Stanley Wolpert
Stanley Wolpert
Nehru:  A Tryst with Destiny
ISBN: 0195100735
Nehru: A Tryst with Destiny
Jawaharlal Nehru was India's royal figure, its matinee idol, its most gifted prime minister. He combined a unique array of talents: compelling oratory, a brilliant mind, good looks, a keen political sense, but he also suffered from brooding isolation. He left an indelible mark on both the country he led to independence, and the world in which he lived. Yet even though Nehru wrote more about himself than did any other modern Indian, "Panditji's" true face has always remained veiled. Following Nehru from childhood, through his Harrow and Cambridge education, to his years as nationalist leader and Prime Minister of India, Stanley Wolpert's compelling, authoritative biography strips Nehru of his many cloaks and covers, removing the public masks he fashioned for himself throughout his mature life. With a subtle analysis of the various influences on Nehru's intellectual and political life--including the early homosexual influences, his conflict with his father, his close relationship with Mahatma Gandhi, his English education, and the years of periodic and sometimes prolonged imprisonment--Wolpert lays open to the reader the most nuanced, insightful rendering of Nehru's life yet written. Wolpert describes Nehru's brief career as a barrister, and his devotion to India's struggle for freedom, following in the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi to the dust and poverty of India's villages. The book traces Jawaharlal's swift rise to the presidency of India's National Congress, revealing how his radical ideas and fearless leadership of Congress's left wing soon won him the martyrdom of long years behind British bars for conducting civil disobedience campaigns. After his release in 1945, Nehru met Lord Mountbatten, with whom he was destined to negotiate the independence and partition of British India into the nation states of India and Pakistan in 1947. Nehru then went on to become India's immensely popular Prime Minister for almost two decades. Wolpert brings Nehru's complex personality to life against a vividly portrayed picture of India's fascinating history throughout its most turbulent century. He shows how India's own destiny was intimately wrapped up in the destiny of Nehru, a charismatic leader who stands among the twentieth century's foremost statesmen.
—from the publisher's website
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Nehru: A Tryst with Destiny
Program Air Date: December 29, 1996

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Stanley Wolpert, author of "Nehru," when you met him in 1957, what did you remember about that day?
STANLEY WOLPERT: Well, he was a most extraordinarily vigorous man, remarkably vigorous for his age, which was 67 at the time. And he had remarkable energy and charisma. There was a charm about him. One had the feeling that he really was focused entirely on the person that he was talking to. And he came over, he had climbed rapidly up the stairs of the Topgar, and he came over to greet myself and my wife, who were just there from America. And he held out his hand, and it was a very powerful introduction. And, of course, later I spent an hour with him in New Delhi in his office, and we were talking about my doctoral dissertation, which I had been working on for years and had been reading very intensively. And he remembered all of these things and really had an extraordinary interest in history and great recall. He was remarkably brilliant and very charismatic.
LAMB: How big was he?
WOLPERT: He wasn't that tall. He was surprisingly short, though he seemed enormous in most public gatherings. But he was quite short.
LAMB: Why a book? You say in the back that hundreds of books have been written about him.
WOLPERT: Oh, yes. Well, I didn't have the courage, really, to write about him until I had lived through more than 30 years of teaching Indian history. And at first I thought, because I was so impressed with his extraordinary ability to explain and articulate and be himself in his autobiography and his discovery of India and other things, that he had written everything. Then as more of his letters and his prison diaries came out, I realized that he had covered up many of the most important and basic aspects of not only his own life but his own role in history. And the story really hadn't been told, and it was a very surprising revelation to me of how different he was, in fact, from the persona that he liked to project. He had a remarkable ability, I think, to engage one's thinking and to seem to be a person of one character and actually to disguise the inner person, which was very difficult.
LAMB: When did he live?
WOLPERT: Oh, Nehru was born in 1989 and died in 1964.
LAMB: 1889?
WOLPERT: I'm sorry, 1889.
LAMB: When was he the leader?
WOLPERT: He became India's first prime minister at independence at midnight hour of mid-August, 1947. The tryst with destiny was then realized. And, of course, he died as prime minister in May of 1964. So he was India's first, longest, most powerful, most important prime minister and then passed on his legacy to his daughter, Indira, who also ruled for some 15 years, and his grandson Rajiv, who of course ruled very briefly. But both Indira and Rajiv died in office.
LAMB: When was the last time you were in India?
WOLPERT: I was in India two months ago.
LAMB: How many times have you been there in your life?
WOLPERT: Oh, I suppose about 30.
LAMB: How long does it take to get from there from here?
WOLPERT: Now the direct flight that I take from Los Angeles to Hong Kong and then to Delhi is really about 20 hours.
LAMB: You say when India became an independent state, country, it was 250 million people.
WOLPERT: Close to 300 million.
LAMB: What is it today?
WOLPERT: Nine hundred and fifty million.
LAMB: If I read my geography right, it's one-third the size of the United States...
LAMB: ...but almost four times the population. What's it like there?
WOLPERT: Well, the population density is apparent in Delhi, for example, which is a relatively -- or was when I first came -- a relatively sparsely populated place compared to Kalkun and Bombay. Now a million people are added each year, and it's become so crowded and polluted that it's very difficult now to really travel outside the very center and heart of Delhi without finding yourself in an area that is extraordinarily choking. It's worse than Los Angeles, let me put it that way.
LAMB: Why do you like it?
WOLPERT: I love it because I went there when I was 20. I spent three months, first, in Bombay, then in Calcutta, then Chittagong. I was on a ship. I was a marine engineer. And India's a wonderfully rich, vital, varied society and country. It's an environment that is so replete with every facet of the world. And it's something that gets into your blood, I think, very, very early if you see it early, if you can appreciate it, and if you can rise above the trauma and the tragedy of Indian poverty dirt. There are many aspects that are obviously horrible, but there is so much that's beautiful and so much that's culturally rich. And 4,000 years of history has left a legacy that is so extraordinary: the art, the music, the people. There's a vitality, a warmth, a joy about them that I find engaging.
LAMB: What's the difference if you were living in India and living in the United States?
WOLPERT: The difference ...
LAMB: Of life. What the difference, on a day-to-day basis, what would you notice today?
WOLPERT: I think the most pervasive difference is the level of privacy. Here I think we have privacy, cleanliness, safety. We have all of the extraordinary advantages of affluence. In India, there is an affluent portion of society, 200 million or so of the 950 million, who can enjoy that kind of leisure, that kind of cleanliness and self-assurance. But when you get into India, mostly you are engaged with a society that's intimately involved with so many people and so much that is happening all the time that it's very difficult to have any time by yourself. Perhaps it's just because when I go I know so many people and I see so many and there is so much discussion, so much activity, so much ...
LAMB: What language do most Indians speak?
WOLPERT: Well, the national language is Hindi. The language, of course, that most intellectuals speak is English. Of the regional languages, at least 14 that have been recognized. But I think with Hindi and English, you can go virtually all over India and make yourself understood.
LAMB: Where do you live?
WOLPERT: Los Angeles.
LAMB: What do you do full-time?
WOLPERT: I teach at UCLA. I teach the history of India and Pakistan as well, and I have done that since 1958. And when I'm not teaching, I'm writing.
LAMB: Students in your class are there for what reason?
WOLPERT: Well, I think many of them now --it's a very interesting development over the last 10 years -- many of them are Indian descent. They are students who have never been to India, but who have been born of Indian parents who have emigrated to America. They would like to learn something about their culture, and they find it very engaging, very exciting. It's always a gratification to me to have Indians come up to me and say, "I never realized how exciting and important our history is." And as a matter of fact, the last winter I taught Indian history at Brown University and launched a chair -- the dust chair there. And most of the students in my class were of Indian descent, and they were very, very enthusiastic. Of course, they're marvelous student anyway; they get the best students in the country. But the excitement and the enthusiasm was very gratifying.
LAMB: What kind of government does it have?
WOLPERT: India has a parliamentary democratic government. The last election was held in May. The present united front -- left front, as it is called, has a prime minister, Dewe Gowda, has its leader. It also has a president, but the president, very much like the president of the Vymar Republic Constitution, is a less important, less significant figure. The prime minister and his cabinet -- it's responsible government based on the British model, and it has had that since 1947.
LAMB: Is there an upper and lower house?
WOLPERT: There is. Lok Sabha is the most important part of the lower house. Raja, sub of the upper house is similar to, really, the House of Lords in England. The House of Commons in Lok Sabha -- House of the people, lok -- is the powerful body where legislation is discussed and debated and enacted.
LAMB: Does India have the nuclear bomb?
LAMB: And why?
WOLPERT: Well, it's had it since 1974. The first explosion, actually, was byin Rajasthan during Indira Gandhi's government. India continues to deny that it has the bomb, but in fact has been ... if it doesn't have bombs that can be dropped tomorrow, they could be certainly ready the day after tomorrow.

The Indians feel, I think at this point, that they're in jeopardy from two directions: from China, primarily, which does obviously have many nuclear weapons; and from Pakistan to the west, which also has nuclear weapons at this juncture. And the coalition, really, of the Pak and Chinese alliance that dates from the days of Zufi Taralley Butos regime, has given the Indians a sense of insecurity. And they feel that without the bomb, that they would be in jeopardy, especially given the fact that the Kashmir conflict has continued to plague both India and Pakistan for almost 50 years now. It's a most horrendous legacy of the partition, and internationally it has led to two wars. And both nations now have the wherewithal, if they were to ever fight another war, to do so with nuclear weapons.
LAMB: What do the Indians, or the leadership in India think of the United States?
WOLPERT: I think most Indians feel that most Americans are like themselves, are very warm and friendly people, and therefore there's a very strong and engaging warmth and friendship that Indians have for Americans. But I think there have always been areas of conflict, and those areas of conflict have recently, of course, been exacerbated by the refusal of India to sign the CTBT and the difficulties that India has always had in resolving its conflicts with Pakistan, especially over Kashmir.
LAMB: And what is it that they won't sign?
WOLPERT: Well, the comprehensive test ban treaty, which India has refused to sign, and the nuclear nonproliferation treaty.
LAMB: Why?
WOLPERT: Both, again, would put India in a position where they would feel that they had to ban and stop making nuclear weapons, and they don't want to do that.
LAMB: When was the last time an Indian leader came here or an American went to India -- American leader?
WOLPERT: Well, the Indian leaders are always coming here.
LAMB: I'm talking about the top chief of ...
WOLPERT: The prime minister -- the current prime minister has not been to America. He was just selected, as I said, in May; nor has Sinhorow, who was the prime minister the last five years, has been to America. I think he was here twice and, of course, was here many times before he was prime minister. As far as Americans visiting Delhi, I don't know if the president is going on his current swing in Asia; I don't believe he is. But, of course, Mrs. Clinton was there last year or the year before. And we do have a number of exchanges at the top periodically.
LAMB: Back to the book. How did you go about writing this book?
WOLPERT: Well, I lived with the history of India for the last 40 years, and the history of India is very intimately connected with the life of Nehru. After meeting Nehru, I thought that I really wouldn't have anything to add, as I said initially. But the more I read of the history of India's not only independence struggle, but also partition, the more I realize that Nehru's role was central and was basically misunderstood. And I thought that it was important, really, to focus on Nehru before I stopped writing entirely because I think the story of Nehru is really the story of India's emergence as a modern-nation state. And in some measure, it is the story of the trauma and the tragedy of South Asia, of a conflict between India and Pakistan, which has continued.
LAMB: Who is this?
WOLPERT: Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal's, father. He was a remarkably important and powerful figure. He was one of the wealthiest lawyers of north India. He was himself an Anglopho. He had been trained, of course, in Lahabad, but he had also studied and understood English ways and English habits. He dressed as a pucka Englishman. He had Englishman leaders to his house, and they enjoyed champagne and all of the fine foods. He was a gourmet.

I think the story that he sent his laundry to Paris to be properly laundered is probably apocryphal, but it gives some idea of the kind of appreciation he had of the West and Western habits and Western culture. But he had more than that. He really visualized his son as becoming if not the first viceroy, Indian viceroy, at least a man who could feel at home with every Englishman and woman, including the royal family. So at the age of 15 he took Jawaharlal to Harrow, and he enrolled him in the second-best public school of England. Of course, that set Nehru on his path to also becoming not only an Anglophobe, but also, in many ways, English in his habits as well as his tastes as well as his predilection.
LAMB: What jobs did the father have in the country?
WOLPERT: Motilal was, as I say, a very important and powerful lawyer. He was also president of the Indian National Congress at one point, after the Amritsar massacre in 1919. And he bequeathed to Jawaharlal and to his granddaughter, Indira, this sense of importance of mission, of the possibility of rising to the top. The Nehrus were, of course, Kashmiri Brahmans, the highest caste of India. They considered themselves Kashmiri, even though the Nehru family itself had come down to Delhi several centuries before the birth of Jawaharlal. But they always spoke of themselves as Kashmiri, and I think in part that romance led to Jawaharlal's commitment to holding Kashmir for India at all costs.
LAMB: Back to this picture for a moment. The three people in that picture are?
WOLPERT: Indira is, of course, Jawaharlal's daughter. She was not only his daughter but his only child, and he very often addressed her. And the boy in many ways became not only his heir, but also the son of the first prime minister. And, of course, Rajiv is her son, her elder son, and three of them, the Nehru dynasty premiers, all of whom ruled India for most of the first half-century of its independence.
LAMB: How long was the father, meaning ...
WOLPERT: Motilal.
LAMB: No, his son.
WOLPERT: Jawaharlal.
LAMB: The one that you're writing about here ...
WOLPERT: Jawaharlal.
LAMB: ... how long was he prime minister of ...
WOLPERT: Seventeen years.
LAMB: And how long was Indira prime minister?
WOLPERT: Fifteen.
LAMB: And then how long was Rajiv?
WOLPERT: Oh, Rajiv was only a few years.
LAMB: Nehru died how?
WOLPERT: In bed.
LAMB: How old?
WOLPERT: In 1964, he was 75.
LAMB: Well, what did he die of?
WOLPERT: His aorta burst. He had some serious kidney problems earlier. He had a number of other illnesses -- fainting spells, slight strokes. But finally in the middle of the night his aorta burst and massive bleeding and he never woke up.
LAMB: How did Indira die?
WOLPERT: She was assassinated. She was gunned down by two of her Sikh guards on the 31st of October, on Halloween 1984. That was shortly after she had given the go-ahead to Operation Blue Star, when the tanks rolled into the Golden Temple in Amritsar. And at that point, of course, she had really signed her death warrant because the Sikhs have very long memories, and they felt that that kind of invasion into the Vatican, the mecca of the Sikh faith was intolerable.
LAMB: What's a Sikh?
WOLPERT: A Sikh is one of the religious groups in India, only 2 percent of the population, but very, very important. Sikh literally means `disciple' -- disciple of the guru's guru. Anonic, the first of the gurus, and Guru Gogan, the last of the 10 gurus, were not worshiped, but viewed as remarkably enlightened beings. And, of course, the Sikhs do have their own temple. They have temples that are called gudwarres, which are the guru's door. And the Sikhs became very famous, mostly in the British army, during the period of the Raj with their turbans, with their long beards. They have these very strong rules about never shaving -- men never shaving their beards or cutting their hair -- again, a kind of symbol of power. And they were united into a very strong army also.
LAMB: How was Rajiv -- how did he die?
WOLPERT: Rajiv was assassinated by a suicide bomb -- a suicide woman who belonged to the Tamil Tigers in South India. When he was campaigning for re-election in May of 1991, he felt overconfident, and he discarded the close guarding that had protected him. And this one woman came and bowed down to him in the Indian fashion, triggering the explosion that blew him, her and 15 other people.
LAMB: Are there any other Nehrus in line?
WOLPERT: There are heirs to the dynasty, but none of them are politically active at the moment.
LAMB: What's the Raj?
WOLPERT: Oh, Raj is rule. The British called their period of crowned rule the Raj, and Indians generally did. And Raj as Raja means "king," and it goes back to the old days of when the Orients first came into India in the middle of the second millennium BC. They had Rajas in charge -- the kings in charge of the tribes.
LAMB: How long did Britain run India?
WOLPERT: Well, the British actually established crown rule after the so-called mutiny -- which was the war of '57, '58 -- was put down 1858, and then they left in '47. So it was really a period of intense crown rule for less than a century, 90 years.
LAMB: And how did it happen that the British gave up power?
WOLPERT: Well, the transfer of power again is part of the story of this book. And the congress -- Indian National Congress -- started in 1885, was really designed to bring all Indians together in a nationalist movement to show the British and to appeal to them to let Indians runs India because they did have this sense of not only pride in what they had learned from the British but also a sense of revulsion at British racial treatment and antipathy to Indians which came out during this horrible conflict in '57, 1857, '58. And what the Indians did therefore was to struggle very hard for independence from the British and continue that struggle until 1947. World War II, I think, led to a high point of the conflict, which, of course, turned into a violent revolutionary conflict after 1942. And most of the leaders of congress were jailed at that time.

By that time, India's Muslim population, the quarter of the population who adhere to Islam, basically felt that they could no longer go with congress; that the congress did not represent them. And they had a separatist organization, the Muslim League, which called for a Pakistan after 1940 which would be the land of the pure, literally, of the Muslims and which would be carved out of the northeast and northwest of the British provinces in India. The emergence of Pakistan the 14th of August, the day before India is born on the 15th of August, is a result of that. You see, the ...
LAMB: They used to be together, India and Pakistan?
WOLPERT: India and Pakistan were integrated as the British empire. And in India, the British Indian empire consisted not only of these provinces that have become India and Pakistan and now Bangladesh since 1971, because East Pakistan merged independent, but also 570 princely states. And that all has been transformed into what is now really the three republics of Pakistan to the west, India in the middle and Bangladesh on the east.
LAMB: Where's Kashmir?
WOLPERT: Kashmir is the northern crown and was the largest state of the 570 princely states. And Kashmir, of course, is partitioned, in fact, between one-third of the western part, the Azad Kashmir, as it's called, which is part of Pakistan, and the rest of Kashmir, which includes Jammu and the Bail of -- of Kashmir, with Srinagar and which is an integral part of the Indian union. Kashmir is the northern peak of the entire subcontinent.
LAMB: This picture right here is?
WOLPERT: That's Lady Mountbatten, Edwinna and Zhwarlo. They, of course, had a very close friendship and loving relationship toward the end of Nehru's life and until Edwinna herself died.
LAMB: That's kind of a subplot in your book; that they had a personal relationship, you know, all through the book. Who was Mountbatten?
WOLPERT: Mountbatten was the last British viceroy, but it wasn't all through the book because they actually didn't really come together until World War II. And, of course, after Mountbatten came to India as the last British viceroy and ...
LAMB: What's a viceroy, by the way?
WOLPERT: ... a viceroy, of course, governor general, the head of state, we would say, the equivalent of the president. But the thing that Nehru called himself -- Nehru often said that he was the last British viceroy, and that since he was in many ways more of an Englishman than an Indian, he continued to rule in the English authoritarian tradition. But he did have that charismatic appeal as an Indian nationalist.

But the transfer of power, you see, really occurred in a remarkably brief and quick way once the war ended. The British were sick of not only the conflict and the struggle, but they were also sick of India. They felt that India had become a drain. Sterling balances had gone the other way, and the British, really the Labour Party was very keen to cut away from the empire.

Had Attlee not been elected, it's possible that Churchill would have insisted that the British hold on to India. But Attlee ...
LAMB: When was he elected -- Clement Attlee?
WOLPERT: In '45, yes.
LAMB: After the war?
WOLPERT: Just after the war ended. And Attlee felt -- and I think rightly so -- that it was appropriate for India to obtain independence status and to stand on its own feet, as congress, as Indians of congress and the league had been demanding for a long time. And so he sent out a cabinet mission, and that cabinet mission was remarkably good at trying to arrange what would have been transfer of power from Britain to a single India, a unified India. And the three wise men, as they were called, reached a conclusion which was a very elaborate formula -- I won't go into it -- that would have been a condominium, really, and what would have been a loose federation at the top, but would have included what is now Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. And when that agreement had been finalized, Mahatma Gandhi, who of course was the guru, the elder statesman, the revered leader, the worshiped head of the Indian National Congress, Mahatma Gandhi said, "Thank God the British have finally given the justified solution to all of the ills that they have brought upon us ... will now be removed by this formula which at last has been promised."

And even Jinnah, who was the head of the Muslim League, the kideazone, the great leader of the Muslims, and who was remarkably insistent upon separation of the Muslim-majority provinces, until this point, even Jinnah said, "All right, we will agree. It is a formula that we will not accept forever because we will continue to agitate for and demand Pakistan. But we will agree in the name of reconciliation and the cooperation of peace."

But Nehru, who had just become president of congress again -- he had been president earlier, but had just taken it back from Balan Azahd -- called a press conference, and he said, "We are really not a constituent assembly, we are not going to adhere to any of the requirements of the settlement that has been reached because the constituent assembly will be a sovereign body and can make its own rules." And what he he really did again, quite impulsively and impetuously, something which he later said he was very sorry he had done, was to let loose a struggle that became a civil war for the last year of the British Raj 60 -- '46 to '47. Jinnah said, "We say goodbye to constitutionalism now if they will not adhere to this formula." He called for direct action.

Calcutta killing was let loose. The blood flowed in both East and West, a terrible traumatic tragedy. And the civil war, of course, finally ended with a partition, the drawing of these two lines, through the middle of the Punjab, through the middle of Bengal. And two lines led to a massive transfer of population, both sides. Ten million people -- Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus -- changed sides in a matter of days, weeks, months. And a million of them, of course, died en route. Trains that were filled with dead bodies kept coming in.

Then when it was too late everyone realized that Gandhi, of course, who was the one leader at the time who said that we must not vivisect the mother -- he spoke of India as the motherland -- we must not think in terms of dividing this enormous entity. The British also were very concerned about division because they had integrated India in so many ways. The rail net and the telegraph and postal systems, the civil service, all of this have taken, as I said, 90 years to really bring together. And suddenly it was going to be torn apart, and that was why Gandhi had recommended, when he first met Mountbatten, when Mountbatten first came out to be viceroy. And Mountbatten said, "What can we do to solve the problems that are so traumatic and so dreadful? You, Mahatma, must surely have the answer." And Gandhi said, "Yes, you must appoint Jinnah as prime minister." Nehru, you see, was the interim prime minister at the time.

And Mountbatten was staggered by this and shocked, and he said, "But what will Mr. Jinnah say if I tell him that you suggested this?" And Gandhi said, "He will say '… Ghandi.'" Mountbatten said, "But wouldn't it be just that? Wouldn't this just be a hoax to lure him into a position where his own leadership of the Muslim League would become untenable?" And he said, "No, I'm totally sincere. It is the only way that we can avoid this bloodshed, this horrible..." -- because Gandhi had this ability to understand the depth of feeling, the passion, the tremendous hatred that had been generated by both sides on the basis of religion: Muslims, Hindus who had lived together for so many years, suddenly able to destroy each other, Sikhs ... and kill each other.

And it was a terrible, terrible vision of destruction. And Mountbatten was amazed. He didn't really -- he hadn't really considered this. He thought that he had come out to implement the division, and he was ready to do that. And when he asked Nehru what he thought of it, Nehru said, "The old man is out of touch."
LAMB: Back to the relationship between Edwina and Nehru; how could they have carried on a relationship, an affair? How long did it go on? --20 years?
WOLPERT: No, no.
LAMB: Fifteen? Fifteen years?
WOLPERT: No. No, no. It, well, it was -- yes, it was from the time that Mountbatten came to India, from '46...
LAMB: Till '60.
WOLPERT: ... '60 when she died.
LAMB: You know, they -- I'm looking at a 1947 retreat when they went off together.
WOLPERT: With Sherbert.
LAMB: The Lord Mountbatten was there and she was there and so was Nehru. It was openly known at the time that they were together -- Nehru and Mountbatten's wife?
WOLPERT: Well, Dickie later referred to her ...
LAMB: Dickie -- Lord Mountbatten.
WOLPERT: Dickie Mountbatten to the love letters, and I think that most of those who were close to them were aware. The heirs to both sides have not admitted this. The ...
LAMB: They still haven't admitted it.
WOLPERT: The family line, as Lord Ramsay put it, is that they were friends. They were just friends.
LAMB: How'd you find out more?
WOLPERT: But I think it is clear that given the nature of the letters that they exchanged, given the nature of the reports that people who knew them, including Nehru's private secretary reported about them -- and I did see them. The last time I saw Nehru, I saw them together. And it was quite-- it was quite vivid in my mind because of course it was the last time I had seen him. They had come into the National, the Lolet Academy, the opening of the cultural academy in Delhi, and they sat just in front of us and they were giggling and laughing and holding hands and almost an adolescent friendship and warmth. But I think that it was much more than that as time went on.
LAMB: What did they see in each other?
WOLPERT: I think Nehru was a very lonely, isolated figure. He was extraordinarily isolated in so many ways, in his inner depth from his early youth. His marriage was arranged. See, he was living in England from 1905 -- from when he was 15 till he was 22. And in Harrow and Cambridge, he associated with Englishmen, Englishwomen. His father, however, was very keen to bring him back. He wanted him to marry, and his father and mother, of course were getting on and they were very eager to arrange a Kashmiri-Brahman wedding for their only son and heir. And when his father insisted that he marry Kamala, who Motilal had chosen for his son, Nehru...
LAMB: Kamala is ...
WOLPERT: ... of course ...
LAMB: Kamala is Nehru's ...
WOLPERT: ... Nehru's wife. By this time, Nehru, who had written in vain a number of letters saying, "I really don't want to get married, it's really not necessary for me to marry, it's not necessary certainly for me to marry an Indian. I don't have to marry a Kashmiri," trying in every way to put this arranged marriage off track. And finally Nehru said, "Well, you're the man on the spot," as though he were talking to an English sub--subordinate. He said, "You have to make the decision."

So that marriage never really worked and Nehru never had the kind of intimacy with his wife that he found with Edwina. He found it, in some measure, with Indira. His daughter was trained by him and brought up and educated. His "Glimpses of World History," which are letters that he wrote to Indira while she was growing up about all of world history, filled her with the ideas, the emotions that would lead to her becoming his successor at the top.

But I think that Edwina was the first woman he could really relate to in an intimate and warm way and really talk to, laugh with and joke with and feel a sense of kinship. And she, too, always a very lonely, extraordinarily wealthy Englishwoman, of course. Her marriage to Dickie was not arranged, but it was never the kind of marriage that would give her a sense of fulfillment. He was always off with the fleet. He was very busy usually in foreign ports or in foreign seas and Edwina then became very much involved with many men and was notoriously known to be a--a woman engaged with many men.

But I don't think, until Nehru, there was any single person who really satisfied her need for intellectual comradeship. She and Nehru were on the same wavelength and they really shared so many ideas. They were both very, very committed to changing the world in as rapid a way as possible to socialists' concepts, to radical transformations. They loved the same music, they loved the same books and he continued to appeal to her, I think, in ways that were as even more powerful than she appealed to him. I think she adored him. I think he did love her, but I don't think that he was completely enraptured and captivated.
LAMB: You suggested that Nehru had a relationship with Claire Blooth -- Clare Boothe Luce.
WOLPERT: Well, they knew each other and they had met several times and ...
LAMB: You called it "a passionate interlude."
WOLPERT: ... she had come to India several times and he was very keen to see her again when he came here for the presidential...
LAMB: What did you mean, though, by "a brief but passionate interlude," that their affair in Delhi had been sweet but too short'? I mean, they had also a relationship?
WOLPERT: It is possible that they did have a relationship. He had several. He had many women who really adored him. And I think he was a man who had very strong and powerful interests in women of not just beautiful quality but also women of power, women of a certain interest in world affairs and women who had...
LAMB: Where is this picture taken right here?
WOLPERT: That just as he's arriving in Hyannis Port -- at the Rose Garden in Washington. When he came for the state visit with President Kennedy in '61, of course, he was very much intrigued by Mrs. Kennedy and liked to be with her as often as he could and as much as he could.
LAMB: A place in your book you say that Indira was haunted by ghosts all her life.
WOLPERT: Well, she had many strange problems from very early. She had, as an only child, of course, had seen her mother go into a number of sanatoria. She'd suffered from tuberculosis shortly after Indira was born, died from tuberculosis, of course, in Switzerland. And Indira was taken out of school by her father so that she could come with him to Europe at that time and be with her mother and care for her mother. And I think Indira was very much like her mother, related to and identified with her mother and for a long time it seemed as if she, too, had tuberculosis. But none of those tests proved that there was any. She remained, however, remarkably frail and she had a number of breakdowns, which were prolonged at one point shortly before she married … But Indira had, again, never really had a successful marriage like her father. It was doomed almost from the start, certainly after Sanjay's birth.
LAMB: Who's Sanjay?
WOLPERT: The younger son. There were two sons, Rajiv, of course, who inherited her mantle as soon as she had died. The martyrdom that was given to her by the assassination in 1984 led to his -- the largest majority that any leader of Congress ever had -- 400 seats in Lok Sabha. And he was elected a little more than a month later, in December. The younger son, Sanjay, had gone down in a plane crash. It was a new plane that he had just been given, a stunt plane, and he loved flying, he loved risks. And he immediately went up in it before it was properly tested. And it came down, of course, with his instructor, as well as himself over Delhi in 1980.

And I think at that point, Indira really felt that she had lost the most precious person because he had been very much like her. He was an activist, he was a politically inspired person. He wanted power; he loved power. And he wanted to have something to do with every aspect of the political scene.

And when he died I think she felt that she had lost her vital being, and I think she became much more mystical and she started to appeal to swamis and to soothsayers and to any other strange people who were telling her a number of things that would happen. But I think she was like her father, a person who believed in this magical transfer of mind and association. He, very often in his letters to her, said that he felt that he was with her mentally when she was in Kashmir, when he was in prison; when she was en route to Europe to be with her dying mother and he was about to come. And he would explain how he intuited her in his mind; he felt could move with her and very often dreamed about flying. And I think he had this sense of transfer which many yogis in India claimed to have.
LAMB: Nine years for Nehru in prison. How many different times was he in prison and where?
WOLPERT: Oh, most of the time in Allahabad, initially, but toward the end the longest stay was in Ahmadnagar Fort, which is in Maharashtra in south-central India.
LAMB: For what reason?
WOLPERT: And he was always in prison for the same reason. The British considered many of the things that he said seditious, dangerous to the raj, to law and order, and many of the things that he said were designed to inspire hatred of the raj and, also, to rouse Indians to a sense of righteous rebellion. Gandhi as well, remember, was imprisoned. Gandhi always insisted, of course, on non-violence and non-violent means, which he felt were necessary if the end was going to be a pure end.

Nehru was less scrupulous about means and ends. Nehru felt that revolution would liberate India, would bring India the freedom that he was struggling all of his mature life for. He insisted on complete independence. He didn't want dominion status. He wanted (foreign language spoken). He felt that the British would be an incubus to India, that is until he obtained power. When he obtained power he suddenly felt that dominion status was all right; that a relationship with the British could continue and that it would be perfectly possible for them to work together. Many of his ideas, of course, were mollified by power and by time, many of the very intense revolutionary and radical ideas that he had.

But the British arrested all of the members of the working committee of Congress in 1942, kept them all in prison throughout the war, because Gandhi had launched this last of his Sadiagra campaign. "Do or die," he said. The mantra he gave them was (foreign language spoken): "We don't do, we die."
LAMB: You said that Nehru came out of prison and a study, preferring the Soviet model of central democracy. What does that mean. What's a Soviet model of ...
WOLPERT: Nehru was always impressed with the Soviet Union from his first visit in 1927. He had earlier been a Fabian socialist when he was at Cambridge and he met with and heard George Bernard Shaw, who spoke there at Trinity College, and was very impressed with him. But when he went to Russia, I think he felt that the Russian revolution -- the Soviet model -- was really the model for India to follow. And so he launched the Five-Year Plan. His economic plan, of course, was to bring India up in this way and to give India a superstructure of technology, of steel -- iron and steel -- and later, of course, nuclear power as well. He became the ... and remained his own nuclear minister in the Cabinet, retaining that as well as foreign affairs.

But he was long impressed, I think, with the Soviet Union, and he thought that the technique by which India could improve most rapidly and do away with poverty most quickly was by state control. And, of course, we now know that that was a basic -- one of the many mistakes that he made. Being as great as he was, he made great mistakes as well. And he had this vision, I think, for really his entire life and continued continued to feel that the Chinese and Indians could be brothers -- Hindu chinpaivai which was his slogan for a long time, and Panch Shila, the Five Principles of friendly cooperation and peaceful coexistence with China. That was shattered in 1962.

The Indian planning, socialist belief in faith and economic development as the key to the elimination of poverty -- I think that has been virtually abandoned now. And the last five years, of course, the introduction, thanks to Munno and Sings, changes the economic globalization of India has given India more economic advancement, I think, than it had in the previous 45. So from that point of view, again, Nehru had failed to really appreciate and understand the flaws in his policy.

You see, he never really had advisers who would tell him that he was wrong. The only one he listened to for most of his period in power, in terms of any formal advice, was Krishna Mennan. And Krishna Mennan was something of his dark side. He was his alter ego, he was his confidante. It was Krishna Mennan, of course, who was Nehru's spokesman at the United Nations as well as being his high commissioner in England and who was his voice on Kashmir. And Krishna Mennan's intransigence, of course, on this matter was a reflection of Nehru's own position and feeling.

But I think that when he became minister of defense he, of course, like Nehru, was very much enamored not only of Marxism but of China as well as the Soviet Union and felt that India was in no jeopardy from China, certainly would not be invaded by its Asian brother that had just emerged from colonialism. So India was totally unready for the invasion in 1962 and, of course, it did lead to Nehru's final insistence that Mennan step down from the Cabinet. Until then, it was not possible for him to see the failures.
LAMB: Nehru died in 1964.
LAMB: What year was Gandhi assassinated -- Mahatma Gandhi?
WOLPERT: Well, he was assassinated in '48 -- 30th of January, 1948.
LAMB: What was their relationship?
WOLPERT: And their relationship initially was one of Nehru adopting Gandhi, really, as his father. His own relationship with Motilal had become strained for a variety of reasons that I go into, and he lost his feeling of confidence in Motilal, I think, after he was forced to come back and marry and settle down to a provincial life as a barrister in Allahabad. His father was too conservative for him -- kowtowed too much to the British.

Gandhi was, on the other hand, a man of the people. He was a revolutionary. He had divested himself of all of his Saville Row wardrobe. He had become a village peasant in appearance, even though he remained a universal thinker and a remarkable mahatma in his manner and in his method. And Nehru found Gandhi so appealing that he really was determined to follow him. He followed him into the villages. It was an epithany for him, an awakening, when he first saw the village peasants who gathered round him with such adulation and love. And he was totally enraptured by that. And, of course, when he went to jail -- for the first time, it was following Gandhi's revolutionary call.

When Gandhi, however, in 1922 called off the national satyagraha because of the murder of a number of police and in Chauri Chaura and said, "We cannot have a peaceful movement if we're going to, in this way, have murder and butchery. I've committed a Mauryan blunder," as Gandhi said. Nehru was shocked. He was in prison and he said, "Why has he done this?" And he began to lose his sense of admiration and total adulation for Gandhi, and the rift between them grew wider and wider for the remainder of Gandhi's life.

Gandhi himself continued to speak of Nehru as his heir because Gandhi, I think, recognized that Nehru, despite his emotionalism, despite his impulsiveness, despite his arrogance, did have a tremendously strong vision for India, an appreciation of world problems. He could speak to the English in their own language most effectively of all the leaders of Congress. And Gandhi continued, therefore, to feel that Nehru could come along and could be persuaded, when the time came at the very end, that he must change his ways; that he must mollify his demands and his desires in the better interest and the greater interest of the Indian masses and people.

But Nehru, of course, became more and more remote from Gandhi, until finally toward the very end he would really not see Gandhi as often as Gandhi wanted to be seen. And the distance between them grew greater and greater over the question of partition and over the question of power.
LAMB: We're out of time. Here's what the cover of the book looks like. This gentleman was the administer of India for 17 years. Stanley Wolpert is our guest. He's at UCLA, a professor, teaching India, and we thank you for joining us.
WOLPERT: Thank you.

Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1996. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.