Jawaharlal Nehru is being misquoted, misinterpreted, and selective fact and figures are represented by the BJP since 2014. There is an attempt to create a rivalry between the first Prime Minister of India and the present of India. On his political campaign, PM Narendra Modi often claims that Nehru did some mistakes and did injustice to this and that person. The attack on Nehru differs from region to region. In Gujarat, it is Nehru versus Patel; in Bengal, Nehru versus Subhas Chandra Bose; in Karnataka, Nehru versus General Thimayya.
There were some disagreements between Nehru and his fellow leaders and officials. Many of them were critiques of Nehru and his policies. B R Ambedkar, for instance, was a life long critique of Nehru and Congress but when India became free and ready to form its first Cabinet, Ambedkar was invited to join the Cabinet. He became Law Minister because he was the finest legal mind in the country. Quarrels and disagreements of selfless first-generation leaders are misquoted and misinterpreted by a particular political unit to gain political benefits.
In all these places Nehru is blamed for many mistakes. The relation between these two Prime Ministers is what psycho-analyst Ashis Nandy says that Modi is an intimate enemy of Nehru. It means Modi does not like Nehru but wants to become like him. The image of Nehru is damaged by the ruling party regularly and the (godi media) ‘lap media’. Apart from the ‘godi media’, social media especially WhatsApp played a major role in dismantling Nehru’s reputation through propagating fake information about his personal and political life.
Fake information such as he died of AIDS and his father Motilal Nehru was a Muslim and so on, are produced via social media platforms. Other pieces of fake information about his political career are that he obstructed Sardar Patel to become the Prime Minister, he gave India’s seat of Security Council to China etc.
In this era of fake news and propaganda journalism, Maligning Nehru becomes easy but his legacy was beyond these baseless accusations. Kuldip Nayar told a story to BBC Hindi: ‘Once, sister of Nehru, Vijaylakshmi Pandit stayed at Raj Bhavan of Shimla and did not pay the bill of 2500 rupees. Bhim Sen Sachar, the Chief Minister of Punjab wrote a letter to Prime Minister Nehru and asked him what to do with the bill. Nehru replied that I can not pay money at once but I will pay it in five times in five months’. Now imagine at present, does any Chief Minister has the courage to ask PM for bills?
Jawaharlal Nehru was a prophet of peace, champion of human rights, an architect of modern India and the greatest statesman of the last century. BBC Hindi once remembered him as a great leader of Indian masses, freedom fighter, lover of children, fashion icon, writer of finest books and ashiq mizaj (romantic). British writer and author of masterpiece novel A Passage To India, EM Foster, in 1958, imagined Voltaire being reborn and composing a letter on the fate of humankind. The author asked himself who is the head of state to receive the letter? EM Foster concluded that ‘only one head of a state would welcome a letter from him, and that was President Nehru of India. With an exclamation of delight, he took up his pen’. (In India, Prime Minister is head of government; and President is head of state).
When India became free in August 1947, Nehru, the political heir of Gandhi was the natural choice for the head of government. He remained at his post for a long period of 16 years. When he became the PM of a newly created state, there were so many issues and challenges. There were fresh wounded memory of partition, the refugee crisis, disputed princely states, riots, religious minorities and a large number of the illiterate and poor population. Some forces tried to separate some territories from India. But the most difficult task was to save the diversity of India and prevent balkanization of this large country. In 1952 election, he was democratically elected as Prime Minister in a fair election. Many people doubted that India could hold a fair election. A daily from Madras called it ‘biggest gamble in history’.
Many observers around the world before and after independence claimed that India would not survive as a secular democratic state. In 1888, John Strachey delivered a series of lectures at Cambridge University. He told the nature of Indian subcontinent and compared it to Europe that how both are very different. He said: ‘This is the first and most essential thing to learn about India that there is not, and never was an India, or even any country of India possessing, according to any European ideas, any sort of unity, physical, political, social or religious’.
He further said that there would be no Indian nation in future. Like him, many other observers after independence predicted that India could not survive as a secular and multicultural democracy. General Claude Auchinleck, the last British Commander-in-Chief of Indian army wrote: ‘The Sikhs may try to set up a separate regime. I think they probably will and that will be only the start of a general decentralization and break-up of the idea that India is a country, whereas it is a subcontinent as varied as Europe. The Punjabi is as different from a Madrasi as a Scot is from an Italian. The British tried to consolidate it but achieved nothing permanent. No one can make a nation out of a continent of many nations’. All these predictions proved wrong and India survived.
Many people were critical of Nehru because of corruption in government and he was unable to stop it. Some other people both inside and outside of Congress held him responsible for the loss of war with China. These people claimed that his unchecked faith in Defence Minister VK Krishna Menon led China’s victory over India in the war of 1962. Many orthodox both inside and outside of Parliament bitterly criticised him for making legal reforms in personal laws. Nehru with his strongest critique BR Ambedkar became successful to pass Hindu Code Bill which liberate the women from oppressive social rules and subordination.
Nowadays, there are attacks on Nehru’s reputation but he was and is modern India’s second-biggest personality after Mahatma Gandhi. Perhaps no other figure could build the pillars of the Indian Republic, the way Nehru did. Indeed, he did not do it alone. The work of selfless first-generation leaders from different parts of the country and tireless work of remarkable civil servants also played a major role to build India as a world’s largest democracy. The whole world recognises him and will remember him for his remarkable service to the Republic of India. In 1957 a Canadian scholar and diplomat Escott Reid wrote about Nehru: ‘There is no one since Napoleon who has played both so large a role in the history of his country and has also held the sort of place which Nehru holds in the hearts and minds of his countrymen. For the people of India, he is George Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Eisenhower rolled into one’. When Nehru took his last breath on 27th May 1964, four lines of Robert Frost’s poem were written at his table:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Kashif Umair is a student at Aligarh Muslim University.