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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 23, May 31, 2014

Don’t Deny Nehru’s Great Contributions

Sunday 1 June 2014, by Bharat Dogra


In normal times, there should be no necessity of re-emphasising Jawaharlal Nehru’s many-sided invaluable contributions. But these are not normal times. In recent times one has seen very strong efforts, visible and not so visible, to deny to Nehru his great contributions as a dedicated freedom fighter, one of the most important builders of India’s secular democracy and as a world statesman unfolding significant policy-perspectives like non-alignment. Some powerful forces new seem to be saying: Remember anyone else, celebrate anyone’s achievements, just leave out Jawaharlal Nehru.

So it is important to emphasise today that stalwarts and leaders from very different backgrounds have held Jawaharlal Nehru in very high esteem. On the one hand, Shahid Bhagat Singh and his comrades had high respect for Nehru and his vision, as is evident from their writings. On the other hand, Mahatma Gandhi had the greatest affection and regard for him. In the days of the freedom struggle, Nehru was an inspirational figure for Jayaprakash Narayan who continued to call him an elder brother till his last days.

Atal Behari Vajpayee, the first BJP Prime Minister of India, was influenced by the many-sided contributions of Nehru. A social worker who grew up under the guidance of the Sangh Parivar teachers related to me how an opportunity to be close to Nehru at a school function became the most cherished memory of his student life.

As a freedom fighter, as a builder of post-independence India, as an intellectual giant, a writer and thinker, a firm believer in world peace and justice and most simply as an affectionate human being, Nehru inspired countless people and received their heartfelt love. I was eight years old when Nehru died and I still remember seeing elderly people breaking down and crying like children when the news of Nehru’s death reached them. I had hardly any understanding of the great loss, but still have memories of how extremely sad and heavy this day was for our family and neighbourhood.

All this is not to say that we should not critically examine Nehru’s several alleged failures and some of his controversial decisions. Emotions and affection should not stand in the path of impartial and dispassionate appraisal of the historic role he was called upon to play, first as a prominent leader of the freedom movement and then as the first Prime Minister of India. The period preceding the partition in particular was a time when great mistakes were made and as one of the leading participants in the deliberations, Nehru must share his part of the blame for this tragedy. Later, in the post-independence period, Nehru’s China policy, which resulted in the 1962 debacle (and this development also shattered his health), became the target of endless criticism. Clearly, at least some of the criticism of Nehru in this context was justified.

In addition, some social activists have also been critical of Nehru for his development vision. In an earlier paper in Mainstream (January 29-February 4, 2010), I’ve examined this aspect in greater detail. In this paper I quoted from many writings of Jawaharlal to conclude that “a more careful reading of several of his writings presents a different picture of a thoughtful mind troubled by several aspects of modern technology and industrial society”.

I like to add here that a fair appraisal of the development experience under Nehru should also consider that these were the first 17 years (1947-64) after almost two centuries of colonia-lism culminating in the extremely tragic experience of partition causing mass distress and displacement. Also, one should consider that some of the mistakes which Nehru made, such as that relating to emphasis on large dams, were based on the dominant thinking of the time and alternative views had not been articulated clearly then, except in the case perhaps of the DVC.

Some development contributions of the Nehru era are not as well recognised as they ought to be. Despite all problems and dislocations, the rate of rise of agricultural yields in the Nehru-era, 1950-64, was actually higher in the next 15 Green Revolution years. During the Nehru years, a plan—based on significantly raising rice yields through indigenous rice varieties—was prepared at the Central Rice Research Institute, Cuttack, but it was scuttled under foreign influence soon after Nehru’s death.

Despite several achievements, the Nehru years did not do enough for the poorest sections (like bonded workers) and much more could’ve been done. On balance, however, Nehru’s great contri-butions to nation-building cannot be denied.

Bharat Dogra is a free-lance journalist who has been involved with several social initiatives and movements.

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