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Volume XLIV, No.47

Nehru for Today

Tuesday 24 April 2007, by Nikhil Chakravartty


More than twentyone years after his passing away, Jawaharlal Nehru remains a colossus in the eyes of his countrymen and of the world abroad. Age has not withered his memory nor customs stale it. If Nehru has not become outdated, it is not becuse of any sentimental attachment in which the nation holds him. For, he really belongs to the generation that has literally disappeared from the stage of History. By the very law of life and living, others have come on the stage. For them, he is but a distant figure whom they hardly knew nor have they seen him in action.

And yet, as one looks around, one cannot help conceding how relevant Nehru still is, and there is every reason to believe that he will be more so as the nation approaches the threshold of the Twentyfirst Century. This is no wishful thinking of an inveterate adulator of Jawaharlal Nehru. If one catalogues the major problems that confront Rajiv Gandhi after he has completed one year in office that was once manned by his grandfather, one is struck by the fact that on everyone of these, Nehru’s imprint can hardly be effaced.

In the last few days, the National Development Council has approved of the Seventh Five Year Plan. The perspective held out by the Seventh Plan is the one that was set by Nehru himself, while the problems that beset Rajiv today are more or less those that were envisaged in Nehru’s time but have been left untackled since then. Particularly serious has been the neglect of resource raising from the Haves, while the lengthening shadow of unemployment can hardly be chased away despite all the heroic assurances so far made by the Prime Minister.

The mixed economy that Nehru had permitted has moved at a snail’s pace towards the goal of social justice, which despite all the electioneering rhetoric persists being elusive. Rahter the disparities have grown making a mockery of the call for a socialistic pattern. Thus, in any discussion on planning today, this lopsidedness brings out its inherent weakness which Nehru did not or could not anticipate and today poses as a major challenge for his grandson in office: a challenge which has become more and more formidable with every passing year.

The last two years of Jawaharlal Nehru saw how he was shattered by China’s military aggression upon India’s border. His critics and adversaries pounced on him like a pack of hyena. And what was Nehru’s fault? Till the very last, he sought peaceful negotiation to armed conflict. He was actually trying to prepare the nation for a give-and-take settlement as he began to describe the Aksai Chin plateau as barren space where “not a blade of grass grows”. Strange as it may seem, those very ladies and gentlemen shrieking at the time against Nehru, are today pressing the government for a settlement with the Chinese—a metamorphosis which became unashamedly conspicuous with Kissinger’s secret air dash to Peking, ushering a new era of Sino-US entente.

This legacy of the border dispute faces Rajiv Gandhi today, as he has correctly indicated its priority in any endeavour at Sino-Indian rapprochement. While the latest round of official-level talks, just concluded in New Delhi, has clearly brought out the wide discrepancy in the respective claims of the two countries—the Chinese by some strange logic have pitched their claim of 90 thousand square kilometres in the eastern sector embracing the entire Arunachal Pradesh, as against India’s claim of 38 thousand square kilometres in the western sector in physical occupation of the Chinese forces—leading inexorably towards a political approach at the highest level. How stiff has been the Chinese position so far is clear from the fact that it has not year recognised Sikkim’s accession to the Indian Union. A political settlement with the Chinese, however, can hardly be brought about by any dramatic gesture in the form of an air dash, but would demand careful preparations spread over a reasonable length of time. What is, however, immediately needed is a dispassionate assessment of the Chinese scene with the marks left behind by many upheavals of the last three decades, coupled with an objective review of India-China relations in the background of Bejing’s foreign-policy priorities. Thus, the task left incomplete by Nehru confronts his grandson today. In other words, there can be no viable settlement without reference to the experience gained from our relations with China in Nehru’s time and afterwards.

In another field, there is much that Rajiv Gandhi can gain from the rich experience accumulated during Nehru’s days. This is with regard to Pakistan. The nexus between the US Administra-tion and the military junta in Pakistan is more than three decades old. What Nehru had to face when this link was forged has a pointed relevance today. The only difference in the present scenario is that the presence of the Soviet troops in Afghanistan is being publicised as the immediate imperative for massive deposit of highly sophisticated American weapons in Pakistan, in contrast to the more general alibi of those days for the building of a military alliance to cordon off the Soviet Union. Both then and now, nobody takes it seriously that Pakistan at any time is in a position to withstand in the event of a Soviet military offensive, and all the experience has shown over the years that this over-abundance of US arms has repeatedly tempted the dictators in Pakistan to go in for military adventurism against India. Nehru’s famous rebuff to Eisenhower when the US President offered arms to India on the same terms as given to Pakistan has a pointed relevance today. The US Administration never tried to control or discipline its Pak client just as President Reagan has refused to halt General Zia’s nuclear weapons programme—which provoked Rajiv Gandhi to expose the “contradic-tion”—a polite euphemism for falsehood—in the Reagan reply.

Those who were elated in June—or felt disturbed—at the prospect of an Indo-US entente will now realise the basic irreconcilability between the so-called strategic imperatives of the US and India’s perception of its national interest. Herein lies the enduring foundations of India’s non-alignment which Rajiv Gandhi has readily committed himself and his government to uphold. On the other hand, India’s time-honoured commitment to actively support the movement of human rights in Southern Africa—concretised in the struggle against apartheid—has found no response from Washington.

Perhaps the issue that makes Jawaharlal Nehru acutely relevant today is the one that Rajiv Gandhi has correctly characterised as the central issue of our time. And this is the menace of nuclear holocaust. Although the menace was still in its incipient form Nehru had the foreight to tirelessly warn against it throughout his career. And it was largely his initiative that led the first Summit of the Nonaligned Movement in Belgrade in 1961 to make the stand against the nuclear threat the principal issue before it. In keeping with the same tradition, Rajiv Gandhi has not only been working against Pakistan’s nuclear bomb programme but has been engaged in mobilising world opinion against the nuclear war menace and its extension to the outer space in the form of the so-called Star War that Reagan has been itching to launch. The activisation of the Six-Nation initiative, support to the Gorbachov proposals for a moratorium on nuclear test, the appeals to President Reagan to respond and finally his repeated underlining of the importance of next week’s US-USSR Geneva Summit—all these steps by Rajiv Gandhi are in the highest tradition of Jawaharlal Nehru’s insatiable quest for world peace through nuclear disarmament.

Despite all the traducers that he had to face in his life-time and in the two decades after his passing away, Jawaharlal Nehru’s relevance today is being confirmed by his grandson as he journeys through the minefield of formidable problems, both at home and abroad, as the Prime Minister of this great country of ours.

(Mainstream, November 16, 1985)

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