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Assessing Nehru On His 56th Death Anniversary: His Contributions And Shortcomings

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“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.

Jawaharlal Nehru signing the Indian Constitution in 1950. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

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.” 

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  1. Jay Velury

    On one hand author claims Nehru “nurtured democracy” and on the other accuses Nehru did not involve people. What is democracy without people? Nehru did not use Social Media but had mass contact and interaction than any political leader barring Gandhi himself in entire history of India. Nehru did not lose any general election starting 1937 which would be impossible if he ignored people. Nehru mobilized farmers (Kisan Sabha), students (AISF), industrial labor (AITUC) and entire populace of Princely States (All India States Peoples Conference) and brought them under Gandhi for independence and integration of Princely States. Nation building does not require parades and hartals unless you are in opposition while Nehru was in power till death. All those “innumerable achievements” of Nehru would be impossible without “greater participation by people”. Nehru certainly did not allow Congress Party dictate policy to Government unlike Communist and Fascist States. In 1953 Nehru staked his government to to pass Hindu Code Bill to empower Hindu Women. Primary Education was focus of First Five Year Plan while IITs and IIMs were started under Nehru. Nehru not tackling male dominance and education is untrue. To Geoffrey Tyson’s point, Thank god Nehru was not a different kind of man!

  2. Jay Velury

    Mao’s “Central Cultural Revolution Group”, Mussolini’s “Black Shirts” and Hitler’s “Volkssturm” are examples of people in power “mobilizing and involving a large number of people in nation-making”. The job of these organizations/institutions was to confront Capitalist/anti-national remnants and give them third-degree. I don’t know if this Geoffrey Tyson was being ironic while blaming Nehru. But fortunately we now have people who are mobilised and politically educated thru WhatsApp University.

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