With the threat of disintegration, a population with a literacy rate of just about 12% and a long list of external pressures acceding naturally to our newly born nation in 1947, Nehru didn’t only make sure that India becomes a socialist state built on the strong pillars of democracy but also ensured that it does not become a majoritarian state- power crushing the rights of the minorities.
27th May 2020 marks the 56th death anniversary of Jawahar Lal Nehru- Independent India’s very first Prime Minister. Popularly known as Chacha Nehru or Panditji, he was born to a privileged family with a wealthy lawyer and political leader father in as Motilal Nehru. Nehru grew up around the time when colonial rule was challenging India’s religious and social conventions while generating political opportunities for educated Indians. Nehru was a graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge, and the Inner Temple, where he trained to be a barrister. After a few struggling years on return, Nehru was drawn to politics, inspired by Gandhi. He became the President of Congress in 1929 and included ‘Poorna Swaraj’- a demand for complete independence in the Congress agenda- a thing that had happened for the first time.
Nehru was a great reader, a silver-tongued writer, a sharp observer and an eloquent orator. ‘His greatest solace is reading and writing’ wrote Brown in his distinguished book- ‘Nehru: Profiles in Power’. In the time period of 23 years (from 1921 to 1945) he was sent to jail for nine terms in periods ranging from 12 days to 1041, a total of 3,259 days; which was nearly 9 years of his life. He read about politics, economics, science, literature and contemporary affairs in the cell. “Solid reading is a necessity in prison; without it, the mind stagnates and rots,” was what he used to say. His books and papers including the likes of “Autobiography” and “The Discovery of India” are truly inspiring and still continue to provide hope for a better tomorrow. It was the discourse with professionals, the deliberations with field experts, and the voice of rural India that comprised the Nehruvian style of writing and shaped his ideas on democracy, secularism, socialism, and egalitarianism.
“At the stroke of the midnight hour when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.” It was these words in his famous speech Tryst with Destiny that filled every Indian with jubilation and ecstasy. The then charismatic Prime Minister was reassuring every single citizen that they would all together build a nation laid on the foundation of trust, co-operation, peace and harmony. But with great power comes greater responsibility. Nehru recognized this, which is why he made sure that the first government has ministers who are specialists in their respective fields keeping aside his personal differences. Dr. B.R Ambedkar and Mr. Ramasamy Chetty were made Law and Finance Ministers respectively, though they both were critical of Nehru. Nehru knew the fact that a nation’s progress could not be compromised by mutual differences, and is often termed as an effective administrator. It is because of Nehru that India rightly invested in the sectors of health and education building world-famous educational centres like IITs and IIMs and hospitals like AIIMS. He understood the role of Science, Innovation, and Technology and laid strong foundations of institutions like ISRO which make us proud even today. He is also credited with the initiation of India’s Nuclear program. It was he, who formed a powerful base of secularism in India ensuring that rights are granted to every single citizen and propagated the concept of ‘Mixed Economy’ so that Indian producers get enough time and resources to manufacture their own goods and sell them in the market.
Contemporary world leaders often referred to him as the ‘Messenger of Peace’ as he stood up for the Non-Alignment Movement in the tense era of the Cold War. When the world appeared to be divided into 2 factions and it was evident enough that there might be a war again, he refused to join hands with either the US or with the USSR. He, with the help of the Head of the States of Yugoslavia, Egypt, Ghana and Indonesia started the Non-Alignment Movement to ensure peace in the developing nations so that they don’t adopt a full capitalist or a communist model of governance. His foreign policy was up to the mark, with only a large stain of the Indo-China War. Nehru, besides being an efficient diplomat was a visionary as well. It was him who gave authority to the States Councils and the State Reorganisation Commission to divide states for better and ease of administration. He was the one who constructed the terrains of the Planning Commission, known by the name of NITI Aayog today and also provided sufficient powers to the newly formed Election Commission of India so that elections happen in a free and fair manner.
It is also noteworthy to mention some of the aspects where Nehru could not perform up to the mark or things did not always go the way he planned. Some believe that the Kashmir problem which lasts up till today is due to him. It was the trust he showed in Sheikh Abdullah that critics say gave birth to this complex issue. Critics also pinpoint that Sardar Patel- the first Home Minister of India, was dealing with other the states to accede to India and almost all of them did. But, as Nehru was dealing with Kashmir and not Patel, his indecisive nature and an uncertain mind resulted in the creation of what is known as POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir). His stand of holding a referendum by taking the issue to the United Nations was what made Kashmir an international biparty issue. It didn’t any longer remain India’s internal issue, as some point out. Another aspect where Nehru not only failed but lost his stature too was the defeat of the Indian forces in the Indo-Sino War in 1962. Nehru was overwhelmed by the Chinese foreign policy and even tried to unite the citizens of both the nations by the slogan ‘Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai’ but it backfired when Chinese troops started crossing the borderlines. They entered Ladakh and captured the area which is called ‘Aksai Chin’ today. Indian troops were defeated; the economy reached an all-time low. The opposition raised questions over defence tactics and intelligence. The then Defence Minister V.P Menon resigned on whom Nehru had probably trusted too much. It was at this time that critics started calling him an incompetent PM who could not even protect his citizens and territory.
Nehru always believed in the principles of his mentor Mahatma Gandhi whom he referred to as Bapu. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the former Prime Minister of India, once recalled an incident about Nehru while speaking in the Parliament. He spoke that once in 1954 when Vajpayee was new in the Parliament, he compared Nehru to Churchill (former Prime Minister of UK) because he believed that Nehru was hungry for power, did not pay attention to the problems of poor and was incompetent for the post. Later in the evening when he met Nehru, he was stunned when he saw Nehru praising him for his speech in front of everyone. Later, in the following week, Nehru while referring to his speech said in the Parliament that one day this young lad (Vajpayee) would become the Prime Minister of India. With no surprise, Vajpayee ultimately became the Prime Minister of India 42 years later in 1996. It was Nehru, who taught him the art of taking criticism and dealing with the Opposition, Vajpayee claimed later.
This was Nehru, full of so much power and yet, so humble and down to earth. Gandhi is understood to be a sage but Nehru was no less than a counsellor to India, constantly drawing attention to the principles and direction of its politics and society. Famous historian Ram Guha has written that Nehru’s leadership was the most important moral force behind the unity of India. The Left alleges that he only worked for the self-sufficient, leaving behind millions of poor homeless and illiterate. The Right blames him for the Kashmir problem and his appeasement towards minorities making the Hindus vulnerable, often holding him responsible for the partition.
Whatever critics say, his was a truly full life, lived for India and there is scarcely any public institution or aspect of the Republic that Nehru did not shape or influence. He tried, he delivered and he inspired. His legacy is still reflected back by the withstanding of our democracy and democratic ideals even after more than 70 years of Independence and still visible in the form of Nehru jackets.
Image Source – The Print
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