Ramachandra Guha’s usual selective amnesia, ‘democratic credentials’ of Nehru and venerable Dharampal – some notes

June 26, 2018

Full disclosure: In my opinion  1) The scholarship of Prof Guha is nonexistent in general and if at all it is there, is very partisan and skillfully obfuscatory – of course, this is based on years of reading and observing him 2) Jawaharlal Nehru was a bunch of contradictions & not a democrat – in spite of what his blind hagiographers talk about in breathtakingly glowing terms 3) Dharampal as a historian, scholar and as a human being with incredible integrity, was far, far above the men of straw such as Prof Guha  (I am fortunate that I was able to associate with Dharampal at some point of time – and I have also discussed with him about the incidents involving his ‘letter to all members of parliament‘ that happened in 1962; one of my nostalgic posts about my encounters with Dharampal – in Tamil)

So. As is usual with ‘Prof’ Guha types, this is what he writes – holding aloft the democratic credentials of his own commercially saleable and exploitable icon, in terms of his human rights orientation, morality, freedom of expression, democracy, socialism, sense of ethics etc etc, ad nauseam


Normally, I would ignore the outpourings of the erudite charlatans because there are way too many of them ‘liberals’ out there, I had already debunked one of his eruditely callous rumours and so was tired – but, the following rejoinder from Alok Bhatt caught my attention and it brought a flood of memories…


…and since I happened to know a few facts of the case, I thought I should commit them to writing – thereby improving the perceived value of the rather permanent democratic credentials of JN. (Please note that if anyone is outraged by this post, they know who to blame – Alok Bhatt) ;-)


Okay, let me first say unequivocally that, our war with China in 1962 was a veritable debacle. We lost it.  We lost so many lives, initiatives and self-respect. But we need not have. But I also understand that hind sight is always 20/20.

As CIA documents [1] put it, we can seriously understand “Nehru’s asian, anti-imperialist mental attitude, his proclivity to temporize, and his sincere desire for an amicable Sino-Indian relationship” and his naive ideas about statecraft, his personal side (say, his rather negative ideas about the Indic cultures, bloated ideas about socialism etc etc + people like Indira Priyadarshini, Edwina Mountbatten et al) getting the better of him  and much else. Of course, nobody can dispute the fact that he spent some 13 years in jail for the cause of India. (but, so did many, many, many others – including two of my own ancestors!)

…But then, he was not a mere philosopher or a theoretician or even a half-baked & skewed historian like Prof Guha – he was a Head of State and he should have first and foremost bothered about the unity and integrity of his State. And he should have been able to listen to sane counsels and chart out remedial courses and development discourses.

It is not that Nehru did not have any idea about the intentions of the Chinese. In fact, his Intelligence Bureau (IB) Chief had grave reservations about the matter from at least 1950 onwards. [2]

He also got enough advanced information from the Generals and other secret agencies.

But, even on December 17, 1956 – at the Gettysburg farm of President Dwight David Eisenhower, Nehru was intensely batting for UN security council seat for China perhaps in all innocence and propelled by a vacuous dream of a socialist world… [2]

And, he apparently dismissed the possibility of China attacking India!

So much of statecraft and the ability to assess threats (even when they are staring at one’s face).

Much water has flown under various bridges in Brahmaputra, since then…


Anyway, the context for the unjust arrest of Dharampal and his incarceration – was Dharampal’s circulation of a letter amongst Members of Parliament, after the Indian debacle in our war with China in 1962.

For the crime of Dharampal et al’s questioning the untenable continuance of Nehru as the PM, especially because the latter had not delivered on many things – the trio of Dharampal + Roop Narayan + Narendra Datta were arrested and incarcerated under ‘Defence of India Act!’

The thing is that, though the immediate context for the circulated letter (dated 21st November, 1962) was the China debacle, Dharampal and Narendra Datta were more bothered about the emergence of personality cult around Nehru and curbing of freedom of expression. [3]

Also, at that time, across India state and union governments were arresting a significant number of protesters, just because they were vocal in their criticism. [4]

Dharampal, though he laughed off the whole affair (when I talked to him about this circa 2003, in Sewagram, Maharashtra) made a couple of points clear.

  • That, but for Lal Bahadur Shastri and Jayaprakash ‘JP’  Narayan’s efforts – they would have continued to languish in Tihar.
  • That, though JP tried to take the cases of this trio and many others directly to Nehru, the latter was not willing to listen (and release the unjustly jailed people) because at one level – Nehru assumed that anyone who opposes him is a traitor, because he was thinking he was doing everything for the cause of India and Socialism and that he genuinely thought he never allowed extra constitutional matters to interfere with his discharge of responsibilities as a PM!

Anyway, here is the whole text of the letter in an editable ODT format (Letter to all Members of the Indian Parliament-Dharampal(1962)) and PDF(Letter to all Members of the Indian Parliament-Dharampal(1962)).


Now let us look at the specific parts of the circulated letter, with some annotations. (boldfacing done be me)

In a circular recently sent to all Congress MPs, MLAs, MLCs and Pradesh and District Congress Committees, the All-India Congress Committee has said: “Positive stand against criticism of the Prime Minister should be taken. It must be emphasised that those who criticise him are traitors.

As a PM, and as a Congress party member, Nehru should have objected to the circular issued by Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy as the president of INC then – but he did not. Of course Sanjeeva Reddy reformed himself and became part of JP’s movement later c1975. May be, coming from Sanjeeva Reddy’s stellar freedom fighting background, this was an aberration, but it was all personality cult in those surcharged days so may be this can be condoned… (incidentally, he was a student of my great-grandfather in Ananthapur, Andhrapradesh)

But, from this to ‘India is Indira and Indira is India’ is a mere extrapolation, don’t you think?

And Dharampal et al go on describing the rhetoric of development and progress and what not and say:

Alas! these are words and sentiments which the country has been hearing for the past 1 5 years. Only the context changes. One day it may be grow-more- food; another, the building of modem temples symbolised by steel plants and dams; yet another time, national integration or our quarrel with Pakistan or the endless fight against old prejudices and a hundred other things. The fact is that all content has been drained out from such exhortations and instead of leading to courage, to determination, to hope, each pronouncement of the Prime Minister leaves the people limp.

Dharampal later commented (to me, personally) that, there was way too much talk and rhetoric and so little of action. And Nehru was more interested in projecting his image as an international figure and a diplomat par excellence, than managing his State in spite of so much of groundswell of a support and goodwill!

A National Defence Council and a National Citizens Committee have been formed. The 30 odd members of the first have yet to meet. About the second, the less said the better. May be, with God’s grace, the Prime Minister and his daughter, who respectively chairs these two august bodies and the Prime Minister’s court can save this country and its freedom. Dare one hope? The past gives no assurance.

Around October 1962 after some usual dithering by Nehru, the council and committee are created – with Nehru and his lovely daughter Indira heading the groups. Of course, Indira was a personal assistant / secretary / hostess to Nehru from 1947 till Nehru died in 1964. Of course she was the Congress president in 1959. But, wasn’t there anyone else capable of leading the Citizen’s Committee? Lal Bahadur? JP??

If this not nepotism or dynastic mode or cultism that what else is it?

It is another matter altogether that these two were euthanized soon, with not even a whimper later.

Nobody can expect an old man of seventy-three to stand shoulder to shoulder with men of the Indian Army at Bomdilla (which is no more) or Chushul or some other border posts. But surely, if he feels as he claims, if his pledge has any meaning, if his patriotism has any passion, the Prime Minister can still move over to Tejpur or Gauhati or Shillong or some other place, offer comfort and confidence to the people of Assam, supervise the generals appointed by him and be available on the spot till, as he says, we get rid of the Chinese from Indian soil. But does he have courage? Does he believe in his own words? Does he have hope?

Sadly, Nehru did not do even any of these CBMs – confidence building measures as they are called, now!

In reply to the Government of India, on November 18,1950, the Chinese had said: “The Chinese people’s liberation army will liberate the Tibetan people and defend the frontiers of China. This is the firm policy of the Chinese Government.”

Which were those borders which China had referred to? Did the Government of India enquire? Did the Prime Minister think?

It brings popularity to call the Chinese “this treacherous enemy” but had not one had sufficient notice? Twelve long years is not such a short time.

Dharampal et al point out that though Nehru (and India) did have enough of notice  about the Chinese intentions, we failed to see that – and got generally lost in rhetoric. Isn’t it the duty of the leader and head of State to be aware of all these developments?

Complete tamassic (packaged as ahimsaic or non-interference) attitude on part of a Head of State is not a great attribute in statecraft.

But then, Nehru was lost in his own dreams and rhetoric of panch-sheel and socialist utopia and what not! (while completely ignoring the ground reality, depending on courtiers)

Firstly, it is for the Prime Minister, personally, to make his own choice. Can he be physically with the people who are defending India at our borders and the citizens of Assam who need assurance? Has he the nerve? Can he work as member of a team; can he rise above personal glory? Above all, is he really sorry for all the mess which is there today? In olden times one in his position would have crawled hundreds and thousands of miles to beg forgiveness of one’s fellow beings and of the gods that may be. He at least can tender an unqualified public apology. The people of this country would not deny forgiveness to an old man; if he were really repentant.

It is no crime that in this crisis in India he is not equal to the task. He has done his part in days gone by. But today is no occasion to look to the past. The need is to act so that the Chinese do not come any further and are pushed back in reasonable time; more so, that the fight which is going on serves some purpose. One wants to be certain that we are fighting this battle with firmness, according to some plan.

The issue was that, there was very little planning based on ground realities; again, the decision making skills were totally based on the school of ‘management by non-management!’

If the Prime Minister cannot decide, it is for the Congress Party or the Parliament of this country, or failing both for the head of the Indian Republic to make the choice for the Prime Minister that he retires, and give India a government which knows what it is doing; which does not talk in terms of our eventual triumph but does something today.

Unfortunately, for having had the temerity to question Nehru based on facts of the case, the only way by which his government could face this, was arrest!

The people of this country have been shamed; they have been bewildered by the ways of Government. How long can they wait? It is for the wise people in this country, whoever they are; to see that this shame and anger does not burst its bounds, does not lead to a road which no one desires. Let those be put in charge who can act against the aggressors and not against their own people.

This is a serious charge – but Dharampal has solid facts like the paralyzing of Panchayati Raj to many other aspects of governance(!) to back it up, of course!

The people who criticise the Prime Minister are no less patriotic than he. If anything, their patriotism is more robust.

This is/was the coup d’grace!

Mind you – these statements were from a stellar Gandhian (=Dharampal), who in my opinion has done much more to India and for its resurgence than Nehrus.


The conclusion: with due respect to Nehru (and absolutely NO respect to Prof Guha and his ilk) – Nehru was no paragon of Human rights or for Freedom of thought or opinion. He was very petty and did not brook serious criticism, in spite of the fact that he did not deliver in the first place.

He was only a fair-weather democrat. Thanks!

Notes and references:

[1] Sino-Indian border dispute – a declassified CIA dossier, gives an overall and balanced perspective (of course from an anxious USA’s point-of-view) on the botched opportunities by Nehru’s Indian government and the general purpose dithering – https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/polo-08.pdf

[2] Bruce Reidel – JFK’s Forgotten Crisis: Tibet, the CIA, and the Sino-Indian War – https://www.brookings.edu/book/jfks-forgotten-crisis/

[3] Essential Writings of Dharampal – By Gita Dharampal, 2015 – https://www.amazon.in/Essential-Writings-Dharampal-Gita-ebook/dp/B0787P4R4C

[4] J. P., His Biography – By Allan Scarfe, Wendy Scarfe, 1979 – https://www.amazon.com/J-P-His-Biography-Allan-Scarfe/dp/0861251261


17 Responses to “Ramachandra Guha’s usual selective amnesia, ‘democratic credentials’ of Nehru and venerable Dharampal – some notes”

  1. ஆனந்தம் Says:

    The 1962 emergency (you have not mentioned there was an emergency when Darampal’s letter was written) and 1976 emergency are different in all respects. I don’t have anything to say about Darampal’s (or your own) personal opinions about Nehru. But the arrest of Darampal was the need of the hour. It was not the proper time to expose the incompetence of the PM when the nation was facing the war. To be more specific, HAD FACED the war since ceasefire had been declared one or two days before the letter. (Had the chances of end of the war been remote, that letter can be justified at least halfheartedly.)
    I know Gandhians had conscience and all that. But an individual’s conscience etc have to be set aside in the interests of the Nation.

    //He was only a fair-weather democrat. Thanks!// He had to be. and everyone has to be. Democracy, FOE etc can be taken care of ONLY IN FAIR WEATHER. Even Gandhi was not ‘democratic’ when circumstances were not favorable.

    Doesn’t Modi avoid press conferences and even questions at Parliament? He hasn’t come clean on demonetization even after all these 18+ months, given the fact that it is ONLY an economic reform (claimed so by its supporters) and it had nothing to do with defence or national security, nor is there an emergency or a war., his silence is undemocratic. But supporters like you will can find justifications. In the same way the arrest can be justified even it is undemocratic.

    . that was not the appropriate time and platform.

    • Please note that Dharampal et al were arrested under ‘Defence of India’ act(s) of 1915 and 1939 – which were originally promulgated by the colonial Brits to muffle & strangle the nationalist developments/voices during the times of war that the imperial powers were waging. Nehru’s gov merely & conveniently used it to muffle criticism.

      Again it was Nehru (AFAIK, he did not much get involved in the Constitution making process unlike the Patels, Ambedkars and RajendraPrasads) who quickly went in for the first amendment adding provisos/restrictions to the Fundamental Rights, among others.

      My points were about 1) Nehru’s bloated ‘democratic’ credentials 2) And the ‘balanced’ views of scumbags of the types of Rumourchandra Guha.

      I don’t understand your jibes about Modi and the need for him to ‘come out clean.’ But, you have a right to your opinion.

      Thanks again.


      • ஆனந்தம் Says:

        I think Come clean means confessing something which has not been revealed before. It doesn’t have any connotation of his clean handedness. I’m not a professional Modi hater. I expected him to be transparent about the demonetization affair and was disappointed by his silence. In my previous comment I just wanted to emphasize that any leader has to be a fair weather democrat only. Hope you’d understand

      • ஆனந்தம் Says:

        I think Come clean means confessing something which has not been revealed before. It doesn’t have any connotation of his clean handedness. I’m not a professional Modi hater. I expected him to be transparent about the demonetization affair and was disappointed by his silence. But I don’t accuse him of deriving any personal gain or advantage out of demo. In my previous comment I just wanted to emphasize that any leader has to be a fair weather democrat only. Hope you’d understand

      • Anandam, thanks for the clarification. I do understand.

        But still, I want to differentiate between men of straw and men of steel – and the gray ranges in between.

  2. ஆனந்தம் Says:

    I had clicked the previous comment inadvertently before completing. Sorry.
    Darampal had every right to differ with JN. The letter was the most unwarranted and most inappropriate one in terms of circumstances and the addressees.
    Darampal could have waited till the next election to unseat the PM or to teach him a lesson for his naivety, dithering, undemocratic practices, utopian dreams, and/or whatever shortcomings he had. His act can be compared only to that of Shalya in Mahabharata. (Karna was also undemocratic, ignored advice, even abused Shalya verbally) the only difference being that Shalya could not be arrested. :))))

  3. ஆனந்தம் Says:

    Sorry for troubling you with my half baked knowledge of English. I know my limitations. hence I always prefer Tamil . Since there is some problem in Tamil Typing I had to choose English.

  4. Mbala Says:

    This guy wants to be called pre-eminent historian. Most likely to mean not eminent yet. Mr Anandham will do well to talk to any older Assamese folks. ” proper time to expose incompetence ” We lost. Got shellacked. What was there to expose?

  5. […] Ramachandra Guha’s usual selective amnesia, ‘democratic credentials’ of Nehru and venerable Dh… 26/06/2018 […]

  6. […] democratic credentials (or lack thereof) a lot has been written, including by yours truly. (Ramachandra Guha’s usual selective amnesia, ‘democratic credentials’ of Nehru and venerable Dh… […]

  7. […] Ramachandra Guha’s usual selective amnesia, ‘democratic credentials’ of Nehru and venerable Dh… 26/06/2018 […]

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