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Be critical of Nehru's policies, not his persona

The political tug-of-war over Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s legacy notwithstanding, what does he mean to a contemporary Indian? One financially independent woman tries to dissect the man.

india Updated: Nov 17, 2014 14:48 IST
Nivedita Mishra
Nivedita Mishra
Hindustan Times
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru

I must have been in my early teens when my dad gave me Glimpses of World History. At our home, history and literature have been of abiding interests. So, the possibility of getting a ringside view of world history told in the most engaging manner was a wondrous idea. Years later, when I was much older, possibly in early 20s, I read his Discovery of India and his autobiography. My dad also maintained a diary of his favourite quotes and writings from the world of letters. In them, I discovered Nehru’s Tryst with Destiny and Will and Testament writings.

Slowly but surely, an image of the man emerged – a man gifted with language, a passionate nationalist, a modernist beyond compare, a world citizen, a scholar, a man of excellent Kashmiri pandit ancestry... and a strikingly good-looking man.

Later when I joined journalism, I would devour whatever was being written about Nehru. In an editorial by columnist Bramha Chellaney, for instance, in 2007, I was to get a reading of what happened in 1962, what led to it and how it affected Nehru. I recall reading how Nehru could never really get over the fact that the China, despite agreeing to the principle of panchsheela, would so brazenly disregard it and attack India.

It is generally believed that Nehru died of heart attack or possibly failure. Chellaney almost suggested that the Chinese behaviour could have been the lasting reason.

During those years, a colleague would turn from being a Nehru champion to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose hunter, and therefore a Nehru baiter. We at did a special microsite on the disappearance of Netaji (2003-04). The series of articles, among other things, hinted that Netaji did not die in 1945 and that Nehru effectively blocked his entry back to India. Why? Apparently because of his lust for power.

Why would the son of a rich man leave the comforts of his wealthy home, toil for India’s independence like many others, go to jail for many, many years and do such a petty thing? Thank god, Indians don’t buy this. But you never know...

Much later when internet became part of daily lives, I would often see YouTube videos vilifying Nehru by, sometimes, picking known facts and twisting in a biased logic and sometimes peddling pure falsehood.

I could have easily said that this was the handiwork of a fringe lunatic group, but when I see the YouTube views these videos get, I cringe in disbelief wondering how gullible people can be. You scream from the rooftops all kinds of falsehoods and half-truths that people begin believing in after while. You start worrying when such videos get somewhere 2 or 3 lakh views (with some even hovering in the vicinity of 22 lakhs, goodness!).

As an independent 40-year-old financially stable woman, I have lot to thank a guy like Nehru for. The social security, I enjoy today for instance.

If I have the right to my father’s property, something unimaginable 70 years ago, I am absolutely indebted to a man like him.

He’s the guy who put his weight behind women’s education. Needless to say, countries that have educated their daughters have generally developed fast.

It is extremely scary when cousins and friends hold forth on half-baked ideas, and sometimes even falsehoods, over dinner table conversations or drawing room discussions.

I cringe everytime people want you to believe that Nehru surrendered Kashmir at the behest of Edwina Mountbatten. Really? Can the destiny of a nation of some 80 million people be decided under the stupor of alleged romantic dalliances or in bedrooms? Could it be, Edwina and her husband influenced his decision in taking the matter to the UN but... there can never be any justification for making such sweeping statements so casually.

It is easy rubbish all this as utter nonsense, but isn’t it is worrying when such beliefs take centrestage? Aren’t these people also Indian voters?

Haven’t you been bombarded with or tagged with nonsensical Facebook posts? I have seen posts suggesting that Nehru died of STDs. Really? Some others say Nehru was a Muslim. We thought his ancestor Raj Kaul, a well-known Sanskrit and Persian scholar, who moved from Kashmir valley to the plains in search for fame and fortune in the dying years on Mughal era. Wow, who are these story tellers who weave such tales?

Surely Nehru made mistakes, some grievous ones at that in his lifetime and his political descendants have done more harm to his legacy than his detractors ever can. But must we judge a man on the basis of half truths?

There has to be something terribly wrong in us as a nation if one half indulges in unabashed hero worshipping while the other goes all out to make a villain out of him.

Surely, we can do better.

First Published: Nov 14, 2014 20:45 IST