‘Leader of Our Legions’

Today is the 130th birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru, freedom fighter, first prime minister and the maker of modern India

Jawaharlal Nehru.

Much is said about Nehru these days, mostly to denigrate him and his legacy. But what did his own fellow freedom fighters think?

Bhagat Singh

In his article ‘Naye Netaon kea lag alag vichar’ in the magazine Kirti, 1928

…Many new leaders with a modern sensibility are emerging…The leaders who have gained prominence this time are the venerable Subhash Chandra Bose of Bengal and the eminent Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru…They are both uncompromising champions of Indian independence; both intelligent and genuine patriots…

He (Bose) began his address with the statement that India has a special message for the world. It has a lesson in spirituality for humanity…Indian nationalist thought, according to him…is not chauvinistic…it is not oppressive...

…The same old romanticism. Pure emotionalism…He (Bose) sees only greatness in this ancient era. In his thinking, there’s nothing new in the system of Panchayati raj, or the rule of the people, which he says is very old in India. He goes so far as to say that Communism isn’t new to India either…

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru…holds an entirely different view: ‘Every country thinks it has a special message for the world. England has arrogated to itself the right to teach the world culture…Nehru also says, ‘Every youth must rebel. Not only in the political sphere, but in social, economic and religious spheres also. I have not much use for any man who comes and tells me that such and such thing is said in the Koran. Everything unreasonable must be discarded, even if they find authority for it in the Vedas and the Koran.’

…Subhash Babu supports Purna Swaraj, complete independence because the British are people of the West and we are of the East. Panditji’s position is that we need to establish our own rule so that we can change the entire social structure. This is why we must have complete and absolute independence. Subhash Babu is in sympathy with labour, the working class, and wants to improve their condition. Panditji wants to bring in a revolution and change the existing system altogether. Subhash Babu is emotional and romantic—he is giving the young food for their hearts, and only their hearts. The other man is an epochal change-maker who is fuelling not just the heart but also the mind...Punjab needs food for the mind, and this can only be found with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru…the young people of Punjab should align themselves with him…

Translated by Speaking Tiger (excerpted from ‘Who is Bharat Mata?’ Edited by Purushottam Agarwal)

Vallabhbhai Patel

In a speech on Nehru’s 60th birthday
in 1949

Jawaharlal and I have been fellow-members of the Congress, soldiers in the struggle for freedom, colleagues in the Congress Working Committee…Having known each other in such intimate and varied fields of activity we have naturally grown fond of each other; our mutual affection has increased as years have advanced, and it is difficult for people to imagine how much we miss each other when we are apart and unable to take counsel together in order to resolve our problems and difficulties…

…the idol of the nation, the leader of the people, the Prime Minister of the country, and the hero of the masses, whose noble record and great achievements are an open book, hardly needs any commendation from me.

A clean and resolute fighter, he always fought hard and straight against the foreign government. Having received the baptism of fire in his early thirties as an organizer of the peasants’ movement in the U.P., he imbibed to the full the knowledge of the art and science of nonviolent warfare. His ardent emotionalism and his hatred of injustice and oppression converted him into a crusader in the war against poverty, and with an instinctive sympathy for the poor, he threw himself heart and soul into the struggle for the amelioration of the lot of the peasantry…

Gifted with the idealism of a high order, a devotee of beauty and art in life, and equipped with an infinite capacity to magnetize and inspire others and a personality which would be remarkable in any gathering of the world’s foremost men. Jawaharlal has gone from strength to strength as a political leader…He has grown in stature both in India and abroad. The sincerity of his convictions, the breadth of his outlook, the clarity of his vision, and the purity of his emotions—all these have brought to him the homage of millions in this country and outside. It was, therefore, in the fitness of things that in the twilight preceding the dawn of independence he should have been our leading light, and that when India was faced with crisis after crisis, following the achievement of our freedom, he should have been the upholder of our faith and the leader of our legions.

No one knows better than me how much he has laboured for his country in the last two years of our difficult existence…

…His thoughts have sometimes a depth which it is not easy to fathom, but underlying them all is a transparent sincerity and robustness of youth which endear him to everyone without distinction of caste and creed, race or religion. It is to this priceless possession of a free India that we pay homage today on the occasion of the diamond jubilee of his birth. May he secure greater and greater triumphs in the cause of his country and in the pursuit of his ideals!

Atal Bihari Vajpayee

In tribute in the Parliament upon Nehru’s death, 1964 

Sir, a dream has been shattered, a song silenced, a flame has vanished in the infinite. It was the dream of a world without fear and without hunger, it was the song of an epic that had the echo of the Gita and the fragrance of the rose. It was the flame of a lamp that burnt all night, fought with every darkness, showed us the way, and one morning attained Nirvana…Bharat Mata is stricken with grief today—she has lost her favourite prince. Humanity is sad today—it has lost its devotee. Peace is restless today—its protector is no more. The downtrodden have lost their refuge. The common man has lost the light in his eyes. The curtain has come down. The leading actor on the stage of the world displayed his final role and taken the bow.

In the Ramayana, Maharashi Valmiki has said of Lord Rama that he brought the impossible together. In Panditji’s life, we see a glimpse of what the great poet said. He was a devotee of peace and yet the harbinger of revolution, he was a devotee of non-violence but advocated every weapon to defend freedom and honour. He was an advocate of individual freedom and yet was committed to bringing about economic equality. He was never afraid of a compromise with anybody, but he never compromised with anyone out of fear…

Sir, the freedom of which he was the general protector is today in danger. We have to protect it with all our might. The national unity and integrity of which he was the apostle is also in danger today. We have to preserve it at any cost. The Indian democracy he established, and of which he made a success is also faced with a doubtful future. With our unity, discipline and self-confidence we have to make this democracy a success. The leader is gone, the followers remain. The sun has set, now we have to find our way by the light of the stars…

…The loss to Parliament is irreparable. Such a resident may never grace Teen Murti again. That vibrant personality, that attitude of taking even the opposition along, that refined gentlemanliness, that greatness we may not again see in the near future.

Kartar Singh Duggal (ex-director, AIR)

When Independence came, it brought its own problems in its trail. The most immediate was the communal flare-up. Both sides of the border with Pakistan were riven with strife. There was rioting in Noakhali, Punjab and Bihar and then it travelled to Delhi. One evening, having finished my work in Broadcasting House, I decided to walk back home. As I reached the Regal Building on Parliament Street, I was stopped.

Across the park, the rioters were shouting slogans, breaking open the shops and ransacking them. The police watched as helpless spectators..Stranded, I didn’t know how long I was going to witness this unsavoury spectacle, when suddenly the continuous whistling of an escort vehicle was heard, followed by a car. It was the Prime Minister. The moment he arrived, Panditji started grappling with the rioters. He would slap one and shout at another. He snatched back stolen property and restored it to the shops. Seeing the Prime Minister on the spot, the police, too, went into action. Soon the rioters were overpowered.

Then Panditji climbed onto the hood of a car parked nearby and started admonishing the rowdy elements. ‘The eyes of the whole world are on you,’ he said, ‘you should know what you are doing…’

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