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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story


By P. V. Narasimha Rao

Curriculum Vitae

I WAS LUCKY TO BELONG to a generation inspired contemporaneously by Jawaharlal Nehru. He had woven a new world of ideas and euphoria. It was partly for India's internal progress but mainly for her survival in a wide and intricate world. Never before had a starving man been able to hold his head high and look rich nations in the eye. Never before had the arrogance of power and wealth been shown its place, as when Jawaharlal stood up to speak in world councils. It was sovereignty asserting its legitimate primacy over dead GDP (Gross Domestic Product) figures.

On May 27, 1964, Jawaharlal Nehru died. I was then a junior minister in Andhra Pradesh state cabinet. His passing was not unexpected. People had been talking about it with genuine concern, especially after the debacle of war with China. Still, when the end came, it was an enormous shock. A defeated nation whimpered at this second deadly blow.

Ideologically, I felt orphaned. Then I was lost in memories, distant and recent. In the autocratic state I was born into, my school authorities had once penalized me for reading Nehru's autobiography; that only endeared him to me all the more. I saw Nehru in person several years after that - at the Congress plenary session at Haripura in Gujarat. There, on one dais, I saw Nehru and a whole galaxy of national leaders. It was a sublime experience for a youth of 17. I heard Nehru's earnest voice, now halting with emotion, now gushing forth like a river in flood. It left its deep influence on me - of patriotism, of idealism, of liberalism, of an indefinable, yet transparent caliber of sophistication.

Next, in the plenary session at the village of Tripuri, I had a glimpse of his short temper. While he spoke at a public meeting, a stray airplane circled around making a loud noise. Jawaharlal shouted in unconcealed anger that no aircraft should come anywhere near the meeting. But who was to carry out that "order?" As it was, Panditji was, right then, speaking vehemently against the government. However, the aircraft in fact did not appear again. I was struck by the peremptoriness of the man, apart from all other qualities. I almost fancied that a bit of short temper (real or assumed) enhanced the effect of a leader's personality!

I recalled various facets of Nehru's versatility. He had provided leadership in more fields of thought and action than one could possibly count. In addition to leading the country, he produced such writings of permanent value as Glimpses of World History. He had high refinement, reinforced with utter sincerity. He could carry conviction to the Western mind, even in its most cynical moments. There was not a trace of crudeness in him. I sometimes wondered if Panditji wasn't some kind of "alien" in the Indian political arena!

One particular scene stood out in my memory. Jawaharlal had visited my state to lay the foundation of an irrigation project on a mighty river. The audience of a hundred thousand villagers had gathered for his darshan, or dialogue with the people. Panditji lost himself in the breathtaking grandeur of the river and the green hills around. He suddenly reached back several millennia to describe the river valley civilization. When conveyed to the unlettered crowd in their language by the interpreter, every villager understood every word and felt a glow of national pride, much as I did. It was an unforgettable performance, straight from the heart.

Non-alignment, an economy mixed with socialism, the concept of a commonwealth of independent republics, the public sector, the advent of national laboratories as harbingers of science and technology, the planning commission, five-year plans, disarmament and economic cooperation among nations, the abhorrence of war, the United National Awards - there was a continuous chain of his bequests. He presented a beautiful blend of wholesome tradition and ennobling modernity.

While remembering all this the day Nehru died, I was suddenly struck by an angry question: What has Nehru done to insure Indians against an uncertain future? He gave us lofty ideas, great inspiration, respect in world councils, elaborate physical infrastructure, firm ideological anchorage . . . yes . . . yes . . . yes! He made a glorious place for himself, but where will his successors take the country? If he was Mahatma Gandhi's heir, who is his heir, for heaven's sake? Why did he not realize that for the most part his personality alone was sustaining the fabric of the nation? How would it carry on when he was no more? I knew I was too small a fellow to ask such big questions. Yet, it would be rule by smaller men thereafter; no other Jawaharlal was waiting in the wings. And these crucial questions smote me hard on that sad day.

P. V. Narasimha Rao, Indian PM from 1991 to 1996, recently published a novel The Insider on backroom politics.


•Born on November 14, 1889

•Became a nationalist after the Amritsar massacre in 1919, when British troops opened fire on unarmed Indians

•Named president of the Indian National Congress political party in 1929

•Became Independent India's first PM in 1947, serving until his death in 1964

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This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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