Last year on this day there was a controversy in the country, whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi should be invited to participate in the 125th birth anniversary celebrations of Jawaharlal Nehru by the Congress Party.
This year the Congress has no such problem, as the Prime Minister is away in the United Kingdom.
However, the nation remembers Jawaharlal Nehru not just as the leader of the Congress Party, but of the country as a whole. He continues to be Chacha for children.
Jawaharlal Nehru belonged to the country, even though he was a member of a political party. I wish people in the country read the 30 letters written by him to his daughter Indira Gandhi.
Letters from a Father to His Daughter was written by Nehru in 1928 to Indira Gandhi when she was a 10-year-old, teaching about natural history and the story of civilisations.
At the time of the writing of the letters, Nehru was in Allahabad, while Indira was in Mussoorie. The actual letters written by Nehru were in English.
Those days there were no computers; he read books, analysed them and wrote the letters, which conveyed the history of the nation to his daughter.
When the country was partitioned, he tried his best to establish peace in the country. I wish the present generation reads those speeches. Narendra Modi said in London yesterday that India, which is the land of Gandhi and Gautam Buddha, is not intolerant. Jawaharlal Nehru practiced the philosophy of Gandhi and Gautam Buddha, and was able to establish peace in the country soon after the holocaust that faced the nation after Partition.
He led the nation when it drew up the Constitution of India, and gave full support to Dr B. R. Ambedkar and Sir B. N. Rau. He not only helped in drawing up the Constitution, but ensured that it was followed in true spirit. He was in communication with the Chief Ministers, wrote regular letters to them giving them details of the steps taken by the Central Government and the reasons why it was being done.
I had the opportunity of meeting him in 1956 when I visited Delhi to accompany my cousin who was appearing for an AIR music competition from Bombay. There was a gap of two hours, and I strayed from Broadcasting House to Parliament. From a poster, I saw that the Bureau of Parliamentary studies was organizing a debate on the Constitution. I went inside-those days there were no security restrictions-and heard Jawaharlal Nehru speak to a gathering of members of Parliament.
During the tea interval, Jawaharlal Nehru saw me and came near the table where I was having tea, I was overwhelmed. He saw me in a crowd of elders. I was barely 22-years-old then. He asked me, I guess you are a student, did you find the discussion interesting? I replied, Sir, I have just finished law and M. A. and found the speeches absorbing. What are your views young man, he asked again. I took the courage to say that the Indian Constitution should have been more unitary in character than federal, and there was a danger to the unity of the country with the demands for reorganization of states gaining momentum He smiled, patted me, and told me to keep my interest alive in parliamentary democracy.
Soon I joined the Press Information Bureau. I had the advantage of reading his speeches when he visited different parts of the country His public addresses were an attempt to inform the masses. As a young officer, I had the advantage of being posted at Red Fort to conduct photographers. There was a pin drop silence when Nehru spoke to people stretching from Jama Masjid to the road leading to Chandni Chowk and Kashmiri Gate.
The nation is aware of his contribution to the freedom struggle, his role as the first Prime Minister of India, how he propounded non-alignment, emerged as a world leader and supported anti-colonial movements across the world.
I used to be on duty at functions like the monthly press conferences of the Prime Minister.
My duty was to receive editors and senior correspondents. Jawaharlal Nehru’s press conferences were never limited to being question and answer sessions. The correspondents came to hear the Prime Minister on matters of national importance – on colonialism, India’s relations with neighbours, and issues like planning. The Prime Minister’s answers to questions sought to educate the correspondents and the people through the newspapers.
In the fifties, one of the important events organized by the army was the Annual Horse Show at the Red Fort. I was given the task of covering the Army Horse Show., the Chief of the Army Staff or the Quartermaster General would distribute prizes at the concluding function. The year I was detailed to cover the Horse Show, 1959, if I remember correctly. It was decided that Prime Minister would present a woollen drape to the best horse of the show – Prithviraj.
I had arrived at the Teen Murti Bhavan half an hour earlier to cover the event. The Prime Minister’s vehicle approached the porch. He got down and asked me why I was there. I explained to him that he was expected to present a shawl to the best horse. He said let us go. I explained to him that the Quartermaster General B.M Kaul was expected to escort him. He laughed and said, you have formalities in the army. To my utter surprise, he asked my name. He called me by my first name, asked the bearer to bring tea and told me “I will have a quick wash and join you.”
Soon after, General Kaul came and the function was over. But I was overwhelmed to have tea in the Prime Minister’s house.
Next time I saw the Prime Minister was in 1962. The venue was the National Stadium and the occasion was a concert by Lata Mangeshkar. We still hum the song: Aye Mere Watan ke Logo, Zara Ankh me Bhar lo Pani, Jo Shaheed Hue Hai unki Zara Yad Karo Kurbani.
There was not one eye which was not moist. I saw the Prime Minister wipe his eyes. He had suddenly aged.
The last time I saw Panditji was when he passed away in May 1964. I was put on duty to conduct photographers covering the final journey of Jawaharlal Nehru from Teen Murti House to the banks of the Jamuna. The photographers were taken in improvised trucks.
Many foreign correspondents were talking whether India will survive as a nation after Nehru. But we did; and much of the credit goes to our first Prime Minister who guided us through the turbulent years
Mr. I. Ramamohan Rao is a former Principle Information Officer of the Government of India. He can be reached at [email protected]