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'Pundit Nehru as a Historian' by Dr S. Srikanta Sastri .pdf

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Title: ‘Pundit Nehru as a historian’ by Dr S. Srikanta Sastri
Author: Dr S. Srikanta Sastri

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‘Pundit Nehru as a historian’ by Dr S. Srikanta Sastri

Pundit Nehru as a Historian
by Dr. S. Srikanta Sastri, M.A, D. Litt

Nearly twenty years ago when the “Discovery of India” by Pundit Nehru was first
published, he was kind enough to send me a copy of the book. Long before that in 1930 when his
“Letters from a father to his daughter” was published, I had reviewed that book in a journal of
standing in Kannada. His “Glimpses of World History” (1939), “Wither India” (1933), “A window
in prison and prison-land” (1934), “India and the world” (1936), “An autobiography” (1936),
“Eighteen months in India” (1938), “China, Spain and the war (1940), “Towards freedom” (1941)
were all works on contemporary history and politics and therefore of interest to the historian.
Pundit Nehru’s ideas were all gathered together in a book of my pupil Y. G. Krishnamurti
“Jawaharlal Nehru, the man and his ideas” published in 1942. Nehru was kind enough to write a
foreword to Y. G. Krishnamurti’s “Constituent Assembly and Indian Federation” published in
1940. Y. G. Krishnamurti’s “Independent India and a new world order” carried an introduction by
me (and also his “Indian states and the federal plan”) to which Pundit Nehru was good enough to
make a kind reference (and also to my summary of the history of Congress) published in the
souvenir of the Haripura congress session, averring however that he was not a professional
historian. Pundit Nehru however belongs to the small class in the world which not only writes
history but also makes it. Being in the centre of the storm, in the very midst of the turmoil, yet he
could take a detached view of the whole business. He belongs in that way to the rank of Winston
Churchill, Hitler, and Mussolini, however widely different were these world-figures. Winston
Churchill wrote 5 volumes of the history of the Second World War. Hitler wrote his opinion of the
First World War and its effects on Germany in his “Mein Kempf”. Both Hitler and Churchill may
have made personal statements in anticipation of the criticisms of the future historian. Their facts
may have been given from a prejudiced point of view and may be neither proved nor disproved
by future research. Yet their works stand as valuable documents for contemporary history.
Similarly, when Pundit Nehru deals with contemporary history in which he himself was an active
participant, he may not have displayed the detachment of a scientific historian. It does not
however mean that all ancient history he wrote is necessarily tainted. “Give me prejudiced
history” said the late Stanley Baldwin. “All history is the story of liberty” says Croce. Another
asserts that only contemporary history is real history.
These statements give us a clue to approach and make an appraisal of the contribution of
Pundit Nehru to elucidate the History of India and the world. The “Discovery of India” starts on a
personal note and gives the circumstances which compelled Nehru to make a study of the Indian
history in prison. He acknowledges especially the assistance of Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad,
Govind Vallabha Pant, Narendra Dev and Asif Ali- all of whom have now passed away. Pundit


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‘Pundit Nehru as a historian’ by Dr S. Srikanta Sastri

Nehru says the parts of the book are “already somewhat out of date”. This refers not only to
contemporary events in the chronicle but also to some portions of the ancient history of India.
Pundit Nehru relied on the work of Sir John Marshall on “The Indus Valley Civilization” and
Gordon Childe’s “What Happened in History”, “The Cambridge history of India” Vol-I, the facts of
which works have now been challenged in the “Vedic age” published by the Bharatiya Vidya
Bhavan. Nehru attempts to keep a balanced view “Perhaps sematic culture was far more otherworldly” he says. He has not duly emphasised the fact of the survival of the “Materialistic”
civilization of the Indus valley even down to modern times. He however notes that Buddhism is
not mere world negation and the Buddhist countries like China and Japan are examples of worldaffirmation. Schweitzer criticism of the Indian Civilization “affirmation” is indirectly answered.
Albert Schweitzer writes in his philosophy of civilization “In the consistently pessimistic theory
of the Universal as of the Brahmins, ethics has nothing whatever to do with the objective world. It
aimed solely at securing the self-perfection of the individual as this comes to pass in inner
freedom and disconnection from the world and the spirit of the world”. It has been pointed out
(In my Bharatiya Samskruti) that this rests upon a misunderstanding of the Doctrine of Karma,
which is common not only to Vedic but also to anti-Vedic Jainism and Buddhism. As Nehru has
pointed out the so called Buddhist countries China and Japan are the most opposed to World
Negation. Similarly Oswald Spengler’s view regarding the contrast between the west and India is
amply refuted by Indian history. “In the ethics of the west, everything is direction, claim to
power, the will to affect the distant” “You shall”, “The State shall”, “The society shall”, but not so in
India. The Buddha, for instance gives the pattern to take or leave an epicure offers counsel in the
classical world. Both undeniably are forms of high morale and neither contains the will element.
Transvaluation of values is the fundamental characteristic of a civilization after a culture. In the
case of India the transvaluation of the Brahmana life was complete before the time of Ashoka
(230 BC). “The Brain rules because the soul abdicates. In culture men live inwards; In civilizationconsciously, in space-outwards, among “Facts”. Buddhism was not a puritan movement, not a
reformation, not a religion but a final and purely practical world- sentiment of tired
“Megalopoliticans” who had a closed culture behind them and no future before them. It is the
basic feeling of the Indian civilization”-Oswald Spengler: Decline of the West Volume I
(Buddhism, Stoicism and socialism). This statement was amply refuted by me, long ago in “New
Era” (1929). It was pointed out Sri. Sankaracharya marks the culmination point of Indian culture
and after that period, the epoch of civilization ensues in Indian History. Nehru instinctively
recognized this. He writes “There is about Sankara’s attitude and philosophy a sense of worldnegation…. There is also a continual insistence on self-sacrifice and detachment…. Yet Sankara
was a man of amazing energy and vast activity. He was no escapist seeking his own individual
perfection and oblivious of what happened to others.” (Discovery of India, page 214)

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‘Pundit Nehru as a historian’ by Dr S. Srikanta Sastri

Nehru after his Western and scientific training, turned instinctively to the true immemorial
tradition of India and, like Sankara in a different field, was a man of amazing energy and vast
activity. His Histories of India and of the contemporary world, may not have been based on a
scientific study of the original sources (Heuristics) and in many details may be corrected or super
ceded by future research. But it can be asserted with confidence that Nehru possessed the true
scientific-historical “curiosity” and has left works which throw ample light on his personality.
By Dr. S. Srikanta Sastri


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