Criticism of public personalities is nothing new. In fact, the essence of time lies in the continuous evaluation of public figures from time to time. The more we advance in time, the more distinct and discernible the impact made by a man of the bygone era becomes.
The Indian pantheon of personalities is a rich one with political parties of all hues sharing space in a multiparty democracy. If you have a xenophobic Ram Manohar Lohia on one hand who took linguistic nationalism and anti English hatred to the extremes, you also have a Periyar, famous as well as notorious for defiling idols, questioning Indian Nationalism and being the greatest prototype of nativist politics.
Nehru, in many ways was a symbiosis of merit and entitlement. His ascent in Indian politics was unencumbered mainly because of his blood with the generous gaze of the the ‘Mahatma’ adding to his meteoric rise. Infact many narratives suggest that Gandhi’s casting vote for his protege made Nehru the Prime Minister, much to the dismay of the powerful conservative section of the Congress who would have chosen Patel instead.
Nehru’s legacy today is under serious scrutiny-often prejudiced against the man. Interestingly this coincides with the resurrection of right wing politics of the kind we never saw since Partition. However, this prejudice must be attributed to a counter ‘Nehruvian’ prejudice which eulogized Nehru through countless hagiographies.
Hence all of us are now experiencing Nehru in the shades of black and white, quite congruent with the present dichotomous world- ‘intolerant’ towards a centrist space. Infact it is this intolerance towards moderation that unites the two sides of the ideological trenches.
Nehru unlike most politicians of those days or these days was not an Indian by practice. His upbringing had been colonised, very much like the India he inhabited. Hence, unlike a Bose or a Gandhi, who went bottom-up he had to condescend to a lower level perhaps prompting him to ‘Discover India’ at a later age. However his brown sahib image never alienated him from the masses. Arguably, he was the greatest mass politician of Post Independent India and major blunders like the Sino Indian War could not besmirch his image among contemporary Indians.
His reign was not a smooth one. A fledgling nation born out of Partition had just seen a civil war of unprecedented proportions. With a semi literate population, holding an election on the basis of universal adult suffrage was a gamble that paid off.
A nation had fought against and divided itself shrinking the Muslim population in the residuary country of India.At such a moment, it may have been justifiable to strangulate the religious minorities and relegate them in status and stature. But India preferred to adopt a secular Constitution without needing to wear secularism on the sleeves or the Preamble.
The failures of Nehru are equally stark. Blame as you may his socialist policies on the times, his infatuation with Luddite economics robbed India of its economic potential. His philosophical outlook often detached him from the cut and thrust of realpolitik inviting criticism from the Hans Morgantheu school of thought. The utter humiliation in 1962 irreversed his decline and half a century later became the greatest stick to beat him with. His government’s mysterious conduct vis-a-vis Subhas Bose’s disappearnce also raises many uncomfortable questions.
So, how to appraise Nehru after all? In my opinion, neither was he the best Prime Minister nor the worst thing that happened to the country.
He heralded political stability and streamlined Parliamentary democracy. Though Kerala Government’s dismissal in 1959 is a chink in the armour, unlike many dictators of Third World Countries and his own daughter, he never gave into the temptations of totalitarianism. However, in many ways he did help in founding a dynasty which de-Congressified the mighty Congress, the vanguard of the freedom struggle.
Hence in conclusion, one may suggest that rather than lionizing or demonizing him we must treat him as a human being who like all men was fallible after all.