What are the characteristics of Jawarharlal Nehru

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The good fortune of being a citizen of a democratic state cannot be valued highly enough as a German against the background of dark chapters in one's own past? although it seems to be a matter of indifference to many today. Other peoples who have walked the rocky roads on the long road to national sovereignty may not be so indifferent to the gift.

If one looks at the flag of India and its interpretation, one quickly understands how difficult and also lengthy such processes can be: the three-colored flag with the wheel in the middle stands for the peaceful coexistence of the three largest religious? sen groups of the country (Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs) and reflecting on their own strengths. The final liberation of the Indian subcontinent from English colonial rule shortly after the Second World War required strong will, character and perseverance? and these qualities manifested themselves in the characters Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964). The life of the man, who under the honorary title "Pandit" (i.e. scholar) Nehru became the first Indian Prime Minister in 1947, describes the informative biography from the pen of the Indian UN diplomat and writer Shashi Tharoor.

Tharoor wrote a biography and interpretation of Nehru in a journalistic style and provided it with admiring features, but without ignoring the weaknesses and mistakes of Nehru, especially towards the end of his long reign. The author retains a critical view of his compatriot.

From Oxford graduate to revolutionary

Jawaharlal Nehru's life and personal change from the privileged son of a lawyer of the Indian upper class through his school and university days in Harrow and Oxford to the convinced champion of democracy, who did not shrink from civil disobedience and long imprisonment , is clearly and comprehensibly described by the author with interesting self-testimonies from Nehru in letters and excerpts from speeches. Tharoor describes the actual turning point for the relationship with the colonial rulers almost oppressively: people demonstrating peacefully, including many women and children, were deliberately shot by English soldiers in 1919 in Amritsar, northern India? a tragedy that made father and son Nehru believe in the reformability of an Indian society under the English leadership.

Tharoor describes how Jawaharlal Nehru reflected internally and externally on his Indian origins? instead of English tailored suits, he now wore hand-woven Indian "khadi" fabrics and quickly became an important protagonist of the opposition Congress? party. According to Tharoor, Nehru was characterized by his traits, which were situated somewhere between pragmatism and idealism or a passionate devotion for Indian independence, which were beneficial for a political career.

Two formative father figures

Shashi Tharoor places a special emphasis on the influences of the father Motilal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi on the political and personal development of Jawaharlal Nehru. Guided by the moral conscience and the charisma of the spiritual guide, the "great soul" Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru first became the freedom fighter as known and analyzed by contemporary historical research. Essential principles of the striving for independence and democracy were the principle of civil disobedience and non-violent and peaceful resistance against the harsh shackles of the discriminatory colonial laws of the British ("Satyagraha") as well as the trust or the restriction on products made from native Indian Production (clothing, etc.).

The former lawyer Gandhi first showed Jawaharlal Nehru the importance of a democratic opposition that could appeal to the entire Indian people and not just to a small intellectual minority of the Indian bourgeoisie. Tharoor does not hide the differences of opinion between Gandhi and Nehru, which emerged from their different roles as spiritual leader and pragmatic opposition politician. The father Motilal Nehru influenced the son in his way of thinking? rationalistic, undogmatic and secular principles found their way into Jawaharlal Nehru's worldview.

Split and rule!

Tharoor describes how cynically the British colonial government tried in the years before and in the Second World War to play the increasingly strong Congress party against other movements with similar goals under the motto "Column and Rule". The Muslim party of the "Muslim League", which stood up for an independent Muslim state, was specifically sponsored. Leading congressional politicians were imprisoned to destabilize the growing independence movement and to preserve colonial power? without success. In 1947 the dream of independence for India came true: however, the secession of Muslim Pakistan was now a political reality that even Nehru could not and had to accept.

"... the soul of a nation that has long been oppressed is unfolding."

In describing Nehru's government phase, the author does not take into account the nimbus of the first prime minister. Step by step, Tharoor assesses the main domestic and foreign policy priorities, successes and defeats of Nehru's seventeen-year term in office. Its economic policy was based on a socialist model with dirigistic state control, which, as the author points out, should have a rather detrimental effect on the Indian economy and lead to democratization, nepotism and corruption.

Nehru's biographer draws the next conclusion that? Indian economic socialism, with its strong support for research and science, was ultimately unable to significantly balance out the strong gap between rich and poor. However, Nehru thereby also created the conditions for the current blossoming of the Indian technology and software industry. The prime minister's secular and western-oriented model of democracy was more exemplary and exemplary. Abolished the religious class boundaries, gave the Muslims who remained in the country an Indian identity and gave the multicultural state internal stability to this day.

The name Nehru also stood for the concept of non-aligned politics, which took a neutral stance between the Western powers and the Eastern bloc in the "Cold War". Nehru was undisputedly one of the most important leaders of the newly emerging "Third World" and also its mouthpiece; as their representative he was taken seriously by the western democracies as well as by the communist opponent and respected as a negotiating partner. Tharoor doesn’t hide the interesting aspect either, is there? Nehru inadvertently became the founder of a political dynasty from which three Indian prime ministers have emerged: Nehru himself, daughter Indira Gandhi and grandson Rajiv Gandhi. To this day, the members of the Nehru Gandhi family shape the political guidelines of the Congress? Party.

"Idealism is the realism of tomorrow."

Shashi Tharoor succeeds in depicting India's struggle for survival and independence and of the most important representatives and contemporary witnesses in a lively, vivid, and also less historically educated way, without getting lost in unimportant details. He shows Nehru in all his facets, including those of a convinced Indian patriot and idealist. Nationalism and religious fanaticism were alien to Nehru and played no role during his tenure. Furthermore, according to Tharoor, rationalism and humanism were important cornerstones in Nehru's thinking, whose guiding principle was "Idealism is the realism of tomorrow". The biographical section is complemented by a well thought-out analysis of how and whether Nehru's principles and political goals still endure forty years after his death in what is now India.

The present biography is not only an illuminating study of the historical development of the largest democracy in the world, but also a successful biography of one of the most important statesmen of the last century.

Hagen Stoll
03.06.2006