In June 1938 Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), a Indian National Congress (INC) leader, one of the earliest INC members calling for full independence in 1927, and the main responsible for INC’s foreign relations, took a ship to Europe. This trip was not a first for India’s inaugural prime minister (1947-1964) to be. Already in 1905 he had left India to enroll at the elite British boarding school of Harrow, going on to study at Cambridge and work as a lawyer in London before returning home in 1912. And the last time he had sailed was in 1935, staying until 1936 as the INC representative in meetings with fellow Asian and increasingly also African anti-imperialists in Britain and Europe. Sure, by then the League against Imperialism (LAI), whose Comintern-organized foundational conference Nehru had attended in 1927, was defunct. (For the LAI see the 1927 document on Messali Hadj in this collection.) Even so, Nehru continued to see his secularist Indian nation-statist goals within an international leftist-anti-imperialist and now anti-fascist framework and web, as Michele Louro’s Comrades against Imperialism: Nehru, India, and Interwar Internationalism (2020) argues.
Hence, when on the ship en route to Europe in 1938 he received an invitation from Egypt’s leading nationalist wafd party and agreed to meet their leaders. Having been in contact with Egyptian nationalists before, a story told in Noor Khan’s Egyptian-Indian Nationalist Collaboration and the British Empire (2011), and having detailed their anti-imperialism in Glimpses of World History (1934), he saw the wafd as INC’s appropriately leading anti-imperialist counterpart in Egypt. Sure, in confidential INC memoranda, he criticized the wafd’sinsufficient attention to the masses, especially the peasants, which cost them an election in early 1938, he thought; indeed, the wafdistswere liberal nationalists whereas Nehru was a leftist nationalist. Nonetheless, sitting down with the wafd and exchanging views about world politics and anti-imperialist strategies was called for, in his and the wafd’s view,at a time when fascism was rising and Britain continued to rule India and be very present in Egypt. Reproduced in the massive compilation Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, this text is a letter by Nehru sent from London to Nahas Pasha (1879-1965), a leading wafd politician.