28 May 2015

The Day Nehru Left Us

On This Day, BBC News
1964: 'With his death an era passed away'

Jawaharlal Nehru, founder of modern-day India and confidant of Mahatma Gandhi, died from a heart attack in 1964 leaving the nation in shock. Politicians wept and party leaders paid tribute to the man who had led India since it achieved independence from Britain in 1947.

As India's first prime minister he took the country along a socialist path, although he refused to align the country to either the Soviet Union or the United States in the Cold War. Although some of his policies have been discredited in recent years, he remains a legendary and much-loved figure and is known as the architect of the state of India.

Here are some of memories of that time.
Our family was deeply attached to the Nehru family. My father was one of his personal secretaries. I was there in front of the bier shouting in tears: " Chacha Nehru amar raho !" While approaching the body, I was literally carried by the crowd and my feet touched ground only after passing the gates. I was awestuck and I was 15 years old at that time. Mohan, France

I was in the first grade in India. We kids used to worship (in the real sense) Nehru. We had a picture of him in the hallway. His death made me cry for days. I was so sad, I couldn't concentrate enough to do my homework. Everything was shut for three days. I got so upset at my teacher's insensitivity when he yelled at me, "Nehru died and you had three days off. What were you doing all this time?" Avanti, USA

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I was 12 years old when this happened. We were playing cricket when all of a sudden a young boy named Umesh came out of his house to tell us that "Chacha Nehru had passed away". Even amongst young boys and girls, Nehru was extremely popular and a role model. We stopped playing cricket and sat down around the radio thinking about what could happen in his absence.
Today it is fashionable and a sign of being an intellectual to criticise Nehru and his policies. These critics, however, fail to recognize the fact that Nehru opted for the best available alternatives within the framework of available scarce resources at his disposal. Despite unfriendly and unreasonable US policies towards India, Herculean problems inherited at the time of partition of the country, Chinese aggression and scores of natural disasters, Nehru assured a stable democratic India for 17 years.
He laid foundation for what India is today by careful economic, educational and social planning. In addition he was 100% honest. Not even one scandal during his long tenure and nothing has come out after he is gone for so many years. None of the modern day politicians across the globe have his kind of world vision and courage to say no to big powers. Jaydev Jani, USA

In Orissa, where he fell seriously ill in Jan 1964 and was never seen again in public, we had always known that Nehru was going. He never appointed a successor as he had himself been appointed by Gandhi. He wanted his charisma to continue after death and didn't care what happened to the country during the struggle for succession. He was otherwise a great man who nurtured the nascent democracy proud unlike many other newly-liberated nations which never got a stable government and never saw progress. His greatest achievement was the unity of the country with 10 different scripts, countless languages, religions and races. Dr. M.Seshagiri Rao, India

Forty years ago, as a young lad, I scrambled up a tree outside Princess Park Officers Mess near India Gate, to witness Nehru's body, wrapped in the Indian tricolour on a military gun carriage, move slowly by, mourned by thousands of my fellow citizens, young and old, rich and poor, for truly a great leader had departed from our midst. More so today, in the world of George Bush and Tony Blair, Nehru's leadership, vision, integrity and accomplishments truly stand out. May his example continue to inspire us all. Christopher Flores, USA

When the news of Mr Nehru's death came all shops were closed including the restaurants. I was on the road near Mumbai. I remember I did not get to eat anything that evening. Nehru was a larger than life figure for a young man like me. In those days we thought he could do no wrong, although now we know his policies set India back by at least 20 years.

His wholehearted co-operation with Soviet Union and blindly following their economic model turned out to be wrong, but you could not tell us that in those days. Some of the countries that aligned with US in those days (like South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand)progressed much faster than India. Nehru was instrumental in getting democracy rooted in Indian minds and that the change should come through the ballot box and not with the military. Overall I am not nostalgic for those days. Mukund Patharkar, USA

It was as if every one had lost a senior family member. Critics and supports alike were equally struck by sorrow. Though foreign newspapers expressed anxiety about the future of Indian democracy, I did not see anyone worried about that. People remembered Nehru for his sacrifices, idealism and steadfast commitment to democracy, secularism and social justice. Thiruvengadam Ramakrishnan, USA

I remember very well when the news of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru's death was broken to our school. The headmaster came and announced with a sad face that Pandit Nehru passed away this afternoon. We could not believe it. After observing two minutes' silence, the school was dismissed for the day. On going back home, I saw the shops were closed and there was no traffic movement on the road. This was a mark of respect towards that great leader whom we used to call as "Chacha Nehru". With his death an era passed away. Kirti Shah, USA

I was seven years old, and living in Kakinada (a town in Andhra Pradesh in southern India) when Pandit Nehru passed away. I remember my father being next to the radio, listening to the news of Nehru's death over All India Radio. His eyes filled with tears and he wept silently for a some seconds before he caught himself. I had never seen my father weep anytime, indeed at that tender age I had never associated tears with my impassive moustachioed father. But those were innocent times in India and perhaps in most of the world, and there were many leaders who were capable of inspiring personal loyalty and admiration of the kind that Nehru and Gandhi did. It would be far more difficult to find leaders of that kind in current times. Ramachandra, USA

24 May 2015

अँधेरी गुफा में उलझ रही है ओबीसी आरक्षण की राजनीति

सौरभ बाजपेयी
5 जून 2008
दैनिक हिन्दुस्तान

अस्मिताओं के उबार के समय में आरक्षण पर बात करना आग से खेलना है. 5 जून 2008 को इस लेख का संपादित रूप दैनिक हिन्दुस्तान में छपा था. गुर्जर आंदोलन के नए चरण के सन्दर्भ में इसका असंपादित लेख प्रस्तुत है...

आठ माह बाद राजस्थान में गुर्जरों का गुस्सा फिर भड़क उठा है। वे भरतपुर, अलवर, दौसा, करौली और जयपुर समेत तमाम जिलों में हिंसक विरोध प्रदर्शन कर रहे हैं। शुरूआती चार दिनों में ही तकरीबन 38 लोगों की पुलिस फायरिंग से मौत हो चुकी है। गुर्जरों और सत्ता के बीच यह संघर्ष कई मायनों में आरक्षण राजनीति की नई और खतरनाक प्रवृत्तियों का सूचक है। जो कि आने वाले समय में भारतीय राजनीति और समाज के ताने-बाने को बुरी तरह प्रभावित करेंगी।

दरअसल, भारत में ओबीसी आरक्षण की राजनीति अपने ही अंतर्विरोधों में उलझती जा रही है। भारतीय संविधान के निर्माताओं ने सभी लोगों को अवसर की समानता प्रदान करने तथा धर्म, जाति, वर्ण, लिंग और क्षेत्रगत आधारों पर होने वाले भेदभावों से मुक्ति दिलाने के लिए संविधान में अनुसूचित जातियों तथा जनजातियों के लिए सरकारी नौकरियों व शिक्षा में अस्थाई रूप से आरक्षण का प्रावधान किया था। जिसे जरूरत पड़ने पर संविधान संशोधन के माध्यम से आगे बढ़ाया जा सकता था। परन्तु ओबीसी आरक्षण संविधान निर्माताओं की सोच का हिस्सा नहीं था। भारतीय संविधान के मूल प्रारूप के निर्माता डाॅ0 भीमराव अम्बेडकर ने भी इस श्रेणी के लिए आरक्षण की कोई बात नहीं की थी। उन्होंने 1950 में आरक्षण को राजनीति का हिस्सा बनाने के खतरों के प्रति आगाह भी किया था। अचरज की बात है कि मण्डल आयोग ने ओबीसी श्रेणी को निर्धारित करने के लिए 1930 की जनगणना के जिन आंकड़ों को अपना आधार बनाया था, वे भारतीय संविधान निर्माण से तकरीबन 20 वर्ष पहले से ही मौजूद थे।

वास्तव में, ओबीसी आरक्षण और भारत की राजनीतिक स्थिति एक-दूसरे से बेतरह गुंथे हुए आयाम हैं। जब तक केन्द्रीय और क्षेत्रीय राजनीति में कांग्रेस का एकछत्र राज रहा, ओबीसी आरक्षण को कोई तरजीह नहीं दी गई। 1953 में काका कालेलकर आयोग की इस बाबत की गई सिफारिशों को नेहरू और फिर 1980 में मण्डल आयोग की संस्तुतियों को इंदिरा सरकार ने नजरंदाज कर दिया था। क्योंकि एक राजनीतिक दल के तौर पर कांग्रेस के सामने अपने वोट बैंक के निर्माण और सुदृढ़ीकरण का कोई खास संकट नहीं था। इसीलिए 90 के दशक से पहले भारतीय राजनीतिक माहौल में आरक्षण की अनुगूंज नहीं सुनाई देती थी। लेकिन जैसे ही राजनीतिक परिदृश्य पर कांग्रेस की उपस्थिति कमजोर पड़ने लगी, क्षेत्रीय ताकतें जातिवादी राजनीति के मार्फत अपना जनाधार तैयार करने लगीं। केन्द्रीय राजनीति में वीपी सिंह सामाजिक समानता के पैरोकार बनकर उभरे। अपने समकक्ष राजनीतिक कद वाले नेताओं को पीछे छोड़ने और चुनावी गणित में जनता दल को बढ़त दिलाने के लिए उन्होंने मण्डल कमीशन की रिपोर्ट को लागू कर दिया। इस तरह आरक्षण की व्यवस्था का राजनीतिकरण हो गया। आरक्षण-विरोधी और आरक्षण-समर्थक सड़कों पर भिड़ गए और जबर्दस्त सामाजिक-राजनीतिक प्रभाव उत्पन्न हुए।

वी0पी0 सरकार अल्पजीवी साबित हुई। परन्तु प्रादेशिक स्तरों पर छोटे राजनीतिक दलों ने जातिवादी राजनीति का फार्मूला अपना लिया। उनकी राजनीतिक जमीन तैयार करने में ओबीसी आरक्षण एक कारगर औजार बन गया। उत्तर प्रदेश में समाजवादी पार्टी और बिहार में राष्ट्रीय जनता दल इसी प्रवृत्ति की देन हैं। धीरे-धीरे सभी राजनीतिक दल ओबीसी आरक्षण के फौरी चुनावी लाभों से दूर नहीं रह सके और हम्माम में सभी नंगे हो गए। ओबीसी आरक्षण की लोकप्रियतावादी राजनीति वोट बैंक बनाने और मजबूत करने की गारंटी बन गई। परिणाम कि यादव, कुर्मी, जाट, मीणा और गुर्जर जैसी सक्षम जातियां ओबीसी आरक्षण में हिस्सेदार बनती चली गईं। इसीलिए 1980 में मण्डल कमीशन ने जहां 1,257 समुदायों को ओबीसी श्रेणी में शामिल किया था आज यह संख्या तकरीबन 2,300 तक पहुंच चुकी है। यानि कमीशन की संस्तुतियों के लागू होने के बाद महज 18 सालों में इसकी सूची में 60 प्रतिशत की बढ़ोत्तरी हो चुकी है।

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इसके अलावा, मण्डल आयोग की रिपोर्ट खुद ही दोषमुक्त नहीं थी। 1980 में भारत के विभिन्न समुदायों की सामाजिक आर्थिक दशा जानने के लिए इस आयोग ने 1930 की उपनिवेशकालीन जनगणना को आधार बनाया था। मण्डल आयोग ने भारत की कुल जनसंख्या में ओबीसी का अनुपात 52 प्रतिशत बताया जबकि 1996 के नेशनल सैंपल सर्वे के अनुसार यह महज 32 प्रतिशत के ही करीब था। इस सर्वे में यह भी कहा गया कि ओबीसी कोटे में शामिल तमाम जातियों का सामाजिक-आर्थिक स्तर कई इलाकों में अगड़ी जातियों से टक्कर लेता है। इस तरह ओबीसी आरक्षण की शुरूआत ही काफी विवादित और गैर जिम्मेदार थी।

परन्तु गुर्जर समुदाय का वर्तमान आन्दोलन ओबीसी आरक्षण की नई और चिंताजनक पेचीदगियों की ओर इशारा करता है। संभवतः यह पहला अवसर है जब कोई विशिष्ट जाति-समुदाय आरक्षण सम्बंधी अपनी मांग को लेकर इतने बड़े और आक्रामक स्तर पर आन्दोलनरत हुआ है। वसुंधरा सरकार के साथ गुर्जरों का संघर्ष अपनी जरूरतों और सुविधाओं के अनुरूप आरक्षण व्यवस्था में अधिक बेहतर स्थिति हासिल करने का है। वे अपने समुदाय को एसटी कोटे में शामिल करने की मांग कर रहे हैं। भाजपा ने राजस्थान विधान सभा के चुनाव के वक्त गुर्जर समुदाय से यह वादा किया था। जबकि किसी भी समुदाय को एसटी कोटे में शामिल करना बेहद जटिल और कठिन प्रक्रिया है। जिसके लिए संविधान में संशोधन करना अनिवार्य है। यही चुनावी वादा अब वसुंधरा सरकार के गले की हड्डी बन गया है।

दूसरी महत्वपूर्ण बात, गुर्जर आन्दोलन के हिंसक तेवर हैं। गुर्जर बेहद आक्रामक हैं और शक्ति प्रदर्शन के लिए विध्वंशकारी तौर तरीकों का प्रयोग कर रहे हैं। बंदूकों, लाठी-डण्डों और धारदार हथियारों से लैस गुर्जर समुदाय की हिंसक भीड़ ने तमाम जगहों पर चक्का जाम कर दिया है और कानून व्यवस्था के लिए जबर्दस्त संकट पैदा हो गए हैं। यह खतरनाक संकेत हैं।

तीसरी महत्वपूर्ण बात है कि गुर्जर आन्दोलन ओबीसी आरक्षण के दोतरफा अन्तद्र्वंद का प्रतीक है। एक ओर उनकी आपत्ति ओबीसी कोटे में जाटों को शामिल किए जाने से जुड़ी है। 1994 से ओबीसी कोटे में शामिल गुर्जर 1999 में जाटों को भी इस श्रेणी में शामिल किए जाने के बाद से ही स्वयं को एसटी कोटे में शामिल करने की मांग करते रहे हैं। जाटों को शामिल किए जाने से मीणा समुदाय के भीतर भी भारी नाराजगी रही है। दूसरी ओर ओबीसी कोटे से एसटी कोटे में भेजे जाने की मांग खुद में चिंता पैदा करती है। क्योंकि समाजशास्त्रीय विशेषज्ञों के बजाय जाति समुदाय अब खुद ही यह तय करने लगे हैं कि उनके लिए आरक्षण का सबसे मुफीद कोटा और उसका प्रतिशत क्या है। चिन्ता इस बात की भी है कि ओबीसी आरक्षण की राजनीतिक अब एससी-एसटी आरक्षण को भी संक्रमित करने लगी है। मण्डल आयोग के एकमात्र दलित सदस्य एल0आर0 नाइक ने यह कहकर उसी समय रिपोर्ट पर हस्ताक्षर करने से इनकार कर दिया था कि ओबीसी आरक्षण आरक्षण के वास्तविक उद्देश्यों को दर किनार कर देगा।  सच्चर कमेटी की रिपोर्ट के आधार पर कहा जाए तो अब भी एससी-एसटी कोटे के साथ कोई छेड़छाड़ न सिर्फ संविधान की मूल भावना बल्कि सामाजिक समानता के सपने के भी खिलाफ होगी। वसुंधरा सरकार ने केन्द्र को लिखी चिट्ठी में कहा है कि क्यों न गुर्जरों के लिए अलग से चार से छह प्रतिशत का कोटा बना दिए जाए। यह मामले को और पेचीदा बनाने वाली गैर जिम्मेदाराना शुरूआत है। क्या इसके बाद गुर्जरों से कहीं तीन गुना बड़े मीणा समुदाय या जाट समुदाय के लोग चुप बैठ जाएंगे? बल्कि अन्य जगहों पर भी विभिन्न समुदायों के बीच इसी तरह के प्रतिस्पर्धात्मक संघर्ष शुरू हो जाने की अधिक संभावना है।

दूसरी ओर, वास्तविक स्थिति यह है कि ओबीसी आरक्षण कोटे की अपनी निश्चित सीमाएं हैं। उसे एक हद से आगे नहीं बढ़ाया जा सकता। इसलिए जब ऐसे आंतरिक द्वंद पैदा होंगे तो यह संघर्ष सामाजिक तनावों के रूप में सामने आएगा। यह चुनावी राजनीति सामान्य वर्ग एवं आरक्षित वर्ग के बीच ही नहीं, आरक्षित वर्ग के भीतर एससी-एसटी और ओबीसी और इनके भी भीतर मौजूद विभिन्न समुदायों के बीच अभूतपूर्व दूरियां और मनमुटाव पैदा करेगी। इस तरह आरक्षण का जो प्रावधान सामाजिक समानता लाने का माकूल तरीका था, ओबीसी कोटे की राजनीति उसे सामाजिक तनावों की वजह बनाए दे रही है।

राजनीतिक दलों के नीति-नियंताओं को गम्भीरता और ईमानदारी के साथ अपनी आरक्षण नीति के बारे में पुर्नविचार करना चाहिए। आरक्षण का चुनावीकरण एक ढाल भरा रास्ता है। जिस पर एक कदम बढ़ाने के बाद चार कदम अपने आप उतरना ही पड़ता है। वापस लौटना तो दूर की बात है। पिछले तकरीबन दो दशक इसी फिसलन भरी अंधी खोह की ओर बढ़ने में जाया हो गए हैं। अब भी समय है कि ये राजनीतिक दल आम जनता के बीच लोकतांत्रिक ढंग से और बेहद जिम्मेदारी के साथ यह सहमति बनाने का प्रयास करें कि आरक्षण सामाजिक-आर्थिक समानता लाने का एक साधन है, एकमात्र नहीं। ताकि, विभिन्न समुदायों के आरक्षण सम्बंधी उग्र तेवरों और असीमित महत्वाकांक्षाओं को सामान्य बनाया जा सके। अन्यथा ओबीसी आरक्षण की यह राजनीतिक होड़ सामाजिक ताने-बाने के भीतर इतना खिंचाव पैदा करेगी कि भारतीय राष्ट्र की आंतरिक संरचना के छिन्न-भिन्न हो जाने का खतरा पैदा हो जाएगा। भारतीय राष्ट्र अपने भीतर मौजूद तमाम अन्तर्विरोधों के बीच बने एक बेहतर समन्वय पर ही कायम है। सही करें या गलत, सच्चाई तो यह है कि हर समाधान का रास्ता राजनीति के बीच से होकर जाता है। इसलिए हमें उम्मीद है कि गुर्जर आन्दोलन के सबक हमारे राजनीतिज्ञों की आंखें खोल देंगे और नाउम्मीदी के साथ ही सही हम उम्मीद करते हैं कि इस अंधेरी काली गुफा के भीतर रोशनी की किरणें वे खोज लेंगे।

14 May 2015

When Nehru and Mao Met

The Hindu, 14 May 2015 

“Mao says there was no need for India and China to ‘quarrel’, which has Nehru responding: ‘Sometimes we have differences, but we do not quarrel’.” Picture shows Mao Zedong and Nehru at a reception organised by the Indian Embassy in Peking in 1954.

“Mao says there was no need for India and China to ‘quarrel’, which has Nehru responding: ‘Sometimes we have differences, but we do not quarrel’.” Picture shows Mao Zedong and Nehru at a reception organised by the Indian Embassy in Peking in 1954.

The Mao-Nehru conversation of 1954 can remind present leaderships in the two countries that the founders of both nations had wished for a future where their mutual rise was a possibility

The autumn of 1954 is fascinating and a record of history for it was in this year that four-and-a-half hours of conversation, between Jawaharlal Nehru and Mao Zedong, revealed how two strong-willed leaders tried to make sense of the post-Second World War world.

The minutes of the three meetings, that were made public by the Chinese side ahead of the 60th anniversary of the Bandung conference, on April 18, present a compelling picture of two equals trying to analyse changing power equations between the great powers. In this, Mao candidly admits that China’s economic development was “lower” than that of India and it would take “ten to twenty” years for industrial development to achieve tangible results. The records are available at the Digital Archive of the Wilson Center, Washington DC, that provide unprecedented insights into the history of international relations and diplomacy.

In fact, within seconds of their first meeting on October 19, 1954 in Beijing, Mao gets straight down to business, talking about how the people of the East had been “bullied” by Western imperialist powers. “In spite of differences in our ideologies and social systems, we have an overriding common point, that is, all of us have to cope with imperialism,” he says.

Both show themselves to be keen analysts of the international situation — exchanging notes on foreign affairs and the likely fallout of a possible third World War on their two countries, the region and the world.

Focus on imperialism
A common enemy, imperialism, with a special focus on the United States, is a visible thread through all the three meetings, on October 19, October 23 and October 26.

When Nehru suggests that India and China, which had a population of one billion between them, should play “more important” roles in Asia, an issue being discussed to this day, Mao responds: “But the United States does not recognise our two countries as great powers.”

Nehru, in turn, says: “The ruler [scale] that the United States uses to measure other countries will no longer be useful in future.”

When Nehru talks about the U.S. being both powerful and afraid, Mao remarks, “It is inconceivable that any country would march its troops into the United States.”

Nehru doesn’t take a fully blanket view and points out to Mao that some Americans were against British and French colonialism, but adds that since the U.S. had “vested interests”, it was nervous and afraid.

In response, Mao reveals that U.S. defence lines extending to South Korea, Taiwan and Indochina had made China’s sleep “unsound”.

Meeting in the backdrop of the Manila conference in September 1954 that set up the U.S.-led Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO), Mao also appreciates the fact that India chose to stay away from the conference despite receiving an invitation.

Nehru says: “Although we are not powerful, we are not afraid of another country. Such an attitude on our part offends other countries.”

Considerable time was spent on discussing the impact of the two World Wars and a possible third one, with Mao arguing that success for communist and nationalist parties came as a consequence of the two Wars.

“If a third world war is fought, the number of casualties will not be tens of millions, but hundreds of millions. China, so far, has no atomic bombs, and I do not know whether India has them. We have begun research in this respect, yet building the atomic bomb requires financial input. We may not have one for some time to come,” Mao says.

In effect, a full decade before China conducted its first nuclear test in September 1964, Mao had shared a critical piece of information with Nehru – that China had every intention of building a nuclear bomb. Intelligence agencies the world over would have given their right arm for such a piece of information, which Mao casually mentions to Nehru in conversation.

Mao is convinced that it was World War Two that led to China’s independence – like in the case of the Russian Bolsheviks in World War One. “In China, we had fought for 22 years, yet…not until the end of World War II did we have the opportunity to stand up.”

However, Nehru takes a different line — saying that he agreed with the Chairman (Mao) on most points, but had reservations on a few, which he then goes on to refer to. “…even without the Second World War, India would have still attained independence. As a matter of fact, when the Second World War began, India already had almost attained independence,” he says, adding that the War was used as a “pickaxe” by Britain, prolonging its rule.

Mao also took a curious line on war and “tension”. He argues: “I think that not only war, but even a tense situation will benefit and at the same time harm those who create tension…a tense situation would awaken the people and make them prepare to resist pressure.”

While discussing the possibility of another war, Nehru feels that with every passing year, the chances of war were receding. “My guess is that if 15 years pass without a war, the possibility of war will be very remote. Not that it is the people would have changed, but the weapons will have developed to such an extent that nobody dares to use them.”

Interestingly, Mao remarks that if another war were to break out, no one could “sink” China (or India) to the ocean floor completely.

In their third and last meeting, the Chairman and Nehru discuss their “differences”, with Mao referring to a Chinese saying, “to seize somebody’s pigtail”, and then stating that India and China don’t do that — seize each other’s pigtails.

At another point, Mao says there was no need for India and China to “quarrel”, which has Nehru responding: “Sometimes we have differences, but we do not quarrel.”

India-China war
Tragically, within eight years, India and China were at war. However, the conversation between Mao and Nehru shows clearly that the 1962 war was far from inevitable given the commonalities and frank nature of dialogue between the two sides.

It displays, in rich detail, the fact that there was nothing inevitable about the conflict that was to ensue. Mao does make a reference to the agreement on Tibet in a positive manner, revealing that the issue was very much on his mind.

Far from confrontationist, both leaders had cooperation on their mind; there’s a long discussion on technical help from the Soviet Union, in which both countries were interested.

Given that their analysis was crisp and had their basis in the real world, it’s sad that the two leaders did little to ensure that their differences did not get out of hand. Actually and ironically, both sides made a grab for each other’s pigtails.

Today, large bits of the world stand reordered, but China and India remain big countries, with interests that should remain rooted in cooperation and sorting out their boundary dispute.

The Mao-Nehru conversation can remind present leaderships in the two countries that the founders of both nations had wished for a future where their mutual rise was very much in the realm of the possible.


8 May 2015

Memories of Jawaharlal Nehru

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Prof. Yash Pal
The Hindu, 20 January 2015

[An eminent scientist and educationist recalls the various facets of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, as empathetic listener, concerned politician, and a keen observer of science.]
In the summer of 1945 when I was in a summer camp of the Students’ Congress on the bank of the river Ravi in Lahore, Jawaharlal Nehru came to the city after being released from jail. We all went to the railway station to receive him. I could not get anywhere close to him and was pushed to the edge of the large crowd gathered outside the railway station. A platform had been built and Nehru stood at the centre, trying to quieten the very large crowd while attempting to persuade it to allow some of the distinguished friends to join him on the central stage. I was a little amused at his belief that the dense crowd could be so persuaded. But pretty soon, I found that Nehru had disappeared in the middle of the crowd, and using his brief baton streaking a path through which he managed to get Dr. Khan Sahib (Khan Abdul Jabbar Khan) to walk through to the central stage! This impressive accomplishment was done through a magical persuasion of the crowd. I began to feel that he did have a special relation with people in numbers.
The same afternoon Jawaharlal, responding to our invitation, came to visit us in our study camp. We eagerly gathered in a small tent which was furnished with a table and a chair for him. He started chatting with us as he walked in and was escorted to the single chair and we all sat on the floor in front of him. Our secretary walked next to his chair and pulled out a large sheet of paper on which he had written the welcome address he had prepared. We were all eager to hear how he would address this supreme leader of India and share his desire of joining him in our struggle for Independence. He looked at him and declaimed in a vibrating voice making flattering references to him, and stopped, because he saw Nehru rising from his chair. Nehru ordered him to stop and said that he had not come here to listen to this nonsense. “Sit down and let us talk,” he said. The speed at which he dispensed with formalities struck us, as did his passion and seriousness. “We have a war of independence to fight.” I do not remember everything he said, but I do remember we were all ready to walk with him ...

My brother ’s interaction
I had once visited Shahdara in Delhi to listen to Nehru speak. I found the way to get to the lecture venue. It was pretty disorganised and very crowded. The bus service was almost non-existent. We waited a long time for Nehru to appear and after he finished speaking, we started trying to find a bus back to New Delhi, a rather difficult enterprise. As night descended, I was concerned for my mother waiting at home; she would worry that I would lose my way in the then riot-torn Delhi.
“Nehru could talk to scientists with great ease. There were deep friendships with people like Homi Bhabha, Vikram Sarabhai and some others”
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When I finally reached home at about 1.30 a.m., I learnt that my brother, Omi, decided that the only sensible way of finding out the time at which the function in Shahdara got over was to somehow get the time from the Prime Minister himself. The Prime Minister was available on call and gracious enough to respond personally and give assurance of help to the boy in case he needed it.
Omi remembered that there was a big public telephone booth near India Gate. He took out a chawani from his pocket and dialled the number of the Prime Minister. When it was answered by a “hello,” Omi immediately asked, “Is this Panditji’s home?” The answer was immediate, “Yes, brother, this is Jawaharlal speaking. Tell me what’s the matter.”
The Prime Minister understood my mother’s worries and appreciated Omi’s clever way of finding when his brother could be expected to return home. Omi was told to wait another half-hour and get back if I had still not returned ...

At the Kingsway refugee camp
Unaccompanied by any security, Nehru visited the refugee camp in Delhi to express his pain and unhappiness at the terrible attack on occupants of the servants’ quarters of the neighbouring infectious diseases hospital.
Nehru was convinced that the attack and the killing was most likely by some of the refugees in the camp. Steeped in sorrow and anger, he shouted, “I feel like blowing this camp into smithereens.” He sat down and started talking to the refugees in quiet words asking them if it was to perpetuate violence that everyone had fought for Independence. He even went on to observe that he thought the people were not worthy of Independence at all if such behaviour was to continue. He also said that a lot of people were ashamed of the violence but also deep in pain. After that there was calm in the camp as Nehru had shared the grief of the refugees. But then one boy stood up and started shouting, asking, ‘What do we do when our people are getting killed and continue to get killed?’ at which Nehru held him tight and shook him and asked if retaliation would ensure the violence stops. At least someone should have the maturity to cease violence. Then he embraced the boy and sat down for a quiet talk...almost a quiet cry together ...

Contribution to science
Nehru could talk to scientists with great ease. There were deep friendships with people like Homi Bhabha, Vikram Sarabhai, Hussain Zaheer and some others. He pioneered the scientific temper movement. You do not have to be doing quantum mechanics or electromagnetic theory to have a scientific temper, though it might help. It implies greater freedom to be different, less constraints and more freedom to fly. It also demands that all points of view might have ab initio rights, prejudice has less chance to reign and seniority need not always rule.
Nehru visited the Ooty Cosmic Ray Laboratory without fanfare or publicity, accompanied by party colleague K. Kamaraj. The visit happened because I had enquired the Director of my Institute, Dr. Homi Bhabha, whether he would like to invite and accompany the Prime Minister to our laboratory. Dr. Bhabha said it would be nice if I sent an invitation to the Prime Minister. So I sent him a hand written note, as suggested.
On the day of his visit there was no formal reception or speeches. They entered the large dark room in which our cloud chamber was operating. We laid a couple of stools for them to sit right before the chamber and I started explaining what we were doing and why. And then Nehru asked what the project was about and what its outcomes would be.
It was my turn to talk a little about high energy interactions of cosmic rays; coming from the far reaches of our galaxy and beyond, they would occasionally collide with nuclei of our instruments, revealing the nature of their interaction in production of other fundamental particles. Some of these particles were new, and lived only for a short time, decaying in our instrument to reveal their properties. This charming set of events was shown to the two distinguished visitors through a couple of cloud chamber events.
Thanks to Nehru’s emphasis on self-reliance, it created a deep influence on the growth of science even in non-independent countries.
(Yash Pal is former Chancellor, Jawaharlal Nehru University. The article is an edited excerpt from a speech he recently delivered at the 75th session of the Indian History Congress.)

Corrections and Clarifications
This article has been edited to reflect the following correction:
The opening paragraph of the Comment page article, Memories of Jawaharlal Nehru (Jan. 20, 2015), talked about Dr. Khan Sahib (Khan Abdul Jaffar Khan). It is Khan Abdul Jabbar Khan.

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