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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 23 New Delhi May 25, 2019

On Nehru’s Path as Dark Clouds overcast India

Sunday 26 May 2019, by Barun Das Gupta

The Muslims who live in India, belong here. We cannot talk of a Hindu State in India because that would mean that the people of other religions who live here do not belong here; which is wrong. Everyone who lives in India irrespective of his religion and caste, belongs here with equal rights. That is what is known as nationalism.

Our neighbours in Pakistan follow a different principle. . . . But we have been opposed to this principle from the beginning because, if we were to adopt it, there could be no true equality in the country. Some sections of society would be considered full citizens and others would lack that status. It would once again bring to the fore the divisive tendencies which have always existed in Hindu society. If we accepted the principle of domination of one religion, India would be divided into a thousand fragments and become weak.  —Jawaharlal Nehru

What a sea change India has undergone since Jawaharlal Nehru passed away 55 years ago! The divisive forces that he never tired of warning us about, have become immensely stronger than they were five-and-a-half decades ago. They now control the levers of power of a country of 1300 million people, known throughout history as one of the most diverse countries in the world. And if these divisive forces are not neutralised and removed from power, ere long India may find itself divided into a thousand fragments, caught in the toils of a ceaseless and sanguinary strife and its rich heritage of diversity destroyed.

Throughout his life, Nehru cautioned us again and again against the monster of communalism, especially majority communalism. He was aware that communal-minded people existed in his own party, the Congress. Writing as far back as 1923, he was forthright in saying: “Many a Congressman was a communalist under his national cloak. But the Congress leadership stood firm and, on the whole, refused to side with either communal party, or rather with any communal group . . .”

Jawaharlal consented to the partition of India but in his heart of hearts he believed that partition would not last long. India would be reunited. Dr Rafiq Zakaria, in his A Study of Nehru, notes that in a letter dated July 9, 1948, to the Nawab of Bhopal, Nehru wrote:

“Partition came and we accepted it because we thought that perhaps that way, however painful it was, we might have some peace to work along our own lines. Perhaps we acted wrongly. It is difficult to judge now. And yet, the consequences of that Partition have been so terrible that one is inclined to think that anything else would have been preferable. That Partition has come, and brought in its train other vast changes. There can be no going back now to India as it was before the Partition. Organic changes have taken place in India which prevent that going back.”

Then comes a telltale passage: “Nevertheless, all my sense of history rebels against this unnatural state of affairs that has been created in India and Pakistan. I cannot see it continuing for long as it is.” (Italics mine—B.D.G.)

He has not explained what lay behind his belief that Partition—“the unnatural state of affairs”—would not continue for long. Zakaria calls Nehru a “prophet of secularism” who, despite Partition, never wavered in his opposition to the two-nation theory.

An unshakable conviction about the necessity of secularism in a plural country like India marked Nehru out from many of his contemporary Congress leaders except Mahatma Gandhi. His showdown with Purshottamdas Tandon, the then Congress President, in 1950, has to be seen in the context of his uncompromising attitude to the question of communalism. When there was a surge of anti-Hindu violence in Pakistan, a difference of opinion arose between Patel and his associates like Tandon on the one hand and Nehru on the other.

Nehru’s stand was that irrespective of how Pakistan treated its minority Hindu population, it was India’s constitutional obligation to ensure the security of Indian Muslims. It was not dependent on how Pakistan treated its Hindu minority. Tandon, ideologically close to Patel, had his own views which were antithetical to Nehru’s. It was an ideological question that transcended personal relations. So Nehru had to launch a battle against his own party President. Eventually, Tandon had to resign from the presidency of the party.

It is no secret that Nehru had differences with Patel on the communal question. Nehru”s biographer, Sarvepalli Gopal, in the second volume of his Jawaharlal Nehru, A Biography, notes (p. 38) that

“Patel responded as warmly and for a time a personal cordiality surmounted differences on policy. They aired, for example, healthily and in the open, their divergence of priorities on the communal issue. Nehru was concerned about the recrudescence of Hindu communalism in the form of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, while Patel attached more importance to the failure to check the immigration of Muslims from Pakistan. But other difficulties cropped up, wearing away at their decision to work together. ...Though Nehru did his best to keep him informed, Patel resented the necessity of many decisions having to be taken without consulting him, while Nehru was irritated by the inevitable delay in action in the ministries under Patel’s charge.”

This clearly establishes how strong was Nehru’s concern for “recrudescence of Hindu communalism” in the form of the RSS. Also, that on this question, he was prepared to lay aside all his personal affection and regard for the Sardar and stand by his principles and convictions. The paragraph quoted above also gives an insight into the Sangh Parivar’s adoration of Patel and their pathological hatred for Nehru.

Still earlier, in a letter to Mohanlal Saxena dated September 10, 1949, Nehru wrote:

“Gandhiji’s face comes up before me, gentle but reproaching. His words ring in my ears. Sometimes I read his writings and how he asked us to stick to this or that to the death, whatever others said or did. And yet those very things we were asked to stick to, slip away from our grasp. Is that to be the end of our lives’ fallout? All of us seem to be getting infected with the refugee mentality or worse still, the RSS mentality. That is a curious finale to our careers.”

There is no denying the fact that many of the Congress stalwarts of the freedom movement were acutely conscious of their Hindu identity whereas Nehru’s commitment to secularism was firm and unwavering all through.

It is the failure, not only of the Congress but of all those who swear by secularism, to prevent the spread of the communal poison by the RSS and its affiliated organisations. They worked silently at the grassroots level, winning over people to their ideology. Today they have become a mortal danger to the secular and democratic polity of India. Faced with their challenge, even the Congress has chosen to adopt a line of soft Hindutva to counter the BJP in the ongoing elections. Nehru would never have compromised on the question of Hindutva vis-à-vis secularism. If the Congress wants to be worthy of the legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru, it has to wage an uncompromising, principled and long drawn out battle against communalism.

Nehru knew, more than anyone else among his comrades, that compromising with basic principles of a party ultimately leads to the adulteration of the principle itself.and the enervation of the party in the long run. The Congress made its first compromise with Nehruvian principles when, back in 1991, it jettisoned Nehru’s policy of a mixed economy in which public and private sectors would work side by side but it is the public sector that will control the commanding heights of the economy. It led to the adoption of the policy of Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation. This policy saw the thriving of monopoly capitalism, crony capitalism to be more precise, engulfed the UPA Government in a number of scams and culminated in the loss of power of the Congress and the coming to power by rank communalists. Let not the Congress commit the second mistake of trying to counter the hard Hindutva of the Sangh Parivar with the soft Hindutva of its own. It will lead the Congress to further disaster.

Let us conclude with Jawazharlal Nehru’s own ringing words which sound prophetic at this critical juncture of the nation’s life:

“The future is dark, uncertain. But we can see part of the way leading to it and can tread it with firm steps, remembering that nothing that can happen is likely to overcome the spirit of man which has survived so many perils. Remembering also that life, for all its ills, has joy and beauty, and we can always wander, if we want to, in the enchanted woods of nature.”

Let us hope the people of India will “tread with firm steps” the path to their future and the dark clouds that have overcast India’s sky will be driven away.

The author was a correspondent of The Hindu in Assam. He also worked in Patriot, Compass (Bengali), Mainstream. A veteran journalist, he comes from a Gandhian family and was intimately associated with the RCPI leader, Pannalal Das Gupta.

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