Session I: Nehru & Gandhi: Dialogue of the Titans
Discussion on Together They Fought: Gandhi Nehru Correspondence 1921-1948, Iyengar, Uma and Zackariah, Lalitha (Ed).
Panelists: Prof Mushirul Hasan (Director-General, National Archives of India), Dr Srinath Raghavan (Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research), and Mr TCA Srinivasa Raghavan (Associate Editor, Business Line)
Chair: Mr. Anil Nauriya (Senior Lawyer, The Supreme Court of India)
Although there are many achievers today, it is hard to find a statesman of the same calibre as Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel or Lal Bahadur Shastri.
For the outcome of this productive volume, endless hours were spent comparing the documents with their originals which allowed one to can get a good idea about the experiences of the two Indian stalwarts who brought us freedom. The documents reveal the everyday and intimate experiences between the two, their small triumphs, disappointments and compromises.
At the time of their first meeting, Nehru – just back from England - was a rudderless young person practicing law; Gandhi with the experience from South Africa was well set to take on the British government. It was their passion and commitment to the freedom movement which brought them together. The young Nehru was reckless, full of enthusiasm and rearing to get going. Elder by twenty years, Gandhi, rock solid, would bide his time before leaping into action. An irritated Nehru could only think in extremes. Nehru rebelled while the elder pulled in the reins. Nehru fretted and agonized, Gandhi placated and consoled. Sometimes, Nehru became the guide and Gandhi the pupil. But whatever pulls and pressures, they neither wavered from their objective nor did there develop any lasting fissures in their relationship.
It is this unique bond between the two which was the inspiration for their correspondence to be compiled in a single volume.
The magnetism and counter-magnetism running through the relationship between Gandhi and Nehru successfully gripped the birth of this volume. The perspective the volume offered was something new from the rest. Compiling the letters exchanged between Gandhi and Nehru with many gaps in the correspondence and researching and editing them was a daunting yet sacred task.
The volume analyzes the paths of discovery of Nehru and Gandhi and through them of India in the most turbulent years of the modern history of India. The two titans of the Indian freedom movement had distinctly exciting and dissimilar personalities, whose achievements and contributions were not always fairly assessed and sufficiently appreciated.
It is hoped that this volume would serve as a mist free lens, providing a fair view of the two men and enable a clearer understanding of the paradoxical nature of their unique bond. The apparent duality in their kinship also represented the paradox that confronted modern India.
They together fought for the final redemption of India. The correspondence reflects the binding affection despite the combative association of their different ideologies. The volume would provide the lessons for constantly colliding forces in politics in India today.
The very remarkable thing about this volume is that it reflects the trend in Indian nationalism called ‘dialogue’. At the time, there were not many national movements in the world where the leaders entered into dialogue in such detail. The correspondents were engaged with each other in discussions on some of the contemporary issues of the time. It is indeed remarkable that Nehru could take time off from his very hectic schedule to write long letters. For instance, he had given 18,000 lectures and public speeches and participated in 17,000 miles of campaigning, and yet had found the time to write 270 letters.
The letters revealed the ambiguity in their relationship that had never been a straightforward one. The surprising fact was that Gandhi appointed Nehru as a successor very early on. Nehru achieved nothing during those years except demonstrating his skills as a speaker and tremendous energy in the Congress Working Committee. He did nothing remarkable to deserve the position to which he was elevated. Despite their fondness and affection for each other and their commitment to the same political cause, differences between them on major issues remained till the very end. Nehru was not in a position to take on Gandhi on issues he felt very strongly about, such as the role of religion in politics, the role of the charkha, the use of religious symbols and the calling off of the Non-Cooperation Movement, following the Chauri Chaura incident. When the differences reached a breaking point, Gandhi persuaded him to come back to dismiss the misunderstanding.
In running the Congress, Gandhi tended to wield the big stick because he was not democratic in his leadership. In all major issues, Gandhi took the decisions, sometimes against the wishes of his very close allies and important leaders. This created an ambience for uneasy relationships and controversy. The working of the Congress was largely determined on a day-to-day basis because of his amazing hold over the party. However, Gandhi’s hold over the party had slackened 1940 onwards. This had an important implication for the character of the Congress Party and its ability to pursue its own goals like its election manifesto, emancipation of Dalits, minorities, gender inequality and so on. However, the Congress managed them partly because of the pressure from other groups; moving towards creating a democratic secular society.
The amazing fact was that while Gandhi was not very tolerant towards others, he could be especially tolerant towards Nehru due to his close ties with the Nehru family. It would be interesting to see how others see this outstanding relationship, especially contemporary politicians, liberalists, socialists.
This volume is best understood against the backdrop of the historical and complicated atmosphere of that time, which is indicated by the correspondence between Nehru and Gandhi. During this period, there were a lot of challenges and a number of structural changes were emerging at the domestic level. The volume also throws a great amount of light on their fighting and differences in their views. This has been quiet sharply covered.
The volume brought out some serious debates that took place between late 1927 and 1945. This period brought out their differences and commonalities. Gandhi appointed him as a successor because he wanted youth to lead the nation. Gandhi saw the importance of Nehru’s social and Marxist views for both the country and the Congress. Gandhi never saw Nehru as a provincial and sectarian person. The interesting thing was that Gandhi appreciated Nehru’s understanding of international affairs, which none of the other Congress leaders had.
The volume did not reveal how Nehru looked at Gandhi. However, it does emerge that Nehru disagreed with Gandhi’s idea for the future of India. For Nehru, it was more about social and economic development. Accordingly, industrialization was important to have true independence. They were united by certain ideas and Gandhi felt that Nehru could give a better shape to India.
TCA Srinivasa Raghavan
The Congress Party then was very similar to the present day Congress Party. Gandhi was not a democratic leader, but a dictatorial one. There was something common between the working of Gandhi and today’s stylish functioning of the Congress. Gandhi had a strong moral stance on certain issues. He did not like communists and communalists because he said that these two were the biggest enemies of India. However, the post-Gandhi Congress made a deal with the Shiv Sena in 1975, which would not have been possible under Gandhi.
Without Gandhi, the Congress fundamentally lost its morality and became instrumentalist and opportunist to remain in power. What had been omitted in this volume were the letters which might not have be found and were written to each other on certain important issues like roundtable talks, elections and some other pertinent issues. Gandhi was dumped in 1940 and the Congress did not join with his satyagraha. Their writings are important historical materials and a wonderful legacy of their thinking.
This is an important work with some new material. Gandhi and Nehru’s relationship came across very strongly. The important point was not the differences but the core issues of the day such as fighting for freedom, future of the nation and composition of all people irrespective of religion and other variance. These fundamental points were agreed upon, and the left and right dichotomy between Nehru and Gandhi is therefore overplayed sometimes.
Session II: Tribal Regions, Durand Line and Afghanistan during the British Period
Discussion on Campaigns on the North-West Frontier, by Nevill, Captain H L. (1977); The Frontier Scouts Trench by Charles Chenevix; Among The Wild Tribes Of The Afghan Frontier by Penell, TL and Religion and Politics in Muslim Society: Order and Conflict in Pakistan by Ahmed, Akbar S.
Panelists: Mr Rana Banerji (Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat of India), Amb TCA Rangachari (Former Indian Ambassador to France, Germany and Algeria)
Chair: Amb IP Khosla (Former Indian Ambassador to Bhutan, Afghanistan, Netherlands and Bangladesh)
In the backdrop of a plausible defeat in Afghanistan, the predominant concern for the US is to avoid any discomfiture as they prepare to exit by 2014. In this regard, the US is vigilant about their relationship with the local tribes, like the Shinwaris, who have reportedly been paid by the US in the past to fight the Taliban. Reaffirming this stance, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has asserted the role of the Afghan tribes in protecting the country. The tribes in Afghanistan are recognized as outstanding warriors whose spirit and morale are difficult to crush - a fact well-known to the Russians, Americans and the erstwhile British Empire.
The British were successful in convincing the Indian National Congress and Jawaharlal Nehru that the Afghans could prove precarious for independent India to engage with; a reason that probably factored towards Nehru’s refusal to even consider North West Frontier as possibly an integral part of India. Therefore, the books presented in this session need to be analysed in light of the possible contrast between the descriptive details in the books and the actual reality that could have influenced the circumstances mentioned in the book.
Although the books project the multifaceted characteristics entwined in the personalities of the tribes in the North West Frontier region, it is doubtful if the authors being outsiders were successful in capturing the real nature of the tribesmen they encountered in their field visits. Therefore, it would not be incorrect to perceive the books as illustrating a reconstructed history that is likely to be distantly placed from reality and written with faith in the imaginations of the readers who awaited these books.
The book Campaigns on the North-West Frontier by Captain HL Nevill extensively records a long list of strife with fierce tribes in the hard mountain terrain of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) up till 1897. The book clearly reflects the well-versed knowledge acquired by British field officers about the historical affiliations and division among the Pashtun tribes. It is also interesting to note that there have not been significant changes in the tactics used by the tribes in countering their opponents even today.
The author has meticulously and comprehensively addressed the key issue concerning the historically fluid loyalties of the Afghan tribes and their clan rivalries. Acts of treachery committed by a few of the Pashtun chieftains have been documented in the book, particularly those that proved staggeringly adverse to the British. However, the British emerged triumphant in most of the situations with superior fire power, advanced cavalry and large number of personnel on their side. Even so, it is the rapidity with which the British responded and reacted to the marauding tribes that decided their victory. Some of the characteristic Pashtun manoeuvres have survived the tests of time to stay on in today’s world. The tactical dilemmas flagged by Captain Nevill continue to preoccupy the forces involved in combat operations in the region.
Charles Chenevix Trench’s book The Frontier Scouts records the years between the late 1880s and 1945, focusing on the emergence of the Frontier Scouts, which later became the Frontier Corp of the Pakistan Army. It was involved in recruiting and training Pathans to take the role of Kasadars. These Pathans developed personal rapport with some of the British officers whom they served. The book reflects on the author’s appreciation of the loyalties and capabilities of Pashtun soldiers, who served with the British. The noticeable feature of the book is the foreward written by Philip Mason, who wrote under the nom de plume of Philip Woodruff. He explicitly states that the fundamental objective of the British Empire at that time was to keep the Russian Empire at bay.
Although Trench concludes that the evolution of the Frontier Corps Infantry post-independence was less-problematic, the events that unfolded in the operations in Swat district of Pakistan in the 21st century cast a different light on his observations. The encounters with Tehrik-e-Taliban in Pakistan proved complex because of the group’s access to sophisticated armaments and money through drug-trafficking. The Pakistani Army was inadequately prepared to face their opponents. It is doubtful if the Frontier Corps were been able to project themselves as a friendly force to the local population. The current problems in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) need to be resolved through non-military means with a predominant focus on education, women’s rights and democratic elections at the local level in a multiparty system.
The much celebrated ‘romance’ of the Frontier surrounding the lives of Pashtuns is far from the ground reality. The Pashtun tribes live in extremely harsh conditions chiefly because of the bleak terrain. The tribes engage in regular skirmishes due to the scarcity in the availability of resources in the rugged topography. This reality about the inhabitants of the region is echoed in T L Penell’s book titled Among the Wild Tribes of the Afghan Frontier and in the book authored by Dr Akbar Ahmed, Religion and Politics in Muslim Society: Order and Conflict in Pakistan.
Penell was a medical missionary, who lived in erstwhile North West India (now present day Pakistan). Penell’s book reveals how little the region has changed over the course of a century. Penell provides a detailed description of the Afghan character through a number of anecdotes and interesting stories.
Penell elaborately narrates about the education system that prevailed in the region during that period. His interest in the area of education is linked to the fact that the missionary hospital he was employed with ran a school for children. The school initially faced severe antagonism from the local tribes who believed that a school run by a Western Christian missionary could possibly corrupt their children. There was a gradual retreat from the objections and opposition to the school as more and more children sought admission to gain knowledge, which they thought to be beneficial to their future. He believed that the inclusion of philosophies of socialism and nationalism in the syllabus of the government schools was to be blamed for the unrest, sedition and materialism that had engulfed the territory of India. Penell’s reflection on the existing socio-political scenario finds certain contemporary relevance, especially regarding the treatment meted out to the native or indigenous people by the local administrations, which never treated them with respect and dignity. He explicitly declared his disapproval for India’s attempt to seek materialistic pleasures though industrial success, ‘new’ education, commercial endeavours and the like.
Dr Ahmed narrates in detail the political climate during that time, especially the final tenure of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as the Prime Minister of Pakistan. The author provides great details about the predominant tribal groups of South Waziristan - Mahsud and Wazir – elaborating on their lineage and culture. Dr Ahmed’s book is a keen observation of the fluid power structures that existed between tribal groups, the political agent who was a functionary of the government and the mullah who is sanctioned to supervise and perform religious activities and functions. The author focuses on an individual example to analyse each of the power relations existing in the society. Mullah Noor Mohammad successfully manoeuvred the society to transform himself from being a political agent to holding autonomous economic authority in the local market, which led to serious confrontation with tribal communities and the government. It is evident from the book that political agents and observers like Dr Ahmed have made all attempts to ensure that the process of societal transformation through education, infrastructure and development is a consistently evolving concept.
Report drafted by Annapoorna Karthika and Aryaman Bhatnagar, Research Officers, IPCS; and Priyakala Manoharan, Research Intern, IPCS