BANGALORE : Letters for a Nation from Jawaharlal Nehru to his Chief Ministers is a collection of observations and missives by independent India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru between the years 1947-1963. The letters are still relevant and inspiring as the country seems to be passing through the same phase today and is also facing many issues with its neighbouring countries like China and Pakistan.
This long phase of writing to the heads of the erstwhile provincial governments just two months after attaining freedom was indeed remarkable and exceptional. No other Prime Minister has ever done this in the history of independent India and communicated in such a detailed manner on every issue bothering a fledgling democratic nation.
The book edited by Madhav Khosla has 400 letters which were written fortnightly on the first and 15th of every month with the last letter written on 21st December, 1963. The letters portray an independent India torn asunder by Partition and the ensuing violence, the incidents of communal tension in the eastern and northern parts of the country, the migration of people from India to Pakistan, the fleeing of Hindus from Pakistan, the troubled integration of Kashmir, Junagadh and Hyderabad, the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, left-wing extremism and communist violence, food emergency and the drafting of the Constitution.
This book is organized around five big themes: citizenship, democratic institutions, national planning and development, war and peace and international order. Through these letters, one can observe how Nehru's thinking developed and changed over a period of time against the background of India’s poverty, caste divisions, illiteracy as well as developments across Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas.
Why were these letters written and what importance did they have ? Unlike other standard official letters sent by the head of the government, these letters provided a historical record and were totally different as they shared the Prime Minister's ideas, ideals and thoughts with the provincial heads on issues ranging from Kashmir to the Cold War.
On reading these letters about diverse national and international issues, one clearly gets to understand and know Nehru's political vision as a Prime Minister during those days when India was struggling both socially and economically. Nehru’s unease with violent communism and his commitment to socialism and civil liberties stands out in many of his letters.
Nation building is another aspect that seems to have occupied his thoughts and therefore, a big chunk of letters focus on national planning and development. In a letter dated 3 August, 1948, he writes, “The economic situation shows no sign of improvement and the whole question of controls, among other things, has come up for reconsideration. So far as the cotton textile policy is concerned, control has, for all practical purposes been reimposed. We must confess that we took a wrong step when we removed this control, or at any rate, we took it in a wrong manner, and the results have been very harmful ...,” he admits.
On India’s relations with China and the 1962 War, a troubled Nehru writes that this nation was never interested in peace and always wanted to play a dominant role in this part of the world. “Recent happenings have made a great difference to the balance of power in the world. The most important factor was the emergence of a strong and centralized China. The developments in Tibet rather suddenly made people realize that China might have a long common frontier with India and this new China was probably very different from the old. Also the Himalayan barrier was not quite so effective as it used to be...”
Through his letters, one comes to know of India’s military failings but the great statesman stresses that the reasons for the war and India’s defeat were also because of China’s larger global ambitions. The removal of India was important as it was proving to be an obstacle in those ambitions within the wider currents of international politics.
The book includes eulogies and Nehru’s messages, after the assassination of Gandhi and the deaths of Sardar Patel, Asaf Ali and Rafi Ahmed Kidwai. This interesting read provides deep insights into the history of a just-born India.