When India’s most democratic Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru behaved like a school master with Krishna Menon




(This write up is the second part of the series ‘My take on Jawaharlal Nehru’ )

The behavior of Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru was in complete contrast to that of Vallabh Bhai Patel, the then deputy Prime Minister of India. Patel was a nuts and bolts man, with feet on the ground and believed in the dictum of “God is in details.”

Nehru, on the other hand, was never a stickler to details. He was a thinker and left the details to his subordinates. In fact he left too much to his subordinates so that his ideas were not implemented as he would have wished.

My uncle Dr. Atma Ram who was the Director General of CSIR during late 1960s narrated to me an incident about Nehru’s distaste for details.

Dr. Meghnad Saha the very famous Indian astrophysicist was entrusted the task by Nehru to make the first Science and Technology (S&T) plan of India. He was given a residence in a magnificent bungalow in Shimla and few months to prepare the plan. Dr. Saha took with him Dr. Atma Ram, his onetime student at Allahabad University, as his assistant. Dr. Atma Ram told me that Nehru came for just 15 minutes and okayed the plan without even looking at it properly. Either he trusted Meghnad Saha completely or S&T was not very much in his vision field at that time! Dr. Atma Ram told me that both he and Saha felt that their 2-3 months were wasted.

Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel on the contrary was a great administrator. Shri. B. B. Vohra, a member of the first Indian Administrative Services (IAS) batch once told me an anecdote about the administrative skills of then deputy Prime Minister.

Before Indian Administrative Services (IAS) came in existence, India was ruled by officers of Imperial Civil Services (ICS). Patel wanted one uniform IAS for the whole country whereas all the regional leaders wanted separate administrative services for their states. To resolve this issue Patel called a meeting of all State Chief Ministers (CMs) in Delhi to come to a consensus on this thorny issue. Patel started the meeting at 9 a.m. and told the CMs that it will end at 5 p.m

During the meeting one after another all the CMs spoke about the need of having separate administrative services which will be state based only. Patel sat quietly listening to the CMs speeches. At 5 p.m. sharp Patel rose and told the group that the meeting had been very productive and that he had learnt a lot regarding their problems and their views, and the consensus was that we should have only one IAS! He told his staff to write the minutes of the meeting accordingly and put this as the resolution passed! There was a pin drop silence in the room and not a single CM had the guts or the courage to go against Patel. This was the Iron Man of India!

Patel and Nehru never saw eye to eye on most matters and Gandhi ji was constantly worried about their differences. Yet Patel was magnanimous and big hearted. My father told me of an incident about this trait of Patel. A very close associate of Patel (who was a good friend of my father) told him that at Patel’s death bed he and other followers told him that they will become orphans after he was gone since they would have lost their only leader. Patel told his followers that after him Nehru will be their leader and they should follow him. He told them that though he had differences with Nehru but now he was their leader. I wonder whether Nehru would have shown such magnanimity.

Chacha Nehru’

Nehru really liked children. He was rightly called “Chacha Nehru” (Uncle Nehru). Sunder Lal told me about one incident regarding his love for children. Nehru had invited all the newly elected MPs of his party for a dinner at his house. The dinner was held in the lawns of Teen Murti house. During dinner, Nehru saw that some street urchins had climbed the boundary wall and were looking at the guests who were having dinner. So he took his plate and went to the wall and gave it to a young boy. Immediately all the MPs also gave their dinner plates to the urchins!

Nehru nevertheless was a vain person and very susceptible to flattery. My father told me that one very mediocre writer from Allahabad decided to translate Nehru’s Discovery of India into Sanskrit and wanted to have discussions with Nehru regarding it. Nehru gave him unlimited access to his house so he could go in and out of Teen Murti house wherever he wanted. Besides he gave him lots of his personal time.

Nehru’s uncle Dr. Atal was a very close friend of my father. They were both in Lucknow jail together during the freedom movement. Dr. Atal was a good friend of Chairman Mao and Chou-en-lai and hence was sent by Nehru as his emissary to China just before China war of 1962. Any time Dr. Atal introduced my father to Nehru he would say “Jawahar meet my friend Jagdish”. Nehru never liked being addressed as Jawahar and would flinch at this introduction.

Another instance of Nehru’s vanity and temper was shown in a film entitled “A day in the life of Prime Minister” which was shot by BBC in early 1960. I saw this movie when I was a student in the US in 1970s. The documentary showed Prime Minister Nehru’s day from morning (breakfast) to late night dinner. The BBC team had picked January 26, India’s Republic Day for shooting.

In one of the scenes Pandit Nehru was shown sitting in the front row watching the Republic Day parade with some foreign dignitary and Krishna Menon – the then defense minister of India. It was quite a sunny morning so Pandit Nehru was holding a folded newspaper to shade his eyes. The scene showed Krishna Menon as per his nature continuously chatting with the guest. Nehru got quite irritated and said “Menon can’t you stop talking for a bit”. After this rebuke Krishna Menon kept quiet for a few minutes but again started chatting animatedly. By this time Nehru lost his cool and he whacked Krishna Menon on his shoulder with the folded newspaper and told him to shut up! I could not believe that the most democratic Prime Minister of India would behave like a school master with the Defense minister of India! I believe this movie was never shown in India.

Similarly Sunder Lal ji told me of an incident that Nehru had this habit of threatening MPs that he would resign if they did not agree with him. I guess sometimes after 1962 China war he again threatened that he will resign. The young MPs said please do so. Nehru was really taken aback as he never expected such an answer from his MPs. I guess he was living in his own world.

Sunder Lal also thought that Gandhiji’s act of making Vinoba Bhave as the first individual satyagrahi instead of Nehru was meant to bring Nehru down in size and reduce his vanity and ego.

Even with all these shortcomings I think he was a great prime minister who had certain vision for India. Naturally he was a prisoner of his time so that the vision was colored by those times and events. Now in hindsight some consider it flawed. Nevertheless he had a vision for the country, was a great patriot and was honest. Such qualities unfortunately have not been seen in prime ministers of recent past.

This article is a part of two article series ‘My take on Jawaharlal Nehru’ by Anil Rajvanshi. The author is the Director and Hon. Secretary Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI). He could be reached at  [email protected])

NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of NewsGram.