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Henry Judd

A Political Portrait of Nehru,
Premier of India’s New Cabinet

(23 September 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 38, 23 September 1946, pp. 3 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A provisional Indian government has been formed, a step marking a new relationship in India between master and ruled, between British imperialism and that section of the Indian – the Congress Party – claiming to speak for India’s nationalist cause. At the head of this government stands Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, an important figure in today’s world, a man whose words and actions are of concern to all the colonial peoples of India, China, Indo-China and a large section of the world.

What manner of man is Nehru? In 1941, during the war, this writer had the opportunity to interview Nehru and carried away certain impressions of the man which were subsequently published in The New International of April 1941 under the title of Eton Brahmin. We reprint below extracts and some additions to this interview, since the differences between the man who yearned for power, five years ago, and the man who today holds power (with British permission, of course) seem to be so slight in nature as to change virtually nothing in the former article.


Next to the Mahatma (Gandhi) himself, Nehru has been the most popular figure to emerge from the turbulent Indian political scene. His aristocratic bearing, his sweeping literary and oratorical style – heavily tinged with a false-sounding “idealism” – his lofty Brahmanical descent, his unquestionable personal sacrifices for Indian nationalism (16 years in British jails) – all these characteristics have endeared Jawaharlal Nehru to middle-class radicals and liberals throughout the world.

My first (and only) meeting with Nehru took place at the home of his sisters, shortly before his last arrest, during the war. At that time, the Congress had been pushed to the wall by the iron stand of British imperialism. The issue was clear: To yield, or launch a nation-wide mass struggle for immediate independence. A special session of the AllIndia Congress Committee was to be held at Poona, with the objective of making definitive decisions. In visiting Nehru, I wished to learn from him, a member of the Congress Working Committee, what could be expected at the Poona session.

His grande entrée into the room from a nearby balcony, along with his obvious patronizing air (in sharp contrast to the more welcome and sincere humble mannerisms of Gandhi) made a most unpleasant impression. In the course of a four-hour discussion, his personal characteristics became more marked. Nehru is both pompous and pretentious; arrogant and self-conscious when one touches upon his weaknesses and constant vacillations. That “sensitiveness of character,” so often eulogized by those whose ideal he is, merely reflects his self-embarrassment before his own incompetence, his inability to rise to the capacity of revolutionary leadership, his ineffectiveness in grasping the complexities of modern politics. The constantly reiterated theme of his talk was, “I do not know what will happen.” “The sands of time are running out.” “All is chaos.” The Brahmin of England’s Eton college was dubbed India’s High Priest of Confusion.

It soon became clear that this man had no intention of proposing, let alone leading, a mass struggle during the war. As is known, he spent the balance of the war in an imperialist jail. Nehru indicated that his “ethical” outlook forbid him from striking heavy blows at England during the period of its war difficulties. “... for we could not wholly forget the old lesson which Gandhi had taught us, that our objective should not be to embarrass the opponent in his hour of need.” Behind this moral hypocrisy, Nehru was prepared to allow the continuation of one of history’s oldest and most criminal immoral acts – namely, the mass exploitation of 389,000,000 Indian people by a handful of British imperialists. This was, indeed, a full measure of the man. He indicated that, in his opinion, anyone who proposed a struggle against British rule, during the war, was guilty of aiding and comforting the cause of Hitler and his Axis! This judgment included the writer too, who had mildly protested the pro-British attitude expressed by Nehru. As his reward, Nehru spent almost four years in jail, beginning with his arrest in 1942.

What are some of the essential characteristics of this man, now heading India’s provisional government? He is, above all, an adjutant of Gandhi. Although he has wandered slightly afield, Nehru invariably returns to the ideas, methods and practices of the Mahatma. He has been the latter’s political agent among peasant, trade union and mass organizations. As such, he has consistently attempted to reconcile the conflicting interests of these popular organizations to those of the Indian capitalists and landlords.

In practical politics and policies, Nehru has been, still is, and will continue to be the prisoner of the Congress Working Committee (High Command), the most conservative body in Indian nationalism. In the deliberate Gandhi policy of blocking a mass struggle under war (or postwar) conditions, Nehru has been a supporter of the Working Committee. We have already mentioned the historic, 1941, session of the Congress, Central Committee. Nehru’s role at this meeting was typical. The right-wing of the Congress had proposed a. resolution of support to the war and a united partnership with British imperialism. Nehru was supposed to lead the fight against this resolution. Those who knew the man were skeptical, with justification.

Faces Turbulent Future

In the turgid, confused language of the man he proceeded to state his position on this resolution of betrayal. “As a member of the Working Committee I assume full responsibility for this resolution.” But, “as you know, I do not feel very sure with respect to this proposal.” And then,’in the actual voting, Nehru abstained. In other words, the man was “for,” timidly “against,” and then “neutral” – all on the self-same measure! Can this man lead India to its freedom and a democratic solution of its internal problems? His is the language of capitalist diplomacy and self-deceit which, against the background of downtrodden, colonial India – can only be a language of compromise and capitulation. His first words as head of the new government, an apology for assuming power with British approval and support, are illustrative.

But this does not mean that, a reluctant, imploring, pleading Nehru may not be forced to take certain measures in behalf of his provisional government that may displease its master, the Viceroy. Nehru, in taking the responsibility of joint power with the British, has taken the bit into his mouth. The atmosphere in India, brought to a stormy point by mass discontent, communal antagonisms and the famine threat, makes impossible any calm transition to a capitalist Indian regime. Nehru today, holding “power” but utterly incapable of utilizing it for anything, may be the first to go, once the social tensions present are released. Nehru had no answer in 1941; he has none in 1946. He is only the weak spokesman of the feeble Indian industrialist, landlord, merchant and commercial class. As such, Nehru is infinitely closer to the master British imperialists than to his own people, the working and peasant masses of India.

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