When a nation achieves independence, not infrequently the years that follow are years of disillusion. The leaders in a struggle of this kind are often better at criticism than constructive thinking. Sometimes they are embittered and filled with old resentments and they seek to root out every vestige of the previous regime. Unaccustomed to administration on achieving independence, they empty out, in trying to get rid of their past, the baby with the bath water; rarely is found a man with sufficient breadth of mind and statesmanship to effect a successful transition from the old to – a new order.
India, however, was fortunate in finding in Jawaharlal Nehru a man of exceptional character and wisdom.
Several years of imprisonment by the British Government in India had not soured or embittered him. He had the greatness of mind to rise above, any pettiness. Understanding both East and West and realising what each tradition could contribute to the future of India he has led his country for nearly twelve years. He understood the vast problems of administering at huge sub-continent. He recognised that Indians who served the old regime as civil servants were as good lovers of their country as those who worked for change. He availed himself fully of their abilities; nor did he rashly smash to pieces a machine of government built up over many decades.
Moreover, there is a great temptation for the leader of a nation .emerging from dependence to make himself a dictator. He may through a desire to make rapid progress ignore the principles of democracy and seek a short-cut. Nehru was too wise to do this. He realised that reforms worked out with the consent of the people are more lasting than those imposed on them by a government from above. He has, therefore, always resisted the temptation to follow totalitarian methods.
As the spiritual heir of Gandhi and with immense personal prestige, he has nevertheless pursued the democratic road. Nationalism is a good servant but a bad master. Carried to extremes it may lead to the fragmentation of a world which needs unity if civilisation is to win through the perils with which it is faced. There was, it seems to me, a danger that India might be fragmented if extreme claims for linguistic reorganisation were conceded. Nehru has had to go some way in the creation of linguistic provinces. Indeed, some alteration of boundaries set up by the British for administrative convenience was desirable, but Nehru has not hesitated to check extremist tendencies. He has faced with courage the difficulties inherent in a multilingual community. Nor has he failed to recognise the danger inherent in any attempt to sweep away entirely the use of English which is in fact the lingua franca of democratic Asia.
His domestic policy in India has been in tune with his stand in the international sphere. This was particularly noticeable in his act of wise statesmanship-by which he gave the lead for the continuance of India’s membership in the British Commonwealth ; for, this association with its complete freedom to all its members forms a most valuable link between peoples of different races living in different continents yet united by certain ideals.
I have welcomed the recognition by the peoples of European descent of the claims of the peoples of Asia and Africa to equality in the world, but I have always resisted the idea of self-contained continents looking askance at each other. Nehru has, I trunk, always recognised this danger. He wants world unity combined with freedom, not just a union of Asia. His attitude has sometimes been misunderstood, particularly in America. His distaste for lining up with the Western bloc has I feel, been misunderstood as being due to sympathy with Soviet Russia. Nehru is far too civilised a human being to fall for the arid doctrines of Marxism-Leninism and far too respectful of human dignity to desire the introduction throughout the world of the totalitarian practices of the Russians.
As early as in 1936, when he was much more enamoured of Soviet Russia and much more hostile, owing to his anticolonialism, to the West than he is today he wrote in his Autobiography : “I am very far from being a Communist. My roots are still perhaps partly in the nineteenth century, and I have been too much influenced by the humanist liberal tradition to get out of it completely. This bourgeois background follows me about and is naturally a source of irritation to many communists. I dislike dogmatism, and the treatment of Karl Marx’s writings or any other books as revealed scripture which cannot be challenged, and the regimentation and heresy hunts which seem to be a feature of modern communism. I dislike also much that has happened in Russia, and especially the excessive use of violence in normal times.”
As far as I can see, Nehru desires that the uncommitted nations, by their non-alignment with one group or the other, should develop enough influence in the world to prevent a world catastrophe and towards that end, he is anxious that India should play a useful part. That, in effect, is the kernel of his foreign policy.
Nehru is today the doyen of the Prime Ministers of the free world. As leader of a great nation what he says and does is of supreme importance to others. He has, of course, made mistakes. No one who does great things does not make them.
I myself have not always agreed with his policies and I have no doubt he would say the same of me, but I have great admiration for his achievements, and respect and affection for him as a great man.
It seems to me that Nehru is a synthesis of the ideas of the East and the West. He understands both. He is a product of the West; and he is also today the leader of the greatest democracy in Asia. It is my profound hope that the contest between the democratic and the authoritarian world will be fought out not in warfare but in the minds of men and in the ideological sphere. Asia is a battleground of these ideas; and we are lucky that, thanks very largely to Nehru, India stands out in this combat as the champion of freedom, democracy and the rule of law.