Mainstream, VOL LII, No 48, November 22, 2014
Betrayal of Nehru Legacy
Saturday 22 November 2014, by
It is an irony of history that the name of Mahatma Gandhi should within a few years of his martyrdom serve as no more than a mascot for perpetrators and abettors of oppression and exploitation. His name has been mouthed times without number by the very persons who either in office or outside the seats of power have done their best to prevent the realisation of his ideal of social and economic equality. Under the rule of so-called Gandhians over two decades the rich have become richer and infinitely more powerful while the poor, especially the rural poor, stagnate at the very level which moved the Mahatma so profoundly. The persons whom Gandhiji in his goodness wanted to be “trustees” of the nation’s economic wealth, have become controllers not only of key sectors of the economy but of the administration itself. The minorities, for the protection of whose rights as citizens of this country the Mahatma laid down his life, continue to live in a state of insecurity in many areas, and Harijans, so dear to Bapu, continue to be the victims of caste arrogance and aggression. The hypocritical resolutions on prohibition and the “constructive programme”, adopted by the AICC at its Goa session, indicate the level to which those who swear by Gandhiji can drag the great name.
But even the disowning of Gandhian ideals has not been so quick as the disowning of the Nehru approach to nation-building. Gandhiji was in a sense utopian since he took the goodness of human nature for granted and based his whole philosophy on the concept of changing hearts. Nehru was an idealist too no doubt, but from the start he showed awareness of the unpractical nature of the Gandhian approach to the problems of social and economic change, especially in a world moving swiftly forward in the technological age. He therefore made the processes of planning the key to bringing about radical changes in the socio-economic structure of our backward country. It is easy enough to find fault with the way planning has been handled in practical terms; indeed, it is undeniable that many mistakes were made, particularly in the sphere of implementation of Nehru’s ideas. But it is not at the same time difficult to see that but for the introduction of the concept of planning at that early stage, even the changes that have come about in the last two decades would not have been possible.
Even while Jawaharlal lived, vested interests and their agents in the Congress party did their very best to subvert the processes of planning—and in a measure succeeded. Knowing his essential weakness—that of being a democrat given to listening to all viewpoints and accommodating them to the maximum extent possible—they set up a howl over this or that aspect of planning and secured the changes they desired. Not only the big industrialists them-selves but also politicians in power and the bureaucracy were engaged in distorting the Industrial Policy Resolution in the course of implementation. Planning was deliberately sought to be used to strengthen big business in particular and the private sector in general, instead of to bring all essential production under public control by stages. The aim of all these elements throughout was to discredit the public sector and reduce planning to the status of an appendage of monopoly capital. In the corrupt politician and the inherited bureaucracy, big business houses found convenient and willing tools to carry out their designs. Nehru’s chief fault lay in his inability to make a clean break with the past and with the support of the people which he had on a massive scale set India firmly on the path to socialism. The trouble was that Nehru was not the man to quarrel with his tools, as an eminent journalist has put it. He believed that the changes he dreamt of could be brought about gradually through the instrumentality of the Congress party. When Congressmen were by and large still imbued with the spirit of the years of the freedom struggle this belief might have been justified, but not in the subsequent years when they had come to look upon participation in public life as a means for self-aggrandisement and personal and family affluence. The adminsitrative appa-ratus should have been rid of the so-called Steel Frame at the outset, but this was not even thought of; on the other hand, the bureaucracy was pampered as a symbol of continuity. Nehru thus launched his revolution doubly handicapped.
If fifteen years of planning has not had a direct impact on the common people’s lives, the reason lies here. An example of how things went awry at every step is provided by the fate that overtook the idea of nationalisation. Nehru was easily persuaded by some of his colleagues and vested interests that to take over existing industrial and other units even in vital sectors of the economy was not profitable since huge amounts would have to be paid as compen-sation. A Gandhian in some ways, takeover of essential industries without compensation would not appeal to him. Nationalisation of life insurance was an aberration; the persons on whom he had to rely for party and adminis-trative affairs would not permit him to continue the process. Despite full knowledge of the support he enjoyed among the people, Nehru would not assert himself. That is why the question of nationalisation of banks continues to be a matter of fruitless debate to this day; and that is why the former princes, most of whom oppressed and exploited their subjects mercilessly, continue to live in luxury at the public expense.
Despite all his weaknesses, Nehru firmly resisted the attempts to scuttle the processes of planning and establish total laissez faire in the country. But he could not succeed in preventing planned subversion from within of the planning mechanism. That those who, when he was present, professed to believe in planning as the only valid method of bringing about radical changes, never really so believed was brought out planinly soon after his death. They had been lending a willing ear to the private sector’s call for a plan “holiday” but could not in the earlier stages force it through. But with Nehru’s death the road was clear, and the long delay in the formulation of the Fourth Plan is that “holiday” by another name. From the way the Plan debate is going on now, it is clear that the elements opposed to planning and favouring a free hand for monopoly capital, both indigenous and foreign, are determined to bring the whole concept into ridicule. We have reached a stage when our economic policies are directly dependent on the willingness or otherwise of interested powers to provide doles with plenty of strings. Nehru’s emphasis on planned develop-ment was based on the belief that this was the only realistic way to achieve self-reliance; that planning should have been made to depend not on our own strength and resources but on the disposition of governments, institutions and capitalists abroad in fact amounts to the final betrayal of all that Nehru stood for, all that he symbolised for the people of this country.
It is not only in respect of planned economic development that Nehru’s ideas stand betrayed today. All his life he strove to build a secular democracy in which all citizens would have equal status and rights and responsibilities—and in this he followed the path chalked out by the Mahatma. But in today’s secular, democratic India not only the religious minorities but even the Scheduled Castes and Tribes face insecurity as a result of the increasing aggressiveness of communal and caste forces. After Gandhiji’s martyrdom the communal elements lay low for a long time, and while Nehru was alive they showed their ugly face now and then but never dared to parade as saviours of Hindudom. Today the RSS is openly active in many places, including university campuses, and the “Hindu Rashtra” slogan is being frequently raised despite the government’s call against it. The communalists in the seats of power were always in league with the communalists outside, but never was this fact so open and brazen as it is now. Nehru had the stature and the strength to pit himself against these elements; it is the country’s misfortune that there is no one in power today who can stand up to the communal and other divisive elements as he could. The answer is collective leadership and action to resist these forces, but there is as yet no sign of it. The RSS is in a position to hold a military-type rally close to the Capital without the authorities being able to do much about it. Caste Hindus in several rural areas in different States are able to launch murderous attacks on Harijans and molest the women with impunity, often with the connivance of the police. The decisions of the National Integration Council and its Standing Committee are yet to be implemented; while the rulers are thinking about these, the communal and caste monsters grow daily stronger and more menacing. There is as yet no effort even to weed out these elements from educational institutions where their influence is helping to create a new generation of violent, screaming communalists.
It is needless to go into Nehru’s burning faith in democracy and change through parliamentary processes and the sharp contrast that obtains today. Respect for democratic institutions has come down considerably for the simple reason that debates, however furious, lead to no improve-ment in the conditions of the common people. Politics has been reduced to power-seeking, and very few of our politicians are free from this taint.
In the world Jawaharlal Nehru wanted India to be a positive force for peace, a powerful voice against aggression and expolitation. He sought friendship with all countries but never hesitated to speak out against the misdeeds of any. Today our rulers are hesitant, often afraid, to express India’s views openly. Indeed there have been one or two stray occasions when the Prime Minister did express herself quite strongly, but such utterances have never been followed up with positive steps which could help the cause of peace and the independence of peoples. Nehru could be equally firm with the West and the East where either national self-respect or problems of war and peace were involved; this cannot be said without qualification of his successors. Perhaps no other question has brought this out as clearly as the one of the barbarities perpetrated by the United States in Vietnam in the last four years.
Nehru achieved little of what he set out to achieve, but there can be no doubt that he laid guidelines which, if followed scrupulously and earnestly, can lead us on towards the goal of a socialist society playing the vital role of peacemaker in the international sphere. It is these guidelines that are being discarded one by one by our present rulers who do not have the capacity to provide viable alternatives that can ensure advance towards the national goals. The result is the confusion and uncertainty that marks national life in all its aspects today.
(Mainstream, November 16, 1968)
The author, a veteran journalist who is no more, was the first editor of Mainstream; and subsequently the editor of National Herald. He also worked for The Indian Express and Patriot.