Nehru: The Lotus Eater From Kashmir, by D.F. Karaka

The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Nehru: The Lotus Eater From Kashmir, by D.F. Karaka

Postby admin » Sun Mar 15, 2020 2:35 am

Nehru: The Lotus Eater From Kashmir
by D.F. Karaka



In Greek mythology the lotus-eaters (Greek: λωτοφάγοι), were a race of people living on an island dominated by the Lotus tree, a plant whose botanical identity (if based on a real plant at all) is uncertain. The lotus fruits and flowers were the primary food of the island and were a narcotic, causing the inhabitants to sleep in peaceful apathy. Figuratively, 'lotus-eater' denotes "a person who spends their time indulging in pleasure and luxury rather than dealing with practical concerns".

-- Lotus-eaters, by Wikipedia

To Pita Without Any Fanfare of Trumpets

Table of Contents:

1. Paris Episode
2. Heritage
3. Two Ornamental Pillars
4. ‘Liberation’
5. Manpower
6. Intolerance
7. Spotting Genius
8. The Promised Food
9. The Emperor Himself
10. The Oracle of Delhi
11. In Mountbatten’s Jeep
12. Big Talk
13. Spellbound
14. Imperious
15. The Glamour is Gone
Site Admin
Posts: 33515
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Nehru: The Lotus Eater From Kashmir, by D.F. Karaka

Postby admin » Sun Mar 15, 2020 2:35 am


In June of 1952 I was in Paris. At the house of Andre Leleu, the interior decorator, I met an old carpenter, seventy years of age. In his free Bohemian way, Leleu often asked one of his workmen to stay on and share his lunch.

The carpenter was a rigidly orthodox Frenchman, with light blue eyes and an almost transparent complexion. His snow-white hair, well brushed, was carefully parted at the side. His suit, though ancient, was tidily worn. His powder-blue shirt was neatly buttoned up at the collar, but he apparently thought it pointless to wear a tie.

Leleu, who was always stressing ‘basic values’, said this was the ‘real France’. In turn, he told Monsieur Letzichez that I was from India.

'Ah oui,' the carpenter registered, without being unduly impressed.

‘You know about India, ne c'est pas? Leleu went on to drive the point home and also to make Monsieur Letzichez’s dormant reflexes spring to attention. And Monsieur Letzichez oui-oui-ed a few more times.

The ‘real France’ was not responding so well on this occasion, but Leleu was not giving up. With prodding, he was confident Monsieur Letzichez would produce some intelligent observation on my country. Leleu asked him if he knew of Gandhi.

'Mais oui' the carpenter replied with an of-courseness which ruled out any further questioning. Everyone knew Gandhi. ‘Gandhi was a great man,’ he volunteered, but qualified the remark by adding ‘for his country’.

‘For his country?’ Leleu asked, a little surprised.

Monsieur Letzichez repeated himself: ‘Gandhi was a great man -- for his country.’

‘Why only for his country?’ Leleu asked.

Monsieur Letzichez said Gandhi was for his country; and he was great. When he died, it was a great loss -- ‘for his country’.

By now Leleu was not clear, nor was I, what was the particular significance of this phrase ‘for his country’. ‘Would you say he was as great as Churchill was par example -- for his country?’ Leleu asked, in order to clarify the situation and ascertain comparative values.

Monsieur Letzichez said the two were different: Churchill was a politician; Gandhi, he explained, was ‘more religious’.

There was a pause and I chipped in to ask: ‘And what do you think of Nehru?’

The expression on Monsieur Letzichez’s face turned completely blank, as if I was asking him about some obscure Asiatic. ‘Neyrue?’ he said, then, shaking his head, added: ‘Je ne le connais pas.'

He had never heard of the man.

That’s how this book began.
Site Admin
Posts: 33515
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Nehru: The Lotus Eater From Kashmir, by D.F. Karaka

Postby admin » Sun Mar 15, 2020 2:36 am


I am no iconoclast. I am just one of the disillusioned. There is a whole generation in India like me, whom Jawaharlal Nehru has let down. We are too old to look for a new hero to worship, but young enough to feel the sting of defeat.

We were the young men who whipped ourselves into a frenzy as our long struggle for freedom showed signs of ending and the goal came within sight. The British were leaving and we were on the threshold of a new life. The path to freedom was lit with our hopes and aspirations. Gandhi was our torch-bearer. Swaraj, that beautiful Indian word which connoted freedom, ‘home-rule’ and democracy rolled up in one, did not mean only the ousting of the British; it was to bring to us the component parts of that larger freedom to which all men of self-respect aspire: freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of religious belief, freedom of public meeting, freedom from want, fear and hunger.

In Gandhi we believed we had a man of the stature of Lenin, and in Nehru, who was his second-in-command, a democrat of the shape and tone of Abraham Lincoln. Then freedom came. Gandhi retired, leaving Jawaharlal Nehru to crystallise and express in words the pent-up feelings and emotions of the people he had led for a quarter of a century. As Jawaharlal said: ‘A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.’ As we listened to these words on our little radio sets at home, we found in Nehru’s words an echo of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. ‘Freedom and power bring responsibility,’ he said. ‘The past is over and it is the future that beckons to us now. That future is not one of ease or resting, but of incessant striving so that we may fulfil the pledges we have so often taken . . . The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity. The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye . . . Peace has been said to be indivisible; so is freedom, so is prosperity now, and so also is disaster, in this one world that can no longer be split into isolated fragments . . .’ I felt goose-flesh creeping over me that night, around the midnight hour. It was August 15th, 1947.

Not many months passed before Mahatma Gandhi disappeared from our midst. He fell at an assassin’s hand with the name of God on his lips. His ashes, symbolic of him, were strewn into our rivers. He had given us a new creed, a new faith, a new religion based on the two cardinal principles of truth and non-violence, and a new name by which we could now call ourselves. We were no longer a little part of a great Empire; we were an entity unto ourselves -- the Republic of India. That was the heritage Gandhi left us. As part of it, he left us his political heir, Jawaharlal Nehru.


I forget where I saw him first, but the picture still remains vivid in my mind of a handsome aristocrat with well-chiselled features, looking more like a Greek god than a Kashmiri Brahmin. He makes a terrific first impression.

Fate had been kind to this young man, who had had the advantage of being born into a well-to-do Indian home. His father, Motilal, was a wealthy Allahabad lawyer who had already made his mark in India, both in his profession and in politics, and who had gained admission into what may be called the Indian Cliveden set which grouped around the rebel, Gandhi.

Long before Jawaharlal returned from England, the elder Indian politicians had already reserved a place for him on the rostrum of the Indian National Congress. The young Jawahar, with his schooling at Harrow and his polished Cambridge manners, was obviously an asset to the group of khaddar-clad patriots, who struggled in their own way to be the articulate expression of a people’s desire for freedom. It was like throwing Hedy Lamarr into a village fair in order to attract the crowd.

Nehru was undoubtedly that attraction. He was the idol of the younger men. He fired their imagination. He attracted them to the struggle. Unconsciously he played the role of a recruiting officer to the ranks of the Congress, for, wherever he went in the name of the Congress, people flocked to him. Therefore, when he returned to India, Jawaharlal got easy entry into the inner circle of Indian nationals, and overnight he became a leader without having to go through the mill.

Nehru’s early contacts with the West and its political philosophies have left a permanent mark on him. If he cannot translate these philosophies into action, he still faithfully continues to pay lip-service to them. Nehru was never born of the masses and he will never be one of them, though circumstances have forced him to mix with large crowds of our people. Whenever I have seen him, through the years, he has always stood aloof from the crowd: an aristocrat by birth, a well-read, cultured and facile Kashmiri Pandit. Although he has assumed mass leadership, he is uncomfortable in his surroundings. He once seemed impatient with the mediocrity he found around him, but gradually this mediocrity has grown on him, and his resistance to it has worn down. He has always been known to lose his temper; in the initial stages it was only because he was impatient, but now it has become part of the mental make-up of the man. As he becomes more and more aware of his limitations, he tends to become nervous and, at times, even afraid. You can see he dislikes himself for having behaved in that manner, but that is his temperament -- hot-tempered, easily irritated, sometimes unbelievably intolerant.

Nehru once believed that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but this is not the way things have worked out for him. Of late he has been seen going around in circles, like a dog trying to catch its tail, and getting increasingly annoyed at his inability to do so. Finally, we have seen him exhaust himself in the process and end up with delivering yet another sermon to the nation, pious, rambling, full of platitudes and good purpose, but achieving nothing in the process.

Non-violence, for instance, only came to him because of his blind and implicit faith in Gandhi. In the hectic days of our struggle he gave us the impression that he would have preferred to pick up a gun and fight his way out of the Bastille which was once India, and lead us to the open Elysian fields of freedom, rather than spend years in offering steady, solid moral resistance which was the essence of satyagraha. But as Gandhi never compromised on this fundamental issue, non-violence prevailed. Today, Nehru is left with the creed on his hands, unable to apply it at home, but content to preach it in the assemblies of the world, even with a world conflict looming on the horizon, and the power blocs rearming for action.

Power, as Nehru said, brought responsibility, and he who was for us an inspiration became overnight the symbol of government and the administration. In the eyes of thousands of Indians, however, the man he succeeded was not Mahatma Gandhi, but Lord Louis Mountbatten, from whom power was transferred. As responsibility weighed on him, the image of the democrat shattered under the strain. The splinters took odd shapes; one little piece resembled a demilitarised General Franco in a Gandhi cap and khaddar kurta,1 [1. Indian shirt of home-spun material.] and yet another shattered fragment was so like the ranting and verbose Ramsay MacDonald, whose latter-day public utterances indicated that he was gradually losing his grip on the problems with which he was faced. Something had always to look Oriental about Nehru, even a tiny piece of him, and as one picked up another broken piece, it bore a close resemblance to a flamboyant Chiang Kai-shek, who moved from the mainland of China to his retreat in Formosa, persisting in the belief that the West was still looking upon him to redeem the East. That is the level at which Pandit Nehru has steadied himself in five years of independence. Naturally, he is somewhat nettled that he, whom everyone in India applauded as the greatest Indian of them all, was able to achieve so little for his people and his country.

All great men have their little weaknesses, which characterise them. Nehru’s weakness is emotion, which rules him much more than his head. He has got away with it through the years, because he has always been able to count on the personal affection the people have for him, which has carried him through every and any opposition. That is his strength. That is also his Achilles heel. The destiny of India cannot perpetually depend on an individual’s emotional appeal, and everyday affairs of administration cannot always be conducted by intuition. Consequently, the planning of Jawaharlal Nehru, whether it is the planning of our nationalism or of our economy, has been chaotic. Figures cannot tally when they are based purely on emotion.

Men often call themselves progressive when they only mean that they are not reactionary. Progressive men start and lead progressive movements like the many we have seen spring up around us all over the world in the last two decades. Some of these progressive movements have had a great fascination for Nehru. He always likes to be looked upon as a modern; he wants to be a Picasso hung up in the Royal Academy, looking upon the classical forms around him with a supercilious air. He is easily moved by the righteousness of a cause and by anything that smacks of a crusade. He always comes back from his trips abroad full of admiration for some other people in some other part of the world who may be fighting their battle for freedom, whether that battle is to achieve freedom or to retain it. He is fond of reading literature which speaks the language of freedom. All this has endeared him to our people, to whom he is more a legend than a practical leader. In terms of folklore, he could be likened to a prince, ready with his sword to defend the unarmed, to guard the rights of man, to fight for human justice. But all this Tennysonian allegory of the days of King Arthur and Lancelot does not sit so well at the desk of the Prime Minister of India, more especially when this knight with the shining piece of steel has constantly got to dip it in ordinary blue-black ink to append his signature to executive actions, some of which could be likened to those of a small-town dictator in a neo-fascist state. That new streak, perceptible in Jawaharlal Nehru, some say has come with responsibility; others strongly suspect it has come with power.

To understand this, one has to go back fifteen years, when, in the staid Modern Review1 [1. November 1937.] of Calcutta, a magazine which circulates among ‘highbrows’ only, there appeared an article, anonymously written, entitled ‘Jawaharlal Nehru’. Readers of the Modern Review were disturbed by the appearance of this ridiculously melodramatic article in an otherwise weighty publication. The author was obviously an enthusiastic college student whom the editor was trying desperately hard to encourage. Nehru was at that time President of the Indian National Congress, and he had indicated his unwillingness to carry on the appointment for another term. The young writer was trying to dissuade the Congress from reelecting him, on the grounds that in Jawaharlal was the germ of a fascist, and that if he were pampered too much, the pampering would go to his head. Of course, he wrote in glowing terms about Jawaharlal all the way through the article, as some of the passages quoted below will indicate:

‘ . . . The Rashtrapati2 [2. Sanskrit word for President.] looked up as he passed swiftly through the waiting crowds, his hands went up and were joined together in salute and his pale hard face was lit up by a smile. It was a warm personal smile, and the people who saw it responded to it immediately and smiled and cheered in return.

‘The smile passed away and again the face became stern and sad, impassive in the midst of the emotion that it had roused in the multitude. Almost it seemed that the smile and the gesture accompanying it had little reality behind them; they were just tricks of the trade to gain the goodwill of the crowds whose darling he had become. Was it so?

‘Watch him again. There is a great procession, and tens of thousands of persons surround his car and cheer him in an ecstasy of abandonment. He stands on the seat of the car, balancing himself rather well, straight and seemingly tall, like a god, serene and unmoved by the seething multitude. Suddenly there is that smile again, or even a merry laugh, and the tension seems to break and the crowd laughs with him, not knowing what he is laughing at. He is god-like no longer but a human being, claiming kinship and comradeship with the thousands who surround him, and the crowd feels happy and friendly and takes him to its heart. But the smile is gone and the pale stern face is there again . . .

Jawaharlal is a personality which compels interest and attention. But they have a vital significance for us, for he is bound up with the present in India, and probably the future and he has the power in him to do great good to India or great injury ....

‘ . . . From the far north to Cape Comorin he has gone like some triumphant Caesar passing by, leaving a trail of glory and a legend behind him. Is all this for him just a passing fancy which amuses him, or some deep design or the play of some force which he himself does not know? Is it his will to power of which he speaks in his autobiography that is driving him from crowd to crowd and making him whisper to himself: “I drew these tides of men into my hands and wrote my will across the sky in stars”?’

Then came the young writer’s warning:

‘. . . Men like Jawaharlal with all their capacity for great and good work are unsafe in a democracy. He calls himself a democrat and a socialist, and no doubt he does so in all earnestness, but every psychologist knows that the mind is ultimately a slave to the heart and that logic can always be made to fit in with the desires and irrepressible urges of man. A little twist and Jawaharlal might turn into a dictator, sweeping aside the paraphernalia of a slow-moving democracy. He might still use the language and slogans of democracy and socialism, but we all know how fascism has fattened on this language and then cast it away as useless lumber.' (The italics are mine.)

On the other hand, the writer went on to say, ‘Jawaharlal is certainly not fascist either by conviction or by temperament. He is far too much of an aristocrat for the crudity and vulgarity of fascism ...’ Since when has aristocracy been a bar to fascism? In fact, history proves that it has fostered it. But when an editor decides to encourage a young man who fancies he has a flair for writing, it would be pointless to mutilate the script on grounds of historical accuracy. So the Modern Review printed this effusion, obviously without any sub-editing.

Soon the young writer was becoming wobbly. He could not make up his mind about Jawaharlal, and ended by proving that Jawarharlal could not become a fascist but that he would! The passages in the article that followed read:

‘Jawaharlal cannot become a fascist. And yet 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. His flashes of temper are well known, and even when they are controlled, the curling of the lips betrays him. His overmastering desire to get things done, to sweep away what he dislikes and build anew, will hardly brook for long the slow process of democracy. He may keep the husk but he will see to it that it bends to his will. In normal times he would just be an efficient and successful executive, but in this revolutionary epoch, Caesarism is always at the door, and is it not possible that Jawaharlal might fancy himself as a Caesar?

‘Therein lies danger for Jawaharlal and for India. For it is not through Caesarism that India will attain freedom, and though she may prosper a little under a benevolent and efficient despotism she will remain stunted, and the day of emancipation of her people will be delayed . . .

‘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.’

This quite incredible article, which read like a rough shooting script for a Cecil B. De Mille version of an Indian Quo Vadis, was obviously not taken seriously by anyone except the author himself. It certainly made no difference whatsoever to the Indian National Congress, which voted Jawaharlal as President despite all warnings.

Imagine our surprise when some years later it was revealed that the author of this anonymous absurdity was none other than Jawaharlal Nehru himself.

Nehru has never contradicted the attribution of the authorship of the article to him. It has been reproduced again and again, the last known occasion being August 31st, 1951, when the New Delhi weekly Thought reproduced it under the title ‘Jawaharlal NEHRU -- By Jawaharlal Nehru’. Nor is Pandit Nehru careless about contradictions. The meticulous care with which he scrutinises every remark affecting him even remotely, and the frequent occasions on which he sets the whole machinery of the government of India, now at his command, into action to contradict even a single inaccurate or unfavourable comment in the Indian press about his regime, his ministers, his government, his policy or himself, make it certain that the frequent attributions could not possibly have escaped him.

Aristocracy was no bar to Jawaharlal’s metamorphosis. We spoiled him with too much adulation and praise, despite his own warning. His conceit, which he said was already formidable, grew with power until it became chronic with what he called responsibility. No one could check it, not even Nehru himself. In time he became Caesar, as he said he would -- or would he prefer Pandit Caesar? How could we ever drop that scholastic prefix which distinguished him from the ordinary Indians over whom he held undisputed sway after we were freed from the British?

Nehru has always lived, even during the days he spent in jail, somewhere in the clouds. Like some of the Russian princes who have remotely stemmed from the late Tsar, he refuses to come down to earth. Drama must always surround him; not the light comedy of the foibles of everyday life, such as you would see in any little bourgeois theatre, but the heavier variety, something like Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, accompanied by the music of Wagner, preferably the Funeral March, at the end of which Nehru could rise to rhetorical heights such as when he said on Gandhi’s death: ‘The light that shone in this world was no ordinary light ... for that light represented something more than the immediate present; it represented the living, the eternal truths . . .’

Something like that must always happen around Jawaharlal Nehru to bring out the greatness in the man. He is not just a steady plodder.

Robert Bernays, that brilliant young M.P. who was killed in an air crash during the war, once told me that Churchill was a man who wanted life to be one great tragedy and that he should always be in the centre of it. When I ran into Bernays accidentally in Rome, the fateful night before his plane crashed on its way back to the United Kingdom, I reminded him about this little epigram he had produced in Oxford many years ago. ‘Well, of course,’ Bernays said, ‘he has got the right part now, and he is certainly playing it brilliantly.’ In recent months I have often thought that this description of Churchill fits Nehru in the setting of India and Asia. Nehru has been at his best fighting for the liberation of our people, and, as the territorial limits of his crusade have expanded, he has been privately rehearsing to play the role of Liberator of Asia. But, as Asia is not likely to be ‘liberated’ except by communism. Pandit Nehru would find the role of a Soviet satellite somewhat irksome to his Caesarian susceptibilities.

But at home there are no such great and dramatic roles to play. Instead, innumerable little details keep cropping up in Nehru’s India. There is the Congress party machine continually in the process of being overhauled; there is the Planning Commission, which has been incessantly planning and producing blue-prints, apparently too impractical or expensive to be translated into action; there is the food problem, which Nehru has tried to solve with grandiose speeches on self-sufficiency and with the mass planting of trees, Vanamahotsava, which never grew, leaving our people dependent on the charity of nations we had antagonised; there is the acute shortage of foreign exchange; cloth is periodically rationed and then released overnight because of a glut due to under-consumption. These little things need the attention of Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India, and once again President of the Congress.  

But to our three hundred and sixty million people these little things are as important as freedom; they are freedom itself. The greatness that is in Nehru unfortunately does not come out in rationing coupons or at economic conferences. It wants vivid colours to portray it; it needs to be painted on the broad canvas of suffering humanity. The canvas has, moreover, to be of pure khaddar, or, at least, hand-woven and hand-spun somewhere in Asia.
It required a world war to bring out the genius of Winston Churchill; that of Jawaharlal Nehru will likewise have to wait its turn to express itself. The failure of a local monsoon does not bring it out, even though this is how all our famines begin.  
Site Admin
Posts: 33515
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Nehru: The Lotus Eater From Kashmir, by D.F. Karaka

Postby admin » Sun Mar 15, 2020 2:36 am


Nehru’s over-preoccupation with Asia, which he regards as his beat and orbit of protection, is due to a constant fear within him of the possibility of the white man returning, or at least of his ability to achieve remote control over Asian affairs. Nehru is very sensitive about anything that savours of Western patronage; he will not brook even a charitable gesture, however genuine, and even when he agrees to take an occasional loan or any form of material help from the West, whether in the shape of food-grains or capital, he will not take it as a gift, but insists on regarding it as a loan, given unconditionally and ‘with no strings attached’. The only deviation from strict international financing he allows himself is to accept an indefinite date for its redemption. The obligation to pay is therefore always there and negatives any presumption of foreign patronage.

Chiang Kai-shek used to take the assistance and be thankful for it, but Nehru’s intense national pride and his highly-strung sense of self-respect make it necessary for the loan to appear almost forced upon him. Never before has a nation shown such determination to stand on its dignity at such a chronic stage of its helplessness. It is nevertheless determination that counts; all things done under the shadow of the Asoka pillar appear to have a sanctity which they did not have under the Royal Crown. In the old days, the offer of foreign aid would have been construed as an attempt to dominate the East and to enslave its people. Today the far greater assistance which we receive from those quarters is regarded only as friendly gestures of fellow democracies. In the old days, too, we would have boycotted this help from others; today we accept it, but nullify the danger of patronage by saying there will be ‘no strings attached’. Just as the ideals of administration weigh more with Nehru than administration itself, so, too, practicality takes second place to the greater value we attach to the gaining of a position in the comity of nations where, despite our recent entry, our representatives often behave as if they own the place. This innocence in flaunting our new status is a passing phase; not only India but the whole East, Near to Far, is passing through it as a rebound from the years of servitude. In Iran, Mussadiq believes the oil-taps of the Middle East can be switched on and off from his bedside, and Nehru, with equal Oriental charm, appears to be under the impression that India virtually has a casting vote on most of the important problems discussed by the United Nations.

Our attitude to the powers of the West has, therefore, been conditioned by the personal complexes of Pandit Nehru. The translation of these complexes into action has become our foreign policy.

This policy is based on two ornamental pillars: the one is the enhancement of our prestige abroad; the other, neutrality.

The first pillar has been raised brick by brick with Nehru’s own hands. It is he who has worked out the intricate details of how our prestige abroad should be enhanced. The belief is widespread among his still-constant followers that were he to be spared from his arduous duties at home, and allowed to roam the cities of the world as a pedlar of goodwill, he would promote enough understanding to last us a lifetime. Others do not think that Nehru’s personal presence is necessary in view of the whole host of celebrities who represent us abroad, occasionally or permanently.

Nor is the privilege of enhancing our prestige abroad the sole prerogative of the star turns of the diplomatic corps. The whole story can best be read in the report of the Auditor-General, Narahari Rao, who was sent out to check on our missions abroad, and who reported, to Pandit Nehru’s dismay, that accounting was by no means the forte of the corps. The Auditor-General’s report revealed inter alia that in one instance an equivalent of twenty-seven thousand rupees1 [1. Approx. £2,000.] was withdrawn from the bank account of the mission for the private use of the Minister, who credited the amount to his bank account a few weeks later. The irregularities did not stop with mere private and unauthorised borrowings from the official cash, which at least were restored after long periods. The report disclosed that there were also instances of purchases being made without proper sanction, which were prima facie objectionable and extravagant. Some of these purchases were said to be of a private nature, such as cigarettes, theatre tickets, flowers, etc., required by the officials of the mission. A subsequent thorough inquiry confirmed that there had been misuse of government money and falsification of accounts, and that some of the officers of the legation had employed highly improper and high-handed methods.

‘It is a pity,’ our correspondent1 [1. Thakorelal M. Desai in The Current, November 7th, 1951] said, breaking the story of the contents of this startling report, ‘that the identity of those who were responsible for these objectionable practices, especially those who are still members of the diplomatic service, has been shrouded in mystery and left to the people to guess. Such finicky regard for the niceties of official etiquette and considerations of our prestige in the foreign capitals is clearly out of place in matters of such gravity.’

Personalities, though regarded as important at the time of selection to our newly formed diplomatic service -- in which the selectors have paid more attention to breeding than to form -- have to be discarded in any criticism of this corps. Otherwise we are accused of bad taste.

Nehru resents any kind of personal criticism or any pin-pointing or documentation, even in a question in Parliament, with regard to his pet service, which he once proudly announced was ‘hand-picked’ by him. The Indian taxpayer still finds it difficult to understand why, in the state of poverty in which we perpetually proclaim ourselves to be, there was such urgent need for one of our diplomatic representatives to re-condition his bathroom at the cost of fifteen hundred pounds, or for Pandit Nehru to sanction yet another large sum for the opening of yet another diplomatic branch office, when the head office has so little to do. But on these little points, which affect any department under Pandit Nehru’s personal supervision, inquisitive people, however highly placed, find themselves often clashing with the Pandit, to the latter’s irritation and the former’s eventual disillusion.

It was one such incident that resulted in the resignation of Dr John Matthai, whose services as Finance Minister Pandit Nehru had requested on lend-lease from the Tata billion-dollar industrial empire. The situation became intolerable for the Finance Minister when, every time he effected an economy, the cabinet over which Pandit Nehru presided ‘adopted proposals for expenditure either without or in anticipation of their [the Standing Finance Committee’s] approval’.1 [1. From Dr Matthai’s statement following his resignation.] Dr Matthai had resigned quietly, without stating any specific reasons whatsoever, but Nehru, in a speech he made in the South, without any warning to the Minister who had silently resigned, provoked a contradiction which spoke for itself. Dr Matthai said: ‘Some of the greatest offenders in this respect have been the ministries functioning under the immediate control of the Prime Minister. It has been for me a difficult uphill task, and a definite weakening of our campaign for economy has naturally resulted.’

‘The last case of this kind I had to deal with’, the former Finance Minister continued, ‘is typical of what is happening. When it was decided that our High Commissioner in the United Kingdom should be our Ambassador in Ireland, the Standing Finance Committee agreed to the proposal on the distinct understanding that no expenditure other than the travelling expenses of the High Commissioner should be incurred. There was to be no building or staff for the Embassy.

‘This proposal was agreed to in November last by the External Affairs Ministry as part of our economy campaign. But the High Commissioner would not accept the suggestion made by us and the matter was, therefore, brought before the cabinet, at the Prime Minister’s instance. The cabinet has now agreed that our Embassy in Dublin should be provided with a building and also staff, not merely without the approval of the Standing Finance Committee, but against its recommendations.’2 [2. Ibid.]  

So this fetish of enhancing prestige abroad is a personal weakness of Nehru, resulting from his complex that his India — Nehru’s India — must be made to look as great a land as any in the world. If only the outward show were backed by inner substance, the expenditure on this count would be worth our while. But this object cannot be achieved by putting fifth-rate diplomats into first-class motor-cars.

All this goodwill promotion and this exchange of understanding would have no meaning, according to Nehru, were it not to promote peace between the nations involved. Therefore, as a natural corollary to this, our foreign policy is based on the idea of maintaining the status quo as at the end of the second world war. Altering this balance of power would be permissible only if it were done by means short of war. Thus, the sliding of the whole of China behind the Iron Curtain is not regarded as an act of aggression by the U.S.S.R., or even an infiltration move. It should rather be regarded as the legitimate exercise of the Chinese people’s right of self-determination, expressed spontaneously under the indigenous leadership of the great triumvirate: Mao Tse-tung, Chou En-lai and Chu Teh. Presumably the old Generalissimo, Chiang, was moved from the Chinese mainland to his new retreat in Formosa by a constitutionally conducted referendum. It, however, becomes our duty, so Pandit Nehru’s mind runs, to recognise this de facto change in the constitution of China from a Republic under Chiang to a People’s Republic under the tutelage of the U.S.S.R. Yet the same Pandit Nehru was, but a few years ago, strolling in the gardens of Viceregal House, to Lord Linlithgow’s discomfort, with none other than the Chiangs whom Nehru phrased as ‘our valiant neighbours’. And when, on my return from China, I respectfully indicated to Nehru that Chiang’s days appeared to be numbered and that the Reds were doing a terrific job, he merely smiled at me in a knowing sort of way. Britain, too, has recognised Red China, but not with the pious platitudes in which our spokesmen glorified the event.

Not to recognise China would be to displease her, and, after all, the British had really no tangible right on Chinese soil. Even the cities which the British claim to have developed, admittedly with their capital, were built with cheap Chinese labour, and that falls under exploitation which Nehru will not tolerate. China for the Chinese, as India is now for the Indians. Conquest by arms never established a claim which an upright democrat, pledged to non-violence, can recognise; the subtle conquest by infiltration was, however, on a different footing. Thus the foundation was laid for the policy of neutrality which was to revolutionise the mind of Asia, and which was to be a forging-house for promoting understanding with the West. The sweeping changes over the map were only the manifestations of a natural evolution of an awakened Asia. All this was plausible, except for the strange coincidence that Asia was being stirred to life in a dawn which was noticeably red.  

Neutrality implied staying aloof from all forms of controversy which could not be settled without recourse to arms. Therefore, it also implied the denial of any moral support to one side which would provoke action by the other side. It implied the denial of any form of preparation for any eventuality, or any training for participation in any future conflict, other than that required for the guarding of our frontier with Pakistan. Militarily, India’s prime concern is to be a little stronger than Pakistan, but no more. That is the official outlook. The question of defending ourselves in the event of China waging a secondary war on India to support the U.S.S.R. in the coming world conflict does not arise, because Pandit Nehru has been convinced of China’s goodwill towards us.

It is now officially accepted in India that Mao has no territorial ambitions outside his own frontiers. The highly militarised manoeuvres of Chinese troops along and behind the Brahmaputra river, which the Chinese prefer to call the Tsangpo, have to be written off as P.T. exercises. Pandit Nehru is said to have been further impressed by Chinese good intentions because, when the Chinese accidentally crossed our border some time in 1950, they were polite enough to apologise for their mistake, and their erring soldiers were made to return every little item which they had pilfered or pillaged from our northern villages. After all, what is a little fraternisation between understanding neighbours?

The Sino-Indian War, also known as the Indo-China War and Sino-Indian Border Conflict, was a war between China and India that occurred in 1962. A disputed Himalayan border was the main pretext for war, but other issues played a role. There had been a series of violent border incidents after the 1959 Tibetan uprising, when India had granted asylum to the Dalai Lama. India initiated a Forward Policy in which it placed outposts along the border, including several north of the McMahon Line, the eastern portion of the Line of Actual Control proclaimed by Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai in 1959.

Unable to reach political accommodation on disputed territory along the 3,225 kilometre- (2,000 mile-) long Himalayan border, the Chinese launched simultaneous offensives in Ladakh and across the McMahon Line on 20 October 1962.
Chinese troops advanced over Indian forces in both theatres, capturing Rezang La in Chushul in the western theatre, as well as Tawang in the eastern theatre. The war ended when China declared a ceasefire on 20 November 1962, and simultaneously announced its withdrawal to its claimed 'line of actual control'.

-- Sino-Indian War, by Wikipedia
Site Admin
Posts: 33515
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Nehru: The Lotus Eater From Kashmir, by D.F. Karaka

Postby admin » Sun Mar 15, 2020 2:37 am


Things took a somewhat different shape when the new Chinese war-lords kept paying far too much attention to their cultural affinities on the Indian borders while they too easily ignored those dubious regions which divided them from the U.S.S.R. For instance, the somewhat strange similarity between the Tibetan and the Chinese Mongol brought, overnight, whole garrisons into Tibet to proclaim a suzerainty which, although we did not dispute it, we never knew the Chinese were so keen on emphasising. As a result, our own military mission in Gyangtse, the outpost on our trade route to the North, disappeared, without our Foreign Minister, who was Nehru himself, being able to account in Parliament for this vanishing act.

To understand what was happening in these parts, it is necessary to review in fuller detail these recent events which transformed large tracts of sleepy areas into active communist pockets.

With the ‘liberation’ of Tibet by the Chinese, this once autonomous province, which at one time could exchange diplomatic missions with other nations, found its foreign affairs controlled directly from Peking. This was announced one fine day over Radio Peking, and no one in India was in any position to question Peking’s decision. Possession is ten-tenths of international law.

Below Tibet lie the two kingdoms of Nepal and Bhutan, stretching over the top of our provinces of Bihar and north-west Assam. Tibet was too easily liberated. At first the Chinese had planned to enter Tibet from their provinces of Chinghai and Sikang, to the east, but in this process some of Red China’s reconnaissance units strayed into Indian territory, violating the McMahon Line, which is the recognised territorial demarcation between India and China. It was then that Nehru protested and the Chinese promptly withdrew, admonishing their troops. The Chinese then swung the whole operation north-west and proceeded to carry out their ‘liberation’ movement from Sinkiang, north-west of Tibet, to avoid the risk of clashing with India and offending our so-called neutrality.

It was as the Chinese rolled along the Brahmaputra, or the Tsangpo, that our mission at Gyangtse tactfully withdrew along with the garrison battalion of the Indian army which had been placed there to guard our lines of communication.

In November of 1950 there appeared on the front page of The Current an article over my name, entitled ‘Nehru’s neutrality brings Mao to our frontier’. It dealt with Nehru’s reactions to the invasion of Tibet.

Relying always on his ‘hand-picked’ men, Nehru had refused on more than one occasion to take the advice of seasoned experts on their subjects. Our representative in Lhasa at the time was an Englishman by the name of Richardson, who had continually warned the Indian government against the recognition of Chinese suzerainty over Tibet. Richardson was accepted as a competent authority on Tibetan affairs. Pandit Nehru, however, did not relish taking advice on Asian affairs from an Englishman. The government of India recalled Richardson from Lhasa. In his place, Pandit Nehru appointed an Indian, Dr Sinha. Dr Sinha was from the new Indian diplomatic service; he was formerly in Peking. The learned doctor was credited with a deep understanding of Mao Tse-tung.

It is now an open secret that the Chinese invasion of Tibet came as a complete surprise to the Indian government. Comment is superfluous on the fact that neither Sardar Pannikar, who was our former Ambassador at Peking, nor our new representative in Tibet, Dr Sinha, had any information to communicate to New Delhi on Chinese troop movements and manoeuvres which preceded the coup d’etat. They had apparently no knowledge of Chinese intentions with regard to Tibet. Pandit Nehru, when he heard of the invasion, was furious; he sent a frantic cable to Ambassador Pannikar in Peking. The message is said to have read somewhat as follows: ‘Either you did not explain our point of view to the Chinese, or you did not understand what the Chinese told you.’ Two days later, a cool and collected Ambassador replied that he knew nothing of the invasion until he heard about it over All-India Radio!

It is no secret that at the last Pacific conference at Lucknow, high level Americans present told the Indian representatives in very specific terms that they did not understand from where India got its information about China, but that American Intelligence reports were very clear on the point that China was shortly to invade Tibet. Surely this must have reached the ears of the Prime Minister, but Pandit Nehru often closes his ears to anything that he does not wish to hear.

Nor was this the only occasion on which Nehru has ignored advice given to him on Tibet. He had been told, we understand, that we should increase our representation at Kashgar, the vital key-point where Tibet touches the Chinese province of Sinkiang. Kashgar is on the direct caravan route, and we had only one trade representative there. Pandit Nehru disregarded this advice. He probably feared that our keeping an eye on this vital spot would offend the Chinese government. He went further; he recalled our sole representative, Mr Sathe, on the eve of the invasion. Mr Sathe returned, ostensibly for consultation, and while he was in New Delhi the Chinese army struck at Tibet. The Chinese came from two places, and one of them was Sinkiang.  

The invasion of Tibet has had momentous consequences for the defence of India, which neither our government nor our people wish to appreciate. The border of Tibet runs along the Indian frontier for approximately two thousand miles. Hitherto, the Himalayas have been our silent sentinels, separating us from the Chinese, but now it has been realised that this mighty mountain barrier is no longer impregnable. Moreover, the Indian army and the other defence services, in which we all naturally take great pride, are hardly equipped to fight the first-rate power which China has become under Soviet influence. It was different when the Chinese were only limp, knock-kneed soldiers, as in the days of Chiang Kai-shek, but the army of Mao is a very different proposition. In the event of a clash, Mao can always fall back on the U.S.S.R., whereas we, by our neutrality, have alienated all our friends.

Our deliberate unpreparedness is unforgivable. So eminent an historian as Professor Arnold Toynbee has said in his Civilization on Trial that there would be two theatres of war in World War III, and that one of them would be Tibet. Tibet touches not only the disturbed area of Nepal, but also the disputed portion of Kashmir; important trade routes pass through Ladakh. Tibet also borders on Assam, which has been for some time in a restless state due to perpetual communist activities of which our government is aware, but not poignantly. Attempts to point out to our government the danger of underestimating the communist menace in these areas have been dismissed by the remark that the communists are ‘not unduly unmanageable’.

Pandit Nehru has always had faith in the Asiatic, however treacherous certain Asiatics can be. An indication of this is to be seen in the exchange of official correspondence between India and China, released to the press on November 3rd, 1950. The correspondence was on the subject of the delay of the departure of the Tibetan delegation from New Delhi, on the personnel of which China had said foreign influence was being brought to bear. India said; ‘Owing to lack of knowledge on the part of the Tibetan delegation in dealing with other countries, and the necessity of obtaining instructions from their government who in turn had to consult their assemblies, certain further delay took place. The government of India do not believe that any foreign influence hostile to China has been responsible for the delay in the delegation’s departure.’

There was nothing apologetic about China’s reply. China said: ‘The Central People’s Government of the People’s Republic of China would like to make it clear; Tibet is an integral part of China’s territory. The problem of Tibet is entirely a domestic problem of China. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army must enter Tibet, liberate the Tibetan people and defend the frontiers of China. This is the resolved policy of the Central People’s Government.’ When this correspondence was released, I knew it was pointless kidding ourselves that the leadership of Asia was ever likely to rest with us. Mao was way ahead of the Pandit.

But Nehru’s ‘neutrality’ was in no way disturbed by this major operation in Tibet, whereby a huge territory, situated among formidable mountains and stretching thirteen hundred kilometres from south to north and two thousand kilometres from east to west, virtually slipped behind the ever-expanding Iron Curtain. The directive issued by Peking to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army for this offensive said; ‘This attack is to liberate three million inhabitants of Tibet from the imperialist yoke and to strengthen the defence of western frontiers’. We swallowed this pious platitude. Tibet may be essential to China’s defence; it can also be dangerous to India in the event of our being attacked.

The ‘liberation’ was confined to Tibet, but its effect overflowed farther south. Nepal, where the Gurkha soldiers come from, began to show signs of becoming unstable.

Nepal had long been an almost feudal state, lorded over by the handle-bar moustachioed military chiefs, the Ranas. In the name of democracy the Ranas were deposed, and a grim three-cornered struggle ensued for political power, in which the two Koirala brothers vied with each other. The one was Chief Minister of Nepal, the other controlled the Nepal Congress party. While these two brothers were sparring, a third factor cropped up on the scene. A small band of insurgents attempted to blast their way to power; but beaten by the government forces, who called themselves loyalists, their leader crossed the frontier into Tibet and escaped to China, where, it is reliably learned, he is being trained to ‘liberate’ Nepal in due course. Communists everywhere, after liberating themselves, always seem anxious to liberate everyone else around them.

No one had paid much attention to Nepal during all these years. Life in Nepal was controlled by a primitive economy which fitted into the feudal pattern. Its international finance transactions were confined to receiving tributes from the British and the Indian governments, in return for which Nepal allowed its Gurkhas to be recruited into the armies of these two governments, virtually as mercenaries. On the outgoing side, it used to pay money tribute to China because of some obscure historical war which Nepal had lost. The modern term for this sort of payment would be reparations.

Today Nepal has become a focal point of the world’s attention because of its strategic position. It is below the Himalayan range, and therefore a vital defence position which India cannot afford to lose. The cultural war now going on, between China on one side and India and the Western democracies on the other, for Nepalese understanding and goodwill is only a cover for a future military position which these two sides hope to acquire in Nepal. Point Four aid to the Nepalese cannot have been prompted entirely by humanitarian motives. Even the stray Americans in the hotels of Kalimpong, who maintain they are interested only in rare fauna, are hardly sufficiently convincing as naturalists. It is said that the Americans wanted a consulate there and that Nehru turned down the suggestion. He was probably afraid the Russians would make a similar request which he would then not be in a position to refuse. So that all this area of and around Nepal is loaded with dynamite which India is doing its best to dampen with neutrality.

Coming eastwards and south-east from our northern borders, we run into the Naga territory of the Abor and the Mishmi tribes, north of Assam. On this primitive terrain has sprung up a strange character, an educated Naga whose name is Phizo. Into his head-hunting compatriots, who would change sides overnight for the gift of a blanket and whose most tasty dish is dog cooked in rice, Phizo tries to inculcate an ancestral affinity with the Chinese. Admittedly the Nagas look more Chinese than Indian, but strategically the Naga land is too important for us to be finicky about facial resemblances.

The influence of the new Chinese and the restlessness which accompanies it flow farther south, down the Lushai Hill range, till they reach the tea-plantations of Assam, owned by British and Indian interests in the proportion of nearly three to one. Several of these once-prosperous plantations are having to close down due to the rise in the cost of labour. Unemployment has spread among the plantation workers, and the ground has gradually been prepared for further affinity with the doctrines of communism.

Mr C. Rajagopalachari, former Governor-General of India and now Chief Minister of Madras in South India, sounded a note of warning only recently when he said: ‘The British have gone. But my trouble is with China and Russia . . . From outside there is some influence creeping into this country. It is good to make the poor govern the country. It is one thing if we do it, but quite another when others do it for us here.’1 [1. Speech at Tirupati, October 1952.]

That is how Nehru’s neutrality has worked for us. It has brought one of the most dangerous enemies of democracy right on to our northern gates, while Pandit Nehru sleeps the soft slumber of innocence, exchanging goodwill missions with the Chinese.
Site Admin
Posts: 33515
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Nehru: The Lotus Eater From Kashmir, by D.F. Karaka

Postby admin » Sun Mar 15, 2020 2:38 am


Early in 1951, the United Nations branded Communist China an aggressor in Korea, and the General Assembly ratified this decision at a plenary session. This was perhaps the most important step taken in international affairs since the end of World War II.

While our government was right in making every possible effort to restore peace in Asia, there was no justification for the way we voted on the American resolution which brought the issue to a head. The fact that in the division lobby we found ourselves with Burma and the Soviet group of five states against forty-four nations of the world speaks for itself.

Ridiculous situations like these in which our country constantly finds itself on many other international questions are the direct result of Pandit Nehru’s untenable foreign policy. We have the misfortune of having our foreign affairs conducted by a man who still keeps talking in vague emotional generalisms on vital world problems.

We shirked casting our vote against communist China for fear that China might break off the peace negotiations, not being sufficiently up to date in modern Soviet strategy to realise that the quest of peace in which communists frequently indulge is only another communist front.

We are naturally surprised when time and again Pandit Nehru goes out of his way publicly to contradict any least offence that may have been given to China and Russia, but remains strongly silent when the Western democracies are embarrassed.
This does not mean that he is in any way more fond of the communists; Stalin gave Nehru an inferiority complex which he did not feel in the presence of his British and American counterparts. Stalin was an unknown mysterious factor; Churchill, Attlee, Truman and Eisenhower are ‘the devils we know’. Mao is again on a completely different footing. Nehru very likely feels superior to Mao, because Mao is after all a Soviet satellite. Nehru is too big to play this small supporting role; he secretly fancies himself as being able to play the greater role of the arrowhead of progress in Asia.

Nor was this impossible at one time. Soon after our liberation, wherever Nehru went he received the deafening applause of the common men and women of the world, who looked upon him as a great fighter in the cause of freedom. The story is told of his triumphant visit to Malaya, and how the crowds went mad when Nehru and Mountbatten drove in the same car, and how when they stopped on the way to pay a visit to Lady Mountbatten’s canteen -- it was the first time Nehru met her -- a whole platoon of Indian troops had to be called out to rescue him from being mobbed. Crowds still follow Nehru wherever he goes in India, larger than ever before, but they now go to him in a questioning sort of way, and some go out of amusement also, just as people go to hear pretentious tub-thumpers in Hyde Park, only to listen to the amusing nonsense they speak.

Nehru’s complacent attitude towards communism is a most dangerous thing. History records that before communism creeps in, it gives the victim an amazing sense of security, a quiet self-confidence and inflated self-assurance, all of which quickly dies down when the coup is effected and the victim is in the stranglehold of the ‘forces of liberation’. But Pandit Nehru knows better; this is one of the great tragedies India has to face.

Pandit Nehru believes that what is happening in China today is similar to what happened in India under Mahatma Gandhi: just an awakening of national consciousness. Chinese communists are likened to our well-meaning Congress volunteers. The leader of our delegation to the United Nations at that time, Mr B. Narsingh Rau, even said that China is misunderstood! All of which goes to prove that the Soviets have worked more subtly, but more surely and successfully, in Asia than the Nazis did in Europe in the last decade. The pattern of these two ‘isms’ may differ, but their effect on the lives of free people and on those who cherish freedom will be found in the long run to be the same. There will be no misunderstanding on this score when the time comes, despite what our spokesmen say.  

The New York Times, which expresses the most seasoned American opinion on international affairs, accurately appraised Pandit Nehru and his limitations, when, in an editorial written about that time, it said: ‘Mr Nehru, who has spent most of his adult life denouncing “imperialism”, cannot recognise it when it appears in any even slightly unfamiliar pattern. It is quite obvious that Mr Nehru, along with many other, has made a misappraisal of the Chinese communists. He persists in thinking of them in terms of dynamic Chinese nationalism, just as some other apologists have persisted in thinking of them in terms of “agrarian reform”. He is apparently still unwilling to recognise that the Chinese communist invaders of Korea are a militant wing of Soviet imperialism.’

Inability to recognise this new pattern of imperialism has now become the fashion of the day in Nehru’s India. Even the most honourable and learned judges of our leading High Courts have found hidden depths in Soviet art and culture; their Lordships are frequently to be found presiding over the opening of what appear to them to be innocuous art exhibitions. This, to my mind, is a most dangerous portent.

While we draw cultural inspiration from the Soviets and their satellites, we appear to have no qualms about placing our orders for our military requirements with Great Britain and America. Our General Officers brush up their knowledge of modern warfare at the Imperial Defence College. They do not attempt to gain admission in Russia’s Sokol Academy. We beg for food from the U.S.A. and the Commonwealth; we beg for loans from the World Bank; we beg for American capital to come over to stimulate our industries and assist in the process of industrialisation. In comparison, what do we get from the U.S.S.R.?

With all the granaries of the Ukraine and all the tremendous food-growing schemes about which we have heard so much, we do not appear to have received more than a few crumbs from Comrade Stalin’s dinner-table. What, then, is the basis of this neutrality of which our Prime Minister has, in the last few years, been making such a fetish? And, what is even more to the point, how do we propose to safeguard it?

Field-Marshal Montgomery, who should know a little more about military matters than any non-violent pandit, laid down in August 1947 five essentials for the security of a nation. They were: (1) a strong national character; (2) a great development of scientific and industrial research; (3) a powerful and well-disciplined industrial power; (4) a regular army; (5) preparedness. Montgomery was obviously speaking in terms of Great Britain, which already had the advantage of a vast industrial potential in addition to an alliance with a rich and powerful military power like the U.S.A. Moreover, as founder member of NATO, Britain had other nations pledged to rush to its aid in the event of Russian aggression. But, of the five essentials which the Field-Marshal mentioned, India has got only one — a regular army — a great part of which is preoccupied with holding a cease-fire line in Kashmir, and the remainder sparsely scattered over our country. Our vast mainland jutting into the sea, which has to be defended by land, air and sea, needs more than gallant men to guard and maintain its territorial integrity. The complaint of the first Indian Commander-in-Chief,1 [1. General Cariappa.] just retired, was that not a single vehicle was turned out in this country to keep the army moving on wheels. Barring a few shells turned out in the Kirkee factory, everything the army needed had to be imported, mainly from Britain. Scientific military research is nil. In fact, while Britain is putting finishing touches to the jet prototypes, Mr Birla, our second-best industrialist, is still grinding the valves of his Hindustan 14, which is only an acclimatised Morris made from carbon copies of Lord Nuffield’s old blue-prints. The finest fighting men in the world, which we have, can do but little without an adequate industry behind them which can turn out war material in an emergency.

Neutrality may be possible in the case of a small state in Europe, like Switzerland. A friendly people, content with yodelling on their mountains, can remain neutral in the event of a conflict. But with India the situation is entirely different. We have become strategically important in terms of World War III. As soon as the first shots are fired in the next war, the one who can get to us first will squat on our neutral pitch.
Nehru can then protest to the utmost, but I don’t think it will make much difference.

The growth of India’s importance in terms of military strategy is of comparatively recent occurrence. In the old days India was important because it was the half-way house to Britain’s vested interests in the Far East, but that is now no longer the criterion. New factors have come to the fore which must be considered in order to understand why the Americans have changed their policy towards India almost overnight. Soon after India’s independence was declared, the high-powered policy-makers of America were of the opinion that America should do nothing which might be construed as interference with or influence over a country which had just shaken itself free from foreign domination. The U.S.A. believed that India was to Britain what the Philippines were to America. Ours was a nationalism which America, as an upholder of freedom everywhere, should encourage. As a result, America had written off India from the military point of view. This laissez-faire attitude to India was based on the belief that the next war would be fought either in those areas where American troops were constantly brushing with the Russians or it would take the form of a direct attack on America itself. American militarists were therefore not inclined to plan long-range, remote-controlled action in India, which, from their bitter experience of China, they had found to be a waste of time and money.

Following this decision to write off India as a prospective military base of operations, the Department of State swamped their consulates here with a whole heap of well-meaning, pious and good-intentioned missionaries. The State Department probably thought that religious-minded Vice-Consuls would go down well in Gandhi’s India.

This American phase passed away soon after that brilliant young man from the Department of State, Assistant Secretary George C. McGhee, came to India. McGhee was here on a brief visit to study South-East Asia from the American point of view. It may be only a coincidence, but the American policy towards India indicated a change soon after his return.

Overnight, India became most important to the Americans. No one really knew why. Economic aid, substantial long-term credits for food-grains and loans from the World Bank virtually flowed into our country. Not many people in this country realised what had changed the American attitude so suddenly. It appears that the more intelligent American observers were quick to see that, while India may be useless militarily, it would be suicidal to allow this formidable mass of manpower to slip into Soviet hands.
It was Korea which brought this danger home to the Americans. The Chinese rice-soldiers of Chiang Kai-shek presented a completely different proposition under Mao Tse-tung, who trained them in the shadow of the Kremlin. The tough, long-drawn opposition which these soldiers have put up in Korea is proof of this contention.

The U.S.A. could make arms and ammunition better and quicker than any other nation in the world. It could not, however, produce anywhere near this quantity of manpower, and the Americans realised that if five hundred million Chinese had already become a factor to be contended with in any future operation with the U.S.S.R., it was unwise to allow this manpower to be increased by the addition of three hundred and sixty million Indians, for then the Soviets would have nearly nine hundred million Asiatics under their command. Nine hundred million men need not all be great fighters, but they could be used for slave labour, for the building of bridges, roads and war factories, even for cannon-fodder in delaying actions and secondary wars. All this was a powerful potential which the Soviets could exploit and which the U.S.A. could not easily ignore.

The missionaries in the consulates, therefore, were quickly pulled out and replaced by others who looked far too intelligent to be chopping passports and visas. The truth was that the eyes and ears of the American army had been sent out here with Nehru blissfully unaware of the transformation that had taken place. The Pandit was still glued to his neutrality.
Site Admin
Posts: 33515
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Nehru: The Lotus Eater From Kashmir, by D.F. Karaka

Postby admin » Sun Mar 15, 2020 2:38 am


Nehru’s sympathetic understanding of communism abroad is in sharp contrast to his government’s treatment of communists at home. The indigenous variety appears to irritate Nehru because it disrupts his regime and challenges his authority. It is healthy but nevertheless difficult to understand how Nehru, who is so extremely careful about the sensitivity of Russian and Chinese Reds, treats their satellites and sympathisers in India with such utter contempt.

Nehru had earlier believed that communism was a very weak force at home, and that the Congress still held sway over the people, as in the days of Mahatma Gandhi. It is true the elections resulted in a country-wide Congress victory, but a close analysis of the votes cast against the Congress revealed that this once great nationalist party had landslided in the people’s estimation. In many cases the people had voted Congress only because the alternative appeared even worse. Even so, it was a communist who polled the largest number of votes at the elections. This unknown little comrade, Ravinarayan Reddi, collected 309,162 votes at Nalagonda, an obscure agrarian constituency in the Telengana district of Hyderabad, while Nehru at Allahabad, a densely populated major city, could only boast of 233,571.

When, in one or two minute areas as for instance in the State of Tripura, in the valley below the troubled northern areas - the communists actually secured a ‘democratic’ majority, far from allowing them to come to power, Nehru entrusted the administration to the Red-baiter, Captain Nanjappa. This administrative officer governed the district as if he were commanding an infantry company. Democracy was suspended; an emergency had apparently arisen. So that, while Nehru pays lip service to communism abroad, he is by no means tolerant of communism at home. He uses methods to crush it which would make any lover of democracy blush.

While one may have no sympathy for communists, it is difficult to overlook and ignore the slow destruction of the normal processes of democracy. Nor have the democratic methods been discarded only to meet the case of communists. Our governments, both at the centre and in the states, appear to have no scruples whatever about discarding these time-worn processes. As one who has tasted official wrath on more than one occasion, I know what it feels like to be a ‘free’ man in Nehru’s India. Time and again I have been dragged through the law courts on charges which the government have not been able to prove or substantiate. Acquittal follows in due course, but in the meantime one is made to suffer the costs of the long process, for which acquittal in the criminal courts brings no relief. Nehru’s governments believe that the best way to silence their critics is to declare a nerve war on them. On a seasoned ‘accused’ like myself it may have little effect, but for the meek it can be a nerve-shattering process. There is no respect for the liberty of an individual, and less for his self-respect.

These are only minor pin-pricks. It is the gradual liquidation of civil liberty itself with which we should be more concerned. Reports from all parts of India tell of new processes adopted by various administrative authorities to mow down whatever little resistance an individual can offer his government in the exercise of his freedom of thought and expression. Many of these instances have gone to court, and on almost every occasion the High Courts have reacted splendidly, standing four-square between the individual and the mighty power of an ever-growing despotism. The government has countered this by amending the legislation under which they acted, making it inscrutable by the judiciary. This renders the High Court helpless, and deprives the individual of his sole defender.

Nehru could not be unaware of all this; yet he maintains a sphinx-like silence. The Nehru who once sat in a bullock-cart behind Gandhi, humbly joining his hands to greet his people, now allows his minions to ride in a slow but sure moving steamroller, crushing down every head that bobs up against the administration. No wonder the people lament that Nehru’s India is not the land of freedom which the Father of the Nation promised us.

The people of the world believe that the days of lathi charges [baton charge is a British era method for crowd control] and police firings in India are over. When the British did this, Nehru thought it was cowardly. Therefore the great liberator of India would not allow his government to fire on his own people in the hour of their liberation, would not stand by and watch the menials of his police force brutally lathi-charge them, as in days of yore.

The records of the various state governments, however, tell a different tale: In July 1952 The Current published on its front page a five-column photograph. It was an action picture of the police lashing out at the people. The incident occurred at the foot of the Ochterlony monument in Calcutta, the premier city of West Bengal, over which presided the healer of the people, Dr B. C. Roy. The meeting which the police attempted to break up was convened to protest against the food policy of the West Bengal government. The protest meeting was held in defiance of an order banning the calling of public meetings, for the government naturally wanted to avoid scenes of huge crowds protesting, so vehemently and so publicly, on such a vital issue as food. For this defiance of authority, even though the manner of protest was peaceful, the crowds were charged with lathis and dispersed exactly as in the days of the British. The Hindustan Standard, an old and established Congress paper, referring to the events, commented editorially: ‘So faithfully has this government aped its predecessors, that if a Rip Van Winkle had gone to sleep a decade ago, and had suddenly awakened on the fateful Tuesday, he would have noted no difference between 1942 and 1952. Not only police action but also ministerial reaction in 1952 bear a familiar resemblance to those in 1942, and are marked by the same arrogance and the same heartlessness.’ At least some Congressmen were beginning to feel ashamed of their kind.

There was a time when Nehru himself bore the brunt of a lathi charge. He describes one such in his autobiography. It was in Lucknow when the Simon Commission was due to arrive in that city, and the Congress had prepared a great demonstration to protest against it. Nehru describes the large crowds that gathered, swelled by sympathetic onlookers, when suddenly there was seen in the far distance a moving mass:

‘There were two or three long lines of cavalry or mounted police, covering the entire area, galloping down towards us, and striking and riding down the numerous stragglers that dotted the maidan. That charge of galloping horsemen was a fine sight, but for the tragedies that were being enacted on the way, as harmless and very much surprised sightseers went under the horses’ hooves. Behind the charging lines these people lay on the ground, some still unable to move, others writhing in pain, and the whole appearance of that maidan was that of a battle-field. But we did not have much time for gazing on that scene, or for reflections; the horsemen were soon upon us, and their front line clashed almost at a gallop with the massed ranks of our processionists. We held our ground, and, as we appeared to be unyielding, the horses had to pull up at the last moment and reared up on their hind legs with their front hooves quivering in the air over our heads. And then began a beating of us, and battering with lathis and long batons, both by the mounted and the foot police. It was a tremendous hammering, and the clearness of vision that I had had the evening before left me. All I knew was that I had to stay where I was, and must not yield or go back. I felt half blinded with the blows, and sometimes a dull anger seized me and a desire to hit out. I thought how easy it would be to pull down the police officer in front of me from his horse and to mount myself up, but long training and discipline held and I did not raise a hand, except to protect my face from a blow. Besides, I knew well enough that any aggression on our part would result in a ghastly tragedy, the firing and shooting down of large numbers of our men . . . The excitement of action held us; but, as it passed, immediately the question arose: To what end was all this? To what end?’1 [1. Nehru’s Autobiography, p. 179.]

Yes, to what end? The Indians in 1952, reading of the lathi charges in Calcutta and the police firings on students in Hyderabad, are still looking for an answer to Jawaharlal’s question. Nor does Jawaharlal answer the question himself. Speech dries up in him on occasions like these. His respect for constitutional procedure does not allow him to interfere with the action of the state governments. Quelle delicatesse! After all, what else would one expect of a man who in his autobiography1 [1. p. 20.] admits that his attitude to life was a vague kind of Cyrenaicism [The doctrine of Cyrenaics that people should ultimately aim at the pleasure of the present moment, disregarding future pain that could result from it.], partly natural to youth, partly the influence of Oscar Wilde and Walter Pater.

My general attitude to life at the time was a vague kind of cyrenaicism, partly natural to youth, partly the influence of Oscar Wilde and Walter Pater. It is easy and gratifying to give a long Greek name to the desire for a soft life and pleasant experiences. But there was something more in it than that for I was not particularly attracted to a soft life. Not having the religious temper and disliking the repressions of religion, It was natural for me to seek some other standard. I was superficial and did not go deep down into anything. And so the aesthetic side of life appealed to me, and the idea of going through life worthily, not indulging it in the vulgar way, but still making the most of it and living a full and many-sided life attracted me. I enjoyed life and I refused to see why I should consider it a thing of sin. At the same time risk and adventure fascinated me; I was always, like my father, a bit of a gambler, at first with money and then for higher stakes, with the bigger issues of life. Indian politics in 1907 and 1908 were in a state of upheaval and I wanted to play a brave part in them, and this was not likely to lead to a soft life. All these mixed and sometimes conflicting desires led to a medley in my mind. Vague and confused it was but I did not worry, for the time for any decision was yet far distant. Meanwhile, life was pleasant, both physically and intellectually, fresh horizons were ever coming into sight, there was so much to be done, so much to be seen, so many fresh avenues to explore. And we would sit by the fireside in the long winter evenings and talk and discuss unhurriedly deep into the night till the dying fire drove us shivering to our beds. And sometimes, during our discussions, our voices would lose their even tenor and would grow loud and excited in heated argument. But it was all make-believe. We played with the problems of human life in a mock-serious way; for they had not become real problems for us yet, and we had not been caught in the coils of the world's affairs. It was the pre-war world of the early twentieth century. Soon this world was to die, yielding place to another, full of death and destruction and anguish and heart-sickness for the world's youth. But the veil of the future hid this and we saw around us an assured and advancing order of things and this was pleasant for those who could afford it.

I write of cyrenaicism and the like and of various ideas that influenced me then. But it would be wrong to imagine that I thought clearly on these subjects then or even that I thought it necessary to try to be clear and definite about them. They were just vague fancies that floated in my mind and in this process left their impress in a greater or less degree. I did not worry myself at all about these speculations. Work and games and amusements filled my life and the only thing that disturbed me sometimes was the political struggle in India.

-- Jawaharlal Nehru: An Autobiography, 1936

Civil liberty in India is dead in more senses than one. It is not only shot down by authority in the literal sense of the word; it is bound down in heavy chains, as even a cursory glance at our police records will indicate.

[b]The list of those who have been detained without trial in India, often without so much as a charge made against them for as long as six months in some cases, are ugly, black marks on the career of any democrat. Again Nehru maintains that these are the executive actions of various state governments in which he is unable to interfere. It is like the old madame denying responsibility for the morals of her individual girls.

The state governments of India are Nehru’s direct responsibility. At the last elections it was he who supervised every important nomination of the state Congress party, and when the elections were over, it was he who gave his personal attention to the formation of the various state ministries. In the name of democracy, he created oligarchic pockets which he could use to effect in safe-guarding his new despotism, his neo-fascist state which was unfortunately our Republic of India.

Nehru will not admit that India under his regime is gradually becoming a police state. He gets angry if anyone accuses him of adopting the familiar methods of a fascist state. But the record speaks for itself, always the record. The attempts may be amateurish, but the trend is to supersede the rule of law by executive action, the validity of which cannot be challenged in the courts of law. Time and again have the judges of the High Court deprecated these undemocratic acts of the government, but that does not appear to deter the ‘drunken old Omars’, drunk with power. Nehru’s responsibility is that he retains these small-town Caesars in office. Inasmuch as they derive power and authority from Nehru himself, the smear of fascism must necessarily spread to him.

Nehru sees red when he is accused of adopting these shabby methods in the working of an avowed democracy. He gets easily angry nowadays, and even more easily irritable. He litters his wrath all over the country.

Recently he thought nothing of insulting a very high police officer in public, and in the presence of his subordinates, merely because the arrangements made by this officer for Pandit Nehru’s visit did not meet with the Prime Minister’s approval. Nehru frequently insults pressmen, which is unwise; even Secretaries to the government, who are highly paid civil servants, could hardly be content with the treatment they receive from him.

Nehru has become so impulsive these days that he makes up his mind without so much as hearing the other point of view, and, having made up his mind, he goes to town on it, irrespective of the normal canons of justice or fair play. The list of people with whom Nehru is angry is growing daily. The more ground he loses, the more despotic he becomes, as those who have dealt with him over a long period of years say. Only recently one of his colleagues remarked to me: ‘The Prime Minister is always irritated by anyone whose criticism he cannot meet’.

Nehru’s best friends are beginning to show concern over his growing intolerance. They feel that he will break down one day in a sorry spectacle of shattered nerves and frayed temper because of his inability to accept the fact that people have a right to differ from him. Nehru is failing in India; only because of the emotional hold he still has on the people who will not desert him is he able to escape defeat. People suffer his shocking exhibitions, partly out of fear of the power he wields, and partly also because of the affection they have for the man who was once the spark that kindled the flame of resistance in those great and now forgotten days of our struggle.

The people of the world are accustomed to see Pandit Nehru as he appears in their capitals, with a pleasant, friendly grin on his face, stretching out his hand for a warm handshake or joined in the Indian manner of namaskar. They know him as the essence of gentility, a humble little Pandit from India, educated at Harrow and Cambridge. But that is not the Nehru we know. There is very little humility in him now, and even the little he had learned from Mahatma Gandhi is hardly to be evidenced these days. Nehru’s concept of humility is that the Indians should gather to acclaim him as the greatest of them all, and that he should try to dissuade them from such a process of thought. The article which Pandit Nehru wrote on himself in the Modern Review appears to substantiate this view.

There is nothing humble about the way he runs his cabinet; to his ministers he is like a schoolmaster taking his class. Only two of his colleagues, Maulana Azad and Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, exercise any influence over him. Of the rest, two more, Deshmukh and Gopalswamy Ayangar, stand on their dignity, but most of the others who theoretically share joint cabinet responsibility according to the parliamentary convention, find moron-like agreement with their Prime Minister, once he expresses a definite view. A grunt from Nehru produces immediate acceptance of an idea. A dissenting opinion, apologetically expressed and prefaced by: 'I wonder, Mr Prime Minister, whether we should not also consider . . .’ produces a look of disgust on his face, which indicates how utterly stupid the Prime Minister regards such a suggestion to be, and, if occasion arises, Pandit Nehru is not unwilling to say it in so many words. The more ambitious anglers for power, which can only emanate from his authority, now spend their time trying to forecast how he is likely to react on any matter which they may have to discuss with him.

Even so, there is no dearth of worshippers at the Nehru temple. The legend continues.
Site Admin
Posts: 33515
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Nehru: The Lotus Eater From Kashmir, by D.F. Karaka

Postby admin » Sun Mar 15, 2020 2:38 am


Glib talk of grandiose schemes easily impresses the great Nehru, more so when it comes from foreigners, even though of no known distinction. The Pandit believes he has a flair for spotting genius, as is evidenced in the case of Dr Solomon Trone.

In December 1949 the name of Dr Solomon [Abramovich] Trone figured in the question hour in the Indian Parliament. Our New Delhi correspondent described him as a ‘bespectacled man, always trailed by his bespectacled wife-secretary ... a short, squat and portly American engineer who was in Russia before the revolution’. He was reported to have operated at the top engineering levels in Germany, Japan, America, China and Manchuria. He came to India at the invitation of the Indian government to advise on industrial planning. Dr Trone had prepared a report, but the Prime Minister was unwilling to release it; it was ‘top secret’! No one could understand why a report on industrial planning should be held back, and members of Parliament were getting very agitated at the large salary being paid to the doctor.

Dr Trone, however, appears to have been a pet of Pandit Nehru. Nehru liked the way Trone talked in economic generalities, which was also the language of Nehru. It is relevant that before Nehru, it was Chiang Kai-shek on whom this learned doctor had made an equally profound impression. The economic planning of Chiang’s China was the certificate of Trone’s work, and Nehru, undismayed by the chaos which followed in China, had invited the doctor over to India.

It was our Ambassador in Peking1 [1. Sardar Pannikar.] who located this ‘economic genius’ for Nehru. Trone was then out of a job; Chiang was out of China. The new Republic of India, in its infant stage, needed the sort of economic planning of which Trone was capable. About the same time, Pandit Nehru was also enthusing over national planning. He had gathered experts to plan our millennium. The time was ripe for one genius to meet another. The meeting took place in the Prime Minister’s house, where Dr Trone was invited to stay as a guest of honour.

Dr Trone fitted easily into the Indian picture. His sojourn in China had helped him to get the feel of Asia. It was decided that Dr Trone was to be entrusted with the momentous task of preparing a report.

The Finance Ministry, however, before sanctioning the expenditure, wanted more concrete evidence of Trone’s achievements; they asked for a reference on the doctor before they agreed to his employment at a salary -- with expenses -- which the Indian Treasury could hardly afford.

The Prime Minister’s position became somewhat awkward. He could not possibly turn down an economic genius who was his own find. He therefore took the responsibility upon himself and employed Dr Trone for a probationary period of three months, at a salary higher than that of the Prime Minister himself. Dr Trone’s first job was to report on the Damodar Valley experiment and the Hindustan Aircraft factory.

The Finance Minister, Dr Matthai, found himself in the equally awkward position of having to write off a large sum of money which the learned doctor was costing the Indian exchequer. Dr Matthai therefore preferred to wait for Dr Trone’s report before making any further commitments on this score. When in due course the report was received, the Finance Ministry was of the opinion that the report was more a catalogue of local grievances than an enunciation of economic policy for India. Dr Matthai declined to confirm Trone’s appointment. He bluntly pointed out to Pandit Nehru that, in his opinion, this expenditure would be a gross wastage of public money, which India could not afford.

Pandit Nehru was most upset by Matthai’s attitude, and it became a sore point of difference between the Prime Minister and his Finance Minister until the latter resigned.

In the meanwhile, through top-level channels, enquiries were made about Dr Trone from the U.S. Embassy in Delhi, because the doctor was American-born. These confidential enquiries did not reveal anything very definite about him or his genius for economic planning. The Americans were not in a position to vouch for him; in fact they were rather disturbed about his presence on the Indian scene bearing in mind the environment in which he had more recently been operating.

This did not in the least diminish Pandit Nehru’s enthusiasm for his find, nor did the remark of a highly placed American visiting New Delhi, who told very high officials in India that if Trone was the type of person advising the Indian government, American capital could not feel very confident about their investments in this country.

After that, no one appears to know what happened to Dr Trone. In any case, Pandit Nehru was justified in keeping his report ‘Top Secret’. Its publication would have caused a rebellion in Parliament, and Nehru is a stickler for law and order.
Site Admin
Posts: 33515
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Nehru: The Lotus Eater From Kashmir, by D.F. Karaka

Postby admin » Sun Mar 15, 2020 2:39 am


An Englishman in Bombay, married to an American and browned- off with too many social evenings with his wife’s compatriots, caustically remarked to his friends one day that he never did fancy himself as much of a brain, but latterly he had been feeling some- what of an intellectual giant.

He illustrated this by telling how, at the end of one of these dinner-parties, which, because of his wife, he attended, the hostess decided to play ‘The Game’. It was one of the guessing games. By questioning the circle of guests, you had to arrive at the name of some well-known world figure, living or dead, pinned to your back.

It came to the turn of a pretty American girl, the Betty Boop type, whose husband worked for a tyre company. She started off quite well, and got as far as finding out:

(1) that the man whose name appeared on her back was dead a long, long time ago;

(2) that he was a king and a warrior; and

(3) that he was an ancient Greek.

Then it came to her in an inspired flash: Buddha!

Pandit Nehru has been feeling an intellectual giant under similar circumstances. You should see the minutes of the old Congress meetings, unless these have been destroyed after Independence, and wade through the resolutions he proposed or seconded which attempted to lay down the economic policy of Free India long before freedom became a reality. Some of these were sweeping resolutions couched in Jawaharlal’s majestic prose, with phrases borrowed from Karl Marx, Beatrice and Sidney Webb, and with an occasional splash from Nietzsche to produce the superman effect. Nehru’s forte was that he could adapt these abstract socio-economic cliches to suit the needs of India when it could be liberated from the British.

But the tragedy of Nehru has been that India got liberated in his lifetime, and, as its first Prime Minister, it fell on him to put his own words into effect.

Among the subjects on which he had, through the years, waxed eloquent, was nationalisation. The time now came for him to set some sort of date for the redemption of that pledge. The setting of a dead-line was proof of an intention to fulfil an obligation. Eight months after the fateful 15th of August, 1947, [independence day] the Prime Minister made a pronouncement in Parliament. He prefaced it with an apology, saying that within a few months of coming to power he was ‘a wiser and more cautious man’.

So Nehru said on nationalisation:

‘One has to be very careful that in taking any step the existing structure is not injured too much. In the state of affairs in the world and in India today, any attempt to have a clean slate, that is, a sweep-away of all that we have got, would certainly not bring progress nearer, but might delay it tremendously. If we spend large sums of money on acquiring this and that we would be acquiring things which were ninety per cent obsolete today.

‘There is a great deal of difference between theory and practice. All manner of difficulties crop up in implementing a theory. There has been destruction and injury enough and certainly I confess I am not brave and gallant enough to go about destroying much more. I think there is room for destruction in India still of many things. They would, no doubt, have to be removed. Nevertheless, there is a way of approach.

‘Perhaps there never has been a clean slate even when people imagined that there was going to be a clean slate. Nevertheless, there could be more or less a clean slate. The alternative to that clean slate was to try and rub out here and there . . . But, nevertheless, not with a great measure of destruction etcetera in its trail. Maybe I have been affected by recent events but more and more I have felt that it is wrong to destroy something that is producing something or doing good.

‘I have no doubt in my mind that we have to change this existing structure and as rapidly as possible. The lament of burdens that are put on industry, taxation, this and that is based on a certain view of the world, which, I fear, cannot possibly come back. I am not thinking in idealistic or any terms but practical terms when I say that you cannot have it back.’1 [1. In the Indian Parliament, 7th April 1948.]

The late Mr Ramsay MacDonald could not have done better had he expressed these thoughts himself. It reminded me of the quotation fabricated by Michael Foot in the days of the Oxford Union, and jokingly referred to by him as one of Mr MacDonald’s epigrams. It read; ‘The longer I remain in political life, and the more I see of the varieties and discrepancies of political experience, the more I am coming to recognise that it would be neither unsafe nor exaggerated to say that upon all subjects there is a lot to be said on both sides.’

Mr Tata and Mr Birla, the two shriyuts2 [2. Gentlemen.] of our industry, were, however, quick to remark that Pandit Nehru was showing signs of coming to grips with reality at an early date.

Nevertheless, it would all take time.


Nehru revels in spontaneous utterances. They come from the heart, we are told, and apparently circumvent the head. One such utterance he made when he was addressing the important Federation of the Indian Chambers of Commerce in March 1949. Cautious Indian merchants, listening to him with rapt attention, heard that the Oracle had decreed that there was to be no import of food after two years, that is from the end of 1951 onwards. Speaking without any notes, and completely ex tempore, the Prime Minister maintained that the food shortage of India was about ten per cent of the total quantity consumed in the country. Where he got his figures from no one was able to say, and certainly the first time that the Department of Food heard about all this was when they read it in the papers the next morning. With typical Nehruvian courage, he added: ‘Let us make up our minds to live on the food we produce or die in the attempt.’1 [1. In Parliament, on November 18th, 1952 -- three years later -- Nehru admitted: ' . . I regret that my words were falsified and I felt thoroughly ashamed of myself for having made what was almost a pledge to the country.’]

The starvation deaths which followed in Assam, West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Gujerat and in the Rayalaseema district of Madras, the total of which will never be available even to the statistician, were the price our people paid for those brave words.

Moreover, at the end of it all, far from stopping our imports of food, we found ourselves in the humiliating situation of not being able to afford to pay for the food we imported. We had to request credits from the United States and other nations who came to our assistance. But not an ounce of food would Nehru take ‘with any strings attached’. The strings were on the dead, holding the emaciated bodies together so that they could be carried to the burning-ghats without falling apart.

I know what a famine looks like, for I saw one for myself in Bengal in 1943, with death hovering in every village through the day. I have heard the wailing of the living through the night. I have seen them again the next morning carried on a lonely bier with not a mourner walking behind. No one had the strength to follow their dead. I have seen men gasp in death for a morsel of food, with pain and anguish on their cold, grey faces. In Bengal I felt the same inner sickness which I experienced as I entered the Nazi concentration camp at Bergen Belsen, the day after it was liberated.

Freda Bedi's increasing profile as a writer opened new opportunities, the most challenging of which was an assignment to report at first hand on the most terrible of India's wartime tragedies. From the summer of 1943 onwards, newspapers carried accounts of famine in Bengal, where crop failures and cyclone damage were exacerbated by official indifference, a preoccupation with the war effort, and a determination to ensure that if the Japanese army -- already well established in Burma -- managed to invade they would be denied stockpiles of rice and the boats so essential for local transport. A huge number of Bengalis -- perhaps as many as four million, Freda believed -- died of starvation or succumbed to diseases which if well-fed they would have resisted.1 The Communist Party was particularly active in drawing attention to the famine and demanding relief. In December 1943, both Bedi and Freda addressed meetings in and around Lahore on behalf of the Bengal Central Relief Committee.2 By the end of the month, she was on the spot, sent by the Tribune to give a sense of the human consequences of the disaster. Freda didn't speak Bengali and she was almost certainly accompanied when travelling from village to village. Her job was 'to make the famine a reality' for newspaper readers in Punjab rather than 'a bundle of figures' by writing reflective and descriptive columns from the areas worst affected.

In a letter to her old Oxford friend Olive Chandler, Freda recounted that she spent a month 'tramping the villages and seeing the worst spots, something so horrible that an Airgram can't hold it.'3 She had seen plenty of human suffering, but nothing remotely like this. The paper carried Freda's articles as a series under the title 'Bengal Today' and within a matter of months these were compiled as a slim book. Bengal Lamenting was published not by the Bedis' own imprint but by the much larger Lion Press in Lahore. Accompanying the articles were deeply unsettling images. The cover was designed by the progressive artist Sobha Singh whom the Bedis would have known from Andretta. It was a stark and arresting drawing, depicting a naked and emaciated woman with the wasted body of her son on her lap. Pinned in to the book were five photographic images of the famine, one of which showed a dog gnawing on human remains.

In her travels across Bengal and Orissa (now Odisha), Freda made a point of venturing off the beaten path. At times, she travelled by bicycle, 'a perilous affair with inactive brakes. It was in addition a man's cycle and I couldn't get off easily. So I quietly fell off whenever the crowd got too great.' This allowed her to see something of life and suffering in the villages, 'always the barometer of Indian life. There, in one of the hundreds and thousands of huddles of mud huts away from the main road, barely reachable by a muddy path, lies India's destiny, her life, her death, her intolerable longings, her inertia, the remnants of her joy of living, and her last and most bleeding despair.' Her account of the individual stories of loss and destitution gave particular force to her writing.

At every door I stopped to hear the same pitiful theme, with its hundred variations. 'Here the men have gone away to work in Assam: the women have nothing. They make a bare occasional living working at marriages and festivals. In between they starve' ... 'Here they have all run away: the men to the town, the women to beggary and destitution and the gruel kitchens.' I shuddered. There was a lot behind that inadequate word, destitution. Humiliation, demoralisation, casual prostitution, disease. And behind it the face of abandoned children.

We came across a hut without its corrugated roof. It had been casually torn off, the room gaped dully to the sky. In reply to my half-formed question they pointed out a dried up husk of a woman cowering in the next hut. 'Her husband died a few days ago,' they said. 'Her children died before that. She sold the roof, her last possession, to buy him a coffin.'4

As so often, her particular focus was village women: those who had seen their menfolk head out to 'get food' and had no idea whether they were alive or dead; those forced by despair and the plight of their children to sell themselves. She reported on the manner by which young girls, some of them infants, were sold for sex. 'The need to take people from beggary to self-supporting work is a real one. In the case of women, it is the only road open to them if they are not to become mere cattle in the markets of human flesh.'

Freda was more an essayist and columnist than a reporter and she was not used to disaster journalism. Her writing from Bengal was vivid, compassionate and resolutely non-sensational. Her challenge was to break through with her prose the barrier that she herself identified -- that middle-class readers on the other flank of India had become 'famine weary', She spoke warmly of the Friends' Ambulance Unit, the People's Relief Committees and all the other local efforts -- religious, secular and military -- to provide food and medical relief to those in gravest need. There is also a pervasive anger running through Bengal Lamenting at the greed and hypocrisy she witnessed amid the many generous and selfless initiatives. 'Doctors who profiteer on patients, and traders who profiteer on foodstuffs and medicines, deserve no mercy at the hands of the people. Peaceful as I am by temperament, by the time I had been round a few villages and heard [the] same stories I felt even transportation for life would be too mild a sentence for them.'5 In Calcutta, Bengal's capital, the poor and emaciated had been pushed out of the city to harvest the next rice crop -- and also, she surmised, to be hidden from the view of the urban middle class. 'Calcutta is a lady with a painted face,' Freda wrote. 'She is hiding her ugliness and her sores under a coating of powder and the red on her lips is die red of the people's blood.' And even as one famine was starting to ease, everyone was talking about the next one round the corner.

In the foreword to Bengal Lamenting, Freda declared that her book 'is more than a cry of pain, a call to pity, a picture of another tidal wave of tears that has wrenched itself up from the ocean of human misery. It is a demand for a reconsideration on a national scale of that problem that cannot be localised, a plea for unity in the face of chaos, one more thrust of the pen for the right of every Bengali and every Indian to see his destiny guided by patriots in a National Government of the People.'6 This was reportage with a political purpose. She dismissed conspiracy theories that the British had allowed Bengal to slip into famine to punish the home province of Subhas Chandra Bose, whose supporters were fighting alongside the Japanese. But she argued that the official response to the Japanese invasion of the rice-exporting regions of Burma, and the policy of 'denial' to ensure that advancing Japanese troops would not be able simply to commandeer river transport and grain, 'meant the sealing up of Bengal from the world rice market.'

Actually what happened was that artificial scarcity in Denial and cyclone areas ... combined with dislocated transport, overburdened with war responsibilities, created local panics that translated themselves into, on the one hand, exaggerated private-hoarding by the middle classes and, in particular by the big rice-growing landlords who are the king of Bengal's rice, and on the other, profiteering and hoarding by local trades people, backed up by the big commercial rice firms. Add to this inflation, and you have chaos complete. Money flowed into the Stock Exchange; rice became a commodity of scarcity value; and the sharks of Big Business made their daily thousands by trading in the people's life-blood -- their staple food.

From this she made the obvious argument that if India was governed by those whose first concern was the welfare of India's citizens, the tragedy would not have been on anything like the same scale. 'There is no argument left for the status quo when it has failed so miserably, and there is no doubt about it that any patriotic team of Indians could have averted such a terrible loss of life. The Indian demand for a National Government at the Centre has become not only insistent, but a matter of life and death.'7

Freda ended the book with a quote, unacknowledged, from one of the great political poems to come out of the Spanish Civil War. Cecil Day-Lewis's 'Nabara', published six years earlier, was an account of a fascist-aligned warship intercepting and destroying a convoy carrying relief supplies to the Republican-controlled Basque country.

Freedom is more than a word, more than the base coinage
Of statesmen, the tyrant's dishonoured cheque, or the dreamer's mad
Inflated currency. She is mortal, we know, and made
In the image of simple men who have no taste for carnage
But sooner kill and are killed than see that image betrayed.

She implied some moral equivalence between the brutality of the supporters of Franco in Spain and of the misery British imperialism forced on Bengal.

-- The Lives of Freda: The Political, Spiritual and Personal Journeys of Freda Bedi, by Andrew Whitehead

The famine of Bengal was attributed to maladministration by the British; the periodic famines in Nehru’s India are apparently only acts of God.

It was at Rayalaseema recently that the Prime Minister put in an appearance. The Chief Minister of Madras believed that the presence of Nehru might be food for the hungry. Nehru could spare but little time for the starved; he rushed through the district with an impatient look of annoyance on his face. He was annoyed with the whole state of affairs, annoyed with the crops that had failed, annoyed apparently with himself also. He was even annoyed with the people because they were starving. He told them not to look at his government so helplessly! The destiny of free India was not working out according to plan, his plan. The fruits of freedom were not growing in the orchards as he had said they would. Everything was dying, dying, dying around him. He could not understand why. The Liberator of Asia was seeing his people liberated from his folly only by death.

But that should not deter him now. ‘Let us make up our minds to live on the food we produce or die in the attempt,’ he had said. The people were perishing in the attempt. If only they would do it quietly and die in stoic silence, perhaps it would not trouble his conscience too much, but all this adverse publicity was bad for our prestige abroad.

Nehru immediately felt that something had to be done -- something humanitarian, dramatic, something to ease the tension of a people expectantly waiting to hear what he proposed to do now. At one of the villages he got his cue. A father was purchasing a toy for his child. Nehru enquired from the vendor the price for the whole lot. Pat came the answer: ‘Five rupees, sir’.1 [1. 7s 6d.] The Prime Minister had the entire lot purchased and, with the superb gesture of a monseigneur, he entrusted them to the headman of the village to distribute to the children. It would make them happy -- before they died.

Wherever he went, the crowds gathered to hear him. The official news agency, the Press Trust of India, made a lot of that. But what were they trying to prove? Was it implied that despite the fact that Nehru and his government had failed them so miserably, the people came out to pay homage to him? Or was it that a mass of hungry people came to ask: ‘Where is that food you promised us?’

From Rayalaseema, Nehru returned to New Delhi, but within a week he was off again to the opposite end of India, significantly to Assam, to inspect the new defence installations from the air.

Why? Was he afraid of the communists coming?
Site Admin
Posts: 33515
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Nehru: The Lotus Eater From Kashmir, by D.F. Karaka

Postby admin » Sun Mar 15, 2020 2:39 am

Part 1 of 2


And so we come to Kashmir, the sore spot of the Indian Union, from which Pandit Nehru traces his descent.

The Pandit says: ‘Over two hundred 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.’1 [1. Autobiography.] It took an emperor, Farrukhsiar, to induce the Nehru family, whose original Kashmiri name was Kaul, to migrate to the imperial capital, to accept a jagir2 [2. Feudal tenancy.] with a house situated on the banks of a canal, and later to accept, in successive generations, the high offices of First Vakil of the ‘Sarkar Company’ and Kotwal of Delhi, which were bestowed on the Nehru ancestors.

The urge to lean back on his Kashmiri ancestry is still strong in him, even though these ancestors have been settled and absorbed in India from about the year 1716.

Significantly, Nehru begins his Autobiography with the chapter ‘Descent from Kashmir’, and only as an afterthought, in a footnote, does he mention: ‘I was born in Allahabad on the 14th November, 1889 ...’

To be an Indian today is to be just one of the milling crowd. 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',3 [3. Mister.] the officials of one of the departments of government proceeded to drop the ‘Pandit’ and began to refer to the Prime Minister as Shri Nehru. The Prime Minister was most upset; he made it quickly clear that ‘Pandit’ was not a title and there was no objection to anyone using it! It was, therefore, reinstated forthwith, though some people wondered whether, in a secular state whose constitution held all men to be equal, the Prime Minister should call himself a Pandit when this allegedly scholastic designation was available only to the top drawer of the Hindu caste system. No harijan1 [1. Untouchable.] would ever dare to flaunt ‘Pandit’ before his name, no matter how high his qualifications might be. A descent from the heights suggests an altogether superior being, different from the millions of Indians who breed like rabbits and die like flies.

It is not surprising, under the circumstances, that Kashmir occupies such a privileged position in the attention of our Prime Minister; it is his spiritual home. Kashmir is the appropriate setting for a liberator; posterity should not be allowed to associate the great Nehru with a railway junction like Allahabad, just because this humdrum, middle-class town was his birthplace.

Jawaharlal describes his first visit to Kashmir, after his marriage, in 1916: ‘This was my first experience of the narrow and lonely valleys, high up in the world, which lead to the Tibetan plateau.
From the top of the Zoji-la pass we saw the rich verdant mountainsides below us on one side, and the bare bleak rock on the other. We went up and up the narrow valley bottom, flanked on each side by mountains, with the snow-covered tops gleaming on one side and little glaciers creeping down to meet us. The wind was cold and bitter, but the sun was warm in the daytime, and the air was so clear that often we were misled about the distance of objects, thinking them much nearer than they actually were. The loneliness grew; there were not even trees or vegetation to keep us company -- only the bare rock and the snow and ice and, sometimes, very welcome flowers. Yet I found a strange satisfaction in these wild and desolate haunts of nature; I was full of energy and a feeling of exaltation.’2 [2. Autobiography, p. 37.]

Such is the hallowed valley of Kashmir, where nature in all its glory spreads its canvas for man to behold. During the days of the British, Kashmir was the playground of the north, the summer spot to which the elite flocked in search of coolness and beauty. Over it ruled 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.

I used to live below him at one time -- in the same apartment house in Bombay. Sometimes when I would return home in the evenings I would hear the singing-girls on our terrace, rehearsing their long ragas1 [1. Scale of notes in singing, though the literal translation is ‘noise'.] before the prince and his party came out to hear them sing. ‘The singing-girls are warming up’, my bearer would say with a glint in his eye.

This would go on for hours, interspersed with periodical clearings of the throat and coughing and spitting, all of which are necessary preliminaries to the production of pure notes which only the maestros of Indian music can appreciate, until at some stage the process of warming up would be complete and the fat would be in the fire. All next morning the elevator of our apartment house would reek with the strong perfume of the raja’s singing troupe, and the ragas would linger long on the lips of our bearers.

That was as close as I came to the ex-Maharaja, as he is now. No one regarded him as important in the structure of our society. Like any other ruling prince of India, His Highness the Maharaja Hari Singh Bahadur of Jammu and Kashmir sat on his gadi2 [2. Throne.] by the grace of the British, who flattered his vanity by saluting him with the fire of twenty-one booming guns.

The scene changed when, soon after Independence, the Maharaja was rudely awakened one day and told that a savage tribe of raiders had appeared on the borders of his state. The raiders were pressing inwards, towards Srinagar, his capital city.

Just a little before this, the Maharaja had put under arrest the popular agitator, Sheikh Abdulla. Abdulla was the crusading force which transformed the restlessness of the people into a movement which clamoured for freedom from the Maharaja’s despotic rule. Too preoccupied with racing and the pleasures of life, the ruler had allowed his people to sink deeper into poverty and to be gripped by bigotry and superstition. Education had been completely neglected and very little money was spent on the social services. The luxury in which the ruler lived was deeply resented by his subjects.

When the raiders came, the Maharaja quickly released Sheikh Abdulla. At the same time he sent a distress call to the Viceroy of India. The help of the Indian government was urgently requested by Sir Hari Singh Bahadur. ‘Bahadur’ means the brave, but there was very little bravery to be seen in him in the hour of crisis; he was, in fact, packing up to move to a place of safety, leaving Abdulla to mobilise the people and defend the state. The state of Jammu and Kashmir had not yet clarified its position, unlike other ruling states which had acceded to the Indian Union. Consequently, the Maharaja was told that the Indian Union could do nothing until the accession was effected. The Maharaja readily acceded, and from that time Kashmir became the responsibility of the Indian government, and the personal charge of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.

The long story of how the raiders looted and pillaged the villages of Kashmir, and the complicity of the Pakistan government in their activities, is too well known to need repetition here. Nor is it necessary to enlarge on the monies spent on the Kashmir operation during the months that followed. Kashmir is estimated to have cost the Indian government 900,000 rupees1 [1. £60,000 approximately.] per day when the campaign for liberation was on. All this is understandable in the context of the military importance of Kashmir, which is bounded by five countries -- India, Tibet, China, Russian Turkestan, and Afghanistan -- completing the circle from the south through the east, north and west. It is, however, the character of Pandit Nehru, as it emerged from the Kashmir incident, with which I am more concerned.

Pandit Nehru rushed early to the scene of the battle, to see for himself the harrowing devastation which that little war had caused. Artillery fire had destroyed the homes of the Kashmiris, and when Nehru reached Baramulla, he could still see the smoke rising from the smouldering debris. As a tribute to Kashmir, Pandit Nehru rushed into the arms of Sheikh Abdulla -- in reality at the airport, and metaphorically in every speech and gesture he subsequently made. In Srinagar’s main square the people had gathered in their thousands to acclaim the liberator of India who had now made the liberation of Kashmir his prime concern, pledging the Indian Union to protect Kashmir in the process. The skies were rent with the echo of voices shouting hysterically: 'Pandit Nehru ki jai! Sher-e-Kashmir1 [1. ‘Tiger of Kashmir’ as Sheikh Abdulla is called.] ki jai.’ What greater tribute could the Prime Minister want from the land of his ancestors?

Carried away on a wave of emotion, Pandit Nehru, addressing the people of Kashmir in the square, told them, on his own responsibility and without any consultation whatever with his government at home, that when the process of liberation was over, they would be free to choose whatever form of government they desired.

This was yet another of Pandit Nehru’s solemn pledges. In other words, after the Indian Army sweated blood to protect the Kashmiris from the marauding bands from Pakistan and peace was restored, the people of Kashmir could, on a referendum, decide to opt out of the Indian Union to which their ruler had acceded and even go over to join Pakistan of their free will and accord. Nehru naturally did not believe such a possibility could ever occur. It now transpires that he grossly misjudged the mood and temper of Kashmir’s predominantly Moslem population, which had smarted long under the rule of a Hindu despot. The pledge remains; its redemption, as in the case of our government loans, will have to be indefinitely postponed. Nehru’s judgment had again misfired; it was based as always on emotion.

That is the crux of the Kashmir problem; let me explain it to you in simple terms.

Kashmir is vital to the defence of India. If we were to abandon it, we could not fall back on any proper line of defence. The strategic outposts of this defence position are the various passes which we now firmly hold. It was the comparatively young Lieut.-General Thimayya, recently raised to that rank and given an Army command, superseding six senior men, who foresaw the need to block these passes permanently, and without much ado, when he was put in charge of the Kashmir operation, he sealed them once and for all.

Nehru chose Thimayya for the Kashmir operation because of his masterly handling of the exchange of populations which followed the partition, in the inflammable border zones between India and Pakistan. Thimayya’s method was often unconventional, but, as a result, he brought that delicate situation under control. This had placed the General high in the Prime Minister’s esteem, and when equal tact and initiative were required in Kashmir, Pandit Nehru called upon Thimayya to do the job.

The day-to-day fighting on that front and the niceties of the various military operations he had conducted are not relevant to the story. What is important is the eventual result for which Thimayya was largely responsible.

Irrespective of what had been said in India, Kashmir or elsewhere in the world, the General concentrated on the closing of the vital mountain passes beyond the valley, so that these could become our first and impregnable line of defence. Soon the United Nations began to take a hand in the settlement of the dispute, and it was generally believed that after a few rounds were fired in the early excitement, the parties to the dispute -- India and Pakistan -- would sit around a conference table to thrash out their differences and restore an atmosphere of peace and friendly feeling in which the referendum which Nehru promised the Kashmir people could be held. But United Nations’ mediation was only lip-service to collective security; it was Nehru’s belated attempt to sprinkle the holy water of the ashrams1 [1. Hermitage.] of non-violence on what could be nothing more than necessitous rape.

We had to go into all the paraphernalia of the truce talks only because of Nehru’s impetuousness in promising the Kashmiris the right to decide their future, but it is now abundantly clear that if the people of Kashmir were to decide to accede to Pakistan, the Indian Union would seriously jeopardise its chances of finding a new line of defence. But that was just like Nehru, always committing himself on the spur of the moment, without any thought of the far-reaching consequences which such a pronouncement would involve. Situations like these will continue to recur so long as Pandit Nehru believes that the running of India is part of his family’s destiny, and the finances of the country part of the family ‘cook’s book’.1 [1. The book in which the Indian cook contrives to manipulate his daily accounts.]

Ever since the passes were sealed and the cease-fire line agreed upon, Pandit Nehru’s preoccupation has been to find ways and means of holding on to this practical solution of our defence problem, without too blatantly going back on his impracticable pledge. It is now his hope that years of close association with India may veer the Kashmiris round to accept a permanent self-willed association with India in preference to accession to Pakistan. With this end in view, crores of rupees are being spent on the development of Kashmir under the aegis of Sheikh Abdulla, whose allegiance to us periodically wavers. The Sheikh, so like Nehru, is prone to break out into a torrent of emotional Kashmiri nationalism, which the Pandit, in his turn, finds most embarrassing. Recently it appeared as if Sheikh Abdulla wanted Kashmir to be an autonomous state, independent even of India, and owing no allegiance to it. He even went so far as to say that Kashmir would have its own flag and that it would fly no other.

This altered situation came to light some time in the middle of 1952, when Sheikh Abdulla arrived in New Delhi with his team of advisors to hold discussions with Pandit Nehru. The talks were at the Prime Minister’s level. Before leaving on this political excursion to the Indian capital, Sheikh Abdulla had made a staggering speech in Srinagar. He declared that he was a Moslem, a Kashmiri and an Indian too! How he contrived to manipulate all these three conflicting loyalties within himself, no one knew; nor was he challenged on this point by the Indian Prime Minister. The quarrel of the Congress with the ‘communal’2 [2. The word communal is used here not in the dictionary meaning of the word, but in accordance with its usage in India. It means those who think in terms of one community to the exclusion of the other.]-minded Moslems has always been that they put their religious faith before their Indian nationality. Sheikh Abdulla did not express his differently, but Pandit Nehru did not brand him as ‘communal’-minded. Such tolerance is rare in Nehru. It was forced on him because he was in no position to destroy the man whom he himself had claimed to be the rightful leader of the Kashmiri people.

Abdulla’s somersault placed Pandit Nehru in a most awkward dilemma. Here was India spending millions and millions on the defence of Kashmir, ostensibly to safeguard its people from the marauding tribes from Pakistan, and more millions on the social and economic development of that state, far in excess of anything the central government has spent on any other state of the Union, and at the end of it the accredited spokesman of the Kashmir people was dissociating the nationalism of Kashmir from that of India.

Freda also began to spend more time in another of India's troubled regions, Kashmir. The family travelled to Kashmir occasionally from the late 1930s, in part as a summer retreat from the scorching Lahore summer but also to support the nascent progressive nationalist movement in this princely state. After Bedi's release from Deoli, Kashmir loomed increasingly large in their lives -- and their engagement with the Kashmir Valley merits separate attention....

By the time the Bedi family moved to Kashmir late in 1947, they had already made a name for themselves there. Freda Bedi had braved attempts by the maharaja's government to expel her from the princely state and had been dressed in Kashmiri bridal clothes in an unlikely attempt to pass incognito when meeting underground political leaders. Her son unwittingly served as a messenger between Kashmiri leaders forced into exile in Lahore and activists seeking an end to princely autocracy. B.P.L. Bedi's most abiding political achievement was as principal architect of the defining document of progressive Kashmiri nationalism -- at the time the dominant political force in the Kashmir Valley. Freda and B.P.L. became firm friends and allies of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the commanding figure in Kashmiri politics. When they moved to Srinagar it was to work alongside him to achieve his goal of a secular, democratic and socially progressive Kashmir -- and to strengthen India's contested claim to the state.

The Bedis' involvement in Kashmiri politics was partly an accident of geography. From the late 1930s, the Kashmiri capital, Srinagar, became a summer refuge for Punjabi intellectuals. It was more than five thousand feet up in the foothills of the Himalayas, a place of legendary beauty which offered respite from the bleaching summer sun. An attractive alternative to Andretta, Kashmir offered lakes, houseboats and opportunities to camp and trek particularly in the upper Lidder valley beyond the resort town of Pahalgam. It became 'like a second home for us,' Freda remarked; 'somebody ought to make a film round Kashmir with the Kashmir Valley as Hero no. 1.'1 Among the roll call of Punjabis and north Indians who spent part of the summer in the Kashmir Valley was Faiz Ahmad Faiz, the pre-eminent progressive Urdu poet, whose nikah or marriage ceremony with an English communist, Alys George, was conducted by Sheikh Abdullah in Srinagar in 1941. Alys's sister Christabel had already married M.D. Taseer, a leftist writer and intellectual at one time a college principal in Srinagar.2 The novelist Mulk Raj Anand, the actor (and veteran of the Monday Morning venture in Lahore) Balraj Sahni and the cultural figure K.A. Abbas were also among the more renowned of the left-leaning literati who assembled in the Kashmir Valley.

Kashmiri political leaders similarly spent time in the Punjabi capital, Lahore. Sheikh Abdullah and many other young Kashmiris had been students there. Hundreds of Kashmiris settled in the city, which offered a bigger canvas and more opportunities for educated Muslims. The poet Hafeez Jullundhri in particular forged friendships with the coming generation of Kashmiri leaders, and the Bedis too got to know -- and on occasion host -- the key figures in Kashmir's national movement.

At this time, Kashmir was emerging from a long period of isolation and popular politics was taking root. The maharaja, Hari Singh, was a Hindu and, in the eyes of most Kashmiris, an outsider, while his princely state was largely Muslim and the Kashmir Valley emphatically so. He was also part of a generation of Indian princes who were much more comfortable hunting, shooting and fishing than in engaging with social and political reform. The princely states were not formally part of the British Raj, but in Srinagar -- as in many other princely capitals -- a British Resident kept a careful watching eye and on occasions intervened to seek to ensure political stability and protect British interests. Princely autocracy and the accompanying restraints on political activity and public expression were increasingly an anachronism as the temper of Indian politics began to rise. Sheikh Abdullah and a like-minded group of young, educated Kashmiris -- most of them from the state's Muslim majority -- sought to challenge the oppressive feudalism still prevalent in the villages and to mobilise public opinion.

The Bedis came to see the Kashmir Valley not simply as a picturesque location offering respite from the summer heat but as the site of a political struggle to which they could, and should, contribute. This was probably a mix of personal initiative and prompting by the Communist Party, which viewed Kashmir as a promising place to seek recruits and influence. Sheikh Abdullah had a firm personal friendship and political alliance with the Congress's Jawaharlal Nehru, himself of distant Kashmiri descent. But the communists were keen to help support Abdullah's party, the National Conference, and shape its policy and strategy. When in the summer of 1942 Bedi was released from Deoli and Freda was able to disengage from her lecturing job in Lahore, their involvement in Kashmiri politics stepped up. In August 1942, Bedi was in Srinagar as the Indian National Congress launched the Quit India movement, its biggest civil disobedience movement to date. At this time, the communists were opposed to protests which would hamper the war effort. By his own account -- and Bedi was prone to exaggerate his role in the events he recounted -- he persuaded the National Conference leadership to keep a distance from the Congress's initiative:

Sheikh Abdullah, [C.M.] Sadiq and Bakshi [Chulam Mohammad], all three were lunching with me that day. So instead of arriving at 12 o'clock for lunch, they arrived at about 10.30. 'Ah,' they came laughing and joking and said, 'now good-bye Bedi Saheb, instead of lunching we will be behind bars by the time lunch comes, because this is the situation which has come about.' So, we immediately went into consultations and realised that the ruthless administration of the Maharaja was looking for an opportunity to smash the national movement in Kashmir ... We said, 'Leave alone anti-fascism and anti-imperialism, who is there if the National Conference is removed at the moment to stand between the Maharaja's ways and the people and stem the tide of destruction and suffering.' With this argument we completely assessed the situation and came to the conclusion that no 1942 movement could be launched in Kashmir.3

Bedi said he was given the job of making the opening speech at a rally that evening to argue the case for standing aloof from the Congress-launched campaign. In the tussle between the Congress and communists for influence within Kashmir's main political movement, the left had won a victory. Bedi's argument that Kashmiri nationalists could achieve more if they were out-and-about rather than behind bars was well made. The Quit India campaign placed the Congress leadership behind bars and out-of-action at a crucial stage in the advance towards independence. 'Whereas in other parts of India the national movement was smashed,' Bedi argued somewhat self-servingly, 'in Kashmir, the national movement emerged with ten times more strength by following this policy.'4

The following spring, both Freda and Bedi attended the annual session of the National Conference at Mirpur. Freda chaired a meeting of women activists; Bedi presided over a gathering of student supporters. Freda wrote in her weekly column in the Tribune about the difficult journey she made to Mirpur, the final stage of which was a 'shabby' ferry boat across the Jhelum. We got across the river being alternately pulled and pushed and rowed and towed in about two hours. For us it was easy enough since we never left the boat. But the other passengers had to get down on the islands and walk across the burning sand, the round hot stones and the spiked grasses.' Unsurprisingly, the main demand of local women at the meeting Freda convened was for a bridge.

It is no joke for old women and mothers with children to face such a primitive journey every time they want to come to the Punjab or the Frontier. They were indignant about it 'and we even have to ride on donkeys' they said with a smile half mischievous and half ashamed. They formed their own committee. So many have tried and failed. Now it is for the women of Mirpur to show that they will not be refused. Alone a woman is helpless and knows it. Together with her sisters bound by common trouble and suffering she can show greater strength than she or the world dreams of, for none can refuse the weak when they band together.5

From a small incident, she drew a parable which reflected her own commitment to social justice and the agency of women in achieving that.

Freda also wrote lyrically about a journey in Kashmir, by donkey and on foot, retracing the old Mughal route into the valley. Sheikh Abdullah accompanied the group for at least part of the journey, and was welcomed as if a saviour.

The Kashmiri women had found out that their leader had come. They huddled together in a shy group on the roof of one of the huts, as though undecided what to do. Then they started a song of welcome: 'To-day our Rajah has honoured the house with his presence,' they sang. I looked again at their faces lined with poverty, the dirty and ragged clothes on their backs. Had they been as dirty and as poor when the great ones of history ruled the earth? Probably so, for the poor have always been poor .... The lively, happy faces of the women were sharp before the dark arches: beggars at the door of history, they were singing for the only ray of light they knew. For one who fought for the poor, and would see them ruling in the land of their poverty.6

In another 'From a Woman's Window' column, Freda wrote about attending a martyrs' day ceremony with Sheikh Abdullah in Srinagar, a tribute to those killed by the maharaja's forces in 1931 at the inception of what became a mass movement demanding civil and political rights. Again, her attention focused on the women, about 150 of them, who gathered outside the walls of the cemetery while the men laid flowers on the graves.

To outward seeming they were like any other crowd of Kashmiri women. Most were in the burqua, with its crown-like head-piece, making it particularly ungainly and ugly. The others were working women, in their loose-fitting tunics, the white thick veil on the back of their heads, heavy earrings, carved circles of silver, hanging in bunches on their distended ears ....

They were the silent background of the animated meeting. And it occurred to me looking at them that they had been the silent background of all the history of Kashmir and the struggles of its people. ...

It was women such as these who ran out into the streets and became the heroines of those early fiery days. It was such women who rattled stones and frightened the horses of their soldiery. Some village woman, like that plump aging woman over there, took a club on her shoulder and strode at the head of one of the village 'armies' of the people that marched into Srinagar.7

She foresaw Kashmiri women coming on to the streets again, 'throwing that power-house of energy which they hoard as a bee hoards its honey into another great movement of the people.' On this, she was right.

Freda Bedi's empathy with Kashmiri women, and her emphasis on their role in political and social change, is striking. Women were also conspicuous in the iconography of Kashmiri nationalism. When the 'New Kashmir' manifesto was published, it featured a drawing of a woman on its front cover, wearing a Kashmiri pheran or smock and with her head covered-not quiescent but politically assertive, wielding the National Conference flag of a hand-plough in white on a red background. It bears more than a faint echo of Delacroix's famous depiction of Marianne, emblem of the French republic, mounting a barricade flag in hand. The Kashmiri woman depicted appears to have been Zooni Gujjari, a local activist from a disadvantaged background who featured in other National Conference publications.

The content of the manifesto was also notably progressive on gender issues, extending to equal wages, paid leave during pregnancy, the right to enter trades and professions, to own and inherit property and to consent to marriage. But this was simply one aspect of a remarkably far-reaching political programme, which has been described as 'the most important political document in modern Kashmir's history'.8 It was written in response to an initiative by the maharaja to consult about political and constitutional reform. This was the National Conference's submission -- a hugely ambitious, forty-four page document which was a draft constitution, an economic programme and party manifesto combined. It proposed a constitutional monarchy with universal suffrage for those aged eighteen and over; equal rights irrespective of race, religion or nationality; freedom of speech, press and assembly; free and compulsory primary education in the mother tongue; state ownership and management of all key industries; and the abolition of feudalism through an agrarian programme of which the key points were 'abolition of landlordism' and 'land to the tiller'. Sheikh Abdullah noted with justification that his party had come up with a much more detailed prescription for the future than the Indian National Congress, or indeed any other movement in the region.

The authorship of the 'New Kashmir' manifesto was, at the time, opaque. Sheikh Abdullah recounted many years later that to 'compile the manifesto we requisitioned the services of a famous progressive friend from Panjab [sic], B.P.L. Bedi. ... Bedi's sharp-minded, elegant wife Freda typed the manuscript.'9 Bedi worked with a small group of leftists, mainly from outside Kashmir. Although he took credit for the manifesto, which he described as a '100% Communist document', he never claimed authorship.10 'There was not much drafting to be done except to write the introduction,' a veteran Kashmiri communist P.N. Jalali recalled, as it was 'almost a carbon copy' of a Soviet document.11 For the key opening section, the draft constitution, Bedi turned to an item he had published in Contemporary India a few years earlier -- Stalin's 1936 constitution for the Soviet Union. It was a resourceful rummage through his personal archive. Although this was adapted to meet Kashmir's circumstances, many of the points were simply copied out. The longer economic programme, including charters for workers, peasants and women, was more loosely based on kisan sabha (peasants' movement) documents, which Bedi would also have known well. The only considerable piece of writing to be done was Sheikh Abdullah's foreword. This was even more explicitly communist in tone. 'The inspiring picture of the regeneration of all the different nationalities and peoples of the U.S.S.R., and their welding together into the united mighty Soviet State that is throwing back its barbarous invaders with deathless heroism,' Sheikh Abdullah was made to declare, 'is an unanswerable argument for the building of democracy on the cornerstone of economic equality.'

As far as the communists were concerned, Bedi had carried out a brilliant political manoeuvre. An important regional party with close links to the Congress had adopted a manifesto drafted by communists, staunchly pro-Soviet in content and reflecting the cprs political line. 'New Kashmir' was for decades the watchword by which Sheikh Abdullah's ambition for a social transformation of Kashmir was known. Sheikh Abdullah himself described it as 'a revolutionary document'.12 While much of the manifesto remained simply an aspiration, the far-reaching pledges on land reform were acted upon once the National Conference came to power and remain one of the most radical and egalitarian measures introduced in independent India.

P.N. Jalali's recollection is that Bedi had been 'deputed' by the Communist Party in Punjab to 'look after' the communists in Jammu and Kashmir. Kashmiri communists operated not as a separate party but inside Sheikh Abdullah's National Conference, and were particularly influential among students and the trade unions. 'They did not raise their hand [and say] that: here we are, communists. Except that everybody knew they were communists. Even Sheikh sahib knew.... But we were conscious not to rub Sheikh sahib on the wrong side because he was very sensitive about any parallel political activity.' While B.P.L. Bedi had the greater political influence in Kashmir, Jalali also had keen memories of Freda and her 'very striking' appearance:

She was a wonderful lady, very modest, and she was very well known throughout the valley in Kashmir. Every summer they would come, early visitors if you call them visitors. And Mrs Bedi used to deliver lectures on the USSR, they used to be very well attended ... weekly lectures. These were very popular lectures ... Strangely enough, they were held in a hall which belonged to the Church Mission Society.

On one of these summer visits, the Bedis got caught up in the growing turbulence of Kashmiri politics. They were part of a river procession through Srinagar, a popular form of both demonstration and celebration in the Kashmiri capital, when political rivals standing on a bridge loosed volleys of stones down on the boats. Several of those in the procession suffered nasty injuries, and Ranga remembers his mother lying on top of him to save him from the barrage.

The reputation Bedi gained for taking the lead in compiling the 'New Kashmir' manifesto helped him in his task of securing recruits. Christabel Taseer saw at close quarters Bedi's effectiveness -- she recounted that G.M. Sadiq, later a prime minister of the state, 'was motivated to be a Leftist, as were a number of other young Kashrniris, by association with B.P.L. Bedi and his wife, Freda, both dedicated Marxists.' Another Kashmiri leftist with a large popular following, G.M. Karra, told Taseer how he and several others had been 'won over to the Communist cause through the Bedis'. Yet another stated that 'Kashmir's Marxist intellectual scene was dominated by B.P.L. Bedi and his English wife Freda Bedi'.13 The Bedis were big fish in the small pond of Kashmiri progressives and radicals -- and their close friendship with Sheikh Abdullah and his reliance on the left for strategic direction and organisational support gave them huge authority and influence. At the same time, the Bedis were making friends in the political mainstream of the nationalist movement too. A remarkable group photograph survives, taken in Kashmir in 1945 at the annual session of the National Conference, which includes three future prime ministers of India and two future prime ministers of Indian Kashmir: Sheikh Abdullah and his ally Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad are at the back; in front of them are Jawaharlal Nehru -- recently released from detention -- and his daughter Indira Gandhi; two nationalist leaders in what became Pakistan are prominent, Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai from Baluchistan and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan from the Frontier, the latter carrying a young child, very probably Indira's son, Rajiv Gandhi; on one flank is Mridula Sarabhai, an influential supporter of Kashmiri nationalism; on the other is Freda Bedi, smiling broadly and clearly pregnant, with B.P.L. behind her, largely hidden to the camera.

When next the temper of Kashmiri politics boiled over, it was Freda rather than B.P.L. who was on the spot and propelled to prominence. In the spring of 1946, Sheikh Abdullah launched the Qyit Kashmir movement. While the Congress's earlier Quit India campaign was directed against the British, Sheikh Abdullah was seeking the eviction of Kashmir's royal family and the establishment of representative government. The maharaja responded with repression. Protests were violently dispersed. Sheikh Abdullah was arrested in May 1946; hundreds of his supporters were also detained. Several of his key colleagues managed to reach Lahore. Some leaders of the National Conference, notably G.M. Karra, operated underground. Bedi was in Lahore and too well-known to make the journey to Srinagar without attracting immediate arrest. Freda, by chance, was in Kashmir on a camping holiday with her new baby, Kabir, then just four months old and still being breastfed. On Kabir's nineteenth birthday, Freda wrote him a long and intensely personal letter in which she dwelt on the political drama in which he was caught up.

In summer, we went up to Kashmir as usual. Papa left me in Haji Brar, and went down to Lahore again, promising to return. Then the storm burst. Sheikh Abdullah started the 'Quit Kashmir' agitation. He was promptly jailed along with all his followers. I felt I must do something. What, I didn't know. Srinagar was a long way away and all the people I could discuss things with were behind bars. I came down to Srinagar. You were always with me like my skin, tucked up in your little Moses basket. I daren't leave you for a minute so wherever you + I had to go, we went together.

How can I put in words that painful summer? The police wanted me to leave Kashmir as they knew Papa and I were friends of the rebels. So they issued a notice to me to leave. I wrote on the back of the notice that I didn't accept it, as I didn't recognise the people who issued it. From then on they pursued me. C.I.D. watching, following. I was doing nothing, of course; just feeding you. Whoever I stayed with, the poor boatman, were called and harassed [sic] by the Police. It was so difficult: they wanted to protect me, but I was giving them trouble. Finally, to save the boat people, I took a room in a cheap Punjabi hotel in the city, with a Frontierman Manager, some Peshawari Hindu, I've forgotten his name, but he had a heart of gold. 'Just you sit here and feed that baby,' he said, 'and don't worry about anything.'

But the hotel food made me sick, + my milk began to suffer. It was then that that saintly old man, a Kashmiri Pandit, ... heard of my plight and sent me every morning and evening a tiffin box full of pure vegetarian food. That kept me going, and you too ....

Once, the 'underground' Kashmiri nationalists wanted to meet me, and I was given a 'burqua' (you were tucked away under it, close to my heart) and slipped out of a house I was visiting by the back door, + so reached a room in the centre of the old city.14

In this intimate letter written many years after the events described, Freda downplayed both the bravery and the political significance of her actions. The state authorities' issuing of an 'externment' or deportation order against Freda in June 1946 was widely reported -- so too was her refusal to comply.15 This was a political trial of will, and Freda could not be sure that if the maharaja's police moved in, she would be gently treated. The British communist Rajani Palme Dutt -- in Kashmir in late July as a public show of support for Sheikh Abdullah -- complained of the 'reign of terror' let loose by the maharaja and his police. He met Bedi in Lahore, noting that he was 'large' and 'robust'. Bedi, in turn, helped to organise meetings for Palme Dutt in Srinagar, including with Freda.16 'I saw armed sentries posted on all the bridges and strategic points,' he wrote in Labour Monthly. 'An Indian journalist who accompanied me to Srinagar was subjected to a police raid at night by ten C.I.D. men, who made a complete search of his room, as well as of the room of Freda Bedi in the same hotel. The driver of the car which I had used in Srinagar was ... arrested and beaten up to extract from him information as to my movements.'17

Freda's secret meeting was to pass on messages between the National Conference leaders -- presumably those in Lahore -- and those such as G.M. Karra who were operating undercover in Srinagar. In the absence of much of the male leadership of the National Conference, women activists stepped into the breach. At the behest of some of these women, Freda dressed up in clothes which would have disguised her European appearance but hardly made her inconspicuous. '"People wouldn't put me in an old muddy burka," said Freda. "They wanted to dress me in the best they had, and they would go to the bride's chest." In ballooning garments encrusted with embroidery, and with daintily crocheted inserts just big enough for her blue English eyes to peer through, Freda moved about, relaying directives ... Her temporary retreat into purdah had been an experience for her. "It's a strange sensation it gives you," she said. "You're behind a bridge. You have this queer knowledge that you can observe everybody and no one can see you. It's a peculiar mentality that must develop among Muslim women."'18 Sajida Zameer Ahmed recalls escorting Freda, disguised in a burqa, on a horse-drawn buggy around Srinagar to meet underground activists. She also took on another invaluable role for Freda -- babysitting Kabir so that his mother could devote herself more fully to the political role she had taken on.19

Twelve-year-old Ranga was also embroiled in taking messages to the underground activists -- though without his, or it seems his mother's, prior knowledge. This was probably Bedi's idea -- he saw a lot of the Kashmiri nationalists in Lahore, and some stayed in the Bedis' guest hut, indeed it seems that the Lahore Kashmir Committee arranged for the building of an additional hut to house activists. 'I saw many of the important and not-so-important Kashmiri leaders as guests of Bedi -- Sheikh Abdullah, Bakhsi Ghulam Mohammad, Ghulam Muhammad Sadiq and a host of others,' Som Anand reminisced. 'During the "~it Kashmir" movement of the National Conference, Sadiq in particular stayed there for a long time.'20This was probably how Ranga was press-ganged into the service of the Kashmiri underground. He was told to make a journey by train and bus to Srinagar during term time to visit his mother and baby brother. He had to travel alone -- though there was usually someone c1ose-at-hand keeping a discrete eye on the youngster. In his school copy books, hidden among writing exercises and homework, were political messages written longhand in Urdu. Freda was astonished to see Ranga in Srinagar and, as he recalls, 'horrified' when she discovered the purpose. But she passed on the school books, the relevant pages were nearly removed, and the same method used to get messages back to Lahore.

Freda's letter many years later to Kabir rehearsed what happened at the end of that turbulent summer:

By October, the Police had realised I wasn't to be bullied, so they were not troubling me any more. But Sheikh Sahib sent a message from jail that I should go down to Lahore, + thanked me for all I had done. Just a silent satyagraha, for what it was worth. During that summer, you and I were as close as ever Mother + baby could be. Papa, too, (who was not allowed to re-enter Kashmir) was wanting us. And so we reached Model Town + the huts again.

Freda kept the letter sent by Sheikh Abdullah from Riasi sub-jail in Jammu province, a personal and affectionate letter but expressing his anger at the treatment from 'these devils' his jailers and his political resolve. 'It seems to me that things will hang on in Kashmir for some time more + that my countrymen shall have to prepare themselves for a final onslaught on the citadel ... The cause must win. I am sure that our cause is righteous + we shall win in the end.'21 Freda had sent the jailed leader a photo of Kabir. 'He will, I am sure, grow as a very handsome boy,' Sheikh Abdullah responded, '+ his forehead depicts him to become a great thinker + a revolutionary.'

When Sheikh Abdullah's supporters captured the citadel, to use his analogy, Freda was thousands of miles away in England. In mid-August 1947, when India and Pakistan gained independence, the maharaja was still dithering about which nation his princely state should join, and wondering whether Kashmir could achieve independence. Both he and Sheikh Abdullah -- for very different reasons -- were more inclined to Indian rule than to becoming part of Pakistan. In late October, with the connivance of sections of Pakistan's armed forces and new government, a large force of tribesmen from the North West Frontier entered the princely state and quickly overwhelmed the maharaja's army. They were motivated in part by the pursuit of jihad and of loot, and by vengeance for Partition massacres of Muslims in Punjab -- and also by a determination to overthrow the state's Hindu ruler and claim Muslim Kashmir for Pakistan. The maharaja promptly fled to the relative safety of his palace in Jammu, to the south of the Kashmir Valley, and once there signed the instrument of accession by which his domain became part of India. The Indian armed forces began an airlift to the rudimentary landing strip outside Srinagar, saving the city from ransack, and within a couple of weeks had repulsed the invading force. But Indian troops failed to evict the tribesmen from the entire princely state which became informally partitioned between India and Pakistan -- as it still is.22

Sheikh Abdullah, recently released from jail, manoeuvred into the vacuum created by the flight of the maharaja and his courtiers. With communist help, he organised a militia, some of which was trained and equipped by the Indian army. This was both a defence force should invaders again imperil the Kashmiri capital and a demonstration to all that the old regime of princely autocracy had been swept away. Sheikh Abdullah's supporters flooded the streets of Srinagar, and the city pulsed with political energy. 'The National Conference red flag ... decorates every public building in the city,' the Times of India reported. 'In the main square in the heart of the city, which has been renamed "Red Square", a giant red flag flutters from a tall mast under which workers and ordinary people foregather at all hours of the day to hear the latest news of the war and exchange political gossip.'23

Amid all this turmoil, Sheikh Abdullah received a letter from Freda in England and found the time to write a brief reply from the hotel in Srinagar which had become his temporary headquarters:

We are facing a grim struggle and the enemy is almost at our door-step. But we are confident that we shall turn the corner.

I think the best you can do for us at present would be to help us to set up an Information Bureau in New Delhi to work as the medium of our publicity in the outside world. I do not want to call you here because coming here at present is unsafe and unpleasant.

I should love to hear from Bedi. The two of you have done such a lot for us.24

Freda and Bedi took no notice of Sheikh Abdullah's warning to stay clear of Srinagar. Within a few days of their re-assembly as a family in India in December 1947, they all moved on to Kashmir. While the Indian army by then had the upper hand, Kashmir was a war wne. 'From Delhi we were flown in an army troop carrier, Dakota DeS,' Ranga recalls. 'No formal seats, fixed benches along the length of the aircraft and seat belts anchored to the body of the plane. Our great dane Rufus on the floor shivered out of fright all the way. When we landed in Srinagar it was a hive of military activity.' Bedi's role was to work closely with Sheikh Abdullah, both on policy and propaganda. The family were allotted evacuee property -- a simple but well situated house with the name Dar-ul-Aman ('home of peace') at Gagribal, close to Srinagar's renowned Dal Lake.

Within days of arriving in Srinagar, the Bedis had a visit from one of the commanding photo-journalists of the era. Margaret Bourke-White had provided Life with its first front cover in 1936. She was a war photographer in Europe but turned her back on the 'decay of Europe' and came to India just as it was about to achieve independence. 'I witnessed that extremely rare event in the history of nations, the birth of twins,' she wrote.25 She arrived in India in March 1946 and spent seven months travelling widely across the subcontinent, meeting and photographing all the main political players. She returned in September 1947, as it became clear that the birth of twin nations, midnight's children, was also a profound human calamity. Her powerful and unsettling images of Partition -- of migration and massacre -- are among her most memorable. She was determined to record India's passage to independence not only in images but in a book.. Halfway to Freedom, sub-tided 'a report on the new India' and published in 1949, is a vivid account of India's faltering steps to full nationhood.

When fighting erupted in Kashmir in late October 1947, Margaret Bourke-White was determined to get there. For a photo-journalist, the prime requirement is to be at the heart of the action-there's no other way of capturing the most commanding images. Early in November, Sir George Cunningham, the governor of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, noted in his diary that two American women journalists from Lift had been refused permission to go to Abbottabad, the informal headquarters of the invading force, and beyond to Baramulla.26 That didn't stop her. She managed to reach Abbottabad and to meet and photograph a band of several hundred armed Pathans on their way to Kashmir:

Unlike higher officials, these tribesmen seemed to know what was going on when I questioned them.

'Are you going into Kashmir?' I asked.

'Why not?' they said. We are all Muslims. We are going to help our Muslim brothers in Kashmir.'

Sometimes their help to their brother Muslims was accomplished so quickly that the trucks and buses would come back within a day or two bursting with loot, only to return to Kashmir with more tribesmen, to repeat their indiscriminate 'liberating' -- and terrorizing of Hindu, Sikh and Muslim villager alike.27

A few weeks later, Margaret Bourke-White managed to reach the Kashmir Valley -- approaching not from Pakistani territory but from the Indian side. 'Just before Christmas of 1947 I flew over the wild mountain barrier, with guerrilla warfare going on fiercely but invisible among the ravines and chasms below, and landed in the enchanted city of Srinagar. Everyone who has ever visited Kashmir knows it has a special magic. "It is a different world altogether," my friend Bedi, who was my guide in Kashmir, expressed it; "the water and the land combines into one."'28

The account Bourke-White gave of the turbulence in Kashmir -- the political cohesion of its people, the progressive credentials of the National Conference's manifesto and their 'legendary' leader Sheikh Abdullah, 'this good-natured, weather-beaten, eminently practical and rather homely young man' -- reflect the political outlook of her guide and host. Indeed, her two chapters on Kashmir capture the high water mark of the progressive New Kashmir movement. She interviewed Sheikh Abdullah and several of his associates, met members of his people's militia, and encountered the key figure in the underground movement during the Quit Kashmir campaign. And of course, she got to know Bedi's wife.

Freda Bedi is a fair-haired English girl whom Bedi had met and married when both were students at Oxford. She had become deeply interested in the welfare of her adopted country, learned the language, and wore the long full pajama like dress of Kashmiri women. She had her own jail record -- acquired for her participation in the freedom movement -- which is the proud badge of every patriotic Indian who has worked for independence.

Bourke-White also wanted to see the evidence of the invaders' largely indiscriminate destruction, and having heard about the desecration of a convent at Baramulla and the ransacking of the mission hospital, she persuaded Bedi to take her there:

It was badly defaced and littered, and a delegation of students from Srinagar was coming next day to clean it up and salvage what remained of the library .... They would put the Christian mission in as good order as they could in time for Christmas Day.

We made our way into the ravaged chapel, wading through the mass of torn hymnbooks and broken sacred statuary. The altar was deep in rubble. Bedi stooped down over it and picked up one fragment, turning it over carefully in his big hands. It was the broken head of Jesus, with just one eye remaining.

'How beautiful it is,' said Bedi, 'this single eye of Christ looking out so calmly on the world. We shall preserve it always in Kashmir as a permanent reminder of the unity between Indians of all religions which we are trying to achieve.'29

And that's where she left her account of Kashmir -- an impassioned, if partial, piece of reportage. She recited uncritically what she heard from Bedi, and this has to be marked down as one of his key successes as a propagandist. There's hardly a whisper of criticism of Sheikh Abdullah and the movement he headed, and hardly a good word about Pakistan or the invaders acting in its name.

B.P.L. Bedi pops up repeatedly in the pages of Halfway to Freedom as Bourke-White's friend and guide. In Delhi in mid-January 1948 a couple of weeks after leaving Kashmir, she conveniently caught sight of him when attending Gandhi's prayers during a fast to protest against the communal hatred unleashed by Partition. 'Bedi was a giant of a figure in his billowing wool homespun which swept in coarse, oatmeal-colored folds from his massive shoulders to his Gargantuan feet, bare and crusty in their open sandals.'30Another two weeks later, she was again with Bedi in Delhi when she heard of Gandhi's assassination and rushed with her camera to the spot. The following day, Bedi and sixteen-year-old Binder accompanied Bourke-White to Gandhi's cremation, Bedi using his persuasiveness to help get access, and Binder being little short of heroic in guarding the cameras from the crush of the crowd and helping Bourke-White to a vantage point.

Margaret Bourke-White was in her early forties when she arrived in India -- vivacious, sociable, successful, determined and with two failed marriages behind her. She embarked on an affair with one of India's best-known journalists, Frank Moraes -- handsome, hard living, Oxford-educated with an accent to match. He was a friend of the Bedis. He was also married -- and Beryl Moraes, in the throes of a mental health crisis, turned up with her young son Dom at Bourke-White's hotel room to remonstrate. She had other Indian lovers. Her publisher, Peter Jayasinghe, suggested marriage but was rebuffed. For a woman 'who had so little wish to do harm,' says her biographer, 'Margaret left behind her a wide swath of injured wives.'31 Whether Freda was among those who had reason to feel injured, it's difficult to say with certainty. There are stray hints in Bedi's letters at an intimacy. What I really feel like saying to you -- I have told these petals to whisper!' he wrote to Bourke-White in September 1949, just ten days before Freda gave birth to their fourth child.32 That could be a flirtatious aside -- it feels as if it's something more.

B.P.L. Bedi and Margaret Bourke-White seem not to have met again after her departure from India in early 1948, but they kept in touch by letter for almost two decades more. Eight years after Gandhi's assassination, Bedi wrote to his old friend -- that letter hasn't survived, but Bourke-White's tender reply has.

It was wonderful to hear from you. Yes I too think of you when the anniversary rolls round of the solemn events in which we shared. And I think of you always, and with quiet affection ....

I was very moved, Bedi dear, at your letter. I too felt we were always very close in understanding and those terrible -- and, in a way, majestic -- events through which we moved, brought us even closer.33

In subsequent years, Bedi offered support and succour through the photo-journalist's diagnosis with Parkinson's disease and her gradual decline in health. 'Remember we who lived through the stormiest of struggles have the deepest faith in the doings of the Divine ... ,' Bedi wrote, reflecting the unorthodox spiritual turn his life had taken. 'I am directed by the Celestial Masters to tell you that your future is greater than your past.'34 Bourke-White wrote respectfully of Bedi's personal journey and fondly of their shared adventures: 'How vividly I remember your long, strong stride on our excursions in Srinagar, Amritsar and Delhi.'35 A few years later, at Bedi's prodding, she wrote in support of funding for a project he had devised to translate and publish Sufi poetry. 'He is one of the most scholarly, cultivated and great-hearted of men.' A generous comment about an old friend she hadn't seen for sixteen years -- and the last act of a loving friendship of which Freda can hardly have been unaware.36

-- The Lives of Freda: The Political, Spiritual and Personal Journeys of Freda Bedi, by Andrew Whitehead
Site Admin
Posts: 33515
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am


Return to Biography/Autobiography/Memoirs

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest