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Opinion: Nehru Was A Democrat; Not A Dictator

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Right-wing characterises Jawaharlal Nehru as a megalomaniac to suit their arguments and further their agenda.  But any learned historian would readily credit Jawaharlal Nehru as a great democrat for developing great institutions in the country and nurturing them.  Many Asian, South American, and African countries wrote fine constitutions but were subverted by their governments.  Nehru is generally credited, and rightly so, for honouring the institutions during his longest tenure of 17 years as the Prime Minister of India.

It is generally acknowledged that Nehru respected dissent and opposition even if it insignificant.  As early as 1937 when Nehru was nowhere near power of office, his self-criticism under the pseudonym of Chanakya is now well known.  Nehru ceded protocol to the President and vice-president respected the independence of the judiciary and regarded the Parliament as the highest body of the land.  Nehru never failed to attend Parliament if he was in Delhi, listened to his critics intently and responded responsibly.

Yet the narratives of Nehru’s supposed “blunders” seem to discount Nehru’s democratic credentials and claim that Nehru acted on impulses or the advice of the coterie.  It is dictators who operate that way and not a Democrat like Nehru!  Nehru may have influenced the Parliament through persuasions, but in the end, he obeyed the will of the Parliament.  The opponents in the Parliament included Rajaji, Kriplani, and Bhupesh Gupta who were as big visionaries and learned as Nehru himself.  Nehru discussed anything and everything with the press, and at almost any time.

The narratives of Nehru’s supposed “blunders” follow a script with few patriotic persons like Sardar Patel trying to save the country from a disaster while Nehru listens to a questionable (usually a South Indian or a Muslim) adviser and destroys India.  The filth being flung at Nehru seems credible when there is an untrustworthy sidekick in the picture.  Duryodhana would not be such a bad villain without Shakuni!  The assumption of unscrupulousness of Nehru’s “friends” stems from deeply rooted prejudices.  These “friends” are never given the benefit of the doubt unlike their North Indian counterparts.

India has now become more diverse compared to the early years of independence. Now, stereotypes are challenged every day.  Gandhi and Nehru were ahead of their times who valued diversity in its true spirit.  They gave high responsibilities to many South Indians like nominating Dr Pattabhi for Congress president in 1939 or appointing Krishna Menon as defense minister.  That was resented even by fellow Congressmen, but their objections were hidden or camouflaged.  Times have changed especially after PV Narasimha Rao and Deve Gowda becoming Prime Ministers, and India seemingly broke the North-South barrier.  Yet when we dig up past, as we seem to do these days very intensely, we seem unable to see through the latent prejudices in those old narratives.

Nehru is always blamed for 1962 Sino-Indian war and for listening to VK Krishna Menon, Sarvepalli Gopal and KM Panikkar.  Ironically, the only thing they had in common was being South Indians.  S. Gopal and Sardar Patel had identical views on China, yet it becomes right when and only when Sardar Patel said it!  While KM Panikkar wanted good relations with China being the ambassador, he recommended invasion of Tibet while China was busy in Korea.  He also passed on the newspaper clipping to the government about the highway built through Aksai Chin by China creating an uproar and war cries in the Indian Parliament.

The “Kashmir Problem” is often blamed on Nehru for listening to Sheikh Abdullah and Gopalaswami Ayyangar.  What were Ayyangar’s qualifications compared to Sardar Patel, why was he appointed as the minister for Kashmir affairs and what did he really advise Nehru seems immaterial.  BJP’s MJ Akbar wrote in his book “The Siege Within” that just one word from Sheikh Abdullah could have put Kashmir in Pakistan.  Yet, Abdullah discarded Jinnah’s two-nation theory for Nehru’s socialism and helped merge Kashmir with India.

In a recent book, a retired diplomat named MK Rasgotra had claimed that Nehru declined John F Kennedy’s offer of a nuclear weapon in 1961 on the advice of a G. Parthasarathy.  Mr Rasgotra never bothers to explain why JFK would make such an offer, especially while desperately trying to stop Nehru from invading Goa!  He speculates that if we just tested the device in 1961 (even without a rocket to deliver), China would be scared to attack in 1962.  He goes on to claim that even Ayub Khan could be scared away from attacking in 1965 and probably assumes that the USA would sit back and allow India to scare its ally Pakistan.  Such irresponsible and irrational claims from responsible people like Rasgotra are believed at face value by those who are hungry for filth on Nehru.

References to these visionaries and patriots as “Nehru’s friends” and “controversial” are meant not only to take away everything they had done for the country but also to accuse Nehru of nepotism.  Wasn’t Sardar Patel a friend of Nehru whom Nehru made the Deputy Prime Minister although no such constitutional position exists?   Wasn’t Subhas Chandra Bose controversial?

In this day and age, the age-old prejudices that are being perpetuated under the name of restoring justice to select individuals from the past should be unpardonable.  Nehru neither took any major decision by himself nor did he listen exclusively to any coterie.  Moreover, these advisers of Nehru were just as intelligent and patriotic (if not more) than their North Indian counterparts.  Nehru government might have made few bad decisions in long 17-year tenure, but they were collective decisions.  Unfortunately, it has become acceptable to hand credit for all the good deeds to someone else like Sardar Patel or Dr BR Ambedkar while handling all the blame for any failures or perceived failures to Nehru and his untrustworthy “friends”.  This unhealthy for the unity of India in the long run.

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  1. Ashwin De

    Nehru was a great man. Nehru’s views on women were very progressive. In a country where men routinely abuse women, Nehru had remarkably progressive views, as reflected in the life of his daughter.

    It is a shame that men who have raped women and who have threatened to rape women hide behind Nehru’s reputation in order to make themselves seem respectable.

    Nehru and Indira Gandhi also respected industry. Yet again, men who have spend over a decade unemployed and who have done nothing with their lives except cause trouble feel the need to use a good man’s reputation to hide their own parasitic nature. Certainly, those men who demand dowry and other money they had bob earned without even holding a job do not deserve to hide behind such a great man.

    Thanks for writing about Nehru.

  2. Ashwin De

    Shashi Tharoor is not a historian, as your hyperlink suggests.

    Your posts regularly bash “professional historians” but fail to name any.

    The names you cite as historians tend to be politicians or political commentators .

    True historians are individuals with doctorates who publish in well-regarded peer-reviewed journals. There are probably only a few hundred active historians in the world who write in English and publish in reputable journals.

    1. Ashwin De

      Please cease using the term “historian” to describe your opposition, because it misrepresents got history profession and essentially creates a strawman.

      If you would like to learn more about professional history, I can direct you to a couple of names off the top of my head: Gyanendra Pandey, Ayesha Jalal, Gyan Prakash…

      All of whom specialize in modern South Asia.

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