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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 1 New Delhi December 26, 2015

Attempts to Obliterate the Nehru Legacy ignoring Tributes paid to It

Saturday 26 December 2015, by B N Arora


“To endeavour to forget anyone is a certain way of thinking of nothing else.” —Jean de La Buruyers, French Satirist

We are indeed passing through a saddening scenario when the birth anniversary of a gigantic hero of our nation does not receive the celebration he richly deserved. This is the case with Jawaharlal Nehru whose birthday on November 14 did not get the highly merited respect, like the year gone by. The present dispensation, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has shown a well-orchestrated desire to erase Nehru’s legacy.

Modi did not utter a single word about the great Nehru during his first speech as the Prime Minister on the Indepenence Day while addressing the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort. Thereby he demeaned the high office he holds. The same thing happened this year as well. How come that he ignored to talk about Nehru, one of the tallest leaders thrown up by the freedom movement, on the conclusion of which Independence Day is celebrated? Surely Modi exhibited his hate for Nehru and our first PM’s legacy.

The solemn occasion demands enumeration of tributes paid to Nehru following his death or the opinions otherwise expressed by eminent people and leaders within the country or outside our shores. It is doubtful whether this will pinch Modi’s conscience because the omission on his part is deliberate. In any case, it is prudent to recapitulate what eminent personalities felt about the great hero of our country. Apart from reputed leaders, writers, journalists, etc. in our own country, we may start with the distinguished BJP leader and former Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, In his address to the Lok Sabha after Nehru’s demise, he stated as follows:

....a dream has remained half-fulfilled, a song has become silent...and a flame has vanished into the unknown. The dream was of a world free of fear and hunger, the song a great epic resonant with the spirit of Gita and as fragrant as rose, a flame a candle that burnt all night long showing us the way... Mother India was in mourning because her beloved prince has gone to sleep... The benefactor of the downtrodden has gone... The chief actor of the world stage has departed after performing his last act... In Panditji’s life we get a glimpse of the noble sentiments to be found in the saga of ‘Valmiki’ ...Like Ram, Nehru was orchestrator of the impossible and the inconceivable... he too was not afraid of compromise but would never compromise under duress... the leader has gone but the followers remain. The sun has set, yet by the shadow of stars we must find our way.1

The eminent CPI leader, Hiren Mukerjee, wrote thus:

For four decades and more, this gentle colossus strode our Indian world and his place among the great figures of our time is secure. But his uniqueness lay in the unobtrusive opulence of endowment which gave him, in the thick of politics and in the face even of furstrations, a peculiar refinement and grace of spirit.2

Writing in Mail Today on October 14, 2015, the senior politician, Natwar Singh, pointed out: “Jawaharlal Nehru read history, wrote history and made history.” He further wrote:

Nehru was not only a very great man, he was also a good, guileless, magnanimous and sensitive man and a hero of the Freedom Movement, in popularity second only to Mahatma Gandhi. I was with the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations when he died on May 27, 1964. I wept. (‘Nehru is still the best PM of India’ by Natwar Singh)

Natwar Singh edited a book containing tributes by reputed contemporary personalities of international eminence, who cheerfully responded to his call.

Nikhil Chakravartty, an eminent journalist and founder of the weekly magazine Mainstream, writing in the ‘New Delhi Skyline’ in the issue of May 30, 1964, observed:

The Titan has left behind a brood of dwarfs, none of whom can aspire even to that national eminence which was the hallmark of the Congress High Command when freedom came to this land. Under the shade of the mighty banyan tree no other plant did grow in stature or stamina.

Prof Mridula Mukherjee, formerly Director, Nehru Memorial Musum and Library, wrote in her article appearing in Mainstream of May 31, 2014:

...the name of Jawaharlal Nehru cannot but be singled out since destiny chose him as the one who shouldered the major part of the task of building and shaping democratic institutions and democratic habits and democratic culture in the newly independent India.

She added that there was in Nehru what his biographer S. Gopal has called “a granite core of intellectual and moral commitment to democratic values”.

A senior Supreme Court lawyer, Rajeev Dhavan, has paid glowing tributes to the memory of Nehru. He has also written about tributes by and opinions of a few distinguished personalities around the world. At the outset, he says that Nehru has become one of the metaphors of Indian life. And, the metaphor meanders into legend effortlessly. Regarding the views of the august personalities, he first points out that “an eminent historian—one of the greatest of our age—unabashedly discloses that in remembering Nehru ‘captivation comes nearer the truth.. (like) seeing the Sermon on the Mount practised in real life...without any apparent effort’.” No doubt such a person “deserved to be remembered and immortalised”.

Dhavan then adds that to an Indian publicist Nehru’s “many splendoured life” made him, somewhat, “ the Pope in the Middle Ages... infallible”.

Again, to his biographer Nehru was “a heroic and symbolic force” who would, perforce, “toil in one century so as to reap in another.. (as) India’s once and—we may hope—furture kind”.

He avers that to a politician from Ghana it was “better, wiser and richer for having known” what a Sri Lankan Prime Minister was to describe as a “most charming personality”. He continues to say that to an Indian philosopher President he was “the liberator”, and to a Prime Minister from Singapore ”one of the great revolutionaries of Asia”.

Dhavan concludes by saying that Nehru’s legacy was asking people “not to be petty”. “I cried when he died. Faced with today’s pettiness, I am fored to tears again.”3

Reverting to foreign dignatories who paid their homage to the memory of Nehru, we may first take English logician and philosopher, Bertrand Russel. He wrote:

During the years that I was President of the India League in London, I know of the invaluable leadership and direction which Jawaharlal Nehru gave to India. It is a great tribute to him that he insisted that India should be non-aligned in the insane struggle for power which has pre-occupied the United States and the Soviet Union at the expense of the welfare of Mankind.4

Dean Acheson, the US Secretary of State during the Truman years, said: “India was so important to the world and Nehru so important to India that if he did not exist, then—as Voltaire said of God—he would have had to be invented.”5

American leader Adlai Stevenson paid tributes by saying: “He was one of God’s great creations in our time. His monument is his nation and his dream of freedom and of ever-expanding well-being for all men.”6

We also find that one of his biographers, the Australian Walter Crocker, tells us that “There were two men in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: there were more like twenty in Nehru.”7

Thus, evidently, profuse tributes were paied to the memory of the great son of India by leaders and eminent personalities in different fields of human activity belonging to India and to countries around the world. Yet it is disgraceful that deliberate attempts are being made to eradicate Nehru’s legacy in various ways and dismantling institutions established during the Nehruvian era. It was high time that the existing ruling class eschewed their hatred towards Nehru and his legacy. It needs to be understood that parochialism has no place in our plural society and our ethos of social harmony.


1. The Hindu, November 10, 2002 (Article by Ramachandra Guha, the historian).

2. Mainstream, May 25, 2003.

3. Mail Today, November 17, 2014.

4. Mainstream, November 16, 2003.

5. The Hindu, May 27, 2004.

6. Nehru’s India —Essays On The Maker Of a Nation, edited by Nayantara Sahgal, Speaking Tiger Publishing Ltd., 4381/4, Ansari Road, New Delhi 110002, p. 17.

7. Ibid., p. 156.

The author is a former Under Secretary (now retired) of the Union Public Service Commission.

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