A well-crafted life of the Indian politician and independence-movement hero.
Like Mao Zedong in China, Jawaharlal Nehru has lost a lot of the stature he enjoyed in India half a century ago, in much the same way and for much the same reason. “His mistakes are magnified,” writes novelist (Riot, 2001, etc.) and UN official Tharoor, “his achievements belittled.” The Indian government continues to profess the four tenets of Nehruvian thought—democratic institution-building, pan-Indian secularism, socialist economic policies, and a foreign policy of nonalignment—but, Tharoor adds, “all have been challenged, and strained to the breaking point, by the developments of recent years.” The author charts the evolution of Nehru’s life, showing how the spoiled only child of a Brahmin Kashmiri family shed his privileged, anglophilic attitudes as he became ever more aware of the injustices of British colonial rule; ironically, Tharoor suggests, he was radicalized after returning to India from England and realizing that the “rights of Englishmen . . . could not be his because he was not English enough to enjoy them,” even as he once confessed that his years at Harrow and Cambridge had made him “as much prejudiced in favor of England and the English as it was possible for an Indian to be.” Nehru developed into a shrewd practical politician and editorialist who entered into powerful alliances, notably with Mohandas Gandhi, but who charted his own course. Gandhi repeatedly chastised Nehru for his radicalism, and indeed Nehru was not shy of taking up arms rather than following Gandhi’s peaceful example—after independence, when Nehru ordered the Indian army to seize the Portuguese province of Goa, John F. Kennedy told the Indian ambassador in Washington “that India might consider delivering fewer self-righteous sermons on nonviolence.”
A thoughtful account, likening Nehru to Thomas Jefferson in ways both positive and negative.