It's obvious, in retrospect, that Nehru's means -- passing statutes, formulating plans, issuing pleas -- were grossly inadequate to his goal of shaping a new India. The resistance was too deep and too widespread. Indians often yearn for a "benevolent dictatorship," and perhaps the country would have been better off with the likes of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew. Nehru was profoundly wary of power, including his own; he once composed an anonymous profile of himself in which he noted that his impatience and ill-temper "will hardly brook for long the slow process of democracy." Nehru grafted Mohandas Gandhi's belief in the imperative of pure means onto an Englishman's faith in the powers of rational persuasion. The idea of benevolent dictatorship would have struck him as a contradiction in terms.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday January 28, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
India independence -- In Sunday's Book Review, a review of two books on the life of Jawaharlal Nehru incorrectly stated that India gained independence from Great Britain in 1946. It took place in 1947.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday February 01, 2004 Home Edition Book Review Part R Page 14 Features Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Indian independence -- A review of two books on the life of Jawaharlal Nehru in the Jan. 25 Book Review incorrectly stated that India gained its independence from the British in 1946. In fact, it took place in 1947.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday February 01, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
India independence -- In the Jan. 25 Book Review, a review of two books on the life of Jawaharlal Nehru incorrectly stated that India gained independence from Britain in 1946. It took place in 1947.
And yet he was surely right. Nehru was acutely aware that India's delicate frame could crack if he pushed too hard. He valued stability above progress; that was why he accepted language-based states in the south and muted his campaign for land reform. And the stability that Nehru achieved during his 18 years as prime minister is itself an extraordinary achievement of statesmanship. Perhaps it might have lasted longer if his heirs, including his daughter, had not played with communal fire for political gain. But even with all its fissiparous tendencies, India is neither a patchwork state, like Indonesia, nor an anarchic dictatorship, like Pakistan. India is very much a functioning democracy, and surely much of the credit must go to Nehru's unwillingness to use undemocratic means to achieve even the most desirable ends.
There is, it turns out, no uniquely Indian way to conduct foreign or domestic policy. India looks increasingly like a "normal" country, using familiar means to attain familiar goals. Even its ugly messes are the result of normal political self-seeking, though Nehru would have been sickened by the vulgarity of the spectacle. And the trend lines for this all-too-conventional India are broadly positive: Economic growth is up around 8%, and the Hindu nationalist prime minister is offering tentative peace feelers to Pakistan. These two biographies, the one careful and comprehensive, the other swift and sharp, offer a measuring stick not only for Nehru but also for India's unfolding experiment. One wonders how the chronicles will read a generation from now. *