Thursday, 5 November 2009

The vulgarity of Nehru

Why did Nehru fall under Gandhi's spell? Ultimately, it was because he judged Gandhi to be neither 'vulgar' nor 'common' in the usual manner of the Indian middle class. This at any rate was Frank Moraes opinion.

Another way of putting the same point is that both Nehru and Gandhi left India before they learnt how to get on with, let alone compete with, other educated Indians of their own age and (eventual) social position. Neither attended a rigorously academic High School, let alone College or University.
Unlike people like Aurobindo, Iqbal, Ambedkar and so on, both failed to gain any real academic luster in England. Except, neither really acknowledged that if they hadn't gone farther it was because they couldn't. Okay, Gandhi says matriculating was the best he could do and pipes small about passing the bar exams. But, by then he thought education was a bad thing. In his heart of hearts, Gandhi thought he had a brilliant mind. Had he attended College in India, he'd have been thoroughly disabused of this notion before embarking on a career.
Rather than pursuing a proper course of study to fit them for a role in India, both Gandhi and Nehru were content to get by on their 'England returned gentleman' credentials. Though lawyers by profession, neither mastered Indian law. I don't recall reading that either had learnt even shikast script let alone the minutiae of Indian legal practice.
Though both wrote and talked a lot, neither could be classed as an intellectual. Nehru had a Science degree but remained ignorant of scientific method or the application of mathematics to the study of systems. Gandhi wallowed in Spirituality while remaining oblivious of the manner in which genuine Saints create an atmosphere of trust and co-operation around them such that things like Putnam style 'social capital' or Romer's 'Rule set' are advanced and a settlement is created where new technology can be applied, new techniques tried, socio-economic as well intellectual and educational advancement are catalysed, etc. etc.
If Gandhi really had been a Saint, his Ashrams wouldn't have required huge subsidies from the Birlas and others. They would have developed as commercial and educational centers raising funds rather than wasting them.

Wherein, then, lies the greatness of Gandhi and Nehru? Why- while others abide our question, do these two alone remain free?
The answer, I'm afraid, was that they were equal opportunity snobs despising all Indians irrespective of social or regional origin, entrepreneurial or educational attainment, any sort of distinction that they could not co-opt and level down within the confines of their ashrams or drawing rooms..
Gandhi  patronised genuine Saints with the same assiduity as he patronised faddists and nut-jobs. Nehru made no distinction between experts who understand what they are talking about and glory hound windbags engaged in academic or administrative boondoggle.
Clearly they were great leaders, because they could be guaranteed firstly not lead and secondly to prevent their wishes being quietly defied under their very noses.
That was the great value of the 'England returned' Babu. He had the self-confidence to overawe the first time visitor, while his Munshi defrauds him in plain sight.
Gandhi and Nehru looked after their own health and never took any set-back to heart. This by itself is evidence of the great superficiality of their natures and incredible shallowness of the currents in which their thoughts and feelings ran.
Ultimately their achievements- I mean only the towering positions they came to occupy- were not proof of greatness but lightness of character. Like a feather, they were borne upwards by the dust and the din of great social and political movements which they had neither called into existence nor channeled to any truly productive purpose.
No one who can laugh at himself is wholly vulgar. No one who resigns office once his incompetence is exposed can be called utterly commonplace.
Gandhi and Nehru were both common and vulgar precisely because they never laughed at themselves and, by that laughter, freed the great forces that they appeared to lead from the mystification and nuisance of their  vulgar chatter.
Still, at least they weren't Bengali.

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