Professor Gopal’s new volume, whose predecessor won high praise, begins with the coming of independence and covers the earlier and more rewarding half of Nehru’s long period in office. He has had the advantage of access to Nehru’s private papers, a very rich storehouse; official records remain closed. It is a biography that he is writing, but, to quote his preface, ‘the book spreads out to become, in a sense, the history of the first years of free India’. As such it is somewhat selective. It has to follow the main lines of Nehru’s involvements, but the writer’s own predilections (he was formerly the foreign ministry’s historical expert) would seem to be more for Indian politics and the international sphere, than for the economic and social realms whose primary importance Nehru never forgot. We hear much more of embassies than of trade unions, and labour conditions make scarcely any appearance, the peasantry little more.
Nehru himself is viewed with both sympathy and detachment, in all his complexity of character and many-sidedness of interests, fostered by a dual education and culture, Indian and Western. Gopal pays tribute to his ‘superb flights of English prose’ (p. 24), a literary gift which has not received sufficient acclaim.