A blend of aristocratic birth, elitist education and militant nationalism, Jawaharlal Nehru remains a towering inspiration in the annals of history. V.R. KRISHNA IYER pays tribute to India's finest thinker and leader.
The people's leader... Jawaharlal Nehru.
JAWAHARLAL NEHRU was independent India's finest secular leader, socialist thinker and humanist. He was the first among the founding fathers of the Constitution. To pay homage to him 50 years after his death is a tribute to his avant-garde intellect and liberal agenda crystallised in the historic tryst Indians made with their grand destiny as the country awoke to freedom.
Nehru on himself:
```I have become a queer mixture of the East and the West', he (Nehru) wrote. `Out of place everywhere, at home nowhere. Perhaps my thoughts and approach to life are more akin to what is called Western than Eastern, but India clings to me, as she does to all her children, in innumerable ways... I am a stranger and alien in the West. I cannot be of it. But in my own country also, sometimes I have an exile's feeling.' Gandhi said that when Nehru talked in his sleep, he talked in English. (Ambassador's Report, Chester Bowles, Collins, 1954 p.59.)'' (Nehru and Krishna Menon)
The yoga of the materialist and spiritualist values was the quintessence of the Nehru humanism. He was irreligiously spiritual, earthy but ethical.
He said: ``India is supposed to be a religious country above everything else, and Hindu and Muslim and Sikh and others take pride in their faiths and testify to their truth by breaking heads. The spectacle of what is called religion, or at any rate organised religion, in India and elsewhere has filled me with horror, and I have frequently condemned it and wished to make a clean sweep of it. Almost always it seems to stand for blind belief and reaction, dogma and bigotry, superstition and exploitation, and the preservation of vested interests.'' (Nehru and Krishna Menon)
His secular focus flowed from his universalism.
He was a secularist in a new semantic dimension. He wrote:
``We talk about a secular India... Some people think that it means something opposed to religion. That obviously is not correct. What it means is that it is a State which honours all faiths equally and gives them equal opportunities; India has a long history of religious tolerance... In a country like India, which has many faiths and religions, no real nationalism can be built up except on the basis of secularity." (Nehru Centenary Volume)
Nehru fought a losing battle against obdurate orthodoxy and pluralist bigotry. He was a blend of aristocratic birth, elitist education, militant nationalism, rationalist convictions, socialistic slant and Gandhian discipleship. He was a uniquely personal synthesis of contradictions, a glowing chemistry of scientific temper and the Mahatma's ahimsa, a spiritually awakened rationalist and a charismatic democrat. A versatile Promethean of the post-Cold War system, he was installed by destiny to lead to a new social order a recently liberated nation, a tremendous task. In the annals of history he remains as a towering inspiration.
Another important feature of the Nehru ideological genre was his socialist conviction, reinforced not merely by Laski and Krishna Menon but by his own study of the Russian Revolution. The root of his faith can be gathered from his own revelation in the Discovery of India. Economic planning geared to the socialist pattern was a sine qua non of the new social order.
For him economics was as important as politics; so too, human rights in their many dimensions. He accepted many ideas from the Soviet experiment and adopted some of those ideas like the Planning Commission to prepare projects for development. Socialist he was but not cast-iron ideological. Pragmatism was part of his calculus of political policy. Narendra Dev once observed:
``He (Nehru) is not wedded to any particular `ism' nor is he temperamentally fit to be the leader of a group. He believes in some of the fundamental principles of scientific socialism, yet he is not prepared to swear by everything taught by Marx and Lenin; he does not subscribe to any rigid ideology. He considers himself free to examine the claims of every system of ideas which professes to serve the social purposes and he is always revising his ideas in the light of new experiences gained.'' (The Indian Constitution: Cornerstone of a Nation)
Nor was he a skin-deep Sovietist. He was critical when they went wrong. His root thought was non-violent and Stalin's Soviet Union, "red in tooth and claw'' was his bete noire. He said: ``I have the greatest admiration for many of the achievements of the Soviet Union. But it is said, and rightly, that there is suppression of individual freedom there... Unfortunately, communism has become too closely associated with the necessity for violence, and thus the idea which is placed before the world became a tainted one. Means distorted ends. We see here the powerful influence of wrong means and methods.'' (Nehru and Krishna Menon)
The foundation of Nehru's social philosophy was the evolution of a secular socialist democracy that was the antithesis of a totally privatised market-grab economy. He was averse to the consumerist craze of the middle class, which has led to the bankruptcy of capitalist mores. He said: ``On the one side there is this great and overpowering progress in science and technology and their manifold consequences; on the other, a certain mental exhaustion of civilisation itself."(Nehru Centenary Volume)
World corporate terrorism has spread under the double-speak diction of globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation. The World Bank and the IMF have since been strengthened by the Iron Law of GATT-WTO. Together, we have a wild world order where even hunger is big business (as exposed in Food First by Lappe and Collins).
Nehru's socialism was humanism-in-action for all people, high and low, party or no party. In the Constituent Assembly, moving the Objectives Resolution, he made an eloquent appeal to think of India as a whole and in a planet-wide perspective: ``A time comes when we have to rise above party and think of the nation, think sometimes of even the world at large of which our nation is a great part.''
(B. Shiva Rao)
Gandhiji's verdict on Nehru is worth mentioning:
``The differences between you and me appear to me to be so vast and radical that there seems to be no meeting ground between us.' ... And yet no cleavage occurred. Nehru's openness and honesty appealed to Gandhi. As did his courage. `He is pure as crystal', wrote Gandhi. Coming from one who was the very personification of purity, this is high praise. Gandhi was later, in a historic statement, to declare Jawaharlal Nehru his political heir, adding that when he was no longer there, Jawaharlal would speak his language...''
The writer is former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Send this article to Friends by