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Mainstream, Vol XLV No 48

Nehru : Some Reflections

Sunday 25 November 2007, by Arvind Bhandari


November 14 marks yet another birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister. This commemorative occasion is celebrated through the length and breadth of the country as Children’s Day. But all the Bal Melas, flowers, balloons and festoons scarcely serve as a fig-leaf for the plight of Indian children which is perhaps the worst in the world.

India has the highest infant mortality rate in the world. Despite all the slogans about protecting the girl child, female foeticides and infanticides are rampant. Illiteracy among Indian children is again perhaps the highest in the world. The government’s well-meaning legislation is unable, because of deep-rooted social attitudes, to check child labour, with the result that Indian children are among the most exploited in the world.

I have special reason to remember Nehru because I covered his funeral on May 27, 1964 as a Staff Correspondent of The Times of India.
Dr Manmohan Singh’s innings as the Prime Minister is as yet incomplete and, therefore, an assessment of his contribution to the Indian nation must await the perspective of history. But among the long line of Prime Ministers up to Atal Behari Vajpayee, Panditji was undoubtedly numero uno, a giant among pygmies.

Prime Minister Nehru’s most significant contribution to India was in the field of foreign policy. Alongwith Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia and President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Nehru was the progenitor of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the world was enmeshed in the Cold War. The Non-Aligned Big Three, led by the intellectual Nehru, who was therefore in the vanguard of NAM, felt that the developing countries of the Third World should, in order to lower global tensions, align themselves neither with the Capitalist West nor with the Communist East.

Schooled in the thoughts of Harold Laski he had an intellectual’s fascination for economic ideas and was over-impressed by the Russian Gosplan. Nehru became Fabian Socialist and initiated a policy which subserved the establish-ment of an economic base in India, whose economy had been ruined by self-serving British policies. India became a state-directed economy which could gradually move on the path of Socialism. The three word motto of the French Revolution—Liberty, Equality and Fraternity—was enshrined in the Indian Constitution, which spoke of a “socialistic pattern of society”.

Nehru was a secularist and Secularism became an officially-sponsored mantra of the day.

But nobody is blemishless and Jawaharlal Nehru was not an exception. Member countries of NAM, because of their individual compulsions, began to tilt on the side of either Washington or Moscow. New Delhi, under Prime Minister Nehru, also could not resist such compulsions of geo-politics. Nehru, accompanied by daughter Indira Gandhi, made many more visits to Washington than he did to Moscow. Gradually and impercep-tibly, India came to be seen as a member of the American bandwagon.

Even as the Nehruvian economic policy helped to lay the foundation of the Indian economy, Jawaharlal failed to realise that time had arrived to pull back the levers of state control. The public sector should have been completely dismantled except for Railways, Defence and Communications and such infrastructural areas as Oil, Steel and Coal. The private sector should have been released from the strait-jacket of strangleholds, so that it could function freely. India became a corrupt—it came to be dubiously called a ‘licence-permit raj’—high-cost economy. The world began to derisively describe India as an economy with a “Hindu” rate of growth.

Nehru’s secularism also had a communal aspect. He rammed the Hindu Code Bill down the throat of a reluctant President, Dr Rajendra Prasad, but refrained from reforming the Muslim Personal Law because he wanted to curry favour with this largest minority community in India. Nehru was thus a forerunner of communal vote-bank politics. That Nehru’s prime ministerial successors have shunned the Supreme Court of India’s repetitive recommendation to introduce a Uniform Civil Code, having as they do an eye on Muslim votes in the country’s quiquennial elections, is a legacy of India’s first Prime Minister.

Nehru was a poor administrator. He substituted the acronym ICS by IAS, and that was it. India’s first Prime Minister failed to realise that the British Raj was basically a law-and-order administration. Independent India required an administration geared to the needs of socio-economic development.

Further, the administrative ideas which rule the roost in the corridors of power in New Delhi have, once again, been bequeathed by the British. Despite the cogently argued, significant recommendation of the Fifth Pay Commission that no file should move more than three levels before a decision is taken, even now a policy note requiring ministerial sanction is prepared by a Section Officer and moves seven levels!!! As a result, India has the misfortune of having a most corrupt, labyrinthine, inefficient and feather-bedded administration. The sufferer is you and me, the ordinary citizen, made famous by the legendary cartoonist R.K. Laxman.

In the final analysis, no man is perfect when seen warts and all, and Nehru was no exception to this immutable fact. The sad truth is that Nehru was not a strong-willed Prime Minister. He created the Jammu and Kashmir problem by first agreeing to plebiscite—the Nehru-Liaqat Pact—and then backing out shamefacedly under the pressure of hawks in his coterie.

Corruption flourished during the Nehruvian era. The political atmosphere was polluted by under-the-table transfer of crores of rupees to the coffers of the ruling Congress party, even as the Prime Minister, although personally untouched by the canker, chose to look the other way.

Nevertheless, Nehru was a great intellectual and writer and India benefited tremendously from his towering intellect. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was one of the greatest Indians of the twentieth century when account is taken of his massive contribution to India’s freedom struggle.

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