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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 23, May 30, 2015

India without Nehru

Saturday 30 May 2015, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

The following piece, which appeared in the ‘New Delhi Skyline’ of Mainstream, was written two days after Jawaharlal Nehru’s demise on May 27, 1964. It was published on May 30, 1964.

As the golden flame licked up the funeral pyre, an unforgettable scene ended near the banks of the Jumna and under the shadow of the Red Fort.

It was an emotional experience without precedence, to watch this mightiest demonstration of love and respect that this great country has paid to any man. For Jawaharlal Nehru was, for the vast mass that is engulfed in sorrow today, not just a symbol of freedom, he was part of their very personality: it is difficult for this entire generation of ours to think of India without him; whatever we felt and learned, made us happy or sad, our hopes and our frustrations, were all inextricably interwoven with him.

As the millions came to join in his final journey through the streets of Delhi, new and old, they were as yet too stunned to feel the pangs of his loss in full measure. An indescribable sense of the coming void, of an existence in which Nehru would no longer be there seemed to have gripped them. The expression often used in his life-time that he could feel the pulse of the nation, could be understood in the fullest measure when one watched with awe the vast sea of humanity that accompanied him for miles in the grueling summer sun. A sense of personal loss was writ large on every face, young and old.

The remarkable initiative shown by the vast concourse of men and women in mourning could hardly be missed as the cortege was carried from the Prime Minister’s House to the open space beyond Rajghat. The Army and the Police could not manage the solid phalanx that thronged the eight-mile route: but spontaneously, the people with an amazing sense of dignity befitting the poignant occasion, made way for the entire funeral procession to pass while they themselves were wending their way to the cremation ground.

The realisation that Nehru was in broken health had come months backs. In fact, it began with his serious illness in the summer of 1962, just two years ago, when the most agile among political figures was laid up in bed for more than a month. Since then came the severest ordeal in his whole career—as also of free India—the armed attack by the Chinese. In fact, the blow came with the Chinese breach of faith five years ago, because he had made the friendship with China the sheet-anchor of his foreign policy.

For any leader anywhere else in the world, placed in similar circumstances, Peking’s diabolic attack would have been a killing blow. The fact that Nehru could not only survive the shock but found his own bearings as also of the nation’s to a large measure testified to his tremendous will power and steadfast devotion to the principles and ideals he has always striven to hold aloft. No wonder that in Delhi today many felt that if any single factor had killed this fearless fighter for peace, amity and under-standing among nations, it was the perfidy of Peking.

New Delhi is comforted in its hour of grief by the unique demonstration of friendship and solidarity that has been conveyed from all parts of the world. Cold War barriers have gone in paying homage to the man who had always fought it with unwavering faith in a world without war. If the West has paid generous tribute to his memory, Moscow has not lagged behind, and in the Capital today there is the recognition of Khrushchev’s expression of sorrow at the loss of a good friend; his ready pledge of support to the present government has been widely noted.

After Nehru Who? The question that has been debated for years has left the country no wiser. It is an extraordinary phenomenon that though Nehru’s departure was for long not unexpected, the nation—New Delhi particularly—was never more unprepared.

The grim fact that Nehru, unlike Gandhiji, did not groom anybody to succeed him, has left New Delhi in an uncanny suspense. The Titan has left behind a brood of dwarfs, none of whom can aspire even to that national eminence which was the hallmark of the Congress High Command when freedom came to this land. Under the shade of the mighty banyan tree, no other plant did grow in stature or stamina.

It was therefore but inevitable that the milling crowds that attended the memorable funeral were mostly beset by the inexorable question-mark—who will lead the government of this country, keeping it together and strong? This was indicated by the common people constantly flocking in clusters round the different leaders, Right and Left, all along the journey to the cremation ground. Who knows on whom the mantle will fall, or snatched by whom?

In the highest circles, the debate began within a few hours of the passing away of the leader. Actually, it started with the arrival of the Congress President late in the evening. Sri Kamaraj met Sri Lal Bahadur Shastri that very night. Since then, brisk lobbyings have been going on in the Capital in practically all circles. Sri Nanda’s supporters have been meeting in their own conclave, and so have Sri Shastri’s. Reports have come of Sri Morarji Desai’s talks with Sri Jagjivan Ram. Ententes and alignments of the most diverse character are being talked about.

An interesting development has been a wide demand from a large number of Congress MPs that the choice of a new leader should not be confined to close arrangements among the top few. As one of the rank-and-file members remarked, “Palace intrigues will not do, no longer shall we accept a fait acompli by the High Command.” Though it looks like a democratic demand, it is said to have been inspired by Sri Morarji Desai.

Three names have been heard as the likely contenders for Nehru’s succession—Sri Nanda, Sri Shastri and Sri Morarji Desai. Of these, there seems to be little prospect for Sri Desai on his own wangling a majority either in the Working Committee or in the Parliamentary Party. How-ever, he might strike some agreement with some other important group as that of Sri Jagjivan Ram, who commands a good number of supporters, at least the bulk of the Scheduled Caste MPs. It is significant that some of the Congress Left leaders are not totally averse to strike a deal with Sri Morarji Desai as a means of edging out Sri Shastri. It is understood that if Sri Desai does not become the Prime Minister, he wants, as price of an entente, the assurance that he would get back his old portfolio, namely, Finance. But this raises the question of Sri T.T. Krishnamachari’s future, for though he has no group following in the Congress as such, he does enjoy Sri Kamaraj’s patronage.

While fortunes may change unexpectedly in the next few crucial days, the indications available on the eve of the Congress Working Committee meeting placed the chances of Sri Shastri’s success as better than those of Sri Nanda. Apart from a large body of UP and Bihar members—the biggest single bloc in the Congress Parliamentary Party—Sri Shastri is assured of the support of Sri Kamaraj and Sri Atulya Ghosh. It is learnt that Sri Sukhadia also supports this alliance. Sri Biju Patnaik, who originally belonged to this group, has walked over to Sri Desai, it is learnt.

An incident showing up the strained relations was provided by the announcement of the portfolios of Sri Nanda’s Caretaker Cabinet: Sri Shastri’s supporters did not conceal their annoyance at Sri Nanda’s holding the External Affairs portfolio together with the Home.

According to one report, there is a possibility that Sri Nanda’s supporters, as a last resort in solving any possible deadblock, may press for Smt Indira Gandhi to be the Prime Minister. But it is not yet clear that she will persuade herself to accept the proposal, nor that it would automatically lead to the ending, or at least the freezing, of all group wrangles.

It appears that Sri Shastri’s supporters also want to enlist her for the Cabinet of their choice and may vote for her to be the new Foreign Minister. However Smt Vijayalaxmi Pandit’s name is also being mentioned as a possible candidate for the External Affairs portfolio, though her chances are rather slim.

The choice of the Prime Ministership is bound up with the question of selecting the Cabinet. For, the Congress President as also whoever is the possible choice would like to have an unanimous election. Under the circumstances, there is a strong tug-of-war among the groups to strengthen their own representation in the composition of the Cabinet. If Sri Shastri wins, there is hardly any chance for Sri Desai being taken into the Cabinet, though Sri S.K. Patil might have a chance. There is a lurking doubt if Sri Jagjivan Ram would find a place in a Shastri Cabinet, unless there is a last-minute under-standing. If Sri Nanda wins, then both Sri Jagjivan Ram and Sri Krishna Menon may be brought back: and Sri Desai too may not be left out. But Sri Patil is not likely to be acceptable for Sri Nanda’s team.

Whatever be the final selection, observers in the Capital fear that despite all show of unanimity, a Cabinet led by any of the groups in today’s context, will have powerful critics inside the Congress Parliamentary Party itself. This will no doubt be a strain on its stability. “Should we have UP projected in the Centre?” was the ominous question heard even in the funeral procession.

Meanwhile, powerful vested interests are not just passive spectators. Their mighty lobbies have been at work and if they could manage to have their say even under Nehru, how much more demanding they must be today. In the Capital, there are even talks of large-scale air-freighting of solid cash on the day the common humanity was saying a tear-choked goodbye to their beloved leader.

Man-eaters are at large, and they carry Morarjibhai on their book. But how many among the powers-that-be in New Delhi can fight the man-eaters?

A minor episode that must strike New Delhi’s press corps as not only interesting but significant is the hand-out released by the I&B Ministry’s Press Information Bureau on the day after the Prime Minister’s passing away. The Bureau has done excellent work to help the journalists in covering the momentous event.

Entitled “Jottings from Jawaharlal”, the 11-page hand-out contains very good passages from Nehru’s speeches and writings. As many as 34 passages have been chosen, but none of these contain even the breath of any reference to socialism, while portraying the life and work of the man who gave the concept of socialism to the national movement and made it the official goal of the government.

A straw in the wind? To forget the message of Nehru so soon after his departure may be the anxious objective of a handful of Big Money, but not certainly of the teeming millions who formed the never-failing companion of Jawaharlal Nehru.

(Mainstream, May 30, 1964)