In childhood, I was lead by teachers and peers to venerate Jawaharlal Nehru. Then, on growing up, I found lot of criticism heaped on Nehru by people around me. They abused him squarely. Adolescence appreciates such fiery criticisms and for some time, I went along with these opposite views as well. Now, when I can discern and choose my views with a bit more equilibrated mind-set, and poise, I think it was Nehru who was the need of the newly Independent India; may be even more than Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, or, Atal Behari Vajpayee. Reasoning is simple, but to begin, as a Prime Minister what kind of India had he inherited, India that historically had never been, politically, a single nation.
To list the sufferings of the newborn India:
2] Superbly superstitious [irrational] India
3] Casteist India
4] Princedoms, where most were egoistic, insignificant, even the Don
Quixote like caricatures
5] Partitioned India with more than half the nation bleeding emotionally,
mentally, physically and economically
6] Enemies gnawing at the borders
7] Almost the entire nation below the poverty line
8] Close to zero industrialization
9] Utter social backwardness in the whole country
10] More religious shrines than medical clinics
11] A country with all sorts of diseases and social evils
12] Floods and draughts both destroying the country at the same time
From 1947 to 2008, just 61 years, but the list looks nightmarish even to imagine. Is this a description of a Somalia or an Ethiopia or some other draught stricken factionalized country, which abound in Africa? No, Sir, this is India, that was! (Grateful for the past tense! Aren’t we all?) It is about our land, us, who are trying to put a man on Moon just 61 years later! Imagine any other leader in Nehru's place and try to evaluate without rhetoric. If, one does not give credence to Nehru, whatever is due, it would be another classic example of history misjudged.
In the above list, illiteracy, princedoms, poverty lines, lack of industrialization, medical facilities are some of the ills strong administration could take care of. Many Indian leaders, both past and present could easily better Jawaharlal Nehru’s administrative qualities. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel did just that. Nevertheless, he would not have been a right choice for the Prime Minister’s office. National troubles and tribulations firmly rooted in centuries old concepts call for a bird’s eye view of the country’s past, tempered with a sense of justice and a certain visionary approach based on evolution of the world thought. Many of these ills have yet remained deeply ensconced in Indian ethos. To name a few, caste and religious divides, parochialism, language issues, north versus south, and the wounds of the Partition spurring Hindus and Muslims to draw blood at the sight of each other! Could an aggressive Hindu or even a moderate Brahmin lead India of those turbulent times? Ironically, Nehru happened to belong to the highest class of Brahmins, but still, did not believe in the Indian heritage of cast-based society! In Nehru’s choice for the Prime Minister-ship of India unfolding of the events seem harmonious as his ancestors came from Kashmir, the permanent sizzler in Indo-Pak relations.
The choice of Nehru to lead India did not spring from emotional deliberations, but from what he stood for. In a country factionalized on the bases of regions, religions and its subdivisions, a rationalist such as him was the need of the hour. He was a visionary, who could rise above the centuries old stagnant concepts that soaked the wings of Indian psyche. *[The rarity in his vision for India was ‘inclusivity’ in his approach rather than excluding any caste, class or sector. This approach still pays dividends since only in states ruled with the philosophy of one part more equal than the rest (such as Gujarath, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Orisa and Madhya Pradesh) are having tumultuous governance]* He knew future of India lied in overhauling her perspicacity keeping in tune with raw pragmatism. He recognized that to be vibrant and progressive, the power of the proletariat pluralism has to replace the Indian culture based on feudalism.
In his exuberance to lead India on an uncharted path of an idealistic nation, Nehru committed his fatal error. He had also believed in nonviolence and a centrist path in a world divided between communism and capitalism. His folly resulted in the Chinese aggression of 1962, probably hastening his death in 1964.
However, an error remains an error, just that, in spite of the cost. That should not be the only factor while judging a person who walked tight ropes in guiding the nation over abysmal valleys in a country who has buried its head in several millennia old customs and concepts. Kargill war was a folly, too, of an avoidable complacency. Luckily, it did not turn ghastly as much as the Himalayan blunder did.
Arguably, Nehru might not suit the bill in 2008, but in 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru was the only solution to the jigsaw puzzle of problems that India was and he gave a meaning to its futuristic existence. None else could have!
* The bracketed words in red fonts did not appear in the published article
Published in the daily ‘Herald’, Goa, of 15 August 2008
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