I recently read Swapan Dasgupta’s take in TOI about Nehru. This confirmed what I have long believed: Nehru’s alleged greatness has been invented by Congress bards and poets after his death.
I have been mystified: If Nehru was a great leader, what exactly were his actions in which his greatness showed? What should we be thankful for? His woolly-headed socialism that made him the Father of Indian Poverty? His unbelievably childish military policies which gave India a bloody nose by China? His hatred of Hinduism and love for Islam?
His foriegn jaunts while Chinese war machine moved toward Indian borders? (He was in Colombo attending an international conference when the Chinese attacked!!) His skirt-chasing with Edwina Mountbatten? His taking help of Gandhi to eliminate Patel from the race for prime ministership of independent India?
His forbidding Indian citizens from indulging in any kind of entrepreneurship on their own, and instead aspire for a lowly government job? His idiotic and hypocritical Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) that he cobbled together by collecting some Asian and African banana republics and promptly appointed himself as their international representative? (Most NAM members supported China when it attacked India. And Nehru steered the country toward USSR, thus making a mockery of the alleged non-alignment.)
His calling himself “the last Englishman to rule India”? His unleashing corruption on a massive scale in India by creating an army of government clerks who cannot be sacked even today? His assaults on Indian nationhood? His overt and covert help to Indian communists to turn communist party into a formidable machine? His criminal abandonment of primary education, which kept a majority of Indians illiterates for over five decades?
Nehru was a parody of a national leader, full of imperial airs but actually hollow from inside. To go out of his way to impose this kind of man on the Indians as their leader also shows the shady and detestible side of Gandhi’s character. What kind of a saint was he who couldn’t rise above his petty likes, dislikes and jealousies, and who brooked no opposition to his views, so much so as to throw Subhash Bose out of Congress?
These two leaders — Gandhi and Nehru — were men of straw with feet of clay, and both were actually an invention of the British who went out of their way to promote their careers. Gandhi and Nehru were actually nothing but British props to keep the nationalists at bay.
Tell me again: What exactly was great about Nehru that we now should be grateful for? Will the Congress bards, singers and poets answer?
Looking for the real Nehru
It is hazardous to make sweeping generalisations of the national character. At the risk of being pilloried, let me reiterate the 11th century Arab traveller Alberuni’s observation that Hindus (as Indians were then known) have no sense of history. Indeed, they can scarcely distinguish it from mythology. Whether it’s Akbar, Aurangzeb and Shivaji or Curzon, Gandhi and Nehru, history writing in India is aimed at upholding greatness or reinforcing villainy. Revisionism is invariably a law and order problem.
Last Friday, the 120th birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru, saw the re-publication of Nehru: A Contemporary’s Estimate by Walter Crocker, Australia’s high commissioner to India in the early 1960s. Written and first published in 1965, it is remarkable for two reasons. First, it is a candid and brutally subjective account of Nehru from a western, but not British or American, viewpoint. Crocker was a professional Nehru-watcher who admired his subject but didn’t go starry-eyed. Second, as a contemporary assessment, it hasn’t been distorted by the Indian penchant for posthumously adding a few inches each year to the height of venerated leaders.
The Nehru that Crockerwrote about doesn’t resemble the colossus painted by his inheritors and hagiographers. That he was a man of aesthetic refinement, good breeding and blessed with an innate sense of decency was never in doubt. Even his political detractors at the time conceded that there was something noble and Brahminical but at the same time austere and dandyish — he was India’s only prime minister to smoke in office — about him.
Yet, that doesn’t mean he liked children, as India has been taught to believe. Crocker comes perilously close to describing Nehru as just another clever politician: ‘‘Nehru certainly did some acting on public occasions and before TV cameras… The acting was never worse than the pose of ChachaNehru withthe children. This was at its worst on his birthday for a few years when sycophants organised groups of children, withflowers and copious photographing, to parade with him. It was out of character; his interest in children was slender.’’
That Nehru was intellectually superior and didn’t tolerate fools easily are attributes that have been diligently recorded. Less publicised was the strong impression that his enlightenment was often offset by blind hates. Among Nehru’s ‘prejudices’ Crocker records were ‘‘maharajas, Portugal, moneylenders, certain American ways, Hinduism, the whites in Africa…’’ The list explains why Nehru was so offensive at the opening of the Ramakrishna Mission Institute in Calcutta, 1961.
There he spoke of ‘‘bogus spirituality’’, the absurdity of ‘‘running away from the daily problems of life in the spirituality’’ — the profundities of undergrad radicalism — and then stalked off. Had a prime minister conducted himself so disagreeably today, he would either have had to grovel or face a riot. Nehru was fortunate his haughtiness could ride piggyback on the goodwill of the Congress and the national movement.
Nehru, it was said, ‘‘could be emphatic on a basis of insufficient knowledge’’. He may have begun witha caricatured hatred of moneylenders but it soon extended into distaste for the entire private sector. Like the fellow travellers of Stalin, he juxtaposed science with what he considered religious mumbo-jumbo and came to view everything Hindu with utmost wariness.
Like Crocker, he probably believed that the India of ‘‘cow worshippers and devotees of ayurvedic medicine and astrology’’ should be banished from public life. And like his upper-class English friends, he found self-made Americans, particularly John Foster Dulles, crass and tiresome. Predictably, he liked the Kennedys; they were different.
From such parodies were the three pillars of the Nehruvian order, secularism, non-alignment and socialism, crafted.
For a man who left the country ‘‘not better fed, clothed or housed, …more corruptly governed…with higher taxes, ever-rising prices, ever-acute foreign exchange difficulties, and more unemployment’’ than when he took charge, India has been too kind to Nehru. It’s time we took the mythology out of history.