Bhagat Singh, a 21-year-old revolutionary, writing in 1928 makes an interesting comparison between Subhash Chandra Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru. Describing Bose as a narrow, emotional nationalist, he advises the youth of Punjab to follow Nehru, a rational internationalist, as he alone could give them the right kind of intellectual nutrition. Nearly 90 years later, he would be censored by his followers for such retrograde views.
Bhagat Singh became a martyr symbolising eternal youth, Bose remains the ever-living guerrilla fighter and Gandhi, Nehru’s mentor, was killed by an independent India and elevated to sainthood. Nehru would outlive them all, moving past the romantic phase of nationalism to perform the prosaic task of state-making. His once-lovable face, which had attracted Amrita Sher-Gil for its sensitivity, was to suffer the blemishes of age. Disappointments and failures as an administrator were to further dent his image.
It is amusing that Nehru is singled out for every perceived abomination; Partition, Kashmir, illiteracy, the Hindu rate of growth, non-arrival of socialism, communalism, and, of course, dynastic succession. He is seen as an ambitious man who, by cunningly winning the Mahatma’s trust, deprived worthier leaders like Sardar Patel, Rajaji, Rajendra Prasad and J.P. Narayan of their due. They are, in popular imagination, the wronged.
H.Y. Sharda Prasad felt Nehru to be the most loved figure after Krishna in this land. The affair was not to last long. Once a heart-throb of the masses, prime minister Nehru created unease, especially in educated Indians. His insistence on not using force as a first resort to resolve conflict was seen as a sign of weakness. Hindus have not been able to forgive him for his idea of secularism and insisting on treating Muslims as equal citizens.
Nehru presided over the business of lawmaking, seeking to replace the communitarian conventions governing the lives of the people. It was bound to challenge their belief system and hurt them. There was no Gandhi to support him. The Congress, a party of Hindu patriarchs, wasn’t convinced of his scientific-rationalist outlook and refused to play the role of social educator. He had little help from the Communists, who faulted him for not being revolutionary enough. JP, who held a special place in the hearts of the masses, refused his invitation to play a role in this transformatory, post-romantic nation-building process. Ram Manohar Lohia, once his favourite, turned into an eternal rebel. Ambedkar did work with him for a while but, in the face of stiff resistance from Parliament on the Hindu Code Bill, gave up. Faced with the prospect of a long-drawn battle with a conservative Hindu society, Ambedkar took his followers to Buddhism, a religion, and turned into a god himself. Nehru’s scientific-rationalist views and training didn’t permit such easy ways out.
Rajni Kothari, writing in 1964, recognised the enormity and complexity of the task history had bequeathed to Nehru. Nehru, wrote Kothari, “taught leaders the art of managing men and institutions and based political solidarity on the complex mechanics of secular relationships rather than on neat notation of sacrifices and transcendental nationalism”.
It required patience, perseverance and hope in the human capacity to communicate and reform, to be able to survive the tardiness of this process. There was also a need to overcome the neat divide of Left and Right and create an ideological consensus in society to enlarge the spaces of shared life. The educated classes of India, who benefited most from his institution-building process, did not subscribe to the scientific and rationalist philosophy behind it. They insulated their lives from his cries. He was seen as someone who wanted, using his unassailable authority, to deprive them of sacredness and sever their ties with the religious past which gave them security.
In an era of identity politics and militant nationalism, only those who fit into the neat categories of predefined identities can aspire to be icons. Only natural that Nehru, an ambiguous figure, homesick in the West but alien and lonely in his own land, born a Brahmin but seen as half-Christian, half-Muslim, a warrior against colonialism but no English-hater, a leader of the nationalist movement but no nationalist, is now nobody’s child.
Nehru warned Richard Attenborough not to deify Gandhi in his film. He paid heed. We didn’t. We judge Nehru as a fallible being. Would he hold a grudge?
It is unfair to blame Nehru for being "feudal" when Indians are feudal to the core. The article and comments on this forum are a perfect example. The author claims "chacha" is the "most beloved figure in Indian history after Krishna," while others posting here believe Nehru was a true statesman, deserves the credit for liberating India from English rule, etc. etc. Only in India can an incompetent politician who screwed up Kashmir, almost screwed up Hyderabad, screwed up China, and screwed the economy be considered to be a "true statesman". The only thing he didn't screw up was Sri Lanka, and his grandchild took care of that.
If you want more evidence of the feudal nature of Indians, ask yourself this. What other country in the world, even including North Korea, worships and kisses the feet not only of some "great leader" but of his great-grandchildren?
I fail to understand how Nehru was responsible for Hindi imposition. That is news to me.
Heard of Non Aligned Movement?
This anti-Nehru tirade in these columns is unconvincing, appalling and schocking. NO ONE has ever said that ONLY Nehru brought freedom to India or Nehru was the greatest leader. There is no need even to "refute "something that was not said in so many posts either, for no man in his senses would ever say so. Nehru was ONE among the many stalwarts in the pre and post-Independece India.
It goes without saying that it is the PEOPLE WHO MAKE HISTORY--which includes both the leaders and masses. Often leaders lead the masses but at times masses may goad the eaders as well.
As DC said so well in another context referring to the dicsussion on Saba Naqvi's article, Nehru had both achievements and failures during his stewarship of 17 years. This is understandable. After all, which national Leader of which country had successfully avoided political and economic failures in his/her rule ? Is it ever possible for a human being to be successful forever. Were Lenin, Stalin, Mao ,Churchill,Thatcher, Kennedy, de Gaulle etc blemishless-- completely avoiding failures ? Aren't Success and Failures two sides of the same coin ?
During the last 20 years or so of Liberalisation and Globalisation for a generation of Indians who had had the benefits of eduaction, fat salaries with rising social status , Free Market Worshipping is the in thing. They care two hoots for political and economic history of India. This class would undermine the need for public sector, social safety net and reservations for the diadvantaged sections. Left and Left -Liberals like Punditji and their ideologies are a redherring for them. No wonder for them Nehru is a persona non-grata.
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