When does a society start to ponder the legacy of a historical figure? Surely, if the ideals of a person is practised rigorously then the legacy question does not arise. The exercise of remembering or reimagining Jawaharlal Nehru speaks volumes on how his vision of India has been made to look obsolete in present day India.
Some suspect there is a deliberate attempt to make Nehru irrelevant by a political ideology which is against the very grain of his ideals. However, others feel that Nehru’s idea of India has become anachronistic for the present day society and it is natural that it got buried as time passed. By taking a close look at Nehru’s legacy in the New Year issue, Tehelka seeks to decode different arguments regarding Nehru.
Proponents and opponents agree that the government today is least influenced by Nehru’s ideals, though they give different reasons for it. It remains a fact that his ideals had greatly influenced the national leaders who fought for independence and later laid the foundations for a modern, democratic and secular republic.
The current debate on Nehru started when the present government attempted to undermine the contributions of Nehru in various spheres. This coupled with the government’s ideological opposition to the kind of secularism Nehru and other national leaders envisioned and the nation practised, created an impression that the government is out to fashion a new trajectory for the nation.
In fact, the threat to secularism has forced even the Congress to lean back on Nehru whose idea of planned development it had jettisoned decades ago. It is an irony that but for this threat, even the Congress would not have re-invoked Nehru.
All of this is not to suggest that Nehru’s development policies suit for all time. Nehru, like all historical figures, was a product of his times. The overwhelming influence that socialist ideals had during his time might have prompted Nehru to strive for planned economic development. There was criticism even during that period that the policy of public sector occupying commanding heights of the economy was to help the private sector in the long run.
Nehru’s inability to undertake comprehensive land reforms was also criticised. The way in which the then prime minister of Kashmir Sheikh Abdullah was arrested and dismissed and the later sacking of the communist government in Kerala, in fact, exposed the limits of his democratic outlook.
However, these shortcomings do not make Nehru an irrelevant statesman now. In fact, the ideological and political onslaught against secularism and pluralism unleashed by the fringe groups owing allegiance to Hindutva ideology makes Nehru even more contemporary for us.
Treating Nehru as panacea for all the woes of our times would be romanticising the man. Similarly, despising him for all the crises that India encounters is fraught with ideological prejudice.
The range of articles in this special issue analyses Nehru from different perspectives and tries to understand his policies through the lens of today.
We wish this helps the readers understand and get involved in the raging debate on pluralism, secularism and inclusiveness in the New Year. While wishing all readers a happy and peaceful 2016, we hope you will continue to extend support to journalism that is sensitive to the marginalised.