Guest column | An ode to Jawaharlal Nehru – the light of Asia
The first Prime Minister of independent India and one of the greatest proponents of parliamentary democracy, Jawaharlal Nehru laid the foundation of our modern nation.
Stressing on industrial development, science and technology, he was instrumental in reviving rural India. Under his able leadership, the different states of the country were woven into a Republic, and the Constitution was adopted on January 26, 1950.
He oversaw Independent India’s tryst with democracy for 17 years and has always been highly respected and revered, not merely in India, but also globally, particularly for his efforts to ensure global peace.
Writing to him on November 27, 1958, president Dwight Eisenhower said, “Universally you are recognised as one of the most powerful influences for peace and conciliation in the world. I believe that because you are a world leader for peace in your individual capacity, as well as a representative of the largest neutral nation.”
Educated in England at Harrow School, Trinity College, Cambridge, he became a barrister and practiced at the Inner Temple. He could have had a flourishing legal practice, and yet he immersed himself fully in India’s freedom struggle.
Nehru became the right-hand man, the “go-to man” for Mahatma Gandhi and led various non-violent agitations and satyagrahas (civil resistance) in cities, streets and villages. Nehru was imprisoned nine times by the British Government and spent 3,259 days in prison, which is almost 10 years of his life. However, he remained undaunted in his quest for India’s independence. He represented Gandhi and India in negotiations with the British, for the freedom of the country.
After becoming the Prime Minister, Nehru laid a strong foundation for democratic institutions in the country. He realised that to propel the country forward, it would be necessary to modernise rapidly. Wisely he evolved the concept of a “mixed economy”, whereby the public and private sectors would play a parallel role in development. Infrastructure projects like electric power, dams, roadways, mining, which had long gestation periods, were spearheaded by the public sector.
Indian agriculture underwent a metamorphosis during Nehru’s era. Agricultural universities researched high-yielding seeds and mechanisms to boost production. Punjab state ushered the green revolution in India, leading to a sharp increase in crop production.
Nehru also evolved and advocated the policy of non-alignment and peaceful co-existence. After the end of World War II, the world was ruptured by the Cold War between the Western bloc-led by the USA and the Eastern bloc-led by the USSR. Nehru kept India away from global tensions and focused on economic development.
Nehru knew that India was home to Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Jains. With his modern, western exposure in his youth, he realised it would be perilous to have a state religion. Thus, secularism was enshrined in the Constitution of India, to ensure that all religions coexist peacefully.
Thus, temples, mosques and churches coexist next to each other in villages and towns. Citizens of all religions work in the government, armed forces, and police.
Nehru was a learned and widely-read person, cultured and refined. His impeccable dressing was a pint of pride. His books - Glimpses of World History, An Autobiography, Letters from a Father to a Daughter, and Discovery of India - reveal his deep understanding of international cultures.
Nehru was very cultured and refined. He was always dressed impeccably. The popular prime minister would be surrounded by flocks of people whenever he travelled to any town or village. His fan-following was bigger than that of any modern-day movie-star or a rock-star.
Whenever Nehru visited Bombay (now Mumbai) in the 1950s, he invariably addressed a public meeting at the iconic Shivaji Park, in Dadar. I would accompany my father, to listen to Nehru’s speeches, even at the age of 10. Nehru would explain the policies of the government in simple language. I also remember his motorcade passing several times through Gokhale Road, where I lived. The footpaths were jammed with people, waiting to see and wave to him. Police held back the frenzied fans as Nehru travelled in an open-top car waving at the people.
After he passed away, his ashes were scattered across India to merge with its soil and seas, according to his wishes.
Winston Churchill said in 1955, “Nehru is the light of Asia, and a greater light than Gautama Buddha”. This was an exquisite tribute to a great believer of peaceful coexistence.
(The author is a Mumbai-based freelance writer)