Belittling Nehru is their forte
Remembering our first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on his death anniversary,” Prime Minister Narenda Modi said in a tweet last Friday, on...
“Remembering our first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on his death anniversary,” Prime Minister Narenda Modi said in a tweet last Friday, on the 52nd death anniversary. Criticised for many things, he cannot, however, be accused of lacking in grace.But the same cannot be said about many of his ministers and lawmakers, and his party’s affiliates for whom Nehru’s name is anathema. Engaged in demonising him and belittling his contribution to the nation, they seem to rejoice in it.
Much of it comes from their political training. For those displaced and traumatised by the 1947 Partition, it comes from a strong belief that their sufferings came from Mahatma Gandhi, who opposed the partition, and Nehru, who was supposed to be dying to become the Prime Minister.
On the other hand, political belief in a democratic society ought to accommodate other viewpoint(s). Now there is this new boost of being in power that licenses the newbie to denigrate people they have loved to hate. They suffer from an acute sense of inferiority complex. By running Nehru down, they want to raise their own image.
Last two years have witnessed a mix of personal hatred, political and ideological dislike. This is combined with a concerted effort to selectively disown history, even re-write it by super-imposing people they like or dislike in an attempt to capture popular mind space, hoping to play on short public memory.
It must be stated that Nehru was not infallible, nor was he, or should be, above criticism. He did make mistakes. But to demonise him through doctoring of official websites and documents is criminal. It is a disservice to the nation. Calumny travels across national borders in this Internet era.
Some of these websites find prominent display in sections of media in countries like Pakistan that have a vested interest in maligning India and Indians. Those who are engaged in anti-Nehru propaganda are avowedly anti-Pakistan the way they ask any critic to “go to Pakistan.” Since that is the case, whose purpose are they serving?
India has history, no doubt. But whether Indians as a people have a sense of history is a matter of never-ending debate. Ancient Indians had it, but the British rulers and their historians thought otherwise. The new set of ‘historians,’ who call mythology and scriptures history, are proving the colonial masters right.
Despite his occasional tweets, Modi and his government are part of it. On November 14, 2014, the first year of the NDA government, when the Congress party commemorated Nehru’s 125th birth anniversary, the government and the BJP preferred to honour Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
That Patel was a life-long Congressman who worked closely with Nehru, sinking deep differences in personalities and perceptions, especially after their common mentor, Mahatma Gandhi, was assassinated, does not seem to matter to those who want to honour him despite his stern approach to those involved in Gandhi’s assassination.
The tussle is for appropriating the glory and contribution of those who played stellar roles as India won freedom in 1947 and began an arduous nation-building task. This attempt at appropriation, besides Patel, has included conservative among Congress leaders like Madan Mohan Malaviya.
As Gujarat Chief Minister, Modi had announced plans to erect Patel’s statue that will be taller than New York’s Statue of Liberty. Funds have been collected and preparations have been made. In October last year, it was announced that the 182-meter “Statue of Unity” would be made in China. This comes amidst Modi’s “Make in India” campaign. There has been no talk of the statue in the last nine months.
Ironically, the Nehru-baiters are trying to re-write their own past. RSS was banned by Patel on January 30, 1948, because of the killers’ connections with it. Patel was a blunt and more decisive compared to Nehru, no doubt. Many in the Indian intelligentsia think that he was a secular man dealing with a volatile situation that erupted in the wake of India’s Partition.
Eminent historian Ramachadra Guha quotes from an April 1948 essay, written three months after Gandhi’s murder, by Robert Trumbull of the New York Times. Nehru and Patel had different temperaments, but wrote Trumbull, “their differences are too easily overdramatised.” Both recognised that, after Gandhi’s death, they had to work together to unite a fragmented nation.
In the partnership between the two men, Trumbull then wrote, “lies a great deal of the government’s strength, for they complement each other.” Guha rightly observes: “Nehru does not belong to Sonia Gandhi’s Congress; nor Patel to Modi’s BJP. Indians of all parties (or none) should have the grace and understanding to celebrate both individuals, for having contributed jointly and separately to the nation we call our own.”
When the Congress, now in its 131st year led the freedom movement in which Nehru and Patel played stellar roles, the 35-year-old BJP was not around. But its ideological mentor, Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), born 1925, had also played no role. This does not seem to matter in media-driven effort at changing public perceptions because the BJP is in power and on a winning spree, mainly at the cost of the Congress.
Modi leads the BJP/RSS thrust. From the day he took office in May, he has been deifying Gandhi. There can be nothing wrong in his drive for a filth-free India, for toilets in every home and school and promotion of khadi. All these have their roots in the ideals Gandhi preached.
For the government’s ideological cheerleaders, in deifying Gandhi, the real target is Nehru. A magazine run by one of them angrily wondered why Godse shot dead Gandhi and not Nehru. There is vocal venting of anger at Nehru’s ‘indecisions’ at pushing India Left-ward through planned economy that led to slow development, for keeping the Kashmir issue festering, for ‘appeasing’ the religious minorities and worst – starting a political ‘dynasty’. That two more Prime Ministers from that family and a Congress-led government ruled between 2004-May 2014 is being blamed on Nehru.
Many contemporary critics of Nehru do not seem to have either understood what he set out to do or read his voluminous writing. They would rather use his mistakes, real or born of their prejudices, to tar his legacy. Nehru is also under attack because the Congress used his name for narrow political ends. The Nehruvian Congress died in 1969. It was replaced by a family firm that has used Nehru as cynically as his critics have. Here lies the tragedy. Nehru, the root is sought to be cut to ensure that the branches wither away.
Earlier BJP-led governments of a liberal Atal Bihari Vajpayee, were multi-party coalitions. They had made no attempts to denigrate Nehru and his family. A certain grace and mutual respect existed then. But flushed with a parliamentary majority, followed by victories in state assembly polls, Modi and BJP have no such qualms.
Any leader should be seen in the context of his times. The Nehruvian project was part of the wider liberal nationalist project—to begin the overdue economic regeneration of India through industrialisation led by the State, to seek strategic autonomy in a Cold War world through the principle of non-alignment, to build a new nation-state within a constitutional framework, and to create new institutions for a modern India emerging from several centuries of foreign rule.
It is far easier to attack Nehru for specific policy errors than it is to question his overarching concerns. The horrible personal assaults on the Internet are not even worth a response. There is not even the benefit of perfect hindsight. A Twitter account is all that is needed to sit in judgment on historical figures.