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Voices From The Past

L.C. Jain

By O.P. Mishra and Shreya Shankar


About a year ago as an Honorary Fellow of the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library I had chosen to work on Nehru—first from 1930–1947 when Nehru was preparing himself for taking India to an exciting future; second, 1947–1964 when Nehru did become the steward of India’s development, policy, direction and journey. I wanted to explore which of the ideas that Nehru had developed during the first phase he was able to pursue to fruition in the second phase. Dr. Karan Singh, Chairman of the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, however, suggested that I prepare a paper on the Asian Relations Conference held in March-April 1947 at the instance of Jawaharlal Nehru during the Interim Government period prior to Independence, an event which has not been adequately chronicled. Nehru had persuaded Sarojini Naidu to be the Chairperson of the Conference under the auspices of the Indian Council of World Affairs. She had selected me as one of the Assistant Secretaries of the Conference, which gave me a ringside view of this historic event, which I have attempted to recall and record here. I begin by recalling some incidents prior to and during the Conference.‘Jawahar, you talk too much, let others talk now.’ said Sarojini Naidu who had caught hold of Nehru’s cheeks while he was sitting next to her. That was my first glimpse of the intimacy and camaraderie between Sarojini and Jawahar. To witness someone scolding Nehru was the most exciting experience for me, then 22 years old. At the very first meeting Nehru said that the Dutch were likely to obstruct the participation of the Indonesian national leaders. He thundered that there could be no free Asia without a free Indonesia. Freedom was indivisible. A way must be found to ensure Indonesia’s presence at the Conference. Biju Patnaik, who was also a pilot, said he would fly the Indonesian delegation to New Delhi without being detected by the Dutch authorities. Asked what help he would need, Biju said, that he would hire a plane to fly to Indonesia to pick up the delegates and after the Conference drop them back and that it would cost Rs. 40,000.00. Sarojini said the Organizing Committee will take care of the expenses. Patnaik was able to pick up about 40 Indonesian delegates from behind the Dutch lines and fly them to New Delhi. They were greeted with prolonged standing ovation, by the audience of about 10,000, when ...

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