Lessons from England’s Legacy – Differences Between Lincoln’s America, Nehru’s India and Mao-Zhou’s China

America, China and India, three enormous countries, were, at one time or other, controlled or dominated by England. Each of these three countries inherited a legacy from England and the lessons learned from that legacy have determined the fortunes of each country to this day.

America inherited England’s strength, its iron determination and its deep belief in paying the price for what it believed to be the greater good. Lincoln could have learned the wrong lesson from England; he could have argued that the confederate south had a right  to secede from the Union, a right similar to that exercised by Colonial America in its secession from England.

In 1860, what protected America from its partition was the iron will of Abraham Lincoln. Various vested interests and even his own cabinet asked him to concede separation. But Lincoln was unbending; he declared that regardless of the price that the north would have to pay; he would not permit the Union to be dismembered. Lincoln asked “ ..in a free government would the minority have the right to break up the government, whenever they chose”. Lincoln emphatically answered NO. For over four years, he conducted the war in which millions of Americans on either side died. But the Union was preserved. Today America is the mightiest superpower in the World. Had Lincoln accepted partition, the USA would look like today’s Latin America.

America paid a heavy price in 1860s but the rewards of that price have lasted to this day. Not a single minority in America has stood up for the last 150 odd years to demand separation from the American Union.

In 1947, Nehru was faced with a similar crisis, the partition of India, because of worsening relations between Hindus and Muslims. At least Lincoln was confronted with a true partition, the south and the north would not have had to exchange populations. In Nehru’s case, it was not a true partition. After the partition, millions of Muslims would remain in India. So the partition made no sense at all.

We understand that Nehru was a great admirer of Abraham Lincoln and he kept, on his desk, “a bronze cast of the hand of Abraham Lincoln which he would occasionally touch for comfort”*. But Nehru always admired people in an intellectual way and never on a deep, emotional or gut level. So, when faced with a Lincolnian decision, Nehru buckled and surrendered.

Unlike Lincoln, Nehru did not have the deep moral strength to tolerate bloodshed on a massive scale the way Lincoln had. To Lincoln, that bloodshed was worth the greater good, the unity of his country. To Nehru, the partition of his country was acceptable over the possibility of bloodshed. In this context, Lincoln was a true Indian in the spirit of Maha-Bharat and Ramayan, while Nehru was a weak, make-believe Englishman.

Look at the pitiful condition of India today. The partition of India terribly damaged the prospects of both India and Pakistan. Pakistan is on the verge of being a failed state and India has been beset with a terrorism nightmare that haunts every Indian city. Nehru’s India avoided paying the heavy price in 1947. Unfortunately, it has been paying a far heavier price for the past 61 years. 

Nehru inherited the weakness of England’s left-leaning, socialist intellectual tradition. Today’s India has inherited this legacy from its great leader, Nehru. It is a legacy that makes a moral virtue of weakness; a legacy that says it is morally superior to not fight and lose than to win with a bloody fight. As Shashi Tharoor, India’s ex-Ambassador to the UN, wrote ” China will win Olympic medals in many Games to come, perhaps India can win some hearts” (see our article “Does Shashi Tharoor follow CinemaRasik – Certainly Not in Spirit” – August 30 – www.cinemarasik.com/2008/08/28/did-shashi-tharoor-follow-cinemarasik–not-in-spirit-though.aspx).  

Nehru’s bad luck was that he faced the iron willed leadership duo of China – Mao Zse Dong and Zhou EnLai.  Like America and India, China was subjugated by England. But like America, Mao-Zhou learned from England and took England’s strength, dogged determination and iron will.

Mao-Zhou took advantage of Nehru’s stupidity and annexed Tibet. Then they built up their strength and humiliated Nehru by their successful attack in 1962. Now China has ratcheted up its demands on the Eastern Indian region of ArunaChal Pradesh claiming it to be Tibetan and hence Chinese territory.

Imagine if Nehru had the moral strength of Lincoln. India today would be a united superpower reaching from Iran in the West, Afghanistan in the North-West, with Dalai-Lama’s Tibet as its protectorate in the North and controlling Myanmar in the East. There would have been no War on Terror because, without a homeland for terror, there would have been no terrorism to fight. Myanmar would be a true Buddhist democracy, prosperous and peaceful. 

The tragedy is that today, 61 years after India’s and China’s independence, Indian leaders are still Nehruvian and Chinese leaders are still Mao-Zhouvian. Today’s Indian and Chinese Societies show that the attitudes of their 1947 leaders are still dominant. Chinese Society is iron-willed in its determination to hold Tibet while sections of Indian Society are already beginning to considering surrender of another integral part of India.

But there are hopeful signs of a new dawn. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his NSA chief Narayanan seem to have woken up to China’s reality. They are beginning to take long-term steps to strengthen India’s global position. And, they have a new partner in George W. Bush’s America. Hopefully, they will take the legacy of Bush’s America to heart. (see our article “President Bush and India – His Vision, His Accomplishments and His Legacy” – September 13, 2008 – www.cinemarasik.com/2008/09/12/president-bush-and-india–his-vision-his-accomplishments-and-his-legacy.aspx


Editor’s Note: * “The Man who Divided India” – Rafiq Zakaria – pg 158

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