Come 15th August, India would mark its 71st Independence Day. That we as a nation have come a long way is an indisputable fact; a robust economy, a burgeoning middle- class & an aspirational youth that craves more opportunity are only a few among the long list of achievements of the world’s largest democracy.
Still something is amiss this time, as we enter the 71st year of India’s independence, there’s a visible churn across the India society. The Indian polity is tilting right-wards & too fast than most political commentators realize here. Aggressive majoritarian nationalism underlined by non-issues like; “cow, minority bashing generally directed towards the Muslims & pillorying every dissenting voice as leftist-naxals” has become the defining narrative of our times.
In this game of mud-slinging & concerted attempts at muzzling the “left-liberal” voices, India’s First PM Nehru is a special target. Over the years he has become the most reviled figure & rightly so, he’s an anathema for the pseudo-nationalists. His unflinching commitment to secularism, his ideas of democracy & socialism are a constant sore in the eyes of the majoritarian nationalists. From hushed discontentment to outright campaign at vilifying him; those in the right of the polity have made an astounding progress. If you were to lend your ears to the right-wing folklore; he’s the reason for all that’s wrong with India. Nehru’s the one behind the partition, his version of socialism damned India, he’s the reason behind India’s Kashmir problem & the list goes on endlessly. Was Nehru actually responsible for all that he’s accused of? Was he a failure as he’s made to appear by the right-wing motor-mouths?
India’s first & the longest serving Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru is a towering figure among the pantheon of modern India’s greatest political figures. He’s the architect of the modern Indian nation-state & the fountainhead of liberal traditions that actually seek “sabka sath, sabka vikas” unlike the present ruling dispensation that fancies a majoritarian & a patriarchal nation-state.
The years leading up to India’s partition & independence saw gory communal violence across the subcontinent. As the First PM delivered his famed “tryst with destiny” speech on the eve of Independence to the Constituent Assembly; sectarian violence had engulfed large parts. Many foreign observers remarked that “it was only time before India would be divided into a dozen of independent entities”. The dark clouds of sectarianism were fast gathering over a newborn democracy; the odds were stacked firmly against India. The presence of a de-facto Islamic state on the west& the east fuelled anxieties among the majority community. This only helped fanatic Hindu organizations find traction among a segment of the majority. The Muslim community in India was besieged with suspicions for allegedly harboring pro-Pakistani sentiments something that sadly continues till this day.
Under such excruciating circumstance, Nehru & the founding fathers of modern India managed to build a secular republic right under the nose of sectarian conflagration promising equal rights to people irrespective of their ethnic or religious affiliations. Remember, these were the days when every other newly independent Asian or African colony was plunging into autocracy. Establishing a fully functional democracy in such a short span that has withstood the test of time for the past 70 years is no mean feat.
The moral high ground that India enjoys over the Pakistani state among the comity of nations is a result of its unwavering commitment to secularism. The presence of Kashmir; a Muslim majority region within the Union of India is relevant only until the Indian state remains true to its promise of secularism. A Hindu Rashtra build on the principles of Savarkar that seeks to subdue “the enemy within” i.e. Muslims can never justify Kashmir’s accession to India. Deride him as you wish but, the path to lasting peace in Kashmir only knows the Nehru’s way & not the aggressive “Doval doctrine”.
Nehruvian socialism was the cornerstone of a fledging Indian economy in the first few decades after independence. Rightly so, India was a late entrant in the game of industrialization. We never had a robust industrial setup thanks to our colonial masters who made India a perfect dumping ground for their cheap quality products. The amnesiac Indian-right would do well to remember that the only way to build-up industries without private capital is large-scale government spending. Most of the early industries with the exception of the Tatas were government sponsored projects. Large dams, thermal power projects & educational institutions of national importance like the IITs were strictly government enterprises. The Bombay Plan (1945) proposed by eight eminent industrialists of India wanted active government participation to shore-up industries. It wasn’t as if Nehru forced a burgeoning capitalist nation towards socialism. Indian capitalists were neither willing nor had the resources to support large scale industrial projects & hence, a government intervention was never a choice but, a necessity. And then, with a strong aversion for imperialistic powers India was never going to be a South Korea; a country that rapidly developed on the fat pay cheques of their capitalist master; the US.
Finally, a sincere piece of advice to the Indian-“Right”; maybe history isn’t that boring if only you paid attention to the nuances instead of only finding examples to reinforce your prejudices.