Posted on 6-December-2019
Groups like the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Svayam Sevak Sangh have for long wished to establish in India a Hindu state, Hindu Rashtra, or a state which would be run on the basis of their version of Hindu tenets and in which religious minorities, particularly, Muslims, would be allowed to live on sufferance. So would the Christians as long as they did not convert Hindus to christianity. As independence from the British in 1947 approached, the issue acquired greater urgency. Many in the Indian political leadership of the time opted for a democratic, republican, secular polity. Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, beside Vallabhbhai Patel and Subhash Chandra Bose--the current non-BJP/RSS, non Hindu Mahasabha idols of Narendra Modi and his followers--were among the most prominent opponents of a Hindu Rashtra in India. Subhash Chandra Bose went into exile, hoping to organise an armed struggle against the British, dying in a plane crash in 1945. Mohandas Gandhi was executed on 30th January by a proponent of Hindu Rashtra. Nehru and Patel participated actively in the work of fashioning a modern forward looking Constitution firmly rooted in secular principles, for a Republic which came into being on 26th January 1950. Patel died in December 1950. Nehru lived till May 1964, serving as prime minister from August 1947 till his death. Through all these years he repeatedly warned of the danger posed to India by right wing Hindu fundamentalism and as long as he lived forces of Hindu fundamentalism, represented by the Rashtriya Svayam Sevak Sangh(RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP)--erstwhile Bharatiya Jana Sangh--remained weak and marginal.
As the BJP/RSS strengthen their hold on governmental machinery in India, time in their reckoning has come to make Jawaharlal Nehru pay for his sins. Since he was cremated and his ashes were scattered widely over the territory of India, there is no body to be exhumed and put on trial and to be executed, but his reputation can be assassinated without any hindrance. There has for long been a small cottage industry in the country producing and circulating scurrilous stories about the sex lives of Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. Ever since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister of India in 2014, the size of this industry has grown. One current BJP member of parliament, a political migrant of long standing, who relishes being a gadfly--it is difficult to count how often he has changed his political allegiences--has been a one man factory producing such gossip for many years. But it is not the private lives of the Nehrus that concern Narendra Modi and Amit Shah as much as Jawaharlal Nehru's record as a political leader and as prime minister. A narrative has assiduously been created and disseminated to say that until Narendra Modi's arrival on the scene, no worthwhile development had taken place in India in the previous six and a half decades. Vallabhbhai Patel is presented as the great unifier of India as if he achieved the merger of more than five hundred and fifty princely states into the Indian Union in spite of Jawaharlal Nehru. Ever since 5th August this year when the state of Jammu and Kashmir was converted into two federal territiories giving them even less autonomy than normal Indian states and abolishing protection over property rights--existing since 1929--for the people of the state, Nehru has been criticised on several occasions by Amit Shah, the BJP president and India's home minister for his approach to Kashmir: that in 1947 he did not allow the Indian armed forces to drive the Pakistani tribal raiders and the Pakistani army irregulars completely from the entire territory of the erstwhile princely state; that instead he unnecessarily took the matter of Pakistani intrusion to the United Nations and that he unnecessarily offered to ascertain the wishes of the people of the state. On another occasion he also said that the whole matter would have been settled by retaking the entire territory if Vallabhbhai Patel had been prime minister.
Jawaharlal Nehru was prime minister for just under seventeen years. In this period he did much good; he also made mistakes. But there are two mistakes he did not make but which people who are otherwise his admirers accuse him of having made. One of these concerns permanent membership of UN Security Council. It is said that the USA, on one or two occasions in the 1950's, offered China's permanent seat to India and Nehru erred in not taking up the American offer. Such criticism betrays surprising ignorance. The reality is that the broad ideas about the establishment of an international organisation to manage the post 1945 world had been agreed between between Franklin Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill by the Yalta Conference. Wise from the experience of the League of Nations they knew that no international organisation could force a great power to do anything counter to its perceived interest. That is how the security council came to have five permanent members with veto powers. France became a permanent member on the insistence of Churchill and Roosevelt pushed for the Republic of China. There was some bargaining over the number of seats in the General Assembly for the Soviet Union--in this bargaining process India as a potential permanent member was briefly mentioned. The eventual compromise was that the Soviet Union would have three seats in the General Assembly and the Security Council would have five permanent members. After the foundation of the People's Republic of China and the refusal of the USA to recognise it as the legitimate government of China the only question of dispute before the General Assembly between 1949 and 1971 was about whether China's seat in the General Assembly and the Security Council should be occupied by the People's Republic or by the Kuomintang--written differently in the pin yin system of transcription--as was the case till 1971. India having recognised the People's Republic as the legitimate government of China within days of its foundation naturally supported the claim of the People's Republic to China's seat. Recognising the People's Republic and supporting its claim to China's seat was the only realistic policy to follow: realism and not some rosy eyed idealism dictated such a policy. Against this background, any passing offer by the USA of China's security council seat to India was at best disingenuous and at worst mischievous. Besides it was not and it is not within the power of the USA or of any other single country to give a permanent seat on the security council to any country. Nehru's fault was that he refused to be taken in by such blandishments.
Another criticism of Nehru is that when the People's Republic moved its troops into Tibet in 1950, he did nothing to resist the Chinese. He simply handed Tibet over on a platter to the Chinese as it were. Even a brief acquaintance with the history of British activities in Tibet shows that while Younghusband and Curzon wished to follow a forward policy in Tibet, trying to convert it into a British Indian protectorate, their ambitions were at every step kept in check by Whitehall, mindful of British relations with the Qing court in Beijing and with the Russian court in St. Petersburg. The indemnity of Rs. 7500000 lakh that Younghusband had imposed on Lhasa as the cost of his expedition, and the right of occupation of Chumbi valley till the indemnity had been paid at the rate of Rs. 100000 per year was reduced by Curzon's successors under instructions from Whitehall to one third of that amount to be paid in three instalments. Chumbi valley was returned to Tibet in 1908. For a very long time Whitehall refused to authorise any British presence in Tibet other than trading posts at Gartok and Gyantse. Later after stories of a delegation of lamas visiting St.Petersburg on their way to Mongolia to meet the Dalai Lama who had taken refuge there reached London, Whitehall attached much greater priority to reaching an understanding with Russia that neither the Russians nor the British would have a permanent presence in Lhasa. Then the British in London focused their attention on converting the Anglo-Russian convention into a tri-lateral Anglo-Chinese-Russian convention meant to prevent the presence of any other power in Tibet. Through all this no question was ever raised about the right of the Qing court to keep a representative in Lhasa nor did the British make any effort to undercut the influence or authority of the Qing representative in Lhasa. Already by the second decade of the twentieth century, the British Indian government's attention shifted to the consolidation of its authority in the Northeast Frontier Province: modern Arunachal state. The Nationalist Government of China and then the People's Republic of China simply laid claim to all of the Qing Empire's rights. In sum when the British left India, India's rights in Tibet were extremely limited--some trading rights, a minimal presence in three posts and the maintenance of postal services to Gartok and Gyantse. When the People's Liberation Army entered Tibet in 1950, India had already recognised the People's Republic and established diplomatic relations with it--eminently realistic decisions. From these decisions it followed that India accepted the territorial claims of the People's Republic as a successor state to the Nationalists and before them to the Qing empire. In accepting Tibet as an autonomous region of China the Indian government was not handing anything over to China. Besides a militarily and economically weak Government of India was in no position to effectively challenge Chinese actions in Tibet. It is doubtful if a British Indian Government would have done it--the United Kingdom showed great alacrity in recognising the People's Republic. It is a pity that there are so many otherwise well-informed people who voice this criticism of Nehru, betraying ignorance, lack of understanding or something else.
It is remarkable how much energy Narendra Modi and Amit Shah expend on belittling Nehru and Indira Gandhi. This perhaps indicates how much inferior these small men feel in their hearts to Nehru and his daughter. At one stage in his first term Narendra Modi boasted that the BJP--under his leadership ruled over more Indian states than the Indian National Congress did under Indira Gandhi! And Narendra Modi paid his ultimate tribute to Jawaharlal Nehru by organising an event at midnight in the central hall of Indian parliament in imitation of the event of the midnight of 15th August 1947 when the British handed over power to an Indian national government. Modi's event was to launch something as mundane as a new indirect tax code. The event in 1947 was greeted with wild popular enthusiasm. Modi's event was a mere spectacle and a farce in retrospect since as we now know the indirect tax code was launched in an unnecessarily hurried manner without due preparation since Modi wished to show what a great leader he was. But criticising Jawaharlal Nehru is fair game in Narendra Modi's India. Free marketeers blame India's economic backwardness on what they call nehruvian socialism. Flag waving, wild-eyed nationalists criticise what they call pseudo-secularism, while Nehru's devotees defend nehruvian socialism and nehruvian secularism, whatever these nonsense expressions might mean. Nehru's devotees routinely describe him as an idealist, meaning that in matters of politics he was a naif. Nothing could be further from the truth. To paraphrase Lenin, the practice of politics is not a tea party: a politician has to dirty his fingers from time to time. Nehru dirtied his fingers too from time to time--consider for example how he dealt with the challenge to his authority mounted by Purushottamdas Tandan. The difference was that remarkably for a practising politician he upheld certain values in politics and he would not descend to the kind pettiness we see among Indian politicians of our times and he had a much shrewder understanding of International politics than anyone in the present dispensation. Jawaharlal Nehru does not need to be defended from the onslaught from the likes of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. His reputation as a statesman and as a human being will long survive Narendra Modi and Amit Shah who will not be left with many admirers when they leave their positions of power as some day they must.