Together They Fought presents about 500 letters telegrams, messages and notes exchanges between Gandhi and Nehru in the nearly three decades from 1921 to 1948. In these, they share views on a wide range of events, people and issues: from the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and Salt Satyagraha, to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Subhas Chandra Bose, to the social inclusion of women in the congress working committee.
Carefully selected, judiciously annotated and chronologically arranged, this book takes readers on a journey through the political arena of a nation in the pangs of birth and into the inner workings of two brilliant minds of the twentieth century. Accompanied by visuals that capture the depth, richness and vibrancy of the unique bond shared by Gandhi and Nehru, Together They Fought is a collector’s volume that will appeal not just to students and scholars of Indian history, politics, literature and cultural studies but to anyone interested in the making of modern India.
Uma Iyengar is Founder-Editor, The Book Review. She has edited The Oxford India Nehru (OUP 2007) and co-edited, along with Servepalli Gopal, the two-volume The Essential Writings of Jawaharlal Nehru (OUP 2003).
Lalitha Zackariah is a noted Gandhi scholar and a former Director of the Research, Reference & Training Division of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. She began her career with the office of The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, where she served on the editorial staff for over 25 years.
This book tells the story of two men, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, through their letters to each other two exceptional Indians divided by age, custom, tradition, faith and beliefs, yet bound by a passion for the country of their birth.
These two men were major factors, among many other important dramatis personae of the era, who continue to provoke endless interest and wonder in every generation of men and women, not just for what they achieved for Indian but also for their extraordinary relationship. The lives of both Gandhi and Nehru were the very fabric of the political and social life of an Indian struggling to come into its own. If Gandhi became the father of the nation, through a turbulent historical process, Nehru came to be regarded as his political heir, his chosen son.
Nehru was called to the Bar in the summer of 1912 and returned to India in the autumn of that year after a stay of over seven years in England. In his own words, he was, when he landed in Bombay ‘a bit of a prig with little to commend’ him. Gandhi, older than Nehru by twenty years, was no novice to politics when he arrived in Bombay in 1915 from South Africa. A Bar-at-Law from Landon, Gandhi had fought the cases of Indians in South Africa and had initiated their struggle against apartheid with a unique weapon of ‘fair’ war ‘Satyagraha’.
It was a year later, in December 1916, that the two first met. Nehru, recounting this first encounter in his Autobiography, says, ‘All of us admired him for his heroic fight in South Africa, but he seemed distant and different and un political to many of us young men. He refused to take part in Congress or national politics then and confined himself to the South African Indian question. Soon afterwards his adventures and victory in Chamaran filled us with enthusiasm.
Nehru, somewhat adrift at this time, had been perfunctorily practicing law, even as his mind was agonizing over the conditions of India in servility, and still more, the lot of the peasants. In 1919, an ailing Gandhi’s appeal to the Viceroy not to pass the dreaded Rowlatt bills went unheeded, culminating in Gandhi’s spearheading the first all India agitation against the government. He issued a call to the nation to observe 6 April as ‘Satyagraha Day’ with prayers and fasting, and with the pledge of civil disobedience. Nehru records that when he first read about his proposal in the newspapers, his reaction was, ‘here at last was a way out of the tangle, a method of action which was straight and open and possibly effective. I was afire with enthusiasm and wanted to join the Satyagraha Sabha immediately.
But for Nehru it was not all plain sailing. Motilal Nehru’s intense and protective love for this son proved an impediment. The elder Nehru scarcely believed in the efficacy of the ‘new-fangled plan of action. Gandhi himself advised Nehru not to take any hasty decision and thereby upset his father. Nehru waited in the wings.
A great national tragedy drew people in the thick of the struggle, kindling in them a new fire and dynamism. The massacre of April 1919 at Jallianwala Bagh and the martial Law imposed thereon meant a sea change in the perceptions and attitudes of national leaders. The Punjab Relief and Inquiry work in which Nehru became involved brought him in closer contact with Gandhi. Nehru writes: ‘Very often his proposals seemed novel to our committee and it did not approve of them. But almost always he argued his way to their acceptance and subsequent events showed the wisdom of his advice. Faith in his politics insight grew in me.
By the year 1920, with the death of Bal Gangadhar Tilak Indians, more and more, had come to look up to Gandhi for leadership and guidance in their struggle for liberation from British rule. Around the time to the Amritsar Congress presided over by Motilal Nehru, Gandhi’s influence began to dominate the political scene shouts of ‘Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai’ greeted him wherever he went, conferring on him the title of ‘Mahatma’ that is, on revered as a Great Soul.
Gandhi observes in his Autobiography, ‘I must regard my participation in Congress proceedings at Amritsar as my real entrance into Congress politics. This self-told story of Gandhi rings down the curtain soon after about the time the Gandhi Nehru Correspondence begins marking the watershed year of 1921. ‘My life’ he writes from this point onward has been so public that there is hardly anything about it that people do not know. Moreover, since 1921, I have worked in such close association with the congress leaders that I can hardly describe any episode in my life since then without referring to my relations with them.
Most of these leaders, Motilal Nehru, Chittaranjan Das and Lala Lajpat Rai, to mention a few, were persuaded to abide by Gandhi’s prescription of Self-suffering and nonviolence for the common cause. So powerful was this current sweeping over India that at Gandhi’s call for boycott of foreign cloth, the nation stood all too ready for the symbolic act of making a bonfire of foreign cloth.
To, Jawaharlal, the fledgling political disciple of Gandhi, the door had opened to unexplored areas in t his chosen path of service. He grew in admiration and respect for the political astuteness and moral strength of Gandhi at the same time he also began to feel a discontent and irritation over some of Gandhi’s decision. The discontinuance of civil disobedience in 1922 was one such instance early in their association.
Nevertheless. The two men began to bond through letters, the growing closeness evident in the changed subscription from Gandhi to Bapu from 1925 onwards Nehru became dearest Gandhi as Jawahar. The friendship continued to strengthen even as differences and disagreements grew; Nehru’s visit to Europe from 1926 to 1927 gave him a mature understanding to world affairs. His radical views found expression through the resolutions passed at the Madras Congress his behest. These, however, did not favour with Gandhi, whose pungent criticism of the Independent Resolution as hastily conceived and thoughtlessly passed caused him deep hurt and much mental anguish.
Regardless, in 1929, when a large majority in the congress desired that Gandhi should accept the president ship of the organization for that year, he recommended Nehru for the honour of the crown of the ‘crown of thorns’ saying his being in the chair is as good s may being in it. We may have intellectual differences but our hearts are one. And with all his youthful impetuosities, his sense of stern discipline and loyalty make him an inestimable comrade in whom one can put the most implicit faith.
It was testing time for Nehru. He signed the Delhi Manifesto, bu under moral pressure. Nehru wrote to Gandhi, Your appeal to me on the ground of discipline could not be ignored by me I am myself a believer in discipline. And yet I suppose there can be too much of discipline something seems to have snapped inside me. Gandhi replied with affectionate concern, how shall I console you? Hearing others describe your state, I said to myself, have I been guilty of putting undue pressure on you”. Resist me always when my suggestion does no appeal to your head or heart. I shall not love you the less for that resistance.
And resist, Nehru did. He found difficulty in coming to terms with Gandhi’s reasoning behind some of his actions, as also records, To, some extent I resented Gandhiji’s preoccupation with non-political issues, and I could never understand the background of his thought. He wrote to Gandhi, I neither think that he so-called Rama Raj was very good in the past, or do I want it back. I think the western or rather industrial civilization is bound to conquer India, maybe with many changes and adaptations, but nonetheless in the main based in industrialism.
In inner rebellion notwithstanding the time had come for him and for the nation to march as one with their leader. Salt suddenly became a mysterious word, a word of power. Gandhi’s call to his fellowmen to march to Dandi in protest against the salt tax did at first bewilder many Nehru among them who could not quite fit in the national struggle with common salt. But Nehru submitted later, The Young men and women of India were indeed awake and they thundered out their welcome to revolution and the will to do and die. Who could doubt the meaning of this cry? And who was not filled with enthusiasm at this great awakening and resolve? With rising awe he described the sight of Gandhi marching staff in hand along the dusty roads of Gujarat. But the fire of a great resolve is in him, and surpassing love of his miserable countrymen. And love of truth that scorches an love of freedom that inspires.
None was more aware of the potency of this enormous wave of nationalism that swept across the country than Gandhi himself. Referring to the skepticism that the idea of the march had engendered, he said years later, Pandit Motilal Nehru and others did not know what I would do; and I could tell them nothing as I myself knew nothing about it. But like a flash it came, and it was enough to shake the country from one end to the other.
Arrests followed defiance. Nehru who overtook his preceptor in getting imprisoned, announced triumphantly, I have stolen a march over you. Fresh plans for the working of the Congress machinery towards freedom. Nehru whose mind was ever in ferment and whose views were growing increasingly progressive, had little patience with Gandhi’s religious and apparently sentimental approach to political issues. And every time Gandhi announced a fast, the younger man was thrown into a state of great mental turmoil. Nehru commented on Gandhi’s decision to fast for self-purification and for pursing Hinduism of the scepter of untouchability with evident chagrin, he even seems to suggest that God the indicated the very date of that fast.
The fast had indeed been prompted by Gandhi’s inner Voice, with dramatic suddenness, on 30 April 1933. The night I got the inspiration he was to explain later, I had a terrible inner struggle. Then suddenly the voice came upon me. I listened, made certain that it was the voice and the struggle ceased. Nehru, pitted against this metaphysical struggle, declared in unequivocal terms, not being a man of religion, my interest is largely confined to the social aspect and to the wider issues involved.
For Gandhi the propagation of khadi undoubtedly was pivotal to the national movement, and Nehru had enchanted Gandhi by describing khadi as the livery of freedom. The takli Gandhi’s twirligig, as journalists lampooned it, had also brought much mental solace to Nehru in jail where he occupied himself daily with shinning, reading and writing. However this did not alter his position regarding the economics of khadi, holding has he did the view that in the ultimate solution of the nation’s economic problem the khadi movement had only a limited place.
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