Narendra Modi made a very long, high-decibel rhetorical political speech on February 8 in the Lower House (Lok Sabha)) of the Indian Parliament, devoting a significant part of his speech to attacking Pandit Nehru and the Gandhi Family, betraying his insecurity, unbecoming of a Prime Minister of a great country India. He distorted and misquoted Pandit Nehru's speech to belittle him. Modi should realise that had Pandit Nehru not nurtured Parliamentary democracy in those turbulent formative years, he would never have reached the position that he occupies today.
An academic remarked, "I am so disappointed with PM Modi that despite enjoying unprecedented following and popularity, he still suffers from an inferiority complex vis a vis Nehru. Nehru's stature as intellectual and broad vision is incomparable with any leaders of present generation. Nehru had philosophy which led him to device appropriate doctrine of democratic socialism in India. The time when India was reeling under poverty, unemployment and starvation. It had just liberated from political slavery, but socially and economically the country had to engage with social and economic revolution. No other Prime Minister faced the mammoth problem that India faced. It was his vision and intellectual asset that dealt with it with courage and resoluteness. Had there been any leader during those thorny days, not only 'he' but the country itself would have collapsed. The example from other side of the border and Afro -Asian countries are examples. Nehru sailed India through this turbulent period with most difficult instrument of liberal government. Instead of paying tribute to Nehru, Modi is exposing his inferiority complex. We admit that Modi has adopted Machiavellian strategy but what Nehru did was nothing but display of statesmanship combined with intellectualism. He laid the foundation for viable democratic society on which our state craft rests. His speech in 1954 Parliament that India would be a 'great power' has come true today. Let our academicians, students, media and enlightened people of India perceive this fact with rationality".
The credit for establishing and experimenting successfully with the Parliamentary Democracy during the most defying period -the crucial and formative years of post-independent India- goes to Pandit Nehru, who governed the country for 18 years. Owing to his pre-eminent position, the Cabinet system of government that he headed had a high degree of stability, though the system was new and the persons ruling the country had no experience of governance, with yesteryear rebels confronted with the task of nation-building.
Until 1950, Nehru and Patel made all the decisions of substance in the Cabinet. The only other person whose counsel was regularly sought was Maulana Azad- the Doyan of India's nationalist Muslims. In the Cabinet, Nehru was surrounded by conservatives who did not share his ideology, reflecting the heterogeneous character of the Congress party. He was trying to emulate Mahatma Gandhi, who converted his opponents by example and brought them into his inner circle. He was loyal to his old colleagues, persons who fought side by side for independence. Nonetheless, the Parliamentary system of government provided a framework that made the government accountable and responsible, imposing on those in authority the obligation to explain and defend their exercise of it, at the same time enabling those outside to have channels of representation, criticism and appeal, providing an effective mechanism of checks and balances.
Nehru did not allow the massive majority of the Congress in the Parliament to suppress and stifle the opposition and dissent. The Parliamentary debates were vigorous, as illustrated in the Hindu Code Bill and the States Reorganization cases in the first Lok Sabha when the opposition's numerical strength was insignificant. Though small and fragmented, the opposition was keen, able and vociferous. New conventions and precedents were established. As Michael Brecher said, "an encouraging feature is the attitude of the Prime Minister and his senior colleagues, who are consciously trying to raise the status of Parliament."
If Parliament is to be real, it must be conducted fairly. As Morris Jones said, the Indian Parliament during the Nehru Era afforded "ample opportunity for the ventilation of grievances, spirited Question Periods, adjournment Motions, Half-an-Hour Discussions, and debates on Demands for Grants", and the discussion of Bills bringing out the main issues, allowing the opposition to express their view. And the "parliamentary institutions are more firmly established in the way of life of the Indian people than they are in that of many a country in Europe".
Nehru declared time and again his unwavering faith in the democratic process. He ensured that he remained in the House daily during the session. He was active in debates, tolerant and courteous to the opposition, encouraging them, as he believed in building parliamentary conventions. He was remarkably attentive to MPs' inquiries, often responding instantly. He dominated the proceedings by the sheer weight of his personality. And "his pre-eminence can only be compared with that of Churchill at Westminster during the Second World War". Often, he would leap to rescue a minister, feebly answering questions, and make moving and solemn speeches.
The Indian Parliament was guided by the able Speaker G. V. Mavlankar- sharp and shrewd, patient and determined, and no tool of the government. He shaped the rules and conventions of debate, established the privileges of the House, set up machinery for determining the allocation of parliamentary time with opposition participation, and created a whole system of parliamentary committees to function as watchdogs over the conduct of administration. He made his position- and through it that of Parliament- one of substantial independence of government.
The fair conduct of proceedings is a good test of parliamentary independence. The Parliamentary Committees such as the Public Accounts Committee, the Estimates Committee and the Select Committees provided ample opportunities to ensure fair conduct of the government business. Nehru wanted the opposition to grow. And "it makes sense to say that if the opposition had not existed, he would have found it necessary to invent" for the success of a parliamentary democracy, an effective opposition is a sine qua non.
Instead of impeding the growth of parliamentary institutions, the single dominant party system strengthened them because Nehru was a true democrat by training and temperament. It had served not to destroy but to sustain parliamentary institutions, with the Congress party "holding together of very many regional and sectional interests within the one organisation. This has not merely ensured governmental stability but also averted the total exclusion of one part of the national community from the channels of power." The political and moral values inherent in the government by the rule of law made it possible to resist any abuse or arbitrary exercise of power.
The Second General Election in 1957 was unique. It was the largest democratic electoral exercise in history, with 193 million voters- 20 million more than the first election in 1952- and over 60 per cent of the electorate exercising the franchise in a country where more than 80 per cent of the population was illiterate. It was an extraordinary experiment of reposing faith in the democratic process and in the wisdom of the poor and the unlettered choosing their government, demonstrating the power of the ballot to the world. The Congress won 371 seats out of 494, and the Communist Party of India, with 27 seats, emerged as the main opposition in the Lok Sabha. The State of Kerala had made history by electing a communist government. Nehru took pride that it was an Indian State that had the first communist government in the world, elected through a democratic process.
Nehru carefully nurtured the parliamentary democracy, writing regularly fortnightly letters to Chief Ministers explaining to them his policies, emphasising communal harmony and protection of minorities and the importance of a neutral, non-partisan bureaucracy, subjecting himself to cross-examination in Parliament by a minuscule opposition, and not interfering with the judiciary and ensuring freedom of the press. "Though he was, in the celebrated Indian metaphor, the immense banyan tree in whose shadow no other plant could grow, he made sure that every possible flora flourished in the forest". And "by his speeches, his exhortations and above all by his own personal example, he imparted to the institutions and processes of democracy a dignity that placed it above challenge from would be tyrants", says Shashi Tharoor. His speeches were an extended conversation with the people of India, educating a largely illiterate, overwhelmingly poor people about the rights and prerogatives that came with freedom. He had a public audience at his home every morning when ordinary people could come to petition or talk with their Prime Minister.
He told an American journalist, Norman Cousins: "My legacy to India? Hopefully, it is 400 million people capable of governing themselves". Amidst India's myriad problems, democracy has given the Indians a chance to break free of the shackles of caste, creed, culture and gender. Though there is social oppression and caste tyranny, democracy offers the victims a means of redemption through the ballot box. Elections have increasingly given real political power to the lowest of the low.
On the day Nehru died- May 27, 1964- an earthquake rocked New Delhi- a sign of a portentous omen. A few days before his death, when asked at a press conference why not settle the issue of a successor in his lifetime, he replied: "My life is not coming to an end so soon". And when he died, the immortal lines of Robert Frost, written in his own hand, were found on his bedside table:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
Miles to go before I sleep