Mushirul Hasan: The Eminent Nehruvian
This article was contributed by IndiaFacts reader, Arvind Singh Dev.
Nehru’s India is the name given to a bunch of speeches made by the first prime minister. As the title suggests the speeches, ranging from constitutional to political to foreign affairs, speak of Nehru’s vision of India. The speeches were made after the transfer of power and the independence. The noted historian Mushirul Hasan has edited them and written an introduction. It was first published in 2007 and four years later its second impression came out.
Hasan is a marvellous introducer. Examples of this can be found in his in-depth introduction to S. Gopal’s three-part biography of Nehru. It was left to Hasan to collate, edit and introduce the writings of Maulana Mohammad Ali. The introduction has become such that it could be taken as a brief biography of Ali. Hasan would not write an introduction as others generally do. His introductions are uncommon, expansive but not irrelevant. Besides, it could be affirmed that his introductions are often better than the material he has dealt with.
This skill of Hasan displays itself in full in Nehru’s India. The lucid outline of each speech eggs a reader on to jump to the speech at once. Speaking on reservation in the Constituent Assembly, Hasan says, Nehru ‘doubted whether reservation were the best antidote’; addressing to the nation barely four days after the partition Nehru shows ‘the measure of his sorrow’, nevertheless ‘the tone remains personal, yet authoritative’; at Aligarh Muslim University, Nehru ‘tentatively laid out for the first time, in the barest of details a preliminary idea of an Asian confederation’ that includes Pakistan; and on the language issue Hasan tells us ‘the idea of a monolingual state was abhorrent to Nehru’.
These speeches were available long before, yet the time has not gone stale on them. More so, when a war over his vision and legacy is raging, a look at his ideas is not only pertinent but also edifying.
Nehru was combative. He did not mind using harsh words if using them put order in things. Around a decade before independence Nehru had acknowledged an authoritarian streak in him. Oddly, he scarcely felt apologetic about it and used it subtly to overcome the opposition. However, he was at his persuasive best when needed. Towards it his knowledge of history, idealism and above all the felicity worked as a bridge. The speeches reproduced in this volume bear this out. Hasan thus aptly puts: “We see Nehru responding to various political actors defending his blueprint for India’s future, appealing to them for cooperation, occasionally even chiding them for what he perceived as unfair criticism.”
This volume would have been worthier if Hasan had shown courage. Readers have been spooned a dazzling, earnest and dreamer Nehru. This depiction to say the least is crafty. Why talk about only his dauntless strides when he also took some wobbling steps? Why do some historians put his failures in the historical footnote? Some have gone to such an extent to dismiss his failures casually saying Nehru’s failures were ‘not integral’ to his achievements.
Therefore, when you look at the pros and cons of Nehru’s achievement you find that the intentions are good, but the implementations are not always adequate to them. And this has been intensified by faltering land reforms, disregard to control of population, the lack of crash programme on education, and the failure to change the attitudes of society. But all these are failures in implementation, born of a certain weakening of the political will; they are not integral to the achievements of Jawaharlal Nehru… Even more, if Nehru’s achievement was not fully commensurate with his hopes, yet certainly nothing has been found wrong with the model itself. (S. Gopal, Nehru Who? p. 9 The Legacy of Nehru, A centennial Assessment, eds. DR SarDesai and Anand Mohan, Promila Pub, 1992)
In essence, the failures were because of “general causes” while the achievements all belonged to Nehru. His era was the best India could have.
The Nehru industry
Nehru has become an industry. A whole lot of historians and intellectuals have taken upon themselves to hawk him. Phrases like ‘Nehruvian State’, ‘Nehruvian Secularism’, ‘Nehruvian India’, ‘Nehruvian Legacy’, ‘Nehruvian Consensus’, and ‘Nehruvian Citizens’ are products of their pedantic marketing. Recently one of these sales agents, Peter Ronald de Souza, tried to sell us Nehru thus: “Of course, Nehru made mistakes. But we are fortunate that, in those first decades of independence, it was he and not others as PM who made those mistakes.” (Outlook 17 Nov 14, p. 28)
Buyers will indeed be fools if they buy the product based on such crack-brained sophistry.
There were holes in Nehruvian Inc from which the incipient blood of India gushed out. In the past the intrepid bands of Nehruvians have had success in caulking the holes. With the passage of time as these holes grew larger the army of Nehruvian Industrialists resorted to unethical ways to cap these nauseating holes. As a single grain would tell whether the rice is cooked, the foremost of Nehru hagiographers, S. Gopal’s feat is on hand as proof of said lack of ethics.
His biography of Nehru considered a must, and in general, to understand the formative years of India. ‘If you have not read his Jawaharlal Nehru,’ is the common refrain in the academic circles, ‘you have not read Nehru at all’. Gopal has also edited Nehru’s letters, speeches, interviews, writings etc in a series of volumes under Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru.
Except that one crucial letter of Nehru is missing from the Selected Works. (Series II, vol. 1). This letter was from Nehru to Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir dated 1 December 1947. There could be two reasons for the amiss. The Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, the repository of Nehru literature, has either lost it or the editor has suppressed it. The former possibility seemed remote as other letters to the Maharaja and Sheikh Abdullah about the same period showed up in Gopal’s Selected Works.
The crucial letter in question however, showed up in Sardar Patel’s correspondence because Nehru and Patel sent each other copies of letters they wrote to others. The letter is a long one in which Nehru discusses several issues with the Maharaja including the plebiscite and the inevitability of Sheikh Abdullah in Kashmir affairs. But paragraph 12 of this letter is openly impertinent, and one suspects, is the reason behind the suppression. This paragraph reads
In discussing a possible settlement with Pakistan, these are the proposals which have already been considered and which Mr. Mahajan (the Prime Minister of Kashmir) took with him. Some people have suggested that Kashmir and Jammu provinces must be split up, one going to Pakistan and the other to India. I do not at all like this for many reasons, among them being that it is Kashmir that is of essential value to India. Then it has been suggested that the Poonch area might linguistically allied to the Punjab. It has also been suggested that Kashmir State as a whole might be more or less an independent entity with its integrity and defence guaranteed by India and Pakistan. This is likely to give trouble in the future and the conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir might well continue. (Sardar Patel Correspondence, vol. 1, 1971, p. 103-4)
So, Kashmir was essential to India, Nehru said. This could well be a lesson for his votaries who are never tired of pushing a ‘legitimate claim’ of the Kashmir valley. But Nehru said that there was a proposal on the table to divide the state of Kashmir on the religious basis. He was willing to consider giving Poonch to Pakistan as it was ‘linguistically allied to the Punjab’. It was in Poonch the first trouble had started and gave the Pakistani raiders the early reason to support their brother Jihadis in Kashmir.
The violence in Poonch continued well beyond the ceasefire. Therefore the obvious question: what made Nehru consider giving up Poonch; were he under impression that Pakistan would satisfy having Poonch in its pocket? Or did he consider the ‘Poonchi rebels’ a headache to the rest of Kashmir and India? In any event what would be we make of his secularism which accepts the Muslims in the valley and frown on the Muslims in Poonch?
Thirdly, Nehru assured the Maharaja that ‘in Kashmir proper the mass of the population, Muslims and Hindus, is no doubt in favour of the Indian Union’ and in Jammu ‘all the non-Muslims and some Muslim’ likely to favour India. Pushing the case of Sheikh Abdullah, Nehru writes:
… he can judge best of reactions of his people and what can be done with them and what cannot. We have to rely on him in regard to every step that we might take, otherwise that step will be infructuous. (ibid 104)
Despite this plentiful optimism and the immense trust in Sheikh Abdullah, Nehru was not sure the people of Kashmir liked to stay in India. Which is why, as an antithesis, he expected the Maharaja to abdicate ‘if the plebiscite goes against the Union’. (ibid 104) In case Kashmir acceded to Pakistan through plebiscite, Nehru assured the Maharaja not to fear the annihilation of Hindu and Sikh, because we cannot see the destruction of Kashmir in this way or annihilation of the population, whether Hindu or Muslim or Sikhs. Effective steps can be taken against any such possibility. (ibid p. 104)
We are not sure what ‘effective steps’ Nehru had envisaged to stop Pakistan to annihilate Hindus and Sikhs. For this, he had to attack Pakistan or appeal to the UN. The meaning hidden in these lines is: Nehru was readying himself for the loss of Kashmir to Pakistan–or at least a part of it.
The relevant question is of Gopal’s chicanery. Why he hide the fact that Nehru had warmed up to the idea of handing over Poonch to Pakistan; and why did he hide the fact that Nehru had doubts about the profitability of the plebiscite when he himself had so assuredly authored the concept and in which goodness he wanted everyone to believe? By not showing this letter in the Selected Works Gopal has tried to dodge these questions.
Coming back to Hasan, his study of Muslims leaders in the freedom movement in particular is seminal, and it can be said of him that very few historians’ inquiries have reached where the searching beam of his torch has fallen. For instance, Dr. M.A. Ansari, the Nationalist Muslim and the Muslim conscience of Gandhi before Maulana Azad replaced him, played a role of good deal in the Congress between 1920 and till his death in 1936, yet not much was written about him. Thanks to Hasan, Dr. Ansari has now got a definitive place in the chronicles of the freedom movement. Not many of us know what Azad was before he came to Gandhi in 1920. Hasan has given us an excellent account of Azad’s life as a journalist and activist before he became a Congressman.
Hasan is no way an iconoclast or fond of hero-worship. He criticizes actions not persons. Thus, it is appalling to see him slipping down his own standards. Was it an oversight or a motivated interest which made him to twist a crucial part in Nehru’s speech?
Introducing the speech Nehru made while putting the Objective Resolution before the Constituent Assembly, Hasan calls it ‘the core of what would later become the country’s constitution’. Nehru himself had called it ‘a pledge and an undertaking… a Declaration.’ After he moved it, Nehru gave an inspiring speech. Hasan quotes some lines from the speech to show that Nehru had envisioned for India a form of democracy ‘wholly indigenous and suited to its own conditions’. Let’s read the lines as it appears in Hasan’s introduction:
We are not going to just copy, I hope, a certain democratic procedure or an institution of a so-called democratic country. We may improve upon it… The House will notice that in this Resolution although we have not used the word ‘democratic’ because we thought it is obvious that the word ‘Republic’ contains the word…we have given the content of democracy in this Resolution and not only the content of democracy but the content of economic democracy in this Resolution without mentioning the word ‘Socialism’ for fear of offending some. (Nehru’s India, Select Speeches, OUP P. 5)(Emphasis added)
[pullquote]The theory that but for the Right Wingers, India would have been a Socialist Republic at its inception is therefore a complete sham. [/pullquote]
So, the word ‘Socialism’ would have offended some – who were they? Of course they were the conservatives or the Right Wingers, as historians like to call them. Instead, Nehru used the term ‘economic democracy’ – a euphemism for Socialism. Another significant import of this is that Nehru was magnanimous; he did not like to upset anyone, for he was interested in enlisting all hands on board in the most crucial task of nation building. There could be a third meaning behind it – the Right Wingers were churlish, that they put their attitude above the national interest.
Taking the cue from Hasan, let’s read the entire passage as it appears in Nehru’s speech:
We are not going to just copy, I hope, a certain democratic procedure or an institution of a so-called democratic country. We may improve upon it. In any event, whatever system of Government we may establish here must fit in with the temper of our people and be acceptable to them. We stand for democracy. It will be for this House to determine what shape to give that democracy, the fullest democracy, I hope. The House will notice that in this Resolution although we have not used the word ‘democratic’ because we thought it is obvious that the word ‘Republic’ contains the word and we did not want to use unnecessary words and redundant words, we have done something much more than using the word. We have given the content of democracy in this Resolution and not only the content of democracy but the content, if I may say so, of economic democracy in this Resolution. Others might take objection to this Resolution on the ground that we have not said that it should be a Socialist State. Well, I stand for Socialism and, I hope India will stand for Socialism and I do believe that the whole world will have to go that way. (p. 28-9)
Compare the bold words from both the passages and the mischief Hasan has played becomes obvious. It was the fellow-travellers that Nehru was placating in his speech and not the Right Wingers as Mushirul Hasan wants us to believe. It is a known fact that socialists like Lohia, JP, Narendra Dev and Ashok Mehta etc were not happy with Nehru as they felt that by not affirming Socialism, Nehru had reneged on it. (Some years later they actually called Nehru a renegade.) Thus, when Nehru said – ‘I stand for Socialism and, I hope India will stand for Socialism’, he was pampering the unhappy comrades.
The theory that but for the Right Wingers, India would have been a Socialist Republic at its inception is therefore a complete sham.
The question is how did this fraud of a passage creep into Nehru’s speech via Hasan’s introduction? Did Hasan make it up or copy it from somewhere? If he has indeed copied it from some source, then the damage is colossal. The deceptive virus surely would have infected a lot of writings. Imagine students reading the doctored passage and making up their mind. It is a mutilation of history, to say it mildly.
It’s true that this sort of deceit has conveniently served some historians in their attempt to cover up and cheat and generally mutilate India and its history. For those historians who do not remain true to the craft, E.H. Carr says ‘they write propaganda or historical fiction, and merely use facts of the past to embroider a kind of writing which has nothing to do with history,’ and such writing is ‘scissors-and paste history’. (What is History?, Vintage Books, 1961, p. 33)