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Enlightened Rule

Portraits of Six Exceptional Twentieth Century Premiers

Paul Maylam

The twentieth century has been called an ‘age of catastrophe’, characterized by devastating wars and a general poverty of leadership at government level. This book, written in a more optimistic vein, offers biographical essays on six twentieth century heads of government – three from Latin America, and one each from Africa, Asia and Europe – who were exceptions to the norm. During their terms of office each displayed admirable qualities: moral authority, integrity, an egalitarian spirit, and a firm commitment to democracy, human rights, social justice and international peace. They shunned personality cults, grandiosity and conspicuous consumption. Their governance was shaped by high ideals, in the tradition of democratic socialism or social democracy, but also marked by pragmatism and an awareness that the realization of these ideals was not always practicable. Although some of the six became iconic, venerated figures, none of them are presented here as ‘heroes’ or ‘great leaders’. Each had failings and flaws, and each has been subject to critique. They are rather presented as government heads whose leadership has been worthy of deep respect and admiration. Had other premiers emulated their style of governance, twentieth century history would have taken a very different course.

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Chapter 5 The Visionary Humanist: Jawaharlal Nehru of India (1947–1964) 151

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CHAPTER FIVE The Visionary Humanist: Jawaharlal Nehru of India (1947–1964) Jawaharlal Nehru has been de ­ scribed by a friendly biographer as ‘one of the few great men of the age’.1 Another biographer has compared him to Roosevelt, Churchill, Lenin and Mao, ‘men who guided their people through a period of national crisis’.2 For long Nehru enjoyed iconic status in India, both as a hero of the Indian liberation movement and as the country’s premier during the first seventeen years of independence, from 1947 until his death in 1964. By the late 1950s he had become a ven­ erated figure, almost deified. Some Indians even thought he might be a prophet, a yogi reincarnated.3 This, though, was a veneration that he never courted or cultivated. The reputations of such figures who are so revered in their own life­ time invariably come up against the critical scrutiny of later generations of scholars and analysts. So it has been with Nehru. He came to be criti­ cised as weak and indecisive, prone to agonized self­doubt, liable to poor judgement in his choice of lieutenants, and failing to bring significant 1 Sarvepali Gopal, Jawaharlal Nehru: A Biography (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 471. 2 Michael Brecher, Nehru: A Political Biography (London: Oxford University Press, 1959), p. 229. 3 M.J. Akbar, Nehru: The Making of India (London: Viking, 1988), p. ix. 152 CHAPTER FIVE relief to India’s poor. His obvious shortcomings and failures might seem to disqualify Nehru as an ‘exceptional’ twentieth-century...

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