JAWAHARLAL NEHRU WAS A VISIONARY who dreamt of a great India. But ironically, his party, or rather his family’s present-generation leader, has reduced his legacy to the level of a city’s Imam by boasting that the Prime Minister was not invited to his birth anniversary celebrations. Democrats with grace indeed!
That is the tragedy with those whose charisma shines with the veneer that socialist states provide. If the government stops funding his birthday celebrations, not many amongst the people would observe the day, though this cannot be said about Subhas Bose, Sardar Patel or Lal Bahadur Shastri—the “non-family” Congress stalwarts who have been adopted by the masses and discarded by the Congress family.
The deification of Nehru was a demand of Congress vote politics. An aura was created around him—the components were roses, Soviet-style planning, socialism, big dams, state-controlled economy, secularism, Children’s Day, weaving an Asian dream with Panchsheel, coffee with Tito, Suharto and Nasser, Hindi-Cheeni Bhai Bhai , and a strange possessiveness about Sheikh Abdullah. All that build-up came down with a thud in 1962, which proved fatal for his health.
After the Pakistani attack on Kashmir, behind the veils of tribal marauders, instead of rebuking the Pakistani Prime Minister and demanding the part of Kashmir that Pakistan had taken forcibly and illegally, Nehru wrote to him as if stung with a guilt conscience: “I have repeatedly stated that as soon as peace and order have been established, Kashmir should decide on accession by plebiscite or referendum under international auspices such as those of United Nations” (November 21, 1947).
The Indian Army had defeated the Pakistanis, but here the Indian Prime Minister was defeating his own armed forces.
On the issue of Kashmir, he was so angry with his ablest senior Cabinet colleague, Sardar Patel, that the latter almost resigned. Wrote Sardar: “In any case, your letter makes it clear to me that I must not or at least cannot continue as a Member of Government and hence I am hereby tendering my resignation.” (Sardar Patel’s letter, drafted but not implemented, as he was finally persuaded to take his resignation back.)
Even with a nascent independence to nurture, and after a bloody blow by Pakistan in Kashmir, the Prime Minister was not on happy terms with the Deputy Prime Minister, all for the sake of a subordinate officer.
India became free after centuries of its collective resistance to foreign invaders, and one of the mightiest symbols of the Indian people’s collective conscience to rise from the ashes, the temple of Somnath was to be rebuilt. Sardar Patel had taken a vow. And the head of state, the first President of the Indian republic, Dr Rajendra Prasad, was going to attend its installation ceremony. Nehru tried to stop him at any cost. For him, the reconstruction of the Somnath temple was a communal act. He wrote, “Communalism has invaded the minds and hearts of those who were the pillars of the Congress in the past” ( in a letter to Govind Ballabh Pant).
He was intolerant to the Deputy Prime Minister, and he turned hateful towards the first head of state.
His first Industry Minister, a highly respected Cabinet colleague, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, resigned from the Cabinet upon observing his deep-rooted apathy towards the woes of Hindus. He wanted Kashmir’s accession to be complete and total without any “permit raj”. All those entering Jammu and Kashmir needed a special permit in those days. The Chief Minister was Wazir-e-Azam, while the Governor acted as Sadre Riyasat.
As the president of a newly formed political party with a roaring presence in Parliament and as the Opposition Leader, Mookerjee went to Jammu and Kashmir challenging the obnoxious permit system and with the slogan “One nation, one tricolour, one law and no to special permit system, two flags, two constitutions for J&K”. He was treated as a small-time criminal, and he died in custody under mysterious circumstances in Srinagar, where Sheikh Abdullah had put him under house arrest.
Nehru refused to institute an inquiry. Mookerjee’s mother, Jogmaya Devi, wrote several letters to him demanding a judicial inquiry. But Nehru did not respond. The entire nation saw foul play in Mookerjee’s death. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then a leader of the Jana Sangh, said: “It’s murder most foul, hatched under a Nehru-Abdullah conspiracy.” Nehru did not feel the pain and agony of millions of his countrymen—they did not belong to him.
So much for his democratic values and sense of respect for adversaries.
All that Nehru uttered and wrote after the Pakistani attack on Kashmir in 1947 point towards only one direction—that he was ready to let Kashmir go out of India. And he also had a soft corner for the Nizam of Hyderabad, who wanted to create an ulcer in the form of a Pakistani Hyderabad and refused to merge his state into Indian dominion. Nehru’s shocking attitude, vividly portrayed in K.M. Munshi’s book Pilgrimage to Freedom, remains a mystery.
I must quote the relevant parts in order to describe Nehru’s behaviour: “My [K.M. Munshi’s] position in Hyderabad was most embarrassing to me because of the parallel approaches to the Hyderabad problem by those who held power in New Delhi. Sardar and V.P. Menon were dealing with the situation through me to secure the accession of the State on the same terms as the accession of other States. Lord Mountbatten, the Governor-General, carried on negotiations with the Nizam’s Prime Minister, Laik Ali, supported by Sir Walter Monckton, and was prepared to concede substantial autonomy to Hyderabad if the Nizam only signed a document to come into the Union.
“As the Hyderabad situation was inexorably moving towards a climax, due to the intransigence of the Nizam and his advisers, Sardar considered it advisable to let the Nizam’s government know clearly that the patience of the Government of India was fast getting exhausted. Accordingly a communication to that effect was sent from the States Ministry by V.P. Menon.
“When Jawaharlal Nehru came to hear of this, he was extremely upset. A day before our Army was scheduled to march into Hyderabad, he called a special meeting of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet, excluding the three Chiefs of Staff. The meeting, held in the Prime Minister’s room, was attended by Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar, Maulana Azad, the then Defence and Finance Ministers, the State Secretary V.P. Menon and the Defence Secretary H.M. Patel.
“The discussion had scarcely begun when Jawaharlal Nehru flew into a rage and upbraided Sardar for his action and attitude towards Hyderabad. He also directed his wrath against V.P. Menon. He concluded his outburst with the remark that in future he would himself attend to all matters relating to Hyderabad. The vehemence of his attack, as well as its timing, shocked everyone present. Throughout the outburst Sardar sat still without uttering a word. He then rose and left the meeting accompanied by V.P. Menon. The meeting dispersed without transacting any business.
“Even a little while before zero hour for the police action attempts were made by the British army chief to defer action, but Sardar stuck to the time-table and our forces marched into Hyderabad.
“On September 13, the Army’s Operation Polo commenced. On September 17 the operation ended and Laik Ali and his Cabinet tendered their resignation. The same day the Nizam told his army to surrender to the Indian Armed Forces. There was not a single communal incident in the entire country.”ALSO READ: SECULARISM AND NEHRU
Nehru remained an Anglophile all his life, and once reportedly described himself as the last Englishman to rule India. He loved India, but his India was tinged with an imperial touch. His great quotations on Indian culture are appreciable in the way one would appreciate the comments of a Cambridge professor who returns to London after a tour of the wonders of Madurai, Agra and Jodhpur. He was tolerant to those who agreed with him. He loved India the way the British loved the Jaipur column and his scientific attitude did create marvels of knowledge hubs. Yet, his economic vision achieved everything that needed to be undone by his own party people. India lost 1.25 lakh square kilometres of Indian territory to Pakistan and China under the Nehru regime.
The country lost precious initial years that could have powered Indian engines of growth. Nehru’s self-defeating socialism kept the Indian story shackled and institutionalised corruption. It was left to the reformist Dr Manmohan Singh, working under another “non-family” Congressman, P.V. Narasimha Rao, to undo what Nehru did in the economic sector.
His Panchsheel, utopia of a non-military state, non-alignment movement, planned economic model, UFO kind of socialism—nothing ever worked. And if he was a democrat, look at his party—democracy deified, indeed! Nehru needed to be undone, to let India find its soul and speed.
Tarun Vijay is a Rajya Sabha member of the Bharatiya Janata Party.