Jawaharlal Nehru may well go down in the history of the country as one of the ablest leaders and endearing personalities. From the demands of Purna Swaraj to spearheading the Indian leadership pre-and post-Independence, his contributions to the Indian cause are legion.
However, the most important times of his stint as the Prime Minister are littered with grave mistakes that threatened to moribund the rising Indian state. Even in the Macaulay tinted version of history parroted by the Congress, his contributions pale in comparison to Mohandas Gandhi who too benefited from the same.
October of 1947, Pashtun tribesmen invaded Kashmir, thus, began the war for Kashmir. Nehru foolishly hoping for a peaceful resolution against an openly belligerent state, took the matter to the United Nations, clouding the issue, allowing Pakistan to occupy a third of the strife-torn state.
He stuck to his guns and tried to save face rather than accepting a way that worked in favour of one that did not. After the Accession was signed and a cabinet meeting took place, Nehru (as Field Marshall Sam Mankeshaw recalls) was busy talking about United Nations and various other countries. Till Sardar Patel, the then Deputy PM and Home Minister, losing his temper asks “Jawaharlal, do you want Kashmir or want to give it away? “Of course, I want Kashmir” came the reply with a lot of emphasis being put in.
On being requested to give his orders to the then Director of Military Operation Mankeshaw, Sardar Patel sensed hesitation. And before Nehru could reply, he turned towards Manekshaw and told him that he has his orders and the future Field Marshall walked out and started flying in his troops. As a result, Kashmir became ours minus the modern-day POK.
Another testing time that comes to mind is the Sino-Indian war. Again, under the leadership of Nehru. However, the actual defeat of the Army took place when Defence Minister V.K. Krishna Menon under the guise of “good governance”, not really understanding the system of The Army, starting bringing in changes antithetical to the very basis of The Army. This led to the resignation of the then Army Chief General Thimayya and starting of an enquiry against the then Major General Sam Manekshaw.
Essentially robbing the army of effective leadership in the most trying of times.
Nehru had his reasons for the practice of ahimsa. He rubbished the idea of military power as far back as 1947 citing the Police were enough to keep peace in the country though he had to eat his own words during the Accession of Kashmir and of the fear of a Military coup borne of the many young post world war 2 nations like Pakistan succumbing to the same.
Nehru proclaimed in the Parliament that the NEFA (North Eastern Frontier Agency, now Arunachal Pradesh) was being handed over to the Army. This act was against the Indian interests and without the allotment of added resources, this was a futile gesture. This allowed the Chinese to paint the Indians as aggressors.
Thimayya wanted Nehru to abrogate the mistake, something Nehru knew was political Hara-kiri as he would lose the trust of the Parliament. Fearing the General and his actions, at least in his mind, Nehru and Menon turned to subterfuge to discredit him. Playing a convoluted game for meeting the ends.
Thimayya seething at the disrespect of being painted as the one responsible for the Parliament debacle, signed his resignation papers. They were rejected by Nehru in a private meeting while subsequently leaking the news, forcing the general to retire with the message perceived by the public of voluntary retirement. Hence, in the minds of people, Nehru and Menon foiled the ‘danger’ posed by General Thimayya- one of the most brilliant Generals on this side of Sam Manekshaw.
Speaking of Manekshaw, he too was disqualified from active leadership by launching a Court of Inquiry against him on the grounds of him being more British than Indian and more loyal to the British Queen than the Indian Prime Minister. He had asked Menon not to ask him what he thought of General Thimayya as he was his senior and such actions on part of subordinates towards senior create dissension in the Army.
In their absence, Nehru turned to favourites of his Lt. Gen. Brij Mohan Kaul and P.N. Thapar who were famous, at that time in the Army, for being yes men. On being asked if the Army was ready for war, lacking in moral courage, replied in the positive. At that time there was a serious dearth of arms and ammunition in the forward posts where the battles would take place. The result: by the end of the month-long war we had lost the Aksai Chin (a 37,244 Square Km area of strategic importance ), the war and the lives of thousands of soldiers not to mention the international humiliation.
Looking back at these two pivotal events in Indian History, Nehru, through his superintendence for personal reasons of ego (Kashmir issue) and self-preservation (Pre Sino- Indian war borne of paranoia), allowed to sour and bite the country in the back. The sheer amount of loss of life and the political implications of both continues to tax the Indian State.
In light of these cataclysmic events and the handling of them by Jawaharlal Nehru, despite some of his great contributions to the Indian Cause, he shall be remembered as a far better man and a more able leader than he actually was based on the Macaulay inspired revision of history he himself revived after the departure of the British.