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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 48, November 14, 2009

A Total Commitment

Tuesday 17 November 2009, by Bipan Chandra


We who have lived through one part or the other of the Nehru era look back on that period with nostalgia as a sort of Golden Age; we tend to regard those times as the “good old days”. In fact, those years were, more than at present, filled with poverty and misery. Yet, the existence of a Jawaharlal Nehru made all the difference.

Nehru’s place in history would be assured by the leader’s role he played in the anti-imperialist struggle. As a national liberator, he was second only to Gandhiji. But, above all, it was Nehru who imparted a socialist vision to the national movement and gave the National Congress a socialist orientation. Nehru kept up the campaign for the spread of socialist ideas after Independence when he took up the stewardship of the nation. It was he, most of all, who made socialism a part of the consciousness of the Indian people. If socialism is today still the most respected idea—the hegemonic idea—in the mind of the Indian people, it is in large part because of Jawaharlal Nehru.

His achievement in the task of nation-building was also quite solid. He clearly grasped that independence meant the capacity to resist economic and political domination. In the economic field, he laid the foundations of the structure of an independent and self-reliant economy. He used foreign policy as an instrument to develop and safeguard India’s national independence, to promote her national interests and to develop the self-reliance of the Indian people, even while serving the cause of peace and anti-colonialism.

Above all, Nehru succeeded in consolidating the nation and maintaining the national unity, forged during the freedom struggle and made fragile by the manner of the transfer of power. He played a major role in the 1930s and 1940s in keeping the national movement on strong secular lines. If, after Independence, under most unfavourable circumstances, India framed a secular Constitution and laid the foundations of a secular state and society, it was mainly because of Jawaharlal Nehru. Communalism he hated with all his being, and he fought it heroically and with vigour all his life.

Jawaharlal’s commitment to democracy and civil liberties was total. He had a profound faith in democracy and democratic processes. To him democracy and civil liberties were absolute values, ends in themselves—and not merely means for bringing about social change and social development.

Nehru’s life work, his legacy, his social vision and his achievements are a major source of strength to us, the Indian people, in our endeavour to build a happier and healthier society.

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