In 1995, Salman Rushdie found a novel use for Jawaharlal Nehru — he named a bad-tempered animal after him. The bulldog Jawaharlal (pet name: Jaw-Jaw) appeared in The Moor’s Last Sigh and caused some commotion in Congress circles, though Rushdie later clarified that his owner had named him thus not to insult India’s first prime minister, but to infuriate his relatives, who were loyalists. But the controversy remained an inner-party matter, and was quickly swept away by Hindu anxieties about another character in the book, the cartoonist Raman Fielding, who runs Bombay and has renamed it Mumbai. The Shiv Sena’s moral policeman Pramod Navalkar fanned out in all directions in search of the book, which would be impaled if parts were found to be offensive, even if some parts were excellent.
Two decades later, Hindu anxiety is firmly focused on Jawaharlal. The real, historical Jawaharlal, author of the historic blunder. No, blunders. They were plural. Some may even have been prehistoric. Someone was responsible for the collapse of Mohenjo Daro, right? It is obviously Jawaharlal Nehru’s fault that it is now in Pakistan. Leaders as tall as LK Advani and Jaswant Singh have written that Jinnah was not entirely, or even mainly, responsible for the Partition project. The real culprit was Jawaharlal, but surely, that is only part of the story. Nehru could be responsible for much more. Nehru should be held responsible for much, much more.
Even when people are determined not to take the name of Jawaharlal Nehru, it sort of glides past their tonsils. The voluble Giriraj Kishore, determined not to utter that distasteful name, was helpless against the forces of history.“I do not want to name Nehruji,” he said last week, “but due to his faulty policy, the country has only 2.5 per cent of its population as skilled hands, while 96 per cent of people are skilled in developed countries.” Nehru’s fault was that he educated people. He did not make them employable. Perhaps, that is why India’s most boisterous university is named after him. Jawaharlal Nehru University, which produces people who think too much and get mischief on the brain, is only a symptom of this problem.
Please, let us not be distracted by the annals of history. Let us not recall that Nehru was one of the key figures who founded the first IIT at Kharagpur on the grounds of the notorious Hijli Detention Centre, where the embattled Raj put away people who used to make trouble in the streets, demanding the very things that these perverse JNU types keep yelling about now, like azaadi. History only confuses the issue, and should be rewritten and tidied up in the interest of clarity.
Of course, the record already contains some embarrassing material, without the benefit of surgical editing. Nehru’s handling of China was unbelievably juvenile, and the conflict invited certain defeat at the hands of a rising world power which could have been befriended. But to imagine that Nehruvian foreign policy in 1962 is to blame for China’s stand against India in the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group issue in 2016 stretches credibility. This remarkable theory has emerged recently, and one may as reasonably blame Nehru for Theresa May’s determination not to give India visa breaks.
Nehruvian policy has also left us Kashmir, which seems incomplete and lopsided without the word “problem” to balance it out. Declaring a ceasefire and rushing off to the UN does appear to have been rash, in retrospect, as Amit Shah and Kailash Vijayvargiya suggest, but so is the use of pellet guns. The license quota Raj, import curbs, punitive taxation of the profit motive and state control over core industries, the most damaging elements of Nehruvian policy, are fortunately history. But secularism, the policy which incenses Nehru’s critics the most, was and remains a solution, not a problem. Unless we believe that hunting in packs is the only authentic way to organise society.
But is “Nehruvian policy” an authentic term? When the first prime minister assumed office, there was no foreign policy, no monetary policy, no energy policy, no industrial policy, no policy on anything. They derived on his watch from multiple influences, and were retrospectively termed Nehruvian. If Sardar Patel had been the first prime minister — and his credentials were impeccable — we would have been grousing about Patelian policy. India’s culture of complaint is relentlessly unsparing.
And jealousy? Jealousy is writ in invisible ink on the hundreds of internet galleries with photos of Jawaharlal lighting ladies’ cigarettes, with the unstated suggestion that he was willing to light up their lives in other ways, too. The only national leader who was a Trinity man, he had the luck of the devil and charm so powerful it could have been weaponised. It’s enough to get anyone’s back up. That, and the oppressive sensation of being hemmed in by him. A man who has streets, places, parks, centres, planetaria and jackets named after him is simply inescapable. Along with homeopathy, aspartame, prohibition, secularism and Microsoft, there’s nothing like Nehru to set people off like firecrackers.