By Sanskriti Pandey:
“India has known the innocence and insouciance of childhood, the passion and abandon of youth, and the ripe wisdom of maturity that comes from long experience of pain and pleasure; and over and over again, she has renewed her childhood and youth and age.”
These were the words of the first Prime Minister of independent India. He was a charismatic man, and like every human who has ever made a blip in history in larger-than-life contexts, he was loved and admired just as well as he was mired in controversy. The diverse facets of Jawaharlal Nehru have been amply explored, by people in conspicuity or obscurity, through the years. And now, 67 years on, here we are, observing yet another Children’s Day associated with the memory of this man. What were, say, three mistakes, some historical twists that Nehru is said to have facilitated? Have Nehru’s so-called mistakes been identified as reasons for several prominent issues in India today? And how did he positively shape India’s future? Let’s explore.
(Before you delve in, please note that Nehru’s achievements may be believed to far outreach his failures. What Nehru did for India is the latter part of this article.)
Kashmir and the Issue of Accession
Now, this obvious thorn in our side has nestled itself quite safely and unyielding to this day. The Kashmir issue can be rewinded back to the time when rumours were ripe about a certain bond between Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten, wife of our last Viceroy. Edwina’s daughter Pamela Mountbatten admitted in an interview that her mother might have catalysed her father’s efforts towards convincing Nehru to refer the Kashmir issue to the UN. The British-designed ‘Instrument of Accession’ was blundered with by Mountbatten and Nehru when it was time for the critical decision, referred the issue to the UN and promised a plebiscite, the people’s vote. Now, there are intricacies to this issue, involving Sardar Patel and Sheikh Abdullah, that are a debate in itself. So instead, long story short – that referral, many believe, has cost India a peaceful Kashmir.
The Socialism Route
Nehru’s socioeconomic policies inclined towards the dependency on growth in the public sector. This left the private sector, and quite importantly, potential entrepreneurs, bereft of opportunities. Admittedly, though, this decision was probably for the good when inserted into the context of time period. His import-substitution decision, extra emphasis on industrial growth without prep and negligence of social issues in relativity, and going the USSR way are the reasons, some say, we are where we are. This is not to say that capitalist countries do not or did not have problems. But the severe developmental issues we face today might have been triggered way before they were identified. In Nehru’s defence, the economic policies of a country are the result of recommendations by advisers on economic policy, and it was perhaps a case of the right decision gone shoddy on course. The economic liberalisation of 1991, though, has since eased our woes a little. Here’s an interesting article on these economics.
Hindi Chini Bhai-Bhai
The 1962 Sino-India War tops the Indian blunder-list hands down for its general assent as being one. Nehru trusted China a little too much for his own good. Fighting for the McMohan line was not something India could hold on to for very long. Lack of equipment and experience would bog us down, everyone knew. But on his insistence, the Indian Army forces marched forward, and we know how the month-long confrontation ended. We suffered a staggering defeat. A huge error in judgement and consequently, foreign policy – from a man hailed to be have brought India under international spotlights.
Having done with the criticism, let’s now smooth over those sides to a man who helped create an India that talks about him to this day. A man who stands relevant, and not just from a historical perspective. Jawaharlal Nehru was, let’s say, pretty damn perfect for his time. Highly qualified, well-read, nationalistic, poetic, and idealistic – he was a man of great calibre that did shine through his niche in the Indian history of independence. His knack for elevating the Indian cause to international levels has been lauded all over. His possessive secularism was unwavering and commendable. While the economic policy may have gone downhill then, he did set up a lot of public sector undertakings that function till today. SAIL and BHEL would be examples. He even helped in the setting up of our IITs and IIMs. The Planning Commission and the Election Commission that we take for granted in a democracy today were hugely handled by Nehru. Many praise his handling of Goa and Pondicherry accession issues. Furthermore, walking India through refugee problems, internal states problems, famines and a struggling foreground was no mean feat. Let’s face it, most nations screwed up the concept of democracy after independence. India, under Nehru, didn’t. We fiercely guarded our parliamentary democratic backdrop, and fought with and against ourselves, to keep an insane number of regionally, culturally, linguistically and fundamentally diverse people woven together as a nation at a time when we were bruised and volatile. It is no wonder, then, that with great successes, great mistakes happened.
And before I forget, apparently, he loved children. So do I. Plus one to Chacha Nehru! Happy Children’s Day, folks.