Why Embracing Gandhi Without Nehru is Not Feasible


With Nehru and his dynamism rests the future of Indian democracy and denying this fact is a hard nut to crack

Naved Ashrafi | Caravan Daily

ON January 13, 1948, Mahatma Gandhi undertook his last fast that was six-day long. It was the last attempt of its kind by Gandhi against Hindu-Muslim riots in Delhi. In a bid to restore communal harmony in Delhi, Gandhi, through his fast, demanded that the lives of Muslims in the city must be protected at any cost and that Pakistan should be given the pledged amount of fifty-five crore rupees immediately by India.

These demands made people’s blood boil for more than two days shouting Gandhi Murdabad (death to Gandhi) on streets of Delhi and it was only Jawaharlal Nehru who could speak to ten thousand people in a public meeting in front of the Red Fort on the third day. Irfan Habib argues that convening a huge meeting and pacifying the angry ‘crowd’, was such a daunting prospect that it could only be handled by none other than Nehru; not even by Sardar Patel, Rajendra Prasad and others.

Gandhi returned to India in 1915, and by the time he could fully plunge himself into India’s freedom struggle in Champaran, Nehru was just a young nationalist who used to succour Gandhi and other elder nationalists. Nehru had a high spark for radical and revolutionary methods right from his London days which is evident by his disagreements with his father’s modus-operandi in dealing with the British.

Though Nehru hadn’t read anything about Marxism by 1917 yet he was equally fascinated by Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and had a great reverence for Lenin. Later, Nehru became the champion of his own ilk of scientific, dogma-free, non-violent, non-bureaucratic and masses-friendly socialism in India which later gained the currency as the Nehruvian Socialism.

Latter had remained a prolonged battleground where both Gandhi and Nehru locked horns over the nature of planning, village, industry and so forth. Differences and altercations between Gandhi and Nehru were raised to such a degree that Nehru feared a severance of ties with his master! “I am getting more and more certain that there can be no further cooperation between Bapu and me”, wrote Nehru in his prison diary in Dehradun jail on July 18, 1933.

When National Planning Committee and its sub-committees undertook the herculean task for making a blueprint on planning, conservative cohort in the Congress was not much happy with this socialist operation. Mahatma Gandhi himself, in a letter to Rajkumari Amrit Kaur dated June 29, 1939, held that the whole planning was ‘a waste of effort’. Requesting Nehru to clear his doubts and seeking illumination over the efforts of planning, in a letter dated August 11, 1939, Gandhi put it bluntly that money and labour that were being wasted would ‘bring forth little or no fruit’.

This strife between the two leading figures of the nationalist movement continued even up to the end of 1945. Gandhi had an unshaken belief in the villages of India, for villages were inhabited by the masses of India who, [mystically] according to Gandhi, were the fountainhead of truth, simplicity and non-violence. Nehru, on contrary, would question his master, ‘why a village should necessarily embody truth and non-violence?’ for villages were inhabited by that lot of people who, according to Nehru, were narrow-minded, intellectually backward with a backward environment. (A Bunch of Old Letters, Oct 1945).

Nehru’s perception for socialism in India was essentially scientific with seemingly much inclination towards industry than the peasantry. Latter always remained an elan vital in Gandhian philosophy and his zeal towards India’s freedom. It is interesting to note here that Nehru went substantially against the grain of what he, as the Congress president, pledged to promote the Communist Party in India and assured to take peasant and labour cause more vigorously. (S. Gopal, 1976, Vol.1, p.202).

Tussle over the socialism was not the only one point around which differences between Gandhi and Nehru used to surface every now and then. In fact, during the war period when the British were retreating everywhere and there were ominous dangers of India being occupied by Japan as another invader, Gandhi sent his seven-point draft to Allahabad Working Committee through his disciple Miraben. The draft was rejected by the Committee in toto. Nehru held that the draft was designed by Gandhi in unconscious cognitive capacity. It was a victory of Nehru, though a ‘temporary one’ as Rabindra Chandra Dutt puts it.

From Harrow to the office of the Prime Minister, Nehru’s outlook remained quite dynamic. He was open to challenges and had a great deal of dynamism to face those challenges. According to his biographer Michael Brecher, Nehru was a conglomerate personality of four beliefs that Brecher captures as Nehru’s ‘idees fixes’; namely, Western liberalism, Socialism, Gandhism and Nationalism. Dutt, therefore, argues that clash of views between Gandhi and Nehru was not of that quantum which would create a rift at the cost of perseverance and goals towards India’s freedom.

‘Gandhi just wanted to convince Nehru about the basic principles of his philosophy though Nehru was more logical and rational in economic matters than Gandhi and other stalwarts’, argues Dutt. Therefore, from Lahore Congress (1929) to 1946, Nehru remained the pick of the bunch for Gandhi as compared to Raja Ji, Patel, Prasad and others. In AICC Wardha (January, 1942) meet, Gandhi thus avowedly proclaimed (p. 282-83):

We have had the differences from the moment we became co-workers and yet I have said for some years and say now that not Rajaji but Jawaharlal will be my successor. He [Nehru] says that he does not understand my language and that he speaks a language foreign to me. This may or may not be true. But language is no bar to a union of hearts. And I know this, that when I am gone he will speak my language.

As the historical underpinnings stand clear and transparent, it is next to impossible for anybody, including the current ruling dispensation, to embrace Mahatma Gandhi sans Jawaharlal Nehru. With Nehru and his dynamism rests the future of Indian democracy and denying this fact is a hard nut to crack.


Author is associated with the Department of Political Science, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh. He is a regular contributor to The Wire (Urdu) on fake news in India. The views expressed here are personal.


Clarion India - News, Views and Insights about Indian Muslims, Dalits, Minorities, Women and Other Marginalised and Dispossessed Communities.


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