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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 48, November 16, 2013

Rajiv’s Heirloom

Tuesday 19 November 2013, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

One need not have to be an idol-worshipper to remember what Jawaharlal Nehru stood for, particularly today when one discerns clear neglect of the edifice that he along with his fellow fighters in the freedom struggle had built and left behind. It is of course not fashionable nowadays to be reminded about the legacy left behind by him, and yet as one looks around, there is much in that legacy that can help the nation to chart its course to a future of hope and well-being for it. This of course does not mean that Nehru’s words have to be taken as constituting the granthsahib of Indian politics, for there were no doubt shortcomings and loopholes in what he has left behind, and as a nation passes from one generation to the other, it has to imbibe fresh ideas out of constantly enriched experience.

And yet tghe validity of his basic premises stands the test of time, because they emerged out of the enduring lessons of the freedom struggle. Self-reliance in economy and secularism in the management of our democracy, cultivation of science and technology, and independence in judging world affairs—these are the four pillars of the modern India that he and his generation sought to build. Twentytwo years after Nehru’s passing away this week, all these four pillars are today found to be facing assaults in varying degrees.

Nowhere under the present dispensation has there been any formal repudiation of the Nehru heritage though there is a perceptible hesitation in acknowledging it. During Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as Prime Minister so far, the emphasis has been more on change while continuity has been calculatedly run down. The concept of self-reliance has been underplayed while in the name of modernisation, the economic controls so necessary in a developing economy have been dismantled, so much so that the thesis of supply-side economics became popular, synchronising with last year’s Budget. During his first year in office, the public sector was berated while the private sector was lionised in a manner that the Janata Raj dared not do. Indigenous know-how was ignored and our scientists were subjected to homilies which hurt the self-respect of many among them. In the name of technological advances towards the twentyfirst century, foreign technology is imported even when Indian technology is available. And sometimes, finished products are imported in preference to production at home.

The policy of open-door for imports has amounted to depletion of our foreign exchange reserve creating a crisis in the balance of payments position while multinational corpo-ration have made inroads which they could not do in thirty years. In one year, the 1985 Budget projections have collapsed envisaging a serious crisis despite there being three good monsoons followed by three bumper harvests—a good fortune that never came the way of any Prime Minister before Rajiv Gandhi. With all the hi-fi publicity about management experts having entered the Government, barely one-fourth of the benefits of the anti-poverty programmes reach those for whom they are meant.

Perhaps the most serious repudiation of the Nehru legacy can be seen today in the pampering by the present Government of communal obscurantist forces. While there has been a spate of verbal allegiance to secularism—vide the National Integration Council—the Government in actual practice has allowed itself to be a prisoner in the hands of obscurantists. This could be seen in the handling of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Mosque campaign whose repercussions could be felt even in distant Kashmir. The most grotesque has been the Government’s forcing through Parliament the Muslim Women Bill by the sheer force of the party whip—a measure which was prepos-teroiusly publicised as an example of Indian secularism.

The handling of the Punjab situation—through the Rajiv-Longowal accord followed by the hectic election—resulted in the Congress-I losing a huge chunk of its Sikh following and the installation in office of a communal party in the State—whose Chief Minister makes a demonstration of his obeisance to the priestly order by turning himself into a shoeshine boy for his so-called misdemeanour in carrying out his secular responsibility of combating secessionists as the head of the State Government. But all this would hardly enhance Barnala’s position within the Akali party where other leaders are training their guns on him, while this pathetic surrender to the clerical order would not help his Government at all in weeding out the Khalistani secessionists whose terrorist violence against innocent civilians continues unabated.

All this repudiation of a secularist approach threatens to undermine the strong foundations of our democracy as well as national integrity. The upsurge of communal obscurantism has been hitting at the very roots of Indian nationalism, an understanding which none in the Government, from the Prime Minister down-ward, has cared to uphold.

In foreign affairs, a bogus theory of “good neighbourliness” was propounded as a foreign policy axiom. In fact, India has always played the Good Samaritan—liberating Nepal politics from the clutches of the Rana domination; helping Bangladesh to liberate itself from Pakistani thraldom; and helping Sri Lanka to put down insurgency threatening its national integrity. What was missing in the so-called “good neighbours” policy under Rajiv Gandhi is the realisation of powerful external forces, particularly the US and Britain, operating aganist any durable understanding between India and her neighbours. Take away the US factor, there will be little difficulty in bringing about Indo-Pak amity. Let us not forget that the military junta is in power in Pakistan mainly by the grace of its patrons in the Pentagon. Similarly, Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem would not have reached a point of military extermination of the Tamil population, had there been no helping hand extended to it by the US, Britain, Israel and Pakistan.

More serious has been the lack of a well-thought-out policy towards the USA. While no section of Indian opinion has objected to normalisation of Indo-US relations, it was amazing how naively the Rajiv Government put its faith on Reagan’s goodwill. For all practical purposes, it wistfully hoped that Washington might prefer India to Pakistan as a stable ally in South Asia and that it would tame the Martial Law Generals in Pakistan to behave nicely towards India. After the disappointment in not getting the hi-tech from the US—even the super computer dangled so long now seem to be as good as withdrawn, while Japan was told not to sell one such to India—the realisation has been slowly dawning that Washington would rather back the General’s raj in Pakistan than the democratic raj in India. This was clear when President Reagan made no commitment whatsoever to Rajiv that he would neither warn Pakistan against making the nuclear bomb nor did he and Margret Thatcher promise to deny shelter to the Khalistani secessionists.

This wayward handling of foreign affairs has brought out in sharp relief the contradictions between India’s adherence to non-aligned solidarity and its anxiety to build bridges with the US Administration as could be seen over Libya. In fact, the American authorities of all shades from Kissinger to Kirkpatrick to Vernon Walters have helped to heighten the consciousness of many leaders in different countries that the Pax-Americana had to steamroller over the national self-respect of other countries, apart from having a patently cynical disregard of their views about the nuclear threat which the US authorities have consistently ignored. Rajiv Gandhi’s visits to the frontline States in Africa last week must have brought home to him the perfidy of the Western powers in keeping up the apartheid.

Nehru with his understanding of world forces at work could visualise such a situation and this was one of the factors that led him to forge non-aligned solidarity as part of our sensitivity to be independent in the affairs of the world.

The time for rethinking has now come to Rajiv Gandhi about the wisdom and efficacy of the policies pursued by his Government so far. Nobody wants Rajiv Gandhi to copycat Jawaharlal Nehru; that could never be. But most of his countrymen expect that he would try to understand the forces at work today—both at home and abroad—with the touchstone of experience that his grandfather has left behind for him. No longer is the time for amateurish mishandling.

(Mainstream, May 24, 1986)

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