Friday, November 28, 2014

How we remember Nehru and why

On every birthday of Nehru, emotions spill over both from the Congress and BJP camps. BJP blames Nehru for all the ills that plague India, from economic to political, and the Congress credits Nehru for most of India’s successes as a modern nation state. 

While BJP wants to project Nehru to the current generation as an elitist who forced foreign ideas on India without much caring about the sentiments of Indians, the Congress says any departure from the path of Nehru (socialism and secularism) is a disaster for India. There is a grain of truth in all these accusations and approbations. All these also form how Nehru is remembered in India.

Some blame him for his political mistakes. Some call him a nation builder. Some say his socialist economic policies are responsible for India’s lack of economic growth. Some remember him as an atheist who had utter disregard for India’s religious character. And so on. But funnily, these views are not held sporadically across all sections of society. Different sections of society remember Nehru in different ways, but there is a uniformity of views within each section.

Generally academics and left leaning intellectuals see Nehru as a builder and guide of modern India. Communists remember him as a representative of bourgeois class to be hated because he suspended the first communist government in India, in Kerela. The business class dislikes him for his socialist model. The conservative middle class criticizes him for his romantic dalliances, videshi ways and, to an extent, his atheism. 

But to the current generation, in general, Nehru comes from so distant a past that he is not much worth caring about. There are several reasons for this.

There was hardly anything muscular about Nehru. He was a gentle, sober politician (his occasional mood bursts notwithstanding) whose speeches used to be inspiring and eloquent but without any thunder.

Like his daughter, war-winning was not among his achievements (in fact, he had lost one as a PM). Nehru disliked the Hindu right and also the Communists; but there wasn’t any campish  character to his loathing – it was a dislike based on ideological differences. The divide between the two sides became pronounced in later years due to self-styled Nehruvians and the progenies of Shayamaprasad Mukherjee.

The other chief reasons for his slide into oblivion with the current generation are the two ideals he stood for and is most remembered by – socialism and secularism.  Both socialism and secularism have had a rough time, in India, in post-Nehru years.

Indira Gandhi, unlike her father, had no sincere loyalty to socialism; for her garibi hatao was a political plank not an ideological obligation. Rajiv Gandhi moved away from socialism – in fact, his was the first Congress government (actually the first since independence) to flirt with market economy (now his son attributes the entry of computers into India to Rajiv, though the claim is contested by BJP).

In 1992 India opened up its markets to the world and with passing years the economic reality of India started shifting away from what it was in the pre 90s. And as India’s economic complexion has changed year upon year since then and the middle class increased, socialism has more and more looked like a relic of the past which is best kept at a distance.  

On the secular front, too, India has not fared any better in post Nehru years. Several provincial riots had taken place since Partition, but nothing had made national headlines.
That changed when Indira Gandhi fell to the bullets of two Sikh security guards leading to anti-Sikh riots - something Congress is still blamed for (and as later reports suggested rightly so).

Rajiv Gandhi, a few years later, by now a PM for a few years, dealt Indian secularism, which was already smarting under 1984 effects, another severe blow with the Saha Banu case.
In the post 90s, the rise of the BJP confronted the Congress with a new threat, a potential loss of the Hindu vote, pushing the Congress to reclaim its secular space. 

And secularism and whether the version of secularism followed in India is a departure from actual secularism borrowed by Nehru from the West – became a bone of contention between the two largest national parties.

And the two parties constantly clashing on the question of secularism divided the Indian political narrative into two halves – the Hindu right and the secular front. Gradually the Right narrative found legitimacy in national politics. 

In reality, Nehru may still be the founder of modern India, but, due to the follies of his very own, to the current generation, Nehru has become the grand sire of all that the Congress has done wrong since Nehru. And if his own have degenerated his legacy, the changing times (both globally and in India) have made the merit of his ideals a little contestable and  anyone representing them appear a little out of tune with times.

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