An outstanding personality of twentieth-century Indian history, Jawaharlal Nehru was a
pivotal figure in India's independence movement and the country's first Prime Minister. An
active politician for most of his life, Nehru was also a renowned writer and scholar.
The Oxford India Nehru, part of the prestigious Oxford India collection, draws from
the entire range of Nehru's writings and speeches, and brings together more than 200
letters, articles, book extracts, political statements, prison diary entries, and early
personal correspondence. Covering a wide variety of subjects-be it marriage feasts, the
annexation of Tibet, monsoon clouds, the Suez Canal, the responsibility of scientists, the
betrayal of Czechoslovakia, fundamentals of social behaviour, or honey-the writings reflect
the phenomenal range of Nehru's interests and activities.
The first section 'Culture and Society' reveals Nehru's belief that for future
progress, knowledge of our past culture and civilization is essential. Nehru's intense
admiration for Gandhi and the unique relationship they shared is reflected in the section on
Gandhi. 'Congress' and 'Toward Freedom' reveal how closely Congress work and the
Independence movement were linked in the struggle for freedom. 'Independent Years' covers
seventeen years of Nehru's life as Prime Minister. The section 'India and Beyond' reflects
his active involvement in world affairs. While the 'Personal' section provides glimpses of
Nehru's private life, the writings in the 'General' section bring out the extraordinary
breadth of his interests.
With rare photographs complementing the text, The Oxford India Nehru is a
collector's item that will appeal both to readers of Jawaharlal Nehru's writings as also
students and scholars of Indian history, literature, and culture.
Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), statesman, first Prime Minister of independent
India. From 1947 till his death, Nehru oversaw major national programmes of agrarian and
land reforms, industrialization, and energy development, including atomic energy. Some of
his works like Glimpses of 'World History (1934) and Discovery of India (1946) are
acknowledged classics. So far 54 volumes of his writings have been published in the Selected
Works of Jawaharlal Nehru series.
Uma Iyengar is founder-editor, The Book Reviews. She was the co-editor of the
two-volume The Essential Writings of Jawaharlal Nehru (OUP, 2003).
Jawaharlal Nehru's legacy and his life have been analysed from every conceivable position by
the unbiased scholar and selective ideologue alike. As an anthologist I can only provide a
reflection of the man through his works.
Any anthology by its very nature must exclude a great deal of material. Sifting and
selecting from the gargantuan corpus of Nehru's written and spoken words is made difficult
by the fact that he was an enormously influential participant in the events of his time, as
well as insightful observer of the world around him. This is borne out by the variety of
themes that he addressed in thought and action, be it marriage feasts, the annexation of
Tibet, Agha Khan's bath water, war aims and peace aims, monsoon clouds, Suez Canal,
responsibility of scientists, betrayal of Czechoslovakia, fundamentals of social behaviour,
world power equilibrium, or honey.
The striking feature of Nehru's communication is a balance between reflection and
action, participation and observation. It is perhaps a truism that Nehru was both a
historian-albeit a conventional one, to quote Dr Romila Thapar-and a history-maker. But in
equal measure, and throughout his life, he was also a great communicator and a lover of
words. While often characterized as a man of grand visions or a builder of castles in the
air, his attention to, and love of detail was no less significant, whether in matters of
governance and economics, or relating to topics as homely as the design of brooms. Two
passages quoted below bring out this contrast. The first is from The Discovery of
We have to make our own all the achievements of the human race and join up with
others in the exciting adventure of man, more exciting today perhaps than the earlier ages,
realizing that this has ceased to be governed by national boundaries or old divisions and is
common to the race of man everywhere. We have to revive the passion for truth and beauty and
freedom which gives meaning to life, and develop afresh that dynamic outlook and spirit of
adventure which distinguished those of our race who, in ages past, built our houses on those
strong and enduring foundations. Old as we are, with memories stretching back to the early
dawns of human history and endeavour, we have to grow young again, in tune with our present
time, with the irresistible spirit and joy of youth in the present and its faith in the
Prime Minister Nehru wrote regular letters to the Chief Ministers of the states
every fortnight till 1960, in 'a unique experiment in political education'. Every
topic-national and international-was discussed. It happened that once he was struck by the
simplicity of the arrangements made by the Hindustani Talimi Sangh for a conference of 1000
delegates. He comments :
Nehru's range and depth of knowledge, though remarkable, were perhaps not the most
important aspect of his communication. In a fundamental sense, his actions were a
consequence of reasoned conviction, a thought process that developed over time from a very
early stage in his political career. For him :
Many key policies and attitudes that were to characterize Nehru as Prime Minister
were conceived of and worked upon at a time when independence seemed distant. Consider, for
example, his thoughts as early as 1927 about India's role in the world, and the shape of its
society. He wrote in an article from Montana, Switzerland, in September 1927 :
Again, long before independence became a reality, he gave deep thought to the
country's economic foundation :
These 'reasoned conviction's in spheres as complex as international relations,
politics, and economics, were based on extensive reading, experience, and reflection. They
were works-in-progress of a process of thought that he embarked on very early in his career
as a public figure. I use the phrase 'works-in-progress' for a specific reason. It would not
be true to say that Nehru was an impractical dreamer with no cognizance of reality. He
believed there was a natural progression from imagining a desirable state to attaining it
and that the world could be changed with persistence to reflect ideals. He did not see the
two attitudes-realism and idealism-as being contradictory. In Nehru' words.
Any attempt to understand Nehru's life has to examine how his thinking developed
over time and how it affected his action. A simplistic chronological ordering-of his life or
his works-would not reflect this, in Norman Cousins' words, 'He was not a man but a
procession of men. In him you witnessed a national hero, statesman, philosopher, author, and
educator.' With this in mind, the matter has been arranged into eight sections in an attempt
to present a composite picture of this complex man in his turbulent times.
For Jawaharlal Nehru knowledge of our past culture and civilization was but a step
toward understanding the present reality and progressing forward. This thinking resonates
throughout the first section, 'Culture and Society'.
By Nehru's own admittance Gandhi and Motilal Nehru were the two major influences in
his life. While Gandhi's religious and traditional approach in the struggle for independence
irked him, he had intense admiration and emotional attachment for Gandhi and firmly believed
that it was his leadership that would take the country to freedom. Writings and speeches in
the section on Gandhi have been chosen to reflect this unique relationship.
Just as Gandhi's and Nehru's roles in the struggle for freedom were intertwined, so
also were Congress work and the Independence movement. The Party mirrored the hopes and
desires and the urge to freedom of the Indian masses. Nehru drafted in elegant language most
of the important Congress resolutions and election manifestos.
In 'Independent Years' the endeavour has been to cover the many activities that were
part of his life as Prime Minister for seventeen years. 'India and Beyond' reflects his
roles as Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, his active involvement in world affairs, while
implementing the nonalignment policy which was intended to give primacy to national
A perspective of Nehru's wide range of interests is given in the section, 'General'.
The 'Personal' section provides but a glimpse of the man for, beneath the surface, there was
always the formal gentleman holding back from displays of private emotion. This self-styled
'practising politician found 'magic in making friends with good books'. What he missed most
in jail was children's laughter and women's voices. He was inordinately proud of his good
health and took great pleasure in standing upside down, and is said to have received Yehudi
Menuhim while doing shirshasana !
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