Negating Nehru’s legacy


It has been more than five-and-half years since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in power at the Centre and we have been witnessing the complete vilification, demonisation and obfuscation of many of the party’s adversaries, all great leaders of the anti-colonial struggle. Last week in Parliament, after predictably digging up the past of Jawaharlal Nehru and berating Congress, Prime Minister Narendra Modi replayed the old RSS trope and trotted out the catchphrases that have become synonymous with the BJP-led NDA government. Giving away his complete ignorance of history, Mr. Modi also blamed Nehru and the Congress for Partition, evoking jeering from his MPs. This needless desk-thumping by the BJP MPs only strengthens the perception that the BJP always lives in the past and uses and misuses it to cover their own follies and disastrous decisions like demonetisation and the badly implemented GST. It also shows the complete disregard that the BJP has for the progress India has made in the past seven decades.

After all, we live in times when Nehru’s contribution to modern Indian society is often questioned and derided outright. The scrubbing of Nehru’s name from state-sponsored history textbooks in schools is the culmination of a motivated smear campaign. In November 2018, during rallies being held for State Assembly elections, Mr. Modi derisively referred to Nehru as a “leader who wore a rose” but was ignorant of the plight of farmers. Let’s ignore the fact that with his bespoke, monogrammed suits, the current Prime Minister is just as much a fashion victim as Nehru was. Let’s also conveniently forget how he tried to co-opt the ‘Nehru vest’ by renaming it the ‘Modi vest’ while gifting it to foreign heads of state. But we can’t ignore how the Green Revolution began in India under Nehru, and how he fought for farmers’ issues during the Independence struggle. It’s this denial of historical facts that characterises contemporary criticism of Nehru, more than half a century after his death.

It’s not just the Prime Minister who feels the need to attack a long-dead leader, his party buddies also succumb to the same temptation from time to time. Attacking Nehru’s legacy is yet another area where the Prime Minister has collaborated with his bestie, Amit Shah, proving that they truly are the Tim Burton-Johnny Depp combo of Indian politics. Shah has been a long-time critic of Nehru, but in 2018 he added the accusation that Nehru and Gandhi routinely humiliated B.R. Ambedkar during their lifetimes. Together, the Modi-Shah twosome have composed the tune, and their tens of thousands of followers have merrily sung along. On social media, particularly the Holy Grail of WhatsApp, along with legitimate historical debates, right-wing influencers and trolls alike present alt-facts and accusations that present Nehru as a Westernised degenerate, who embodied the opposite of what an ideal Indian should be. The claims found online are baffling in their outlandishness. But this sort of vilification is to be expected from those with majoritarian tendencies.

Leaders of other nations loved and respected Nehru, who was the quintessential democrat and welcomed criticism as bonafide, responding to it thoughtfully. Unlike the Prime Ministers of our time, Nehru engaged in meaningful discourse, not vindictive revenge. He debated in Parliament with full accountability with a detail that is now surrendered to brute majorities and chaos. Nehru, ideally viewed religion rationally so that people do not fall prey to its ills. It is impossible to imagine anyone accusing him of a communal conflagration. Nehru was wary of judicial power, but he nurtured an independent judiciary and the rule of law. To make him the target of electoral jibes is churlish.

Nehru played a crucial role in achieving India’s Independence, and then went on to help a newly divided country find its feet on the world stage; the victories that Nehru has won will dwarf anything that any government is able to achieve. Perhaps Vajpayee better understood Nehru’s legacy than any of his successors. Even as they actively try to tear down the legacy of one of India’s greatest sons, Congress’s rivals will be well-served to remember Vajpayee’s thoughts on Nehru. “In spite of a difference of opinion we have nothing but respect for his great ideals, his integrity, his love for the country and his indomitable courage. With these words, I pay my humble homage to that great soul.” That said, it is clear that trying to erase Nehru’s imprint on the country is a tall order because he is part of modern India’s DNA. Throw Nehru out of the equation and you end up undermining India.

Javvadi Lakshmana Rao,

Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh

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Printable version | Jun 14, 2021 5:41:00 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/letters/negating-nehrus-legacy/article30778521.ece

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