Memorizing and distorting Nehru-The Tribune Pages


Published on: Nov 26 2014 11:49AM
Lt.Gen.(Retd.) Baljit Singh’s middle article was published on 27th November in The Tribune, my response to it was published on 6th December.

Getting Jawaharlal Nehru’s autograph

My generation of Indians, who entered colleges in the early 1950s, did not have any structured education about neither the nationwide movement seeking independence from colonial rule nor the personalities who were in the vanguard of that mission. My understanding of those momentous times was gleaned chiefly from reading random pages of three books on my father’s bookshelf; biographies of Mahatma Gandhi by C F Andrews and Louis Fischer and “An Autobiography” by Jawaharlal Nehru. In due course, the latter book acquired symbolism of memorabilia.
I had arrived home on winter vacation in December, 1951, a few days prior to Prime Minister Nehru’s address to an election rally at Sangrur where my father was posted as the Deputy Commissioner. There was just one air strip in Punjab those days and Mr Nehru’s motor cavalcade was late by an hour and the crowd of several thousand peasants was becoming restive. But the moment the Prime Minister in a brown-coloured woollen “Achkan” and a white Churidar mounted the podium, there was instant hushed silence which only a charismatic and inspiring personality can infuse among his audience.
Though I was privileged to sit on one of the few chairs upon the rostrum, I was simply mesmerised to be in the shadow of the great man that I paid scant attention to his speech. He finished his exhortation with a flourish, by asking his audience to get up and join him in a full-throated chorus of “Bharat Mata Ki Jai Ho” three times over!
All this while I had sat holding a book and a pen but no sooner did Mr Nehru turn to leave than I stepped forward and, as tutored by my father, opened the book and requested him to autograph it, at the marked page. The catechism “Chacha Nehru” had not gained currency at the time but his love of  children was so evident that not only did he break into a gentle smile but also gladly autographed it and patted me on my cheek. I was to learn later in the day that recounted on that page was Mr Nehru’s arrest at Jaitaun (a village in the interior of Nabha princely state) on May 23, 1923, for inciting disorder by the agitating Akalis and his lodgement in Nabha jail. And when produced in court the following day, a kindly Sikh Magistrate ordered the police to remove the handcuffs as the accused was not a criminal. Mr Nehru was obviously pleased by the fair sense of jurisprudence shown by the Magistrate and even more so by his humanity as a few days later the Magistrate visited the jail to enquire whether he was reasonably comfortable! That endorsement of probity by Mr Nehru was intrinsically valued like a family heirloom because the Magistrate was my father’s father!
As befitting the spirit of the times, the hard binding of the first edition of “An Autobiography” had off-white ‘khadi’ cloth pasted as its outer wrap with his autograph imprinted on the upper half of the front cover which, in a manner of speaking, also symbolised the elegance of Mr Nehru, the man.
Nehru’s Nabha interlude
Lieut-Gen Baljit Singh (retd)’s middle “Getting Jawaharlal Nehru’s autograph” (November 27) has some mistakes. They include:
1. Nehru’s place of arrest was not Jaitun, but Jaitu.
2. The date of arrest as per K. Santhanam’s memoirs, Nehru’s autobiography, is: Date not mentioned, the word ‘autumn’ is used. The plaque at the Nabha high security jail mentions the period “from 22nd September 1923 to 4th October 1923.” How has the author has made it May 23?
3. As far as the conduct of the Magistrate at Nabha (author claims him to be his grandfather) is concerned, after being arrested at Jaitu on September 21, 1923, Nehru, K Santhanam and Acharya Gidwani were sent to Nabha in handcuffs. They were even marched through Jaitu bazaar in handcuffs. They remained handcuffed in the Nabha jail cell, where they were put up on September 22 for two or three days till they were produced before a Magistrate in handcuffs.
Nehru in his autobiography (chapter XVI, An Interlude at Nabha) writes: “Two or three days later we were taken to court for our case, and the most extraordinary and Gilbertian proceedings were held there from day to day. The magistrate or judge seemed to be wholly uneducated. He knew no English, of course, but I doubt if he knew how to write court language, Urdu. We watched him for over a week, and during this time, he never wrote a line. If he wanted to write anything he made court reader do it. We put in number of small applications. He did not pass any orders on them at that time. He kept them and produced them the next day with a note written by somebody else on them….”
Two cases were fostered upon them and a sentence of two and a half years given to them, which was suspended and they were thrown out of Nabha state after two weeks.
As per Nehru, the Magistrate was acting at the behest of a British administrator, who held power in the absence of King Ripudaman Singh, who was made to abdicate in favour of his minor son Pratap Singh.
Chaman Lal, New Delhi
Apart from this Tribune letter, I wish to add that- Writer mentions that at the end of speech Pt. Nehru gave slogan-‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, I doubt this very much. Nehru always gave slogan -‘Jai Hind’ thrice at the end of his public speec whether from Lal Qila on 15th August every year or at any other public speeh. This was followed by all subsequent Prime Ministers, only Narender Modi has deviated from it by calling ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ Author should not have put Modi’s word into Nehru’s mouth!