Saturday, 1 October 2011

A Critical Analysis of “An Autobiography” by Jawhar Lal Nehru

Abhijeet Mishra
Research Scholor, Dept of English

   U.P.R.T.O.U., Allahabad

           “An Autobiography” is not only the life story of Nehru but also a classical literary work. It manifests the magnetic and charismatic personality of Nehru who had an artistic and rationalistic temperament with sensitive understanding of human nature and global circumstances. An Autobiography was written by Jawaharlal Nehru when he was in prison, from June 1934 to February 1935, but it was first published in 1936.
          Nehru was attracted and influenced by Indian politics just having been settled in India because the whole atmosphere of his family was political. Pt. Motilal Nehru, his father was himself active in the freedom struggle of India and his house Anand Bhavan was a centre of political meetings and discussions, so how could Nehru avoid? He became more active when he came in contact of Mahatma Gandhi at the meeting of congress at Lucknow in 1916.
          He highlighted democratic and parliamentary system of Government so much that it stood on a firm and durable foundation. He promoted the functioning of parliament towards an everlasting faith of people in it. If any colleague ever admitted of not adopting any tradition of parliament, he could blame him never to see the dream of bearing the responsibility of a Prime Minister. He was very loyal and reliable to his friends and colleagues. This loyalty frequently led him to take wrong decisions. The burning example of this is the Chinese attack in 1962 when India had to suffer a great loss and humiliation as a result of which thousands of acres of India’s land is still in the possession of China. Sometimes he ignored the charges framed against his colleagues relating to corruption and practicing unparliamentry and undemocratic methods of functioning and carrying on them ministerial responsibility. Even then he retained the dignity of parliament in a large measure.
          Nehru believed that adult suffrage was the best process without any restriction of caste, creed, money, religion, education and region so that every adult of the country may openly take part in election. This will also arouse the interest of adults to participate in the politics of the country and the affairs of the nation as well as foreign affairs. It will provide them with political equality by their equal right to vote unbiased. Thus adult suffrage is the basis of real democracy. Different norms of adulthood were adopted by different countries, but in India it was previously fixed to 21 years and it have been reduced to 18 years. This was the best tool to arouse the political awareness among the adults. It also threatens a Government to perform its duties properly otherwise its power is after all the power of the people and it can be dethroned at any moment. The representatives also try to know the will and grievances of their electorates and to find a correct solution to satisfy them.
          India had inherited social and economic equality especially during the British rule, of which was the main policy ‘divide and rule’. So how could they practice equality? He said,” Equality in democratic society does not mean equality of possessing a vote but economic and social equality”. He newly defined equality as – “Every men and women must have the opportunity to develop to the best of his or her ability. Honor and merit must come from ability and hard work and not because of caste, birth or riches. He said, “There can be only one end to them, complete political freedom or independence and complete social freedom that is the right of every man and woman to have the fullest opportunity for development without any restrictions or barriers of the religion, custom, caste or economic privilege”1
          In the sense of industrialization Nehru was much interested in large scale industries to meet the problems of the country. But he was also convinced of Gandhiji’s cottage industry and small scale industry programme so that the villages and poor class people may be more benefited and solve the problem of poverty and unemployment. Nehru wanted to make India modernized this is why he preferred large scale industries. He said, “It can hardly be challenged that in the context of the modern world no country can be politically and economically independent even within the framework of international interdependence, unless it is highly industrialized and has developed its power and resources to utmost. Nor it can achieve or maintain high standard of living and liquidate poverty without the aid of the modern technology in almost every sphere of life. As industrially backward country will continually upset the world’s equilibrium and encourage the aggressive tendencies of the most developed countries.”2
Nehru’s attitude towards villages and agriculture was not very sophisticated. He thought that agriculture was dependent on the devastating forces of nature as flood, drought, and climatic change and so forth. It made a man fatalistic. The villages were often conservative and narrow minded, illiterate and superstitious, so they were responsible for India’s degeneration and backwardness. But Gandhiji brought the peasants in the front. He believed that India depended on agriculture because her 80% people lived in villages and depended on agriculture. So he wanted to bring drastic changes in the farming by increasing the soul power of agrarians to utilize their manual force, to the maximum extent for farming. He conceived that large scale industries would certainly develop capitalism and his dream of Sarvodaya would be left unfulfilled. Nehru could not lay emphasis on it up to 1950 but after that in free India he freely launched his programme of new scientific methods of farming to increase the production.
          Nehru was very anxious about the illiteracy and defective education policy of India which was imposed on the Indians by the British. He wanted to transform and modify it to modern fashion. He entrusted this massive work to the scholars to prescribe the useful lessons, founded many engineering, medical and technical institutes, colleges and universities, research centers and laboratories. He was assured that without proper education no progress was possible. He made the policy of free education to all the children. Since he loved children very much and saw them as the future of India. He stated, “Nothing saddens me so much as the sight of children who are denied education, sometimes denied even food and clothing. If our children today are denied education, what is our India of tomorrow going to be? It is the duty of the state to provide good education to every child in the country. And I would add that it is the duty of the state to provide free education to every child in the country. Unfortunately we can not do all these things quickly and suddenly because of our lack of resources and lack of teachers” 3
          Nehru’s political thought were very sublimed and imitable. The topmost priority by Nehru was given to national unity. As he often said, “United we stand, divided we fall.” The greatest contribution of Nehru to Indian politics was his foreign policy. Which is based on Gandhiji’s strategy of upholding to truth, non-violence and love? Individual restrain and social service were clearly visible in Gandhi’s policy and action. These played a vital role in formulating the foreign policy for Nehru. The cold war was then going on between two most powerful countries, the USA and the USSR. The world was very much anxious about the third world war which threatened the whole human race because the first and the second world wars had witnessed an irreparable loss and a terrible havoc and devastation. So Nehru thought to reduce and discourage violence to solve international problems and disputes. It is better to adopt the method of non-violence, mutual understanding and coexistence. So he expressed his desire to superpowers to give up the way of violence. He said, “Communism has definitely alive itself to the approach of violence, even if it does not indulge normally in physical violence. Its language is of violence, its thought is violent and it does not seek to change by persuasion. This is completely opposed to the peaceful approach which Gandhiji taught us”4. The concept of Panchsheel propounded by Nehru was the basis of his foreign policy.
          Nehru spent a large part of his life in jail during the freedom struggle. So he was acquainted well with the treatment of jail authorities with the prisoners. Who were treated like animals or sometimes even worse than they. He wants to share his better experiences of jail life with his readers by giving a vivid description of himself as well as others. Who were lifers? He describes at the Naini jail in his ‘An autobiography’ where he was a captive for some days, “My barrack and enclosures were popularly known throughout the geol as the kuttaghar or the ‘doghouse’. This was an old name which had nothing to do with me; the little barrack had been built originally apart from all others, for especially dangerous criminals who had to be isolated”5.  For lifers he writes – “For years and years and years many of these lifers do not see a child or a women or even animals. They lose touch with the outside world completely and have no human contacts left. They brood and wrap themselves in angry thoughts of fear and revenge and hatred; forget the good of the world, the kindness and joy, and live only wrapped up in the evil. Then gradually even hatred loses its edge and life becomes a sole less thing, a machine like routine”6
          Natural beauty fascinated Nehru to a great extent. He showed greater interest in forests, rivers, hills, valleys, the earth, the sky, the stars, the sun, the moon, the rainbow, the clouds and rains. He felt much delighted in the changing seasons showing different variations in environment. Even the changing phase of day, dawn, morning, noon and evening filled his heart with great joy. 
         When he was only eleven year old his father engaged a theosophist tutor for him named F T Brooks who was recommended to his father by Mrs. Annie Besant. He taught him nearly three years and aroused his sentiments for reading. He writes – “F. T. Brooks developed in me a taste for reading and I read a great many English books, though rather aimlessly”. Further he says that he initiated him into the mysteries of science. He also studied the two great epics of Hindus; the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. As a result of which he had an indelible influence on his mind. He learnt heroism and morality from those and followed their ideals in his later life, sacrificing his all far the service of mankind. After all Jawahar lal Nehru believed in human values, in the dignity of individual, equalitarian social order, unity and integrity of the country. He shared all the innovations and experiences of his life as political, social, moral, economic, development etc in his autobiography. He might have ignored initially village development but in the sense of urban industrialization his ultimate objective was all around growth. Last but not the least his autobiography represents a deep touch of his vast experiences in varied dimensions of his life.
1. The Bombay chronicle, 17th May 1928
2. An Autobiography, P. 83
3. Ibid, P. 87
4. Ibid, P. 183
5. Ibid, P. 218
6. Ibid, P. 219
7. A Letter to Mahatma Gandhi, 11th January 1928