by Sachi Sri Kantha
Revisiting That Unusual Playboy magazine Interview of Nehru
Introductory Note by Sachi Sri Kantha
I was a bit amused to read recently a column by Gouri Chatterjee [The Telegraph, Calcutta; November 6, 2003] in which she had made passing reference to that unusual Playboy magazine interview by the then Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. While acknowledging the forthcoming 50th birthday of Hugh Hefner’s creation, she had observed in a tongue-in-cheek fashion:
“It’s hard to imagine the excitement the magazine once generated – when it carried the interview of Jawaharlal Nehru in October 1963 or after, when smuggled copies of Playboy were valued higher than a bottle of Chivas Regal. At times, repression can be the media’s best playmate.”
What the then English-reading, highfalutin' India’s society folks (which really numbered less than 5 percent of the then total population of India) and moral adjudicators wanted to read 40 years ago in that particular Playboy magazine were not Nehru’s thoughts. The Indian freedom-fighter’s thoughts would have been nothing new for them, if they had indeed read and listened to their prime minister’s mind; rather they were largely interested in titillating themselves with the color photos of semi nude women models. Now forty years later, Italian actress Elsa Martinelli (born Jan.13, 1935) whose semi-nude photos appeared in that particular Playboy issue as ‘pictorial’, and for whom India’s English-reading society folks salivated like Pavlov’s dogs, is a senior citizen.
Last year, in my Pirabhakaran Phenomenon series (part 43) I made reference to this particular unusual Playboy magazine interview of the then Indian prime minister Jawaharal Nehru, which appeared in October 1963. This is what I wrote then.
“There is a post-script to this Playboy interview given by Nehru, which deserves mention. A few months after the publication of this interview, there appeared an editorial confession in the Playboy magazine (a rare occurrence by Playboy’s standard), that the purported interviewer, who had not been identified by name, did not exclusively interview the then India’s prime minister for the magazine. Rather, the interviewer had done a ‘cut and paste’ job of answers from previously available Nehru
material and submitted it to the Playboy. Nehru died in May 1964. That the published views belonged to Nehru were not in question. But that they were not exclusively offered to the Playboy showed that even four decades ago, fakery by Indian journalists was a sport adeptly played on the gullibles. That even an American icon like Hugh Hefner was fooled by the journalist version of Indian rope-trick produced amusement to some observers.”
I acknowledge now that I erred in one fact. I wrote the above paragraph from my memory, without checking the original source promptly. The editorial confessional statement, in a boxed column, on the trickery by the interviewer appeared in the same October issue (page 3) of the Playboy, which carried the interview. For reference, I provide below in full the confessional statement made by the editorial desk of Playboy.
“Just before closing this section (the last to be printed) of the October issue, after the rest of the magazine had gone to press, we received word from the Indian Embassy in Washington that our interview with Prime Minister Nehru was not, in fact, the result of an exclusive, personal conversation with the head of the Indian state, but simply a gathering together of public pronouncements made by the Prime Minister in various speeches, statements, etc., over the past several years. The Nehru material was submitted to us by a well-regarded journalist-publisher who has previously conducted numerous similar interviews with famous personages all over the world; it was sold as an actual interview, recorded on tape, and the covering letters that so described the material also included photographs of the Prime Minister and journalist together. There was no reason to doubt its validity and we consequently published it in good faith as a personal interview. However, an official refutation from the Indian Government must be respected, and since our attempts to reach the supposed interviewer for further clarification have proved unsuccessful, editorial integrity requires that we print this statement.”
Having recorded this, I would assert that even 40 years after its publication, the views of Nehru presented in that Playboy magazine interview still carries much bite for the journalists from India –especially those like N.Ram, Malini Parthasarathy and Nirupama Subramanian from the Kasturi Ranga Aiyangar House of Hindu publications in Chennai - and also to other political pundits who poke their noses into the affairs of neighboring nations like Sri Lanka and Eelam. Thus, in my belief it is not irrelevant to read what India’s first and the best prime minister (so far) opined on issues relating freedom of press, similarities between unscrupulous journalists and politicians, democracy, armament, Mahatma Gandhi and nonviolence.
It is a disgrace to India that those who succeeded Nehru as prime ministers of India, with the exception of his daughter Indira, were merely ten mediocre grade politicians (Shastri, Desai, Charan Singh, Rajiv Gandhi, V.P.Singh, Chandrasekhar, Narasimha Rao, Deve Gowda, Gujral and now Vajpayee) who either had guts and whims or who were spineless and wimps. Excluding Vajpayee who has independent recognition as a Hindi poet, others were no thinkers in a Nehruvian caliber. If these ten mediocrities thought about something, it was only about how to climb to the prime ministerial pole position and what shenanigans they would chose from not being pushed out from that pole position. Even Nehru’s daughter Indira did not shine as a thinker and as a worthy political daughter of her father.
Thus, I provide below the complete text of Nehru’s interview for study and reflection. For the sake of preserving the context of Nehru’s prime minsterial period, descriptions to issues of the times, such as references to the Cold War, China-India border war of 1962, Nonalignment Movement and the Goa territory annexation have not been excluded. The population numbers projected by Nehru in the interview for the year 2000 are left untouched, though these had turned out be underestimates now. Despite such minor blemishes, in totality, Nehru’s thoughts on democracy and chest-thumping gestures as well as warfare and armament are still very much relevant to the world of Bushs, Blairs and Putins. For easy reference, at the end of questions, I have added numbers serially, amounting to 45. Other than this, the original questions and complete answers are preserved.
Full Text of Nehru’s Interview to the Playboy magazine
[Courtesy: Playboy magazine, Oct.1963]
Playboy: Mr.Nehru, during your 16 years as Prime Minister of India, you have endeavored – with considerable success – to keep yourself and your country aloof from the partisan conflicts of the Cold War. From your vantage point of nonalignment, how would you assess the dominant mood of our time? (1)
Nehru: The symbol of the age is the nuclear bomb – or nuclear energy, if you like, though it is well to remember that today nuclear energy is thought of in terms of bombs only. Man’s thinking is conditioned by that symbol. Probably, the prevailing feeling in the world today is fear. Almost everybody is afraid of something; every country is afraid of some other country. Hundreds of millions all over the world live under some kind of suspended sentence of death – from day to day an atmosphere is created in people’s minds of death’s inevitability. We seem to be driven helplessly toward the abyss. More and more people in responsible positions talk in terms of passion, revenge and retaliation. They talk of security and behave in a way which is likely to put an end to all security. They talk of peace and think and act in terms of war.
Playboy: What do you think are the possible consequences of this war mentality? (2)
Nehru: When the desire for survival asserts itself, then logical thinking and the reasoning faculties do not even function. Human beings forget their humanity, because they are fighting to escape some dreadful terror. They do not care what happens or what they do in order to survive. But when the real struggle comes, few may survive and, possibly, those who do will not be human. If it comes, it will be an overwhelming and all-enveloping war, a war which may well bring utter destruction to the world and which will probably ruin the structure of modern civilization. The democratic nations may win the war – mind you, I have little doubt that they will – but I doubt if after the disaster of a world war, democracy could survive at all. What we are discussing, therefore, is a matter of the greatest consequence. I wish to say frankly that I have no easy remedy. All we can do is to grope in the dim twilight for something that will, perhaps, prevent the twilight from becoming dark night.
Playboy: How, in your opinion, can the malignant belief in the inevitability of war be most effectively countered? (3)
Nehru: Something more is necessary than mere formulas. What we need is a passion for peace. It is to this temper of peace that I want especially to direct my mind and your mind. While we are in the midst of an international crisis, perhaps an even greater crisis confronts us today in the spirit of man. We have built up a great civilization and its achievements are remarkable. It holds the promise of even greater achievements in the future. But while these material achievements are very great, somehow we appear to be slipping away from the very essence of civilization. Ultimately, culture and civilization rest in the mind and behavior of man and not in the material evidence of it that we see around us. In times of war the civilizing process stops and we go back to some barbarous phase of the human kind.
Playboy: A popular truism holds that the civilizing process will be accelerated by the dissemination of knowledge through modern communications and transport. Do you agree? (4)
Nehru: There is a great deal of confusion in my mind on this point. Nations, individuals and groups talk of understanding one another and it seems obvious that people should try to understand and to learn from one another. Yet, when I look through the pages of history or study current events, I sometimes find that people who know one another most, quarrel most. Countries which are next door in Europe or in Asia somehow seem to rub one another the wrong way, though they know one another very thoroughly. Thus knowledge, by itself, does not lead to greater cooperation or friendship.
Playboy: What do you believe must be the concomitant of knowledge? (5)
Nehru: If we approach our fellow human beings or countries in a friendly way, with our minds and hearts open – and that does not mean surrendering something
that we consider of essential value to truth or to our own genius – then we shall be led not only towards understanding but towards the right type of understanding.
Playboy: How does this philosophy – the concept of the open hand and the open heart – relate to India’s foreign policy? (6)
Nehru: There are only two ways of approaching the problem of international relations. One is the conviction that, even though we try to avoid it, war is bound to come. Therefore, we should prepare for it and when it comes, join this side or that. The other way starts with the feeling that it can be avoided. Now, there is a great difference in these two approaches. If you are mentally convinced that war is bound to come, you naturally accustom yourself to the idea and, perhaps unconsciously, even work for it. On the other hand, if you want to work for the avoidance of war, you must believe that it can be avoided. Of course, no country can entirely ignore the possibility of being entangled in a war; it must take such precautions as it ought to.
Playboy: For India, this possibility became reality last October when 110,000 Red Chinese troops poured down from the Himalayas into Ladakh and the North East Frontier Agency to launch a month-long border war which ended with the present uneasy ceasefire. Is it true, as has been reported, that you believe communism per se had nothing to do with China’s attack? (7)
Nehru: Yes. Chiang Kai-shek makes the same claims on our territory as those made by the Chinese Communists.
Playboy: At the time of the Chinese invasion, India’s military forces appeared to be poorly equipped and inadequately armed, a condition for which many blamed former Defence Minister V.K.Krishna Menon. In fact, it has been suggested that were it not for India’s dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir the Indian army might scarcely have been maintained at all. What is your attitude toward armed forces in general – and as they affect India? (8)
Nehru: Our army, navy and airforce are not worth mentioning compared with the armadas of other nations. But have these countries solved their problems with the help of their armed forces? I am of the opinion that they have not. We find that somehow the methods we adopt to deal with evil only result in more evil. We have to meet the evil with armed force; yet in doing so we are ourselves corrupted by that evil. Eventually, we develop what may be called the military outlook. While there have been great soldiers in the past, I do not think that the military outlook or the purely military method has yet solved any major problem of the world. That was why a great Frenchman once said that was was much too serious to be entrusted to soldiers. But if it is too serious to be entrusted to the soldier, to entrust it to a civilian with a military outlook is worse.
Playboy: In view of what you have just said, would you characterize as a pacifist? (9)
Nehru: I am not a pacifist. Unhappily, the world of today finds that it cannot do without force. We have to protect ourselves and to prepare ourselves for evey contingency. We have to meet aggression and evils of other kinds. But in resisting evil, we must not allow ourselves to be swept away by our own passions and fears and act in a manner which is itself evil. Even in resisting evil and aggression, we have always to maintain the temper of peace and hold out the hand of friendship to those who, through fear or for other reasons, may be opposed to us. That is the lesson that our great leader Mahatma Gandhi taught us and, imperfect as we are, we draw inspiration from that great teaching.
Playboy: You once wrote that only two people have genuinely influenced your life – your father, personally, and Mahatma Gandhi, ideologically. What in Gandhi’s thinking most impressed you – and your countrymen? (10)
Nehru: Mahatma Gandhi, in a sense, burst upon the Indian scene. He was, of course, known before and loved and admired for his work in South Africa but he had not functioned on an all-India plane. He suddenly started functioning. And there was magic about the message he gave. It was very simple. His analysis of the situation in India was essentially that we were suffering terribly from fear, so he just went about telling us. ‘Don’t be afraid. Why are you afraid? What can happen to you?’ Of course, when he talked in these terms he was thinking of our political fears. If we did something that the British Government did not like, well, we’d be punished. We’d be sent to prison. We might be shot. And so a general sense of fear pervaded the land. It would take hold of the poorest peasant, the lowliest of all our people, whose produce or nearly all of it went to his landlord and who hardly had enough food to eat. This poor man was kicked and cuffed by everybody – by his landlord, by his landlord’s agent, by the police, by the moneylender.
Playboy: Why was Gandhi so dramatically effective in dispelling this sense of fear? (11)
Nehru: Whether there was something in the atmosphere or some magic in Gandhi’s voice, I do not know. Anyhow, this very simple lesson – ‘Don’t be afraid’ – caught on and we realized, with a tremendous lifting of hearts, that there was nothing to fear. Even the poor peasant straightened his back a little and began to look people in the face and there was a ray of hope in his sunken eyes. Obviously, if we had gone to prison for some high misdemeanor with disgrace attached to it, it would have been terribly painful. But because we felt we were serving a great cause, it became not a fate to be afraid of but something to be coveted. Many of us in India have spent a great part of our lives in trying, tough imperfectly, to follow the teachings of our great leader. We were poor stuff. Again and again, he gave us strength and the vision to achieve our goal. For 30 years or more, we took shelter under his shadow and under his guidance.
Playboy: A profoundly important part of his teachings was, of course, the commitment to nonviolence. Do you consider nonviolence to be an effective tool of international diplomacy today? (12)
Nehru: The efficacy of nonviolence is not entirely convincing. None of us would dare, in the present state of the world, to do away with the instruments of organized violence. We have, indeed, fallen far below what might be called the Gandhian ideology, though it still influences us to some extent. Anyway, it is not a question of ideologies at all; it is a question of looking at the world with clear eyes. Mahatma Gandhi once spoke warningly of the countries of the world looking at one another with bloodshot eyes. I try, as far as I can, to keep my eyes clear; bloodshot eyes bode no clear thinking, and no clear action.
Playboy: In your eloquent and moving funeral oration following Gandhi’s assassination in 1948, you said: ‘The light that has illumined this country for these many, many years will illumine this country for many more years, and a thousand years later, that light will still be seen in this country…’ While Gandhi’s memory quite obviously still lives, do you feel that his light still shines on your country with undiminished brilliance? (13)
Nehru: Mahatma Gandhi and the Hindu poet Rabindranath Tagore gave birth to India as she is today. We are their children in thought – very imperfect, very foolish children but their children, nevertheless. Both of them, though vastly different, sprang from the soil and culture of India and are rooted in the 10,000 year old Indian tradition – both so different but both reminding us of the innumerable facets of India. They represented the ideal of young India – the ideal which I had in my young days and which possibly many people still have. And yet I find that those two men somehow seem very distant now. Though we speak of them very often, we have fallen into different ways of thinking and taken to other ideals. Instead of that mighty sprit of creative effort and faith and hope, which those men in their own different ways represented in the modern age, India, as also other countries, begins to represent more and more a spirit of denial and destruction. And so, a fear creeps into my mind; are all our labors possibly going to be swept away by something totally beyond our control?
Playboy: In an effort to maintain a degree of control in international affairs, India has pursued the policy of nonalignment. You have been quoted as saying that the existence of this independent force lessens the danger of war between the two major groups. Exactly what can a third force do? (14)
Nehru: We cannot influence other countries by force of arms or pressure or money. What we can do positively is not much. To imagine that we will shake the world or fashion international affairs according to our thinking is absurd. We cannot issue ultimatums or make demands; nor can we express our views in strong language to the world at large because it has little meaning unless we are in a position to do something about it. It is certainly within our power not to do anything or say anything which will increase the fear and the hatred. We should not indulge in the contest of shouting, cursing and slandering which seems to have replaced diplomacy. Where we can help positively, we should help, although there is always the risk that our attempts may fail. We cannot take the world on our shoulders and remodel it according to our heart’s desire – but we can help in creating a climate of peace which is so essential for the realization of our objectives.
Playboy: Was this the philosophy underlying your efforts as peacemaker in the power struggles in the Congo, Indochina and Korea? (15)
Nehru: Yes. I have often pointed out that our policy is not merely negative or neutral or passive; so far as I can see, it is a very active one. We do not wish to play a large part in the affairs of the world. We have troubles of our own. But, where our voice is sought, it will be given in accordance with our views and nobody else’s, regardless of the pressure that is brought to bear upon us.
Playboy: And there times when candor should be muted by diplomatic considerations – or do you believe that honesty is always the best foreign policy? (16)
Nehru: We naturally like to avoid what might be called defamatory attacks against leading foreign nations or personalities. You can criticize as much as you like either our policy or any other country’s policy but you must always keep in mind that the affairs of the world are in a very delicate state and words,whether oral or written, count; they make a difference for good or for evil. A word said out of place may create a grave situation, and often does. In fact, it would be a good thing, I think, if most statesmen dealing with foreign affairs became quiet for a few months. It would be still better if newspapers became quiet for a few months, too. It would be best of all if everybody were quiet for a few months.
Playboy: You have at times been critical of the United Nations – for example, when that organization branded the Red Chinese as aggressors in Korea. What, exactly, is your attitude toward the UN? (17)
Nehru: I believe all of us are liable to error and I rebel against the notion that an organization or idea or country can be infallible. So, I have ventured, in all humility, sometimes to criticize those developments at the United Nations which seemed to me to be out of keeping with its charter and its past record and professions. Nevertheless, I have believed, and I do believe, that the United Nations, in spite of its many faults, in spite of its having deviated from its aims somewhat, is a basic and fundamental part of the structure of the world today. If the United Nations ceases to be, or if it radically changes its position and nature, then there is nothing left which would inspire hope for the future. We shall have to go through terrible experiences and face disasters again before we return to something which offers a forum for all nations, differing as they do from one another.
Playboy: Then India’s foreign policy includes firm support of the UN? (18)
Nehru: We are a member of the family of nations and we have no wish to shirk any of the obligations and burdens of that membership. We have accepted fully the obligations of membership in the United Nations and intend to abide by them. But that can only be done effectively in our own way and of our own choice. Our immediate needs are economic betterment and raising the standards of our people. The more we succeed in this, the more we can serve the cause of peace in the world.
Playboy: Do you ever see the UN as a forum for debate between the forces of evil and the forces of morality? (19)
Nehru: We here and elsewhere are apt to say that a country is good or bad, as though countries were solid blocks which are good or bad. They consist of millions of human beings – very decent and peaceful human beings. Governments may go wrong and more so politicians. But do not ever talk of countries and peoples as bad. There is a great deal of common humanity in all of us, and in all the countries, although we may differ outwardly a great deal. Yet we find people, nations and statesmen talking in terms of the greatest certitude about their being right and about their undertaking some moral crusade or other for the benefit of mankind. Sometimes, I feel that the world might be better off if there were fewer of thse modern crusaders about. Everyone wants not only to carry on a moral crusade in his own environment but to impose his moral crusade upon another. When moralities or the objectives of the moral crusades differ, conflict inevitably comes.
Playboy: In a speech given in 1947, on the eve of Indian independence, you said, ‘Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now comes the time when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially.’ How substantial has the redemption of this pledge been? What is the spiritual and material condition of India today, after 16 years of independence? (20)
Nehru: India today presents a very mixed picture of hope and anguish, of remarkable advances and at the same time of inertia, of a new spirit and also of the dead hand of privilege, of an over-all and growing unity and of many disruptive tendencies. There is a great vitality and a ferment in people’s minds and activities. Perhaps we who live in the middle of this ever-changing scene do not always realize the full significane of all that is happening. Often outsiders can make a better appraisal of the situation. It is remarkable that a country and a people rooted in the remote past, who have shown so much resistance to change, should now be marching forward rapidly. We are making history in India even though we might not be conscious of it.
Playboy: In that same 1947 speech you specifically called for ‘the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity’ in India. Are you still optimistic about the eventual elimination of these conditions? (21)
Nehru: What tomorrow’s India will be like, I cannot say. I can only express my hopes and wishes. Naturally, I want India to advance on the material plane, to fulfill her plans, to raise the standard of living of her vast population. I want the narrow conflicts of today in the name of religion or caste, language or province, to cease, and a classless and casteless society to be built up where every individual has full opportunity to grow according to his worth and ability. In particular, I hope that the curse of caste will be ended, for with it there cannot be either democracy or socialism. Tomorrow’s India will be what we make it by today’s labors. I have no doubt but that India will progress industrially and otherwise; that she will advance in science and technology; that our people’s standards will rise; that education will spread; that health conditions will be better; and that art and culture will enrich people’s lives. We have started on this pilgrimage with strong purpose and good heart, and we shall reach the end of the journey, however long that might be. But what I am concerned with is not merely our material progress, but the quality and depth of our people. Gaining power through industrial processes, will they lose themselves in the quest of individual wealth and soft living? That would be a tragedy for it would be a negation of what India has stood for in the past and, I think, in the present time also as exemplified by Gandhi. Power is necessary, but wisdom is essential. It is only power with wisdom that is good.
Playboy: In point of material progress, it has been observed that at the time of the Red Chinese attack last year, India – then entering her third Five Year Plan – had a greater growth rate than the Chinese. Is it your own belief that India is the faster growing of the two countries? (22)
Nehru: It is not fair to compare India with China. I do not mean to imply that we are cleverer than China or that we are going ahead faster. The Chinese are an amazing people – amazing in the sense of their capacity for hard work and for cooperative work. I doubt if there are any other people quite equal to them in this respect. But, between us, there is a very big difference, the effects of which it remains for history to show. The difference is that we are trying to function in a democratic setup.
Playboy: Do you believe that a democratic setup is morally superior to one that is communistic? (23)
Nehru: It is no good saying that we are better or more virtuous than others. No question of virtue is involved in this. Ultimately, it is a question of which setup and which structure of government – political or economic – pays the highest dividends. When I say highest dividends, although they are important, but cultural and spiritual dividends also. We have deliberately chosen a democratic setup and we feel that it is good for our people and for our country in the ultimate analysis.
Playboy: What do you consider to be the major defects of a democratic system? (24)
Nehru: Democracy does not like stinting in the present – not usually. In times of great crisis, it might. Democracy wants today the good things of today. That is its disadvantage. Too, with all my admiration and love for democracy, I am not prepared to accept the statement that the largest number of people are always right. Now, I have little doubt that democracy is the best of all the various methods available to us for the governance of human beings. It offers society something of the highest human values. At the same time, we are seeing today the emergence of democracy in a somewhat uncontrolled form. When we think of democracy, we normally think of it in the rather limited sense of the 19th Century or the early 20th Century use of the term. Owing to the remarkable technological growth, we now have vast masses of human beings brought up by the industrial revolution, who are not encouraged or given an opportunity to think much. They live a life which, from the point of view of physical comfort, is incomparably better than it has been in any previous generation, but they seldom have a chance to think. And yet, in a democratic system, it is this vast mass of human beings that will ultimately elect those who govern.
Playboy: Do you think that the judgment of the electorate is likely to improve? (25)
Nehru: That becomes a little doubtful. I think it may be said without offense – for I belong to that tribe of politicians – that the quality of men who are selected by this modern democratic method of adult suffrage gradually deteriorates. There are outstanding individuals chosen, no doubt, but their quality does deteriorate because of this lack of thinking and because of the application of modern methods of propaganda. All the noise and din and the machinery of advertisement prevent men from thinking. They react to it by producing a dictator or a dumb politician, who is insensitive, who can stand all the noise in the world and yet remain standing on his two feet. He gets elected while his rival collapses because he cannot stand all this din. It is an extraordinary state of affairs.
Playboy: The story is told that when the first airplane landed in Ladakh in 1948, the country people ran up with bundles of hay to feed it. Apocryphal or no, the tale serves to dramatize the sharp wrench which technology is giving – and will continue to give – to accustomed ways of thinking in India. What is your personal reaction to modern mechanization? (26)
Nehru: I admire the machine greatly. But it grows and grows and grows till it becomes almost human; it begins to think – to give answers to questions. It becomes human, and the human being appears to become more and more a machine. If the human mind loses its creative faculty and becomes more and more of a machine, then surely that is a tragedy for humanity.
Playboy: Do you feel that this sort of mechanical perversion can also extend into the realm of science? (27)
Nehru: We come up against a certain inherent conflict in society between the coexisting principles of continuity and of conservatism and the scientific principle of discovery which brings about change and challenges that continuity. The scientific worker, although he is praised and patted on the back, is, nevertheless, not wholly approved of, because he comes and upsets the status quo. Normally speaking, science seldom really has the facilities that it deserves except when some misfortune comes to a country in the shape of war. Then everything has to be set aside and science has its way, even though it is for an evil purpose.
Playboy: Is the fact that India’s population is now approaching 440,000,000 – more people than the combined populations of South America, Africa and Australia – a matter of immediate concern to you and your government? (28)
Nehru: It is expected that the world population may be anything between 3,500,000,000 and 5,000,000,000 by the end of this century. In India, the estimates vary between 600,000,000 and 680,000,000 by the year 2000. The figure of 600,000,000 is the least that we can expect, provided we can check the pace of growth to some extent. There are two aspects of this growth of population. The one with which we are most concerned is that it comes in the way of our economic advance and keeps standards low even though we might be making progress in other directions. The other is that this tremendous world growth is eating up the world’s resources and industrial materials at a terrific pace. Thus two consequences flow; one is that we must check the rate of growth of population and the other that we must find other power sources and materials. Possibly the development of nuclear energy will provide us with other sources of power. We in India are most concerned with checking the growth of population and this has become a matter not only of importance but of urgency.
Playboy: One means of raising the standard of living of such a vast number of people is education – and one means of education is through the existence of a vigorous press. Are you in favor of forceful governmetal control or intervention to insure that the news is properly reported by a country’s newspapers? (29)
Nehru: Very few individuals are competent enough to know facts or form an opinion about distant occurrences independently. They are naturally guided by what the press says. Newspapers are, of course, of all kinds. There are responsible newspapers; there are newspapers which are sometimes responsible; and there are some sheets which seem to excel only in flights of imagination and other acts of irresponsibility. In the old days, it was, or at least was thought to be, the function of the government to suppress the newspapers that had an evil tendency, in the opinion of the government. That, of course, is an utterly wrong approach because you cannot cure the evil by trying to suppress it.
Playboy: As an advocate of freedom of the press in theory, do you ever find fault with it in practice? (30)
Nehru: The person who gets the opportunity to express himself nowadays is the person with means. He can run newspapers, buy them or stop them, employ people who he likes and dismiss people who he dislikes. So, it may be that the freedom of the press means not so much freedom of the writer to write what he will, but rather of the owner of a newspaper to see that the writer writes something that he wants him to write. The freedom of the press may come to mean the freedom of persons who have a knack of making money and that, after all, is not such a noble thing. I think of all these difficulties and wonder how we can have real freedom of the press – a real expresion of opinion for or against whatever it might be, and no suppression of any real opinion – provided it is not indecent or vulgar and provided it is not exploited for wrong ends.
Playboy: Do you believe that newspapers influence political opinion to any great degree? (31)
Nehru: I rather doubt it. They give the news, of course, but I doubt if they have any great influence politically. You have seen in other countries – democratic countries – how a great number of newspapers have supported one party while another has won the elections.
Playboy: You yourself, of course, have not been exempt from editorial criticism either at home or abroad. What is your reaction when, for example, the Indian Express labels your farm cooperative plan ‘economic rubbish’, or when the American press berates you for your Goa policy? (32)
Nehru: I should like to say that I endeavor to consider matters as dispassionately and as objectively as possible. I have tried to profit by the comments and criticisms made. I shall, however, repudiate the charge of complacency and smugness that has been leveled against me and my colleagues. I cannot conceive how any person charged with responsibility can be complacent today. Complacency comes when one’s mind is closed and one accepts a dogmatic phrase. Complacency is a narrowness of outlook.
Playboy: As a statesman who has had considerable experience with both newspapermen and politicians, how would yoy compare the two professions? (33)
Nehru: To some extent, politicians and newspapermen or journalists have much in common. Both presume to talk too much, to deliver homilies; both, generally speaking, require no qualifications at all for their job. If a politician or a newspaperman has a certain gift of expression, he gets going; whether or not there is any content behind that expressin is totally immaterial. Normally a politician or a newspaperman has few lucid moments, because he functions from day to day, hour to hour, and minute to minute. He does not have the time to think. I suppose this is an inevitable development of technological improvements and advancement. We apply the newspaper habit of reading to books, with the result that our minds sometimes function with brilliance but hardly ever with depth.
Playboy: Which approach is the more effective in dealing with your own duties – the cerebral or the pragmatic? (34)
Nehru: I am a humble seeker after truth, one who has continuously struggled to find the way, not always with success, to fit action to the objectives and ideals that he had held. The process is always difficult. Politicians have to deal with day-to-day problems, and they seek immediate remedies. Philosophers think of ultimate objectives, and are apt to lose touch with the day-to-day world and its problems. Neither approach appears to be adequate by itself.
Playboy: As the leader of one of the world’s most religious peoples, how would you assess the impact of religion upon a nation’s social progress? (35)
Nehru: We have had great religions and they have had an enormous effect on humanity. Yet, if I may say so with all respect and without meaning any ill to any person, those very religions, in the measure that they made the mind of man static, dogmatic and bigoted, have had, to my mind, an evil effect. The lessons they taught may be good but when it is claimed that the last word has been said, society becomes static. Almost every country in the world believes that it has some special dispensation from Providence, that it is of the chosen people or race and that others, whether they are good or bad, are somewhat inferior creatures.
Playboy: What effect has such thinking had on the countries of Asia? (36)
Nehru: The nations of the East are strongly entrenched in their own ideas and convictions and sometimes in their own sense of superiority about certain matters. Anyhow, in the course of the last two or three hundred years, they have received many knocks on the head and they have been humiliated, debased and exploited. And so, in spite of their feeling that they were superior in many ways, they were forced to admit that they could be exploited. To some extent, this brought a sense of realism to them. There was also an attempt to escape from reality by saying that it was sad that we were not so advanced in material and technical things, but that these were after all superficial; nevertheless, we were superior in essential things, in spiritual and moral values. I have no doubt that spiritual and moral values are ultimately more important, but this method of finding escape in the thought that one is spiritually superior, simply because one is inferior in a material and physical sense, is surprising. It does not follow by any means. It is an escape from facing up to the causes of one’s degradation.
Playboy: Such reservations notwithstanding, you have been quoted as believing that it is ‘natural’ to extend a religious outlook to international affairs. Would you amplify this thought? (37)
Nehru: In this torn and distorted world, I am a very confused person. I often stumble. I try to search for what is lacking in me and to find out what is wanted of me by my country and my people. The message of Buddha may well help to solve the problems of our troubled and tormented world. I often feel that, perhaps, if we think more of that basic teaching of the avoidance of hatred and violence, we may be nearer the solution of our problems.
Playboy: Looking back on a lifetime of dedicated service to your country and considering the international recognition and respect that this service has brought to you, what do you feel to be your single greatest honor? (38)
Nehru: The affection that has been lavished upon me by the people of my country is the greatest honor that can come to anybody. It is overwhelming and makes me feel very humble.
Playboy: If you were given your life to live over again, would you try to effect any major changes? (39)
Nehru: I would endeavor to improve in many ways what I had previously done, but my major decisions in public affairs would remain untouched. Indeed, I could not vary them, for they were stronger than myself, and a force beyond my control drove me to them.
Playboy: Your heavy round-the-clock work schedule, and your apparent aversion to vacations have become almost legendary in New Delhi. Do you every rely on pills as a source of energy? (40)
Nehru: No. I am a very bad product of the pharmaceutical age because I have hardly ever taken any medicine, pills or drugs.
Playboy: As a lifelong student of history, and the author of such historical works as Glimpses of World History and The Discovery of India, would you give us a capsule summation of how you view the historical process? (41)
Nehru: Men of law lay down constitutions, but history is really made by great minds, large hearts and stout arms; by sweat, tears and toil of a people. A country’s real strength lies in the capacity of her people for disciplined work. It does not really matter very much whether you remember the names of kings or not, but it is important that you remember the achievements of a race.
Playboy: The Indian writer Santha Rama Rau, in summarizing your achievements, has described you as a statesman who is ‘the initiator of revolutionary ideas that have affected most of Asia and a great part of Africa, a figure who has left his mark on the world and his name in history’. With so much accomplished, what now is your major ambition? (42)
Nehru: Many years ago I read in the writings of George Bernard Shaw a passage that moved me and found an answering echo in my mind and heart. He wrote: ‘This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.’ The only ambition I have is that, to the end of my days, I should work my hardest, and then, when I have done my job, that I should be thrown on the scrap heap. When I have done my job, there is no need to bother about me further.
Playboy: Reviewing the history of your own lifetime, what trend – either moral or materialistic – discourages you most? (43)
Nehru: The one very grave and disheartening feature of the present day is a rapid fall in mental and moral standards in all countries. People have become, because of the process of disintegration, somewhat neurotic and hysterical and quite unable to judge anything, more brutal in thought, speech and action. The human values seem to have suffered considerably. Of course, plenty of human values still remain. I am not saying that everything worthwhile is completely destroyed, but I do say that the process of coarsening is going on apace all over the world, including my own country. I have no magic remedies for the world’s ills or our own. The only remedy is to try to understand the disease.
Playboy: Will a cure ever be found for the disease? (44)
Nehru: Obviously it will be impossible for me and impossible for you to function adequately if we do not believe in the ultimate triumph of creative and unifying processes of the day. If you align yourself to some great purpose or to something elemental, it ennobles you. Whether the reward comes or not, the mere fact of working for it is reward enough. Looking back on the long perspective and panorama of history, one sees periods when great crisis faced the world, and people living then thought that their time was the worst of all times, the most critical, the most dangerous. And yet the world survived. Faith gives one the strength to survive. It is good to have that faith.
Playboy: Then is it accurate to say that despite the virtually endless dangers and difficulties that plague our era, you still view the futute with a considerable degree of optimism? (45)
Nehru: Yes. I have little doubt that in spite of the dangers that beset the world today, the forces of constructive and cooperative effort for human betterment will succeed and the spirit of man, which has survived so much, will triumph again.
End Note by Sachi Sri Kantha
Nehru’s views, comparing the unscrupulous journalists and politicians that “To some extent, politicians and newspapermen or journalists have much in common. Both presume to talk too much, to deliver homilies; both, generally speaking, require no qualifications at all for their job. If a politician or a newspaperman has a certain gift of expression, he gets going; whether or not there is any content behind that expressin is totally immaterial. Normally a politician or a newspaperman has few lucid moments, because he functions from day to day, hour to hour, and minute to minute. He does not have the time to think. I suppose this is an inevitable development of technological improvements and advancement.” was aptly demonstrated in the manner in which this particular interview was peddled to the Playboy magazine. Even 40 years after it appeared in print, the manner in which Eelam Tamil story is played by the press in Colombo and Chennai is nothing but a vindication to Nehru’s prophetic thoughts.
Posted November 25, 2003