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Why Does Ramachandra Guha Undermine Nehru’s Legacy?

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History is more than just a collection of events.  In his book Glimpses of World History, we read sound advice by Jawaharlal Nehru to his then preteen daughter. Nehru said that a historical figure should only be judged in the context of those times. In my opinion,  Ramachandra Guha who claims to be a historian and is recognised as so by many fails to put himself in the context and often gets confused with Nehru’s descendants whom Nehru had never even met. Guha suffers from the same problem as most of the modern-day “history experts” who view historical events in isolation, failing to comprehend the inter-relationships and hence the big picture. While Guha is reasonably well-read, like most people today, he gets carried away with narratives that are decades old and fails to retrospect.

A Scholar and An Activist but Not A Historian

My intent is not to suggest that Guha does not have the right to his opinion nor even to suggest that he is not allowed to be wrong. My intent is to caution that his views on Nehru should not be interpreted as the best possible defence of Nehru!  I do admire Guha and have read all his books cover to cover, especially those pertaining to Indian History. I, however, object to his:

  1. Patronising Jawaharlal Nehru
  2. Uninformed vilification of VK Krishna Menon
  3. Projecting authority on Indian History

Jawaharlal Nehru

In his book Patriots and Partisans, Guha claimed to be an admirer of Nehru. This is harmless if people don’t consider Guha as an authority on Nehru and use many of his questionable claims as evidence against Nehru. There are those who even project Guha’s own baggage onto Nehru and further vilify Nehru.

In modern-day India, when Nehru’s name is mentioned, the two things that come to mind are Kashmir and China. Unfortunately, Guha is ill-informed on both the issues and throws Nehru under the bus. Guha often praises Nehru for democracy and secularism which does not help Nehru these days since secularism has become a bad word. As for democracy, I question Guha’s very understanding of that term since he often portrays Nehru as a dictator and not a democrat.

When Guha says Nehru cannot be assessed if his descendants are in politics, he is speaking for himself. I would say that Guha does not understand Nehru and hence cannot assess. Many people have already assessed Nehru. The problem has been the recent misrepresentation of facts and distortion of history surrounding Nehru, which Guha himself indulges in from time to time.

Mahatma Gandhi’s grandchildren still dabble in politics and run for elections from time to time. This did not stop Guha from publishing books on the Mahatma. When actions of Harilal Gandhi or Dahyabhai Patel did not impact the legacies of their fathers, why should Nehru’s legacy be affected by his descendants? Descendants of Lal Bahadur Shastri and Rajaji have been in politics but that did not stop people (including Guha) from judging their legacies favorably.

In one interview Guha mocked Nehru and accused him of considering himself indispensable, claiming that Nehru should have retired in 1958. If Nehru indeed retired in 1958, India would have lost NEFA (Arunachal Pradesh) permanently in 1962.  Further, Goa annexation which happened in 1961 would have been impossible for India.  Let us remember that India did not add a single inch to its territory after Nehru, with the exception of Siachen in 1984 and Sikkim which was already made a Protectorate by Nehru in 1950.

VK Krishna Menon

Krishna Menon was great visionary, patriot and one of most important founding fathers of India. Contrary to Guha’s opinion, Krishna Menon is the best defense minister India ever had. Comments in the book Patriots and Partisans as well on various TV Shows prove that Guha does not know VK Krishna Menon at all.  I would say that Guha is not even qualified to comment on Krishna Menon.

Guha accuses the Indian National Congress of promoting Nehru’s dynasty and of not saying the names of other leaders enough times. Yet, Guha does not even recognise the fact that Krishna Menon was denied a ticket by Congress in 1967 elections for the North Bombay constituency which Krishna Menon won overwhelmingly and represented for a decade.

Injustice To Indian History

Far from defending the integrity of history, Guha sought to help its distortion by discouraging those who counter BJP’s lies on Nehru.  Guha’s pretext was that by responding to Modi’s vicious campaign, one would only be “playing into his hands”.  The irony is that Guha himself never hesitated to criticise Modi and play into BJP’s hands.  Guha either wants to reserve the right to criticise BJP for himself or believes in “do as I say, not as I do”.

Guha’s bizarre apology for vilification of Nehru was a necessity because Nehru’s great-grandson as Congress President is disturbing! Was it then acceptable for Congress to dig up dirt on the ancestors of the BJP President or the Prime Minister himself to demonstrate how untrustworthy the BJP leadership was? What kind of “history” is this? Whatever Guha might have against the descendants of Jawaharlal Nehru and however much Guha wants them out of politics, how appropriate is it to hold long-dead Nehru a hostage?

Selective Outrage Over Kashmir

Guha complains of Nehru arresting Sheikh Abdullah without the mention of Abdullah’s attempts to secession. In that respect, Guha is not different from the right-wing trolls who blame Sheikh Abdullah for arresting Shyama Prasad Mookerjee who was determined to stir religious trouble in Kashmir. Guha has always been misinformed and confused about the status of Kashmir. For example, Guha has been a proponent of full autonomy for Jammu Kashmir while on the other hand goes head over heels about Sardar Patel who was instrumental in stripping the rest of 560 Princely States of the same autonomy. Incidentally, Guha who dubs Patel as practical and realist robs Nehru, Rajaji and many others of their contributions to the integration of Princely States.

In recent days, Guha complained of the Indian government’s draconian ways towards the state of Jammu Kashmir and warned other states of the same fate. Ironically when such a thing did happen to our state of Andhra Pradesh more than five years ago, Guha had a different reaction which, I believe, can at best be called hypocrisy. While Guha never questioned the Indian government on the broken promise of special status to Andhra Pradesh, he is upset over loss of special status for Kashmir. Kashmiris seemingly have superior citizenship rights over Andhraites in Guha’s world!

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