By Walter Crocker. Grade: A
Walter Russell Crocker was an Australian scholar and diplomat. From 1952 to 1970 Sir Walter served Australia with distinction for eighteen years as ambassador in a variety of countries including India (1952-1955 and 1958-1962), Indonesia, Canada, Nepal, Belgium and The Netherlands, Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda and Italy. Sir Walter was a prolific writer publishing numerous magazine articles, lectures and books during his career. Nehru: a contemporary estimate was published in 1966, and has recently been reissued by Random House India, with a foreword by Ramchandra Guha.
Elegant, perceptive, and startlingly prophetic, Nehru: a contemporary’s estimate is one of the finest accounts of Nehru ever written. Walter Crocker, the Australian high commissioner to India, admired Nehru the man — his grace, style, intelligence and energy – and was deeply critical of many of his political decisions — the invasion of Goa, India’s Kashmir policy, the Five Year Plans. This book, written shortly after Nehru’s death, is full of invaluable first hand observations about the man and his politics. Much of Crocker’s points, too — especially the implications of the Five Year Plans and of the introduction of democracy to India — are particularly relevant today. Out of print for many years, this classic biography has been reissued with a new foreword by Ram Guha.
As a long-time Nehru fan, I have read several books on him, but none of them could sum up Nehru the politician, Nehru the man, and Nehru the leader quite as accurately, and between such slim covers. Walter Crocker’s narrative is detached, but it is easy to see he holds immense respect for our beloved Chacha Nehru (interestingly, I write this review on the eve of his birth anniversary!).
This praise is not unmerited. Compared to our present leaders, Nehru had a seemingly impossible task at hand: To glue together a nation torn with racial and religious hatred, and disillusioned with their leaders. Yes, he had expert guidance – and even worse critics – but in the end, it was he who had the reigns. His excellent foresight - and let’s admit it, English education – combined with the analytical mind of a born strategist somehow accomplished it.
However, when I say that Walter Crocker has portrayed Nehru in a flattering light, I don’t mean that he is not quick to point out his flaws, or the errors of judgement he made an the various crucial junctions of his political career. Crocker is deeply critical of Nehru’s much applauded five year plans, and his policy regarding Goa also came under his scanner. But even while criticizing, Walter made efforts to understand the reasons behind Nehru’s actions. He may have clung to power too long, but then without the reigns in his hand, India would not have developed the way he wanted it to, and the other, younger leaders in Congress were not as incorruptible, neither as indifferent to power.
The foremost reason why Walter Crocker’s biography should be picked up is that he was an Australian Diplomat, and thus, has no sides to choose. Secondly, it’s different from subsequent biographers, who made good use of the words “in hindsight” – remember, this was first written in 1966. It is also very important because the biographer knew the man personally, and thus was in a position to make first hand astute observations that no amount of journalistic digging could replicate.
Putting this in one side, I do feel that the author was unbelievably naive in places, especially when he pointed out that the British Raj should have gone on longer. He also spent very little time on Nehru’s personal life. However, despite the flaws, this book – I reiterate – provides a very insightful account of Nehru’s life. Reading about him is always a delight, and to be honest, I would have enjoyed it even if the pen had been held by a less worthy writer. But it wasn’t, for which I am glad.