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Opinion: How India Betrayed Nehru: Then And Now

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The Deja vu

Regarding the present border crisis with China, cartoonist N. Ponnappa feels that India is still stuck in the year 1962.  I have been writing of a national obsession of insulting the former Prime Minister (PM) Jawaharlal Nehru, laughing at his supposed naivete, insistence on learning wrong lessons and unwillingness to grow beyond the year 1962.  Over the years, BJP and Sangh Parivar have perpetuated this obsession as an electoral tool to grow into a political juggernaut, decimating Congress along with other political parties.

Having acquired power in 2014, the BJP has continued to bombard Indians with the propaganda of Nehru’s wrongdoings, and passed ordinances and legislations to undo those supposed wrongdoings such as the Planning Commission.  August 5, 2019, however was the watershed moment which bifurcates the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir and abrogates Article 370.  At that time, I have written about this right decision for wrong reasons and of possible consequences.

jawaharlal nehru signing the indian constitution
Former Indian PM Nehru.

While many think of Jammu Kashmir Reorganization Act of 2019 as Hindutva agenda, I always believed that it was intended to show Nehru in poor light.  Afterall Nehru has been repeatedly (and falsely) blamed for losing PoK and Aksai Chin, and for granting Article 370 in the first place.  There are many who link the current border crisis to abrogation of Article 370.  However more than Article 370 itself, China was known to be bothered by Home Minister Amit Shah’s claim in Parliament over Aksai Chin and by the map of newly formed Union Territory of Ladakh which includes Aksai Chin.

I believe that BJP’s political necessity to entertain Indians by continuing to insult Nehru in ever more dramatic ways to win elections has precipitated the current crisis.  Together, we brought the country back full circle to the year 1962.

“Experts” Continue to Confuse

Our military experts don’t seem to understand the difference between a Cricket Match and Warfare.  The outcome of 1962 War is explained away like a tour of Australian or English Cricket Team handing India a “humiliating defeat” and going back home.  I could never understand why Indians insist they were “humiliated and defeated” in 1962 when China had vacated every inch and retreated to prewar positions.

The historians either avoid mentioning the retreat by China or twist into pretzels defending and even glorifying China’s retreat with arguments that “Mao just wanted to teach Nehru a lesson”.  It, however, does not explain why China did not even wait for the Indian surrender, acceptance of ceasefire terms or China’s continued claims on NEFA and the Galwan Valley which they had to vacate.

Indeed Chairman Mao might have wanted teach Nehru a lesson but it was Nehru who taught Mao a lesson instead, and hence the retreat!  To quote Nehru himself, “China had turned tail rather than face the unexpected anger of the Indians”!

Given the current border crisis, our history experts have been advising our present PM Narendra Modi not to repeat the “mistakes of Nehru“!  What was Nehru’s supposed mistake?  Ordering the Army to throw out Chinese troops in Indian territory!  These experts don’t understand that Chinese troops had to leave Galwan Valley as part of their own unilateral ceasefire on November 21, 1962.  I would say that India would be ever grateful to Modi if he could repeat this “mistake of Nehru” and reclaim Galwan Valley.

“This is Not India of 1962”

Indeed this is not India of 1962 which built roads and bought more equipment, while 58 years since may have improved the combat skills.  But China too did not stay still and the gap between military strengths of India and China is far greater now than it was in 1962.

With several nations rallying around India as Cuban Missile Crisis was diffused and winter setting in, Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) was in a hurry to leave.  If they stayed any longer, the PLA would be sitting ducks for any possible Indian retaliation helped by other countries.  So, within 4 weeks of beginning their advance into Indian territory, PLA had vacated every inch and retreated.  Can we imagine such support today for India from other nations?   Are we really in a position to laugh at Nehru when even Nepal is thumbing nose?

Answering a little boy’s question while visiting a school those days, Nehru had reportedly said that the boy too will be fighting China when he grows up.  While Nehru was fortunately able to conclude that war within 4 weeks, does the current dispensation have the stomach for such a long war?  Did they think through the consequences before stirring up the hornet’s nest?

If India really learnt the lesson from 1962 as she has been claiming for decades, she should have understood her limitations with respect to China.  In 1962, India was pushing the envelope and annexing new territories.  If Nehru had the benefit of hindsight, he certainly could have stopped after annexation of Goa in December 1961 and avoided the conflict with China.  Modi, despite that benefit of hindsight, walked the nation into the trap.  Unfortunately, Modi is not Nehru.  While Nehru recovered lost territory, Modi is seemingly unable.

The Kiss of Judas

As early as 1950 Sardar Patel wrote to Nehru asking him to establish posts in the disputed areas, which in time became the “Forward Policy”.  Indians saw annexation of Aksai Chin as Manifest Destiny.  There had been hysteria of “Chinese Aggression” on Aksai Chin and demand for its “liberation“.  Yet, at the very first instance this frenzy had backfired and China launched attacks on Indian positions in October 1962, the same people who earlier assured Nehru of their full support have drawn their daggers and stabbed (figuratively) Nehru in the back and the stomach.

Jairam Ramesh (A Chequered Brilliance, Page 587) quotes then a Congress member of Parliament (MP) Mahavir Tyagi who supposedly gave ultimatum to Nehru to either expel then Defense Minister VK Krishna Menon or be expelled himself.  It was this same Mahavir Tyagi who was too eager to go to war in the first place.  Tyagi who had the blood of Indian soldiers on his hands, turning around and brazenly asking for Menon’s resignation was a betrayal that deserves condemnation.  Ramesh unfortunately portrays this audacity with admiration and approval.  Yet this same Ramesh who is now a Congress MP does not have the courage to demand the resignation of current Defense Minister Rajnath Singh, despite much territory is believed to be lost at many places along the Line of Actual Control.

Ramesh portrays a Nehru who was too scared of Tyagi and of his losing position as the PM, with a claim that “Nehru knew his goose was cooked.”  Nehru in fact wanted to retire many times earlier and hence losing PM position could not be Nehru’s real concern, although he certainly would prefer leaving on his own terms.  But the situation was much bigger than himself with China still in possession of NEFA and parts of Ladakh.  Neither Congress nor opposition was allowing him to focus on his job unless they saw that Krishna Menon was dismissed.  According to Sarvepalli Gopal (Jawaharlal Nehru: A Biography Vol 3, Page 227), Nehru accepted Menon’s resignation “in the national cause and not because his own position was threatened“.

Former Indian PM Nehru.

Tyagi was not alone in setting up Nehru to go to war and then to betray him at the very first opportunity.  JB Kriplani, Rajaji, RM Lohia, DD Upadhyay, AB Vajpayee, and the list is endless.  Nehru must have certainly felt betrayed by his fellow countrymen.

Neville Maxwell (India’s China War, Page 469) presents even more deceitful agenda of then President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan who supposedly contemplated dismissing Nehru government and seizing power.  Maxwell writes that the President refrained since there was no such provision in the Constitution.  Ramesh claims of Indira Gandhi pleading with this same Radhakrishnan to rescue her father (Nehru) from his love for Krishna Menon, since Nehru was unwilling to make Menon the scapegoat.  If Indira Gandhi really trusted Radha Krishnan as claimed, it would be akin to the sheep trusting the butcher.

Spitting at the Sun

From LK Advani to Ramesh (A Chequered Brilliance, Page 610) have perpetuated a sinister campaign that Nehru was heartbroken and that he died because of “Chinese betrayal”.  Such characterizations of Nehru are immoral and far from truth.  If anybody betrayed Nehru, it was his own countrymen.

While Nehru thrived on criticism and encouraged being lampooned, he was not a pushover.  Whenever things got out of hand, Nehru quickly rose to the occasion and seized control.  All the cabinet ministers and state Chief Ministers who betrayed Nehru during the war were removed under Kamaraj Plan.  To suppose Nehru was insecure is to grossly misunderstand him.  Nehru had unwavering support of the people of India.

To portray Nehru as a loser and a laughingstock has become so fashionable that even Congress leaders indulge in it these days to their own detriment.  This smog (of spit) might disappear at some point.  But this witch-hunt bothers me from a larger perspective.  In attempt to bury Nehru’s legacy, the Indians have been digging a hole that they may never be able to get out of.

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