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18 November, 2014

Denigration of Nehru

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru, officially designated as Children’s Day a half-century ago in recognition of his love for kids and theirs for him, passed without the customary celebrations last week. It indicated the Narendra Modi government’s determination to downgrade the first prime minister, who now ranks next only to Mahatma Gandhi in the national political pantheon.

A year ago the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government set up a committee with prime minister Manmohan Singh as the chairman to organise year-long celebrations to mark Nehru’s 125th birth anniversary from November 14, 2014 to November 14, 2015. Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who is a grand-daughter-in-law of Nehru, resigned from the committee after the change of government.

Modi reconstituted the committee with himself as the chairman. He dropped most of the members considered close to the Nehru-Gandhi family and inducted in their place persons belonging to or acceptable to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

On November 14 the government launched a National Bal Swachchata (Children’s Cleanliness) Mission, an extension of the cleanliness programme Modi had launched on October 2, Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary.

Modi, who was on a 10-day three-nation tour, limited his tribute to Nehru to a tweet, just as he had done on May 27, his death anniversary.

The national pantheon consists of heroes of the freedom movement. Across the country there are many institutions which bear their names. The Congress, while in power, enlarged it to include Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, and grandson Rajiv Gandhi, who too are former prime ministers.

The BJP, while listing the leaders of the freedom struggle in its 2014 election manifesto, omitted Nehru’s name and impliedly accused him of abandoning the spirit and vision of the movement. Modi, in public speeches, repudiates Nehru’s contributions with demagogic declarations that in 60 years of freedom the Congress had given nothing but misrule.

Denigration of Nehru is only one part of Modi’s scheme. Another part involves boosting the image of Vallabhbhai Patel, the first deputy prime minister, to make him look greater than the first prime minister. Last year, as chief minister of Gujarat, Modi sanctioned the construction of a 182-metre Statue of Unity near Vadodara at a cost of Rs29.89 billion as a memorial to Patel, who, as Home Minister, oversaw the merger of about 600 princely states in the Indian Union after the British withdrawal.

The Modi scheme is rooted in the thinking of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh which has reasons to love Patel and hate Nehru. In 1947 Patel praised the RSS for its patriotism, while Nehru criticised it for its communal outlook. It was Nehru’s strong pitch for secularism that prevented the RSS from reaping the benefits of the communally charged post-partition atmosphere.

Patel lifted the ban imposed on the RSS following Gandhi’s assassination after securing an assurance that it would stay out of politics. He was reportedly planning to draw RSS cadres into the Congress but died before this could be done.

Modi’s approach is in sharp contrast with that of the first BJP prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, who, in a lyrical tribute to Nehru on his death, said, “Mother India is mourning for her beloved prince”. On becoming External Affairs Minister in the Janata government, he ordered reinstallation of Nehru’s portrait which bureaucrats had removed following the fall of the Congress government. As prime minister, he drove to Shanti Van, Nehru’s last resting place, on his birth anniversary and offered flowers.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who inaugurated the scaled-down official commemoration of the 125th birth anniversary, said Nehru’s integrity, his love for the country and his contributions as a maker of modern India were unquestionable. RSS loyalists, fed on Modi’s anti-Nehru rhetoric, swarmed Twitter, pouring scorn on him.

Realising that Modi is seeking to either destroy or appropriate Nehru’s legacy, the Congress party quickly drew up an alternative commemoration programme under its own auspices. Its highlight is a two-day international seminar on Nehru’s worldview, which opened on Monday.

Caught between the declining Congress, to which Nehru is an electoral mascot, and the rising BJP, which views him as a continuing obstacle in the way of a Hindu India, his place in history is under challenge. But his record cannot be wished away. When the clouds of partisan warfare dissipate, the nation is sure to recognise his contributions as one who laid a firm foundation for the country’s orderly development within the framework of democracy. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, November 25, 2014.

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