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Why do the followers of the current ruling ideology rubbish Nehru?

Some weeks ago, I moderated the closing debate at the Jaipur Literary Festival.

The motion was: “Nehru remains the greatest Prime Minister of India”.


Before the start of the debate Sanjoy Roy, one of the organizers of the JLF, polled the audience. Sixty per cent supported the motion, while 40 per cent opposed it. (We were relying on people who put their hands up so these are only approximate figures).


   Frankly, I was a little surprised. There is so much rubbishing on Nehru these days that I thought the motion would be defeated before the debate even began. And certainly, in the section of the debate where we welcomed questions from the audience, there was a fair amount of noisy Nehru-bashing.


   Nehru was held responsible for a series of ‘blunders’. Why had he not invaded Goa in 1947 itself? When even the US offered to send the American Air Force to help fight the Chinese during the 1962 war, why did Nehru refuse to use the IAF? And so on.


   Many of the anti-Nehru questions from the audience came from people who looked like they had recently graduated from WhatsApp University and many (like the ones above) were based on misunderstandings and myths. Others referenced today’s debates on Article 370 and the like. But hardly any of them even touched the areas where Nehru’s role can be questioned: non-alignment, economic policy, linguistic states etc.


   At the end, when we polled the audience again, we found that the speakers proposing the motion had actually swung the vote even further into the pro-Nehru camp. The motion was passed with an overwhelming majority.


   I don’t suppose we should draw too many conclusions about the mood of the nation from a vote at a literary festival, attended mostly by graduates of real universities (though, of course, the WhatsApp alumni were a vocal part of the audience) who can be swayed by facts, logic and reason.


   But while hearing some of the anti-Nehru questions and listening to some of the speeches, I wondered: why is it so important for followers of the current ruling ideology to rubbish Nehru? Why do so many of them hate him so much? And why is there so much misinformation about him on social media and in the minds of the young?


   Some of this may be explained by a desire to use history to fight the battles of the present. People who oppose the current dynastic structure of the Congress need to trace everything back to the first member of the family to become Prime Minister. If they can show that Nehru was an evil man or a moral reprobate (and this is a common view of Nehru in Hindutva-loving circles), they can argue that his descendants come from a tainted family.


 "When I see the viciousness of the campaign against Nehru and the vision of a modern, pluralistic India he represents, I wonder if the lies can be fought with the truth."

   But the more I see of Nehru’s critics on social media, the more convinced I am that the objection is not to Nehru the man but to what he represents.


   The essence of the objections to Nehru is contained in one manufactured quote. Nehru is supposed to have described himself as “English by education, Muslim by culture and Hindu by accident.”


   As the BJP MP MJ Akbar tells us in his biography Nehru: The Making of India, Nehru never said this. The quote was falsely attributed to him by NB Khare in the 1950s when Nehru was still alive. Khare was a Hindu Mahasabha leader so his motives are not hard to figure out.


   But it captures Khare’s own prejudices and those of the Hindu Right. They mistrusted a modern, Western-educated person. To be Muslim by culture was, to them, an abomination. Sadly, this is as true of today’s WhatsApp university graduates. Many of them resent the old English-speaking elite so a Western education is, to their minds, a defining characteristic of the enemy. And they have been taught to regard Muslims as their foes.


   It is this theme that recurs again and again in criticism of Nehru. In 2016, Indian news TV, itself a sort of subsidiary of WhatsApp university, featured a letter purportedly written by Nehru to a man described in the letter as ‘PM of England Clement Attle’ who lived at ‘Down Street’. In the letter Nehru told this ‘Mr Attle’ that Subhash Chandra Bose was a ‘war criminal’. The letter was an obvious fake cooked up by some talentless amateur forger. But that did not stop news channels from featuring it anyway. The motive was to reinforce the idea that far from being a freedom fighter Nehru was a stooge of the British.


   If Nehru was a British agent, then who among the Hindutva-wallas was actually a great freedom fighter? Usually, a single name comes up: Veer Savarkar. Savarkar had a complicated relationship with the RSS but in this context, he has been appropriated by Nehru's critics because whatever else you may say about him, there is no doubt that he was jailed as a freedom fighter by the British.


   Once you go beyond Savarkar it becomes harder to find famous freedom fighters from the Hindu right. So Congress icons are appropriated as Hindutva counterpoints to Nehru. LK Advani popularized the trend of treating Sardar Patel as the sort of chap who would have made his way to his neighbourhood chakha if only he had not mislaid the address. This lie has been told so often that the view that Patel and Nehru were deadly enemies is now an article of faith in Hindutva circles. You wonder if Patel was ahead of his time when he wrote of his friendship with Nehru, “contrary to impressions created by some interested persons and eagerly accepted in credulous circles, we have worked as lifelong friends and colleagues…”


   When I see the viciousness of the campaign against Nehru and the vision of a modern, pluralistic India he represents, I wonder if the lies can be fought with the truth as they were at the JLF debate. I asked Purushottam Aggarwal, the noted academic who was the star of the JLF debate, if he thought that the campaign of falsehood could be battled by letting people know the truth.


   He responded that yes, the truth would help. But like me he wondered if the truth would get drowned out in the cacophony of social media lies and mainstream media forgeries. He could have added that as children’s textbooks will be rewritten, many of these untruths will find their way on to their pages.


   The Republic of diversity, pluralism and freedom that Nehru dreamt of will be destroyed by those who would much rather create a Republic of lies.




  • Bhushan lal Shishoo 26 Apr 2022

    In my opinion the only folly Nehru committef was to lift the ban of RSS post Gandhi jis death.He should have had the foresight of seeing this communal monster "s Potential damaging the multicultural fabric of this society.

  • Rao 22 Apr 2022

    Well, as a western educated Independent I would like to see the Truth come out.. not narratives from the Left or Right. And I would also like to understand the origin of the family name 'NEHRU'. Apart from that, folks need to understand that all politicians make up stuff for their personal gain & they're from the left & the right.

Posted On: 21 Apr 2022 06:00 PM
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