Blaming Nehru

Here we go again. Nehru-bashing has been quite a popular fad nowadays (especially among the rightists) and so far he had been blamed for myriad things. But this recent assault, has a new edge.

jinnahI was quite excited when I heard about this new book on Jinnah written by Jaswant Singh: Jinnah – India, Partition, Independence. But then I read this interview between Mr. Singh and Karan Thapar, and found out that the BJP politician is actually blaming Nehru for the partition of India.

Now there are many things (said by Mr. Singh) in this interview that are plainly incorrect – like how Jinnah was born poor and was a self-made man, or how British offered India a dominion status in the 20’s; wrong and baseless, respectively – but this ‘demonization’ of Nehru proves yet again how lenient and eloquent we Indians are when it comes to criticizing Nehru (and often, Gandhi). [See my earlier post: Love to Hate Nehru.]

In response to Thapar’s question “How seriously has India misunderstood Jinnah?” he explains how we needed to create a demon for one of the most dreadful events of the 20th century in South Asia, and Jinnah ended up being our scapegoat – the villain of partition. How ironic! Because I think Mr. Singh himself needed a demon to ‘un-demonize’ Jinnah in his book, and he found a scapegoat in Nehru!

What do I think about this novel allegation (that Nehru, along with Jinnah, was responsible for partition)? I think it’s quite preposterous, if not outright ludicrous. I don’t have any problem with a new perspective on Jinnah. May be we (Indians) did misunderstand Jinnah to some extent. I would love to see a different point of view on one of the most influential figures in Indian history. But belittling Jinnah’s contemporaries with a hope that the fabricated contrast would help in elevating his personality is not a very honest approach.


5 responses to “Blaming Nehru

  1. Gorki

    Vishal I agree that Nehru bashing has become something of a low risk sport for many and especially the Indian rightwingers.
    I also agree that while historians can and should correct MAJ’s legacy they should do it without finding a scrapegoat in Nehru but he certainly made several mistakes which did not help matters.

    Please not the following:

    1. People who argue that Nehru is responsible for the partition usually quote Nehru’s press conference of 1946 in which he stated that Indian contitutent assembly would not be bound by any promise made before regarding the Cabinet Mission Plan to the AIML and the British following which MAJ withdrew his support to the CMP as well. This has been quoted often as a deal breaker based on Azad’s book India Wins Freedom.

    2. However I personally think it was too late in 1946 and MAJ had already made up his mind. In 1946 he may have been willing to form a confederation but was not going to back down on Pakistan.
    Nehru had made his mistake earlier in 1937 when he (along with other congressmen) refused to form a coalition government with AIML in the provinces.

    If you are interested you may want to visit another blog called the Pakistan tea house on which several of us hashed this issue months before JAswant Singh’s book hit the news.

  2. Vishal


    Thanks for your comments. I will surely check out the blog you mentioned.

    I don’t claim to know the intricate details of that 1937 decision – but categorizing that as a mistake (on his or Congress’ part) is, I think, a tad too harsh. The Congress won most of the seats, enough to form a government – so their refusal to share power with AIML (or any other minority group, for that matter) is quite rational and respective of the democratic will of the majority. At that time (1937), I don’t think there were enough evidences that could have enabled anyone to foresee how this could one day culminate into the Direct Action Day. Do you?

  3. Gorki


    What you say is true, hindsight is 20/20.
    No one in 1937 could have guessed where India would end up in 1946-47 yet Nehru (and congress) failed to recognise that while accomodating MAJ was not a necessity from a strictly constitutional standpoint, it would have been wiser to have a more broadbased participation in the government at that crucial juncture. It would have allayed minority fears to some extent of being overwhelmed and also would have given them a sense of ownership and a stake in the future of the country. Remember that although congress won a majority in the elections, the electoral victory did not present the true picture since according to the Govt. of India act of 1935 underwhich these elections took place, only about 10% of the adult population was eligible to vote!

    Having said the above, I can understand Nehru’s opposition to it because he failed to see his fellow Indians as Hindus or Muslims. To him, his own congress spoke for all of them.


  4. Guys, I do not want to poke my nose in already very intellectual discussion. However, I cannot resist myself in making a point or two.

    Have we ever thought that this was a biggest “divorce” in the history of world and one of its magnitude might not happen in our life times? Think about the odd parameters playing against our leaders:

    1) Wanted independence under many circumstances.
    2) Nehru, too honest of a person – far from being a realistic politician, more of a statesman – who failed to realize the ground realities, that Indians are after all combination of Hindus & Muslims and with the minority fear, insecurity and lack of ownership – as mentioned by Gorki – was not correctly read by him, but guys we are talking of a most complex problem that can happen to a country that was ruled for over 150 years.
    3) I will give benefit of doubt to Nehru on any given day – for how he handled the entire situation, I would rather raise my eyebrows over what he did (or rather was not able to do) when he got into power.

    Rightly said by Vishal, it’s very hard to predict in 1937, with little democratic experience that what will happen 10 years from them. We know all the leaders of pre-independence era as true freedom fighters, but I at times am inclined to even add the personal aspirations, political ambitions to the overall equation. May be Nehru was preparing for independence and post independence governance from so long, he wanted to be in the top position, may be the MAJ personality was a conflict with lot of people in congress and MAJ also realized that in a majority Hindu dominated congress and India he will always stay second and he did not wanted that to happen and the concept of Pakistan was sowed.

    To conclude I think for a problem of this Quantum we cannot just blame one person, every one was responsible for their share – Nehru, Gandhi, Sardar, MAJ -and Mountbatten.

  5. Vishal

    You raise a very good point Ritesh. If we consider partition to be a failure, it was a *collective* failure more than anything else. A collective failure of all political leaders of that time. Some leaders opposed it, some demanded it and some were neutral, but in the end, it happened. (And the sad part is not so much that it happened – because one can argue that it was unavoidable – but how it happened.) Considering the magnitude of the event, we can’t put the blame on one single person, cause or incident.

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