PM Narendra Modi has unwittingly done a great national service in his visceral hatred (actually a form of fear) of Nehru. He has brought Nehru back to daily headlines.
Nehru is no more confined to history and memory. He is very much out there in the contemporary political discourse and discussion — thanks to the PM and his trademark PT (Post Truth) and AF (Alternative Facts) ‘oratory’.
“Blame Nehru for everything” has been going on for quite some time; and in the recent Karnataka elections, the anti-Nehru tirade reached hilarious proportions with PM Modi accusing him of never visiting Bhagat Singh in jail and for insulting two army chiefs — sons of Karnataka.
To be fair, PM Modi cannot be credited with the invention of the ‘Must Hate Nehru’ political discourse. Nehru has been targeted incessantly by the RSS. PM Modi can be credited only with raising the decibel levels with ‘oratory’ skills, which are quite in tune with our Post Truth times that are characterised with nuggets of WhatsApp wisdom.
Even After Half A Century, Nehru Continues To Threaten Hindutva
Even after more than half a century of his death, Nehru continues to give nightmares to political Hindutva because despite his supposed indifference to religion and his insistence that, "the country must conduct itself through political principles, not through religious sentiments", he won the faith and respect of his deeply religious compatriots and even today continues to be a figure of reverence and fond remembrance.
To its credit, the RSS realised the importance and influence of Nehru early on. In fact, it has been afraid of this influence — hence the constant ‘hate Nehru’ campaign.
His detractors have been so insistent in propagating his "indifference, even contempt" for Hindu traditions that a peculiar statement – "English by education, Muslim by culture and Hindu by accident" – has been attributed to him. This is not to be found anywhere in Nehru’s writings or conversations.
As MJ Akbar (presently a minister in Modi’s council of ministers) tells us: “The president of Hindu Mahasabha in 1950, NB Khare was only repeating an old story when he called Jawaharlal Nehru “English by education, Muslim by culture and Hindu by accident”.
He further notes, and rightly, “Jawaharlal preferred his father’s intellect over his mother’s tradition, but he was never contemptuous of religion”.
Rumour-Mongering Only Underlines The Hindutva Fear Of Nehru
I cannot claim to have read every single word written or spoken by Nehru, but can say with confidence that I have read a lot by him and about him. I have not come across a single word, repeat word, that can be construed as being contemptuous of Hinduism, or for that matter any cultural or religious tradition.
The rumour-mongering only underlines the rumour-mongers’ fear of him.
In Discovery of India (1945), Nehru elaborates upon his understanding of religion which he had put forward in Autobiography (1936) in the context of Gandhi’s fast against untouchability.
While addressing the question of his “philosophy of life”, he reiterates his aversion to “superstitious practices and dogmatic beliefs” and “uncritical credulousness” going with religion.
At the same time, he also notes: “religion had supplied some deeply felt inner need of human nature, and the vast majority of people all over the world could not do without some form of religious belief. It had produced many fine types of men and women, as well as bigoted, narrow-minded, cruel tyrants. It had given a set of values to human life, and though, some of these values had no application today, or were even harmful, others were still the foundation of morality and ethics”.
It is quite true, and at the same time, creative expressions of human spirit like arts, music and literature have also played a major but not much highlighted role in the process.
Nehru was very well aware of this fact. That is why after independence, he was as insistent on having autonomous institutions to promote literature, fine arts, music, drama and film as he was eager to have the IITs and nuclear reactors. The initiatives like Sahitya, Kala and Sangeet-Natak Akademis; National School of Drama and Film Institute were not merely acts of patronage.
In Nehru’s vision, they were crucially needed to address the “spiritual emptiness facing our technological civilisation”— as he put it in a conversation with RK Karanjia in 1960.
Elaborating his ‘philosophy of life’, Nehru underlines his “feeling at home” in “pantheistic atmosphere” and his attraction to “ the advaita philosophy of Vedanta” and the “appeal of ethical approach to life”:
“… I can appreciate to some extent the conception of monism, and I have been attracted towards the advaita (non-dualist) philosophy of the Vedanta… I realise that merely an intellectual appreciation of such matters does not carry one far… The diversity and fullness of nature stir me and produce a harmony of the spirit, and I can imagine myself feeling at home in the old Indian or Greek pagan and pantheistic atmosphere, but minus the conception of God or Gods that was attached to it.”
Anyone nurtured within the Indian religious sensibility would immediately relate with what Nehru is saying here.
Indian religious traditions celebrate the multitudes of gods and goddesses, and other divinities. The Hindu tradition has been quite happy with its “pantheistic” atmosphere, and has left the question of choosing or not choosing “anthropomorphic” personal God or Gods to each individual.
Even the theoretically monotheistic faiths — Islam and Christianity — in practice have a number of divinities providing spiritual solace and pragmatic solutions to the faithful. Celebration of diversity, tolerance of the difference and respect for others’ faith are not politically motivated slogans. These are the facts of India’s social life, in fact the gist of its cultural and spiritual sadhana, ie purposeful practice.
And, this sadhana with all its brooding reflection, is no synonym of sadness. Nehru quotes Arrian, the Greek historian of Alexander's campaign to north India, “No nation is fonder of singing and dancing than the Indian”.
‘Nehru Couldn’t Tolerate Political Use Of Religious Identity’
What Nehru could not really tolerate was the political use of religious identity. He continued to fight against use of religion to gain political power — ‘communalism’ —as it is known in the politics of modern India.
It is singularly important to remember that Nehru sought to counter communalism —Hindu, Muslim, Sikh — not merely with the category of ‘secularism’, but with ‘Indian nationalism’, which for him was inclusive of diversity and much more than mere emotionalism.
Being a keen observer of contemporary world with a robust ethical sense, Nehru, more than many of his contemporaries could see through the emotional manipulation underlying the ‘nationalism’ of Hitler and Mussolini, and also knew that ‘communalism’ (of whatever variety) in Indian politics is the Indian version of same politics.
Nehru was telling his daughter Indira six years before the World War II erupted, about the ‘strange Nazi philosophy’ which propagated by all means fair or foul, not only the German superiority but also ‘culling’ of the inferior races, and held that, “The age of pure reason and unprejudiced science is over”.
Incidentally, this is what the Post-Modern, Post-Truth worldview insists on.
Nehru noted it repeatedly in his writings and speeches that, not only Hindu but also Muslim communalism was full of admiration for Hitler. They also shared antipathy to democratic nationalism, but with a difference, which is even more crucial today than it was then.
That the Muslim organisations have shown themselves to be quite extraordinarily communal has been potent to everybody. The (Hindu) Mahasabha’s communalism has not been so obvious, as it masquerades under a nationalist cloak.An excerpt from his autobiography
Since independence, Indian polity has never been as divided as it is today. We did not have an ‘educated’ public as mis-informed and vulnerable as we have now. It will be surprising for many today, that having broken up with Gandhi, Nehru and Congress in general on the question of aligning with Hitler, it was Subhas Chandra Bose, who become the first person to refer to Gandhi as ‘father of our nation’ in his broadcast from Singapore on 6 July 1944.
He also named brigades in his Indian National Army after Gandhi, Nehru and Azad. After all, inspite of all the differences, they admired, in fact loved, each other. Their differences were as genuine as were the attempts to come to the broadest possible consensus. The Karachi Congress (1931) resolution on Fundamental Rights and Economic Programme is an illuminating metaphor of such attempts. This resolution embodies the sprint of freedom movement and is actually a precursor to the Indian Constitution’s concern with justice and equality.
The resolution was drafted by Nehru and Bose, and moved by Gandhiji in a session presided over by Sardar Patel!
Nehru’s faith in India was not a faith rooted in ignorant fantasies of past and distorted imaginations of future. He says unequivocally: “A blind reverence for the past is bad and so also is a contempt for it, for no future can be founded on either of these”.
Writing Discovery of India just a couple of years before independence, Nehru was clear, “India, constituted as she is, cannot play a secondary part in world. She will either count for a great deal or not count at all.”
Inspite of some mis-judgements and mistakes, his policies were aimed at realising ‘India’s destiny’, and are paying off today, only a very, very ungrateful bunch can ignore this fact.