November 2017 will be remembered for two of the great events in history: the 128th birth anniversary of the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the centenary of the Russian Revolution. Both these events have been conveniently forgotten by the present governments of India and Russia respectively.
Let us talk about the significance of these events, one at a time.
November 14, 2017, marked the 128th birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru. What were the political ideals of this man, which keeps Indians in awe of him to this day? Well, it is very simple. He truly represents the three keywords in our preamble: Secular, Socialist and Democratic. His political ideals, his life’s works, laid the foundations to transform India from a colonial, backward country to the second fastest growing economy in the world after China.
All of us are well aware of his contributions to the Independence movement along with Gandhiji. I don’t want to repeat those. Let us talk about his major contributions after 1947. And what could have happened if he had not been at the helm of affairs in 1947.
Different political parties had different visions for the future India and Pakistan. On one hand was Jinnah’s Muslim League, which advocated a separate country for Muslims and worked towards this goal, even at the cost of heavy communal clashes between the Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims. And on the other hand, it had a twin brother, the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha, which advocated the exact opposite, a Hindu Rasthra. Both narratives had little to contribute to the freedom struggle, except causing communal divisions in society.
The other – and biggest – alternative which held sway was the secular, democratic vision of the Congress party under Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Azad etc. which advocated an inclusive society for all religions, all castes and sects and a vision of liberty, equality, pluralism and social justice. I am glad that the political alternative of the Congress held sway against the divisive forces else we would have been a Hindu version of Pakistan today.
Nehru was a socialist in theory and practice. He was well read and had travelled a broad spectrum of countries in Europe, Soviet Union, and the United States, and he knew exactly what India needed to transform from a poor, backward, agrarian economy to a modern socialist, planned economy by the 17 years of his tenure. He was impressed with the planned economy of the Soviet Union and this presented a roadmap to all the countries which had become independent from colonial rule to transform themselves.
All these countries in Asia and Africa had plenty of natural resources, but at the same time had a very primitive and infant private sector which could not take up the responsibility of building the nation. Hence Nehru decided to build the pillars of Modern India, namely, public sector enterprises in oil and gas, iron and steel, railways, defence, dams etc. His excellent relations with the Soviets ensured that India got all the technological and financial help to set up the public sector, the bulwark of the economy, at a time when the United States declined to provide any help or expertise and instead thought it wise to invest in relations with Pakistan.
One of the greatest achievements of Nehru would lie in his foreign policy. He rightly held the foreign affairs ministry and embarked on the Non Aligned policy, which was very intelligent, if we think about it in hindsight. As he could manage to build relations with all the newly independent countries, like Egypt’s Nasser, Yugoslavia’s Tito etc. on the one side, and on the other hand , solidify his relations with USSR – at the same time trying to balance his relations with USA and the West, so that he could get the best out of the two superpowers. India was one of the first to recognize Palestine and China’s communist govt at a time when the entire western world was in rivalry with the Chinese after the Communist revolution. India played a balanced role in the Korean war and helped solve matters when things escalated between USA and USSR.
In short, Nehru’s foreign policy allowed India to punch much above its weight in international affairs. The Comintern’s (Communist International) chosen name for Nehru was ‘The Professor’, an apt description given the breadth of his historical awareness.
When it came to democratic institutions, I can safely say that he exemplified the democratic framework in letter and spirit. He established the IIT’s, IIM ’s, prestigious medical colleges, Central Universities which acted as the foundations for higher education. Also, he worked hard to build up primary education and healthcare in rural and urban India despite the severe shortage of funds. The work done by Nehru and the first cabinet along with the very knowledgeable and respected B.R Ambedkar in drafting the Constitution and the excellent debates that took place in the Constituent Assembly are in the public domain for all to see.
To summarize, without Nehru’s vision, it is tough to imagine the modern secular, democratic India with its solid foundations – the executive, the judiciary and Parliament, it’s Navratnas public sectors, and the modern knowledge economy which we see today.
Coming to the other giant event on November 7, 2017, we witnessed 100 years of the glorious Russian Revolution. The October Revolution, led by its architect Lenin, shook the Imperialist world, not only in Russia which was the last of the feudal kingdoms in Europe but also across the Imperialist empires of Britain, France, Germany etc.
If the French Revolution stood for Democracy with its values – liberty, equality, fraternity – the Russian Revolution was the first time when the poor sections of society, the workers and peasants, had taken control of the government. It served as an inspiration for the all the countries in Asia and Africa who were fighting for their independence from the Imperialist powers. Young Jawaharlal Nehru was one of them, others being Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam, Mao Zedong of China etc.
Lenin demonstrated that Marxism, which was a theory till then, can be applied under revolutionary conditions, to bring about a revolution, and can as well be the guiding philosophy behind the running of a country – in this case, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). USSR, first under Lenin and later under Stalin, demonstrated to the entire world that the workers can build a successful socialist model without any external aid and without the rich capitalists.
With the five years plans, the mechanization of agriculture with huge tractors and state-owned farm collectives, the huge state-owned iron and steel industries, complete electrification, state-sponsored 100 % free education and healthcare, Soviet Union looked promising. “I have seen the future, and it works” – intellectuals like Lincoln Steffens, George Bernard Shaw who visited the Soviet Union proudly claimed. And when Stalin’s Russia played the pivotal role in defeating Hitler’s Nazi war machine, the Soviet Union caught the imagination of the world and went on to be the second superpower of the world after the USA. Of course, not to mention, everyone knows about the space exploration drive by the Soviets which, along with the USA, set the stage for advancement in space and scientific technology.
History and historians will judge and explain how and why the Soviet Union collapsed. There were many reasons to it – the nationalist and independence movements amongst the many republics within the Soviet Union, the bureaucratic and command economy framework which worked well for the commanding heights of the economy but did not work so well for the commodities market, eventually leading to the stagnation of the economy, etc. Whatever the reasons be, the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union had a tremendous effect on world events, which helped shape the collapse of the old imperialist powers and laid the foundation of the independence of the third world countries including India. No wonder, India and the Soviet Union shared the most loyal and trusted of friendships, which still remains between India and Russia.
So friends, history and such major events cannot and should not be ignored. The present-day government should remember this, that without Nehru being the first PM or without the Russian Revolution taking place, they might not be even sitting here today at the helm of affairs!