“The policy of being too cautious is the greatest risk of all” – Jawahar Lal Nehru
27th May 1964, the date on which the first Prime Minister of India and undoubtedly, one of the greatest Indians of the 20th century passed away. His 56th death anniversary this year presents a good opportunity for us to assess some of his major drawbacks.
His achievements are innumerable. He played an important role in the consolidation of Indian independence, forging national unity, nurturing democracy and parliamentary government, planning economic development, building socialism, pursuing a strong foreign policy, and the list goes on.
His shortcomings in no way diminish his contributions. One of the major weaknesses of Nehru was his ignorance of one of the main Gandhian principles: mobilisation of people. Nehru didn’t see the necessity of involving a large number of people in nation-making. He believed in the notion that the poor will mobilise on their own.
He had passionate feelings for the people, but played no role in their active involvement in politics. He even failed to create such organisations and institutions through which people could be mobilised and politically educated. As a result, the Nehruvian era did not witness greater participation by people in the political process, except in the form of elections.
Even though Nehru got complete control over Congress by 1951, he neglected party building after Patel and Gandhi left the scene. As a result, Congress as an organisation weakened. It gradually led to machine politics. He had to rely on administration and bureaucracy for implementing his policies.
Nehru also failed to attack those aspects of the social structure — male dominance, caste structure and corruption — which were paralysing the socio-economic structure of the country. He lacked the capacity to devise strategic frameworks that could help in achieving his goals. He could see the process of political manoeuvres, but did little to counter them.
The entire education system was left untouched and unreformed, and failed to reach the majority of the population. No ideological mass struggle was waged against communalism. The poor implementation of land reforms led the economic inequalities, social oppression, and political violence to continue in rural areas. Corruption was tackled inefficiently when it was at its initial stage, which later expanded to dimensions, pervading almost every area of administration, politics and life.
In conclusion, it can be said that, in spite of all the shortcomings, Nehru’s contribution to the making of modern India is of gigantic proportion by any historical standard. He had certain ideas, values and goals, and made them an integral part of the ethos of the Indian people. Geoffrey Tyson, one of Nehru’s biographer, once said, “If Nehru had been a different kind of man, India would have become a different kind of country.”