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Affluence with Liberty: Nehru's Choice

Salil Misra

Edited by Mushirul Hasan
A Project of Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 863, Rs. 800.00


As India made its transition from colony to an independent nation, Nehru made the transition too from being a ‘rebel’ to a ‘statesman’. The two transitions were indeed connected. The primary objective of Nehru’s political-intellectual engatement after 1947 was no longer to lead the anti-imperialist national movement but to enable India’s transformation to a fully independent and modern industrial society and Nehru’s own endeavour trying to create a new space for the young independent India in the new world order. This transition is fully reflected in the second series of the Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, brought out by the research team of the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund under the intellectual leadership of Mushirul Hasan. Volume 38 of the series, covering the period May-July 1957 is an important repository of Nehru’s major national and international priorities as the leader of Independent India.   Nehru showed an acute awareness of the fact that what independent India had set out to achieve was historically quite unique and unprecedented. Developing an affluent modern industrial society within a parliamentary democratic framework was not something that had happened in other countries. Affluence and liberty were both important values but they tended to come successively rather than simultaneously. This indeed was the pattern of all developed countries where democratic institutions developed after necessary conditions for baseline affluence had been created. Independent India, by contrast, had refused to prioritize between affluence and liberty and strove to achieve both at the same time. There was no model available for a development of this kind. What independent India was doing was in fact to constitute a model to be followed by other Third World countries, and to be theorized upon by social scientists. A theory did not exist for the unique Indian practice, but the practice needed to be theorized upon.   It was broadly in these terms that Nehru explained the essence of socialism in a long speech given to Congress women legislators (‘Socialism by Consent’, pp. 31-40). The capitalist democracies had made much progress but had ended up creating an acquisitive and competitive society. Soviet Russia, on the other hand, had used coercion to forcibly take away peasants’ land from them. As against both these models, Nehru was convinced that ‘socialism has to enter the people’s minds and hearts…. The problem is how to change men’s minds’ (p. 39).   Nehru explained further: ‘The question that poses itself ...

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