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Letters for a Nation : From Jawaharlal Nehru to His Chief Ministers 1947-1963

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In October 1947, two months after he became independent India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote the first of his fortnightly letters to the heads of the country’s provincial governments-a tradition that he kept until his last letter in December 1963, only a few months before his death. Carefully selected from among nearly 400 such letters, this collection cove In October 1947, two months after he became independent India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote the first of his fortnightly letters to the heads of the country’s provincial governments-a tradition that he kept until his last letter in December 1963, only a few months before his death. Carefully selected from among nearly 400 such letters, this collection covers a range of themes and subjects, including citizenship, war and peace, law and order, national planning and development, governance and corruption, and India’s place in the world. The letters also cover momentous world events and the many crises and conflicts the country faced during the first sixteen years after Independence. Visionary, wise and reflective, these letters are not just a testimony to Nehru’s statesmanship and his deep engagement with every aspect of India’s democratic journey, but are also of great contemporary relevance for the guidance they provide for our current problems and predicaments.


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In October 1947, two months after he became independent India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote the first of his fortnightly letters to the heads of the country’s provincial governments-a tradition that he kept until his last letter in December 1963, only a few months before his death. Carefully selected from among nearly 400 such letters, this collection cove In October 1947, two months after he became independent India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote the first of his fortnightly letters to the heads of the country’s provincial governments-a tradition that he kept until his last letter in December 1963, only a few months before his death. Carefully selected from among nearly 400 such letters, this collection covers a range of themes and subjects, including citizenship, war and peace, law and order, national planning and development, governance and corruption, and India’s place in the world. The letters also cover momentous world events and the many crises and conflicts the country faced during the first sixteen years after Independence. Visionary, wise and reflective, these letters are not just a testimony to Nehru’s statesmanship and his deep engagement with every aspect of India’s democratic journey, but are also of great contemporary relevance for the guidance they provide for our current problems and predicaments.

30 review for Letters for a Nation : From Jawaharlal Nehru to His Chief Ministers 1947-1963

  1. 5 out of 5

    Saurabh Goyal

    Reflecting on Nehru’s political career, The Guardian wrote that if Nehru were a different person, India would have been a different country. Such was the deep personal imprint of Nehru on modern India; such was the unrivalled political power that he commanded. Such centralization of power in a person was not unique to India. Rather it was the norm in Post-colonial societies in Asia and Africa. But what was different was how Nehru exercised his power. And in that single difference lies the reason Reflecting on Nehru’s political career, The Guardian wrote that if Nehru were a different person, India would have been a different country. Such was the deep personal imprint of Nehru on modern India; such was the unrivalled political power that he commanded. Such centralization of power in a person was not unique to India. Rather it was the norm in Post-colonial societies in Asia and Africa. But what was different was how Nehru exercised his power. And in that single difference lies the reason as to why India could build a robust democracy, whereas other Post-colonial societies floundered and continue to flounder. Reading Nehru’s letters to chief ministers is an extraordinary experience in many ways. First, despite of unrivalled personal power, Nehru acted with a deep sense of responsibility. He repeatedly reminded the CMs that what could appear as mundane administrative and political decisions of their governments were highly consequential; they will set the ball rolling for public institutions of India; and that their action will set the norms for the future. If Institution-building is true sign of a statesman, Nehru did know the alchemy of statesmanship. Second, consider these questions. Why would a person with unchallenged power deliberately submit himself to scrutiny and public justification? Why would the first leader of a newly independent society not treat it like a clean slate and remake it in his own image? What does it mean to lead a country facing overwhelming challenges- poverty, hunger, communalism, communism, illiteracy etc.? And finally, what kind of confidence in the future of one’s poor and unlettered country it takes, for leader to raise the banner of non-alignment in an ideologically over-determined geo-politics? Nehru’s letters do answer these questions and much more. They tell you the story of not just a Prime-minister leading his country. But of an elder brother who laboriously imparted political values and skills to next generation of leaders; of an Indian who despite his aristocratic aura belonged to his ordinary and under-privileged fellow Indians; of a patriot who could be clear eyed about the wrongs and failures of his country and yet could take pride in the remaining good; and of a statesman who even in the face of overwhelming immediate challenges would not reduce his ambitions for his country. Nehru’s was to transform India into the ‘light of Asia’. In our contemporary political discourse there is a lot of muckraking and mudslinging on Nehru. Some of the criticism may well be justified on some grounds- his economic policies, his reading of China’s intentions, his idealistic view of UN etc. But as Nehru writes in one of his letters it is easy to be wise after an event. Politics does involve risk taking and some leaps of faith. And some failures and miscalculations are absolutely inevitable. So when we indulge in condescension of history we reveal our own narrow appreciation of the way politics work. Today when our politics is a daily bonfire which burns trust and dreams, these letters will leave one with a deep sense of nostalgia. For a politics not caught up in here and now, but with one eye on eternity. For a leadership which can evoke awe and respect. For political debates not limited to petty goal scoring, but about world-moving ideas. But most importantly they leave one with a rankling introspection: are we up to being the deserving heirs to these grand figures in history? If you care enough this question will unsettle and unease you. Well Nietzsche could not be truer when he wrote that being heir to something great is a dangerous thing.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Umesh Kesavan

    This selected collection of letters written by our first prime minister to the then chief ministers showcase the variety of concerns which engaged the great man and the newly independent country then. Minority rights, Hindu communalism , planning , judiciary-executive relationship ,food emergency , Kashmir, China , Cold war, Gandhi - a wide range of topics discussed threadbare with civility and finesse. What is striking is that Nehru always tries to couch the idealistic of thoughts in pragmatic This selected collection of letters written by our first prime minister to the then chief ministers showcase the variety of concerns which engaged the great man and the newly independent country then. Minority rights, Hindu communalism , planning , judiciary-executive relationship ,food emergency , Kashmir, China , Cold war, Gandhi - a wide range of topics discussed threadbare with civility and finesse. What is striking is that Nehru always tries to couch the idealistic of thoughts in pragmatic terms. This book must become the fourth indispensable companion to understanding Nehru's vision better (along with the famous trilogy of books written before 1947). Within two months of winning general elections in 1952, Nehru was penning a letter to Chief Ministers explaining to them what the Tunisian problem is all about. Nehru was the last of his kind. Long live Nehru.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Vikas Lather

    Excellent compilation

  4. 4 out of 5

    Shivansh Goyal

    This book is amazing in the sense that it familiarizes you with the India of 1947. The struggles to make the institutions, setting up the principles for the functioning of the country and the key decisions and rationale's for them at the time. In the present, it is easy to criticize people responsible for decision making in the turbulent and poverty-stricken times of Indian independence. 1) However, this book shows the extent of limited resources, unavailability of trained and educated people wi This book is amazing in the sense that it familiarizes you with the India of 1947. The struggles to make the institutions, setting up the principles for the functioning of the country and the key decisions and rationale's for them at the time. In the present, it is easy to criticize people responsible for decision making in the turbulent and poverty-stricken times of Indian independence. 1) However, this book shows the extent of limited resources, unavailability of trained and educated people with rifts of every form between every conceivable community in India. In this impoverished time, strong institution building, laying down of strong principles and encouragement of science, rationality, and data-driven policymaking was way ahead of its time. Today's emphasis on scientific education and pride in Indian science and engineering finds its roots in the ideas of sculptors of India. 2) In this book, we see Nehru emphasizing peace as the most important tool for growth and development. He championed peace all around the world. India went against every major nation on various occasions to support a non-violent and peaceful negotiation. India under Nehru fought colonialism as clearly explained by the example of Indonesia. However, a practical understanding of the political scenario is also visible where Nehru was one of the first in recognizing the permanence of the PRC government in China and recognized it at the expense of the Republic of China. He tried to forge a peaceful and friendly relation with the new country, however, we find a naive and rookie attitude of Nehru in trusting China and believing that every country aims for peace. The understanding of USSR citizens and why they accepted of communism is also commendable. Nehru's effort led to the formation of the non-alignment movement and India worked for peace all around the world. 3) As India was supposed to be a protagonist in the religion-based division of Pakistan and minority persecution there, therefore Nehru took extra steps to ensure the secular nature of India. He was sternly against the communal and communist forces who disrupted every move forward taken by the government of India. 4) He once again kept Indian markets closed and strongly advocated planning. However, in the modern world, capitalism has made countries powerful and thus capable of uplifting them out of poverty. I don't know if capitalism in India which was already very divided and uneducated would have led to an increase in inequality with a negligible portion of people holding the majority of assets. However, I think once India opened up its markets a lot of good has come, although inequality has peaked. So, I am still not sure about this decision of Nehru. 5) It is clear with the tone and even direct references about the belief of Nehru in strong democratic principles. 6) One naive thing Nehru believed as far as I understood was his belief that common Indian man after Indian independence living a normal life would feel a sense of greater responsibility of nation-building and will work efficiently. I believe this is an ingenuous idea and planning made us increasingly inefficient as it relied on that basic principle/belief.

  5. 5 out of 5

    S Ashok

    Jawaharlal Nehru wrote fortnightly letters to all Chief Ministers continuously for 16 years. This book is the collection of this letters written by Nehru. The letters are valuable today to as we look back at the concerns facing our first Prime Minister in nation building right after independence. As Nehru other writings were predominantly before independence, this collection of letters document the issues facing the nation and how Nehru approached it as Prime Minister. First and foremost it is tru Jawaharlal Nehru wrote fortnightly letters to all Chief Ministers continuously for 16 years. This book is the collection of this letters written by Nehru. The letters are valuable today to as we look back at the concerns facing our first Prime Minister in nation building right after independence. As Nehru other writings were predominantly before independence, this collection of letters document the issues facing the nation and how Nehru approached it as Prime Minister. First and foremost it is truly remarkable that we had such a great man as our Prime minister during those crucial years. Much has been said about his failings in the economic front or in his inaction during the Chinese war. But we need to understand that any incident that is today in the past was in the future once and the benefit of hindsight is unavailable to people grappling with issues in the present. In spite of his shortcomings, he was truly remarkable for the manner in which he built this nation. These letters are evidence of his spirit and thought process. The letters finest aspects are manifold, to begin with Nehru reminds time and again the importance of building democratic roots. We have been a feudalistic nation for many years and after a prolonged struggle got independence from the British. We established a democratic nation based on adult franchise, but there were tremendous challenges, be it our extraordinary illiteracy and poverty. No country in the world stepped into a universal democracy with such levels of poverty and illiteracy. Hence it was important to nourish the country and its leaders in democratic practice. Nehru in these letters was continuously advising the chief ministers in understanding the role in solving the nation's problems. He was such a popular leader with a huge mandate and had absolutely no opposition for many of the years in power. But he was so open and democratic in dealing with the states. He rarely overstepped his limits even for rightful reasons as he was aware of the dangers of overstepping which can create a wrong precedent in a democratic country. He was a tremendous unifying force between multiple factors which was trying to tear apart the country. Especially the problem of communal riots that happened after independence had shaken the national leadership. Nehru was gravely aware of this threat which this majority communalism was posing to the country. Hence he was worried whether the country will be torn apart due to communal riots, hence he kept a constant vigil against this and kept reminding the states against this menace. This is something for which he was criticised as appeasing the Muslims and hating the Hindus but I feel it is absurd to caricature Nehru this way. In addition to the communal problem, the government had to face a communist insurgency to violently overthrow the popular government. Nehru was a staunch socialist but above all he was a liberal who was against the suppression of civil liberties and the violence propagated in the name of communism. Hence he had a take tough decisions but he constantly kept remembering the states against unduly detaining communist leaders also reiterating time and again that he was only against the methods and not the ideology as such. It was Nehru's vision to develop India through economic centralized planning and predominance to public sector over private industry. This was mostly something that was accepted the world over as the example of Soviet Planning enabling it to grow faster was considered a worthwhile example to follow. Also, the private players themselves were not so willing to invest in heavy industries which India wanted. Hence it was Nehru's vision through which public institutions in science and technology were developed this created the platform for the economic progress we are benefiting from today. Although there were some lacunae in his understanding and his complete belief in public officials to bring in change. But he created a sense of idealism in public institutions and inspired many in nation-building and development in science and technology. Nehru also acts as a window to the international events that were affecting our foreign policy. He goes extensively to explain the great power politics happening in the world and the rationale behind our foreign policy of nonalignment. He was criticised for being too naive on internal issues and was blinded by his good sense which was lacking in the contemporary. He was an internationalist in the truest sense and he was sometimes not ruthless enough while dealing with petty leaders belonging to other nations. This was indeed a mistake, a mistake of being ahead of his times. But in general, in these letters we see Nehru being highly reflective and carrying a deep understanding of international issues. Say for example when he explains the real motive of China to invade India was to sabotage the nonalignment policy of India and to force Soviet Union to help China by forcing India to the US block. This shows a clear understanding of the internation issues at stake in a very broad sense. In many ways this letters are important as a document to understand the problems faced by India after independence and how our best minds tackled it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Amit Acharya

    The bandwidth of knowledge which nehru expresses through these letters are just mesmerizing. Though the tone is a bit sermonizing & avuncular, he always stresses on core principles of civil liberty, democracy, foreign relations & secularism. The young country needed a leader like nehru to steward the ship among the choppy waters. I don't know how the chief ministers reacted to these letters, but I think most of them knew they could fall back upon nehru for sage counsel. The bandwidth of knowledge which nehru expresses through these letters are just mesmerizing. Though the tone is a bit sermonizing & avuncular, he always stresses on core principles of civil liberty, democracy, foreign relations & secularism. The young country needed a leader like nehru to steward the ship among the choppy waters. I don't know how the chief ministers reacted to these letters, but I think most of them knew they could fall back upon nehru for sage counsel.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jacob

    A brilliant book. Made me proud that we once had amazing statesmen as leaders of our country. This book is a must read for anyone who wants to re imagine India. The architecture of India is there in all authenticity. If only the subsequent leaders followed this man's vision, India would have done well for its citizens and neighbours. Great book! A brilliant book. Made me proud that we once had amazing statesmen as leaders of our country. This book is a must read for anyone who wants to re imagine India. The architecture of India is there in all authenticity. If only the subsequent leaders followed this man's vision, India would have done well for its citizens and neighbours. Great book!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Aniket Patil

    Reminds you the different situations and moods in which nehru was. excellent.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Anshil Yadav

    Dive into Pt Nehru’s heart and mind. How he analyses national and global affairs is a thing of beauty.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Saurabh Singh

    Before getting started one should know what one is going in for. The book consists of excerpts from letters by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to his Chief ministers, written in simple and lucid language. Therefore one shouldn't expect in depth analysis or philosophical discourse over the issues (for which Nehru was known for) mentioned in the letters. Nevertheless readers can get to know about the then issues troubling India and an insight into the thought process of our first Prime Minister. T Before getting started one should know what one is going in for. The book consists of excerpts from letters by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to his Chief ministers, written in simple and lucid language. Therefore one shouldn't expect in depth analysis or philosophical discourse over the issues (for which Nehru was known for) mentioned in the letters. Nevertheless readers can get to know about the then issues troubling India and an insight into the thought process of our first Prime Minister. Though many of us may have read what & how PM Nehru felt on the troubling issues viz. economy, Kashmir stalemate, Minorities treatment, democracy, International relations etc., but here through his letters we can get the thrill of reading his thoughts in his own words. Though the book consists of edited excerpts of letters written by PM Nehru to CMs of the states, but it has been aptly named as "Letters for a Nation" as the letters delve into critical analysis of array of issues which should be concern of any conscious citizen. Moreover many issues dealt within this work are equally relevant in 21st century India as they were then and Nehru's thoughts on them provide ample guidance to administrators and masses on how to deal with them. PM Nehru was a conscience keeper of India during its post-independence turbulent, fragile yet formative years. His letters (Staggering figure of over 400) on the issues of the day are remarkable proof of that. His tilt towards what may be perceived as (highly) idealistic position is clearly palpable in his letters. May it be the issue of assuring minorities amidst passionate communal environment, voicing his concern over excessive use or even abuse of preventive detention provisions or supporting tribal communities in their quest for conserving their beautiful culture. In all the issues Nehru was driven by his zeal of justice, inclusiveness (cultural, economic) and aiming for higher standards of governance instead of taking the easy route in the guise of supposedly practical limitations of political compulsions. Editor Madhav Khosla has arranged the letters into 6 sections based on broad classification. Though this will reinforce the issues dealt with but due to more or less repetitive mention of same issues again and again it may get bit boring. For this readers can read multiple sections, instead of reading serially, using multiple bookmarks. As for my favorites. First is the letter-p189,"From a letter dated 13July 1958"- involving his discourse on communism & its variant (though distinctly different) socialism. Another are last two letters in part 4 ("War & peace" section), where he delves into the reasons for China's 1962 aggression. Though his analysis is only partial and i would like to read his complete letter on this traumatic issue. And last but not the least was the second last letter in part 5 "India and world" from a letter dated 20th July 1955. Here it was enlightening to read as to the reasons for meager civil liberties in the then USSR. Though Pundit Nehru seems to be more forgiving of USSR's then brutal suppression of civil liberties, to which readers (including me) may not fully subscribe. But through this letter (apart from others) we get a glimpse into his hold on international issues. Finally i loved the book and would love to get hold of unedited letters on the issues of my interest (there is in fact complete collection published in five volumes by G. Parthasarathi), as they seem to be the sole source of Nehru's thought on issues of the time.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Samita Kaur Mangat Bal

    Insight into our first prime minister's vision of a free India. His view for a secular country. Great read. Reading this book one realises that what a great man he was! His vision for free India and to maintain peace and harmony. His strong believe in bringing India forward as a nation where there is no discrimination on the basis of caste, colour, creed, religion or colour.His deep concern to bring India out of the shackles of narrow domestic walls. Such a great man who laid foundations of FREE Insight into our first prime minister's vision of a free India. His view for a secular country. Great read. Reading this book one realises that what a great man he was! His vision for free India and to maintain peace and harmony. His strong believe in bringing India forward as a nation where there is no discrimination on the basis of caste, colour, creed, religion or colour.His deep concern to bring India out of the shackles of narrow domestic walls. Such a great man who laid foundations of FREE INDIA with his mentor Mahatma Gandhi.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Nikunj

    This book deals with the letters written to his Chief Ministers by our beloved Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru during his tenure as the first PM of independent India. They represent muse, reflective as well as profound thoughts regarding various contemporary issues during his tenure. They reflect on his vision for India as a nation and as a civilization for years to come. Unless you are an ardent fan of Nehru you will find the book boring.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Shashank

    As with his other works, this one is a concise history of his contemporary world. The depth and sagacity of his letters is amazing. issues are addressed in the letters are thought provoking and still relevant.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Akshay Shinkar

  15. 4 out of 5

    Niraj Singh

  16. 5 out of 5

    Md. Kaisul

  17. 4 out of 5

    Balasubramaniam Vaidyanathan

  18. 4 out of 5

    Akshay Mijar

  19. 4 out of 5

    Debasish Bhattacharyya

  20. 5 out of 5

    eliezunggmail.com

  21. 4 out of 5

    Arun Jee

  22. 4 out of 5

    Velpula Audityaa

  23. 5 out of 5

    Anuj

  24. 5 out of 5

    Swarup Chakraborty

  25. 4 out of 5

    Yogesh

  26. 4 out of 5

    shreyas

  27. 5 out of 5

    Chaitanya

  28. 5 out of 5

    sankarshan

  29. 5 out of 5

    Deepa Iyer

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sankarsan Bose

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