Nehru: The democrat
Remembering the many contributions of ‘Chacha’ Nehru — on the occasion of his birth anniversary — in pushing India and its people along the path of self-governance
Former Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, once shared one of his experiences when he had called Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru a 'mixture of Chamberlain and Churchill'. But on the same evening when the two met at the banquet of the Parliament, Pandit Nehru appreciated Vajpayee's parliamentary discourse with a smiling face. Vajpayeeji, while recounting this incident also stated that such criticism, which might have created derogatory political feelings, did not foster any note of personal antagonism in the mind of Pandit Nehru. No wonder, Vajpayeeji opined about Nehru: "Inspite of the difference of opinion, we have nothing but respect for his great ideals''. This incident and the consequent appreciation related to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru testifies to the assimilative and democratic temperament of Pandit Nehru who was open to accepting criticism as a natural outcome of parliamentary democracy. He believed in the rights of the people to participate in the process of governance of the country. As a liberal politician, he, while being the Prime Minister of the country encouraged discussion and debate as bonafide political expression and took his political opponents with tolerance and respect, responding to them thoughtfully.
Amongst the eminent Congress leaders of pre-independence India, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru were notable socialists. Both advocated for socialism as a means for socio-economic welfare of the common mass. Hence, Netaji's conception of National Planning Committee was followed by Pandit Nehru when he set up the Planning Commission in 1950 to roll the concept of Five Year Plans, to achieve democratic socialism. Nehru wanted growth along with distributive justice for he could feel that the burden of colonialism of two centuries had left the majority in abject poverty. Independence should foster economic development whose fruits should touch every corner of the social pattern. But he did not follow the Stalinist model of Communism. He contended that Communism without popular government would be a kind of tyranny and regimentation. The former U.S. President John F Kennedy once said "The men who create power make an indispensable contribution to the nation's greatness. But the men who question power make a contribution just as indispensable — for they determine whether we use power or power uses us".Pandit Nehru epitomised the essence of Kennedy's observations for he would not have denied even the opposition its due share of credit in building up modern India, even though the opposition might have had lambasted scathing attack on his policies and political outlook.
We all know that the transfer of power from British hands was marked by the bloody scenes of Partition that featured all forms of atrocities, including genocide. There was the challenge of dealing with an exodus and immigration of millions of displaced people. Obviously, India shared greater difficulties as streams of uprooted mass, victimised by destiny, kept on pouring, helpless and listless. It was no mean task for Pandit Nehru to take reins of power amidst such trying times. He, along with his compatriots, did his best and with considerable success allayed the communal tension and diluted the related phobia. This could only be done by the democratic zeal and all-inclusive political attitude that Pandit Nehru displayed as a leader of the nation. Without such magnanimous socio-political disposition to create a sense of security for all, India would have witnessed far greater bloodshed in the name of communal clash. His democratic temperament was also the call of the hour, for he realised the necessity of a composed socio-political environment for marching ahead of a newly formed independent nation.
Prolonged exposure to European intellectual scenario coupled with knowledge about world history, influenced Pandit Nehru to be keen about democracy. Even as he was fighting for India's independence, his speeches and writings breathed the air of passion for civil and political rights. The States Reorganisation Act in 1956 was also an essential step in charting out new states and their boundaries after the country became sovereign. This complemented the people's aspiration.
In order to make the people realise their role in shaping the country, it was important that education should be prioritised. Pandit Nehru was swift to react. He took personal initiative in establishing institutes of excellence like IIMs and IITs. Industrialisation was also in his vision as the Second Five-Year Plan (1956-61), emphasised on heavy industries. Central universities were set up, a large number of vocational training centres were also founded. Measures were adopted to improve the educational situation throughout the country. Research and development was given importance with people like DR Homi Jehangir Bhabha being accommodated for getting enlightened in modern studies in nuclear science. A nation cannot aspire for democracy and rights without a developing economy. In order to strengthen agriculture which was the prime occupation of the masses at that time. Pandit Nehru initiated projects like building dams.
The Nehruvian stint of democracy is however not without scars. Many believe that the Kashmir problem might not have erupted in its present state had the matter not been referred to the United Nations. Equally, many hold him responsible for the debacle of India in the war against China in 1962. He is strongly blamed for sheltering Dalai Lama and adhering too much to political liberalism. In both cases, the ideology of democracy and internationalism was not wrong, though guided by these notions, Nehru's holistic approach could not match the intricacies of real-politic.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru displayed pluralism and secularism in his political philosophy. Even today his 'Pancsheel' stands relevant. On one hand, he exhibited internationalism and on the other hand, he was deeply rooted in the cultural heritage of our country. His works like 'Discovery of India' justifies the fact. His sense of real freedom relied heavily on the democratisation of institutions. He was modern in the sense of assembling everyone in the process of development. Once asked about his legacy by the noted American journalist Norman Cousins, Pandit Nehru replied, "My legacy to India? Hopefully, it is 400 million people capable of governing themselves." Well, this legacy is welcome to all ages as a true indicator of individual freedom.
The writer is an educator. Views expressed are personal