Yesterday marked 57 years since the death of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. A loss that, in my opinion, we as Indians have not truly recovered from.
Loving a person is understanding or trying to understand their inner life. Admiring a person is bearing witness to the intricate morality that balances a person’s inner life with their external actions. I, devotedly and deeply, love and admire Nehru. My love affair with our Pratham Sevak (a quick internet search will show you where the term came from) started slowly. I knew him from afar, well before I knew him.
He was occasionally referred to with some racial pride by people around me, since we share the same heritage (i.e. Kashmiri Pandit). However, this brief lapse in bigotry was quickly corrected with a long list of his imagined moral failings – he was a philanderer, he was secretly a Muslim (considered a moral failing) and most unforgivably, by virtue of being a rationalist and a secular democrat, he was a race traitor.
In school, Nehru was a boring member of the Independence ensemble. Not as radical as Subhash Chandra Bose or Bhagat Singh and not as mystical Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. All through my childhood, Nehru was like one of India’s many deities, omnipresent, vaguely venerated and undecipherable. Nehru, like every great person before him, had become a symbol drained of its meaning.
My real dalliance with Nehru started a few years ago, when I picked up The Discovery of India, a deeply personal and intellectually honest account of the spiritual, social and economic history of the Indian subcontinent. The book was an attempt to forge nationhood based on diversity, similarities and progressivism. It traverses an unimaginable array of history in search for answers on morality, meaning and nationhood. It is through this book (and his other writings) that I came to learn the inner life of India’s most important freedom fighter. A deeper investigation of history solidified my admiration. Nehru carefully weighed the moral implications of nearly every decision he took. He was truly blessed with what Atal Bihari Vajpayee once judged Narendra Modi as lacking in, an understanding of ‘Raj Dharma’ or the ethical implications of governance.
He was suspicious of crony capitalism and deeply committed to the abolition of zamindari. He introduced the mid-day meal, laid the foundations for the public sector and ushered in the Green Revolution.
On gender, he was irreverent about traditional norms, he once wrote to Indira Gandhi:
“In the constituent Assembly women members were very few… I think it is important that we should keep up and add to the number of women in Parliament. From every point of view this is desirable. I have no doubt that a sufficient number of women, at least as competent and suitable as men, are available.”
A stark departure from the views of most men then and now, including the man who now rules his home state. He wanted Kashmir to be a part of India, not for his own sentimentality or to conquer more land, but to rebuke the two-nation theory. He wanted to defeat radicals across the subcontinent with popular mandate from a Muslim-majority state within a Hindu-majority country, to exemplify what India could be.
He was committed to the non-aligned movement, exalting newly free nations to escape the clutches of the cold war and focus on enhancing trade and co-operation amongst those who had been ravaged by colonialism. He was committed to the cause of Palestine and dismayed (even then) at the Zionist colonisation of the state.
Nehru is dead but he is not gone. By virtue of just having existed, he haunts and will continue to haunt parochial, regressive, incompetent and narcissistic pretenders to the throne of India. To those seeking the truth about the birth of our nation, he will always remain a guide who eschews chauvinism, mysticism and dishonesty.
Rishi Razdan is a former management consultant turned venture capitalist (and an incoming student at Harvard Business School) with a keen interest in Nehru.
Featured image credit: Jawaharlal Nehru addresses a mammoth public meeting at Ludhiana on September 18, 1949. Credit: Public.Resource.Org/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)