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Mainstream, Vol XLVII No 24, May 30, 2009

Twenty Years After

Tuesday 2 June 2009, by Nikhil Chakravartty


In the sultry summer morning of May 27, 1964, when Jawaharlal Nehru left the land of his birth and its people whose affection he earned in abundance, nobody in this wide world of India had any idea how this country would look twenty years later, how the life and living of its toiling millions would change, how the nation would conduct itself in the comity of nations. As his funeral cortege wended its way through the vast humanity wrapped up in tearful mourning, the one thought that hovered over all was: would this nation hold together, since he above all others personified the unity of India and served as the link between the historic past of the freedom struggle and the living present in which a modern India was being born? There was hardly a department of national life on which his imprint could not be discerned.

Our society, steeped still in medievalism, is addicted to idol worship, and it would perhaps have been natural for a Nehru cult to have developed. And yet as we look around, Jawaharlal Nehru with his role as the builder of modern India, has over the years been the subject-matter of intense controversy. Critics both conservative and ultra revolutionary—with some pseudo-intellectuals strutting about in borrowed plumes thrown in—were there in his life-time, but their ranks have swollen in recent years as the nation is confronted with intractable problems in its polity and socio-economic design. Side by side with planning as the private sector has gathered fat, as development is accompanied by economic disparities, the people have a right to know why and how these could happen, while the critics have found it convenient to throw the blame of it all on Jawaharlal Nehru.

As the Prime Minister and the unchallenged political leader of his times there is no question of his political responsibility for the malaise of mixed economy. But the moral responsibility for the state of things by which poverty prevails over a large segment of society, has to be shared by others apart from Nehru. The more so in the case of the Left which claims to be committed to uplift the dispossessed and the impoverished. If the edifice that Nehru built has shown cracks and fissures in these twenty years since his departure, the bankruptcy of those claiming to be forward-looking, has been shown up much more conspicuously in the last ten years in particular.

Nehru could certainly claim that he tried hard and succeeded up to a measure in imparting the vision of free India striving to establish a proud modern state, with a commitment, albeit on the formal level, to a new social order. If that vision was imparted by him, how much of it has been translated into reality by his successors in these two decades? Not only by those who have succeeded him in power, but those who used to accuse him for not having gone far enough? Apart from rhetoric largely unrelated to the reality, the Left has to ponder and engage itself in self-introspection why it has in the four decades since independence been unable to present a credible and viable alternative to that offered by Nehru.

In contrast to the situation prevailing at the time of Nehru, the real problem today is that, perched on a narrow social base, those in power have been unable to integrate their position with the interests and aspirations of those kept out of the ambit of power. Those in power and those who are engaged in the power game have become impervious in recent years to the need for integrating their enjoyment of power with the minimum needs and rising expectations of the vast concourse of Have-notes that constitute the majority of the nation. Once this umbilical cord has been snapped, unashamed corruption has engulfed the nation’s value system, and politics is corroded by unabashed cynicism.

Herein lies the essence of the Indian crisis today. If the Authority and the Opposition are baffled, in almost equal measure, to find a cure for the malignancy that has overtaken Assam and Punjab—both ominously located on the Republic’s frontiers—it is not surprising that the rest of the body politic has not yet been able to initiate mass mobilisation so that the fell disease of disintegration may be halted at the primary stage. And if Punjab is not nursed back to normalcy, it may be engulfed in a bloody conflagration, of which Bhiwandi is the pointer.

To face such a crisis, palliatives such as effecting changes in the Constitution—how much imperative they seem to be—will not carry the nation very far. What is wanted here and how is to impart into the nation as a whole an awareness of the urgency of forging a unity of purpose and a commitment to combat all forces, social, economic and political, that stand in the way of that unity. Such a unity of purpose was attained in the wake of independence and Jawaharlal Nehru is acknowledged to have instilled it into this nation in its thought and action both at home and abroad. Twenty years after him, there is much that the nation can and must learn with profit but without adulation, from his experience in the endeavour to build a better India for its millions to live in and to be proud about.

(Mainstream, May 26, 1984)

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