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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 47 New Delhi November 12, 2016

Nehru’s India, a Nation Still Wandering between Two Worlds

Wednesday 16 November 2016

by Sukumaran C.V.

“The alliance of religion and politics in the shape of communalism is a most dangerous alliance, and it yields the most abnormal kind of illegitimate brood...the combination of politics and of religion in the narrowest sense of the word, resulting in communal politics is—there can be no doubt—a most dangerous combination and must be put an end to. This combination is harmful to the country as a whole.”

— Jawaharlal Nehru

Independent India has miserably failed to put an end to the most dangerous combination of politics and religion—the communal politics, and ‘the most abnormal kind of illegitimate brood’ continues to wreak havoc in the nation, by lynching people for the ‘crime’ of consuming the food they like, killing writers for questioning superstitious practices and intimidating people who dare to dissent.

 “Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. ... The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of future?”

 Thus spoke Jawaharlal Nehru in his A Tryst with Destiny speech delivered at the Constituent Assembly on August 14, 1947. Sixtynine years of this future have passed and we have proved that we have not been brave and wise enough to grasp the opportunity and accept the challenge. Instead of discarding caste and religious discriminations and acrimony, and standing together to eliminate social and economic inequalities, illiteracy, poverty and the deeprooted gender bias, we stood divided and dragged ourselves backward.

 We have never stopped killing and raping people in the name of caste and religion; we have not conquered the evils of social and economic inequalities.

Within six months of independence, bullets pierced the very heart of our secularism and tolerance—the Mahatma.

 In a speech delivered on February 12, 1948 to a crowd of over a million people gathered on the banks of the Ganges to watch the immersion of the Mahatma’s ashes at the confluence of Ganga and Yamuna, Nehru said: “Our country gave birth to a mighty soul and he shone like a beacon not only for India but for the whole world. And yet he was done to death by one of our own brothers and compatriots. How did this happen? You might think that it was an act of madness, but that does not explain this tragedy. It could only occur because the seed for it was sown in the poison of hatred and enmity that spread throughout the country and affected so many of our people. Out of that seed grew this poisonous plant. It is the duty of all of us to fight this poison of hatred and ill-will.”

 Have we fought this poison of hatred and ill-will and could we eliminate the poisonous plant from the country? We have seen the disastrous effects of this poisonous plant in 1992 (Babri Masjid demolition), in 2003 (Mumbai riots), in 2002 (Gujarat carnage), in 2013 (Muzaffarnagar riots), in 2015 (Dadri lynching) and we have always been witnessing clashes and skirmishes spread by this plant. Sixtynine years after independence, it seems that this poisonous plant has spread its roots deep down in the collective psyche of the nation dismantling our secular democracy which has been laboriously built on the foundations of plurality and diversity.

 As Nehru says, “The feeling of nationalism is an enlarging and widening experience for the individual or the nation. More especially, when a country is under foreign domination, nationa-lism is a strengthening and unifying force. ... But a more insidious form of nationalism is the narrowness of mind that it develops within a country, when a majority thinks itself as the entire nation. We, in India, have to be particularly careful of this because of our tradition of caste and separatism. We have a tendency to fall into separate groups and to forget the larger unity.”

 Recently when I read Letters for a Nation from Jawaharlal Nehru to His Chief Ministers 1947-1963, edited by Madhav Khosla, I was astonished to see the contemporaneous relevance of Nehru’s vision and views.

 Even after 25 years of liberalisation and 69 years of independence, the people are still afflicted by illiteracy and poverty. India is home to 270 million illiterate adults and 196.6 million undernourished people according to the latest data of the UN. And violence against females is still a prevalent one in our country.

But the priority of the politicians who rule the country today is not eradicating poverty and illiteracy. What we witness in our country today is flogging of the less privileged people for skinning dead cows, lynching or beating up people for eating/carrying beef, killing writers for being progressive in outlook and so on and so forth.

It is in the background of such a bleak socio-political scenario that we celebrated our 70th Independence Day. And the matters Jawaharlal Nehru discussed with his Chief Ministers in a letter dated November 1, 1951 seem to be more relevant today than when they were discussed. He wrote: “Of course, the primary problem of India is economic and everything else has second place. But in order to tackle the problem effectively, there must be some unity of conception and effort. If separatist and sectarian ideas increase, they make it difficult to tackle that principal problem. If chaotic conditions exist, the energy of the nation is largely absorbed in dealing with them, and other matters, however important, become secondary. There-fore, it is of primary importance to scotch and try to put an end to these communal and separatist tendencies in order to go ahead with the primary problem of India’s economic ills.”

 Still we are far behind in tackling the economic problem which is the source of poverty, illiteracy and other evils that haunt the nation and the people. The energy of our nation stands absorbed in dealing with communal hatred, caste oppression and gender violence. While the Dalits, the minorities and the females are subjected to violence of many kinds of vigilantism that enjoy state patronage, the Adivasis are subjected to endless State violence in order to snatch away their lands and homes for corporate mining, thermal plants and other industries like that of the POSCO and Vedanta.

 When we have to obliterate the scars of communal riots that devastated North India in the wake of the Partition in 1947 by communal amity, what we have done is creating fresh wounds that have been festering—the wound of Babri Masjid demolition (1992), the wound of Mumbai communal riots (1993), the wound of Godhra (2002), the wound of Kandhamal (2007), the wound of Muzaffarnagar (2013), the wound of Dadri (2015), the wound of Una (2016). The list seems to be unending!

 As our one and only visionary PM, Jawharlal Nehru, wrote in November 1947, today too “the danger to us is not so much external as internal. Reactionary forces and communal organisations are trying to disrupt the structure of free India....we have to meet these reactionary forces squarely and firmly.”

 It seems that India is still wandering between two worlds, ‘one dead, and the other powerless to be born’. Those who think against communal politics that smothers the inherent plurality and diversity of the nation feel lonely in present-day India as Jawaharlal Nehru felt eighty years ago. In his autobiography (An Autobiography) first published in 1936, Nehru writes: “I felt lonely and homeless, and India, to whom I had given my love and for whom I have laboured, seemed a strange and bewildering land to me. Even with my closest associates I felt that an invisible barrier came between us... The old world seemed to envelop them, the old world of past ideologies, hopes and desires. The new world was yet far distant.

‘Wandering between two worlds, one dead,

The other powerless to be born,

With nowhere yet to rest his head.’”

The author, a former student of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, is currently working as a clerk in the Kerala State Government service. He can be contacted at e-mail: lscvsuku[at]gmail.com