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Book Review- Nehru: The Debates That Defined India

At a time when Jawaharlal Nehru’s legacy is being debated with questions being raised about his impact on India’s trajectory, Tripurdaman Singh and Adeel Hussain’s most recent book does a great service in further clarifying Nehru’s role in shaping India’s history. The book does so by analysing his conversations with four pivotal individuals during his lifetime who were Sir Mohammad Iqbal, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Sardar Vallabhai Patel and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee.

The first chapter of the book starts with the encounter Nehru had with Mohammad Iqbal. Though there were a few similarities between both these personalities, differences between these two were sufficient enough to expose a huge chasm that existed on the issues such as religion(specifically Islam), the fate of the Ahmaddiyas (or Qadianis) and the idea of ‘Nationalism.’ All of these issues were significant during their time and there appeared to be hardly any scope for convergence of thought .

The second chapter which describes Nehru’s correspondence with Mohammad Ali Jinnah, assumes significant importance as the authors state in the beginning “Nehru and Jinnah’s arguments were the opening act of Partition.” We get to see that Nehru appears to be clueless about the ideology of the Muslim League and therefore attempts to understand its ‘political’ and ‘communal policy.’ At the same time, Nehru is also sceptical about Jinnah’s 14 points. For example- The point of having ‘Coalition Ministries’ did not appeal to Nehru. At the same time, Nehru was an internationalist and did not view the problem of ‘Hindu-Muslim’ unity as a serious problem. By contrast, Jinnah’s concern was purportedly the conditions of Muslims in India and how to safeguard their rights.

The third chapter has an exchange of letters between Prime Minister Nehru and Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Apart from the famous letter of Sardar Patel to Nehru on the issue of ‘Tibet’ and nefarious designs behind China’s policies, it is quite evident to the readers of the book that there was a significant amount of difference between the two on the way to approach the foreign policy of the country. Patel’s distrust of Communism was deep and appears that it worried him more than ‘Imperialism.’ At the same time, Nehru was confident of the fact that ultimately ‘India’ and ‘China’ would have to walk together since both are giant neighbours in the same continent.

The last chapter of the book deals with the heated exchange that occurred in Parliament between Mr. Nehru and Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee on the first amendment of the Constitution. If any of the readers have gone Tripurdaman Singh’s first book titled ‘Sixteen Stormy Days:The Story of First Amendment of the Constitution of India, the last chapter will be of particular interest, as it shows us how two parliamentary leaders debated over the amendment in relation to introducing curbs on freedom of speech and expression in the country.


This book has contributed significantly to scholarship on Jawaharlal Nehru. Praised by his ideologues and rebuked by his detractors, the book helps separate fact from fiction by placing events in their historical context.


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