Out of my Mind: The house Nehru built

The old order has collapsed. A new dispensation is in power. Raising the threat of communalism no longer has the bite Congress expects it to have. It is corruption which is the big worry of the new generation. It was this shift that propelled Nitish Kumar back to his old friends in the BJP/NDA.

Written by Meghnad Desai | Updated: July 30, 2017 1:20 am
Ram Nath Kovind, Jawaharlal Nehru, Congress, BJP, Corruption, Narasimha Rao, Congress hegemony, Narendra Modi, Secularism, Indian Express President Ram Nath Kovind addresses the attendees during his swearing-in ceremony in the Central Hall of Parliament in New Delhi. (PTI Photo)

The omission of Jawaharlal Nehru’s name from President Ram Nath Kovind’s inaugural speech attracted criticism from the Congress. Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, B R Ambedkar and Deendayal Upadhyaya were mentioned but not Nehru. The Congress was shocked.

Yet, it was fitting. The old order has collapsed. A new dispensation is in power. Raising the threat of communalism no longer has the bite Congress expects it to have. It is corruption which is the big worry of the new generation. It was this shift that propelled Nitish Kumar back to his old friends in the BJP/NDA.

This shift is crucial. The party that Nehru led for many years and the country he ruled between 1946 and 1964 were built on the pillars of democracy, rule of law, and the Constitution. Western-style secularism and liberalism (which had only shallow roots in India) were to be the guiding principles. He won three general elections in succession, the only leader to do so thus far. He bequeathed the country and the party to those he thought would preserve his legacy.

His name was evoked, but the edifice he had built was dismantled. Tolerance for opposite views within the party went with the break-up of the Congress in 1969. Constitutionalism went with the Emergency. The rule of law was given short shrift by his grandson Sanjay Gandhi, when as an unelected person he launched a sterilisation campaign against Muslim men.

Secularism for Nehru was a deeply held belief as he was a rationalist and an atheist. For his party, secularism was a vote-gaining ploy. When necessity for political gameplaying beckoned, his other grandson abandoned secularism by the decisions on Shah Bano and allowing shilanyas at Babri Masjid. The passive stance of Narasimha Rao when Babri Masjid was being destroyed sealed the cynicism which Nehru’s party had about his core philosophy.

The Congress was so sure of its hegemonic power that it never apologised either about the twin bad decisions of Rajiv Gandhi nor about Rao’s passivity. Secularism kept being repeated as a mantra but its meaning was merely chasing Muslim votes. No one had noticed that in an intensely religious society, where in private life Indians (including Congress leaders after Nehru) follow their traditional ways, secularism was just a superficial make-up, put on when going out to play politics. Indira Gandhi had gurus and swamis and visited temples ostentatiously. And why not? She was a Hindu, brought up as one and lived and died as one.

There is no local word for secularism in any of the languages. Jaw-breaking words such as sarva-dharma-samabhava or sarva-dharma-nirapekshata are not right. How did anyone expect the ordinary voter to know what was being said? If you probe Nehru’s personal behaviour you would label it nirdharmic (non-religious). It would make no sense to most Indians, and to the Westernised elite, only in their front rooms, not in the interior of their homes.

Congress hegemony ended in 2014. Narendra Modi won not on the grounds of secularism/communalism but on corruption and inclusive development. If you want to protect the lives of Muslims, or punish the cow vigilantes, argue on the basis of the rule of law and citizen rights enshrined in the Constitution, not secularism.

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  1. P
    Pravin B. Ravi
    Aug 1, 2017 at 10:08 pm
    Awesome!
    Reply
    1. R
      Raman Govindan
      Aug 1, 2017 at 4:57 pm
      "Secularism for Nehru was a deeply held belief as he was a rationalist and an atheist. " but more than that he was a pedestrian leader.he was content with the adulation he got from the illiterate mass. secularism and literacy go together. Japan had achieved full literacy before 1900. and one knows what is the standards of living in that nation.. he never laid emphasis on that score. a school drop out Kamaraj, just a CM, did better than him in increasing literacy in his state. he thought being the leader of the world's largest democracy he should be accepted by other with admiration. a democratic Kuchela! besides he was living in his own world and did not see the others progressing at hectic pace. even if the President did nor mention, his name he still lives among us as reminder of a pedestrian leader who hogged limelight, which he did not deserve.
      Reply
      1. V
        v janardanrao
        Jul 31, 2017 at 10:12 pm
        BJP's hypocracy is evident in its show of respect for Gandhi and Ambedkar . It does not follow their philosophy or policies. It has a chronic hatred for Nehru who had openly degraded Its predicissor---Jansangh / RSS philosophy and activities and even banned it for some time. So one need not be surprised when Kovind omitted Nehru's name. As for Congress not following Nehru's policies, it does not have the self confidence which Nehru had. Congress repeats the words / slogans of secularism and socialism, but does not believe they will fetch votes for it.So it indulges in cheap election tactics. As a result, Congress lost on both counts----" Duvidha meyn donon gaye, Maya milee na Ram ".
        Reply
        1. L
          l k
          Jul 31, 2017 at 12:30 am
          Good one Mr Desai. Congress b of dubious secularism has damaged the country's unity. The disease has spread to other political parties. Need of the hour is to end this sickening disease. There is huge vacuum for a capitalist but socially liberal party in Bharat which can uphold genuine secularism and unite the people.
          Reply
          1. A
            Amar
            Jul 30, 2017 at 11:50 pm
            What rot. He may have a column but this makes no sense whatsoever as an argument. It's just bile. What's wrong with you IE?
            Reply
            1. P
              PJ
              Jul 30, 2017 at 11:39 pm
              Bhai tu kahna kya chahta hai ? IE standards are going down. How can this horrible piece be publised in IE ?
              Reply
              1. S
                S.P.Chakravarty
                Jul 30, 2017 at 11:28 pm
                Kovind was signalling his distance from Nehru's vision of India. That is his prerogative, and he perhaps also reflects correctly the views of those in power in India, even those that are members of Congress. However, Kovind's reference to Ambedkar was ingenuous. Ambedkar resigned from Nehru's cabinet not simply because he disagreed with Nehru but mainly because Ambedkar was fed up with concessions made by Nehru to Hindu conservatives. Ambedkar would have no truck with Kovind's friends in BJP.
                Reply
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                  Arjun
                  Jul 30, 2017 at 10:31 pm
                  Completely agree with this article. Congress and other pseudo seculars better read and learn.
                  Reply
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