Nehru And History


Nehru is now the favourite punching bag for all who call for change.Time was when he was nothing short of a demi-god.But now there has been such a volley of attacks on him as would seem to demand consigning him to the scrap-heap.As though he is guilty of all mishaps that have befallen us. But such demands are somewhat dubious and gallant efforts are on to rebut such fantastic claims.The upshot would be a balanced assessment of a great leader who had failed in some respects.Liliputs should not be allowed to cut him down to their size.

It is a rather corny situation when one finds a man of Pavan Varma’s credentials joining the rabble.He has emerged from what he claims to have been a scholarly study of the great Hindu tradition to denounce Nehru as the progenitor of supposedly modern but inherently colonial history of India that has been ruling the roost until now.

The argument is that Nehru depended entirely on the colonial historical corpus in crying down the great achievements of the Hindu past and further that he wanted to get rid of that lock,stock and barrel.By implication he blames ‘left liberal’ historians for following in Nehru’s tracks.

Varma has every right to air his views,and by the same token to expect a fair reply.

Nehru had a deeply historical view of things.He wrote GLIMPSES OF WORLD HISTORY to chalk out an approach to the world as an account of eventful and rocky advance of mankind to enlightenment and unity.He was a conscious anti-fascist who took a stand against rolling the clack back and leaders like Mussolini when many Indian middle-class intellectuals idolized him.DISCOVERY OF INDIA is also historical in perspective.But it is at the same time a meditation on the heritage of India as she was about to join again the comity of nations on her own,no longer an appendage.It was an idealistic vision and an inclusive one.He did NOT run down what is regarded as Hindu past,but gave some space to thousand year old Buddhist eras.Besides he did not cast out the contributions of rulers of Muslim rule simply out of some fad,as though you could wipe out the contributions of a great chunk of native people simply because they are not ‘Hindus’.

We used to read DISCOVERY with wonder and upliftment in our youth as the leading lights of the so-called ‘left liberal’ camp must have done in theirs.But they did not simply repeat Nehru’s account,and chose to open new pathways that added to our understanding of the past. D.D.Kosambi’s epoch-making and seminal work was no continuation of Nehruvian historical perception but an entirely original and novel approach to history.And Kosambi was an eminent Sanskrit scholar too.

Nehru’s handicap was that he had no Sanskrit,but he had the help of learned fellow-inmates of prison like Acharya Narendra Deva.

It is a deeply jaundiced view to say that Nehru had underestimated the achievements of great ‘Hindu’ scientists and philosophers.Rather he appears to be laudatory in his appreciation of their work.Perhaps he missed certain things,but that was simply because they were either unknown at that time or not widely known.It was a prison and not a library where the book was planned and scripted.Krishna Deva Raya was not mentioned because though a great monarch with impressive achievements he did not quite break the pattern of the tradition as Nehru had conceived it.

Colonial history dominated the framework of history as scores of colonial scholar-administrators first initiated and then explored history of India from a modern disciplinary point of view.Many had unearthed facts little known till then and written monumental volumes.Naturally their framework had been shaped by conscious and unconscious colonial bias.But they have still left behind a vast store of valid information tested on the touchstone of reason.That later historians followed the path hacked out by them was a natural course of events.

But it was the hated left liberals who first broke the colonial shackles on our history.They boldly disputed periodization of our history as ‘Hindu’,’ Muslim’ and so on.They also challenged the one-sided view of India’s past as some kind of serene or lifeless stasis,pointing out both disruptions and innovations.The myths propagated by colonial historians about the mortal struggle between heroic Rajputs and alien crafty ‘Muslims’,and pointed out the crushingly germane fact that the Rajput generals had helped lay the foundations of the great Mughal empire.And some more things of huge import.

As for Nehru’s view that the past had left much dead wood behind that has to be got rid of,this is hardly something to be deplored.In fact it had been the cherished conviction of Tagore whom it will be scandal to call anti-Hindu.While Varma bets on Vedanta,there are also the stigmas of caste,rigid customs and untouchability which were taken head-on in colomial times by rebels like Phule and Ambedkar.Should not such things be junked?Why then the attempt to tar and feather Nehru out of some unfathomable grudge?True, Indian civilization had produced some great and noble figures but at least for a millennium it ground millions into a mean little existence.We feel more at home with medieval saints who did not care so much for learning and pedantry as the Advaitin scholars addicted to caste.

There is no need to put Nehru on a pedestal above all criticism.Nor any justification for the blatant hoop-la of consigning him to the scrap-heap.

Hiren Gohain is a political commentator


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