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Is Nehru being brazenly written out of history?

In her introduction to a book of essays on Nehru, Nayantara Sahgal observes that fascism is endangering the Idea of India. An excerpt.

books Updated: Aug 01, 2015 12:25 IST
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In her introduction to a book of essays on Nehru, Nayantara Sahgal observes that fascism is endangering the Idea of India. An excerpt:



The ‘making of a nation’ cannot quite convey the immensity and diversity of the enterprise undertaken by Jawaharlal Nehru that lifted a subcontinent out of political and economic serfdom and set it on the road to modernization…



In 1947 India was one of the world’s poorest countries, impoverished by a century of plunder by Britain’s East India Company, followed by a century of exploitation under the British Crown. Fifty percent of nearly four hundred million Indians lived below the poverty line… Britain’s wars in Europe and Asia had utilized Indian manpower and drained India’s resources... Independence itself brought the devastation of Partition. Some twelve million uprooted people were on the move across the subcontinent…



The Indian National Congress… was the first political formation… to demand independence from British rule and to build an organization to fight for it. Its countrywide reach gained an allegiance that flowed across region and religion, class and mass, language and gender… Modern India’s commitment to democracy, pluralism and equal status for all religions dates from this national experience. The political parties of the Hindu Right and the Muslim Right that based their identity on religion did not share this frame of mind and stayed out of the struggle for freedom...



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Nehru was a socialist. In our blinkered market-obsessed climate socialism is taboo. But a free run of capitalism would have been grossly out of touch with Indian and world realities in Nehru’s day... In a dire economic situation he looked for professional guidance. It came from Indian specialists, statisticians, and scientists, and also, interestingly, from an American engineer, Dr Solomon Trone... Trone urged immediate and drastic action, starting with a national plan under Nehru’s personal supervision... His suggestions figured in the first two Five Year Plans. Irrigation projects, research laboratories, agricultural universities, IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology), and steel mills (with collaboration from Britain, Germany and the Soviet Union) laid the foundations for industrial, agricultural and scientific transformation.



…Nehru was a man in a hurry. The country responded. From a condition of zero percent growth from 1900-1947, the first fifteen years of independence (until the Chinese attack in 1962) saw the economy grow to 4 percent, bringing India in line with the successful economies of the time, and ahead of China, Japan and the UK.



…The contrast between the Nehru era and now is vivid. The present government whose repeated refrain is development, seems to regard it as a process divorced from nature, environment and the needs and rights of human beings.



…Peace — so sorely needed for development — was the prime objective of Nehru’s foreign policy…



Integral to the pursuit of peace were his efforts to seat the People’s Republic of China in its rightful place at the UN, as successor to Nationalist China which had been a founder-member of the organization... But isolating communism was central to America’s Cold War strategy. …In 1959 a CIA-aided armed rebellion orchestrated an uprising in Lhasa that ended in the slaughter of thousands of Tibetans. Thousands more were forced to flee to India with the Dalai Lama. China was convinced the uprising was part of an international conspiracy to destabilise its government and that India, having given asylum to the Dalai Lama, had been party to it. The Chinese government took a hostile turn toward India. Claims to large tracts of Indian territory followed, and ultimately the Chinese attack in 1962.


…China and India may well have lived with their differences… had it not been for America’s disastrous covert intervention in Tibet, leading to the border war in India.



...Political leadership has its successes and failures. It is a strength of democracy that leaders are taken to task for their failures, as Nehru was for the collapse of his China policy. It is also true — though rare in the annals of politics — that human quality transcends political leadership and reaches across political divisions and differences. Nehru’s prime ministership was admired worldwide as an era of heroic striving against gigantic odds, with no curtailment of the rights and freedoms guaranteed to all Indians. On Nehru’s death… In the Lok Sabha, a Jan Sangh MP, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s words reflected deep mourning: ‘…a dream has remained half-fulfilled, a song has become silent… like Ram, Nehru was the orchestrator of the impossible and the inconceivable…he too was not afraid of compromise but would never compromise under duress… the leader has gone but the followers remain. The sun has set, yet by the shadow of stars we must find our way.’



…Nehru’s legacy has so far stood the test of time. Secularism is part of Indian culture, and elections based on adult suffrage have given rise to a canny electorate well aware of its importance. But this inheritance is now under attack. The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government of Rajasthan has decreed that candidates for election to panchayats must have an educational (Class VIII) qualification and specified toilet arrangements at home. Here begins the stealthy subversion of democracy and its institutions. The RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) clamours for a Hindu rashtra and a re-write of history that will disown centuries of Indian civilization, while its assaults on other religions and other points of view have left millions of Indians in fear for their future. Mythology and fantasy parade as knowledge, with what extent of damage to facts and reason we cannot tell…



Nayantara Sahgal (Sunil Saxena/HT photo)


We now see that not only Nehru’s legacy, but Nehru himself is being brazenly written out of history. In Indonesia to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the Bandung conference of 1955, the Indian envoy chose to omit his name altogether, along with the fact that Nehru pioneered Afro-Asian unity and was a founder of the Non-Aligned Movement at Bandung.



The rising tide of India’s brand of fascism now endangers the inheritance we celebrate as the Idea of India, and makes it necessary to resurrect Nehru’s role in building and safeguarding it.



This collection of assessments, criticisms, opinions, insights and emotions tells us how his contribution is viewed fifty-one years after his death. Common to all of them is one hard fact: No Nehru, no modern India. The ground we stand on was laid in Nehru’s time. One essayist calls for political activism as the need of the hour to protect what we prize as India’s legacy.



Meanwhile the battle is on between enlightenment and obscurantism, between Nehru’s vision of India and the BJP/RSS’s shrunken and distorted version of India.