On the 131st birth anniversary of India’s first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru people paid him rich tribute but a number of notorious IT cell members of the Rumour spreading society did their dirty work which they have been engaged in through their character assassination of Nehru. Obviously, the attempt to degrade Nehru has not succeeded and he has become more popular and immortal than those who hated him would have thought of.
Nehru was a pivotal figure during India’s freedom movement, an icon and definitely much more broad minded and futuristic than most of his contemporaries. None is suggesting here that he did not have short comings and that he alone was the person who won us freedom. He served in jail for more than 9 years. However, Nehru’s role in the freedom movement and Nehru as prime minister of India are two different things. It is therefore important to analyse them differently. Leading a movement and building a nation are different things as many times ‘movement’ leaders fail miserably when they take the seat of the governance. Many of the leading figures and contemporaries of anti colonial struggle became superheroes in their country and concentrated power in their hand. Unlike Nehru they became institutions themselves while Nehru created multiple institutions to strengthen democracy.
It is also a fact that when a leader is at the helm of power for long, there will be more critique and all have different versions of the man. Most of those leaders who were partners in the movement to bring us freedom were no more in the first five to six years. Gandhi was killed by Nathu Ram Godse in January 1948, Patel passed away in December 1950, Baba Saheb Ambedkar in 1956. Subhash Chandra Bose was not there to guide the nation so the hopes of the nation concentrated on Nehru who was immensely popular with the masses and yet with all his humility he remained democratic. Nehru was not a demagogue like many who are in competition with him but a thorough democrat.
He would sit through Parliament to listen to important debates. An informative piece in the Indian Express by P Raman gives information of enormous importance during the period August 16, 1961 to December 12th, 1962. “He made 32 statements and interventions in Parliament on China. He spoke over 1.04 lakh words on the India-China border dispute, running into well over 200 printed pages.”
The same article quotes from Nehru’s statement in Parliament :I want freedom of action. I say, first of all, that nothing can happen without this House being informed. Secondly, we should agree that nothing should be done which, in the slightest degree, sullies the honour of India. For the rest, I want a free hand.” (Lok Sabha August 14, 1962).
Let us put this question in the context of the Galwan valley issue and Chinese incursion in India. How many times the current regime spoke about it in Parliament. Most of the information is not shared under the pretext of ‘confidentiality’. How many times the Prime Minister speaks and calls the Parliament to discuss this issue so powerfully. Any one differing or criticising the government will be declared anti national. The government does not allow any question and not much is in public domain related to this.
Nehru has been attacked for his mishandling of Chinese policy and the right wing trolls and IT disinformation campaign blame him for Chinese debacle. Nehru was betrayed by China but it is also a fact that Nehru’s Tibet policy was persistent and he never got away from it. One can see his interviews with the international press where Nehru has categorically stated why China does not want any country to look into their eyes but Nehru never shied away from his responsibility towards Tibet. The refuge given to Tibetan friends including the spiritual leader Dalai Lama was a powerful statement of that time that Nehru adhered to and continued till his end. He never changed his stand and persistently spoke for peace. We should also understand that our forces were not equipped that time. Nehru’s focus was mostly on building India economically. He never compromised on that and that is why the importance of the five years plan for India.
Compare it with today’s leadership which suffers from myopic vision and despite the known factor of how China responded, Narendra Modi continued to trust China and went overboard to please the Chinese Prime Minister. After the Chinese incursion our prime minister never said anything about China. Not a single mention by him in any of the public meetings or on the border when visiting the troops. If this had happened with Pakistan, Narendra Modi and the brave IT cells would have virtually threatened war on Pakistan to ‘eliminate’ them from the earth. The prime minister at the moment has never greeted the Dalai Lama even when the world greeted him for his enormous contribution to world peace and harmony. Though the government is now realising the importance of Tibet and Buddhism but still a silence on Dalai Lama in India reminds how has the current regime looking at the issue.
Nehru wanted good relations with neighbours. Despite partition being done on religion lines, he never suffered from religious hatred. He tried to make good relationships with Pakistan leadership. Volumes of Nehru’s speeches, letters are now out and I am sure they will shed more light on the personality of the man who can be called the builder of modern India.
The two men who shaped our life and destinies in modern India are Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar and Jawahar Lal Nehru. They remain political rivals yet very complimentary ideologically. Both had scientific temperament, respect for democracy and state socialism. Nehru too had immense love for Buddha and Buddhism while Baba Saheb Ambedkar did the greatest service to India by reviving Buddhism in its place of birth.
Nehru could have become a dictator. He always travelled to the border areas but never saw him in an army fatigue. He remained loyal to democratic norms and values. A leader of his popularity could have easily created personalised institutions but no he loved criticism. Opponents mocked at him and his angilican ways but none could challenge him on commitment to his ideology and his knowledge. He wanted Jai Prakash as well as Ram Manohar Lohia to be the future prime minister of India. Nehru also wanted Dr Ambedkar to be the President of India, which of course was rejected by Dr Ambedkar as he did not want to confine himself to being a ceremonial head.
Today’s generation needs to explore and question those who vilify him. Ask a simple question as why they hate him and the answer comes in their own feelings. They use Nehru’s hat, tie and his smoking or lighting match box for perhaps Edwina Mountbatten or hugging Vijay Laxmi Pandit who was his sister. These photographs are used to portray him as a debauched and dirty man. Unfortunately, they don’t think beyond their extremely limited understanding of intellectualism where people can sit, discuss, drink and enjoy life as that belongs to two individuals. Personal lives of celebrities and public figures attract attention but that can not be the basis of judgement unless the individual targets him or there are allegations of foul play. Just using the photographs without knowing the context is dangerous. Anyway, if the personal lives become the ideal examples than the IT cell which spread it will find it difficult to defend many of the politicians they idolise in modern times. The poor IT cell rumour monger dont understand that women have their own agency and can speak for them. Rather than defaming the person who is not here to defend him, the IT cell can speak about the rights of many other women have been left unattended by their spouses.
It is nobody’s point that Nehru can not be questioned or criticised. But interestingly it is coming from those who dont want to ask any question to their leader who has never addressed a single press conference independently. Nehru was not using the media to vilify his political opponents. Even if Nehru were not a political leader or a prime minister, he would have been a great literary figure. I would any day love to read his books, articles and listen to his speeches. What a remarkable man he was ? Any student would have been in awe with his lectures in the college.
Whatever the opponents say, Nehru’s footprints will always be there in our democracy as the institutions that he along with others build will be there to protect the rights of the people. Right now, we are living in deficit democracy but hope people will ultimately understand the importance of the idea of inclusive India espoused by Jawaharlal Nehru as that only will save us and protect our democracy from the fascist onslaught.
Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social activist. Twitter @freetohumanity