National

Naysayers And Nehru: The Many Times The Late Indian PM Was Misrepresented

Many ruling party politicians misquote him or fabricate his quotes. Social media platforms serve as battlegrounds for spreading conspiracy theories about him

Advertisement

Photo%3A%20Getty%20Images
With the Troops: Former Defence Minister Y B Chavan and Jawaharlal Nehru on a visit to the trenches in Northeast India Photo: Getty Images
info_icon

Even sixty years after the death of Jawaharlal Nehru, his legacy appears to loom large over the country’s contemporary political rhetoric. The ascendance of his 21st century successor, Narendra Modi, to the top post, has added to the political currency of the country’s longest serving prime minister, albeit through purely fabricated or delicately twisted commentary.

Since 2014, when PM Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stormed to power at the Centre, on the one hand, there appears to be a widespread vilification campaign against Nehru, with top ruling party politicians blaming him for several post-Independence misfortunes in the country.

Advertisement

On the other hand, social media platforms like WhatsApp serve as battlegrounds for spreading conspiracy theories about Nehru, questioning his ancestry and personal life, alleging he was born in a brothel or was a womaniser.

However, as is the nature of slander, most of it is rooted in either misquoting or fabricating the late Prime Minister’s quotes and speeches, or in words twisted out of context.

Take the case of Kiren Rijiju, a top BJP leader from Arunachal Pradesh and then the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, who, in November 2015, accused Nehru of surrendering territory to China during the 1962 war.

Advertisement

To back up his ‘serious’ charge, Rijiju quoted Nehru’s statement, “My heart goes out to the people of Assam,” after the fall of Bomdila, now in Arunachal Pradesh, during the Indo-China war. Rijiju contended that by expressing sympathy for Assam after Bomdila’s fall, Nehru had virtually surrendered the territory to China.

However, the context of Nehru’s statement at the time, is crucial.

On November 19, 1962, Nehru addressed the nation via radio and acknowledged “further setbacks” in the northern part of Arunachal Pradesh, then known as the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA), along with the fall of Bomdila, but affirmed India’s determination to repel the invader.

Nehru, in the same speech, had in fact declared India’s resolve to fight until victory, rejecting any notion of surrender, saying he could “well understand what our friends in Assam must be feeling” and adding that the government was not “going to tolerate this kind of invasion of India by any foreign country.”

“We must train ourselves and we must steel ourselves to meet all these reverses and to even make our determination still firmer to do all we can and to repel and throw out the invader from India,” Nehru said in that speech, which raises questions over Rijiju’s drawn import, which questions the late Prime Minister’s resolve to protect India’s territorial integrity.

Advertisement

Rijiju is not the only BJP leader to doubt Nehru’s ability to safeguard India’s sovereignty.

In addition to misrepresenting Jawaharlal Nehru through speeches, new, more ‘creative’ inventions such as fake letters have popped up of late.

In July 2020, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma echoed Rijiju’s sentiments, accusing Nehru of almost giving away Assam to China in 1962, on the basis of the same speech.

“Surrendering has been (a) hallmark of (the) Gandhi-Nehru family. In 1962, Assam was almost given away by Pt Nehru. When the Chinese Army had captured Bomdila, Nehru said, ‘My heart goes out to the people of Assam.’ Shame,” Sarma had said.

Advertisement

In August 2023, speaking in the Parliament, Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the same speech by Nehru as a “terrifying broadcast” and said, “In 1962, when China attacked India, when people of the country were expecting the government to save them, Nehru said in his radio speech ‘my heart goes out to the people of Assam’. This was the situation. That radio broadcast continues to haunt people, thinking how Nehruji left them to their fate.”

In 2015, Rijiju also claimed that during a parliament debate about Chinese aggression in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh, Nehru had purportedly said: ‘‘In those barren lands, in mountains of Ladakh and AP, not even a blade of grass grows, why is the Parliament wasting time?’’ Rijiju added, “These are those words that really pinched our hearts.”

Advertisement

However, parliamentary records suggest otherwise.

During a Rajya Sabha debate on August 31, 1959, Devendra Prasad Singh, a Rajya Sabha MP from Bihar representing the Praja Socialist Party (PSP), inquired about Nehru’s response to a news report stating that the Chinese had constructed a road through Indian territory in Ladakh.

In response, Nehru informed the House that China, “without our knowledge”, completed the Yecheng-Gartok Road, which is also called the Sinki-ang-Tibet Highway, in September 1957 in the Aksai Chin area and that India had been “dealing with it in correspondence.”

When Singh asked, “Does not the government contemplate ousting the Chinese from this Indian territory by force? Will not the Government of India at least consider the advisability of bombing the road, built in our territory, out of existence?” Nehru replied, “No, Sir. Government will not consider that course, because that is not the way Government would like to function in such matters.”

Advertisement

Nehru then added, “It is Indian territory and we claim it so, because we think that the weight of evidence is in our favour—maps, etc. But the Chinese produce their own maps, equally old, which are in their favour. And the territory is sterile. It has been described as a barren, uninhabited region without a vestige of grass and 17,000 ft. high.”

In the same debate, Jaswant Singh (not the late BJP leader who later became India’s foreign minister), an independent Rajya Sabha MP from Rajasthan, responded by questioning Nehru as to why India was not attaching significance to the desolate and infertile portion of Ladakh, despite China’s construction of a road there, while referring to the Prime Minister’s earlier remarks on the area’s apparent lack of importance.

Advertisement

Nehru’s response was, “I talked only about the Yehcheng area, not about the whole of Ladakh,” and that the government was treating the matter with due importance.

Nehru’s actual statements do not mirror Rijiju’s interpretation of the Premier’s words when the latter suggests that Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh were expendable to the late Congress stalwart.

Similarly, in February 2024, while delivering possibly the last speech of his second term in the Lok Sabha, PM Modi read out from Nehru’s Independence Day speech in 1959, which the latter had delivered in Hindi.

Quotations falsely attributed to Nehru are so abundant on the Internet that even mainstream media houses fall prey to them quite often.

Advertisement

Modi said: “Let me read out what Nehru said from the Red Fort on Independence Day. He said, ‘Indians are not used to working hard. We don’t work as hard as people in Europe or Japan or China or Russia do. These communities have become prosperous through their hard work and intelligence.’ So, Nehru was giving certificates to other countries, while looking down on Indians. He thought Indians were lazy and lacking in intelligence.”

A longer and more comprehensive quote from Nehru’s speech gives us a better perspective of what the late PM actually meant: “The problem we are facing at this time is that our people have stopped trusting themselves, they feel someone else will come to help… The government will help… That is why schemes have been made…(But) the momentum has to come from within, it can’t be imposed from above… the country doesn’t develop because of officials alone, it does so due to its own efforts…”

Advertisement

Following this, Nehru added, “In our country, that habit of working very hard is not common. It’s not our fault, habits develop as per circumstances. But the fact remains that we do not work as much as the people of Europe, America, Japan or Russia… we too can grow with hard work and intelligence, there is no other alternative…the world runs on the hard work of people, whether it is the farmers, the labourers, the shopkeepers or the artisans…”

In addition to misrepresenting Nehru through speeches, new, more ‘creative’inventions have popped up of late.

In 2016, purported photos of an old letter from Nehru went viral on social media.

Advertisement

Addressed to “Mr Clement Attlee, Prime Minister of England,” residing at “10, Down Street, London,” one “Jwaharlal Nehru” wrote in it, “I understand from reliable sources that Subhash Chandra Bose your War Criminal, has been allowed to enter Russian territory by Stalin. This is a clear treachary and betrayal of faith by the Russians and Rassia has been an ally of the British-Americans, which she should not have done. Please take note of it and do what you concider proper and fit.” It was dated December 26, 1945.

After errors were highlighted, a revised letter circulated, correcting most spelling mistakes and listing the PM’s residence as “10 Downing Street.” However, while Attlee’s designation remained unchanged, his name was misspelled. The date was altered to December 27, 1945.

Advertisement

Quotations falsely attributed to Nehru are so abundant on the Internet that even mainstream media houses fall prey.

On November 14, 2015, the BJP’s IT cell chief Amit Malviya, in a social media post, quoted Nehru as saying, “By education, I am an Englishman, by views an internationalist, by culture a Muslim and a Hindu only by accident of birth.”

This quotation gained such widespread traction that in 2018, Bengaluru-based English daily Deccan Herald actually attributed it to Nehru.

Congress leaders clarified that Nehru never uttered those words, which were instead used by N B Khare, a Hindu Mahasabha leader, to depict his interpretation of Nehru’s beliefs.

Advertisement

Following the criticism, the media house issued a clarification and apologised.

(This appeared in the print as 'Naysayers And Nehru')

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement