‘Those who denigrate him reject his vision of India anchored in parliamentary democracy’

Challenging those speaking ill of the former Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Saturday said “what is being attempted on him by some forces in our country is not based on objective scholarship or critical enquiry.”

“The legacy of every great political leader is often subject to revisionism of some type or the other. But in Pt. Nehru’s case the criticism is based on innuendo, insinuation and falsehood, on self-serving political intent aimed at character assassination,” she said, delivering the welcome address at the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture here.

Ms. Gandhi said: “Those who denigrate him reject his vision of India anchored in parliamentary democracy. Those who malign him reject his vision of an India celebrating its many diversities while strengthening the bonds of its unity. Those who castigate him, oblivious of the larger political and historical context of his times, reject his vision of an India in which the state is the catalyst for socio-economic transformation.” “The idea of India for which he stood and always upheld is an idea worth fighting for,” said Ms. Gandhi, who is also the chairman of the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund.

Even during his halcyon days, Ms. Gandhi said Nehru had his critics. “Given his towering stature, intellectually and politically, we often tend to think he governed unchallenged. Not so. His period as Prime Minister was a time when there were fierce ideological disputes and passionate policy disagreements, a time when the course he charted for a newly independent country was called into question at every step.”

Elucidating on the democratic norms he so treasured, Ms. Gandhi said he “never shied away from engaging with his detractors. But what is remarkable is that even his most bitter antagonists acknowledged that he was free from malice, free from mean-mindedness, free from hate, fear and narrow parochial instincts.”

“Jawaharlal Nehru was a man of ideas but no ideologue. He was a man of politics but more than a politician. He was a Congressman first and last. Yet, he reached across the political spectrum to exchange views and ideas with critics on major issues of the day.”

Delivering the lecture on “From prison to Teen Murti: The making of a Prime Minister,” historian Judith M. Brown spoke of how Pt. Nehru “had an acute intellect and a leaping idealism, and he followed where these took him — even if that meant that Teen Murti so often seemed to become for him another sort of prison, rather than a place from which he could launch into the constructive work he had hungered for.”

Prof. Brown, who spent a lifetime thinking, writing and speaking about both Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, said from the perspective of a new century, the historian should place Pt. Nehru in his own time and context, and seek to understand how he came to be Prime Minister.

Also, she said, historians should note “why he saw his role as he did, and what options were realistically open to him in terms of policies and practice.”

“I would argue that Nehru was one of the world’s and this country’s greatest visionaries, at a time when the world was changing rapidly and radically and there was a great need for new ideals and hopes within the political arena,” she said.

JNMF vice-chairman and former Union Minister Karan Singh said many now did not realise the challenge and trauma the country faced after Partition and how Pt. Nehru steadied the ship of state.

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