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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 50

Rediscovering Nehru

Wednesday 3 December 2008, by Sankar Kumar Ray

While interviewing environmental activist, Medha Patkar, in 2004, Robert Jensen from the School of Journalism, Texas, made a conscious
dig at the partial and biased perception on Nehru. When Medha referred to the general criticism of Nehru for describing dams the “temples of modern India”, Jensen shot back: Nehru said that in 1955, but three years later he changed tack and described big dams as “a disease of gigantism”. In other words, Nehru took three years to realise the need for judicial water management. Pitiably, environmentalists of different hues have a fascination to quote Nehru’s words of 1955. Nehru is misjudged and misinterpreted, especially by media pundits.

The late Janardan Thakur in his book Prime Ministers Nehru To Vajpayee wrote:

Most of the evils that have corroded India in the last 50 years had their beginnings during the Nehru Raj.

Implicitly, he inferred, Nehru fostered corruption and questioned the latter’s value judgment. Such castigations reflect anathema, if not jaundiced view; more sensationalism than substantiation.
Had Nehru patronised corruption, the impriso-nment of the powerful feudal lord and Minister of Civil Supplies in the Congress-led Central Province Government in 1950, Rao Shiv Bahadur Singh, could not have been possible. The jagirdaar from Churhat, Madhya Pradesh, had
allegedly accepted bribe for issuing a forged document, which permitted the closed Panna Diamond Mining Syndicate to resume operations. Braving pressure from some bigwigs within the party, Nehru did not budge an inch from his decision. The Minister, incidentally father of the present Union Minister for Human Resource Development, Arjun Singh, was expelled from the Congress. Or take the Haridas Mundhra-tainted US $ 3.2 million LIC scandal, unearthed by Nehru’s estranged son-in-law, Feroze Gandhi. Nehru instituted a probe by the retired Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court, M.C. Chagla. Finance Minister T.T. Krishnamachari and his Finance Secretary, H.M. Patel, were indicted and removed from their posts. The practice of downplaying scandals with ‘action taken report’ was not in Nehru’s parliamentary lexicon. The irony of history was that the Gandhian Prime Minister, Morarji Desai, Nehru’s ideological adversary, made H.M. Patel the Finance Minister in the first non-Congress government at the Centre.

In fact, Nehru had to work in a corrupting milieu, which he wanted to take head on but failed. “Most of my Ministers are reactionary and
scoundrels but as long as they are my Ministers I can keep some check on them. If I were to resign they would be the government and they
would unloose the forces that I have tried since I came to power to hold in check,” Nehru had famously told the noted British scientist
and Communist fellow-traveller, John Desmond Bernal, in 1954 in Peking. This revelation was culled from the Bernal Papers at the University of Cambridge. Nehru was like the lonesome Casabianca in a darkening bay.

No doubt, Nehru was a prisoner of indecision quite often in crucial moments. Nonetheless, his sincerity to curb corruption was unmistakable. And he was aware of the necessity for selfless and ethical commitment for politicians in India, which was in tatters, thanks to the unbridled loot of country’s wealth by the British Raj. “If there is a selfish leadership, dishonest administration, economic distress and lack of a national purpose, such a society will always remain unstable. If we protect dharma, it will protect us; otherwise we will be neglected by it,” Nehru had stated in a moment of confessional mood.

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Nehru’s strength and weakness revolved around his emotionalism. His opponents thrive on his tactless emotional expressions. Consider his
jehad against hoarders or black marketeers in 1945 in Calcutta. Shaken by the appalling distress of millions of Bengal villagers after the
infamous Bengal Famine of 1943, he thundered that the Congress Government in independent India would publicly hang the hoarders from the nearest lamp-post. Historical documents, such as the Nanavati Papers, show that the famine was a man-made one with some tycoons amassing huge sums in collaboration with the colonial authorities. As a barrister, Nehru ought to have understood that no law would permit a government to mete out a harsh punishment to hoarders and black marketeers. Small wonder, Right-wingers inside the Congress like Acharya J.B. Kripalani used to taunt Nehru by wondering whether there was any shortage of black marketeers in the country. The likes of Kripalani had abhorred the Nehruvian concept of economic development. Ironically, the Supreme Court had remarked last year that the only way to rid the country of corruption was to hang some of the corrupt people from lamp-posts.

The 1950s witnessed an era of experimentation of ‘independent capitalism’, based on a strong public sector with exclusive rights in production and management of core sectors, mainly heavy and capital goods, and restricted rights to foreign direct investment. This was in contrast to the dependent variant, imposed by the US MNCs in Latin America. Some Soviet scholars were cynical about the independent strain of capitalism and believed that any development in non-socialist peripheral economies would be dependent. The hint was at the so-called Indian Communists who overestimated the transformative potentials of the Nehru-Indira policies.

The Soviet prediction was proved prophetic in 1991 when the Congress-led government of P.V. Narasimha Rao and Dr Manmohan Singh as his Finance Minister introduced the IMF-prescribed reforms with a hidden agenda that turned out to be detrimental for the economy. That was the beginning of compradorisation. Blasting ‘Manmohanomics’, the well-known Marxian scholar, Samir Amin, Director of the Dakar-based Third World Forum, wrote in Monthly Review:

The 1991 turn toward liberalism originated in the comprador leadership of the Congress party, but its political beneficiaries, as elsewhere, have been culturalists who found a ready audience for their irrational illusions in the social tensions and misery always attendant to liberal reforms.

The NDA, which he described as more Rightist, ran “a Hindu-comprador government, which wholly subscribed to the dictates of imperialism on the offensive (accelerating economic liberalisation)”.

In the 2004 elections the premises of Hindu culturalism and liberalism promoted by the comprador bourgeoisie and its imperialist masters were jointly held responsible for the social catastrophe by the majority of the Indian electorate.

With neo-liberal capitalism shaken to the core under the suicidal over-financialisation, Nehru and his ideas deserve a fresh appraisal.

(Courtesy: Sakal Times)

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