Readers Write In #229: Nehru gets left and right!!

Posted on July 25, 2020

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(by G Waugh)

Nations get great leaders quite easier than they get intellectuals. Jawaharlal Nehru was chosen for the position by the Mahatma even if there was not a single area of concurrence between them. Nehru considered himself a mix of both the West and the East and he tried his best to represent the best of both worlds and succeeded remarkably. The reason why I choose to write upon Nehru at a time like this when vilifying him is quite the fashion and a symbol of your ‘cultivated’ political consciousness is too complex to be reduced to a phrase or even a paragraph.

To begin with, he is one of the very few leaders who applied his knowledge of the world to his politics and managed to harvest minor yet unprecedented rewards even if the currents around him barely favoured his well-meaning actions. He was a socialist, sometimes even a hardline Marxist but he chose to work inside the best organization that could make use of his potential and vision. We see a lot of critics from the Left accusing him of serving as a pro-poor face for a purely capitalist party and that Nehru’s socialist exhortations often helped the Congress party gain votes from the poor which were in turn used by his coterie towards serving their rich paymasters. Even if there is some truth in this which Nehru would surely have admitted at least to some of his close friends, I am sure he could not have done better than that. A lot of Indian communists were in fact greatly impressed by Nehru’s passion for socialism and genuinely wanted him to join their bandwagon. Nehru, without doubt was a great admirer of socialism and its achievements in Soviet Russia but unfortunately he was an even greater critic of the manner by which they were brought about. He didn’t believe one bit in totalitarianism even if it arose from benevolent instincts. He was extremely uncomfortable about the regimentation observed in Communist parties across the world and the way they expelled even true and dedicated cadre if they were found to question the party line irrespective of the merits of their argument. Nehru himself was in fact expelled from the League Against Imperialism by the organizers affiliated to Stalin’s Communist International that was formed in the late 1920s accused of having been in cahoots with the imperialist British Raj serving capitalist interests.

In the early 1950s, the Indian communists had a meeting with Josef Stalin, the Soviet leader to obtain inputs for their plans for a communist takeover of newly liberated India through armed revolution along the lines of Russia and China. Stalin thoroughly disliked the idea on account of lack of popular support among the Indian masses for the communist cause and spoke openly against it. However the communists chose to ignore his opinion and mounted a half-hearted struggle which was in turn crushed by Nehru’s government ruthlessly. This act on part of Nehru who took advice from his deputy Sardar Patel was viewed by the communists as something close to an imperialist conspiracy hatched by Nehru and his pro-American patron-industrialists. Nobody can be sure about how many of the communists genuinely believed in this ‘conspiracy’ but this was almost what was called the party’s line and anyone who thought otherwise had no right to exist within it.

Such puerile ideas and baseless assumptions were often adopted by the communist parties in India as their official stance and this inability to see reason above ideology was evident even before they entered India’s political mainstream. I am sure Nehru would have found himself a fish out of the water had he been part of India’s Left movement and would have been pushed to the margins of India’s history sharing the destinies of thousands of similar intellectuals who preferred the Left over the Congress.

For a lonely man who was pummeled by the Left this way during his time at the helm, there was no sight of respite from the other end of the political spectrum as well. He was often labelled as an apologist for Pakistan or as a Western-bred Christian evangelist who selectively discriminated against Hindus by the Indian right-wingers. The Indian landlord class though only marginally affected by Nehru’s land reform programme kept the pressure upon him by financing and fostering right-wing parties and movements trying all the while to block and weaken every single pro-poor initiative he brought about ever since Independence.

Nehru’s Hindu Code Bill which sought to proffer Hindu women the rights to property, alimony and protection against polygamy was widely censured by the Hindu right-wing on account of its inapplicability to women of other religions. People of the open-minded sort correctly understood Nehru’s reluctance to interfere into minority customs and practices in the context of India’s recent Partition horrors which had dealt a severe blow to the country’s reputation as a ‘secular’ state. There was also a widespread popular consensus for the immediate implementation of the Hindu Code Bill which gave Nehru the moral authority to postpone reforming other religions to a much later date.

Nehru’s orders to strongly repulse the Pathans who had risen in revolt under Pakistan’s goading as early as 1948, his call to include one of his fiercest right-wing critics Syama Prasad Mookherjee into his cabinet (who went on to found the Hindu nationalist Jan Sangh which later became the BJP) and his military action against the Muslim Nizam of Hyderabad who wanted to join Pakistan after independence were conveniently ignored by Hindutva mongers and right-wing nationalists who kept branding him as a closet Muslim to suit their political whims and needs.

But this man was not spared at his home ground either. Most Congressmen in the late 1950s had turned into opportunists and full-time politicians whose lust for power and fortune easily trumped their yesteryear fervor for national independence and development. They sought to consistently undermine Nehru’s efforts at socializing India, did not share his secular vision and ideals and were entangled in inter-party struggles and feuds. They worked hand-in-glove with local vested interests to wreck Nehru’s land reform programme, co-opted local bureaucrats, police officers and officials into their mission to construct iron-fisted fiefdoms over their areas of influence doing everything in their power to block India’s journey towards maturing into a liberal, egalitarian democracy.

Various accounts written by journalists during Nehru’s era testify his exasperation with his fellow party-men and many a time the cornered leader was reported to have expressed his desire to retire from active politics admitting his own inability to lead the nation towards a proper direction. But what distinguishes the man from other contemporary leaders is his honesty, his incorruptible love for his people and his steadfast adherence to core principles even if winds kept blowing the other way. As a political observer, when I examine his work in politics I can easily understand why even admirers and well-wishers of him chose to side with the opposition during his 17-year old reign. But as a writer who has learnt a bitto divine human weaknesses and deficiencies among people of varying shades, the Kashmiri barrister-turned politician comes across only as a deeply curious man.

His stature in retrospect belongs very much into the world of Greek mythology whose heroes suffer terrible injustices even if their acts are laden with honourable intentions. Their very act to do good is often unceremoniously met with unforeseen adversity or conspiracies of the unimaginable kind. As a result, men like these are never allowed the benefit of savouring a moment of peace or gratification for themselves being forced all the time to be on the lookout and destined for greatness only after decades of their passing into the grave.