June 9, 2009

Adventures of Chacha Nehru

I am sure the Lounge would love knowing something about our beloved first PM, the author of NAM, the lover of children, the founder of I.I.Ts, etc.. Please let me know about your love in the comments section.

1) "There was a thunderous applause as Pandit Nehru came up on the rostrum, greeted the people with folded hands, and was formally introduce,d by a local Congress leader. But the next thing I saw made me rub my eyes. The great man had become red in the face, turned to his left, and planted a slap smack on the face of the same leader who was standing near the mike. The mike had failed. Pandit Nehru was gesticulating and shouting at the top of his voice as if something terrible had happened. Meanwhile the mike started functioning again so that he could be heard all over the place. He was saying: "Dilli ki Congress ke karkun kamine hain, razil hain, namaqul hain. Maine kyatti bar inse kaha hai ke intizam nahin kar sakte to mujhe mat bulaya karo, par ye sunte hi nahin (the leaders of the Congress in Delhi are lowbred, mean, and mindless people. I have told them time and again not to invite me if they cannot make proper arrangements. But they pay no heed)." There was pin drop silence for a moment The next moment there was another thunderous applause. The Gandhi capped man sitting next to me offered comment "Panditji is famous for his temper. And people like him all the more that way." I turned towards the rostrum. The face of Congress leader who had been slapped was bathed in smiles as if he had won some coveted prize.

This was a new experience for me. I had attended many public meetings in my village, at my district headquarters, and in Delhi. I had never witnessed such wild behaviour on a public platform. Of course, those other speakers were not so big as this one. Was it the way the big ones behaved? I wondered. I found it difficult to admire a man who had not only shouted at but also slapped someone who was placed lower than him in life, and who was in no position to hit back. And that too for no fault of the victim. Even as a young boy, I had nothing but contempt for bullies..."

2) "..The great man was profusely garlanded as soon as he appeared on the rostrum. He repeated his greetings to the people with folded hands. But as he moved towards the mike, there was some commotion at one corner of the gathering. Someone told me that workers in one of the cotton mills in Delhi had gone on strike, and were seeking Pandit Nehru's support for their demands. I thought the workers were being unseemly. They had chosen a wrong time and a wrong place for presenting their case. The nation was in the midst of a crisis . This was no occasion to pester a national leader with petty local problems. I also gathered that the Communists were at the back of the commotion. To hell with the Communists, I said.

But as I turned towards the rostrum again, what I saw was far more unseemly. Pandit Nehru was trying to get free of the grip in which he was being held by several Congress leaders who had thrown their hands round his arms and waist. He was being prevented from jumping down, and running towards the far corner in which the commotion had arisen. He seemed to be unaware of the crowd sitting inbetween. One moment he was moving forward, and the next moment he was being pulled back. And all the time, he was shouting at the top of his voice. The mike reported him as saying, "Dekhna chahta hun in kaminon ko main. Bata dena chahta hun inko ke main kon hun. Inki ye gandi harkaten main qatai bardasht nahin kar sakta (I want to have a look at these lowbred people. I want to tell them who I am. I cannot tolerate this dirty behaviour on their part)." The commotion died down. The Congress leaders released their hold on him. Suddenly, he straightened up as if he was going to get out of his boots. He stretched his right hand, full and upwards, and shouted, "Main ek shandar admi hun (I am a man of some stature)." The crowd was clapping wildly, and continuously.

His speech that day was totally incoherent. It seemed as if he was talking to himself rather than addressing a rally. He kept on withdrawing in the next sentence what he had said in an earlier one. One moment he was denouncing the British as "a stone sitting on our breast". Next moment he was bubbling with sympathy for the cause of freedom and progress being defended by the Soviet Union. He was all for a fight to the finish so far as British imperialism was concerned. But at the same time he warned the people against coming in the way of the war effort. It was difficult to make out as to where he stood. I will not comment on the language he was speaking. I found it as shabby as on the earlier occasion..."

3) "...Much worse came after the meeting dispersed. He descended from the rostrum and started moving towards the gate where I was standing. Congress volunteers had formed a cordon round him. But as the people rushed forward and tried to touch his feet, he pushed away the volunteers and started looking after himself. He was slapping with both his hands and kicking with both his feet the people who came near him. He was wearing full boots. Some of his fans must have been badly hurt. I thought he had no business to treat his people in this cruel manner. After all, they were only trying to show their devotion to him in the only way they had learnt from their tradition.

A few days earlier, I had been to the Harijan Basti in North Delhi, where Mahatma Gandhi was staying. I had sat at his feet for more than an hour, without anyone trying to drive me out of the small cottage. He had made all of us laugh heartily as he tried to coax some rich men into giving him money for the Harijan cause, in amounts larger then those they had offered initially. Evening came, and he proceeded towards the prayer meeting. Volunteers had thrown a rope cordon round him. But people could not be held back. They rushed from every side, and crawled under the cordon to reach his feet. He stopped walking, and stood looking helpless. His face was beaming with love. He said in a husky voice, "Budha hun, mar jaunga. Jakar beth jaun to pachhi sir se pair tak chhu lena (I am old. I will die. Let me get there and sit down. Then you can touch me from head to foot)."

I compared the behaviour of the two great national leaders when faced with crowds of their people. I could not help concluding that while Mahatma Gandhi was a son of the soil, at home in the midst of his people, Pandit Nehru was a Brown Sahib who loved to see the people crowd his meetings but who despised their culture. He looked like an alien who had strayed into a strange land. Whatever I saw or came to know of Pandit Nehru subsequently confirmed this conclusion. I will mention only one more instance...."

4) "..I happened to be in Delhi towards the end of 1947 or in early 1948, and went to see my journalist friend from America. As I have mentioned, he had left Calcutta for Delhi soon after India became free. As I sat down with him in the Coffee House, he said, " Sita, who does this man think.he is? Almighty God?" I asked him, " Who? What has happened?" He told me the story of some Sadhus who had sat down on an indefinite fast near Pandit Nehru's residence in New Delhi, and were seeking an assurance from him that cow slaughter would be stopped now that the beef eating British had departed. My friend said, "I had gone there to take some pictures, and gather a report. American readers love such stories from India. But what I saw was a horror for me. As I was talking to one of the Sadus who knew some English, this man rushed out of his house accompanied by his sister, Mrs. Pandit. Both of them were shouting something in Hindi. The poor Sadus were taken by surprise, and stood up. This man slapped the Sadu who had moved forward with folded hands. His sister did the same. They were saying something which sounded pretty harsh. Then both of them turned back, and disappeared as fast as they had come. The Sadus did not utter so much as a word in protest, not even after the duo had left. They had taken it all as if it was the normal thing." I observed, "But in the case of Pandit Nehru, it is the normal thing. He has been slapping and kicking people all his life." He concluded, "I do not know the norm in your country. In my country, if the President so much as shouts on a citizen, he will have to go. We take it from no bastard, no matter how big he happens to be." I kept quiet...."

Epilogue: "Now that I have read Pandit Nehru's writings and speechs extensively, and know of the policies he followed, I can say with full confidence that this incurable bully was an incurable coward as well. One has only to piece together his behaviour pattern in different contexts, and towards different people. One can see quite clearly that at the time that he was crawling and cringing before Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League, he was being high and mighty with the Hindu Mahasabha and its leaders. Later on, he was thundering against the RSS, and at the same time crawling before the Communists in India and abroad who were lambasting him as a running dog of American imperialism. He could never help licking the boot that kicked him, while heaping humiliations on those who were in no position to hit back, or who did not know how to tell him his place."

"..By the time I returned to Delhi in May 1957, Pandit Nehru was at the zenith of his power and prestige, in India and abroad. The Second Five Year Plan, patterned after the Soviet model, had been launched with great fanfare as the harbinger of a socialist era in India's history. The Americans had plumped for the Chester Bowles line that Nehru's "New India" was a great experiment in "democratic development" in contrast to the totalitarian path chosen by Red China. But these were minor compliments to the "greatest Indian after Asoka and Akbar". What he himself prized above everything else was his image as "the custodian of world peace". A sycophant press in India and a fellow travelling one abroad, had built him up into larger than life size. I found it difficult to believe my ears when I heard it again and again, and from people in long pants, that "but for the presence of Panditji at this critical juncture in human history, the two big powers will blow the earth to bits in an atomic holocaust". There was hardly a speech in public meetings or scholarly seminars which did not begin with the words, "as our beloved Prime Minister, the apostle of world peace, has pointed out...".."

Excerpts from Chapter 9: How I became a Hindu... by S.R. Goel

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