It is needless to say that the inspiration for the headline of this article is derived from the well-known book titled ‘The Discovery of India,’ written by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, our first Prime Minister, while he was in jail. Likewise, the inspiration for me to write this article has come from a very rare book on Nehru titled ‘Nehru – The Lotus Eater from Kashmir’ by famous journalist D.F. Karaka, who was also the Editor of an independent anti-communist Weekly of Bombay ‘The Current.’ As I remember, ‘The Current’ was considered an antidote to its rival pro-communist Weekly ‘Blitz’ edited by R.K. Karanjia. Let it be.
The book ‘Nehru – The Lotus Eater from Kashmir’ was first published in May 1953 in London and that was the reason why I was impelled to read it. Author Karaka says that when he first saw Nehru, the image that remained in his mind was that of a handsome aristocrat with well-chiselled features, looking more like a Greek God than a Kashmiri Brahmin. Karaka says that fate had been kind to Nehru from his birth. Interestingly, Karaka quotes from an article written anonymously by Nehru about himself and titled ‘Jawaharlal Nehru’ and published in a mediocre publication ‘Modern Review’ of Kolkata. This was published in November 1937.
Apparently, it gave an idea of Nehru, the man, the politician and a visionary, of course, as he visualised or understood himself. Curiously, in one passage, the anonymous author writes, “Jawaharlal cannot become a fascist. And that he has all the makings of a dictator in him — vast popularity, strong will directed to a well-defined purpose, energy, pride, organisational capacity, ability, hardness and with all his love of the crowd, an intolerance of others and certain contempt for the weak and inefficient.”
Reading this, I imagined that this description of Nehru by Nehru himself in his anonymous article might, in some way, well fit the description of our present Prime Minister Narendra Modi !
The last sentence of the paragraph is pregnant with a potential to enable him to become a dictator like the Roman Dictator Julius Caesar. Nehru writes, “In normal times, he (Nehru) would just be an efficient and successful executive, but in this revolutionary epoch, Caesarism is always at the door, and it is not possible that Jawaharlal might fancy himself as a Caesar?”
Reading this, once again I imagined that our present Prime Minister Modi too might not ‘fancy himself as Caesar.’
Continuing, Nehru’s anonymous article says, “Therein lies danger for Jawaharlal and for India… Let us not spoil him by too much adulation and praise. His conceit, if any, is already formidable. It must be checked. We want no Caesars.”
Here too, I imagined our Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who definitely will endorse the views expressed about Caesarism by Nehru as long ago as 1937. Indeed that was quite an incredible article by Nehru about himself and it is our country’s good fortune that despite some of his Himalayan blunders as Prime Minister, he secured and saved for India the most valued and precious political institution that is Democracy.
The book ‘Nehru – The Lotus Eater from Kashmir’ narrates Nehru’s early days as Prime Minister, his vision for the country, his foreign policy with many fault-lines, intended more for self-glorification among the comity of Nations (read underdeveloped and developing Nations) when the world was already bipolar, divided between communists and capitalists and about his disastrous Kashmir and China Policy etc.
According to Karaka, there was very little humility in Nehru. Karaka says in the book that there was nothing humble about the way Nehru ran his Cabinet: To his Ministers he was like a school master taking his class. Only two of his Cabinet colleagues, Maulana Azad and Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, exercised influence over him. But there was no dearth of worshippers at Nehru’s temple. The legend continued, not surprisingly even to the present day.
The most significant and revealing part of the book is Chapter 9, which is sarcastically titled ‘The Emperor Himself.’ As you know, Kashmir is the hot-spot of the Indian Union. Pandit Nehru, in his autobiography, says in a simplistic manner, “Over 200 years ago, early in the 18th century, our ancestor came down from that mountain valley to seek fame and fortune in the rich plains below.”
It took an emperor, Farrukh Siyar to induce the Nehru family, whose original Kashmiri name was Kaul, to migrate to the imperial capital to accept a Jagir (feudal tenancy) with a house situated on the banks of a canal (hence the name Nehru). In successive generations thereafter, they held high office of Vakil of the ‘Sarkar Company’ and Kotwal of Delhi which were bestowed on the Nehru ancestors.
Nehru had a strong urge to lean back on his Kashmiri ancestry even though they had settled in India from about the year 1716. Nehru’s infatuation with Kashmir or as a Kashmiri Pandit was such that he begins his autobiography with a chapter titled ‘Descent from Kashmir.’ However, as an afterthought, he mentions in a footnote the truth: “I was born in Allahabad on the 14th November, 1889…”
Karaka elaborates on these sentiments of Nehru in the following words: To call oneself a Kashmiri, shows quality of breeding, learning and scholarship. Nehru is very proud of his prefix, Pandit. When titles were abolished and the order was given that everyone should henceforth uniformly be called Shri (Mister), the officials of the Government Departments proceeded to drop the ‘Pandit’ and began to refer to the Prime Minister as Shri Nehru. The Prime Minister was most upset. He quickly made it clear that ‘Pandit’ was not a title and therefore there should be no objection to anyone using it. Accordingly, the word ‘Pandit’ was immediately reinstated.
Strategically, Kashmir is the most important territory for India’s defence. It is bounded by five countries — namely India, Tibet, China, Russian Turkestan and Afghanistan. Jawaharlal Nehru visited Kashmir after his marriage in 1916 and also describes his visit to Zoji La Pass. Incidentally, I too had visited this Zoji La Pass with my Rotary friends some months back. Karaka says this Kashmir was ruled by a weak but pleasure-loving Maharaja, a courteous, pleasant-looking Indian Prince, fond of racing, fond of throwing parties, fond of good food and singing. It appears that Karaka used to live below him at one time — in the same apartment house in Bombay. This Prince of Kashmir, His Highness, the Maharaja Hari Singh Bahadur of Jammu and Kashmir sat on his throne by the grace of the British, who flattered his vanity no end, that included saluting him with 21 booming guns.
[To be continued tomorrow]
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