What India owes to Nehru


Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru meeting physicist Albert Einstein at Princeton, USA, 1949 PHOTO/Desinama

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru would never have won a popularity contest in Pakistan quite simply because he did his best to oppose our country’s creation. But nowhere is he reviled more than in India’s current ruling circles and among those whose loyalty they command.

The accusations against Nehru are often breathtaking: that he was degenerate and dissolute; born in a brothel and eventually died of syphilis; impregnated a Catholic nun; claimed to be a Kashmiri Pandit but secretly ate onions; and from age 19 onwards would be drunk every day starting at 9 am. As with America’s alt-right which insists that Barack Obama is a closet Muslim, Hindutva activists allege that Nehru’s grandfather was Ghayas­-ud­din Ghazi, a Muslim kotwal serving the Mughal court.

If only anonymous internet nutters were making such attacks, they wouldn’t matter. But a concentrated attack by BJP-RSS sarsangchalaks is leading to the steady purge of Nehru from India’s history books. Betwa Sharma reported in 2016 that students of Class VIII in BJP-ruled Rajasthan are no longer learning that Nehru was India’s first prime minister or that Nathuram Godse, a Hindu nationalist, assassinated Mahatma Gandhi. Nehru’s iconic tryst-with-destiny speech has already been removed from school syllabi and textbooks in some states, reminding one of how Jinnah’s famous Aug 11, 1947, speech was ‘disappeared’ in the Ziaul Haq era.

This campaign of personal vilification against Nehru is, in fact, a proxy war against the concept of India as a secular entity. Of course, here in Pakistan we never for a moment believed Nehru when he declared India’s intent to become a pluralistic, liberal, syncretic state whose strength would lie in diversity. For us, all these were just fine words justifying Hindu majoritarianism under the cloak of democracy. Only now that the BJP controls India with a viciously communal agenda have some Pakistanis realised what loss of secularism — even imperfect secularism — actually means.

But irrespective of what Muslims and Pakistanis may have thought in the past, or perhaps still think, the RSS always took Nehru at his word. It both feared and hated him for it. In particular, it has never forgiven him for banning the RSS after Gandhi’s murder and for fiercely opposing a Hindu rashtra (state). One Hindutva activist wistfully writes that had Nehru handed over charge of India after Independence to the deserving sanghis, India would have “attained ram rajya by now, with a hundred crore people chanting ‘hanuman chalisa’ a dozen times a day”.

Nevertheless, there are paradoxes and contradictions that Hindutva cannot escape as it seeks to banish Nehru. All Indians, including right-wingers, take great pride in their country’s scientific achievements. But imagine for a moment that Narendra Modi, not Jawaharlal Nehru, had been India’s prime minister in 1947. What might have today’s India looked like in scientific terms?

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