Mainstream, VOL LII, No 47, November 15, 2014
Letter to Nehru, Fifty Years After
Sunday 16 November 2014, by
I don’t quite know how to address you, so I shall simply say hello, Chacha, happy birthday. Do always be well. I imagine there is no dearth of roses where you are, or of laughing children in the park, or of books that you always still wanted to read, or of pen and paper for the next one you wish to write.
I also imagine Bapu, the Sardar, and Maulana will soon come calling for a heart-to-heart on this your 125th janam din, even as down here the powers-that-be are purposefully busy cutting you off from them. You see, they think you were the worst thing that ever happened to Bharat because your heart bled only for the burdensome have-nots who grumblingly produce the wealth, and not for those who graciously own it thereafter. Interestingly, busy as they also are in showcasing Bapu’s penchant for cleanliness, they are careful never to mention his talisman, namely, always to tailor thought, policy, and action with the most immiserated face in mind.
They also think you were a romanticising marshmellow and did not love to make enemies, or play heroic war games of which our great Aryan epics are replete, thus reducing this great nation of yodhas to a whimp. Most of all, they have not excused you for “appeasing” the Muslims (whose loyalty to Bharat must always remain suspect if one be a true “nationalist”, since their punyabhoomi remains outside Bharat) whereas the only Indians who deserve to be appeased are the majority Hindus, meaning actually only the twice-born ones who are, in their scheme of things, the ordained stakeholders to the material fruits of sanaatan dharma. The rest of the Hindus should be mobilised only when riots are to be effected to win a majority votes at the hustings.
They have never forgiven you for making that other prophetic annunciation either: that the danger to India is not from communism but from communalism. And their way of putting you in the doghouse is to propagate that you and the Sardar had antithetical views on the matter. They wish people to believe that you stole the prime ministership of independent India from the Sardar, and that if the latter had got his due, he would never have banned the RSS, or granted more than a tokenist citizenship to Muslims, or allowed Pakistan to become a pain-in-the-backside.
Do I hear you laughing at all this? It is truly funny were it not so menacingly tragic and treacherous to the Sardar—and to you, not to speak of Bapu. Do you recall what the Sardar said to Congress people just before his passing? You may not care, but we remember: “anyone wh o will not be loyal to Jawaharlal will be a sinner to heaven.” But, here is what you three need to know: the aspirating (or is the word ‘aspirational’?) new class spawned by your succeeding Congress governments, alas, who are now the rock-solid supporters of our new one-man, macho dispensation are willing to believe most anything that is thrown at them by the yodha who has won that crushing victory of 2014, including the new science he has been teaching to the effect that the “fact” of Karna’s birth outside of the womb “clearly” suggests that genetic engineering existed in ancient Aryavarta, and the other “fact” of the transplanted elephant head on the human body of Ganesha equally “clearly” points to the existence of plastic surgery in those very same ancient times. When confronted with a Sphinx, and a Unicorn, and a Pegasus, and a Dragon, and a Centaur/Minatour, and the Mermaid, and myriad other conjoint icons that populate the mythologies of other civilisations, their answer is pat as well: that only proves how the whole world that then existed was influenced by Indian science. Incidentally, Chachaji, should the matter of the so-claimed immaculate conception of Jesus also be brought up? I don’t know yet whether that would be put down to science borrowed from Bharat, or a piece of mere colonial myth-making.
Speaking of which, Chachu, here is my own terrible dilemma: as a good Hindu I have always believed that such matters as relate to Karna or Ganesha concern not science, not to speak of pseudo-science, but the unfolding of divine dispensations. Am I now to think that the Surya devta who gave Kunti the boon of a child born of him without conception was not a divine event but that the sun-god was after all the first of genetic engineers? Or that Lord Shiva who bestowed the pachyderm head on his son, Ganesha, was after all only a plastic surgeon? Even more painfully, how do I now react to such blasphemy coming from a man who is so wedded to Hindutva? I ask myself, had these things been said bv a Liberal or a Comrade, or a Muslim, what trishuls might have been drawn for the kill. So why should the custodians of Hindutva—the RSS, the VHP, the Bajrang Dal, the sundry Senas now be so embarrassingly silent at this home-grown perfidy that gives to divine dispensations the name of science, inviting,additionally, the derision of those that know all about science? Either way, Chacha, how desperately this blighted land needs that scientific temper you never tired of advocating. What we have now is a lot of temper but little science, the worst instance being the one just cited—where the numero uno may decree what is or is not science, and go unchallenged, except by the Thapars, be it Karan or Romila. Do you wonder what happened to the tigers of TV-land who never miss an opportunity to expose that which must be exposed?
In the meanwhile, know, Chacha Nehru, that it is not science of any sort our new governors desire, only technology that may without question, treason, or fuss be used to maximise profits and drown enlightenment in entertain-ment. You may see why you should be persona non grata in this new puissant India of the cock-sure hucksters who unsurprisingly find you wrong on so many counts. Not science but gadgets fresh from the corporate, not reason but rituals blared from gadgets—an explosive money-making mix— now inform this land which means henceforth to prove the rightness of all things on grounds not of the best reason or just argument but of the advocacy of vigilante howl and incendiary insistence. You may be noble and patriotic and humane, but the wrong make of your headgear or cap, and the wrong colour of your cloth, or the wrong choice of the book you read determine now your deserts.
This is clearly not where you belong, Chachaji. Those movies and those songs that your love of the just and the open-minded encouraged—“Insaan bano, kar lo bhalaayi ka koyi kaam”, “Saathi haath baddhana”, “Dhan daulat ke peechei kyon hai yeh duniya deevani”,—all of that is now “socialist” excrescence. Young ones, including very little children, now wear expensive tinsel, populate TV shows, and compete for who will make the most adroit noise for the best prize—all to the grateful acknowledgement of parents who watch with pride. Plastered smiles flourish till the money keeps coming; you should see how they disappear into murderous malice the minute the currency dries up.
Just to remind you: the ugly day you passed from us, I cried without let or hindrance. Do not ask me why. Like millions everywhere, I just knew that a wonderfully gentle, wonderfully noble, wonderfully caring gaze had closed on us. This was our second great bereavement of independent India after Bapu’s going.
How everything was to change with your going. As you left the prairie, the beasts of prey began feeling their way in, first sniffing along the edges, but, over the last quarter century now sucking centre-statge at heart’s blood. All in the name of an “advancement” that multiplies the money and bestialises the human being. Economists from the Ivy League, and their minions at home call this “growth”. No man without a brand may now play a useful hand. Push pin defecates on poetry, and culture becomes a vulture at the service of the skull reinforced with the concrete of bigotry and branding. In posh households are to be found young men and women with top grades and hefty packages but with pea-sized sympathies and imaginations as deep as the pettiest puddle on the road. They have all the wrong answers to everything, but think they are right everytime, mostly because they have all that money can buy. Those that have not can never be worth listening to on any count. It is Lawrence’s “bitch-goddess” that rules the roost; so how could you have any takers any more?
There has been much “reform” activity since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the “Washington Consensus” following, as it were, upon its heels. That “consensus” among the world’s predators laid down that henceforth the object of economic activity worldwide had to be the transfer of wealth from public into private ownership, and no argument about national sovereignty was to be allowed to stand in the way of the free movement of capital from one nation-state to another, depending entirely on returns from speculative ventures. Clearly, your idea of “reform” is anathema to the predator class, wherein, like the British reform parliaments of the nineteenth century, you meant by “reform” salutary state intervention in economic activity on behalf of the downtrodden and the dispossessed. The corporate have not forgotten how uou sent Dalmia to jail for playing footsy with the people’s interest.
Those that denigrate you now mean to curb corruptioin, don’t you know, even as they spend thousands of crores of unaccounted money on murderous election campaigns and crony advertisements, and even as their financiers are allowed to buy dozens of media channels and become powerful cartels who in time dictate the wrongs and rights of things to the obliteration of the life of some eighty per cent of Indians who are made invisible. Those that I imagine you never cease to watch over with your limpid and sad eyes. Thus all work is now contractual work wherein the worker has no stable rights or securities, and may be hired and fired as profit dictates and the reserve army of labour makes possible.
Some seventyfive per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product is today in private hands, would you have imagined. Where an earlier attempt at globalisation had sloganised “workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains”, a new version took its place after the “consensus”, namely, “exploiters of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your profits”. This came to happen and is called “globalisation”—a phenomenon that unites some ten to fifteen per cent of the world’s predators and dumps into unrelieved misery all the rest.
Which reminds me, Chacha: that the predator parties and interests should revile you is not a surprise. Alas, your own party, the Congress, began that process of desertion—both with respect to economic thinking and challenges posed by communal fascism. Reading you and the history of your times, many of us are askance, of course, of how you were surrounded by partymen who were socialists and secularists but only in name, and how Bapu and Maulana and Ambedkar and you, most of all, fought your way through that domestic misfortune to give to the new nation a noble, just, and equitous Constitutioin, inscribing laws and rights that left no one out of reckoning in their claim and ownership to India.
Alas, what I bemoan in my report had its beginnings to no non-Congress Ministry but one that came to be led by that wily old man who both let the predators in and memorably slept through the greatest violence inflicted on the social harmony of this land on that evil day of December in 1992. Erudite as he was, he forgot those golden words of the Maulana when he had said that were he given swaraj at the cost of Hindu-Muslim unity, he would prefer to keep and preserve the latter and reject such swaraj. Thus, O Chacha, yeh aag ghar se hee shuroo huyi, aur tab se jal rahi hai. Kaash aap dekh saktei ki kiss masarat se ab uss pehal ko aagei baddhaya jaa raha hai, ki samajh lou desh vaasiyo, Bharat hai tou keval swarnou ka aur poonji patiyoun ka. Baqi sab iss yetharth se samjhota kar lein tou accha. Yet, regardless of these lessons, many in the Congress seem reluctant even now to embrace the teachings that Bapu, Ambedkar, Azad, you, Chacha, and our secular and socialist freedom thinkers and freedom fighters bequea-thed to us. Such is the power of lucre and of hate.
On another matter of deep consequence: we remember how you would write letters to yourself, berating your own infirmities, and how you would tell your colleagues to keep you in rein because you had within you the makings of a dictator, and how conscioiusly you would accord to Parliament and parliamentary practices and sanctities the highest allegiance and recognition, carrying files on your own and relishing a contrary argument even if it came from a political adversary. Well, how old-fashioned you were. Now, even Ministers in the Cabinet, not to speak of lesser mortals, are told to keep their opinions to themselves and wait for the oracle to speak before thinking a thought. And the very people who in the past derided authoritarian tendencies think this is too “fractious” a country to be democratic, and indeed deserves rule by a “strong” man. How that piece of news must sadden you, Chacha Nehru.
If I may conclude this letter on a positive note: however dark the times and however determined the dictators, money bags and hate mongers, Chacha ji, the Constitution that you and your team left us still seems more unbreachable than the Berlin Wall. As does the love and hope that the pluralist mass of India place in it. There is no end of nibblers, even of hammers, that wish to and are attempting to go at it, but they may not succeed in more than chipping a piece here or there. Secondly, as at some moments in the past after you left us, many whose hearts and heads are in the right place but whose resolve seems to have deserted them can once again be seen to be stirring. After all, turning back a home-bred oppression ought not to be as hard as was the epic struggle to free the nation of foreign rule. Thus we hope, knowing that only alteration is the one permanent law of time and nature.
Who would know that better than someone who wrote an encyclopaedia titled Glimpses of World History.
Happy birthday once again, Chacha, and think of us till the next report be due.
The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His latest book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012.