If the 2019 General Election in India was about “If not Modi, then who?”, the political question after the death of India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was – “If not Nehru, What?”. This isn't just a statement of journalistic creativity, it was the most pertinent political questions the West and Indians were dealing with.
The Indian anxiety was triggered to see its first post-colonial leader gone forever. That was the stature of India's first PM, Jawaharlal Nehru.
The fake news factory has a lot to say about Nehru. What is usually hidden behind the piles of pseudo-history, are the real facts about him. Here is a guide to some unknown and often ignored facts about Nehru:
1. The journalist
Long before he became the first Prime Minister of India and an apparent national disappointment to the BJP, Nehru was a journalist. Nehru ran his own newspaper – The National Herald, founded in 1938, a paper that is still in news (for all the wrong reasons now). Through this paper, Nehru wrote, edited and published op-eds criticising the British Raj's policies. It was banned by the Raj during the ‘Quit India Movement'. Matthew Arnold once wrote that “journalism is literature in a hurry”, but for Nehru, journalism was political action. Nehru had immense respect for the ‘freedom of press'; and this was the reason why, after quitting the editorship of the National Herald, he never intervened in the functioning of the paper.
2. Anonymous essay challenging his own political glamour
Yes! You read it right, Nehru once wrote an essay “We Need No Ceasar”. Nehru observed that the Indians revered him not only as a great politician, a mass leader, Gandhi's associate, but also as a God who has descended down on earth to make India “wake up to life and freedom”. This attitude made him uncomfortable since the masses hardly criticised him. He wrote an essay anonymously against Jawaharlal Nehru (himself) to eventually question the real intentions of Nehru, eventually to begin a discourse where citizens are supposed to critically engage with their leaders. Nehru wanted to avoid a ‘Bhakt situation' in India. Hopefully, all “Prandhan Sevaks” of the country would learn something from Nehru's ideas.
3. Champion of ‘Internationalism'
Nehru, being a devoted socialist, was also an ‘Internationalist'. If for capitalists, a free market economy is a method of engaging globally, internationalism serves the same purpose for socialists. Nehru's internationalism paved his way to start and lead the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM). While the entire world was divided in two blocs with the USA and USSR engaged in the Cold War, Nehru, with other socialist leaders like Josip Broz Tito and Gamal Abdel Nasser, was leading a parallel internationalist movement. Nehru's brilliant strategy prevented India from being a battle field of the Americans, and let him implement his socialist policies in India.
4. Devoted History student
To all the children who think history is boring and is all about memorising dates, you all haven't read Nehru's letters. Nehru was a brilliant writer and his flair of story-telling had the ability to make anyone fall in love with history. His ‘Glimpses of World History', a compilation of letters written by Nehru to young Indira Priyadarshini explaining history from the Guptas to the World War I, is a fascinating read. In his “Last Letter” from this compilation, he wrote “history is not a magic show, but there is plenty of magic in it for those who have eyes to see”. Nehru's sense of history was a factor that kept India from being a ‘Hindu Rashtra', and instead emerged as a secular State.
5. Master of Education policy
Nehru's socialist tendencies motivated him to focus on public education. Be it IITs, IIMs or AIIMS, the vision for a “New India” was primarily the vision of Nehru. Not all post-colonial states across the had to gal to look up to the West and claim to begin a nuclear research programme. India owes a lot to Nehru's brilliance and forward-thinking in terms of education who ensured the development of public-funded institutions that may have flaws, yet are and have been an integral aspect of India's growth.