If someone asks me whether I would be prepared to go to jail for nine years or not if there is a chance of becoming the Prime Minister, I would gladly tell him that I won’t like to go to jail even for a day because I value the fresh air I breathe, the company of my family and friends and the creature comforts that I enjoy.
I have heard a proponent of Hindutva argue that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru went to jail because his eyes were set on the prime ministership of the country.
I would not blame Prime Minister Narendra Modi for not joining the freedom struggle and going to jail. By the time he was born, India was an independent nation. However, there was a time when he could have gone to jail. That was when Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency on the nation. Many Opposition leaders were arrested under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA).
Among those who went to jail, Modi was conspicuous by his absence. I have read somewhere that he was in the US, enjoying the hospitality of fellow Gujaratis, who are one of the richest communities there, owning motels, gas stations and real estate agencies.
It is people like Modi who made no contributions to the freedom struggle who question the bona fides of Nehru, a towering figure who most people in Afro-Asian countries looked up to. What is the situation now?
The Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) has not crowned itself with glory when it deleted the picture of Nehru from the poster published on its website on the occasion of what it calls ‘Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ (75th Independence Day celebrations). The poster has the pictures of eight persons including Mahatma Gandhi, Dr Rajendra Prasad and VD Savarkar and excluding Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.
God knows why Savarkar found a place in the poster when he was the one who sought clemency from the British in mercy petition after mercy petition!
I wrote this on September 10. It was on this day 100 years ago that MP Narayana Menon was arrested by the British without even an arrest warrant. The charge against him was that he took part in what is known as the Malabar revolt.
When the people protested against his arrest, the British wanted him to accept two conditions before he could be released. He should not enter Malabar for two years and he should also apologise to the authorities concerned for his conduct.
Menon refused and he had to remain in jail for 13 years. He was arrested subsequently also. This time he remained in jail for another four years. Altogether he spent 17 years in jail, the longest period a Keralite freedom fighter spent in jail.
When India became free, he was appointed by the Madras government as the head of the department for jails and correctional homes. Menon’s picture is not there. Instead, the ICHR chose Savarkar’s picture.
The heavens would not have fallen if the picture of the first Prime Minister and Azad were included in the poster by dropping Savarkar’s to make it nine, like the Navaratnas (nine jewels) of yore. After all, few had gone to jail nine times and spent as many as 3259 days, almost nine years as Nehru.
By removing Nehru, whose seminal works like the ‘Discovery of India’ and the ‘Glimpses of World History’ were written while he was in jail with minimum library facilities and no secretarial assistance, the ICHR has belittled itself, not the great leader.
He was not just a national leader but one of the founders of the non-aligned movement, who stood up to the machinations of the two power blocks that tried to dominate the world. No matter what the ICHR does, he will continue to live in the hearts of the people the world over as one of the architects of modern India whose letters to the chief ministers on various national and international issues remain unparalleled in their sweep and appeal.
Those who rhetorically ask what Nehru did for the country would do well to read a letter he wrote to architect Le Corbusier who designed Chandigarh as the capital of Eastern Punjab following the Partition. He told Corbusier that India was a poor country and it did not have money to pay the salary that he would expect.
Instead of salary, he promised to provide him accommodation in Chandigarh, a car with driver and other facilities so that he can draw the plans and build a capital in what was once a sprawling mango orchard. That was the condition of India’s economy at that time.
For greater clarity, let me mention that the first Budget presented by the first finance minister of independent India RK Shanmukham Chetty envisaged a total expenditure of Rs 197.39 crore, out of which approximately Rs 92.74 crore (or 46 per cent) was allocated for Defence Services. In comparison, Modi’s Central Vista project is worth Rs 20,000 crore.
The ICHR has no need to be a supplicant of the government, whatever be its hue, for its primary commitment is to promote the study of history without any political colour.
A change of government does not and should not mean that some of the icons of the freedom struggle or those who shaped modern history are dumped in the graveyard and some others are resurrected to replace them as the new icons.
Alas, the members of the Council seem to think that they are an adjunct of the government and their responsibility is to please those in power. The recent deletion of nearly 387 names from the list of freedom fighters is a case in point and it points to the political agenda of the Council.
The names so deleted include those like Varian Kunneth Kunjahmed Ali and Ali Musaliar, who took part in what is called the Malabar Revolt a century ago. There can be differences of opinion on those who took part in the revolt, seen variously as an agrarian struggle and a fight against the British but that does not mean that there should be any disrespect for those who can no longer defend themselves.
Removing some names for communal or sectarian reasons is to forget the fact that the freedom struggle had the involvement of all sections of people, some moderate, some extremist. The struggle reflected the composite culture of India, not of just one section or one community.
The cellular jail in Andamans has the names of all those who suffered and died at the hands of the British and the Japanese who controlled the jail. They did not see themselves as Hindus or Muslims or Sikhs or upper castes or lower castes.
They were there because they did not accept the British as their masters. They preferred to be tortured and killed, instead of seeking pardon and release from the jail. They did not expect any glory when they volunteered to suffer and those sitting in the air-conditioned comforts of the ICHR office would do well to at least not disrespect them.
In the study of history, there cannot be an ostrich-like policy. Just because no Indian liked the British rule in India, no one can write off the 200 or so years that they ruled or remained in India. Similarly, the present dispensation may not like the Moghuls for reasons which are too well known to recapitulate here, but can the Mughal rule be forgotten and its contribution to the socio-economic development of the country erased? It seems some in the NDA government think so, as is borne out by what a Union ministry did on its website.
There was a small paragraph mentioning how the Moghuls were able to bring vast swathes of the country under one rule, which eventually led to the unification of the country. Someone thought it necessary to delete the paragraph leaving the space with some photographs showcasing the various dance styles of the country. They can only be called too clever by half!
To return to Nehru, it is not for no reason that he is considered a bugbear by the RSS and its offshoots. Nehru had his weaknesses as any human being would have. Nobody can ever accuse him of compromising on secularism. He never allowed communal elements any space.
There is a picture of Nehru waving his walking stick against some Hindus who did not want Muslim refugees to be taken care of in Delhi.
That is why as long as he was in control of the political situation, the RSS did not get an opening. He had no soft corner for obscurantist forces whom he opposed tooth and nail. Instead, he believed in science and technology. In this regard, he was opposed to Gandhi who did not not believe in industrialisation. Gandhi envisaged India as one village whereas Nehru envisaged the country as a modern state that provides the best opportunities to the people.
Unlike Modi who goes to temples wherever he goes and likes to be seen with religious gurus and acharyas, Nehru was more interested in setting up modern temples like the Bhakra-Nangal dam in Punjab, Hirakud dam in Orissa, the Heavy Engineering Corporation in Ranchi and the Atomic Energy Commission in Bombay. He also thought of setting up IITs and ITIs, sainik schools, laboratories and institutes of management.
A historian, who shaped India’s history, Nehru did not attempt to rename roads, buildings and projects after any of his relatives. He never went to temples, churches or mosques but everyone trusted him because he loved the people. He was a visionary who saw India finding a place in the comity of nations in its own right. True, it was Gandhi’s support which helped him become the President of the Congress as early as in 1929.
When Gandhi wrote his autobiography titled My Experiments With Truth, there was no mention of Nehru in the book. However, he had the foresight to judge that Nehru was the one who could inspire the youth and give the freedom struggle a new push. And that is exactly what happened.
While Netaji Bose was more interested in the trappings of the military uniform he wore as in charge of Seva Dal, Nehru travelled the length and breadth of the country and inspired the people to join the freedom struggle.
Those who accuse Nehru of acquiescing in the Partition do not realise that the seeds of Partition were first sown by Savarkar’s book ‘Hindutava’ in which he argued that Muslims and Hindus were two nations. He elaborated on their differences, rather than on the similarities. Mohammed Ali Jinnah was only too happy to take the idea of partition forward and ask for and obtain Pakistan.
That is why every attempt is being made to rewrite history to show that it was the RSS and not the Congress which fought the freedom struggle. Those who know the RSS know only too well that they abstained themselves from the freedom struggle. Yes, KB Hedgewar who founded the RSS in 1925 was a Congressman.
The moment he got the idea of organising the RSS on the fascist models Italy and Germany provided, he stopped taking part in the freedom struggle. They opposed Gandhi, the national flag and the national anthem. They wanted the saffron flag which they use in the RSS units as the national flag and the full version of Vande Mataram as the national anthem.
One by one they are implementing their strategy. They are trying to change all Muslim names of towns, villages, institutions and roads. In short, they want everything Nehruvian to be replaced. It is a challenge that needs to be faced if India is to remain a secular, democratic, socialist nation.