The current flavour of the month for the chatteratti is the 125th birth anniversary of the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. For the media, ‘Breaking News’ is generating a debate on why the Congress has not invited Prime Minister Narendra Modi to its international seminar on Nehru’s worldview and legacy.
The government of India had, many months ago, constituted a committee under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister to observe this event. As far as we know, with the change of the government, this committee has not been dissolved and so the Prime Minister continues to chair this panel.
Surely, this committee may work out some programmes as it sees befitting. However, every political party has the right to observe a landmark of one of its past leaders in whichever manner it may choose to do so. For instance, no one can complain why the Left parties will not be invited for any similar observation of RSS leaders like MS Golwalkar. It is a different matter that the Left will not accept such an invitation.
Such assessments and postmortems of the ‘Nehruvian model’ will continue for days to come. The point here is not to discuss these in their totality but to underline that the assessments of the contribution of individuals can never be abstracted from the times that they lived in.
Karl Marx had once said, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please, they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.”
Nehru, surely, did have a conception of an “Idea of India”, which he tried to implement as PM. But this idea was a product of the accumulated strides already made by the Indian civilisation. He describes this accumulated historical wealth of the civilisation in the Discovery of India: “India is an ancient palimpsest on which layer upon layer of thought and reverie had been inscribed, and yet, no succeeding layer had completely hidden or erased what had been written previously.”
The emergence of the conception of the idea of India arose from a continuous battle among three visions. The mainstream Congress vision had articulated that independent India should be a secular democratic republic. The Left, while agreeing with this objective, went further to envision that the political freedom of the country must be extended to achieve the economic freedom of every individual, possible only under socialism.
Antagonistic to both these was the third vision which argued that the character of independent India should be defined by the religious affiliations of its people. This vision had a twin expression: The Muslim League championing an Islamic State and the RSS championing a Hindu Rashtra.
The former succeeded in the unfortunate Partition of the country with all its consequences that continue to fester tensions to date. The latter, having failed to achieve its objective at the time of Independence, continues with its efforts to transform modern India into its conception of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. In a sense the ideological battles and the political conflicts in contemporary India are a continuation of this battle among these three visions. The contours of this struggle continue today in the post 2014 general elections. The outcome of this struggle will define the direction and content of the process of the consolidation of the idea of India.
However, the mainstream Congress vision could never be sustainable unless independent India freed itself from its bondage of imperialism and breaking the stranglehold of the monopoly capitalists, on the one hand, and the feudal landlords, on the other.
The Congress’ inability to take the freedom struggle to this logical culmination was the point of dispute between the Left and the Congress. The Nehruvian model thus contained in itself the seeds of its negation with Indian monopoly capital increasingly allying itself as the subordinate ally of foreign finance capital and the continued vice-like grip of the landed sections festering the resilience and growth of associated social consciousness based on caste considerations and communalism. This continues to be the dispute of the Left with the Congress.
Even the realisation of the Nehruvian model — strengthening the foundations of a secular democratic Republic — gets negated with the growing popular discontentment among the vast mass of our people from the exploitative economic reforms serving as the canon fodder feeding the advance of the communal forces.
Thus, the realisation of the idea of India can only be possible by reversing the economic policies that widen the gulf between the two Indias and mobilising the vast mass of the Indian people in support of the consolidation of our republican secular democratic foundations.
Remembering Nehru must mean that the RSS/BJP is not allowed to inscribe their “thought and reverie” on the ancient palimpsest of India. This requires the reversal of the present neoliberal economic reforms trajectory.
(Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP. The views expressed by the author are personal.)