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Watch: Jawaharlal Nehru and the Art of Letter Writing

Digging through thousands of letters written by Jawaharlal Nehru to politicians, rivals, other leaders and family.

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There are many ways to remember Jawaharlal Nehru, but one aspect of him often forgotten is Nehru, the letter writer.

Through thousands of letters written by Nehru, all in immaculate English, we can see glimpses of various aspects of Nehru as he went through his life and how his thinking shaped a newly independent India.

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In Letters from a Father to His Daughter, a compilation of his letters to a 10-year-old Indira Gandhi from prison as early as 1928, we see a devoted father, anxious about missing out on time spent with his daughter and yet keen to be able to mould her imagination in some way.

Book cover of one his many books that have been compiled from his letters. (Photo Courtesy: <a href="http://aicc.org.in/web.php/president/books/#.WSjwjBOGN-U">All India Congress Committee</a>)&nbsp;
Book cover of one his many books that have been compiled from his letters. (Photo Courtesy: All India Congress Committee

When Nehru wrote to Mahatma Gandhi, we can see Nehru the student, asking questions about politics and morality and discussing ideas they both had for India.

Nehru wrote not just to those on his side, but also extensively debated with his critics and other contemporaries. His exchanges with Vallabhai Patel, a man who is now called his rival, tell us that in reality, despite the differences in their personalities and ideas, the two men shared a common passion for India and came together when it really mattered. His letters to Jinnah don’t shy away from debate either.

Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru have discussed their ideas of India over several letter and decades. (Photo Courtesy: <a href="https://twitter.com/indianinterest/status/712104334691999744">Twitter/The Indian Interest</a>)&nbsp;
Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru have discussed their ideas of India over several letter and decades. (Photo Courtesy: Twitter/The Indian Interest

His contemporary, Jayprakash Narayan, criticised Nehru for not being socialist enough while another, C Rajagopalachari, prodded him on the issue of entrepreneurship in the economic renewal of India. He debated both of them through detailed letters going into dozens of pages, exchanged over many years, where each side tried to persuade the other, with the utmost respect and patience.

Most formidably, Nehru’s letters to his Chief Ministers as Prime Minister reveal Nehru as the architect of the free India we have come to know. His letters also played a very important role in the way he handled foreign relations.

A newspaper cutting of Pandit Nehru sharing a cup of tea with President of the Arab Republic and the Indonesian President in 1960. (Photo Courtesy: <a href="https://guy8461.wordpress.com/2015/08/06/6th-august-september-1965-india-invades-pakistan-in-kashmir-issue/">Shivaji Raje’s blog</a>)&nbsp;
A newspaper cutting of Pandit Nehru sharing a cup of tea with President of the Arab Republic and the Indonesian President in 1960. (Photo Courtesy: Shivaji Raje’s blog

On 27 May 1964, with Nehru, this glorious tradition of writing letters also died.

In 2004, Manmohan Singh tried reviving the tradition of writing to chief ministers, but with the sluggishness that had set into the administration by then, the letters were dismissed and called redundant. History, though, may suggest otherwise.

Nehru’s signature at the end of a letter. (Photo Courtesy: <a href="https://www.pinterest.com/pin/260927372140874072/">Pinterest</a>)&nbsp;
Nehru’s signature at the end of a letter. (Photo Courtesy: Pinterest

Editor: Veeru Krishan Mohan
Producer: Suresh Mathew

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