Opinion: Can Nehru be undermined by propaganda?

Nehru laid the foundation of democracy, he took everyone along, he listened to his bitterest critics, respected the sovereignty of Parliament, believed in debate and discussion and building consensus

AshutoshUpdated: Tuesday, August 16, 2022, 04:19 AM IST
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Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru with Mahatma Gandhi | Wikimedia Commons

Professor Purushottam Agarwal, one of the leading scholars and intellectuals of contemporary India, had edited a brilliant book on Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. This book, entitled ‘Who is Bharat Mata’, comprises the writings of Nehru and of others who have written about Nehru. In the introduction of the book Prof Agarwal tries to answer the question of why the RSS and Hindutvavadis hate Nehru. Their hatred is clearly visible during the celebrations of 75th year of India’s independence when every attempt has been made to erase the memory of Nehru. A video was circulated by the BJP in which Nehru was accused of being responsible for the Partition of India. Even the poster circulated by Karnataka’s BJP government has deleted Nehru from the list of freedom fighters who made great sacrifices during the freedom struggle. He has been reduced to a non-entity in the BJP’s interpretation of freedom movement, or projected as a villain and shown as a leader who agreed to the partition of the country so that he could become the prime minister.

Prof Agarwal writes, “We must understand clearly that a multi-religious country like India, no ruler not confident of the faith and support of the majority community can ensure the democratic rights for the minorities. The basic reason for the Hindutva hatred of Nehru lies precisely here — this irreligious ‘Anglophile’ has the trust of his compatriots, and he earned this faith the hard way, refusing to cater to baser instincts and phoney sentiments.”

There is no denying the fact that Nehru was the most popular leader during the freedom movement after Gandhi. He had the kind of mass support that not many leaders enjoyed then. After Gandhi’s death he was unparalleled in terms of popularity and his popularity was not limited to any particular community or caste. He was of course an Anglophile but his connect with the common people was phenomenal. Not many would know that during his initial days as a revolutionary, he was one of the luminaries who fought for the farmers rights and led their movement in UP in general and Allahabad in particular. He was even trusted by a radical revolutionary like Bhagat Singh.

Bhagat Singh was so enamoured by Nehru that while comparing him with Subhash Bose, he advised the youth of the era to follow Nehru rather than Bose. He wrote “Subhash Chandra does not appear to be providing any intellectual nourishment, only food for the heart. The need of the hour now is for the youth of Punjab to understand and strengthen revolutionary ideas. At this time, Punjab needs food for the mind, and this can only be found with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. This does not mean that we should become his blind followers but as for as ideas are concerned the people of Punjab should align themselves with him, so that they can know the true meaning of revolution, realise the need for revolution in India, understand the significance of revolution in the world at large and so on.”

Bhagat Singh explained in that article further why he preferred Nehru over Bose. He wrote, “Nehru also says,’Every youth must rebel. Not only in the political sphere, but in social, economic and religious spheres also. I have not much use for a man who comes and tells me that such and such things is said in the Koran. Everything unreasonable must be discarded, even if they find authority for it in the Vedas and the Koran.’ These are the thoughts of a true revolutionary, while Subhas Chandra’s are the thoughts of some one who wants to replace one regime with another. One man thinks our old systems are very superior, the other man believes we should rebel against these systems. Yet the latter is called emotional, sensitive and the former a transformative revolutionary.”

By extensively quoting Bhagat Singh here, the idea is not to show Subhash Chandra Bose to be smaller than Nehru but to underline the point that Nehru was acceptable to all sections of the society and even when he was fighting for Independence, he had a vision for post-Independence India. He was, in the true sense, transformative in his thought process. It was this vision which was crucial for a country like India which at the time of independence was one of the poorest in the world with an abysmally lowliteracy rate. And this was also the time when world leaders like Winston Churchill and many western intellectuals were predicting that India might break into many pieces once the British left its shores. But India belied all those prophecies and survived till now. If Nehru had not been a visionary then India would also have gone the Pakistan and Sri Lanka way where democracy is still struggling to find its roots. Nehru laid the foundation of democracy, he took everyone along, he listened to his bitterest critics, respected the sovereignty of Parliament, believed in debate and discussion and building consensus. He even agreed to call a parliamentary session when the country was engaged in a disastrous war with China. He did not run away from the opposition’s bitter attack on his government’s blunder vis-a-vis China. If one compares the same with the present regime when lies are spread about China’s entry into our territory in Ladakh, the difference is stark.

At a time when lies are being spread about his relationship with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, it is important to note what Patel himself has said about Nehru and his contribution and also about their so-called differences. Patel writes, “No one knows better than myself how much he has laboured for his country in the last two years of our difficult existence. I have seen him age quickly during that period, on account of the worries of the high office that he holds and the tremendous responsibilities that he wields.” Patel was aware of the canards which were spread even then about the wedge between him and Nehru and which is used even today to belittle Nehru. Patel wrote about that also. He wrote, “Having known each other in such intimate and varied fields of activity that we have naturally grown fond of each other; our mutual affection has increased as years advanced, and it is difficult for people to imagine how much we miss each other when we are apart and unable to take counsel together in order to resolve our problems and difficulties.”

One can understand that the BJP being an ideological party, will make an effort to criticise the Congress and its legacy because only through this exercise will the BJP get the legitimacy for its political existence and unless it discredits the Nehruvian legacy it will be impossible for it to replace the Congress hegemony in every sphere, specially in the cognitive sphere but for this it does not need to demonise Nehru. The BJP has to understand that Nehru is too big a leader to be undermined by propaganda. His contribution cannot be erased by canards. The party has to understand that he was very carefully chosen by Gandhi. “I have always said that not Rajaji, not Sardar Vallabhbhai, but Jawaharlal will be my successor. He says whatever is uppermost on his mind, but he always does what I want. When I am gone he will do what I am doing now. Then he will speak my language too.” Thus said Gandhi about Nehru. India survived for so long because India has been blessed with leaders like Gandhi and Nehru who believed in the genius of India, trusted the collective wisdom of the country and consensus building. Hate can’t be the answer and to hate Nehru will lead the party nowhere.

The writer is Editor, SatyaHindi.com, and author of Hindu Rashtra. He tweets at @ashutosh83B

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