The Tortured Legacy of Pt. Nehru

Happy birthday, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru.

Today, even a simple thing like wishing the first prime minster of India on his birthday is enough to invite scorn and abuse on social media as I discovered today. Well, that’s the way social media works. People hide behind anonymity and abuse away with impunity.

But with Nehru, it is quite different. The amount of hate he inspires, at least among the netizens of the country, is enormous even by the madcap standards of the internet. As I noted in a piece I wrote back in May this year, Sangh Parivaar is the biggest culprit in this revilement of a remarkable figure. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and later its political offspring BJP have had a special place for Nehru in their “People Who Could Replace The Devil When They Go To Hell” list.

The reason is simple. The ideals and beliefs Nehru subscribed to were utterly discordant to Sangh and its ilk. Their minds worked (and continue to work) along the lines of European dictators like Mussolini and Hitler. Of course, they have chosen new heroes now, even appropriating Ambedkar, who would have loathed them from the depth of his soul.

Now with BJP at the centre, and Sangh’s insidious propaganda machinery rapidly eliminating voices of reason and actual scholarship, the narrative that Nehru is the source of all of India’s problems has entrenched itself firmly into the minds of general public. I find myself at loss when faced with accusations like, “why would you support a firangi traitor like him?”

Thankfully, I’ve read a lot. I’ve read Nehru and about Nehru. My opinion of him is of a great, but flawed man. He made some spectacular blunders for which he should be rightly criticised. But at the same time he was a true statesmen, a man who refused to compromise with the ideals that he held dear. His “scientific temper” gave us several premier educational institutions, as did his advocacy of children and youth education. He led a huge, extremely divided and even more populous country during its most turbulent years.

When one allows personal judgement to interfere in their view of a historical figure, and begins to treat it in an extreme manner – either reviling or deifying it – problems arise. It is important to evaluate historical figures and living and breathing people with the same yardstick. Only then it can be studied objectively. But the objective treatment in India is left to selected scholars, everybody else leans one side or the other side.

Nehru has a tortured legacy. That does not diminish the man himself but it does shed a poor light on the modern political discourse. No matter what anybody may say or believe, or is forced or taught to believe, Nehru remains a great figure to me. That he committed mistakes only reassure me that he was a human and not the devil Sangh deems him to be and the larger-than-life figure Congress has turned him into.

I salute the Jawahar of India.

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