then he just walked away.

The next is an incident that has been subject of quite a few urban legends. Personally, I considered it just that. But here we have a first hand narration of it, that too from a Nehru-admirer.

At Haridwar, Nehru was speaking in a public meeting. Indira Gandhi too was present at the dais. Suddenly, Indira Gandhi jumped up and yelled that someone had pulled her saree from behind. Nehru was obviously furious. He jumped down. All Gandhian virtues had evaporated and a violent Nehru punched the man in such a way that blood oozed out.

That man calmly told Nehru that he did so intentionally: ‘Panditji you got so violent just because I pulled your daughter’s saree lightly. You can understand now, how we would be feeling for the unspeakable atrocities our womenfolk are suffering in Pakistan.’

The emphasis here is on how Nehru was prone to violence and how he selectively used that violence only against Indians.

Nehru always held that certain types of people were born superior to the common masses and at times he mapped it over to entire people.

He had written to his daughter: 'There is an aristocracy and well-bredness about the Chinese which is impressive.' Perhaps he was guided unconsciously, by this almost racist view, in turning a blind eye initially to the Maoist-Han aggression on Tibet.

Nehru had been projected a fervent anti-Nazi. He was definitely anti-Fascist. But his opinions on these totalitarian ideologies were all through the Marxist prism. He followed whatever his high-culture European friends, who often were also Marxist intellectuals, said.

However, there are some disturbing factoids when it comes to Nehru and Nazism.

For example, hagiographers of Nehru like like Shashi Tharoor make it a point to praise Nehru for rejecting the invitation of Mussolini, the Fascist dictator. Tharoor writes:

At a time when many right-wing British politicians, a certain Winston Churchill included, had been, to say the least ambivalent about the Fascist rulers of Germany, Italy and Spain, Nehru’s stubborn adherence to principle in the face of Italian persistence marked him as an uncommon figure of the age.

Unfortunately, the truth is a bit different.

Documentary evidence suggests that in May 1938, Nehru approached the German Consul in Bombay with 'the request of arranging meetings with prominent Nazis like Ribbentrop and Dr. Ley, whom he wished to speak while touring Europe.'

Why Jawaharlal Nehru Can Be Called A Racist, And Why He Wasn’t One 

What is even more disturbing is the fact that in the same year the Congress Planning Commission under Nehru came out with a eugenic programme.

According to this, the state would follow a eugenic programme to make the race physically and mentally healthy. The state should not only 'discourage marriages of unfit persons' but also sterilize those with 'illness of serious nature such as insanity and epilepsy.'

(After independence, Nehru's National Planning Commission would implement 'free sterilization and contraception' based on 'medical, social and economic grounds.' By 1975 under his daughter as Supremo of Congress Party and near dictator of India who did away with elections, the sterilization programme had become forced. For a thorough discussion see: Alison Bashford, Global Population: History, Geopolitics, and Life on Earth, Columbia University Press, 2013, particularly pp.342-3) )

While on the international arena Nehru chose Stalin over Hitler, he was not as averse to Nazis at least initially as he was to Fascists.

With respect to Jews, Nehru was paradoxical.

Surely all his left intellectual friends were against antisemitism. However, in India, leftist forces had found bonhomie with pan-Islamists. The Congress high command as well as Nehru had willingly made themselves pro-Arab.

While Savarkar supported a Jewish homeland, he was not very encouraging about the proposal to create ‘colonies’ for Jews in India.

Nehru wanted technically educated Jewish talent for India but was against an Israeli homeland in Israel. Here too Nehru had been over-hyped.

Maharaja Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja, also known as 'Jam Sahib', helped Polish children who had been suffering under Nazi occupation - mostly Jews. A thousand Polish children who would have otherwise perished were saved by this Hindu king.

He was also a staunch Hindutvaite who proclaimed, 'We are Hindus and whenever Hinduism is threatened neither I nor my brother Princes can remain behind to defend it to the last.'

But Nehru was inclined strongly towards the Arabs, so much that he would not even mind the common cause of Arabs with ‘Hitler’s Interest.’

Coming from Nehru that would sound quite shocking. However, Dr Immanuel Olsvanger (1888-1961) found to his horror the very same words coming out of Nehru during his 1936 tour to India. The assessment Dr Olsvanger makes of Nehru in his very first meeting is worth mentioning here:

A slim beautiful man but not very clever. … He does not know anything about Zionism; has seen Palestine once as he flew over the country. Maintains, though, to know Zionism and its connection with the ‘affairs of the world’ very well.

In the first meeting, Nehru excused himself soon.

In the second meeting, Nehru’s only argument was ‘imperialism’.

He even called Zionism ‘a movement of Jewish high finance’ – a typically antisemitic perception.

During the conversation, Nehru said that ‘he was opposed to any imperialism whether British or Hitlerite.’ Olsvanger seized that and pointed out the Nazi support for Arabs. Now Nehru retaliated: ‘Our sympathies cannot be diminished by the fact that the nationalist Arab movement coincided with Hitler’s interests.

Two years after this conversation, Nehru would request Nazi Germany to send him an invitation.

From all these what should one conclude?

Nehru’s violent hatred towards his fellow countrymen, his belief in his own superiority, his enthusiastic support for eugenics, his readiness to sympathise with the Arab movement against the Jews with the full knowledge of it coinciding with ‘Hitler’s Interests’ and his request to Nazi Germany for an invitation.

MS Golwalkar was not a globe trotting high-flier like Nehru. Yet two vague statements from his 1939 book which do not even mention Hitler or Germany have been repeatedly quoted to demonise Golwalkar and the entire Sangh movement. If we use the rules which the anti-Hindutva media and academia have for Golwalkar, on Nehru, then Nehru could be definitely called a racist.

However, we know better. And we are not Nehruvians and hence we are honest.

Nehru was not a racist – definitely not like Hitler or even Churchill. He was not a deep or profound thinker either. But he pretended to be one. And he used the temporal power he wielded to project himself so.

Those journalists who try to take a potshot at Hindu culture from a few stray statements of such a personality are vicious and dishonest. They do more harm to the legacy and the projected image of Nehru than even the worst anonymous internet troll who abuses Nehru.

Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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