“From 1947 in our country, the Nehru era began. Is my conclusion right that since Independence we have tried to achieve Nehruvian objectives through Gandhian means that is socialism in parliamentary structure, then secularism and ultimately your focus on the foreign policy based on world peace and non-alignment?”
“Your usage of words like Nehru era and Nehruvian policy is wrong. I would like to call my time as authentic Gandhian period and the policies and philosophy we are trying to implement are the policies and philosophy taught by Gandhiji.”
This question and answer session took place in 1960 as a series between a journalist and a Prime Minister, between Blitz’s editor RK Karanjia and Jawaharlal Nehru between 1960 and 1964. These interviews were published in two books ‘The Mind of Mr Nehru’ and ‘The Philosophy of Mr Nehru’. The question and answer mentioned here are a part of the conversation between the two of them in 1960. Nehru here said very firmly that the path he had followed was not chalked out by him, but Mahatma Gandhi. He said Gandhi’s path was actually India’s path.
When Karanjia says that after Independence a new era begins and the country has taken a major turn, Nehru stops him and says that there is a continuation in our thoughts before and after 1947. The new technological and scientific developments have indeed inspired us to rethink and make our policies accordingly. But in this episode also we can see that Gandhi, to a large extent, remained relevant.
Explaining this relevance of Gandhi, Nehru says, “His (Gandhi’s) thoughts, methods and solutions have helped us bridge the gap between the industrial revolution and atomic era…after all, the only possible answer to atom bomb is non-violence- isn’t it?”
On reading this interview, Nehru’s modesty impresses. But more than this, our attention is attracted to how he himself as a political leader and a builder of a nation, was constructing a philosophical structure to sort out his practical problems.
When Karanjia says that Nehru went beyond non-violence to create the principle of panchsheel and peaceful coexistence as a solution to the impending menace of atom bomb, Nehru replies, “All this was inherent in Gandhian philosophy. In fact, the path of Panchsheel, peace and tolerance, the sentiment of ‘live and let live’ has been fundamental to Indian thought since ages and you will find it in all the religions. Kings like Ashoka practised it and Gandhiji integrated it in the practical philosophy of Karma which we have inherited.”
After this, Nehru asks Karanjia whether he knows the story of Chanakya. Karanjia doesn’t remember it. Nehru tells him the story of King Chandragupta and his prime minister Chanakya. Chanakya was considered to be peace-loving, well read, learned, selfless and very bright. Once, some kings opposed Chandragupta, organised themselves and attacked him. Chandragupta asked Chanakya to lead his army. Chanakya succeeded in defeating those kings without fighting them but cleverly deceiving them. After that, Chandragupta asked Chanakya what he should do now. Chanakya said his work is finished. He has defeated the enemy. Now he wants to be free from the responsibility so that he could go back to reading and contemplating. The king was shocked. After all who could replace Chanakya? Chanakya’s reply to this reflects the Indian stream of thought. He advises the King to appoint the leader of the defeated enemy as his prime minister. This is the only path to peace and harmony of his kingdom.
After narrating the story, Nehru asks, “Now, wasn’t it the principle of peaceful co-existence 2000 years ago?”
Question is not whether love for non-violence in India has been a natural and traditional thought. Historian Upinder Singh has shown in her book that violence was also not alien to India. The fact is, as she herself said in an interview, “How are the leaders of a new nation conceiving the identity of the nation after fighting colonialism and winning over it?” Maybe, building of this tradition was just an idea of Nehru and Gandhi but this idea was definitely better than an aggressive nationalism.
Agreeing with Nehru, Karanjia continues and says many progressive people think that Gandhi has weakened their scientific socialism with his sentimental and spiritual solutions.
Nehru replies that many of Gandhi’s thoughts seemed to be old and Nehru used to disagree with them. But to say that he weakened any thought or ideology would be wrong. That was not his way.
The most important element for Nehru was Gandhi’s stress on the sanctity of means. Objectives are to a large extent built by the means to achieve them. Therefore, it is important that the means are pure and committed to truth.
About Gandhi’s way being spiritual and emotional, Nehru says what Karanjia is calling sentimental is perhaps a strong feeling of humanity, a profound humane attitude. He says that like Gandhi, this has been integral to his thought process too. As far as spirituality is concerned, that is also essential. In today’s age of growing technological dominance, this humane attitude becomes far more relevant.
This abnegation by Nehru and considering himself a mere representative of Gandhian and Indian stream of thought is not strategic. It is clear after going through these two books. They also tell you why Nehru is destined to remain a puzzle in the annals of practical politics.