Married to Jawaharlal Nehru’s cousin, Shobha Nehru dies at 108; escaped Holocaust, was witness to India winning Independence

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New Delhi | Updated: April 30, 2017 7:13:57 PM

Rahul Gandhi regularly headed to the picturesque hill station of Kasauli in Himachal Pradesh to meet his aunt and he did so to attend her last rites

Shobha Nehru, Shobha Nehru dies, Shobha Nehru dead, Shobha Nehru death, rahul gandhi, rahul gandhis aunt dies, bk nehruFrom Left: Mrs Hubert H Humphrey the wife of the US Vice President, Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, Hubert H Humphrey, Mrs. BK Nehru and the consul General of India in New York Sunil K Roy. (Source: IE)

Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi’s aunt Shobha Nehru passed away at her residence in Kasauli on Tuesday morning. Nehru who was 108-years old was having age-related health problems. The oldest resident of Kasauli, Shobha was married to former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s cousin BK (Braj Kumar) Nehru, a diplomat who nearly succeeded Dag Hammarskjold as United Nations Secretary General.

Rahul Gandhi regularly headed to the picturesque hill station of Kasauli in Himachal Pradesh to meet his aunt and he did so to attend her last rites. Shobha was not Indian by birth. Born in Budapest in Hungary, she married into the Nehru family in 1935 after she met BK Nehru, a cousin of Jawaharlal Nehru at Oxford University as a student. BK Nehru, one of India’s most distinguished civil servants of post-independent India and former trustee of The Tribune Trust of Publications, died on October 31, 2001 at the age of 92. However, both families had opposed the marriage initially but that reluctance disappeared as soon as they met. Famously, according to NYT, on the tears she had shed after meeting him in prison where he was incarcerated at that time by the British, Jawaharlal Nehru told her in a letter written after the meeting that, “Nehrus don’t cry in public. They keep a stiff upper lip.”

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Shobha’s full name was Magdolna Friedmann Nehru, and she was a Hungarian Jew who had narrowly escaped the horrors of the Holocaust after she married into India’s leading political family, according to a report published by The New York Times. However, the report says that she witnessed religious and ethnic violence convulsing both her native and adopted countries.

However, Shobha Nehru was known by her Hungarian nickname, and she got her official new name after marrying Nehru in 1935. This name was given to her by her in-laws according to the report. Even though Shobha Nehru stayed away from poilitical matters for most part of her life, she did confront Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, her close friend and cousin by marriage, when she believed that the state of Emergency Mrs. Gandhi declared in 1975 had too severely rolled back human rights in India. She had also complained to Mrs Gandhi about the alleged forced sterilisation cases at that time.

Her husband, according to NY, had then commented his wife was “certainly on more intimate terms with Indira Gandhi than I was. She felt she had to get the truth across to her. It was a close family relationship, not a political relationship. She felt free enough to do that.”

Shobha had managed to escape the anti-Semitic tide that was roiling Hungary in the 1920s and thereafter the horrors of Nazism in Europe, but not before learning about the murders of people of her community there as well as her friends and kin. NYT reveals the statement she had made, “I have a feeling of guilt. I wasn’t there. I was safe. The guilt feeling is still with me. Why should I not have suffered?”

Shobha Nehru is survived by three sons Ashok, Aditya and Anil, four grandchildren as well as three great-grandchildren.

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