The Maker of India – Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru

If you ask a young person or child today, even in an urban setting, who Nehru was – apart from a few stock responses like: he was the first Prime Minister of India, he is somehow connected to Children’s Day – one may not get much information. This is in stark contrast to 1964 when Nehru died. ‘Indian newspapers repeated Nehru’s own words at the time of Gandhi’s assassination: “The light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere.’

Panditji, born 14 November, son of a freedom fighter, Gandhiji’s right hand, Congress leader, jailed for opposition to the British Raj, policy maker, architect of India, democratic socialist, having a vision for India and our children, when looked back at in 2012, seems more relevant than ever. This is despite his outdatedness that is inevitable, due to an inability in foreseeing certain trends, and whatever can be questioned in his theoretical assumptions or his cherished ideological values. The fact is he was in many ways so liberal, democratic, republican, secular and modern that even today it is difficult to digest his being ahead of his and even our time’s – a regressive one- views on many matters.

Consider these three quotes for instance:

 “Democracy is good. I say this because other systems are worse.”
“The forces in a capitalist society, if left unchecked, tend to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.”
“Democracy and socialism are means to an end, not the end itself.”

The end for him was always a strong, united, progressive India, and what he sought was a non-reductionist approach to good governance of such a large country. Thus unassisted he looked into not only foreign policy at which he was an expert, but economic policies, land and agrarian issues, industrialization and growth, domestic policies touching on culture, integration and diversity , the reorganization of states, education, social reform and national security issues. Working on such a broad front led to some failures, especially in closing the urban–rural divide, democratization giving way to elitism and socialism being given a short shrift. Capitalism slowly became entrenched, despite his best attempts to make India live an oxymoron.

And yet, this is his chief contribution, the notion of a democratic socialism, which curiously enough is almost what is practised by the revisionary communist comrades in Bengal and Kerala, though they may call it socialist democracy. As the quotes above show Nehru was well aware of the dangers of capitalism and of the weaknesses of democracy and of the need for it to be offset by socialism. His stricture, for instance, that the public sector must share with and keep an eye on the private sector’s dealings and growth being ignored has led in recent times to grave dangers, due to privatization, that we are yet to find ways to deal with.

Ultimately, he espoused: ‘Democratic socialism that rejects centralized, elitist or authoritarian means of transitioning from capitalism to socialism but rather seeks for the creation of a decentralized economic democracy from the grassroots level, undertaken by and for the working class itself.’ This might be strange in an England returned Brahmin but his time in jail and the value he saw in the Quit India and Civil Disobedience movements that created this kind of grassroots bonding among the villagers of India made him think it possible. If India is still a functioning/functional anarchy, to remember J K Galbraith, it is to some extent because of the deep love for our country that people like Nehru had in the policies he crafted for it that still have their impact and value, and some of its key elements like the one mentioned above can help us move even further forward if revived in the right way.

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