Celebrating liberalism and Nehru

NEW DELHI, AUG. 14. It was a very different book release function in this very crowded season of book releases. The books being "released" were remarkably different — rather, distinct — and, what was more, the author could not be there but whose effervescent presence would be felt very much as the evening progressed.

The occasion was the celebration of publication of new editions of Jawaharlal Nehru's three books, An Autobiography, The Discovery of India, and Glimpses of World History, books which have offered the outside world a definitive clue to modern India's collective mind.

The evening was more than the celebration of publication of a book. It became an occasion to re-affirm all those liberal values and enlightened ideas that generally get clubbed as "the Nehruvian ideology," a well-defined world-view that was sought to be dismantled, politically and intellectually, in recent years.

A family occasion

Releasing the books was Sonia Gandhi, evidently still savouring the electoral success of her party as much as relishing the rout of all those forces which were out to get rid of the Nehruvian thinking.

It was also a family occasion. Appearance was mandatory for the family as also for the family friends. Rahul Gandhi was there as was his sister, Priyanka with her husband. Ms. Gandhi certainly looked pleased and exuberant in a very congenial gathering. The new External Affairs Minister, Natwar Singh, was very much there. Since the Congress president was putting in an appearance, several Congress leaders deemed it politically advisable to attend. Among those present were the Union Home Minister, Shivraj Patil, the Information and Broadcasting Minister, Jaipal Reddy, the Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, Meira Kumar, Dr. Karan Singh, Mohsina Kidwai, Margret Alva, Sheila Dixit.

Then, there were those who are considered friends of the Nehru-Gandhi inner circle, like Romi Chopra, the Nawab of Pataudi, Sharmila Tagore, Nafisa Ali, Monu Malhotra; then, there were those — retired and serving bureaucrats, public relations executives and media personalities — who would want to be associated with the Nehru-Gandhi circle.

But the most satisfying part of the evening was the reading from Nehru's three books. Stage and film actor, Roshan Seth, read out in wonderful diction a short passage from The Discovery of India; while Soha Ali Khan (daughter of the Nawab and the Begum of Pataudi) read out a longish excerpt from Glimpses of World History; and, Montek Singh Ahluwalia recited from the last chapter of An Autobiography. All three recitations re-confirmed Nehru's reputation, to use Ms. Gandhi's words, for the "sheer poetry of his prose."

A national blessing

Above all, the evening was not only a celebration of Nehru's greatness, his profound thinking and his lasting contribution to national consolidation, it was also a reminder of what a national blessing it was to have him as our first Prime Minister. As also a reminder of the steady decline in the quality of leadership since his departure.

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