The Proudest Day: India's Long Road to Independence

By Anthony Read; David Fisher | Go to book overview

12
'The Very Brink of Chaos and Anarchy'

Until he was nearly 30, Jawaharlal Nehru lived in the shadow of his dominating, larger-than-life father. Although politically shrewder than Motilal, he was, unlike him, a prey to indecision and doubt. So far, he had always done what his father wanted, mostly out of love but a little out of fear, too. But by 1919, he was ready to cast off one father figure in exchange for another: Motilal was to be replaced by Gandhi.

Jawaharlal was not religious. He had been educated as a scientist, and it was the idea of an economy organized along scientific lines that attracted him to socialism. It was astonishing that he should succumb, intellectually and politically, to a traditional Hindu godman. But he was dazzled by this extraordinary little nut-brown man who seemed to have stepped straight out of the Middle Ages, by his ideas and intelligence and by his sheer magnetism. 'I was bowled over by Gandhi straight away,' Nehru wrote later. When Gandhi announced the Satyagraha Sabha, Jawaharlal was one of the first to sign up and take the vow of civil disobedience.

Like most Moderates, Motilal was appalled at the idea of satyagraha. As a lawyer, the idea of deliberately disobeying the law shocked him profoundly. What good would it do, he wanted to know, if hundreds of hitherto blameless young Indians were sent to gaol? More to the point, he dreaded the thought of his only son winding up behind bars. 'It seemed to him preposterous that I should go to prison,' wrote Jawaharlal. For several days, father and son went out of their way to avoid raising the issue. They treated each other with almost unnatural consideration. Jawaharlal learned later that his father had even taken to sleeping on the floor to see what prison might be like for his son.

Things could not go on like that, so Motilal invited Gandhi to Allahabad to discuss his dangerous influence on his son. They had several long talks from which Jawaharlal was banned before Gandhi emerged to advise the young Nehru

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