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Those who vilify Nehru must reflect on true meaning of independence

Manoj Kumar Jha writes: What does it mean for those who lost loved ones to Covid mismanagement, or sleep in poverty, or do not believe in dominant ideology and are bold enough to voice their dissent?

Written by Manoj Kumar Jha |
Updated: November 14, 2021 8:12:44 am
Former prime minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru

I have been thinking of writing these words as every day sees a vilification campaign against you and the ideas you held dear. I have always believed that anybody wanting to understand India has to do so with an open and scientific mind as you did. In the Discovery of India, you wrote: “I have always maintained that it was not her wide spaces that eluded me, or even her diversity, but some depth of soul which I could not fathom, though I had occasional and tantalising glimpses of it. She was like some ancient palimpsest on which layer upon layer of thought and reverie had been inscribed, and yet no succeeding layer had completely hidden or erased what had been written previously.” I hope the small men who smear you today understand the essential beauty of India and how it has successfully encountered challenges and evolved for the better, because each layer has added to its inner beauty. For your generation and for millions even now, India is not simply a physical entity but the interconnected lives of people and communities shaped through the long march of history. I truly hope that today’s leadership learns to respect each layer of thought and faith that has gone into making the texture of India.

You and your peers recognised that the division between classes and masses was more fundamental than the division between Hindus and Muslims; that is why Bapu’s Ram Rajya was a dream of a nation free from such divisions. It was certainly not the Ram Rajya today’s leaders talk about.

Our first general elections were held in 1952, in the shadow of the Partition and Bapu’s assassination. Yet, we did not allow communal rhetoric or brazen religious polarisation to have any say in the electoral process. You had conveyed to all Chief Ministers in 1950 that “so long as I am Prime Minister, I shall not allow communalism to shape our policy, nor am I prepared to tolerate barbarous and uncivilised behaviour.” In spite of the great human tragedies of the initial years, we collectively made sure that India charts a course of peaceful coexistence. After the birth of Pakistan, we had to make sure this nation does not become a Hindu Pakistan. We knew that the best safeguard against such reactionary sentiment lay in vigorously promoting tolerance, and committing the state to safeguarding the uniqueness of each religious group and its culture, apart from promising equality in every sphere.

We were a poor nation but rich in composite culture; in preserving and promoting it. We made sure that the world pays attention to the way we derive pride from this and to our efforts in building a nation not exclusive to any particular religious identity. It must be saddening for you to see that after almost seven decades, elections are not being contested on matters important to the life and livelihood of ordinary citizens but on issues which blatantly divide people and communities. The most polarising face appears to be the most preferred face. Some leaders today do not wish to acknowledge that while communal rhetoric can get them votes, it shall destroy the essence of India which is inseparable from its secular democratic ethos. Incidents such as the recent violence in Tripura are an indicator of how much the soul of India has been mauled by the communal targeting of minorities.

You were the Prime Minister of this great country first and then a leader of a party. And history remembers you fondly even now. Contemporary politicians and leaders must not forget that history will be brutally honest in judging them, unlike those who are under pressure to be their yes-men today. You must be deeply distressed to see citizens, protestors and dissenters being detained for years. Such blatant state action to deny their liberty and take away their inalienable human rights cannot be justified by the use of laws such as UAPA. That these laws are immoral is proved by the fact that they are used against defenders of the poorest and most powerless sections of Indian society. Activists, students, journalists, lawyers — these are the best resources to build a vibrant society and polity. Their continued detention on flimsy charges is an injustice that will be difficult to justify in history, even if brute power keeps them in jails. The media cacophony to drown agitated outcries of common citizens strikes at the very foundation of the republic.

Those who vilify you today, should themselves reflect on what independence and democracy mean for people who lost their families to Covid mismanagement, who are lynched because they belong to a particular religion, who sleep in poverty, and ones who do not believe in the dominant ideology and are bold enough to voice their dissent? And what does independence mean for our farmers who have been protesting since the present government bulldozed the farm laws through without consulting them?

An accountable Parliament with opposing voices reflects the ethos of our country. Throughout your tenure, you ensured that processes and institutions that define democracy are cemented on firm ground. In spite of having an overwhelming majority in Parliament, you never brushed aside the Opposition or ridiculed dissenting voices.

In spite of everything, I disallow myself to feel pessimistic about it. I know that India will soon rise from the depths that it is being pushed into. She has no shortage of patriots who, beleaguered as they are, love her dearly and are already paying a high cost for their love for this country.

As we remember you ahead of your birthday, we do so in a way you would have liked to be remembered: “This was a man who with all his mind and heart loved India and Indian people. And they in turn were indulgent for him and gave him their love most abundantly and extravagantly.”

This column first appeared in the print edition on November 13, 2021 under the title ‘Dear Nehruji’. The writer is the national spokesperson of the Rashtriya Janata Dal

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