Jawaharlal Nehru and I
Nehru was Gandhi’s lieutenant # 1 in India’s Freedom struggle and had spent 10 years in incarceration in the British Indian jails, including three terms in the Dehra Dun jail. It is thus so weird to read small and big leaders of the current ruling dispensation calling Nehru names and blaming him and his progeny for all the ills that plague our country today. He is being blamed not only for the Kashmir imbroglio but also for the creation of Pakistan. In contrast, Nehru’s trusted lieutenant and # 2 Sardar Patel is being idolized by putting him on a higher pedestal.
Nehru loved Dehra Dun and would visit this Valley town on any pretext. He felt greatly relaxed in the sylvan environs of its Circuit House, now converted into Raj Bhawan. He would stroll across its expansive wooded grounds or sit silently for hours under his favourite camphor tree with birds for companions, and listening to their chirping. Occasionally, he read or wrote, and sometimes dictated depending on the mood of the hour. He didn’t believe in mixing business with holidays, and in fact, discouraged any official or political engagements. If any PAs or PSs accompanied Nehru on his visits to Dehra Dun, they generally stayed inconspicuous. Here Nehru felt at home and at peace.
For me in particular, Nehru’s frequent visits to Dehra Dun were something to cherish and look forward to. As a rookie journalist, I made it a point to see Nehru whenever he visited Dehra Dun. Unlike, today when even a bird cannot fly closer to a prime minister’s house or even for that matter near the house of a lesser VIP, meeting Nehru was so very easy in those tension-free days. No security, no PAs, no telephone calls or prior appointments. It was as easy as that. I still vividly recall my first meeting with Nehru in 1954. Then there were very few of us and the district officials and personnel of the local intelligence unit knew us well enough. Thus many of us have had an easy passage.
One day on a cool November morning, I cycled all the way up to the Circuit House porch, and parked my bicycle against its outer wall. Seeing me, the Circuit House’s all-pervasive bearer Ram Prashad pointed towards Nehru strolling on the expansive lawns. I mustered courage and diffidently approached him and hesitantly introduced myself as the editor-publisher of the VANGUARD Newsweekly as also a stringer for The Statesman and The Indian Express. Nehru saw through my confusion and nervousness and smiled. “I have no news to give, young man,” he said without slowing his steps. My nervous response was, “I haven’t come for any news; I just wanted to see you.” Nehru again smiled and that reassured me somewhat.
I was tight-lipped; what would a young journalist ask a great man like Nehru. I murmured some inane words; realizing my nervousness, Nehru asked me what subjects I studied at the college. By then I had overcome my nervousness and told him that I studied Political Science. I mustered courage and told him that I was also the president of the College Students’ Union a couple of years before. That seemed to impress Nehru, so I assumed. I spent another 15 minutes with the great man and then thanked him for having met me. Nehru smiled, and asked me to feel free to see him whenever he visited Dehra Dun. This carte blanche lifted me to seventh heaven. That first meeting, in a way, was perhaps one of my best and most cherished.
After his implied invitation, I must have subsequently met Pandit Nehru on five or six occasions in Dehra Dun. Once I accompanied him on his visit to a village called Tuini in Chakrata. The front doors in the houses there were too low and The VANGUARD then published a photograph of Pandit Nehru entering a house half bent. When someone asked for the development of the backward Jaunsar Bawar area, Pandit Nehru delivered a long speech making out a strong case for what he then described as the “integrated development of the whole country” rather than piecemeal growth of individual areas. In an open letter in The VANGUARD, I mustered enough courage and marshaled many arguments to challenge Pandit Nehru’s premise of “integrated development”. That article should certainly make an interesting reading even today after 50 years. How I wish I could find that back issue now? I would myself love to read it again.
Much later, I met Nehru a couple of times at his Teen Murti residence in Delhi but those visits were just informal. My most interesting encounter with Nehru, however, came about in Delhi. As a young reporter on the staff of The INDIAN EXPRESS, my regular “beat” was Delhi University. The Students Union of Irwin College (Sikandra Road) had invited Nehru for some function. At its conclusion, scores of girls approached Pandit ji for his autograph. He graciously allowed only five minutes to autograph hunters since he claimed he had an important meeting to attend.
Long after the queue of autograph seekers had vanished. Nehru was still there; he sat cross-legged on the dais surrounded by a bevy of young, beautiful things chatting and joking. He had totally forgotten about his important appointment. In fact, I had never seen Nehru so relaxed, bantering and innocently flirting with the cream of the Lady Irwin girls. I sat on the steps to the podium watching Nehru at his flirtatious best. Then he looked at me; there was a mischievous smile on his face as if challenging a young man much less than half his age. All I could say loudly was, “Sir, I really envy you”. And thus ended that dream-like ecstatic hour.
Cover Photograph: Jawaharlal Nehru reading a copy of Vanguard edited by writer Raj Kanwar who is standing alongside.
Raj Kanwar is a Dehra Dun-based veteran journalist and author. His latest book is ONGC: THE UNTOLD STORY.