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The Rediff Special / Kanchan Gupta

Wolpert's below-the-belt attack on Nehru

In a couple of days from now, Stanley Wolpert's biography of Jawaharlal Nehru, which John Kenneth Galbriath has praised as the best biography ever written on India's first prime minister, will be released in this country.

The book has already provoked a controversy with Kanchan Gupta, who is a member of Atal Bihari Vajpayee's think-tank, drawing attention to sections in the biography alluding to Nehru's alleged encounters with homosexuality.

Stanley Wolpert, celebrated author known for raking up controversies through his biographies of top Third World leaders, has done it again. The subject of his 'academic' scrutiny this time is the nation's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

The book, Nehru: A Tryst With Destiny, published by Oxford University Press, New York, the first of the biographies to hit the bookstands during the 50th anniversary of India's Independence, is a below-the-belt attack on the man revered as the icon of modern India.

Wolpert has levelled wild allegations against Nehru, implying that he had several homosexual encounters during his early years, first as a boy in Allahabad, then at Harrow, followed by Cambridge and even later.

However, the man who raised a furore in Pakistan with his biography of Jinnah, offers thin evidence to buttress his outlandish charges that are sure to unleash anger and distraught among Nehru's myriad admirers. This is not the first time that Wolpert, distinguished professor of Indian history at the University of California, Los Angeles, has sought to draw attention to his books through provocative 'secrets' about personalities revered on the sub-continent.

Nine Hours to Rama, a film based on his book by the same name, on Mahatma Gandhi's assassination, was banned in India. Later, it was Pakistan's turn to proscribe him after he gave a vivid description of Quaid-e-Azam biting into ham sandwiches and scoffing whisky in Jinnah of Pakistan.

That his charges against Nehru are not entirely innocuous is underlined by the fact that the blurb on the dust jacket of Nehru: A Tryst With Destiny, highlights what the author colourfully describes as Nehru's 'early homosexual influences'. For additional effect, John Kenneth Galbraith has been quoted on the back cover, endorsing the book as the best biography of Nehru ever written.

According to Wolpert, the 'first young man to whom Jawahar developed an early attachment was his French tutor Ferdinand T Brooks.'

This man was Nehru's 'constant companion' for three years before his departure for England and 'influenced' him in many ways. Brooks was a theosophist, but was it merely theosophy that drew Nehru to his tutor? A dark hint to the possible is provided by Wolpert: 'Before coming to India, the handsome young Brooks had been a disciple and lover of 'elder brother' Charles Webster Leadbeater, a renegade Anglican curate who... was accused of child molestation and pederasty on several continents.'

Motilal Nehru hired Brooks as a tutor for his son on the advice of Annie Besant, unaware of Leadbeater's 'open advocacy of mutual masturbation' with his 'younger brothers' as the best way to help them 'growing strong and manly.'

Leadbeater insisted that he could tell from a boy's 'aura' when he needed sex, offering to 'relive the pressure' by masturbating him while encouraging the boy to relieve him in the same way. Wolpert quotes Leadbeater's favourite line: 'Glad sensation is so pleasant, Darling.' Brooks was to later commit suicide by drowning himself in France a few years after Nehru left for England.

Nehru was to later write in his autobiography: 'Soon after F T Brooks left me I lost touch with theosophy... I am afraid that theosophists since then have gone down in my estimation. Instead of the chosen ones, they seem to be very ordinary folk.'

Wolpert, while writing about Nehru's days at Harrow, makes another dark hint: 'He cried the night before leaving the school he had learnt to love, as he did for at least one of the friends he left behind.' He also mentions the fact that 'Nehru read and admired Oscar Wilde and Waiter Pater,' yet another dark hint! After securing a second class at 'Jawahar did rush,' Wolpert informs us, 'to embark on a sudden trip to Norway that July, one that almost took his life. His travelling companion was an unnamed Englishman, possibly the Harrow companion who had lived with him in Cambridge for a week two years earlier, one of his Trinity crew, or perhaps a new Oxford friend, which might help explain his eagerness to move there.'

In his autobiography, Nehru merely refers to him as 'my companion, the Englishman', or as 'a young Englishman.' Wolpert finds Nehru's reluctance to name this 'young Englishman' surprising because he saved the future prime minister of India's life by pulling him out of a mountain river whose current was too strong.

Wolpert's explanation for Nehru's explanation is that in his later life, by designating this 'friend' as an 'Englishman' he was 'differentiating him from the Indian nationalist leader Nehru had by then become.' At the time of the accident, however, Nehru felt no 'national distance from his intimate friend with whom he m+ust have raced nude into the mountain torren'

Referring to this incident, Wolpert wonders: 'Can Jawahar's strange accident in Norway be read as his own carefully doctored metaphoric confession of a passionate, hot and icy cold -- indeed numbing -- love affair with an Englishman too important for him to name, too dear to forget his heroic other?'

Then, of course, there is that bit about Jawaharlal Nehru in drag. In Wolpert's words: 'Wearing his wig, made up with lipstick, powder, and eye shadow, his body draped in silks and satins, Jawahar 'most unwillingly' offered himself up night after night to those 'endless rehearsals for the Gaekwar's At Home as a beautiful young girl, holding out her jug of wine and loaf seductively to her poet lover, Omar.' And, hold your breath, 'nor was that the only time he used those expensive silks and wigs. Artistic 'tableaux' performers were very much in demand for those seductively dimvelvet-draped Victorian sitting rooms owned by his aristocratic companions all over London, and there was 'a great scarcity of men' willing or able to take the woman's part in the clever games they all loved to play.'

Courtesy: The Pioneer

Government condemns Wolpert biography

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