Jawaharlal Nehru’s political philosophy and his economic ideas were at odds with each other, according to his one time confidential assistant Keshav Malik.
The 85-year-old Malik — art critic, scholar, curator and poet — handled the confidential business affairs of free India’s first Prime Minister from 1947 to 1948. He quit the job to pursue higher studies but maintained close links with his boss afterwards.
Malik felt, in hindsight, that Nehru’s economic vision was blinkered and had got disconnected with his political philosophy.
“His (Nehru’s) ideas of economics and political democracy were at odds. He economic sense was weak. The inherent folly of the Soviet style state-run economy he introduced led to the bureaucracy emerging powerful. That’s what happened,” Malik said. A Padmashri recipient, Malik is a Fellow of the Lalit Kala Akademi for life time.
Privately Nehru believed in heavy industries, but could not make people understand the need for such industries.
“His economic and ideas on industries were somewhat vague. The general masses didn’t understand how heavy industries actually worked in operation,” he said.
Malik said that Nehru was a prisoner of his aristocratic lineage. “He was generous and very well-mannered. He had great sense of etiquette. But he was far removed from reality,” Malik said in his assessment of the man he served as a 23-year-old.
Citing Nehru’s relationship with Mahatma Gandhi as an example, Malik said that it was “based on sentiments and respect” but he had never accepted the Mahatma’s economic philosophy. “Gandhi’s philosophy would have made more sense in a rural, impoverished nation like India,” he said.
The Padmashri recipient, however, believed that Nehru had other qualities. “He had it in him. For us, he was a celebrity, a hero we looked up to.” The art critic, who worked with several newspapers and magazines ever since he returned to India in 1960, pointed out that Nehru also had an autocratic streak in him, which he controlled well.
“He wrote an anonymous newspaper article titled ‘If I was a dictator where he criticised himself humorously. He was more democratic than his daughter (Indira Gandhi),” Malik said.