What Nehru’s vision gave India

Tags: Op-ed
What Nehru’s vision gave India
AFP
LEADING THE WAY: In this file photo dated August 15, 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru delivers his famous “Tryst with destiny” speech at Parliament House in New Delhi
On May 26, In­dia's new prime minister and his team took oath of office. May 27 was their first day at work. I hope the new prime minister remembered that this was also the 50th death anniversary of India’s first — and greatest — prime minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. We may forget him, we may castigate him, but then, as they say, no one can ever spit at the sun.

There is no denying that Nehru was the architect of modern India. If the country has any strengths and abilities today, it is because of the way he nurtured the fledgling nation through turbulent times back then. As we all know, our independence was anything but smooth. As a matter of fact, it was one of the most tumultuous births after surviving the horror of Partition. Coping with the biggest cross migration of population, the millions who fled from and the millions who came to their own motherland as refugees. To be able to cater to their needs, to instil in them a sense of belonging, to settle them into a new life, required the heart of a dove and the vision of an eagle.

Nehru inherited a bankrupt economy, empty granaries, chronic droughts and crop failures that resulted in food scarcity. Add to that the issue of feeding all those whom the partition had rendered homeless, and penniless. It had left deep and festering wounds that threatened the very existence of the idea of a nation. Therefore, Nehru had to apply the healing touch, nurse the wounded and soothe the anger. Six months after independence, the one man who could have healed the nation was himself murdered — the father of the nation, Bapu — and Nehru was required to fill this vacuum as well, which he did.

Besides being a nation builder, Nehru was an astute world statesman. All the mistakes that he is now criticised for, and there were some, he was able to lessen the damage they caused because of his stature internationally as a statesman. In the age of the Cold War, he was the only leader who could reach out to both sides and find friends. He weathered the invasion by Pakistan into Kashmir and then after a crushing defeat at the hands of the aggressive and expansionist Chinese, it was his statesmanship that helped India get up and march on.

It was his faith in the ‘modern temples of civilisation’ that proved to the world that India was capable of big and modern industry. It was his belief in harnessing the power of the mighty Indian rivers that saw mega dams for irrigation and electricity. It was his vision that saw the emergence of the public sector as a big industry leader and employer. It was his far-reaching vision that saw the inception of IITs and IIMs as well as the network of agriculture colleges throughout agrarian India, that went on to become the laboratories and nurseries of the green revolution and the ‘brain revolution.’ In fact, so many premier institutions for which we take credit today were conceived by Nehru. Their faded foundation stones and yellowing marble plaques bear witness to the greatness of this visionary.

It was he who visualised the power of the atom and how it could be harnessed for the betterment of humanity. He encouraged the father of the country’s nuclear programme, Homi J Bhabha, to establish India’s first nuclear research facility (which was later named Bhabha Atomic Research Centre) that eventually saw India emerge as a nuclear capable state. Nuclear tests may have been conducted during the prime ministership of Indira Gandhi and later during NDA’s tenure, but the credit for starting us off on the path to nuclear power status was Nehru’s, and no one can take that away from him.

An ungrateful nation may forget him. Men of straw may sit in judgement on his policies. Champions of the capitalist ideology and proponents of free enterprise may pooh-pooh his socialist philosophy, but India’s poor survived the horrors of starvation and deprivation because of his benevolent policies. Also, India’s fledgling industries were protected through their teething troubles because of his patronage. Take a look at Pakistan and one will realise how fortunate India was to be safeguarded in its infancy.

It is easy for political opportunists to take pot shots at Nehru for his mistakes. Yes, he did err in judgement sometimes, but the good he did far outweigh the mistakes he committed. Which is why, as we look forward to the “acche din” ahead, we also need to look back at the solid groundwork given by our founding fathers on which it will be easy to build a grand edifice.

(The writer is founder president, Mahatma Gandhi Foundation)

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