Atanu Dey On India's Development

Nehru’s Arrogant Ambition

[From the Berkeley blog June 2003 archives.]

Why is India poor? As some have argued, India is poor by choice. I will explore that idea a bit here.

Of course, that does not mean that every poor Indian has chosen to be poor. Someone else in a position of power made choices whose consequences are evident. India’s leaders – past and present – have consistently made choices that have had, and are having, a disastrous effect on the lives of hundreds of millions of human beings. What motivates these people is a question that directly follows from any attempt to answer the question of why India is poor. Nehru epitomizes the class of people that have through their choices doomed India to being an almost irrelevant nation of one billion humans.

To better understand the source of the great screw ups that Nehru is responsible for, I think we need to examine the primary personal motivation of the man. My contention is that the primary motivation was that he wanted absolute personal power. Note he had acquired power in the years preceding India’s independence. But it was the old story being retold: power corrupting and that corruption leading one to seek absolute power, and that absolute power corrupting absolutely.

Why did Nehru decide to not align India with the victorious Western nations and instead chose that India should be non-aligned? I believe that it is instructive to examine what the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir did at the time of India’s independence.

Following the withdrawal of the British from India and the creation of Pakistan, the Princely States had the option to align themselves with either the union of India or with the Islamic nation of Pakistan, or remain ‘independent.’ Kashmir chose to be independent. Or more accurately, the Maharaja of Kashmir chose to be independent. It is important to recognize that it was the leader who chose, not the people.

How the existence of J&K as an independent state could be contemplated by any sane person is difficult to understand unless one posits that the Maharaja was not entirely sane. How can a sane person think that the territorial avariciousness of the newly formed Islamic nation would not extend to a beautiful state with nearly half its population Muslims?

I think that Maharaja Hari Singh was insane.

The Maharaja was suffering under a grand delusion — the goal of personal power blinded him to reality and led to his disastrous mistake for which hundreds of millions are paying today. The Maharaja refused to align Kashmir with India until after the Pakistanis invaded. Then he suddenly realized that he wasn’t as great and mighty as he had imagined himself to be. That is when he turned to India to save his sorry ass. Maharaja Hari Singh’s story is the story of Nehru played out on a smaller stage.

There are certain parallels between the actions (or rather the inaction) of the Maharaja during 1947-48, and the actions of the leaders of independent India. The Maharaja, by acceding neither to India nor to Pakistan, wanted to be non-aligned and be independent. In attempting to do so, he failed miserably and ended up being a dhobi ka kutta, na ghar ka, na ghat ka.

India too followed that same policy with equally disastrous results. I lay the blame on Nehru. I believe that his idealism was the result of arrogance rather than wisdom. He saw the world as he wanted it to be rather than seeing the world as it was. Being a pukka Britisher was more important to him than being realistic. So in his attempt to be more British than the English, to do what was ‘cricket,’ he bought into what the British themselves don’t buy.

This is pure conjecture of course but I think that Nehru wanted to be the monarch of an independent India. He could not countenance being the monarch of an India that was certainly going to be a junior partner in any coalition had he aligned India with on either side of the Cold War. In this sense, Nehru was merely following the same impulses that forced Jinnah to demand a separate nation to be the monarch over. They all — from Hari Singh to Jinnah to Nehru — wanted to be king. They were arrogant but their arrogance was not supported by sufficiently powerful armies. Perhaps Nehru should have read and understood Machiavelli at least, even if he was too much of a Pukka Sahib to read Kautilya’s Arthashastra. He should have paid attention to this part of Machiavelli’s The Prince:

A prince is further esteemed when he is a true friend or a true enemy, when, that is, he declares himself without reserve in favour of some one or against another. This policy is always more useful than remaining neutral. For if two neighboring powers come to blows, they are either such that if one wins, you will have to fear the victor, or else not. In either of these two cases it will be better for you to declare yourself openly and make war, because in the first case if you do not declare yourself, you will fall a prey to the victor, to the pleasure and satisfaction of the one who has been defeated, and you will have no reason nor anything to defend you and nobody to receive you. For, whoever wins will not desire friends whom he suspects and who do not help him when in trouble, and whoever loses will not receive you as you did not take up arms to venture yourself in his cause.

Reality intrudes into the lives of even the most able dreamers. So the ideal of non-alignment was shelved from time to time and Nehru repeatedly cast his lot (and more tragically, the lot of India) with the wrong side of the Cold War. The Chinese read their Sun Tzu’s Art of War quite diligently. They understood it too:

War is a matter of vital importance to the state; a matter of life or death, the road either to survival or to ruin. Hence, it is imperative that it be studied thoroughly.

Clearly Nehru was no match for the Chinese who must have been amused by Nehru’s naivete. I am sure that Chou En-lie must have been contemptuous of Nehru and pitied India to some extent.

Nehru fancied himself to be a student of history. But he never learnt the lessons of history himself. History tends to repeat itself, however imperfectly. He could have learnt the lessons directly following from the actions of the Maharaja and seen the disastrous consequences of non-alignment. In the end, Nehru must have started believing his own whitewashed version of history in which high principles triumph over strategic realities. He refused to form strategic alliances and instead chose to have a ‘swadeshi’ attitude towards defense, much as the economic policy he advocated. Both are, admittedly in hindsight, failed policies.

Contrast this failed non-aligned policy with that of Pakistan’s. Pakistan played both sides of the fence while India decided to sit on the fence. In doing so, Pakistan won the gratitude of both sides while India was regarded contemptuously. Running with the hares and hunting with the hounds is a trick Pakistanis have been perfecting for long enough that it has become second nature to them. Without batting an eye-lid they can now simultaneously fight the war against terrorism and give support and comfort to the terrorists of every stripe. And for doing this, the Western countries are immensely grateful to Pakistan.

Back to Kashmir. If Nehru had not screwed up, the UNCIP would have expeditiously concluded that Pakistan had been the aggressor in sending an army into an independent Kashmir and that the Maharaja had been right in acceding to India.

The Kashmir conflict is sufficiently complex for it to be resolved in multiple ‘right’ ways. Whatever be the facts, they can be interpreted differently by powerful interests depending on the global environment. India was sufficiently large and thus potentially significant that its actions could create the environment in which the issue was embedded. Pakistan, on the other hand, could not materially affect that environment. It was therefore not Pakistan’s being ‘right’ that caused the UN to take the stance that it took; it was India that defied the powerful and created an environment in which the West saw it fit to punish India for its arrogance.

I take that back: It was not India at fault, it was Nehru, the Nabob of Cluelessness, who was at fault. India merely paid, and is continuing to pay, the price of his cluelessness.

Minor dimwits are basically harmless; but when dimwits gain absolute power, they become capable of unleashing great disasters. The US will point to George W Bush as an illustration of that point; in time to come, Indians will point to Nehru.

[The above is from nearly five years ago. An article by N Rajaram about India's interest in Tibet. "The monks and the dragon" (The Pioneer, April 6th, 2008), prompted the repost. I post Rajaram's article in its entirety with my emphasis.]

Tibet and Jammu & Kashmir offer striking examples of a self-absorbed leadership placing personal glory ahead of national interest. India is still paying the price for these blunders by being the only country of its size without a recognised border with its giant neighbour. The failure is not just geopolitical, but also one of morality and even identity of India as a nation. It is an unhappy fact that Indian leaders gave no clear vision of national identity: instead, what they gave and followed were personal fetishes like ahimsa and Panchasheel that have cost the country dear.

Indian leaders have avoided taking morally forthright stands over international issues like Tibet and Hungary as well as over domestic issues like the Shah Bano affair and jihadi terrorism. For this India has earned the label of being a ‘soft’ state. By supporting the Tibetan people, India could send a clear message to the world and to its own people that it stands for some values that it holds sacred. But this calls for political courage that has been missing so far.

The Tibetan uprising has brought to light some uncomfortable facts which Nehruvians would like to see removed from history books. There is an attempt to whitewash the Chinese occupation of Tibet as a reaction to a CIA conspiracy to turn Tibet into a Western colony with the Dalai Lama as a puppet; one ‘secular’ writer has even compared him to Osama bin Laden!

This creative rewriting cannot obscure the fact that it was Jawaharlal Nehru’s pursuit of international glory in Korea that led to his giving up India’s rights in Tibet. As China appeared on India’s doorstep by occupying Tibet, the Jawaharlal Nehru Government made a strenuous effort to gain international recognition for Mao’s China at India’s cost. It is not widely known that India was offered a UN seat as a permanent member of the Security Council, which Nehru rejected insisting that China be admitted first.

In 1950, as Chinese troops were invading Tibet, India’s Ambassador in Beijing KM Panikkar went so far as to claim that protesting the Chinese occupation would be an “interference to India’s efforts on behalf of China in the UN”. Nehru concurred: “Our primary consideration is maintenance of world peace… Recent developments in Korea have not strengthened China’s position, which will be further weakened by any aggressive action (by India) in Tibet.”

Deeply disturbed by these developments, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel complained to Nehru that Panikkar “has been at great pains to find an explanation or justification for Chinese policy and actions”. India got nothing in return from China. At the very least India could have demanded settling its border with India for its support. But Nehru gave up India’s diplomatic rights in Tibet by closing down missions in Lhasa and Gyangtse.

An argument is now being made that Nehru had no choice because India was not strong enough to challenge China in Tibet. Nehru himself never made this dubious claim, then or later. China, just coming out of the civil war was overcommitted in Korea and was vulnerable in Tibet. Tibet also had international support.

The highly influential English publication The Economist echoed the Western viewpoint when it wrote: “Having maintained complete independence of China since 1912, Tibet has a strong claim to be regarded as an independent state. But it is for India to take a lead in this matter. If India decides to support independence of Tibet as a buffer state between itself and China, Britain and the US will do well to extend formal diplomatic recognition to it.”

India would have lost nothing by protesting and gained much in goodwill, but Nehru’s infatuation with Communism made him blind to the gross immorality of allowing a peaceful neighbouring people being enslaved. Nehru covered this moral obtuseness with self-righteous arrogance. He saw the spiritual civilisation of Tibet as primitive that could benefit from a dose of socialism administered by the Chinese occupiers. (“A very large dose,” said the Dalai Lama.)

Sixty years after independence, it is time for Indians to re-examine their recent history and see how they have been misled by self-righteous rhetoric and posturing leaders pursuing personal glory at the cost of national interest. This has also weakened the country’s moral fibre, leaving it without a national vision. It is time India came out of this moral stupor by taking a forthright stand on the side of the oppressed people of Tibet. At the very least there should be no second betrayal.

  • Vaidehi

    Masochistic India suffers from misplaced compassion and thoroughly screwed up priorities. There is absolute lack of synergy.

    Most Indians are deplorably besotted with cricket and asinine filmstars and films.

    India pledged a substantial amount of dollars towards ” reconstruction of Afghanistan”.

    Despite relentless attacks continues playing cricket with Pakis which tantamounts to sleeping with one’s most bestial abuser. Add to that biryani banquets etc.

    Within our own country no Hindu can own or buy property in Kashmir. Kashmiri Pundits live as refugees.

    Thigh slapping India voicing concern about Tibet is certainly not going to perturb any other country around. When your boat is full of holes it is ludicrous to imagine oars made of titanium would be of help. (Not my own analogy)

  • pankaj

    You forgot that Nehru was also very Proud and arrogant fellow,who did not like other views, he thought that he was a know it all person,which we can see from the damage he has done which will haunt indians for long time to come.China has taken our land which is bad but they sure did bring him on ground, he was living at 30000 feet before that.chinese were and are very practical about themselves and their country,recently it was announced by world bank or some one authoritative that china had 3 or 4 th largest economy ,but a senior chinese minister had the humility to say that inspite of that china was a developing nation and its average per person per year income was way below developed countries,which indian minister has the guts of the humility to say that.

  • shanthakumar.s

    Nehru’s romance with Communism and Socialism apart his yearning for erasing everything Indian was vividly clear when he bowed to the pressure of DMK in Tamil Nadu in the late 50′s. The anti-Hindi agitation that was mounted by CN Annadurai and his phoney Dravidian ideals based on discredited Aryan invasion theory were tacitly supported by Nehru although he publicly renounced their Hindi agitation. We can see the effects of anti-hindi agitation today. DMK has a strong hold over what Tamils in Tamil Nadu think. They have ensured the separation of Tamils from National politics because they do not understand Hindi. Although Tamil Nadu adopted Tamil as a compulsory language only during DMK’s last tenure in late 90′s. Their grouse was that Tamil’s would have to learn more than 2 languages while North Indian’s would learn only two. That is grossly inaccurate. Except in MP and UP all other states have their own mother tongue and have to learn 3 languages.

    The timidness of the majority community was implanted by DMK in Tamil Nadu. Their rationalism and atheism are only applicable to Hindus. This has been effectively co-opted by Congress and Communists alike. I was startled when I reaslised how craftily these anti-national forces have ensured they kept the Tamilian minds enslaved although polictically they are supposed to be free. I also feel sorry for my fellow Tamilians because while I understand what national leaders speak and can be sensitive to an issue in North India many Tamilians cannot. This sort of detachement has ensured Tamilians forsaking Hinduism and taking Christianity. DMK promotes this because of their anti Hindu stance. Many do not understand the implications. There is no sense of belonging to India historically and culturally.

    Nehru is solely responsible for promoting regionalism in India. His inaction in settling Cauvery dispute has ensured DMK had an instrument to distract the public as an when they choose. Take for instance the recent incidents relating to Chidambaram temple and FACT exhibition in Chennai where Police vandalised paintings because Prince of Arcot Muhamed Ali took exception to paintings that showed the destruction of temples at Mathura and Somnath.

    DMK has passed a Goverment Order(GO) to make all Dikshidars to sing/chant in Tamil and not in Sanskrit. This reflects Mr. Karunanidhi’s love for Tamil. Great!!!. Why can’t he impose the same rule at Mosques and Churches. In mosques everyday they say “Allah Hu Akbar”. Why use Arabic? Use Tamil instead. So what did Karunanidhi do despite knowing that Hoganekal can’t go ahead as there is no Karnataka government in place? He wanted to take the glare away from Chidambaram and Chennai. So he chose to incited trouble for a week.

    It is going to take a lot of time to undo Nehru’s damage to India.


  • Vaidehi


    Prior to India’s so called ” independence “, a MahaTapaswi had advised masochistic Gandhi to introduce Sanskrit as the main language to be learnt by all ( including English and the pursuit of one’s own mother tongue ) and not impose Hindi. Gandhi rejected His idea citing “political reasons”.

    dmk /admk is not synonymous with Tamil.Whatever happened to concept of ” secularism, minority rights …” in the matter of language. Why impose Hindi/Urdu on people who are not exactly pining for it ?

    Sanskrit language (and grammar) has scintillating merits of its own. Hence the Seer wanted ALL to have access to it. Precious Scriptures that would contribute to the welfare of the entire world are mostly couched in Sanskrit. Tamil also has equally precious compositions. Language is not creating the problem. It is what kind of material one is made to read and cogitate upon.

    The Westerner (read White) is far more astute. No wonder embarked upon learning the language and translating Vivekachudamani and many other works( including Kalidasar’s compositions) into English and many other European languages too. The inventor of nuclear or atomic or whatever bomb ( starts with O) quotes Bhagavad Gita passionately as he was inspired by Bhagavan’s exhortations.

    In contemporary India most people would passionately recall cricket scores or some jingoistic bilge from idiotic movies.

    Btw, the less time we spend in listening to politicians’ harangues the better for us. As most of them are worthless burden on this Earth.

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