By MV Kamath
Jawaharlal Nehru: Years of Struggle, Selected Readings compiled by Arjun Dev, National Book Trust, Pp 394, Rs 135.00
A sad commentary on contemporary society – especially where the GenNext is concerned, is its ignorance of the contribution made by most of our national leaders of the freedom movement in the pre-Independence era. The average teenager, for example, would be knowing more about Mahindra Singh Dhoni or Sachin Tendulkar than about Mahatma Gandhi or Jawaharlal Nehru, let alone, say, of Bhagat Singh or, in a different context, of Rabindranath Tagore. One might say it is inevitable, given the time frame we are living in, with the young more interested in the future than in the past. Sad, but true.
It is in this context that one must appreciate a compilation of Jawaharlal Nehru’s writings between the period of 1927-1947 presented by the National Book Trust which reveals Jawaharlal Nehru’s many faceted personality. Nehru was born in 1889 in a rich Kashmir Brahmin family, had his early education in England, teturned to India, tried to practice law for a few years and then came to be involved in politics on a full-time basis. He accepted Gandhiji as his guru. During the twenties his work was largely confined to his own province. Then known as United Province. He travelled “extensively and intensively” throughout the Province’s 48 districts, getting to know the problems of rural India. It was only during 1936-37 that he travelled more extensively throughout the length and breadth of India to campaign for the Congress in the elections under the Government of India Act 1935. During his long pre-Independence career as a politician patriot fighting for freedom, he served seven terms in prison for a total period of ten and a half years – the longest sentence lasting 2.5 years.
It was then that he started writing and it is these writings that reveal the man, as an intensely human being. He frequently introspected in his writings, asking himself: “Do I know India?”, “What is that tremendous faith that draws millions of people through untold generations” to Ganga? As he kept travelling he says: “India with all her infinite charm and variety began to grow upon me more and more”. He came across the poor wherever he went and once he admitted: “Looking at them and their misery and overflowing gratitude I was filled with shame and sorrow, shame at my own easy-going and comfortable life”.
Here is this man who spent almost a decade in jail, who remained Prime Minister of India from 1947 till his death in 1964, who travelled widely, was a hero to his countrymen and an icon for the young, revealing his mind on a multitude of subjects, which is an education in itself. In his last letter to his daughter Indira he wrote in 1933 just before he was released from jail – he had written dozens of letters that later came to be published in a book Letters to a Daughter he had said: “I am not a man of letters…. I am not a literary man and I am not a historian. What, indeed, am I? I find it difficult to answer that question”. Fancy such a great man questioning his very existence! He had high regard for China, then under severe strain and even visited it in August 1939. He had to go there, he said in an article, because “China is the symbol of magnificent courage in the struggle for freedom, which has survived untold misery and unparalleled disaster”. One wonders what went in his mind when China invaded India a generation later.
Reading this book provides us a chance to know Jawaharlal with all his ideals and shortcomings better. He comes through as a concerned human being, deeply interested in freedom, not just of his own countrymen but of those who struggled in distant Spain and Czechoslovakia. He was pained at the rise of Nazism and Fascism. In India itself he despaired over the rise of communalism and was shocked to see orthodox Hindus opposing the Sarda Act which prohibited marriage of Hindu girls under the age of fourteen. In many ways this one book gives one an opportunity to peep into the heart and mind of Jawaharlal in all their nuances. In an article written in 1934 he had said: “It is good to think of the past and to gather strength and courage from the examples of the great men of old”. Can’t one say the same thing in recommending this book especially to the young, so that they can “gather strength and courage” from the example set by Jawaharlal Nehru? Who once wrote to Gandhiji: “I am a pagan at heart, not a moralist like you, believing ‘intensely in India !”
(National Book Trust, 5, Institutional Area, Vasant Kunj, Phase-II New Delhi-110 070, Webiste: www.nbtindia.org.in)