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Nehru had remarkable breadth of vision, unlike ‘Gandhians’, narrow and scheming


Nehru with Einstein

By Bhaskar Sur*

In his lifetime Jawaharlal Nehru was a legend. He was a remarkable personality — a leader, a scholar, an internationalist who set himself to the task of bringing peace and sanity in a world emerging from the savagery of the Second World War and already caught between the ambitions of two superpowers.
He had conflicting sympathies — he loved the freedom and democracy of the West but his radicalism found a deeper chord in the socialist experiments. He wanted India to be a vibrant socialist democracy, leading the decolonized new nations and those which were struggling to be free.
Nehru was an elitist leading a party which was a heterogeneous medley sharing as common feature a hatred of the British and, at a deeper level ,modernity. Nehru could be very intelligent and incredibly naive. Despite his Cambridge education he was so blinded by the negative nationalism, that he was unable to appreciate the great achievements of the British rule and the cultural regeneration it had brought about.
Under the influence of Marxism he had some understanding of class but hardly any of caste, gender and community. Like many uppercase nationalists of the day he came to believe that if only British rule was removed, much of the problems would naturally be solved. What was needed was a progressive, determined leadership which, he persuaded himself, he alone could provide.
Nehru knew the Gandhian movement suffered from utter confusion and was regressive but he also knew Gandhi alone could carry millions with him, which, left to himself, he couldn’t hope to. Ambitious, he decided to follow Gandhi, compromising with his deeply held beliefs. MN Roy, his contemporary, rightly noted: “He could not remain the leader of the Congress unless he capitulated to the reactionary forces which controlled the party.”
So, unlike Subhas Chandra Bose, Nehru was a clever opportunist, waiting for his moment. His blind ‘anti-imperialism ‘ and ‘anti-communalism’ (read a contempt for Jinnah and the Muslim League) led him to wrong conclusions and hastened the communal holocaust and the Partition. It devastated India but helped him to become the Prime Minister who would try to initiate a sort of revolution from above and ended, sadly, in a colossal failure.
I nspite of the ambitious Five Year Plans and numerous public sector projects, or because of it, the economic growth was slow and poverty and illiteracy persisted. His long premiership ended rather ingloriously with an avoidable war with China which India lost. He was largely responsible for it as he destroyed old maps since 1953, arbitrarily redrawing boundaries which the Chinese were loath to accept.
As a leader, he was no match for his democratic contemporaries such as Winston Churchill, Charles De Gaulle, Konrad Adenauer, not to speak of David Ben Gurion. All these steered their nations through difficult times from defeat to victory or from ruins to prosperity. Nehru, on the other hand, led a movement that wanted the defeat of the Allied Forces. So, in a way, he belonged to the defeated side.
Now was he the maker of ‘modern India’? This is a problematic question as the term ‘modern’ is ambiguous. Modernity is a wider concept encapsulating the ideals of the is Enlightenment — scientific rationality, industrialization, individualism, rights-based democracy and numerous institutions of civil society.
The British, in part under the influence liberalism and also under necessity, introduced a modern state based on bureaucracy, build up judiciary, an new education system, modern communication, banks, print media that facilitated the growth of democratic institutions. India in the beginning of the 20th century was the best administered colony anywhere in the world. In 1913 Rabindranath Tagore received the Nobel in literature, the first Asians to have done it.
In 1930 CV Raman received Nobel in science. There were at least three others — JC Bose, Satyendranath Bose and Meghnad Saha — who could have won the honour but missed it, anyway (not owing to any imperialist conspiracy). India was far from being the backward country that nationalist historians labour to portray.

Nirad C Chaudhari

In this context the question that forces itself: Did Nehru leave a better India? The answer is a big ‘No’. He left a defeated India where the institutions founded by the British had suffered erosion, efficiency suffered and education declined. There was more incompetence, corruption and political intrigue.
Nehru wanted to surpass all the great rulers of the Raj, particularly the imperialist Lord Curzon, who was a man of scholarship, bold vision and great ability. He, like Curzon before him, worked very hard and overconfident, looked after no less than 40 ministries with more or less ,incompetence and indifference. 

Nirad Chaudhuri feared, Nehru, once gone, Hindu revivalism would come down like  mythical Ganga carrying gibberish secularists down to unfathomable sea with no escape

What Lord Curzon could achieve in matter of just six years (1899-1905) in the field of administration, education, agriculture, Nehru could not even half as much in long 16 years or more. Curzon believed in the providential role of the British and set himself to improve the quality of education, revamped administration, founded the institute at Pusa to revolutionize agriculture and took a deep interest to protect the crumbling ruins of the past. Nor did the area of freedom expand. 
The first thing that Nehru and Sardar Patel did after coming to power was to amend the Constitution abridging rights to the Freedom of Speech (Article 19) and introduced the repugnant retrospective legislation and created a schedule (Ninth Schedule) where laws could not be challenged even though they violated the fundamental rights.
Not content with this, Nehru’s administration in 1958 enacted the Armed Forces Special Power Regulation which is ‘perhaps the most sanguinary single piece of repressive legislation in the annals of liberal democracy’ authorizing unlawful killing of anyone in a group of five persons or more. He gave orders to bomb Naga villages as they were unwilling to remain with the Indian union. Nehru set a bad precedence by dismissing the first democratically elected communist government of Kerala.
Nehru, after all, was a leader of a country with a deep authoritarian culture and he was certainly a democrat by that standard. He was sincere, honest with a remarkable breadth of vision — again compared with most of the average Gandhians — narrow minded, scheming, Brahminical crooks, promoted by the Birlas and other Indian business houses.
He was a humanist, an agnostic and a rationalist which again is exceptional in a country where even educated people are deeply superstitious. He wanted science to grow, not in conflict with humanities but in harmony. He was genuinely interested in the world of ideas. He had a distaste for the glorification of terrorism.
He refused to garland the statue of Khudiram at Muzaffarpur and declined to attend a religious function at Ramkrishna Mission. He knew French and wrote English with rare elegance. He strongly stood against the war cry to banish English by half educated clamorous bumpkins. He loved good things of life including graceful women and children.
All these are redeeming graces but all were a product of the British civilization which he acquired and loved ,despite his deeply irrational hatred for the British rule. He was not very critical of the exploitation and horrors of the caste system which was and still is much more hateful than the British rule.
Nirad Chaudhuri, who was a victim of Nehru’s uncharacteristic pettiness, looked upon him along with Krishna Menon as the last two pillars of the Western attitudes and views in post-independence India. He feared, once they were gone, the Hindu revivalism would come down like the mythical descent of the Ganga carrying the gibberish secularists down to an unfathomable sunless sea from which there would be no escape.
How prophetic was this wizened little man with impish wit!

*Source: The author’s Facebook
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