Vision is at the heart of Shashi Tharoor's short biography, Nehru: The Invention of India. For Nehru, in this account, was generally stronger on the vision thing than on practicalities. The best part of the book is the concluding chapter, a good summing up of Nehru's triumphs and failures. Nehru's idea of India was very much a product of his own background as an English-educated, upper-class, anti-imperialist, leftist, rationalist intellectual. He created a model of development that was the exact opposite of today's China. Whereas China now has an increasingly liberal economy run by an illiberal state, Nehru's staunchly liberal democratic state was in charge of a closed economy.
The Indian consensus that Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) constructed as the nation's first prime minister, Tharoor writes with unsparing objectivity, "has frayed: democracy endures, secularism is besieged, nonalignment is all but forgotten, and socialism barely clings on." Nehru seems "curiously dated, a relic of another era." His goal of creating "a just state by just means" has been undermined by the centrifugal forces of Indian religious and cultural divisiveness. Tharoor's short and highly readable life never lacks for pithy phrases and strong opinions. A senior U.N. official, Tharoor (India: From Midnight to the Millennium) writes with shrewd wit and cautious ambivalence about Nehru, whom he admires as the Thomas Jefferson of India-a foe of colonialism, a statesman of grace and style and a master of uplifting words-but whose leadership failed in forcefulness and whose political heirs were without his charm. Nehru's privileged Kashmiri background and Harrow-Cambridge education left him replete with paradoxes-a reserved aristocrat yet a near Marxist, a demigod (to the masses) and a democrat (to himself), a political prisoner of the British for nine years who was even more a prisoner to his own "vainglory," an idealist with "a moralism that stood somewhere to the left of morality." Tharoor's distant villain is the curmudgeonly Winston Churchill, whose staunch "racist imperialism," particularly toward India, made his "subsequent beatification as an apostle of freedom... all the more preposterous." This engaging short biography is a scrutiny of a major 20th-century leader from his "Little Lord Fauntleroy" beginnings to his transformation into a historic figure wearing a halo in his own lifetime. (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
In this nonscholarly but nicely written account of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indian freedom fighter and India's first prime minister, senior UN official Tharoor offers a balanced interpretation, touching on key points in Nehru's life: his English education, the importance of guidance he received from his father and Gandhi, his prison years during the drive for independence, and his administration of the new Indian republic. He neatly pulls together the essence of Nehru's beliefs in democratic institution building, pan-Indian secularism, Socialist democratic economy, and the foreign policy of nonalignment. Tharoor is not shy, however, about criticizing Nehru for his Socialist economic programs, which held back India's economic progress for nearly two decades. Likewise, Nehru's misguided views on India's foreign policy with China do not go unnoticed. Although the author sometimes falls into unnecessarily nasty political rhetoric about British policies in India, in the main this work is gracefully written and presented. If readers could choose only one narrative about Nehru, this would suffice. Highly recommended for public libraries.-John F. Riddick, Central Michigan Univ. Lib., Mt. Pleasant Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
A well-crafted life of the Indian politician and independence-movement hero. Like Mao Zedong in China, Jawaharlal Nehru has lost a lot of the stature he enjoyed in India half a century ago, in much the same way and for much the same reason. "His mistakes are magnified," writes novelist (Riot, 2001, etc.) and UN official Tharoor, "his achievements belittled." The Indian government continues to profess the four tenets of Nehruvian thoughtdemocratic institution-building, pan-Indian secularism, socialist economic policies, and a foreign policy of nonalignmentbut, Tharoor adds, "all have been challenged, and strained to the breaking point, by the developments of recent years." The author charts the evolution of Nehru’s life, showing how the spoiled only child of a Brahmin Kashmiri family shed his privileged, anglophilic attitudes as he became ever more aware of the injustices of British colonial rule; ironically, Tharoor suggests, he was radicalized after returning to India from England and realizing that the "rights of Englishmen . . . could not be his because he was not English enough to enjoy them," even as he once confessed that his years at Harrow and Cambridge had made him "as much prejudiced in favor of England and the English as it was possible for an Indian to be." Nehru developed into a shrewd practical politician and editorialist who entered into powerful alliances, notably with Mohandas Gandhi, but who charted his own course. Gandhi repeatedly chastised Nehru for his radicalism, and indeed Nehru was not shy of taking up arms rather than following Gandhi’s peaceful exampleafter independence, when Nehru ordered the Indian army to seize the Portuguese province ofGoa, John F. Kennedy told the Indian ambassador in Washington "that India might consider delivering fewer self-righteous sermons on nonviolence." A thoughtful account, likening Nehru to Thomas Jefferson in ways both positive and negative.