I have known Nehru personally for over 25 years. I first came in contact with him when he visited Ceylon in the early thirties. The first thing that struck me about him was the contrast he presented to his great leader, Mahatma Gandhi who also had visited Ceylon some time earlier. The Mahatma was clearly a son of the people. He was also, although a saint and ascetic, very human with a strong sense of humour. Physically, although he looked frail, he was tough with an almost inexhaustible fund of physical energy. Nehru, on the other hand, is a delicately nurtured aristocrat with high strung nerves, possessed also of inexhaustible energy, though in his case, it is more nervous energy than physical capacity. It is a fact that he often uses up his nervous energy and that makes him sometimes short-tempered and irritable. I remember a little incident during one of his visits to Ceylon many years ago. We were lunching at an outstation town, Kurunegala, when an admiring crowd was peeping through the doors and windows as we lunched. Nehru turned to us and said, “I can do many things in public but I just cannot eat in public”, or words to that effect. I remember saying to myself with some amusement, “There speaks the sensitive aristocrat”. We, of course, asked the crowd to withdraw until lunch was over. I suppose in some ways. I am qualified to understand such a temperament as that of Nehru. Although he has his outbursts of temper and irritation, he is a most charming personality, and one for whom the more one gets to know him the greater becomes one’s regard and even affection. I look upon him in our personal relations as a friend for whom I have both those feelings.
I wish to say something about another side of Nehru: his position as a public man. He is a great servant of his country and an outstanding statesman of Asia and the world generally. I remember some years ago, at a time when he was not the acknowledged leader of India as he later became, asking a prominent Indian leader who in his opinion was the most outstanding leader after Mahatma Gandhi. He said, “Jawaharlal Nehru.” When I further questioned him why he chose Nehru in preference to some others whose names I mentioned, he replied, “Because Nehru is so utterly dependable”. I should think that it is this feeling about him that has ensured for him the continuing confidence of the vast majority of his people. Nehru is one of the few statesmen of the world who have a background of culture and learning, and who are thinkers beside being also men of action. Such men are necessary as leaders particularly at a troubled period of world history such as this-men with a background of learning, men who can think clearly, men who can see a problem not merely from one point of view, but in all its aspects and who can come to decisions, sometimes very difficult decisions, with knowledge of factors not only in respect of the past and the present, but also of the future. Nehru has not only a knowledge of history so important for statesmen to have, but something much more than that. He understands the philosophy of history. He therefore has a correct feeling for the trends of the present and the future. At the same time he is a man of courage. As he himself has said, “I may sometimes lose my temper but I never lose my nerve.” It is these qualities that make him a valuable servant of India and an important world statesman.
I see that he is sometimes blamed in India for being weak and hesitant on certain occasions. Knowing him as I do, I am inclined to think that this is an entirely undeserved criticism. What to some superficial observers may appear to be weakness or hesitation in him is perhaps really nothing more than the fact that he likes to take into account all sides and aspects of a question and that he is possessed of that fundamental sense of fairness that makes him capable of seeing the other man’s point of view as well as his own before coming to a decision.
He has now reached what is generally considered to be the span of an average man’s life: Three score and ten. He has had a full, varied and distinguished career. His place in history is already assured. He is still, however, full of vigour and energy and neither India nor indeed the world can afford to dispense with the services of a man such as he. May he be spared for many years to come in the service of India and of us all.