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Travails of Governance

Salil Misra

Edited by Mridula Mukherjee
A project by the Jawaharlal Neheru Fund,
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2009, pp. 802, Rs. 800.00


This volume of the Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru covers the period of two months from November 1957 till December 1957. Its relevance is two fold. One, it contains enough data to throw light on some important facets of Nehru’s life and politics. Two, like earlier volumes on the 1950s, this too has a contemporaneity. Many of the issues that Nehru talked about and engaged with are still with us in some form or the other, some unresolved and some unresolvable. Indian politics has changed in some basic respects since the 1950s. Political leaders today do not have to express anxiety and anguish about food shortage as Nehru did in 1957. There had been a crop failure in UP, Bihar and Orissa which created an acute scarcity of food. It caught Nehru’s attention and he went into every aspect of the problem. He enquired from Sampurnanand, UP’s Chief Minister, why in Basti district only 50 out of the 225 tube wells were functioning (p. 146). He also issued appeals to people to adopt austerity measures and refrain from wasteful habits. He appealed to wheateating areas to avoid eating rice so that all the rice could go to purely rice eating areas (p. 149). He suggested various measures including growing short term crops, greater production of fish, using all available land to grow vegetables to tackle the problem of food scarcity, and much more. He also emphasized the importance of cooperative farming. Two small episodes from November-December 1957 contained in the volume bring home an uncanny resemblance to the politics of today. Nehru’s handling of the two issues is both important and instructive for the political leaders of today. The first episode was the Hindi agitation in Punjab launched by the Jansangh and the Arya Samaj for a greater recognition of Hindi in Punjab. Soon a reaction to this developed in Madras against Hindi’s imposition in the rest of the country. The language question had been hotly debated in the Constituent Assembly and a great divide had occurred on the question of Hindi’s proposed status as the official/national language. Finally a compromise formula was worked out according to which Hindi was made the official (as against national) language. A schedule was created in the Constitution recognizing various regional languages and putting them at par. English was allowed to continue as the ‘functioning’ official language for a period of 15 years till 1965, when it ...

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