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Nehru’s India

Nehru’s India
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First Published: Fri, Nov 13 2009. 10 54 PM IST
Updated: Fri, Nov 13 2009. 10 54 PM IST
Dancer Mrinalini Sarabhai was there when Jawaharlal Nehru received a tumultuous welcome at the Marina Beach in Chennai in the late 1920s. Sculptor Ram Sutar recalls an appreciative Nehru inaugurating a 45ft statue at the Gandhi Sagar Dam on the Chambal river in 1960.
The intervening decades paint a fascinating picture of a complex man. Journalist Ronald Vincent Smith recalls a Nehru sometimes aloof, and downright impetuous, while architect Mansingh Rana’s Nehru is a witty and charismatic leader. Ranoj Basu, who served as Nehru’s office assistant as a youth, saw both sides at the Congress party office in New Delhi.
Nehru’s encouragement was a turning point for a young M.S. Swaminathan, and his words of praise one of Verghese Kurien’s most abiding memories. From chance encounters to sustained friendships, be it as leader, equal or companion—the memory of Nehru burns strong in all these people. They remember an intensely curious patron of the arts, a politician with a sense of humour and a famous temper, and a flawed leader who, in the end, “made India respectable in the eyes of the world”.
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Yes, minister
The times were different when Natwar Singh joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1953—after clearing the UPSC examination, each candidate was personally interviewed by the foreign minister. At the time, the prime minister also held the foreign minister’s portfolio, so Singh found himself before Jawaharlal Nehru.
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Family matters
Mrinalini Sarabhai had a double connection with Jawaharlal Nehru—her mother Ammu Swaminadhan was a freedom fighter and a politician who knew Nehru well; her husband Vikram Sarabhai’s family too had a close association with him.
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A patron and a muse
Ram Sutar always wanted to make large-sized sculptures. When he graduated from the Sir JJ School of Art in Mumbai, he got a job with the department of archaeology and joined the team that was working on restoring the sculptures at Ajanta and Ellora. This was where he first met Jawaharlal Nehru. “He used to bring a lot of foreign dignitaries and very proudly show off India’s art heritage,” Sutar says. The young restorer was introduced to Nehru during one of the prime minister’s visits and he was stunned by Nehru’s understanding and appreciation of art.
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History of a compliment
On 31 October 1956, in the town of Anand in Gujarat, a group of nervous, overworked engineers waited for prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s arrival. Among them was the “Milkman of India”, Verghese Kurien, who’d spent the last three years as part of a team putting together what was then Kaira District Co-operative Milk Producers’ Union’s first milk-powder plant. The brand became famous as Amul.
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Nation builders
Mansingh Rana first met Jawaharlal Nehru in the university town of Madison in faraway Wisconsin in the US. How that meeting came about is an interesting tale in itself.
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Before the revolution
M. S. Swaminathan will turn 85 next year, but his mind remains scalpel-sharp. He calls up, without any effort, the date his father died: 12 October 1936. He remembers the name of the British district medical officer who had been summoned to the Tamil Nadu town of Kumbakonam to treat his father’s eventually fatal pancreatitis: “A tall man, named Kelly.” And of course, he remembers Jawaharlal Nehru visiting his family in Kumbakonam three weeks later, offering his condolences. “I have a specific memory of him consoling my mother.”
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The angry patriarch
Ranoj Basu, a permanent secretary of the All India Congress Committee (AICC), says he is the only Congress leader in the party’s 125-year history who has worked with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi—all the Congress presidents from the Nehru- Gandhi family.
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Newsmaker
Jawaharlal Nehru was right on all fronts, except one,” says Ronald Vincent Smith categorically. “He never figured out China’s designs. He got carried away by the idea of a Third World front. It was that, and the subsequent criticism of Krishna Menon, close friend and defence minister, that finally killed him.”
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First Published: Fri, Nov 13 2009. 10 54 PM IST