Indira Gandhi? Dwight Morrow? Harold Nicolson? Father Kemper? Motilal Nehru? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: Indira Gandhi was the powerful Prime Minister of India for more than fifteen years. I have heard the following words which combine the serious and the comical attributed to her:
There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit. Try to be in the first group; there is less competition there.
When I checked Wikiquote the statement was listed in a section called “Unsourced”. Could you ascertain whether Indira Gandhi spoke these words?
Quote Investigator: There is good evidence that Indira Gandhi did mention a version of this advice, but she stated that she first heard it from her grandfather Motilal Nehru. The details are given further below.
Interestingly, the earliest evidence known to QI appeared in the 1935 biography of a businessman and diplomat named Dwight Morrow. His life history was written by a British diplomat named Harold Nicolson, and it presented guidance that Morrow gave to his son. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1
“The world,” he once wrote to his son, “is divided into people who do things and people who get the credit. Try, if you can, to belong to the first class. There’s far less competition.”
In May 1947 “The Rotarian” magazine reprinted the advice and credited Morrow: 2
The late Dwight Morrow must have had this in mind when he wrote to his son:
“The world is divided into people who do things and people who get the credit. Try, if you can, to belong to the former. There’s far less competition.”
The next earliest evidence located by QI was published in a Texas newspaper in December 1947. A Catholic priest named Father Kemper was exhorting his parishioners to participate in an election to choose the officers of a religious club. He credited the counsel to “some philosopher”: 3
Let’s see if the voice of the people is the supreme law! Or is it the small active minority who do things in a democracy? Some philosopher divided mankind into two divisions; those who accomplish things, and those who take the credit. His advice is to join the former group, since there is less competition.
In 1959 Indira Gandhi became President of the Indian National Congress political party. The Times of India newspaper published an article with a quotation in which Gandhi recounted the instruction she received from her grandfather: 4
Some years ago, she recalled what Pandit Motilal Nehru once told her: “There are two kinds of people, those who do the work, and those who take the credit. Belong to the first category, since not only do things get balanced, but there is much less competition.”
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1966 a biography titled “Indira Gandhi: Call to Greatness” by Bhadra Desai was published, and it included an instance of the quotation spoken by Indira Gandhi: 5
As Congress President she said, “I think it is fatal to pretend. I prefer to do anything on the quiet rather than boast about it, and I agreed to become the Congress President because I honestly believe that this is a job to be done”. Then she pointedly recalled her grandfather Motilal’s advice to her; “there are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit. Belong to the first category. Since not only do things get balanced, but there is also much less competition”.
In October 1968 the New York Times printed an interview with Indira Gandhi, and she spoke again about the counsel she had heard from her grandfather. This instance of the quotation was more compact than the version in 1959: 6
“There has never been any advice spoken to me that I heeded much,” she says. “What influenced me more were the lives of the people I lived with—my father and my mother. That didn’t need words.”
She continues thoughtfully: “My grandfather once told me that there are two kinds of people: those who do the work and those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group; there was much less competition there.”
The editors of the New York Times found the statement made by Gandhi intriguing enough to feature it as the first entry in an article called “Quotations” that was published on the following Sunday: 7
MRS. INDIRA GANDHI, India’s Prime Minister and daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru: “My grandfather once told me that there are two kinds of people: those who do the work and those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group; there was much less competition there.”
In conclusion, Indira Gandhi did speak a version of this quotation as noted in newspapers in 1959 and 1968. She helped to popularize the statement; however, she was relaying the advice she had obtained from her grandfather Motilal Nehru. Indira Gandhi was born in 1917, and it is not clear when she was given this guidance. A 1935 biography of Dwight Morrow stated that he used the expression in a letter to his son. Based on current evidence QI suggests that Morrow should receive credit.
Image Notes: Indira Gandhi, Indian flag, and Motilal Nehru images are from Wikimedia Commons. Public domain explanation and rationale given for each image at Wikimedia Commons.
(Many thanks to Nina Gilbert who requested a trace of this quotation when a student expressed a desire to use it in a yearbook. QI formulated the question. Special thanks to S. M. Colowick who located a New York Times citation. Great thanks to Fred Shapiro for locating and accessing the pivotal 1959 citation in The Times of India. Special thanks to Stephen Goranson for scans of the 1966 citation.)
Update history: On March 12, 2015 the citations dated 1935 and May 1947 were added. The conclusion was also updated.
- 1975 (Copyright 1935), Dwight Morrow by Harold Nicolson, Quote Page 51 and 52, Series: Wall Street and the Security Markets, Published by Arno Press, New York. (Reprint of 1935 Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York edition)(Verified on paper) ↩
- 1947 May, The Rotarian, Why ‘Successful’ Men Fail by Charles H. Durfee, (Guest Editorial), Quote Page 7, Column 3, Published by Rotary International. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1947 December 18, Kerrville Mountain Sun, “Catholic Church by Father Kemper: Election Tonight”, Section 2, Quote Page 4, Column 5 and 6, (NArch Page 12), Kerrville, Texas. (NewspaperArchive)(The word “advise” is used instead of “advice” in the original page image) ↩
- 1959 February 8, The Times of India, “Congress President Sure To Spark New Love of Work: Indira Gandhi,” Quote Page 6, Mumbai, India. (ProQuest Historical Newspapers; verified visually by Fred Shapiro)(The name “Motilal” is not fully legible in the page image) ↩
- 1966, Indira Gandhi: Call to Greatness by Bhadra Desai, Quote Page 71, Published by Popular Prakashan, Bombay, India. (Verified with scans; great thanks to Stephen Goranson and the Duke University library system) (The original printed text contained a misspelling; the phrase “become the Congress Prisident” appeared in the page image instead of “become the Congress President”) ↩
- 1968 October 16, New York Times, India’s ‘Tough’ Prime Minister by Enid Nemy, Quote Page 42, Column 5, New York. (ProQuest) ↩
- 1968 October 20, New York Times, Quotations, Quote Page E15, Column 4, New York. (ProQuest) ↩