Gandhi, Nehru and JP: Studies in Leadership and Legacy, Bimal Prasad, Promilla & Co., Publishers, Pp 389, Rs 495.00
ONE of India’s foremost historians of the Gandhian era, presents this study of the legacies of Gandhi, Nehru and JP in respect of their style of political leadership in a particular period of Indian history. It reads like a balanced and critical view of all the three leaders under one cover in the context of their objective of establishing a just economic, social and political order in India.
Some recent studies have tried to depict Gandhi and Nehru as representing two contrasting systems of thought and action and to project either one or the other, depending on one’s predilection, as providing a panacea for India’s problems which is a prejudiced view. But the author-historian rejects this simplistic view and takes a fresh look at their political ideologies and presents a comparative perspective. As a result, neither do the three leaders appear as rivals nor as ideologically opposed, but as complementary to each other.
The book is divided into four chapters with the first three chapters devoted individually to each statesman while the fourth presents the conclusion.
The first chapter traces the emergence of Mahatma Gandhi as a political leader of the masses and discusses the distinctive characteristics of his style of leadership. Gandhi emphasised the virtue of conciliation rather than conflict. One of the keys to the continuance as well as emergence of Gandhi’s leadership was his supreme sense of tactics. He knew, as no one else among his contemporaries in India did, both when to start a movement and when to suspend it. When he referred to his ‘inner voice’ regarding his crucial decisions, it did not result due to any occult or mystical source, but were “determined according to the exigencies of the situation”, as he himself admitted when writing in 1939. Actually it was “his capacity to crystallise the prevailing mood of the people” which was the secret of his hold over other leaders as well as the masses. In the 1942 ‘Quit India’ movement, he received an unprecedented popular response while on the other hand, in 1946-47, in site of his unhappiness over the events leading towards Partition of India, he did not even think of launching a campaign of civil disobedience. This he pointed out to one of his associates that as a result of one year of communal riots, the situation was surcharged with communalism and was not at all favourable for a struggle.
But what is more touching to read is that when Nehru and Sardar Patel were busy settling the terms of the Partition and getting the first draft of the Mountbatten Plan, as amended by the British cabinet, Gandhi was not consulted and he mentioned in the Congress Working Committee meeting on May 31, 1947 that as he was against the thought of Partition of India under British supervision and in the midst of widespread Hindu-Muslim riots, “My life’s work seems to be over. I hope God will spare me further humiliation.” He continued with his musings in a low voice, “Today I find myself all alone. Even the Sardar and Jawaharlal think that my reading of the situation is wrong and peace is sure to return if Partition is agreed upon…They did not like my telling the Viceroy that even if there was to be a Partition, it should not be through British intervention or under the British rule…They wonder if I have not deteriorated with age…”
The author says, “JP was no stickler for consistency and changed paths several times in his life, but only when be became convinced that a change was desirable. Persuasion, pressure or expediency never played any role in this.” He launched a mass movement in Bihar in 1974 in order to save democracy when Indira Gandhi declared Emergency but while leading the movement, “JP had failed to build up a second level of leadership. His record in this respect was no better than Nehru’s.” This the author says when referring to JP’s illness and weakness to pursue the movement. The author adds that JP “shows an utter lack of a sense of tactics, which was a major weakness of JP as a political leader.”
The final chapter seeks to highlight the common points in the political legacies left by the three leaders and points out that they can serve as the ideological foundations of a new India based on the principles of egalitarianism and social justice.
(Promilla & Co., Publishers, C-127 Sarvodaya Enclave, New Delhi-110017; www.biblioasia.com)