It’s Nov 14, the birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru. Or as they used to call it back when I was a kid in school: Children’s Day. The tradition goes back to 1955. Because nothing says democracy like school children being herded together to celebrate the dear leader.
For the Hindu right in India, Nehru is not a popular man. To put it mildly. The laundry list of accusations against him is long. From being too cozy with the imperial British to giving in too easily to Muslim communalism to refusing to respect Hindu sentiments, such as with the rebuilding of Somnath Temple. Then, there is the matter of sidelining other leaders in the Congress for the benefit of himself and his family.
There is the matter of letting the left capture all the intellectual spaces. On the economic front, four lost decades of Nehruvian socialism. On the foreign policy front, aligning with the USSR and other sinister dictatorships, instead of seeking more natural allies based on shared democratic values. Disasters in Kashmir and with China. We are still paying the price for both. And of course, the unseemly act of assuming the Bharat Ratna while occupying the Prime Minister’s chair.
There is no way that list is exhaustive. Beyond these, there is a dark underbelly of conspiracy theories, tasteless accusations about his personal life, often circulated in coarse language.
Let us ask the question that matters: is the Hindu right being unfair to Nehru?
The other side accuses the Hindu right of irrational hatred towards Nehru, even an unhealthy obsession with him. They point to all the good things he did, the democratic institutions that started out under him. And most of all, the man died over fifty years ago. Like all figures in history who wielded great power, he had his dark sides. Which figure in history is perfect? So, why be unforgiving towards only one man? Why not take the bad with the good like we do with everyone else in our shared national history?
We can’t. Because Nehru is not part of our shared national history, yet.
I am an Indian. Is Nehru part of my shared national history? I would like him to be, but he is not. Because someone is still actively claiming Nehru as part of their private history. They won’t share with me.
I am talking of course about the Nehru-Gandhi family, still very much active in politics. Still very much claiming Nehru’s legacy as their personal inheritance and asking for votes in his name. I am not part of that family. How can I share.
During the 2012 Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress campaign was led by Rahul Gandhi himself. The campaign slogan was:
“Nehru ji ko yaad karenge, Rahul ji ke saath chalenge“
From Nehru to Rahul in a straight line. Nehru’s great grandson is leading Nehru’s party simply because he is Nehru’s great grandson. And Nehru’s great grandson is leading Nehru’s party and asking for votes in Nehru’s name.
That is how jealously Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and now Rahul Gandhi have guarded Nehru as their own and only their own. So how can Nehru belong to all of us?
There is more. The year 2014, when PM Modi won the 16th Lok Sabha election, also happened to be the 125th birth anniversary of Nehru. On this occasion, the Congress organized a grand celebration. They invited political parties from across the world, including the Communist Party of China. The BJP however was not invited. Congress leader Anand Sharma explained thus:
“We have not given any invitation to the Prime Minister. We have invited all those who truly believe in democracy and the ideals of Nehru.”
Apparently, the Communist Party of China made the cut for truly believing in democracy. The BJP did not.
Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi and their party can’t have it both ways. Either Nehru belongs to all of us. In which case, we should all come together and look at Nehru just as another towering figure in India’s long history. Sometimes good. Sometimes bad. And sometimes great.
Or Jawaharlal Nehru is just their own. Belonging to their family and nobody else. In which case, the other side will treat him as a Congress leader and nothing more. The political opponents of the Congress have no moral obligation to sing the praises of a Congress leader. They will see him in the worst possible light. It is only natural.
Today, Jawaharlal Nehru stands apart from the pantheon of independence era leaders and heroes : Sardar Patel, Netaji Subhas, Dr. Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh, Lala Lajpat Rai, C. Rajagopalachari and the like. Nobody can be perfect but the nation looks up to all of them, as a whole.
Who reduced Nehru ji from independence era hero to just Congress leader? It was his own party and in fact his own family. And until they release him, Pandit Nehru will deserve all the flak he gets. On his birth anniversary and every other day.