In Modi era, why Nehrus ideals are more important than ever before
Nehru was a staunch secularist who relentlessly opposed communalism and sectarianism of all hues. Photo: PTI

In Modi era, why Nehru's ideals are more important than ever before

Erosion in secular values introduced in Nehru’s era is destroying democracy; communalism, regional divide, acrimonious poll battles and rise of state-backed oligopoly are a few evils at display

What, among other things, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s death anniversary May 27 signifies is the fact that even after 60 years of his demise, if not Nehru, the strong Nehruvian legacy left by him, lives, drags, or at least, lingers on.

So much so that, last week, none other than Nehru’s current successor, Narendra Modi, while speaking at an election rally in Bihar, ended up resurrecting the long-buried ghost of the Congress statesman.

Modi accused Nehru of being against the reservation of Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) in government jobs. Such brickbats come from the prime minister out of sheer habit to blame Nehru for nearly everything that goes or can go wrong even decades after his death; and so, the ‘curse of the caste’ is no exception to this rule of sorts.

But before criticising Nehru, it is important to know why his secular ideals and disdain for any kind of divide – communal or regional – were necessary to protect the tenets of democracy. The same seems to be eroding under the leadership of the Narendra Modi-led BJP government.

Staunch secularist

Nehru was a staunch secularist who relentlessly opposed communalism and sectarianism of all hues. This also covers caste. However, because of Partition, the main challenge during his time was to take on the deep religious divide that broke the country both territorially and emotionally.

The wounds caused by Partition took time to heal and healed faster because of Nehru’s sobering leadership.

Today, the effort is to revisit and reopen those scars and turn Nehru into a virtual punching bag that can relentlessly be hit on this or that count to deflect and blur public attention from impossibly intractable problems.

Mantra of zero discrimination

So what Nehru thought to be the root of the problem is now being sold as the reason for India’s backwardness. Zero discrimination is simply impossible without secularism as once advocated by Nehru. He was instinctively modern, forward-looking and brilliantly imaginative.

This is evident from what he wrote in a letter to all chief ministers in 1954 – “If India is to be really great, as we all want her to be, then she is not to be exclusive either internally or externally. She has to give up everything that is a barrier to growth in mind or spirit or in social life.”

Rise of state-backed oligopoly

But today, India is getting marred by exclusivist ways, narrow-mindedness, and restricted or selective social life. And yet this is justified and called necessary in order to achieve higher economic growth. One term that is commonly heard today is ‘wealth creators’ whose interests are thought to be sacred for the sake of growth and prosperity. There is hardly any talk about the responsibilities of wealth creators towards people, country and its precariously poised environment.

Mahatma Gandhi saw the wealthy as the nation’s trustees who would help India harness its assets and resources. This is what prompted Gandhi’s disciple, Nehru, despite being an avowed socialist, to allow free or private enterprises to flourish and provide state assistance to businesses.

But today, such faith put by the very founders of the nation among the well-off, privileged, and upwardly advantageous sections of the society appears to be taking democracy towards a state-backed oligopoly.

Obviously, the idea behind this is to keep wealth restricted from benefitting anybody other than who possess or control it or the close group that falls in their network.

Acrimony didn’t define Nehru’s poll campaigns

Against this backdrop, the countrywide elections are drawing to a close, and results are expected to be out in a week or so. The campaigning that the ongoing election season has unleashed has been a complete antithesis of what Nehru stood for and campaigned for in the three parliamentary polls that he contested.

None of Nehru’s poll campaigns saw the kind of acrimony with his opponents that has marked the elections this time or even before it in the recent past. In fact, Nehru’s opponent in Lok Sabha polls, Ram Manohar Lohia, wrote to the then prime minister about his decision to contest against him and Nehru wish him well in his reply.

Commitment to people

Nehru is also reputed to have taken the promise from his constituents in Uttar Pradesh’s Phulpur against expecting any out of turn or unjustified favour from him for the constituency; and his voters had shown the grace of letting him look after the country instead of the constituency alone.

Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, used to visit the constituency sometimes to keep in touch with the electorate and give feedback to her father, who won thrice from the same constituency.

Indira, Sanjay, Rajiv, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi have all been known to have assiduously nursed Rae Bareli and Amethi, the twin Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh from where the family has successively been contesting polls after Nehru and Feroz Gandhi and still does.

Regional appeasement, BJP-RSS ‘feud’

Now such love for one’s constituency has extended to the level of nursing entire states. So much so that there are reports that the ruling BJP is trying to distance itself from its ideological fountainhead, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), due to a tussle that goes beyond mere differences over opinion.

Among other reasons, the Maharashtra-based RSS’ dislike for repeated shifting of important multimillion-dollar projects from Mumbai and Pune to Ahmedabad, Surat, and other cities of Gujarat is being quoted as the main point of contention. The relatively new Gujarati pracharaks are feared to be overshadowing Marathi RSS veterans in terms of clout and power.

Sectarian, regional divide threaten Nehru’s values

Thus, the broad vision for the country with which Nehru always stood by so stoutly is turning not only into sectarian but also regional divide and strife. The consequences of this have led to a deep sense of ennui besetting well-meaning Indians even though materially the country is a lot better off than what was the case 60 years ago when Nehru died.

Famed historian Bipan Chandra has summed up Nehru’s idea of modern India that can look ahead by saying, “Throughout his life, Nehru opposed dogma and a dogmatic mentality. This was [behind] his major objection to religion and became a major ground for his favouring a scientific temper and outlook on life and its problems.”

In 1951 Nehru himself wrote to chief ministers, “Our democracy is a tender plant which has to be nourished with wisdom and care.”

Seventy-three years after these profound words were penned by Nehru, democracy indeed seems to be crying for the need for protecting and safeguarding it with greater urgency than ever before. It is more so since shadows cast by petty concerns of today’s leaders, who lack Nehru’s sagacity and wisdom, are gnawing at its roots.

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