Prime Minister Nehru: No prop for fascist propaganda

In this extract from Discovery of India, Prime Minister Nehru notes how in 1936 he resolutely avoided a meeting with the Duce of Fascism, Benito Mussolini

During our stay at Montreux I had a visit from the Italian Consul at Lausanne, who came over especially to convey to me Signor Mussolini's deep sympathy at my loss. I was a little surprised, for I had not met Signor Mussolini or had any other contacts with him. I asked the Consul to convey my gratitude to him. Some weeks earlier a friend in Rome had written to me to say that Signor Mussolini would like to meet me. There was no question of my going to Rome then, and I said so. Later, when I was thinking of returning to India by air, that message was repeated and there was a touch of eagerness and insistence about it. I wanted to avoid this interview and yet I had no desire to be discourteous. Normally I might have got over my distaste for meeting him, for I was curious also to know what kind of man the Duce was. But the Abyssinian campaign was being carried on then and my meeting him would inevitably have led to all manner of inferences, and would be used for fascist propaganda. No denial from me would go far. I knew of several recent instances when Indian students and others visiting Italy had been utilised, against their wishes and sometimes even without their knowledge, for fascist propaganda. And then there had been the bogus interview with Mr. Gandhi which the Giornale d'Italia had published in 1931.


I conveyed my regrets, therefore, to my friend, and later wrote again and telephoned to him to avoid any possibility of misunderstanding. All this was before Kamala's death. After her death I sent another message pointing out that, even apart from other reasons, I was in no mood then for an interview with anyone.


All this insistence on my part became necessary, as I was passing through Rome by the K.L.M. and would have to spend an evening and night there. I could not avoid this passing visit and brief stay.

“I knew of several recent instances when Indian students and others visiting Italy had been utilised, against their wishes and sometimes even without their knowledge, for fascist propaganda. And then there had been the bogus interview with Mr. Gandhi which the Giornale d’Italia had published in 1931.”
Jawaharlal Nehru


After a few days at Montreux I proceeded to Geneva and Marseilles, where I boarded the K.L.M. airliner for the East. On arrival in Rome in the late afternoon, I was met by a high official who handed me a letter from the Chef de Cabinet of Signor Mussolini. The Duce, it stated, would be glad to meet me and he had fixed six o'clock that evening for the interview. I was surprised and reminded him of my previous messages. But he insisted that it had now all been fixed up and the arrangement could not be upset. Indeed if the interview did not take place there was every likelihood of his being dismissed from his office. I was assured that nothing would appear in the press, and that I need only see the Duce, for a few minutes. All that he wanted to do was to shake hands with me and to convey personally his condolences at my wife's death. So we argued for a full hour with all courtesy on both sides but with increasing strain; it was a most exhausting hour for me and probably more so for the other party. The time fixed for the interview was at last upon us and I had my way. A telephone message was sent to the Duce's palace that I could not come.


That evening I sent a letter to Signor Mussolini expressing my regret that I could not take advantage of his kind invitation to me to see him and thanking him for his message of sympathy.