“…Therefore, it’s unsurprising that India produced at best only second and third rate political and administrative leadership starting with Jawaharlal Nehru, which as it must, eventually descended into the kind of morass that’s pervasive and commonplace today. In 1963, former British Comintern agent Philip Spratt characterized the leadership of the Nehruvian Congress as “a ruling party of hungry careerists .”
—Sandeep Balakrishna

On many vital issues, Nehru avoided taking actions where required, and substituted inaction with rationalisations. Nehru’s inability to take proper and timely decisions was, in a way, related to his lack of clarity and grasp on relevant matters, and reluctance to act. Compare the decisiveness of Sardar Patel and Netaji, and their ability to take action, with the fumbling ruminations of Nehru. These are the remarks of Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, a close friend and a confidant of Nehru:
“You know, I never go to Nehru to seek advice or guidance. I take a decision and just present it to him as a fait accompli. Nehru’s mind is too complex to wrestle with the intricacies of a problem. Those who go to him for advice rarely get a lead—and that only serves to delay matters…Nehru does not understand economics, and is led by the nose by ‘professors’ and ‘experts’ who pander to his whims and fancies…We should have absorbed Kashmir for good and all…I do not know where we are going. The country needs a man like Patel.”

Wrote Brig. BN Sharma: “Consistency in thought and hard-headedness in decisions were not Nehru’s strong points. Superficiality of thought and confused thinking led him wondering into the realm of philosophy and metaphysics.”

All leaders need to be good judge of people and events. Leaders themselves can’t tackle everything, they need to have competent colleagues, reliable second-level leaders and officials under them to realise their national objectives. A leader who is prone to sycophancy and is a poor judge of people would normally end up with an incompetent team. Nehru managed to have people like Sheikh Abdullah, Krishna Menon, BM Kaul, BN Mullik and the like around him, each of whom let down India.

Wrote Durga Das: “Radhakrishnan, who laid down office of President in 1967, was closely associated with Nehru for seventeen years or more. His last homage to Nehru was a panegyric. Yet, to those very near him, Radhakrishnan once confided that Jawaharlal was a ‘poor judge of men’ and often extended his confidence and protection to unworthy persons.”

Nehru was a bad judge of events and situations too. Here is what MO Mathai wrote:
“Nehru was not a good judge of situations. After the partition of India was decided upon, he visited Lahore in 1947. I was with him… At a press conference in Lahore, Nehru held forth and asserted that when partition was brought about, things would settle down and both contending parties would want to maintain peace in their respective areas. Most pressmen were sceptical. They asked, ‘What makes you think so?’ Nehru replied, ‘Forty years of public life.’ We all know what happened subsequently.”

Nehru preferred sycophants rather than the competent persons who may
have their own mind, and might differ. In short, he preferred ‘yes men’. Wrote Rustamji:
“The one test which Nehru applied to men whom he took into the inner circle was loyalty to him. It did not matter if a man had no mind of his own. He must, however, have enough intelligence to avoid irritation. He should be able to understand what the PM said, and if he asked questions, he should do so intelligently so that an opening may be provided for JN [Jawaharlal Nehru] to amplify his points for another half an hour or so… He must put all his faith in Nehru, believe in Nehru, admire and adore Nehru, and say worshipful things now and again which could be brushed aside with gratified indifference…”
“Another fault of JN was that, like Aurangzeb, he encouraged a peculiar form of flattery. In every forum, someone or the other close to him, spoke in a flattering tone. He was never rude to those people who kept praising him and his work, often in ornate language.”

Nehru’s cabinet colleague and admirer Rajkumari Amrit Kaur had remarked about Nehru: “He is not a good judge of character and is therefore easily deceived. He is not averse to flattery and there is conceit in him which makes him at once intolerant of criticism and may even warp his better judgement…”

Nehru didn’t train others, or gave them an opportunity to develop. For example, he retained foreign portfolio too, doing injustice both to that portfolio and to his own job as PM. He invested overmuch time drafting letters and replies and doing such sundry things, better left to people down below. Wrote Rustamji:
“No big decision could be taken in India by anyone, except Nehru. He kept about and below him men who would always turn to him for decisions, or who, if they took decisions would soon be told that they were wrong… How did this work in practice? It meant that on every major problem when there was a doubt about government policy, that doubt would be removed by the PM… There were good, clever men, advisers in the government, who were able to read the PM’s mind, or make an accurate forecast of the way he would think. But these men did not exercise their own critical judgement. They merely anticipated a decision which could be easily done. If it could not be easily anticipated, they awaited the Oracle’s pronouncement… Modern government is such a complex affair that if a policy is uncertain, those who function at a distance (like ambassadors and delegates to the UN) or lower below (like Under Secretaries) are constantly kept guessing.”

Wrote Nehru’s secretary MO Mathai: “Nehru saddled himself with more than one portfolio—External Affairs and Atomic Energy and Scientific Research—on a permanent basis… Nehru had neither the aptitude, the patience, the inclination nor the temperament for the drudgery of attention to details. In fact he was a man whose policies could be largely defeated at the level of details by scheming men. Nehru’s choice of junior ministers directly under him left much to be desired. In any event, having been for so long his own secretary during his long career as a political leader, Nehru never learned to delegate. With only one exception, the junior ministers under Nehru were the most neglected and disgruntled ones in the whole government… One day S.K. Patil asked me privately why the Prime Minister was not encouraging any one or a group of colleagues to come up. I replied that he might as well reconcile himself to the fact that nothing would grow under a banyan tree.”

A telling and illustrative example of gross misgovernance during the Nehruvian times was the tragic stampede at the Kumbh Mela (the first after independence) in the morning after about 10.30am on the Mauni Amavasya (full moon) day of 3 February 1954 at Nehru’s home town of Allahabad that left about 1000 crushed to death and many more injured. On that day Nehru had visited the Mela, and a considerable security was diverted for him and other VIPs. No compensations were paid, and the Government had tried to suppress the news. Stated a newspaper report: “It is also surprising that even though more than a thousand people trampled to death, the administrative officials were ignorant of it because till these officials were enjoying tea and snacks at the Government House (today’s Medical College) till four o’clock.”

Here is an example of Nehru’s gross misgovernance: As per an article in ‘The New Indian Express’:
“The Sunday Standard investigation into the [Ford and Rockefeller] foundations’ activities in India that goes back to the 1950s throw up some startling facts. The Ford and Rockefeller foundations had penetrated the Indian establishment without any government oversight. It gave junkets and scholarships to senior government officials in the Nehru administration without clearance from the Indian government. These officials were directly selected by the Ford and Rockefeller foundations without the knowledge of the government. BK Nehru, Indira Gandhi’s cousin and the Commissioner General for Economic Affairs of Indian Embassy in Washington, advised against insistence on clearance of the funds by the Rockefeller Foundation to government employees after a meeting with its President Dean Rusk. Rusk told the government that only consultations (and not approval) with the Department of Economic Affairs would be necessary before it funded bureaucrats and others. Appalled at the storm brewing in his government against the foundations’ blatant efforts to woo government officials, Nehru denied he had given the necessarily approval. However, he had to backtrack after a note was shown to him, which made it obvious that the opposite was true.”

Wrote Durga Das:
“Curzon [Viceroy, British-India, 1899–1905] was an adept at cutting the Gordian knots into which ponderous files had tied a problem over the years. There were few administrative problems he would not himself tackle, zealously and with conspicuous success. Nehru, on the other hand, was more concerned with enunciating doctrines; he had little patience with the details of administration. When confronted with the need for a decision, he would skirt round, weighing the pros and cons, tormented, as it were, by the spirit of self-questioning. Nehru’s genius lay in romanticising politics, not in the sphere of administration.”

On the basis of what MN Kaul, Lok Sabha Secretary and a close observer of Nehru for many years, told him, wrote Durga Das:
“Nehru did not pull his Ministers up when they deserved this treatment. In fact, he was very soft on them. Nehru could not master the administrative machinery. He never rebuked any wrong doer… He bowed before challenges like the language issue and his troubles multiplied. He could never pick out an administrator who could put his ideas into effect.”

Contrast the above with Sardar Patel about whom Balraj Krishna wrote: “Common talk among the members of the Indian Civil Service post- Independence used to be: ‘If the dead body of the Sardar were stuffed and placed on a chair, he could still rule. ’”


Share this post