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That Much Maligned Nehru

That Much Maligned Nehru

About three months ago, ‘The Times of India’ carried a report on the type of questions asked in a School Examination conducted by the Education Department of the Tripura Government.  First question was to draw the symbol of BJP.   Second question was to list four negative traits of Jawahar Lal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India.  When opposition parties made some noise about such bizarre type of questions, especially the second one, the concerned official answered that the questions were based on the prescribed syllabus.   No explanation followed as to why such syllabus was prescribed. 

It is a fact known to all that as soon as BJP came to power in 2014, they set about dismantling the educational system built up over the years.  Syllabi prescribed for school and college education were overhauled to suit the BJP ideology.  Naturally, Nehru who was one of their main eyesores all along, had to be painted in a bad light, notwithstanding the facts that he was the first Prime Minister of independent India and is still remembered  the world over with love and respect for the contributions he made for world peace.    To attempt to poison the minds of the growing generation against such a person, is height of meanness and betrays extreme lack of fairness.   Too often have we heard Modi lamenting that if Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel had become the Prime Minister of India, India would have prospered much, as if that -  as K. Natwar Singh observes in his autobiography “One Life is not Enough” -   would have prevented Patel’s untimely death in 1950!  BJP leaders seldom tire themselves out in blaming Nehru for everything that is bad about India, including the consequences of their mis-governance since 2014. 

In this scenario, it requires some courage to write anything positive on Nehru.  That is what Shri Purushottam Agrawal has done, in authoring a book ‘Who is Bharat Mata’, published in 2019 by Speaking Tiger publishers.  Subtitled ‘On History, Culture and the Idea of India’, the book contains writings by and on Jawaharlal Nehru, with an elaborate, cogently argued introduction.  Borne in 1955, Purushottam Agrawal distinguished himself in several capacities as member of the Union Public Service Commission, Chairperson,  Centre of Indian Languages-Jawaharlal Nehru University, Visiting Professor at the Faculty of Oriental Studies-Cambridge University and author of several books in Hindi and English, the latest being a novel titled ‘NACOHUS’.

In the introduction, Agrawal narrates his childhood, how his father, who was a staunch critic of Nehru,  wept uncontrollably on hearing the news of Nehru’s passing away, how Purushottam was initiated into RSSS classes and how he gradually discontinued that as he got fed up with their ‘hate Nehru Project’.  He refers, quite sarcastically, to the ‘sermons’ issued from “WhatsApp university to demolish Nehru’s image” and goes on to cite just two examples:   

               “In a speech delivered by Rajiv Dixit, a champion of ‘Bharatiya sanskriti’ and a late close associate of a TV yoga instructor turned Fast Moving Consumer Goods Manufacturer, it was claimed that Nehru was a classmate of Muhammed Ali Jinnah and Edwina Mountbatten at Harris college, London.  The speech is available on Youtube and as of late April 2019, it had almost 57 lakh views.  Dixit’s sermon is about the dismemberment of India – the creation of Pakistan.  The person responsible for it, he tells his audience, was the wily Englishwoman Edwina, who found in Jinnah   and Nehru, both senseless with their desire for her, willing soldiers to fulfil her mission.  Here are the exact words Dixit uses, some four minutes into the video: ( only English translation is reproduced)

(….the role that Jinnah played in the creation of Pakistan wasn’t as big as that played by Edwina Mountbatten.  You would have heard of Edwina Mountbatten, if you haven’t, you must – she was the wife of the last English administrator of India, Louis Mountbatten……This Edwina was the biggest reason for the creation of Pakistan.  Can you guess what game she played?  Edwina Mountbatten was studying in London’s Harris College, where this Jinnah was student, too.   As was India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.  Three people studying together in Harris College, in the same class – please note, in the same class – Jinnah Muhammed Ali, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Edwina –  that time she wasn’t Mountbatten, she married him later….. So Edwina, Jinnah and Nehru were together in the same class, and records and documents tell us that they were both ‘doing’ Edwina.  This is what documents tell us.  Edwina was such a crafty woman, she handled them both – one man in the morning, the other at night.  And the biggest quarrel Jinnah and Nehru ever had was to do with Edwina.  The quarrel began there, in Harris College…..)

……..Let us only consider the facts – actually, just three:  there is no Harris College in London; Jinnah, thirteen years older than Nehru, had returned from England almost a decade before Nehru reached its shores; and poor Edwina never had any education beyond high school”.

The second example is equally ridiculous.  “In late 2017, the head of the BJP’s IT cell, Amit Malavia, tweeted a collage of pictures of Jawaharlal Nehru with different women in order to portray him as a philanderer.   In three of the nine pictures, Nehru is hugging his sister Vijayalakshmi Pandit and being kissed on the cheek by his niece Nayantara. In a fourth, he’s congratulating a family friend, Mrinalini Sarabhai, after her classical dance performance.  In the rest, he is receiving or seeing off public figures and official guests like Jackie Kennedy and Mountbattens’ young daughter Pamela”.   

     The viciousness of Tripura Education Department pales into insignificance in comparison to that of Rajiv Dixit and Amit Malavia!

     There is an accusation that Nehru was not sufficiently respectful of Hindu religion.  In fact, a self definition – ‘English by education, Muslim by culture and Hindu by accident’ – attributed to him, is not to be found anywhere in Nehru’s writings or records of his speeches and conversations, asserts Purushottam Agrawal.  That this quote was ‘imposed’ on him by N.B. Khare, the Hindu Mahasabha leader, has been noted by M.J. Akbar, now an ardent supporter of BJP,  in his book ‘Nehru: The Making of India’, says Agrawal. 

     While a few hard core BJP leaders like  Pragya Singh Thakur, have no compunction in denouncing Mahathma Gandhi, majority find it delicate to criticize Gandhiji, for the ‘dreadful mistake’ he made, in choosing Nehru as his political heir.   Gandhiji, in his address at the AICC session on 25 January 1942, stated: “I have always said that not Rajaji, nor Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, but Jawaharlal will be my successor……. When I am gone, he will do what I am doing now.  Then he will speak my language too”.

     Majority of the writings by Nehru included in the book are selections from his ‘An Autobiography’, ‘The Discovery of India’, ‘Glimpses of World History’ and from speeches on various occasions.   These books were written in prisons, with hardly any reference material available.  And Nehru’s speeches were, almost always, extempore.  All these speak for the depth and vastness of his knowledge as well as the breadth of his vision.   Towards the end of  Section I,  there is an interview with late R.K. Karinjia of the Blitz, touching on the ‘Gandhian Heritage and Marxism in the Modern World’.  Throughout the interview, Nehru comes across as very unassuming and least dogmatic, but he upholds the superiority of Gandhian solution of class synthesis to Marxist approach of class struggle.

Section II comprises memories and assessments of Nehru by his contemporaries, or near contemporaries.  The purpose of this section is, says Purushottam Agrawal, is to remind ourselves why Nehru matters and why he is regarded as a remarkable leader, even by those who are not necessarily his known followers or admirers.   These selections start with a piece by Nehru Himself, in the name ‘Chanakya’, typically captioned “We want no Caesars” and anonymously published in the Modern Review of Calcutta in November 1937, when he had been Congress President for two terms and was likely to be elected for a third term.  The article betrays, I hazard a guess, a fear and a warning to himself against becoming a dictator.  Several statements in this article are worth quoting, but I  reproduce below just one:

“……… Therein lies danger for Jawaharlal and for India.  For it is not through Caesarism that India will attain freedom, and though she may prosper a little under a benevolent and efficient despotism, she will remain stunted and the day of the emancipation of her people will be delayed”.

It is quite known that Nehru and Patel differed on many issues, publicly and privately.  They had, however, immense respect for each other’s   contribution to Indian social and political life.  In an article under the caption ‘Leader of Our Legions’, in the ‘Nehru Abhinandan Granth’, Patel writes, in October 1949:

“…..A clean and resolute fighter, he always fought hard and straight…………………Gifted with idealism of a high order, a devotee of beauty and art in life, and equipped with an infinite capacity to magnetize and inspire others and a personality which would be remarkable in any gathering of the world’s foremost men, Jawaharlal has gone from strength to strength as a political leader”. 

Nikhil Chakravartty’s article ‘Nehru, Press and Parliament’ praises Nehru for his regard for freedom of the press, a rare quality seen in the present regime.  Chakravartty recalls how Nehru considered the Fourth Estate as a ‘partner in nation building’.  He held, quite unlike the present incumbent, regular press conferences where questions were answered with surprising candidness, creating a bond of friendly understanding between the head of the executive and members of the press.  Even those in the Press who were the severest critics of his policies, internal or foreign, ungrudgingly acknowledged his commitment to press freedom.  There are several statements worth quoting from  A.B. Vajpayee’s  homage to Nehru – despite in opposite camps, both had a sneaking admiration of each other -  in the Rajya Sabha in May 1964, but the following one is the most befitting:

“He was an advocate of individual freedom and yet was committed to bringing about economic equality.  He was never afraid of compromise with anybody, but he never compromised with anyone out of fear.  His Policy towards Pakistan and China was a symbol of this unique blend.  It had generosity as well as firmness.  It is unfortunate that this generosity was mistaken for weakness, while some people looked upon his firmness as obstinacy”.

What is Nehru’s most important legacy?  Some time back, in a small piece published in the Readers’ Digest, I had written that it is the idea and practice of secularism.  To this I would now add  ‘parliamentary democracy’ nurtured by Nehru, despite the fact that he could easily become a dictator.  Several political analysts abroad feared and predicted that after Nehru, Indian democracy may not last long.  It is a tribute to Jawaharlal Nehru that Indian democracy has survived strong and robust, despite certain unfortunate developments in the 1970s. 

Is it not a bit strange that Nehru’s world famous ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech on the eve of independence and his equally famous Will, do not find a place in the book?  I think it certainly is. ‘The Tryst with Destiny’ is  one of the most thrilling speeches I have ever heard.  In  sheer exuberance it is unparalleled.   Similarly,  one is likely to miss Nehru’s famous Will, which is an outpouring of his affection for India and its people.    I cannot help reproducing – from my memory, as I could not find it in the Google and hence apologies for any errors - the epitaph he wanted to be written on his grave:

This was a man who with all his mind and heart loved India and its people, and they in their turn, were indulgent to him and gave of their love most abundantly and extravagantly

(The writer is author of a fiction “His Journey” and can be reached at ‘petermundackal@yahoo.com’)                                          

(Published on 13th July 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 29)