Wednesday, August 15, 2007

EDW: Jawaharlal Nehru

Since both India and Pakistan are celebrating their 60th anniversaries, this is as good a "happy birthday" as I can manage. While Gandhi gets all the plaudits in the west thanks to his non-violence shtick, I'm afraid his appalling dress sense (half-naked fakir, indeed) disqualifies him from an EDW.

Jinnah would be a different matter, but since Pakistan has not quite developed in the fashion in which he might have hoped, I think Nehru is the best choice. Not that Nehru was perfect by any means – but he's one of those exceedingly rare politicians, like Churchill, who were wrong about many, many things (eg Churchill was wrong about India, Nehru's economic policies were disastrous), but who provided vision, leadership and inspiration to their country when it was most needed. In Nehru's case this resulted in a state which was essentially secular and democratic – not perfectly so, but the many, many examples of what happens when India veers away from this path suggest that with poorer leadership in the early years things could have been much worse.

His speech at the time of Indian independence is once of the finest of the last century, but the fact that he delivered it whilst wearing a type of clothing that would be named after him seals it. Rare are the statesmen who have items of clothing or accouterments named after them (Gladstone bags, Wellington boots, Mao jackets, even Anthony Eden hats – why hasn't anyone named a handbag after Maggie Thatcher?). Not even Churchill managed this (although he did have a champagne named after him and Special Brew was created in his honour).

However, it's 60 years since Indian independence, but it's probably still too soon to try and have a sensible discussion about the British raj, much less on the interweb. (That said, I'd be interested in any decent arguments about what responsibility the Brits, and Mountbatten, have for the post partition bloodshed: was if foreseeable at the time? was it realistic for the Brits to stay in India longer?) Unfortunately any such discussion does tend to veer between the "we brought peace, civilisation and stopped you burning widows to death" vs "you bastards, you stole all our money and killed us" and the self-flagellating converse. Still for sensible discussion of these topics, this is as good a place as any.

Nevertheless this is a good a time as any for modern Britons to reflect on what a remarkable accident of history the Raj – and, by extension, much of the British empire – was. When Charles II was given Bombay as a wedding gift (it was just a pawky wee island) he hived it off to the East India Company at the first opportunity. And if you'd told the 17th century traders who worked for the company that it would one day rule most of the sub-continent, that the whole land would recognise British rule and that it would sweep away the Mughal empire they'd have though you were crazy.

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Blogger Glamourpuss said...

'Why hasn't anyone named a handbag after Maggie Thatcher?'

I don't think any self-respecting woman would carry a Thatcher, with the overt connotations of middle-aged, battle-axedom. Whatever you think of her politics, Thatcher was one of those women with absolutely no innate sense of style, a tradition her daughter continues to this day.

11:00 am  

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