The Most unlikely Villain : Jawahar Lal Nehru

It would not matter what kind of mess they made – and they would make a mess, if they governed themselves, the people of India. They would probably make the greatest muddle possible.    — D. H. Lawrence, Aaron’s Rod

My legacy to India? Hopefully, it is 400 million people capable of governing themselves. — Jawaharlal Nehru

Different people hate him for different reasons. Not only these reasons are the outcome of hindsight, they are also mutually contradictory. In his work of appreciation and depreciation rather than of a dispassionate scholarship, Ramachandra Guha sums them up really well.  ‘For the BJP’, he says, ‘Nehru could not represent the ‘spirit of India’ because he did not subscribe to the right religion – indeed he subscribed to no religion at all’. And for the Lohiaite, his being unfit to rule was ‘proven by the fact that he stood apart, in class, culture, and language, from those he ruled over’. The Gandhian critique takes a different line of argument altogether. It contends that Nehru ‘despite being the Mahatma’s acknowledged heir ultimately betrayed his legacy. Where Gandhi fought for a country based on agriculture, a confederation of self sufficient village republics’. They see Nehru, ‘as having imposed a model of industrial development that centralised power in the cities by devastating the countryside’. Those who attack Nehru in the Mahatma’s name have argued forcefully that ‘planned industrialization has fueled both environmental degradation and social conflict, outcomes that could have been avoided if India had instead followed a ‘Gandhian’ approach to economic development’.

We have now Jana Sangh, now metamorphosed into Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), and RSS actively attacking Nehru’s philosophy of secularism, which they claim is rested on the appeasement of the minorities and is responsible for all ethical conflicts in India, most notably, in Kashmir; so called Lohitias, no longer in power, attacks him for being upper-caste, upper-class and English speaking intelligentsia which they seek to replace.

To these Hindutvavadi, Lohiaite, and Gandhian critiques has now been added a fourth. They comes from my generation, supporters of economic liberalization and champions of market (in many ways like their elders who were champions of state) who point an accusatory finger at Nehru for not pushing the state up to the commanding heights of the economy. Without Nehru’s folly, they say, India, would long since have become a Tiger to beat all the other Asian Tigers. As a passionate free-marketeer remarked recently that Raj Krishan derisive phrase ‘the Hindu rate of growth’ should be renamed the ‘Nehru rate of growth.” These days we see newspapers and magazines scoffing at ‘Nehru socialist policies’ and the great hard it has done to their nation. Curiously, historian D. D. Koshami criticised Nehru for bringing capitalism to India in guise of socialism.

If such assault would be welcome by the BJP then, tacitly, Congress would not shy away from ignoring him either. For his own party has turned his back on him and do not make any use of his name or legacy. There is hardly any political capital left in his name.

Its easy to find fault with anyone from a bygone era when you have the benefit of hindsight. And its hard to imagine any political leader who did not make mistakes. Personally he has been a personality to cherish, even before I was educated by him through his books, the discovery of India and ‘Glimpse of world history’ . Remarkably both of these books were written when he was in prison with little resources at his disposal. When Glimpse… was published, New York Times reviewed this book by noting that “It is one of the most remarkable books ever written… Nehru makes even H.G. Wells seem singularly insular… One is awed by the breadth of Nehru’s culture.”

Being a farmer by birth, my relationships with him are rather passionate. Most of us are not aware of what he did for us. Indians are generally very amnesic. Perhaps he was the last one in Indian politics who really cared about farmers; the one who could bring ninth schedule to make land reforms for him – “anything else can wait but agriculture.” After doing my post graduation in one of the IIT’s makes this relationship passionate and reading what he wrote makes it rather personal.

Guha, sums up his life in the following phrase : ‘our once but not the future king‘. This blog has taken a lot of input from this remarkable essays as well as from his masterpiece, ‘India after Gandhi‘ and ‘The makers of modern India’. But in a blog-post does not look nice if littered with references.

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63 years have passed since our independence. In a country’s life, it’s a very long time. Sarvapalli Gopal wrote three volumes of biography of Nehru’s published in 1984. The last line of third and last volume of his biography runs, ‘He was India’s once – and we may hope – the future king’. By the time Gopal finished his studies, the image of Nehru was at its nadir. If we have to measure the depth for this nosedive, one may consider the works of Rajni Kothari. Those who knows the work of Kothari will not call him an admirer of Nehru. The essay I have on mind was published in Economic weekly in 1964. With Nehru’s memory fresh in his mind, he wrote of the late PM’sgreat unifying role’ in a difficult period of transition, ‘his shaping of institutions and procedure of democracies in a large, diverse, and newly independent country. Nehru, wrote Kothari, ‘give rise to pragmatic orientation to politics, 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 scarifies and transcendental nationalism.’ Moreover, he created an ideological consensus on the need to wed socialism with democracy, a consensus, Kothari clearly believed would last and render obsolete ‘the wholly artificial left-right dichotomy in our politics’. Dismissing talk of ‘end of an era’ with Nehru demise, the political scientist commented,‘Nothing has ended with passing away of Nehru : everything of the values he left are going to last.‘There could be no better memorial ‘to the recently deceased leader, he concluded, ‘than a continuous search for building further on the foundation he left behind and wherever necessary, improving upon them.’

Nehru must have dominated the moral, intellectual and political landscape of India. But after 67 years, Kothari assessment can now be seen wide off the mark. Guha says, ‘The ideological consensus Nehru nurtured has broken down as tendencies of left and right, far from being render obsolete, have emphatically reasserted themselves. No longer are political alliances built on the ‘complex mechanism of secular relationships.’ Rather, caste, religion, and ethnicity, ‘primordial’ ties as it were, are increasingly what bind political parties and movement. Again the values and procedures of democracies, which Nehru deeply cherished and upheld, have cast by the way wind. No one has worked on ‘building upon or improving’ the foundation he laid, though a good many have tried to destroy them. [ibid, pp 178].

Curiously enough, his supporters are only to be found in Marxist circles. So long as he lived, Marxist were unsparing in their criticism of Nehru,  ‘He is not made of the same fiber as for Lenin or Stalin’. This is changed because since He stands for public sector undertakings, and with Eastern Europe gone, these PSUs stands as flagship of socialism, to be defended to last.

Guha was told a tale by an old I.C.S. officer C. S. Venkatachar. One day in the mid nineteen fifties, shortly before he achieved superannuation, Venkatachar passed the prime minister in the corridors of the sectariat. ‘I say Venkatchar’, said Nehru. ‘I believe you are retiring soon. Have I given you a photograph of myself?’ The reply was in negative, so Nehru sent him a framed and inscribed photograph at once.

That photo, the famous Karl Karsch portrait of the philosopher-king in contemplative mood, thereafter dominated Venkatachar’s drawing room. The civilian died in 1999; but in the deference to his memory the family has not disturbed the arrangement of artifacts in his room. In the extension of Jayamahal extension, thus, there stand a small memorial of Nehru. Thousands of other Indian homes, meanwhile, discarded their own lovingly framed photographs of our once but not the future kings. [ibid, pp 181].

Perhaps it is the high time we look at the legacy he wished to left behind. Are we, 1.2 billion Indians, capable to govern ourselves? He was confident that India will survive despite strong reservations expressed by many people. During his lifetime, India’s obituary were written. Till India survives as  a democracy, Nehru legacy will live on even if among the handful of hearts. Perhaps He is the only villain in the world, who never had a visible Hero against him.

A scholar-ruler who ruled over much narrow minded generation of Indians should not be at pain at his fallen stocks. Some Westners still think you are great. They are making a movie on his life. Indian Government is worried about any kissing scene between you and Lady Mountbatten. In India, as we all know, a great man is not supposed to get an erection while any dim-wit, who does not know his ass from his elbow, can acquire a herd to follow him by showing a virtue of living a life of a god-men.

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In West, it has been said, an outcast of one Age became hero for another. Nehru case proves this in reverse. It is one more case in the long list of social phenomenon which runs upside down in India. This transformation is made all the more poignant, when we consider how sincerely he was confident of his place in the heart of India’s posterity. This comes out in this Last Will and Testament, where he asserts that the Indian People have loved him as they loved no one else before or since. So why such a decline?

He stands apart from all of his children, in both ability and character. He could have become a successful lawyer or an international best-seller writer but he chose to serve his nation for it was a vocation for him. His one of the least quoted lines, “We are small people serving great cause, since the cause is so great some of the greatness will fall on us too.” shows how seriously he took his project and what place he thought he has in it. His children, after failing miserably in distinguishing themselves in other professions, took their mother advice and turn to Congress where a place was reserved for them at the top. “There is an aphorism in Bible which says that your sin will visit your seventh generation“, write the Indian Sociologist Andre Beteille about the fallen stocks of Nehru, “Nehru case proves this maxim in reverse. Sins of his seven generations have come to visit him“.

Dilawar

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Author: Dilawar

Graduate Student at National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore.

3 thoughts on “The Most unlikely Villain : Jawahar Lal Nehru”

  1. as a little girl, i always heard stories of Nehru and his love for Edwina….and her death (suicide) in Burma in 1963 ..her burial in the UK and the one indian warship sent to sprinkle beautiful flowers in the sea …from her love, for her love…….her daughters had been close to (my mother) and at the same school, so i heard the stories. nice blog brought back memories….make the movie….it would be a nice memorial for their love, which has been hidden for so long.

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