Don’t Undermine National Heroes – The Creators of Modern India

by November 21, 2018 0 comments

Don’t undermine national heroesThere is a trend in contemporary political debates to abuse India’s freedom fighters by distorting historical facts to secure facile victories on public platforms and television debates.

If any person chose to think of me, then I should like them to say: “This was the man with all his mind and heart, loved India and the Indian people. And they, in turn, were indulgent to him and gave of their love most abundantly and extravagantly.”
—Jawaharlal Nehru

History fascinated Nehru. It gave him an insightful command over the past, a keen and immediate sense of the present and a rare foresight to think and plan for the future of all. Nehru was a historian of repute; he felt that many historical writings were uncritical descriptions of events and people. He was equally drawn to science and firmly believed that scientific temper and scientific approach to problems would liberate India from economic misery and social injustice. Indeed amazing was his intellectual blend of science and history, idealism and realism, literature and politics, the revolution of Marx and the non-violence of Gandhi, all of which were integrated with his unique personality. As Norman Cousins observed Nehru “was not one man but a procession of men.”

During the Nehruvian era, industrialization became the first fundamental principle for the economic development of the country. Nehru had a strong conviction that the well-being of the Indian community lay in rapid industrialization and the use of science and technology. He preferred to set up key industries in the public sector for the sustenance of economic independence and took the public sector to command heights of the Indian economy. Nehru said that the application of science and technology is inevitable and unavoidable for all countries and people today. Scientific approach and temper are or should be, the way of life, process of thinking, method of acting and associated with our fellow countrymen.

Jawaharlal Nehru provided India a distinct place of importance in the international sphere with his policy of non-alignment and Panchsheel. He firmly rejected communalism. We cannot think of any state which can be called communal or religious. We can think of a secular, non-communal, democratic state in which every individual, to whatever religion he/she may belong, has equal rights and opportunities. To him, first and foremost, democracy meant individual freedom. On socialism, Nehru said: “Socialism is…not only a way of life but a certain scientific approach to social and economic problems.” On capitalism, he said: “The forces in a capitalist society, if left unchecked, tend to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.”

After completing his education in England, Nehru came back to India in 1912 and joined the Allahabad High Court Bar. Young Jawaharlal Nehru had the option of leading a comfortable life by inheriting the flourishing legal practice of his father but he opted for the journey of the freedom struggle, which eventually marked his entry into Indian politics. Indian National Congress already had a split due to the conflict between the moderates and the extremists. The Congress was yet to have a mass base. With the “divide and rule” policy of the British Government, the Muslim League was already formed. He met Gandhiji in the Lucknow session of the National Congress in December 1916 and was tremendously influenced by his towering personality.

Nehru severely opposed the “Communal Award” of the British Government, which provided separate electorate to Sikhs, Muslims, Europeans, and other oppressed classes. When Gandhiji started his fast till death against the communal award, it created a deep impression on Nehru. The Government of India Act 1935 was far away from the demands of the Congress. Nehru termed it “a charter of slavery and oppression.” Yet the Congress decided to participate in the election, which was announced as the provision of the Act. Under Nehru’s leadership, the Congress secured an absolute majority in six provinces and formed coalition Governments in two others out of the total 11 provinces and it established Nehru’s leadership in the entire country.

On August 15, 1947, a free India was born. Nehru was elected as the first Prime Minister of independent India. He was the first Indian Prime Minister to hoist the National Flag and make his iconic speech “Tryst with Destiny” from the ramparts of the Lal Quila (Red Fort). The time had come to implement his ideas and build a healthy nation. Nehru’s stint as Prime Minister of India is characterized by his secular and liberal approach. He carried out his vision to carry young India towards the road of technological and scientific excellence with great zeal. He implemented a number of socio-economic reforms and paved the way for rapid industrialization.

Nehru continued to be the Prime Minister of independent India until his death on May 27, 1964. He was the chief framer of domestic and international policies during his term as Prime Minister (1947-1964). It was under Nehru’s supervision that India launched its first Five-Year Plan in 1951. He had laid the foundation of democracy, secularism, planning, and socialism.

Jawaharlal Nehru provided India a distinct place of importance

Nehru taught us to look outward, express solidarity and become, in the process, cosmopolitan. Sadly, contemporary history has not treated this statesman kindly

Jawaharlal Nehru provided India a distinct place of importance in the international sphere with his policy of non-alignment and Panchsheel. He firmly rejected communalism. We cannot think of any state which can be called communal or religious. We can think of a secular, non-communal, democratic state in which every individual, to whatever religion he/she may belong, has equal rights and opportunities. To him, first and foremost, democracy meant individual freedom. On socialism, Nehru said: “Socialism is…not only a way of life but a certain scientific approach to social and economic problems.” On capitalism, he said: “The forces in a capitalist society, if left unchecked, tend to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.”

During the Nehruvian era, industrialisation became the first fundamental principle for economic development of the country. Nehru had a strong conviction that the well-being of the Indian community lay in rapid industrialisation and the use of science and technology. He preferred to set up key industries in the public sector for sustenance of economic independence and took the public sector to commanding heights of the Indian economy. Nehru said that the application of science and technology is inevitable and unavoidable for all countries and people today. Scientific approach and temper are, or should be, the way of life, process of thinking, method of acting and associated with our follow countrymen.

Science deals with the domain of positive knowledge but the temper which it should produce goes beyond that domain. It is science alone that can solve problems of hunger and poverty, of insanitation and illiteracy, superstition and deadening custom and tradition, of vast resources running to waste, or a rich country inhabited by starving people. Simultaneously, he worked for ‘trained personnel’ to effectively implement the policy. Nehru was convinced that modern technology should come in a big way to help India solve many of its chronic problems. The launching of Panchayati Raj was without doubt a great step forward in taking democracy meaningfully to the people in rural areas. The process of institution-building received a further fillip when it was launched.

That people should be actively involved in the process of nation-building and that India’s diversity and vastness required a wide institutional framework for developmental work were stressed by Nehru right from the dawn of India’s Independence. Thanks to Jawaharlal Nehru’s vision, India not only adopted and operated successfully the Westminster type of parliamentary democracy, but created new institutions to meet the challenging demands of speedy development. In this regard, Nehru’s leadership was dynamic and innovative.

Nehru’s Cabinet colleague, MC Chagla, summed up his personality: “Most people who become Prime Minister or Chief Minister owe the adulation they receive from the people solely to the position they occupy. Nehru’s case was quite different. He honoured the office of the Prime Minister by holding it and the prime ministership in itself did not add any further lustre to the reputation which he already enjoyed either at home or abroad.”

Nehru was an institutional builder. Most institutions established by him struck roots despite the lack of adequate resources and the number of trained personnel. He paved way for India’s educational exaltation by envisioning the country’s top-tier institutions, like the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Indian Institute of Management (IIM) and many more world-class commercial public sector undertakings which subsequently became the backbone of the Indian economy.

However, contemporary history has not treated this statesman kindly. This is a pity because today’s generation might know what globalisation is but not about cosmopolitanism. Even as our society globalises at a frenetic pace, it has turned inwards and  become claustrophobic. History must remember Nehru because he taught us to look outward, express solidarity and in the process become cosmopolitan.

An American research scholar, Granville Austin, brilliantly summed up the Nehru era by publishing in his research work that Nehru and his generation initially created tensions in the seamless web, many of which subsided by the close of the period. It is difficult to imagine how it could have been otherwise. Citizens’ expectations were high, and that of their leaders were even higher. But the successes of the period were fundamental. Power relationships were sorted out constitutionally, the parliamentary system became entrenched, democracy not only survived Nehru’s charisma but popular participation strengthened it, power was democratically transferred from one Prime Minister to another twice in 16 years. One-party Government combined internal party democracy and political variety with preserving national unity and integrity: The foundation was laid for an industrial economy and the social revolution was set in motion. This was no golden age but the Nehru years set the standards against which others would be measured — and many fell short.

Nehru was a human being perceived to be a demi-god by a large segment of Indians during his life span. It was believed that Nehru could do no wrong but he faltered on Kashmir and China issues. His peace-loving approach and over-dependence on trusted friends caused us deep embarrassment on both the issues. Two significant setbacks in his long distinguished political career were the reason why he never recovered from the trauma. With all its faults, the Indian democracy under Nehru’s leadership grew to be the most enduring system in the Third world. Flourishing democracy and scientific temper of the nation were the two greatest gifts of Nehru to his motherland India. Unfortunately, this freedom might be the reason why he is freely abused by a handful of countrymen in his absence without any fear.

Even more depressing is the fact that the Grand Old Party, which was nurtured by the blood and sweat of Nehru, is defenseless against the onslaught from political opponents — reason being that the current Congress leadership is intellectually hollow and is controlled by political advisers, secretaries and peons rather than mass base leaders.

On a positive note, today, when we talk about the state of affairs, which can be best termed as ‘Advantage India’ that somehow India seems to possess and we hold every single of those attributes needed for economic development in the 21st century, we pause and do a historical analysis of the situation. How did this advantageous state of affairs come about? Clearly, it was not some hidden potential in India that was waiting to be resuscitated from time immemorial. Nor is it simply the economic reforms of the last couple of decades. The roots for this success lie deeper than that. It is in Nehru’s vision for India that we need to seek the real root of this development.

The success of India actually owes a lot to the domestic capacities built in India to withstand global pressures and produce completely innovative solutions to important economic challenges. The personality of Jawarharlal Nehru can be scanned by the endorsement he got from the two greatest political giants of his era: “I have wanted to see you (Nehru). If you had not come I would have come to you. You are a man of peace”. (Fidel Castro). “This man has overcome two of the greatest failings in human nature — he (Nehru) knows neither fear nor hatred.” (Winston Churchill).

(Prashant Tewari is the Editor-in-Chief, Opinion Express Group)

feedback: prashanttewari@opinionexpress.in

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