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When Stone Walls Cry: The Nehrus in Prison (2016) Oxford University Press. New Delhi. Mushirul Hasan.

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The India Observer, TIO: If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will, no doubt be the greatest calamity for this country… Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost. ~ BR Ambedkar, 1947

The danger to India is not communism. It is Hindu right-wing communalism. ~ Jawaharlal Nehru, 1959

Anyone born in the period of 1950s and 1960s must have heard the name of Jawaharlal Nehru during their school years. Similar is my story. Our school teachers introduced Nehru as the first prime minister of Independent India. During my college days, I came across ‘progressive ideas’, ‘progressive literature’ and ‘progressive thinkers’. Newspapers and magazines became my window to the world, seen through the lens of social justice.

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This current of humanism took deeper roots in my psyche as I experienced untouchability in rural Bihar (and later in urban India). It was when I took job in the railways department that I got to know about the life and work of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. My engagement with the progressive ideas led me to know and read about Bhagat Singh, later in life.

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Now in my 70s, I can happily say that I have three heroes- B.R. Ambedkar, Jawaharlal Nehru and Bhagat Singh. Their fight was for humanity, equality and universal social justice. At this point, I must acknowledge that my readings are limited, being a person from engineering field. Nevertheless, I would like to recommend young readers The Doctor and the Saint (2014) by Arundhati Roy to understand the life of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and Trial of Bhagat Singh (1996) by A.G. Noorani to understand the life of Bhagat Singh.

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I chose to read The Nehrus in Prison (2016) because of my lifelong admiration for Nehru, his cosmopolitan nature, and his commitment towards the freedom struggle. I had known for a long time that J. Nehru spent around nine years of his life in prison, but I had little idea what his actual life was during those days. I knew he was a voracious reader and wrote letters and even history books while locked up in prison. All these together fascinated me to pick this book.

The book has a total of nine chapters and around 200 pages. The first chapter introduces the reader to the literature on Jawaharlal Nehru, his family and the ‘prison studies’ all over the world. The second chapter is about the family history of the Nehrus and of the freedom struggle. The third chapter is the political biography of Motilal Nehru (Jawaharlal Nehru’s father).

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He was a famous lawyer practising in the Allahabad High Court of British India, and later joined the nationalist movement after a series of incidences, one being the treatment meted out to Bhagat Singh. The fourth chapter talks about the pluralism advocated by both Motilal Nehru and his son Jawaharlal Nehru. For the Nehrus, each and every culture can and should learn from each other. The fifth chapter is about Nehru’s support for economic equality and socialist state.

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Chapter six is about the Quit India Movement and the participation of the Nehru clan in it. Chapter seven is about the participation of the women from the Nehru family in the freedom struggle. This includes Jawaharlal’s mother Swarup Rani, wife Kamala Nehru and sister Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit. Chapter eight is about nationalist friends of the Nehrus like Maulana Azad, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, and Mohammad Ali. The final chapter is on the history books written by Jawaharlal Nehru like Discovery of India and Glimpses of World History. For him, history of India, Asia and the world is actually history of humanity at large.

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In this review let me highlight five major points that I would like to share with my readers. First and foremost, J. Nehru was a staunch supporter of economic equality. He highlighted the exploitative character of colonialism. After Independence, he kept on fighting for this by executing land reforms, promoting welfare state, and establishing large scale industries.

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This angered leaders like Rajendra Prasad and G.B. Pant who preferred feudalism and capitalism. Second, Jawaharlal was a supporter of gender equality. His father, Motilal Nehru defended the Civil Marriage Bill, introduced in the viceroy’s council. At that time also, Hindutva groups opposed it. Decades later, when B.R. Ambedkar proposed Hindu Code Bills, leaders like Sardar Patel, Rajendra Prasad, and Purshottamdas Tandon opposed it. J. Nehru supported Dr. Ambedkar but could not convince Hindu leaders. Third, in J. Nehru we see a deep current of internationalism in both thought and practice. He wanted India to have a proper stand in international affairs rather than becoming a puppet in the hand of the West. Fourth, Jawaharlal Nehru was against superstitions and myths. He was more into building schools, colleges, hospitals, academic institutes and dams. And finally, J. Nehru wanted India to be a land of all religions.

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He was an admirer of Buddhist philosophy and had a long list of Muslims friends.

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Mushirul Hasan has not elaborated on the famous Sapru Committee Report, 1945 prepared by Tej Bahadur Sapru despite praising him continuously as a genuinely liberal and cosmopolitan person. I wonder whether Jawaharlal Nehru has written anything like B.R. Ambedkar’s States and Minorities, 1947. Madan Mohan Malaviya and Lala Lajpat Rai were against Motilal Nehru’s liberal attitude. Later, Malaviya signed the Poona Pact, a blot in the history of India. This fact is also missing in the book.

One book that I read decades ago on Nehru was Nehru: A Political Biography (1959) by Michael Brecher. The Nehrus in Prison (2016) is my second book on the subject and I found the book to be very lucidly written. I would recommend this book to everyone interested in knowing the history of India and its first family.

About this Author: Ram Nagina is an Ambedkarite thinker from Ravidasia community.

Edited By Adam Rizvi

Curated and Compiled by Humra Kidwai

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