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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 1, December 22, 2012 [Annual 2012]

The Nehru Legacy: A Self-critical Communist Evaluation

Thursday 3 January 2013, by P.C. Joshi


There is the danger of paying fulsome tributes to Nehru and then drifiting with the current so far as Congressmen are concerned. And as for the Left, of being coldly formally correct and then sit aside on the sandy shore and curse the rest. Breast-beating and self-righteousness are India’s age-old national political failings.
There is a fairly wide consensus that the future of our country lies in making the Nehru legacy our living national legacy, more actively and consistently than it was during Nehru’s life-time. The national get-together involved inevitably implies a forthright self-critical attitude on the part of various patriotic elements. This is the attempt as an Indian Communist.

Nehru helped to make India independent and progressive more than any other son of India, alive or dead, and the Indian people gave him their love and devotion in a measure we all know. It kept him responsive to their demands and pressure, even against his own judgement and the decisions of his party.

Mantle of the Mahatma

Nehru inherited the mantle directly form the Father of the Nation and carried it worthily, discarding the Mahatma’s anti-diluvian ideas but hugging on to his healthy heritage and moulding the Indian national thought towards modern progressive ideas, based on Socialism.

Nehru could make his historic revolutionary contribution to Indian and the world development because of the national leaders of the Gandhian era he was the most sensitive and enlightened and the least insular, restlessly seeking to get himself in tune with India and then move it to march in step with the revolutionary forces in the rest of the world.

Nehru was the one non-Communist leader who drew most avidly from the ideological treasury of Marxism-Leninism as embodied in the victory of the Russian Revolution, the foundation of the first Socialist State and the existence and growth of a World Communist Movement. He respectfully studied the ideas of scientific Socialism as best as he could and with his own limitations. He deligently and passionately sought to apply them to the Indian reality, to the extent he could. The ideological and political unfolding of this historic process made Nehru what he became and India what it is.

The historic tragedy of the Indian Revolution was that the Indian Communists ware too blinded by Stalinist dogmatism to make positive contribution in shaping the course of events and our most progressive nationalist leader like Nehru was too soft towards his reactionary colleagues. Conse-quently the main aims of the Indian Revolution have not yet been successfully achieved. The Sangam of Ganga and Jamuna did not take place and Ganga Sagar is far-away. A conscious and sustained integration of these two fraternal forces did not take place and the Indian Revolution has been only partially successful, leaving acute problems behind.

Nehru led India to independence and greatness but left it in a mess, sullen and discontented. The Communist Party went up and down, fighting sectarianism within and reactionary slanders without, rose up to become the second party in the country and recently suffered a bad split—no sign of good health.

Despite differences Nehru was dear to us all. On his first death anniversary it behoves Congress-men, Communists and other patriotic elements to do some honest rethinking about our respective follies in the past with a view to successfully face up to the problems of the present. In this article I seek to share my own experiences and thoughts.

Early Contact

It was in the late twenties, after Nehru’s visit to the USSR, that I came in direct and personal touch with Nehru. With the help of books lent by him
 as well as following discussions, which was the passion of those days, I became a Communist and considered Nehru timid and hesitant for not becoming one!

In 1921 I went to join the Allahabad University. They were confusing days. My high school days, when I felt uplifted with the Mahatma’s cry of Swaraj in one year, were long past, followed by Hindu-Muslim riots that split my young head. The sterile debate between the Swarajists and No-changers was not soul-stirring either. Political minded students used to get inevitably drawn towards Anand Bhawan, which was next door, but we found Nehru himself looking troubled, uncommunicative and inwardly thoughtful. It was only after his Soviet and European visit of 1926-27 that he had a message of his own to give.
His articles on life and developments in the USSR, driving home the significance of the Russian Revolution, were eye-opening.

His passionate plea for complete independence as against the undefined and undefinable Swaraj of the Mahatma found a ready response in the hearts of the youth of my generation and his founding the Independence League made us his ready followers. The demand for defining Swaraj as complete independence against and outside the British Empire was so far confined to the Commu-nists, or radicals like Acharya Narendradev or Leftists with a teriorist past as in Bengal and Punjab. Now it became a national slogan.

The battle royal was to be fought at the Calcutta Session of the Congress (1928) where we looked forward to Jawaharlal to oppose the Report of the All-Parties Committee headed by his own father, based on a communal patch-up keeping aside the demand for independence if the British Government conceded Dominion Status within a year. He was publicly pledged to oppose and resist it. Great was my dismay when I found that he had succumbed to the High Command’s pleading, heavily backed by the Mahatma. When Meherally and myself indignantly approached him, he beseechingly asked us to consider whether complete independence was possible without a united Congress to back it. Nehru as the idol came down not only in my own esteem but of most of the Left youth who had assembled there to hold the first All India Youth Congress.

Idol Shattered

My idol broke but not my faith. It drove me to ask every Communist leader I met to admit me into the Party. They found me good enough but so youthful and impetuous that they decided to admit me into the Party but not tell me about it lest I give myself away and get prematurely arrested.

The caution of the Party leaders did not save me. I was the youngest among those arrested in the Meerut Conspiracy Case (March 1929). Despite our hostile political posture to the decisions of the Calcutta Congress, the Nehrus, father and son alike, actively helped to found the Defence Committee and gave us all support and aid. So strong was the fraternal national bond then, despite tactical differences.
The inexperienced comrades, left outside, duly drugged with the Stalin-inspired Colonial Thesis of the Sixth Congress of the Comintern, kept aloof from the civil disobedience movement of the early thirties, exaggerated its reformist character, ignored its mass response and satisfied themselves by forecasting its inevitable failure.

National Upsurge Ignored

The Second Indian national upsurge could not be so summarily dismissed, especially when it was taking place in the context of the rise of Hitlerism in Europe, the British appeasement policy and the emergence of the Peoples Front in France and the epic Republican struggle in Spain.

The Comintern decided not only to adopt the policy of the anti-Fascist Peoples Front but also to recommend the tactic of the Anti-Imperialist United National Front for colonial countries like India. We, Indian Communists, again decided to go back to the Congress and build it up as our effective instrument of united national struggle against imperialism.

Nehru was again intellectually troubled over the failure of the 1930 movement and the ebb of the national tide, and emotionally upset over the serious illness of his devoted wife. He went to Europe again, lost his dear wife, witnessed the British Imperialist-German Nazi-Italian Fascist collusion and was inevitably drawn to study the practical and purposeful policy of World Communism, of an anti-Fascist Peoples Front for peace and democracy in Europe and an Anti-Imperialist United Front for national liberation in colonies like India. The heroism and maryrdom of the Communists in Germany and Spain and the Dimitrov policy of United Front made as deep an impression on Nehru as the earlier visit to the USSR. He adopted a positive approach towards the policy of World Communism.

I learnt this from Nehru himself. I had also been released from jail and after a while was elected Secretary of my Party. Nehru anxiously asked me if I was having any sectarian resistance to joining the Congress and told me what he was going to say in his Presidential address to the Lucknow Congress. I assured him that if he and the Congress adopted such a forward-moving stand, it would be welcomed by us, Indian Communists, and we joined the Congress en masse. The TUs grew strong and united. The frustrated Left Congress cadre came into and organised the Kisan Sabhas in all advanced rural areas. The students became organised and made their campuses centres of rousing anti-imperialist agitation.

Most of the Left leaders of the Congress, as also of the various Left parties, are the student cadres of those days. They were memorable days, united work against the common enemy brought unprecedented strength and influence to the Congress as well as the Communist Party and raised national consciousness to a new higher level, more revolutionary and progressive than before. Nehru from being the leader of the youthful Left became the leader of the nation. The Father of the Nation was himself quick to see and recognise it.

Unfortunate Fissure

The unfortunate fissure came during the war. The British Imperialist recalcitrance in conceding a National Government was mischievously provo-cative. The Right-wing of the Congress was prepared to gamble mistakenly playing on the anti-Fascist fear of the British. The Nehru standpoint was much nearer the Communists, that Indian freedom had to be won in the context of the anti-Fascist struggle and the traditional forms of national struggle ran the risk of playing into the hands of the Fascist aggressors.

Nehru again succumbed to the Gandhian pressure while we resisted it. It was at best a tactical difference but it was raised to the plane of a national principle by the Right-wing Congress leadership, with Nehru acquiescing.

The Right-wing had seen for itself that the Congress-Communist United Front, on the basis of joint work inside the Congress, was making them look like creatures of a bygone past and they did not miss their chance—especially when transfer of power was in sight—to take up the banner of anti-communism and rid the Congress of Communists.

They were duly joined by the Congress Socialist leaders who had lost their Party cadres and most of the State leaders to us because of their own opportunist vacillations and were then dreaming of getting into the direct line of succession, after independence, as heroes of the August Revolution, and against the “Communist traitors”.

We were called upon by the Congress High Command to defend ourselves against the slanderous charge that we had played the anti-national role during the war. We gave the principled answer, in terms of national interests, and of solid facts of life and called upon all Communists to leave the Congress.

Looking back, it seems to me now that ours was a desperate gesture of self-righteousness, a political mistake, which was a godsend for the Right and which paved the way for the division of the national democratic forces in post-independence India.

We did reap in the following period the political harvest by playing the role of the most consistent opposition to a compromising bourgeois regime. Our example tempted the other Lefts, like the Forward Bloc and the Socialists, to also get out of the Congress.

If all the Left forces had remained inside the Congress, sustaining and giving teeth to the progressive Nehru policies, and preventing him from compromising them, how different would be the shape and content of Independent India!
This is no nostalgic historic IF on a memorable national occasion. The poser is deliberately meant to provoke some rethinking among the Leftists as a whole, those outside the Congress on the basis of the plight within their own parties, and those within the Congress on the basis of their own impotent helplessness which dooms them to opportunist manoeuvres and corrupt practices. This is not being offensive but truthful.

History, however, does not repeat itself. The question of going back to the Congress as it is does not arise. The live problem is one of forging united national action and working towards some stable and commonly acceptable form of united front against the Indian Right which has become stronger than ever before as Rightist parties outside the Congress and which is also strongly embedded in the State and Congress party leadership.

This is not only the big lesson from the our best days in the past but the urgent demand of the hour if we look at the national scene and seek to carry the Nehru legacy forward which is not the paternal property of any single party and which the Indian Right is out to liquidate, loudly and openly, or silently and clandestinely.
The Nehru legacy is not all snow-white, its every positive feature has almost a built-in negative aspect. Self-critical statement of Communist or Left mistakes should not lead one to its uncritical glorification. That will neither be the historic truth nor lead to any meaningful action based on a realistic balanced understanding.
Let us have a look at our main problems to get the national tasks in correct focus:

1. We, Indian Communists, for some years, denied Indian independence, characterised it as formal. How could a national bourgeois leadership usher in an independent regime? Had not Stalin, distorting, but we then thought developing, Leninism, decreed, otherwise? This dogmatism prevented us from playing a positive, constructive role in building up the National State; we became mere critics of its weaknesses.


This attitude on our part kept anti-communism alive in the Congress and other Left parties longer than otherwise would have been possible and blinded them to the dangers of neo-colonialism and the operation of the Western Imperialist lobbies, especially the US one.

This hostility on our part—and we were not an insignificant force—and the unstable early post-independence political situation also drove Nehru and other middle-of-the-roaders in the Congress to turn the blind eye to the manipulations of the Congress Right and get the traditional anti-Congress reactionary feudal elements inside the Congress, as the ruling party, to give stability to the infant independent state.

A newly established Independent State that did not rest on the active cooperation of all the national elements, especially the traditional Left, all who had fought for freedom, but sought accommodation with feudal and other reactionary interests interests which could not but breed among the leaders of the new State unprincipled greed for autocratic power and make them victims of unlimited oppor-tunities for going corrupt themselves and corrupting others.

Abdullah, Bakshi, Kairon, Patnaik are not accidents but products of the State set-up that emerged under Nehru’s own guidance and these were his favourites, whom he himself shielded as long as possible till public opinion took its rightful toll.
Nehru did consolidate Indian independence and wisely steered its course, but if we look to the strength of the Rightist forces, separatist and disruptive, power-mad and alien to national principles, unscrupulous and corrupt, and knowing from experience from issue to issue and from crisis to crisis that they are all, despite their mutual differences, openly or covertly pro-West, we cannot remain self-satisfied but must become more vigilant to guard the independence and integrity of the Indian State against the neo-colonialist danger these elements represent.

2. Nehru’s second contribution was to give Indian independence the foundation and framework of a forward-looking parliamentary democracy, though essentially bourgeois-democratic, and leave it more stable than parliamentary democratic set-ups in other newly liberated States.

We, Indian Communists, under the traditional sectarian intellectual mould, counterposed bourgeois rule to people’s rule and grossly under-estimated—right up to the Amritsar Party Congress (1958)—the progressive significance of Indian parliamentary democracy.

Our spokesmen organised memorable parlia-mentary exposures but we lagged behind in the positive utilisation of the opportunities for demo-cratic advance and in pressing for its practical reform and rejuvenation.

The Congress has gone in for the opposite mistake. Since power rests on winning parliamentary majority, every unscrupulous manipulation is resorted to, or swallowed, to get the Congress win a majority. Since one’s own place inside the ruling party depends on the votes one commands, factio-nalism grows acute and becomes chronic. Post-independence Congress has become an unrecog-nisable ghost of its pre-independence past.

On the other hand, we, Communists, have made a distinctive contribution and helped achieve national aims by combining parliamentary with extra-parliamentary struggles. The mass satyagraha for Vishal Andhra led to the formation of the Andhra State and the formation of other linguistic States.

Even during the national emergency Nehru permitted the Great March against Morarji’s unjst budget burdens and was wise enough to agree to their withdrawal and his Finance Minister’s sack.

The acute food crisis of last year was used by the Jan Sangh and like elements to organise food riots. The country-wide Satyagraha organised by our Party, with appropriate policy slogans, helped turn the tide.

The State-wide workers “bandh” warned the ruling circles more eloquently than any words could that the patience of the working people could not be taken for granted in the face of rising prices.

Parliamentary democracy based on a middle-of-the-road political-social order, like ours, is no guarantee against a Rightist take-over. Ceylon is a grim warning.
During the elections Congress spokesmen exaggerate the achievements of the ruling party and indulge in demagogy against both the Left and the Right. With Nehru at the head it worked in the past.

The Right has grown stronger, and there is no Nehru to net the needed votes. In sheer demagogy the Right can beat the Congress.

There is no easier answer to Rightist demagogy, no other way to get the Congress Ministers implement the Nehru legacy in practice, despite reactionary resistance within the party and inside the government, than a united popular movement.
Mass satyagraha to ventilate popular grievances and get them redressed has been the traditional method of the Congress. After becoming the ruling party
Congressmen and Congress masses have been asked to trust their own leaders in the Ministry. Experience over the years has been enough to teach the contrary lesson.

Indian parliamentary democracy will be stronger and it will be good for the Congress and the country if and when Congressmen realise, like us, Communists, that the only guarantee of safe-guarding independence, keeping the parliamentary democratic set-up moving towards advancing people’s well-being, is an active, virile, united mass movement. There is no other way to make the Nehru legacy descend from the cloud of words to the parched Indian earth below.

3. The third component of the Nehru legacy is Planning. The very origin of the idea is from the success of planning in the USSR, and Nehru himself readily acknowledged it.

Indian planning had the central aim of ending the era of colonial backwardness and dependence and was based on the two pillars of liquidating feudalism through land reforms and achieving economic independence through rapid industria-lisation. It was the embodiment of a very progressive forward-moving national urge.
Indian Communists earlier took a negative and later formally positive but practically passive attitude to planning.

Our contribution did not help to ensure concrete implementation of the progressive Plan policies but stressed the negative features and above all the concessions to the landlords and capitalists and the consequent continuing misery of the people, the exploited strata being the main gainers out of Indian Planning. The inevitable happened, the presure of the vested interests grew and registered gains, we only voiced the frustration and discontent of the working people, and fought their defensive battles.

The very First Plan had promised land reforms, so also the Second; it was solemnly reiterated in the Third; its need was stressed at the Bhubaneswar Congress and, following the Dhebar Committee Report, the Durgapur Congress cried aloud for the completion of land reforms at least before the next General Elections.
So influential is the landlord lobby inside the Congress and so great the fear of the feudal offensive from without that nothing is done in practice.

So desperate is the situation that the US Ambassador, Chester Bowles, has to campaign inside our country on the importance and urgency of land reforms on the one hand and on the other the Government treats the Report of Ford Foundation expert Ledejinsky exposing the hollowness and ineffectiveness of existing land reforms as “confidential”.

The policy of a mixed economy, with predominant role for the public sector, was sound and feasible. Nehru himself hurled epithets at “the Captains of Indian industry” but in practice let national resources be placed at the disposal of the private sector. The result has been the growth of Indian Big Business into Monopoly, who hold the country to ransom, seek domination over the national economy and State power and shamelessly advocate collaboration with foreign monopoly capital. The early advocates of Swadeshi have become the champions of partnership with Videshi capital. Patriotism of Indian Monopoly is synonymous with profit-making, unmindful of the interests of national development and the achievement of economic independence to give material content to political independence.

Western monopoly capital, backed by Imperialist states, was opposed to the very policy of national industrialisation based on the public sector and denied it aid. When it realised that Indian industrialisation cannot be thwarted because of socialist aid, it changed its tactics.

No more does it frontally oppose the idea of Indian national industrialisation but seeks to take it over by getting into partnership with Indian private sector on the one hand and getting decisive control of the public sector on the other.

Socialist Aid

Once more effective Indian counter-measure is available in the form of the desired and equitable aid from the USSR and socialist countries. Sri Ashok Mehta and Prime Minister Shastri’s successful visit Moscow are a pointer.

With the shield of socialist aid at hand and the vast Indian market within, the Indian side is now in a position to bargain with the West from a real position of strength. Ours is not at all the position of the weak and the helpless.

Postponement of land reforms, free rein to Indian Monopoly and welcome to foreign private capital constitute the evil plan to scuttle the Nehru legacy and to pave the way for the emergence of a neo-colonialist monopoly-collaborationist set-up in India.

Urgent completion of land reforms, effective curbs on Indian monopoly, doors banged against the entry of foreign private capital and industrial advance combined with growing socialist aid is the way not only to loyally implementing but proudly carrying forward the Nehru legacy.

The whole course of Indian development depends on the direction Indian Economy takes. India literally stands at the cross-roads.

Foreign Policy

4. The fourth component of the Nehru legacy, India’s foreign policy, is the most important, and on it hinge the rest.

It is in the field of formulating Independent India’s foreign policy that Nehru made his most outstanding contribution, which makes him one of the immortals of history, the path-finder of the newly liberated countries.

Every nation claims its foreign policy to be independent. “Independent foreign policy” could be, in our case as well, another name for pursuing narrow nationalist aims through unprincipled mano-euvrings with other world powers. Independent India charted on a new and distinctive course in the history of world affairs.
India during the days of struggle against British Imperialism had already adopted as its national platform the policy for anti-imperialist solidarity and world peace and this was the healthy result of the direct world Communist impact on the Indian national movement, headed by Nehru. Its pursuit, after Independence, was not only good loyalty to national tradition, it was the way not only to advance national interests but to defend national independence itself.

How to give it flesh and blood in the world context facing independent India was the problem of problems before the leaders of the newly-born Indian State. It is here that Nehru’s creative genius came into play and he evolved the historically new concept of non-alignment as the bed-rock of India’s independent foreign policy, to advance world peace and anti-colonialism. It proved very fruitful.
India was a colonial dependency so far. Non-alignment was therefore, first and foremost, the assertion of national independence in world affairs.

Secondly, non-alignment enabled Independent India to seek and win the cooperation of the USSR and other socialist countries. India was far from being socialist and could not obviously join the slander characterising the new independent regime in India being manned by the running dogs of Imperialism. It knew enough of Communism and the affairs of the world to remain sober and realise that it was with the Socialist powers that India had common aims, rather than with the Imperialist ones. Hence it readily and quickly established diplomatic relations with the socialist countries and patiently worked to improve them towards building friendly relations.

In the early years, we, Communists, wrongly characterised Indian non-alignment as opportunist bourgeois play between Imperialism and Socialism. It is the positive experience of Indian policy that taught us that non-alignment was enabling our country to act as the bridge of world peace, that it was wrong to divide the world between the black and the white and that it was no matter of pride to accept a secondary and helpless world role for our own country.

Again India was first among the major colonial countries to win freedom and to adopt the policy of non-alignment. Indian independence not only speeded up the whole process of colonial liberation, but the newly liberated countries also adopted the policy of non-alignment as their own. This enabled a vast anti-colonial peace zone to emerge on the world arena, much broader than the socialist camp, and isolating the Imperialist camp. India, under the Nehru leadership, inspired and guided the course of this new world-transforming phenomenon. This is something to be really proud of.

The first to recognise this was the realistic and wise post-Stalin Soviet leadership and later the world communist movement as a whole through its 1957 Conference held in Moscow. What India helped to create won recognition not only from World Communism but from lovers of peace, fighters of freedom, men of goodwill the world over.

The most staggering test of Indian foreign policy came in Nehru’s own life-time, with the Chinese aggression. Inevitably India tilted towards the Imperialist powers, seeking aid, but soon enough the USSR and other socialist countries lent the decisive helping hand, and under Nehru’s mature leadership, India was saved from sinking into Imperialist arms. The tragic operation, however, damaged India’s anti-imperialist image in the eyes of the anti-imperialist Afro-Asian-Latin American countries and it has been a big throw-back and not only for India. The loss has yet to be made up and is being made-up, despite Nehru’s departure from the scene and without him at the helm of affairs. Such is the strength and the soundness of the legacy he left behind.

The post-Nehru India looked like a dark vacuum. The successor leadership was weaker, and less enlightened. Far from being progressive it was an uneasy Right-Centre combination paying lip-service to the Nehru ideals. The Indian Right went on the offensive, duly aided and abetted by the Imperialist West; the Left, in varying degrees, became the prophet of doom with the Left Communists looking forward to cosmos out of the ensuing chaos!

The official Indian leadership began retreating all along the line. The Left and Centre forces, though badly divided, were vigilant and live enough to prevent a surrender, to permit any crossing-over.

The Imperialist powers have been very helpful the negative way. The US squeeze over Vietnam went beyond endurance and lacked even manners. The Western monopolist “aiders” demands, voiced through the International Chambers of Commerce, were too much even for TTK to stomach. President Johnson’s curt cancellation of Prime Minister Shastri’s visit was recognised as a national humiliation which pushed Indo-US relations to a new low. Pakistani aggression against Kutch, and provocative acts all along the border, not only with the Chinese but also with Anglo-US collusion proved to be the proverbial camel’s hair.
However accommodating TTK be, he dare not sell-out the country to foreign capital. It is with his consent and support that the Planning Commission delegation went to the USSR to negotiate Soviet aid for the Fourth Plan and the Finance Minister’s own yatra is due next!

However soft and weak the Shastri leadership be, it is national. Nehru may be dead but his memory lives, nor is his legacy bankrupt. Despite the Rightist Opposition within and Imperialist foreign pressure from abroad, Shastri persisted in his visit to the USSR to seek support and restore not only the balance but also the image.
The turn of the tide is symbolised in the success of the Mehta and Shastri missions to Moscow, restoring the Nehru policies to their rightful place, in clear enough words, backed with some deeds to begin with.

Positive developments never take place by themselves. We cannot bank upon the Imperialist powers to teach the negative lesson as and when necessary. There are enough weaknesses within the country and men of evil intent awaiting their chance to keep us eternally on toes.

Post-independence experience in general and post-Nehru experience in particular teaches all Indians, loyal to the nation and the people, that the Nehru legacy is India’s best national legacy, the sheet-anchor of independent national survival. The task of the hour is to defend it with all our might against the direct onslaught of the Right from without and the silent but deadly scuttle-plan of the Right within the Congress. Secondly, national progress depends upon carrying forward the Nehru legacy, minus its weaknesses and failings, which may have been inherent in the earlier situation because the Left was divided, the Centre passive, the Right under check, with Nehru at the helm of the ship of State.

No nation survives by just marking time nor does history permit this. The path of national advance is to succeed where even the great architect of the Independent Indian State himself failed or faltered.

Nehru developed the Indian national legacy creatively and left it richer. Loyalty to his noble ideals and pride in his historic contributions demands that his heritage be implemented in practice and carried forward to greater glory and prosperity of India and not sat upon nor just sung about.

(May 29, 1965)

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