The Blog of Cafe Dissensus Magazine – we DISSENT

Why vilifying Nehru doesn’t work

Nehru, 1955

By Haris Ahmed

The Indian polity is tilting right-wards and faster than most people realize. Aggressive majoritarian nationalism underlined by non-issues like cow, minority bashing directed towards Muslims and pillorying every dissenting voice as leftist-naxals has become the defining narrative of our times.

Nehru – The eternal scapegoat for India’s right

In this game of mud-slinging and concerted attempts at muzzling the “left-liberal” voices, India’s First PM, Jawaharlal Nehru, is a special target. Over the years he has become the most reviled figure and rightly so: he’s an anathema for the pseudo-nationalists. His unflinching commitment to secularism, his ideas of democracy, and socialism are a constant eyesore for the majoritarian nationalists. From hushed discontentment to outright campaign at vilifying him – those in the right of the polity have made an astounding progress. If you were to lend your ears to the right-wing folklore, he’s the reason for all that’s wrong with India. Nehru is the one behind the Partition, his version of socialism damned India and he’s the reason behind India’s Kashmir problem. The list goes on endlessly.

India’s first and the longest serving Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, is a towering figure in the pantheon of modern India’s greatest political figures. He’s the architect of the modern Indian nation-state and the fountainhead of liberal traditions that actually seek “sabka sath, sabka vikas” (with everyone, development for all) unlike the present ruling dispensation that fancies a majoritarian and a patriarchal nation-state.

The context

The years leading up to India’s partition and independence saw gory communal violence across the subcontinent. As the First PM delivered his famed “tryst with destiny” speech on the eve of Independence to the Constituent Assembly, sectarian violence had engulfed large parts of India. Many foreign observers remarked that “it was only time before India would be divided into a dozen of independent entities.” The dark clouds of sectarianism were fast gathering over a newborn democracy; the odds were stacked firmly against India. The presence of a de-facto Islamic state on the west and the east fuelled anxieties among the majority community. This helped fanatic Hindu organizations find traction among a segment of the majority. The Muslim community in India was besieged with suspicions for allegedly harboring pro-Pakistani sentiments – something that continues till this day.

Under such excruciating circumstances, Nehru and the founding fathers of modern India managed to build a secular republic right under the nose of sectarian conflagration, promising equal rights to people irrespective of their ethnic or religious affiliations. Remember, these were the days when every other newly independent Asian or African colony was plunging into autocracy. Establishing a fully functional democracy in such a short span that has withstood the test of time for the past 70 years is no mean feat. No amount of vilification and ridicule from the overzealous fans of Modi and BJP can expunge Nehru’s contribution towards nation building.

The moral high ground that India enjoys over the Pakistani state among the comity of nations is a result of its unwavering commitment to secularism. The presence of Kashmir, a Muslim majority region within the Union of India, is relevant till the Indian state remains true to its promise of secularism. A Hindu Rashtra built on the principles of Savarkar that seeks to subdue “the enemy within,” i.e., Muslims can never justify Kashmir’s accession to India. Deride him as you wish, the path to lasting peace in Kashmir only knows the Nehru’s way and not the aggressive “Doval doctrine”.

Nehruvuian socialism in hindsight

Nehruvian socialism was the cornerstone of a fledging Indian economy in the first few decades after independence. Rightly so. India was a late entrant in the game of industrialization. We never had a robust industrial setup, thanks to our colonial masters who made India a perfect dumping ground for their cheap quality products. The amnesiac Indian-right would do well to remember that the only way to build industries without private capital is large-scale government spending. Most of the early industries with the exception of the Tatas were government sponsored projects. Large dams, thermal power projects and educational institutions of national importance like the IITs were strictly government enterprises. The Bombay Plan (1945), proposed by eight eminent industrialists of India, advocated for active government participation to shore-up industries. It wasn’t as if Nehru forced a burgeoning capitalist nation towards socialism. Indian capitalists were neither willing nor had the resources to support large scale industrial projects. Hence, a government intervention was never a choice but, a necessity.

The democratic framework envisioned by the founding fathers of this nation including Nehru provides a platform that allows for dissent, a breathing space for competing ideologies. Unless we preserve this fast eroding space, seven decades of progress at democratic representation is at a risk of being effaced.

Haris Ahmed
is pursuing his Masters in Engineering Science at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC, Canada. As a passion, he writes short- stories, articles, and book reviews. He blogs at: The Insight.


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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘Narrating Care: Disability and Interdependence in the Indian Context’, edited by Nandini Ghosh, IDSK, Kolkata, India and Shilpaa Anand, MANUU, Hyderabad, India.

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