A generous man, Jawaharlal Nehru was a fine human being

The first Prime Minister went out of his way to help people he did not know. His acts of personal kindness were too many and were generously acknowledged by even former President K R Narayanan

A generous man, Jawaharlal Nehru was a fine human being

Arun Sharma

Jawaharlal Nehru, the builder of modern India, would often go out of his way to extend help to people. For a Prime Minister, it was remarkable to have found time for the lowliest of these tasks. At any rate, it made him the finest human being he was.

The recipients of Nehru’s personal generosity included ordinary citizens, senior bureaucrats, army personnel, foreigners, politicians and even a former President and his wife. Examples of Nehru’s personal kindness have been recalled by those who received help from him and have also been recorded by contemporary historians and Nehru’s biographers.

When the former President, K. R. Narayanan, returned from England in 1948, after a degree in Political Science from the London School of Economics, Professor Harold Laski gave him a letter of introduction to Nehru. In an interview with Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the former President movingly recalled:

When I finished with the London School of Economics, Laski, of his own, gave me a letter of introduction for Panditji. So, on reaching Delhi I sought an appointment with the Prime Minister. I suppose, because I was an Indian student returning home from London, I was given a time-slot. It was here in the Parliament House that he met me. We talked for a few minutes about London and things like that and I could soon see that it was time for me to leave. So, I said goodbye and as I left the room, I handed over the letter from Laski and stepped out into the great circular corridor outside. When I was half way round, I heard the sound of someone clapping from the direction I had come back. I turned to see Panditji beckoning me to come back. He had opened the letter as I left the room and read it. ‘Why didn’t you give this(letter) to me earlier?’, Panditji asked. ‘Well Sir, I am sorry. I thought it would be just fine if I handed it over while leaving.’ I replied. After a few more questions, he asked me to see him again and very soon I found myself entering the Indian Foreign Service.

Not so easily, however. The diplomats interviewed Narayanan on Nehru advising them to do so. But their prejudice got the better of them and they rejected Harold Laski’s brightest student on specious grounds. Nehru, however saw merit in Narayanan and sent him as a junior diplomat to Burma, then in the midst of a civil war. It was not all. Civil Service Regulations in those days did not allow an Indian Foreign Service Officer to marry a foreign national. Nehru relaxed this provision and granted special permission when Narayanan wanted to marry a Burmese citizen, Ma Tint Tint, later known by her Indian name as Usha Narayanan.

Posted once as a Deputy Secretary (Admin), Narayanan was so unhappy with the red tape that he put in his papers. However, Nehru persuaded him to remain. But for Nehru, we would not have had one of our greatest diplomats and a scholar President in K.R. Narayanan!

Wajahat Habibullah, our First Chief Information Officer recalls, how Nehru helped his father, the Late Major General Enaith Habibullah, get over a dilemma he faced as a young Colonel in the Indian Army at the time of Partition of the country. As per a queer Defence Ministry Rule, Muslim officers in the then British Indian Army were required to resign from the Indian Army if they opted to stay in India.

To the young Colonel, to whom India was his homeland and the Indian Army his home, this was unacceptable. Taking advantage of his acquaintance with Nehru, Colonel Habibullah waited on the Prime Minister, along with Colonel Osman, who was also in the same dilemma, objecting to the discriminatory rule of the Defence Ministry. Nehru appreciated their logic and had the advisory rescinded. (National Herald, 14 November, 2019).

Sir Walter Crocker, author of one of the most intimate biographies of Nehru, cites several examples of his personal kindness. Crocker mentions that Nehru’s ‘readiness to grant TV or newspaper interviews sprang in part from the fact that he enjoyed doing what he did so well, but also in part from the fact that he was reluctant to disappoint people who had come to India to see him’. (Walter Crocker, Nehru: A Contemporary’s Estimate, page 133) ‘Nehru’s physical and intellectual endowment were, like his aesthetic appeal extraordinary;’ says Crocker, but what in the final account impressed me most was his goodness’. (ibid, page 144) Crocker further says:

His personal kindness, and the troubles to which so overcharged a man gave himself, never failed. Some of his too innocent judgements on individuals, as also his allowing unimportant foreign visitors to encroach upon his time, were due to his kindness as much as to the politician in him. His kindness to people of worth who also had humility was without limit.

An old Scotch-Australian scientist had somehow got interested in Nehru and out of this interest he came to India several times at his own expenses. He had little money, lived and travelled cheaply, and never thrust himself forward. In due course Nehru came upon him. Savouring his virtue and his mind, Nehru arranged tours for him, put transport at his disposal, and spared nothing for the old man and his wife.

His interventions in cases of personal hardships were endless. I know of an obscure Christian girl who wanted to marry a Pakistani and was in difficulties; of his intervening in troubles arising over an attempted marriage between a Muslim and a Hindu; of his paying the house rent or education expenses and giving other aid to various people. (ibid, page 146)

While Nehru helped in attempted marriages between a Christian and a Muslim or a Hindu and a Muslim, our present leaders, with their medieval mindset are out to disrupt such alliances and are thinking of making a law to prevent them!

Crocker further mentions: It is hardly known, even in India, though his Government kept Sheikh Abdullah in prison, he arranged payment for Sheikh Abdullah’s son to do his studies for medicine in London and that the young man used to spend part of his vacations in Nehru’s house. (ibid, page146)

It is on record that when Nehru was to visit Srinagar in the summer of 1946, after Sheikh Abdullah’s arrest, Maharaja Hari Singh, tried to stop him entering the state and when that failed, ordered his detention. Detention of the man who would be Prime Minister, writes Andrew Whitehead, author of A Mission in Kashmir! Even Karan Singh, the Maharaja’s son, said he was horrified with this un-statesman like act. But Nehru was too great a man to take it as a personal affront. When Maharaja Hari Singh and his family were safely evacuated from Kashmir, after the Indian military airlift, they were flown to Delhi, where they stayed as Nehru’s guests. (Andrew Whitehead, A Mission in Kashmir, chapter Eight)

When the Modi Government was planning to de-classify files relating to Subhash Chandra Bose, they thought something incriminating would emerge against Nehru about his treatment of Netaji. It was found instead that Nehru had sought to arrange help for Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s Austrian wife and his daughter Anita.

In his letter dated 12.06.1952 to the Finance and Foreign Ministries, Nehru sought ways as to how money could be transferred. In order that Foreign Exchange Regulations Act, 1939 was also not violated, it was decided that money would be paid to the Austrian Embassy in Delhi in Indian currency and the Austrian Government in Vienna in turn would pay the equivalent amount to Netaji’s family. Money was arranged through private means. Nehru also arranged to set up a trust deed in favour of Netaji’s family and had it placed in the custody of the AICC. AICC extended this help till Netaji’s daughter’s marriage.

When Netaji’s daughter Anita Bose made her maiden visit to India in the winter of 1960-61, she stayed at Nehru’s official residence at Teen Murti House in New Delhi enjoying Nehru’s hospitality.

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Published: 14 Nov 2020, 9:01 AM