Gandhi and Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru differed with each other in a fundamental sense in respect of philosophy of life, social and political philosophy and in regard to the shape of social economic and political structure of Indian polity after Independence.
Gandhi’s vision of society as described in Hind Swaraj was not acceptable to Pt. Nehru. But the two leaders lived and worked harmoniously during the struggle for freedom during 1919 – 1947.
Pt. Nehru knew that Gandhi knew the secret and could wield the mysterious power. He was content to follow the Great Mahatma, even when he failed to understand his logic. His loyalty to Gandhi was true and tested, and Gandhi’s love for him deep and abiding.
Each reinforced the other, Nehru without Gandhi would be ineffective and Gandhi without Nehru incomplete. The two understood each other. This understanding was a measure of Gandhi’s greatness and of Nehru’s wisdom.
Gandhi declared Nehru as his “political heir”. Once he called Nehru as his (Gandhi’s) ears and eyes. Gandhi nursed the hope that after his death, Nehru will speak the language of Gandhi.
In a very limited sense Nehru did carry out some of the ideas of Gandhi. He related politics to ethics. He tried to build politics of consensus and peace. His policies were pro-people.
As a political force to be reckoned with and as a personality to be admired, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru dominated the Indian scene, next only to Gandhi. As a political force he defied assessment, as a personality he challenged analysis. In his own motherland he was loved more than anyone else save Gandhi.
Outside India his reputation had surpassed even that of Gandhi. Pt. Nehru was a universal darling and he collected admiring multitudes. All classes of people doted on him. The poor because he was their champion, the rich because he was an aristocrat. He impressed the learned with his writings and intoxicated the crowd with his rhetoric.
Revolutionaries applauded his fiery eloquence and fashionable society ladies adored his handsome appearance and cultured conversation. Politically Pt. Nehru symbolised India’s challenge to Europe, intellectually he represented India’s debt to the West, spiritually he was torn between the two.
Unlike Gandhi, Pt. Nehru was not an enigma to the Europeans. He was not the mysterious East which baffled the West. Europeans sensed something uncanny about Gandhi.
He was unpredictable. Gandhi was a power whose mechanism the West did not understand. But with Nehru the Europeans felt at home. Nehru was cast in the heroic mould.
The pattern of his idealism was familiar to the Europeans. His faith was secular, his values ethical, his thinking rational, his reactions predictable. Pt. Nehru acted like a civilized man of the 20th century.
To think of Pt. Nehru un-Indian would be to misread the forces that were shaping modern India. This was not the first time in her history that the impact of an alien civilization had forced her out of her shell and obliged her to reassess old values in terms of a changing world.
Pt. Nehru represented the spiritual confusion of an India that was still struggling to work out a new harmony, an India still in the birth-pangs of an unattained poise between old and the new, an India not yet able to sift the real from the spurious. Pt. Nehru was not the only one to feel so. The bulk of the Indian intelligentsia was with him.
He knew the West long before he learnt to discover India. He was like a child nursed by a stranger. Gandhi too represented India in transition. He too had been influenced by the West. Pt. Nehru had approached India via the West, Gandhi looked at the West with Indian eyes.
The one influenced India from without, the other changed her from within. Gandhi was so Indian that he was intimately in tune with her spirit that his very ‘medievalism’ had a way of becoming more modern than Nehru’s modernism. In fact the west Indianized in Gandhi’s hands. He was a supreme creative artist. That is why he made India, which Nehru discovered.
To the foreigners, Gandhi seemed a reactionary, a mediaevalist, an enemy of progress, an eccentric saint, at worst a slippery politician.
The idol of the millions was a very lonely figure. Beneath the overflow of his robust vitality, his perennial youthfulness, his seeming aggressiveness and confidence, was an under-current of sadness, of doubt and hesitancy.
Pt. Nehru stood on the bridge between the old and the new, between the dying and the unborn, between repose and hysteria, and had found his home on neither shore. He was loved but not followed. He was respected but not obeyed. He was a leader who did not control the party. He had to argue and remonstrate.
He could not command. He was a general without an army of his own. Foreigners called him the uncrowned King of India. In fact, Pt. Nehru wore the crown but did not hold the sceptre. He was a leader who was more led than leading. He was a host in himself.
He had more influence than anyone else save Gandhi, but unlike Mahatma, his influence was vague, amorphous. It had not crystallised into power. He was human presumably, not without ambition. He was too noble to covet power for its own sake. He had preferred glory to power. Power had flown to him without his seeking it.
Pt. Nehru’s influence was essentially moral. It was the cumulative result of his courage, his sacrifice, his breadth of outlook and the innate nobility of his character. He was explosive in speech and disciplined in action, impulsive in gestures, deliberate in judgement, self-assertive in little acts, self-effacing in big deeds, revolutionary in aim and conservative in loyalty.
He was passionate while advocating a cause and fair when denouncing one. Pt. Nehru was reckless of personal peril and cautious when the welfare of his nation was at stake. He was indifferent to personal pleasure. He raised others to power and grabbed none for himself. The very paradox of his personality had surrounded it with a halo.
He denounced feudalism, capitalism and imperialism. His performance at Madras Congress deeply disturbed Gandhi. Gandhi was not opposed to the radical views. In December 1928 the advocates of independence and Dominion Status clashed at the Calcutta Congress.
To quote Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru: “Bapu, the difference between you and me is this: you believe in gradualism; I stand for a revolution. “Gandhi retorted, “My dear Youngman, I have made revolutions while others have only shouted revolution.” After long heated argument and mental distress, Pt. Nehru was obliged to accept Gandhi’s compromise formula for the Dominion Status.
Pt. Nehru strove for a world where private greed would be reconciled with public good, individual liberty with collective enterprise, national interest with international peace. How such a society would be attained, he was not clear in his mind.
It was his firm conviction that men could be persuaded with rational argument. He saw his own image in others. The irrational, the mystic, the incalculable inhuman affairs, exasperated and eluded him. He was vaguely aware of its power but did not understand its dynamics.