September 10, 2014

Nehru cannot save Rahul Gandhi’s sinking Congress

 First Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru

When Professor Ashutosh Varshney eulogises Nehru as the greatest ever Indian Prime Minister, he is not the only one. There is a long list of people who think that India wouldn't have been the way it is — strong with its secular, democratic foundations — without the leadership of India's first Prime Minister.

This has been the mainstay of the discourse carried out by the so- called 'secular liberals'. When they talk of a unified India, they completely undermine the man who unified '500 apple carts' to make one nation. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel — Sardar Patel as he is popularly known — had integrated 500 odd Princely States into a sovereign India. This was no mean task. Not to forget that Nehru messed up one single State – Jammu & Kashmir — that he had taken the responsibility of.

If Nehru's so called contribution to the democratic values of India have been tom-tommed for over the past six decades, there could never be a bigger illusion. Ashutosh Varshney, in one of his interviews, says:

"Nehru was the father of Indian democracy, a great patriot and someone who contributed massively to the building of the nation after Gandhi's death. All these go in his favour."

But, KL Panjabi in his book – 'Indomitable Sardar', however, wrote:

"Pandit Nehru owed his appointment as Prime Minister to his election as President of the Congress in May 1946. Actually, Sardar Patel had been nominated by 12 Provincial Congress Committees out of 15. Only three of them had supported Nehru. In the ordinary course of events, Sardar was the obvious choice. But Gandhiji took a hand and persuaded Sardar and Kriplani to withdraw their candidatures."

If this was the respect for democracy that Nehru had, then Varshney needs to redefine what he means by the term 'democracy'.

Veteran journalist and author MJ Akbar in his book 'Nehru, the making of India' wrote:

"On 20 December 1947, the Indian Cabinet finally decided to appeal to the United Nations to force Pakistan to withdraw the raiders. Patel was against doing so and wisely too…By referring to the United Nations, Nehru allowed what was legally a domestic Indian problem to become an international issue. If there was any argument over the ratification of the accession by Hari Singh then the only parties to the argument could be Nehru and Abdullah; how did Pakistan have any locus standi? The reference to the UN gave Pakistan a place in the argument. It was perhaps the most serious error of judgment which Nehru made, and he had no one to blame but himself."

Noted political commentator Inder Malhotra in his article in Indian Express wrote:

"Secularism, equality before the law, making Parliament a highly effective and respected institution, unflinching observance of every democratic norm (except once in 1959 when, under pressure from his [Nehru's] daughter Indira Gandhi, who was then Congress president, he wrongly sacked Kerala's duly elected Communist government)…"

People who defended Nehru in the name of high democratic values looked for scapegoats and when the so-called 'tallest democrats' in their eyes take an undemocratic and autocratic step, they blame it on somebody else.

While this community says that Nehruvian Socialism has been important for the fundamental growth of Indian economy in post-independent era, there are enough doubts as to what things would have been like had Sardar Patel been the first Prime Minister of the country. An absolute pragmatist, who was always driven by the spirit of India had once said:

"Whether in political or in economic matters let us face the issues as realists, as men of responsibility and practical outlook. If this is done, we shall solve our problem much quicker and much more effectively than if we engaged ourselves in perpetual wrangles about the rights and wrongs of one principle or another of different issues." -  (The Indomitable Sardar – KL Panjabi)

It was the negative impact of this Nehruvian economic policy that was reversed in 1991, after the nation bled for 44-year-long post-Independence period when License-Inspector raj made its killing. It is development and liberal economic environment that helped prosperity broaden its reach and growth rate rose from sub-4 per cent to a whopping 8 per cent and more.

Ahead of the 125th birth anniversary celebration of Jawaharlal Nehru, Congress needs to rethink whether 'Brand Nehru' is still acceptable to the present day India. The nation has moved on and while the pro-Nehru advocates can harp on his not imposing his clan on the nation, but the fact of the matter is that he installed his daughter Indira Gandhi as Congress president for a year. The country remembers his daughter Indira for the infamous Emergency in 1975, grandson Rajiv Gandhi for 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom and his granddaughter-in-law Sonia Gandhi for endless mega-scale scams in decade-long Congress-led UPA rule.

Nehru's great grandson Rahul Gandhi needs to sit and rethink whether invoking his great grandfather's name can rejuvenate the sinking party or further alienate it from the people.

Historians and economists who have thrived under the aegis of Congress may continue showering their praise but the truth is that the nation has moved away from the Nehru-brand of leaders.

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