“Deep inside his heart, Nehru always was a dictator and first rate politician and manipulator. He feared only Gandhi and Patel—Gandhi because of his moral authority and complete grip on the masses, and Patel because of his firmness, unwillingness to be emotionally blackmailed and the writ in the party.”
—Historian Makkhan Lal

“The last straw has been our Prime Minister becoming a full-fledged dictator by contriving the ejection of Mr. P.D. Tandon from the Presidentship of the Congress and himself taking his place. I regard it as treachery to the nation to continue in the Congress in the face of this last development… A political murder committed yesterday is a murder of democracy in the Congress. This is merely the beginning of the slaughter of democracy in India.”
—DP Mishra (Please also check Blunder#123)

Nehru leveraged the democratic process to gain and retain power, but temperamentally, he was more a dictator than a democrat. He filled the top party posts and the cabinet with “yes-men” so that he could exercise unhindered power, and freely interfere in the workings of the party and ministries not under his direct charge.

Calling Nehru, for the first time, “the Congress dictator”, C.R.[Rajaji] also said: “The single brain-activity of the people who meet in Congress is to find out what is in Jawaharlal’s mind and to anticipate it. The slightest attempt at dissent meets with stern disapproval and is nipped in the bud.” —Rajaji

Within months of his tenure as India’s first PM, Nehru began acting whimsically and dictatorially without consulting the cabinet and the senior colleagues leading to the well-known rift with Sardar Patel. Patriotic and democratic Sardar Patel was forced to question Nehru’s methods leading even to Sardar’s resignation in December 1947. The exchange of letters among Nehru, Sardar Patel and Gandhi between November-1947 and January-1948 clearly bring forth the issues of Nehru’s dictatorial working. Sadly, Gandhi failed to correct Nehru prior to his assassination on 30 January 1948. (Please also check under Blunder#30 Patel’s response to Gandhi in January 1950 on the PM’s duties and powers.)

Even Acharya Kriplani resigned from the presidency of the Congress in November 1947 protesting timidity of India against Pakistan, its mishandling of the Kashmir issue, and demanding revocation of the standstill agreement signed with the Nizam of Hyderabad. Among the many disastrous results of Nehru’s dictatorial working was his series of decision (that were really major blunders) on Kashmir, without taking his cabinet into confidence.

Once the stalwarts like Gandhi and Sardar Patel were no more, Nehru had a free, unbridled play! One can indulge the wise, rational, enlightened, and benevolent semi-dictatorship of people like Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore who within two decades took Singapore from a third-world country to a top first-world country; but can one indulge the blunders-after- blunders of a democratically-elected dictator like Nehru that condemned India to be third-rate third-world country.

This is what Dr Ambedkar had to say in his resignation letter (from the Nehru’s cabinet) of 27 September 1951:
“The Cabinet has become a merely recording and registration office of decisions already arrived at by Committees. As I have said, the Cabinet now works by Committees… All important matters relating to Defence are disposed of by the Defence Committee. The same members of the Cabinet are appointed by them. I am not a member of either of these Committees. They work behind an iron curtain. Others who are not members have only to take joint responsibility without any opportunity of taking part in the shaping of policy…”

Wrote KM Munshi: “Jawaharlal was a dictator by temperament but had an intellectual aversion to dictators like Hitler and Stalin. He swore by the Constitution but was ever ready to defy or ignore it. Entrenched as he was in unlimited powers, he could never realise the harm that he was doing to the country by twisting the Constitution to his liking.”

John Mathai (1886–1959) was an economist who served as India’s first Railway Minister and subsequently as India’s Finance Minister between 1949 and 1951. Being pro-Nehru, he was initially prejudiced against Sardar Patel; but, he soon discovered Nehru’s “feet of clay”, and remarked:
“Under Nehru the Cabinet had never functioned, and all decisions were taken privately by the Prime Minister and the individual Minister concerned. Even when a decision was endorsed in the Cabinet, the Prime Minister went back on it and reversed the decision… The only time when the Indian Cabinet really functioned was when Nehru was away in Washington for a few weeks towards the end of October 1948 and when Sardar Patel was acting as Prime Minister. For the first time the cabinet functioned with joint responsibility; and the acting Prime Minister conducted meetings as the British Prime Minister would have.”

For his honest and forthright views, especially on the Planning Commission, rather than allowing diversity of opinion and resolving issues democratically through discussions in the cabinet and other forums, John Mathai (then Finance Minister) was eased out by Nehru from the cabinet.
How ‘democratic’ Nehru was would be clear from this extract from Neville Maxwell’s book “India’s China War”:
“There was a Cabinet committee for foreign affairs but that, too, he [Nehru] ignored more often than not, and time and again crucial foreign policy decisions were taken and announced—even acted upon—without either the committee or the Cabinet being aware of them. This was true of the handling of the boundary question with China, which was kept not only from the Cabinet and its foreign affairs and defence committees, but also from Parliament until armed clashes made it impossible to suppress.”

If you are arrogant and entertain false notions of your own ability, knowledge and understanding, then you either don’t listen to others, or are dismissive of the opinions of the others; and tend to be undemocratic. You don’t realise your own limitations; you don’t realise you need to involve others, pool the expertise and then evolve a sensible joint solution. Observing your behaviour, people stop telling you the truth; instead they tell you only what you want to hear. You thus cut off honest opinions and feedback. Wrote Rustamji:                                                                                                  “…but when you talked to him [GB Pant, No. 2 in the Cabinet of Nehru], you saw the agility and quickness of a mind that was in strong contrast to his ponderous body. His thinking was quick, incisive: he talked cleverly and had few equals in debate. His English was perfect: and his manner of getting to the root of the problem enviable… Yet when Pant was in the presence of the PM, he was so respectful that he even lowered his standard of intelligence in order that the other may shine…”

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