(RAHNUMA) It was incomprehensible for Jawaharlal Nehru to think of the princely states to be outside the orbit and ambit of a future free India.
Equally, he could not bear to think of the Indian Princes having a separate channel of communication with the British Crown. They could not be allowed to owe allegiance to any external authority or have any direct or independent relationship with the Crown for that would endanger the internal security of a free India and also arrest the growth and development of the nation. The bedrock of the new Nehruvian ideal of India was that the cultural and linguistic contiguity of the princely states with each other or with surrounding units would be kept uppermost in mind when the amalgamation process would be unveiled. Nehru abhorred the British monarchical system and its linkages with the Chamber of Princes in India.
His anti-colonial views were shaped by his time spent in England, where he came into contact with the Fabian Society. Exposed to Fabian thought, his thinking was predicated on Fabian Socialism. As he took up the reins of the new independent Indian executive, he framed the economic policy for India on purely Fabian socialism lines. Such was the far-reaching and pronounced impact of Fabian Socialism on Nehru that he committed India to an economy in which the state owned, operated and controlled means of production — in particular, key heavy industrial sectors such as steel, telecommunications, transportation, electricity generation, mining, and real estate. In fact, one of his mentors in the Indian National Congress, Annie Besant, was also a Fabian Socialist.
Biographer Frank Moraes, writing on Jawaharlal Nehru, says: “Jawaharlal’s own ideas on religion were hazy, and his tutor Brooks, a determined Theosophist, had therefore little difficulty in influencing his pupil his way. He instilled in him an interest in Theosophy by introducing him to the works of Madame Blavatsky and by exposing him to discussions on the more esoteric aspects of this creed. Jawaharlal, then 13, was fascinated. He decided to join the Theosophical Society.”
His father Motilal had also been a member of the Society when Blavatsky was in India and was initiated into it by her. Founded by her in 1875 in New York, the Society had been transferred to Madras in 1882. With the advent of Annie Besant, friend of Charles Bradlaugh and George Bernard Shaw, Theosophy began to have an appeal for the urban Indian intellectual. Besant, being one of the greatest orators of her time, was en vogue and after hearing some of her speeches in Allahabad, Nehru was spellbound.
Though a family friend Annie Besant initiated Nehru into the Theosophical Society, but the infatuation with Theosophy did not last long.
Moraes, in his biography on Nehru,says that his abiding interest in socialism grew its roots during his Cambridge days, “when the Fabianism of Shaw and Webb attracted him, but he confesses that his interest was academic. He was also drawn to the intellectual liveliness of Bertrand Russell and John Maynard Keynes, many of whose lectures he attended, although his own university curriculum was scientific and not economic.
“This interest he maintained in London. The Fabians were active in London and to the man who later was to propound the principle of peaceful co-existence, the theory of gradualness had its appeal. He was interested in, but by no means overwhelmed by, socialist ideas. … He lived in a hazy half world, at home neither in East, nor in the West, neither in India, nor in England. … He had as yet no settled moorings, social, political or intellectual.”
In Nehru’s case, at the very kernel of his antipathy for the monarchical system of rule and the brutal repression of colonialism was stronger than the other three. Nehru distilled all that he read and heard in England and created his own Fabian Socialist model — one in which he opposed the Crown and its minions, the Chamber of Princes, who had a garrotte-like grip on 100 million Indians virtually living in penury under the yoke of tyranny.
When one stitches a quick amalgam of what his biographers have highlighted in their own monotypical ways, one sees the coalescence of myriad strains of Fabianism, Socialism and anti-colonialism take shape. This convergence drove his wrathful odium for the Empire and the Monarchy. In parallel, the revolutionary in him fought for the millions in vassalage of the princes. Princes were the byproducts of a vicious system that would ultimately have to go. Only the people of the states could determine the future of these areas.
In December 1933, the chief commissioner of Delhi was asked to consider if Jawaharlal could be arrested for a speech denouncing British exploitation and the feudal autocracy of the princes. The Delhi authorities agreed that the speech was most objectionable, but they also made it clear that they had no great hopes of successful prosecution. And, as it happens with these things, all local governments were asked to keep an eye on Nehru’s speeches. By now, Nehru was here, there and everywhere.
Speaking at the Trade Union Congress in Kanpur the same month, he called for the overthrow of British Imperialism. Result: The Government of India regard him as by far the most dangerous element at large in India, and their view was that the time had come to act against him, in accordance with their general policy of taking steps at an early stage to prevent attempts to work up mass agitations. Total action against him is what the Home Secretary wrote to the Chief Secretary, UP, on January 19, 1934.
Under direct British rule, the nationalist movement had been confined to the territories. Nehru helped to make the struggle of the people in the princely states a part of the nationalist movement for independence. The All India States’ People’s Conference was thus formed in 1927.
In 1935, Nehru, who had long supported the cause of the people of the princely states, was made president of the conference. He opened up its ranks to membership from across the political spectrum. The body would play a crucial role in the political integration of India, helping stalwarts like Sardar Patel and V.P. Menon (to whom Nehru had subsequently delegated the task of integrating the princely states into India) negotiate with the hundreds of princes.
(The writer is a published author who was a Visiting Fellow at ORF when he wrote a Special Report titled ‘Nehru – The Mapmaker’)