National Herald’s Embedded Journalist

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Those were trying times. The elections to the provincial Assemblies in 1937, following the Government of India Act of 1935, saw Congress forming ministries in seven provinces. They were trying to implement the Congress’ popular agenda under the nose of an overbearing imperial bureaucracy. They were, however, also marred by regular doses of infighting, corruption and jobbery, making leaders like Nehru quite frustrated. Away from all this were the sinister developments in Europe where fascist leaders were almost dictating terms to obliging democracies of the West. The Spanish civil war, beginning in 1936 and the occupation of Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia in 1938 by the German armies with the active concurrence of the British government was almost a dress rehearsal for things to come; the holocaust and World War II.

Nehru was distraught with the intransigence of British bureaucracy with regard to the national movement on one hand and the realisation of a sense of lack of direction among many Congress leaders with happenings around the world on the other. One of the most glaring cases was Subhas Chandra Bose’s attack on the Congress leadership in the presidential election where he almost called them names and cast aspersions of compromising with larger interests of the country. The Anglo Indian press, The Pioneer (Lucknow) the Times of India (Bombay and Delhi) and the Statesman (Calcutta), while elaborate on the fissures and the so called lack of popular support to the Congress, would not publish the ways of the British elite who acted in duplicitous manner in protecting their class interest in siding with Hitler. Exposing this duplicity was a political act for Nehru and therefore, along with the stridency in his rhetorical stance came the National Herald, the newspaper he began publishing from the summer of 1938.

Rakesh Batabyal | Associate Professor, Centre for Media Studies, JNU, New Delhi
Rakesh Batabyal | Associate Professor, Centre for Media Studies, JNU, New Delhi

The first four years (1938-1942), till he was incarcerated during the Quit India movement, saw Nehru regularly writing for the paper. The National Herald increasingly began to articulate one of the finest analyses of the Indian nationalists’ perceptions of the world and in so doing also created an audience sophisticated enough to integrate the movement for national freedom with the larger vision of a democratic world. One of the central themes in this was the exposure and rejection of the ruling orthodoxy of the English liberal on matters of world politics. Nehru himself was a regular contributor. His writings exposed the duplicity of the British government’s attitude and policies and how the idea of ‘fighting for democracy’ seemed a sham. He also showed how the same liberals would obstruct any voice of freedom for India. (‘The choice before us’, National Herald 5 October 1938; Lord Zetland’s Apologia’, 19 November 1939; ‘India in Travail’ 9 August 1940).

Nehru travelled to Europe during this time. Herald would print his reports from his tours and his first hand impressions of meetings with the resistance or opposition leaders. Significantly, Nehru was steadfast in his opposition to fascism and unlike Bose never gave Nazi or fascist leaders any concession and never even met them.