Saturday, December 29, 2007

Jawaharlal Nehru


Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru epitomized the spirit of the new India. He was a dreamer. His "dream was of a world free of fear and hunger; the song of a great epic resonant with the spirit of Gita and as fragrant as a rose, the flame of a candle which burnt all night long, showing us the way." (Atal Behari Vajpayee). Nehru glimpsed world history and discovered India. He gave us sermon after sermon on parliamentary democracy and secularism, five-year plans, public sector and socialist pattern of society. He led us, way out in front. We could not really keep pace, even with each other.
Some of the glimpses from Nehru provide remarkable insights into his approach to the building of Indian democracy. "I entirely agree with you that as a people we have lost the public sense of social justice. To put it differently, our standards have fallen greatly. Indeed, we have hardly any standards left except not to be found out…We drift along calmly accepting things as they are. We see the mote in other people’s eyes and not the beam in our own or friends’ eyes. We are strong in condemnation of those who are our opponents, but we try not to see the obvious faults of our friends. What are we to do? I confess my mind is not clear, although I have thought of this a great deal," wrote Nehru to B.G.Kher on July 26, 1949.
In a letter to Mehr Chand Khanna on June 6, 1949, Nehru said: "I have viewed with dismay and sorrow the narrow and communal outlook that has progressively grown in the country and which shows itself in a variety of ways. I shall cease to be Prime Minister the moment I realize that this outlook has come to stay and that I cannot do my duty as I conceive it."
On October 2, 1951 he said in a speech in Delhi: "If any person raises his hand to strike down another on the ground of religion, I shall fight him till the last breath of my life, both as the head of the Government and from outside".
"It is fairly easy to make a list of what we would like to have. It is more difficult to get that done in the proper order of priority. To attempt to do many things at the same time sometimes results in nothing being done", he wrote to Jayaprakash Narayan on March 17, 1953.
Nehru used to regularly write a fortnightly letter to the Chief Ministers of the States. These fortnightly communications were in the nature of Nehru’s survey of prevailing national and international scene. In a sense, they amounted to a remarkable correspondence course for continuing political education imparted by him to his colleagues – so necessary for a unified understanding of the fast changing reality that confronted and still confronts those at the helm of affairs of this great country. His letters to the CMs are a treasure chest of raw material for the contemporary history of India.
"I travel about a great deal in India and see vast crowds of people. They are friendly crowds and they give me a feeling of basic strength. And yet the sight of a child or a boy or a girl without adequate food or clothing or house to live in always produces a sense of shock in me as well as a sense of shame. I compare my own comfort and well-being with that child of India who is our responsibility." (Letter to Chief Ministers, November 1953).
Nehru was convinced that the only system of government, which could hold so vast and diverse a land together was democracy. He brushed aside arguments that it was unwise to give the vote to India’s illiterate masses.
Nehru himself showed a deep understanding of and respect for parliamentary government even when it meant tolerating vitriolic attacks by his opponents.
For example, once Ram Manohar Lohia got up and said in the Lok Sabha: ‘I’m sick and tired of hearing about the aristocracy of the Nehrus. I know for a fact that Nehru’s grandfather was a peon at the Mughal court.’ The Congress benches were up in arms, shrieking at him. Nehru was sitting there; and he slowly got up and said: ‘I’d like to thank the Honourable Member for proving what I’ve been trying to prove, that I’m one with the people.’
Nehru had attached enormous importance to parliament. He didn’t miss a day; he was always there, with that red rose in his button-hole. He enjoyed the cut and thrust of parliamentary debates. Nehru would be deeply disappointed if he could see the decline in Indian parliamentary standards today. But his faith in democracy has been vindicated by several free elections and remarkably smooth changes of government through the ballot-box. Despite mass illiteracy, the Indian voter has shown a robust common sense that is quite capable of seeing through the promises of politicians.
It is said: "Nehru was a prophet frustrated, with his hopes unfulfilled". But, to the end he laboured, taking on burdens that would have broken the back of most other people. And he worried that he had ‘promises to keep’ to his people and to posterity, and there were miles and miles to go before he could call it a day. No less than his critics he was conscious of vast tasks still undone, but he knew no way, consistently with his convictions and his view of men and things, along which he could go ahead faster and without damage to values that he cherished. Here, indeed, lay his historic failure – the failure to achieve change for fear of the price that might have had to be paid and in deep concern for the right means so that the future was not to be garish and crude.
He knew when society was purged of the dross and ages, one wakes, as it were, into a common world of air and light, a world which is the patented preserve of no elite but belongs to all. He knew also that the transition was difficult and prolonged and painful and yet had to be made, for the very meaning of history lay in such human, and often necessarily fallible, endeavour. He knew he had great authority and this authority needed to be wielded for helping vast majority of Indians. But, if he shrank from jobs set him relentlessly by history, he did it not by reason of guile and petty calculation but by reason of the love he bore for mankind.
Nehru guided India with vision and integrity. When he passed from the scene, the devaluation of public life began. A cultural revolution changed all values. "Panditji, thou shouldst be living at this hour! India hath need of thee!"

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