In 1976, when India was under a State of Emergency, the American journalist AM Rosenthal visited New Delhi. Rosenthal had once been the New York Times’s correspondent here, and greatly admired Jawaharlal Nehru. For he had seen, at first hand, how India’s first prime minister had struggled heroically to establish a democratic ethos in a country marked by pervasive social inequalities and by polarisation on religious lines.

Now, on this latest visit, Rosenthal was appalled by the climate of fear and suspicion engendered by the administration of Indira Gandhi. He concluded that Nehru’s daughter had damaged rather than deepened her father’s political legacy. As an Indian friend of Rosenthal’s laconically put it, were Nehru alive, he would be in jail, from where he would be writing letters to the prime minister on the importance of democracy and democratic institutions.

This week marks the 50th death anniversary of a man much admired in his lifetime yet increasingly vilified since his death. The decline in Nehru’s reputation has two principal causes: (1) the rise to power of parties based on ideologies opposed to that of the Congress; (2) the controversial tenures as prime minister of Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi and of his grandson Rajiv Gandhi. If Indira Gandhi departed from her father in her suspicion of debate and dialogue, Rajiv Gandhi abandoned Nehruvian secularism in successively capitulating to Muslim fanatics (by overturning the judgment of the Supreme Court in the Shah Bano case) and Hindu extremists (by opening the locks to the shrine at Ayodhya).

Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in May 1991. Later in the same year, I published an essay calling attention to the fact that while Mahatma Gandhi’s standing among the intelligentsia had rapidly risen in recent years, Nehru’s had precipitously fallen. (The newspaper gave it the title: ‘Nehru Is Out, Gandhi Is In’). While Nehru commanded colossal respect in his lifetime, I wrote that ‘today few other than the career chamchas are willing to defend him, ... and fewer still to understand him’. Yet I had ‘no doubt that in time Nehru’s reputation will slowly climb upwards, without ever reaching the high point of the 1950s’.

When I wrote this in 1991, it seemed that the dynasty, such as it was, had come to an end. I expected that the death of Rajiv Gandhi would lead to a more rounded assessment of India’s first prime minister. Some of Nehru’s ideas had run their course; thus, for example, both political devolution and market-friendly economics were now widely recognised as more suitable to India’s needs than the earlier emphasis on central planning.

Yet it seemed to me in 1991 that other aspects of Nehru’s legacy were relevant, and needed to be reaffirmed; his commitment to Parliament and parliamentary procedures, his attempts to insulate public institutions from political interference, his vigorous defence of religious pluralism and of gender equality, his nurturing of centres of scientific research and teaching that had helped create India’s software boom. Younger Indians also would, I thought, come to recognise the enormity of the challenges Nehru and his colleagues had to face in the first critical years of Independence.

However, I was mistaken in thinking that Nehru was being finally freed of the burden of his descendants. In 1998 Sonia Gandhi was asked to take charge of the Congress. At the time of writing, she has been Congress president for a staggering 16 terms in succession. Meanwhile, her son Rahul Gandhi has been explicitly anointed as her successor. The Nehru-Gandhis has promoted dynastic politics in other ways, by, for example, naming hundreds of new government programmes after members of their family.

As the sociologist André Béteille has remarked, the posthumous career of Nehru has come increasingly to reverse a famous Biblical injunction. In the Bible, it is said that the sins of the father will visit seven successive generations. In Nehru’s case, the sins of daughter, grandsons, granddaughter-in-law and great-grandson have been retrospectively visited on him.

(Ironically, Nehru himself had no wish or desire to create a political dynasty. When he died in May 1964, Indira Gandhi was in private life. She became prime minister entirely by accident, appointed only because Lal Bahadur Shastri — her father’s successor — died prematurely in January 1966.)

In his pomp — which ran roughly from 1948 to 1960 — Nehru was venerated at home and abroad. Representative are these comments of The Guardian, written after the Indian prime minister had addressed a press conference in London in the summer of 1957:

‘A hundred men and women of the West were being given a glimpse of the blazing power that commands the affection and loyalty of several hundred million people in Asia. There is nothing mysterious about it. Mr Nehru’s power is purely and simply a matter of personality. … Put in its simplest terms, it is the power of a man who is father, teacher and older brother rolled into one. The total impression is of a man who is humorous, tolerant, wise and absolutely honest.’

The object of perhaps excessive adulation while he was alive, Nehru’s achievements have been progressively under-valued after his death. The demonisation of the man is now ubiquitous in popular and political discourse, and perhaps especially in cyberspace. So long as Sonia and Rahul Gandhi are active in public life this state of affairs shall prevail. Only after the last member of his family has exited the stage of Indian politics might a judicious and credible appreciation of Nehru’s life and legacy finally become possible.

The views expressed by the author are personal


courtesy : "The Hindustan Times", New Delhi, May 24, 2014

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED

The results of Parliamentary Elections are very interesting. With 31% vote share BJP-Modi won 282 Parliament seats, Congress with 19% vote share got 44 seats, BSP polled 4.1 percent of votes and drew a total blank, the Trinamool Congress won 3.8 percent of vote share with 34 seats, Samajwadi Party won 3.4 percent with five MPs, AIADMK with 3.3 got 37 seats, Mamta with 3.8% of vote share got 32 seats while CPIM with 3.3 percent of vote share got nine seats. We should note that this time around Congress’s 19.3% votes translated into 44 seats while during last general elections of 2009 BJP's 18.5% had fetched it 116 seats. That’s a tale by itself, the crying need for electoral reforms which has been pending despite such glaring disparities which weaken the representative character of our Parliament. Many social activists have been asking for these reforms but in vain.

Modi has been of course the flavor of the season and this time around it is being said that it was his plank of ‘development’ which attracted the voters to him, cutting across the caste and religious equations. How far is that true? Keeping aside the fact that Modi was backed to the hilt by Corporate, money flowed like water and all this was further aided by the steel frame of lakhs of RSS workers who managed the ground level electoral work for BJP. Thus Modi stood on two solid pillars, Corporate on one side and RSS on the other. He asserted that though he could not die for independence he will live for Independent India. This is again amongst the many falsehoods, which he has concocted to project his image in the public eye. One knows that he belongs to a political ideology and political stream of RSS-Hindutva, which was never a part of freedom struggle. RSS-BJP-Hindutva nationalism is different from the nationalism of freedom movement. Gandhi, freedom movement’s nationalism is Indian Nationalism while Modi parivar’s Nationalism is Hindu nationalism, a religious nationalism similar and parallel to Muslim nationalism of Jinnah: Muslim League. From the sidelines, RSS and its clones kept criticizing the freedom movement as it was for inclusive Indian nationalism, while Modi’ ideological school, RSS is for Hindu nationalism. So there no question of people like him or his predecessors dying for freedom of the country.

There are multiple other factors which helped him to be first past the pole, his aggressive style, his success in banking upon weaknesses of Congress, his ability to communicate with masses supplemented by the lackluster campaign of Congress and the Presidential style of electioneering added weight to Modi’s success. Congress, of course, has collected the baggage of corruption and weak governance. The out of proportion discrediting of Congress begun by Anna movement, backed by RSS, and then taken forward by Kejriwal contributed immensely knocking Congress out of reckoning for victory. Kejrival in particular woke up to BJP’s corruption a wee bit too late and with lots of reluctance for reasons beyond the comprehension. Anna, who at one time was being called the ‘second Gandhi’ eclipsed in to non-being after playing the crucial role for some time. Kejriwal pursuing his impressive looking agenda against corruption went on to transform the social movement into a political party and in the process raing lots of question on the nature and potentials of social movements. Kejrival’s AAP, definitely split the anti Modi votes with great ‘success’. AAP put more than 400 candidates and most of them have lost their deposits. Many of these candidates have excellent reputation and contribution to social issues and for engaging challenges related to social transformation. After this experience of electoral battlefield how much will they be able to go back to their agenda of social change-transformation through agitations and campaigns will remain to be seen.

Many commentators-leaders, after anointing Anna as the ‘Second Gandhi’ are now abusing Gandhi’s name yet again by comparing the likes of Ramdeo and Modi to Mahatma Gandhi. One Modi acolyte went on to say Modi is better than Gandhi! What a shame to appropriate the name of Gandhi, the great unifier of the nation with those whose foundations are on the divisive ideology of sectarian nationalism.

Coming to the ‘development’ agenda, it is true that after playing his role in Gujarat carnage, Modi quickly took up the task of propagating the ‘development’ of Gujarat. This ‘make believe’ myth of Gujarat’s development as such was state government’s generous attitude towards the Corporate, who in turn started clamoring for ‘Modi as PM’ right from 2007. While the religious minorities started being relegated to the second class citizenship in Gujarat, the myth of Gujarat development started becoming the part of folk lore, for long unchallenged by other parties and scholars studying the development. When the data from Gujarat started being analyzed critically the hoax of development lay exposed, but by that time it was too late for the truth of development to be communicated to the people far and wide.  On the surface it appears as if this was the only agenda around which Modi campaigned. That’s far from true. Modi as such used communal and caste card time and over again. This was done with great amount of ease and shrewdness. He did criticize the export of beef labeling it Pink revolution, subtly hinting the link of meat-beef to Muslim minorities. This converted an economic issue into a communal one. Modi spoke regularly against Bangla speaking Muslims by saying that the Assam Government is doing away with Rhinos for accommodating the Bangla infiltrators. He further added that they should be ready to pack their bags on 16th May when he will take over as the Prime Minister of the country. The communal message was loud and clear. BJP spokesmen have already stated that these Bangla speaking Hindus are refugees while the Muslim is infiltrators.

If one examines the overall scatter of the areas where BJP has won a very disturbing fact comes to one’s mind. While at surface the plank of development ruled the roost there is definitely the subtle role played by communal polarization. BJP has mostly succeeded in areas where already communal polarization has been brought in through communal or violence or terrorist violence. Maharashtra, Gujarat, UP, MP, Bihar, Assam all these have seen massive communal violence in the past. While the states which have not come under the sway of BJP-Modi are the one’s which have been relatively free from communal violence: Tamil Nadu, Bengal and Kerala in particular. Orissa is a bit of an exception, where despite the Kandhmal violence, Navin Patnaik’s party is managing to be in power. The socio political interpretation of the deeper relations between acts of violence and victory of RSS-BJP-Modi needs to be grasped at depth; the polarizing role of communal-terrorist violence needs a deeper look. While on surface the development myth has won over large section of electorate, it has taken place in areas which have in past seen the bouts of violence. Most of the inquiry commission reports do attribute violence to the machinations of communal organization.

While overtly the caste was not used, Modi did exploit the word Neech Rajniti (Low level Politics) used by Priyanka Gandhi and converted it in to Neech Jati (low caste), flaunting his caste. At other occasions also he projected his caste, Ghanchi to polarize along caste lines.

What signal has been given by Modi’s victory? The message of Mumbai, Gujarat Muzzafrnagar and hoards of other such acts has created a deep sense of insecurity amongst sections of our population. Despite Modi’s brave denials and the struggles of social activists, justice delivery seems to be very slow, if at all, and it is eluding the victims. The culprits are claiming they are innocents and that they have got a ‘clean chit’. While there are many firsts in Modi coming to power, one first which is not highlighted is that, this is the first time a person accused of being part of the carnage process is going to have all the levers of power under his control. So what are the future prospects for the India of Gandhi and Nehru, what are the prospects of the values of India’s Constitution? Can Modi give up his core agenda of Hindu Nationalism, which has been the underlying ideology of his politics, or will he deliver a Hindu nation to his mentors? No prizes for guessing!


ISP  III May 2014

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED