Reversing Nehruvian Legacy

NEHRU_AND_GANDhiBy Ram Puniyani

The debates about India’s partition, Gandhi murder and policies of Nehru have been a matter of ceaseless debates. Each political tendency has their own interpretation of these events, which in a way are landmarks of sorts in modern Indian History. As such the phenomenon of Partition of India and assassination of Gandhi are interwoven in the sense that Godse held Gandhi responsible for appeasement of Muslims. As per him Muslims felt emboldened because of Gandhi’s policies and so demanded Pakistan. On the top of it Godse blamed Gandhi for putting pressure on the Government of India to part with 55 crores to Pakistan, which was as such the balance part of share of Pakistan in the treasury. Godse constructed his story around these two major warped understandings of the events of the time to create the ground for murder of the Mahatma. These views have been shared by many Hindu nationalists also, most of them and around RSS-BJP, upholding that ideology.

Now with the ascendance of BJP to the seat of power (2014) many of its leaders are coming out more boldly with Hindu nationalist interpretation of the events, but a twist is being added. This twist is apparent in the article by a BJP leader from Kerala in the RSS mouth piece Kesari.  This article indirectly suggests that Nathuram Godse should have killed Jawaharlal Nehru instead of Mahatma Gandhi, as according to him the real culprit was Nehru and not Gandhi.  The BJP leader who wrote this is B Gopalkrishnan, one who contested on BJP ticket for parliamentary elections. He attacks Nehru and asserts that Nehru pursued policies which led to partition, that Nehru is the sole responsible person for partition. As per him Nehru has stabbed Gandhi in the back and so, goes on the author, “If history students feel Godse aimed at the wrong target, they cannot be blamed. Nehru was solely responsible for the partition of the country.”

What does one make of it? Is it the official RSS line? To be on the safe side RSS spokesperson Manmohan Vaidya has distanced the RSS from the statement of its leader. That is nothing unusual; RSS does distance itself from those of its activists who become bit uncomfortable for the sake of ‘politically correct stance’. Dara Singh of Bajrang Dal who killed Pastor Grham Steward Stains, Pramod Mutalik of Sriram Sene and even Nathuram Godse are amongst those who were disowned by RSS. There may be some re-thinking within the RSS circles on the lines of the author of Kesari article. The play of Hindu nationalist Pradeep Dalvi, ‘Mee Nathuram Boltoy’, (Me, Nathuram Godse speaking) glorifying Godse; has been being staged in various places in Maharashtra getting good appreciation from many in Maharashtra.

This Kesari article is significant as it is trying to set the trend for blaming Nehru for everything which went wrong. It may not be too difficult to understand the reason for the same. Godse, a Hindu nationalist, held Gandhi responsible for partition; GopalKrishnan is holding Nehru for the same. Before we have a look at who was responsible for partition, let’s try to understand why the blame is being shifted from the Mahatma to Nehru. Recently Narendra Modi launched Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India campaign) on 2nd October as a tribute to the father of the nation, Gandhi. This move has two shrewd aims. One is to appropriate Gandhi for the politics of Hindu nationalism; two is to reduce Gandhi’s contribution to mere cleanliness and hygiene. This over projection of cleanliness associated with Gandhi as such dwarfs the major contribution of Gandhi, Hindu Muslim unity and national integration in the deepest possible sense.

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His major contribution was also on ethical and moral plane of values of truth and non violence. If Hindu nationalists have to appropriate Gandhi in particular, the person who will have to be presented as villain of the piece is obviously Nehru. Nehru’s staunch and principled commitment to Indian nationalism, pluralism, secularism and scientific temper make him a figure totally unacceptable to Hindu nationalists, as Hindu nationalism stands to values totally opposed to these. So the attempts like this article are planned attempts for tasting of waters by throwing up Nehru’s name as the culprit for the partition tragedy.

In the battle for appropriation of icons, Sardar Patel is also being claimed to be the only other leader who should be celebrated at national level as per Narendra Modi. The truth is Gandhi, Nehru and Patel were the troika who led the anti colonial freedom movement. Gandhi as the central pillar, who built up the anti-British-Indian nationalist mass movement, gave it solid foundations and then gradually became the moral guide for the movement. He passed the major mantle of his responsibilities to Nehru and Patel. Nehru was the inspiring popular figure, with excellent rapport with the youth and masses, while Patel was the steel frame of the organization which sustained the mass movement. Later Patel was the main person instrumental in bringing the princely states into the Indian boundaries. In due course Gandhi focused more on social reform, Hindu-Muslim unity, abolition of untouchability, inter-dining and rose to become the father figure of the movement, mentor for the leaders.

Nehru and Patel held the forte at the level of nitty grtties on the political ground. While all three had their unique qualities, they wonderfully fitted into a bouquet, where Nehru and Patel supplemented Gandhi’s overarching leadership of the national movement. Most of the times Hindu nationalists, Hindu Mahasabha-RSS, were critical of Gandhi’s efforts for Hindu Muslim unity, his efforts in integrating all religious communities into an overarching Indian identity. This criticism of Gandhi by Hindu nationalist stream came out in the practical form in the murder of Gandhi by Godse, who was initially trained by RSS; rose to become its Pracharak (propagator, the highest in RSS hierarchy) later to also join Hindu Mahasabha as well. The Muslim communal stream, Muslim League looked at Congress as a Hindu party, representing Hindus alone. The truth is that majority of people from all religions were with the Gandhi led movement for Indian nationalism. It is only after 1940s that more number of Muslims started shifting to Muslim League due to the rise of communalism.

Gandhi was criticized by both communal streams, Hindu communal stream criticized him for appeasing Muslims, and Muslim communalists called him a Hindu representative. Partition was due to multiple factors. The first and foremost was the machination of British policy of ‘divide and rule’ which strengthened the communal streams-Muslim and Hindu both. Secondly British had a long term plan as the colonial power. They perceived that a united India will be a power in its own right, more likely to ally with Soviet Union in global bipolar world. Their perception was due to the Left wing in the Indian National Congress led by Nehru himself. They also had the plan to have a state in the region, which will act as their ‘minion’, that’s what has been the role of largely Military-Mullah led Pakistan for long time. The complexity of partition process cannot be reduced to mere administrative and superficial politics as is done by many commentators like Jaswant Singh. These analyses of partition pick up one event and put the whole blame on that exonerating others. Partition tragedy was multi layered process where one or the other event played miniscule part. We need to see the deeper differences between the Indian nationalists and Religious nationalists (Muslim League-Hindu Mahasabha) and how British in a clever way played their game of partitioning the nation. That should be central to understanding the process, rather than putting the blame on a single individual.

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As per the perception of Hindu communalism, so far it was supposed to be Gandhi who was responsible for partition tragedy, now this stream is trying to shift the blame on to Nehru as they do need Gandhi as an icon, though freed from its core virtues of truth and non violence, reduced to mere ‘cleanliness man’. In no way they can appropriate Nehru, as he lived after Independence to nurture the values of Indian nationalism, pluralism, liberalism and diversity, the principles which were the cementing factors of Indian national movement, the biggest ever mass movement in the World. So this article; in RSS mouth piece Kesari and the façade of its being disowned!

In this game of projecting the icons suitable to their goals, the statement that Patel would have been a better prime minister than Nehru is also being propagated and Modi also stated the same. While arguing during his Lok Sabha election campaign he stated this. This was the echo of Modi’s mentor Guru, MS Golwalkar, the major ideologue of RSS. To put more aggression to the anti Nehru propaganda one saw BJP ideologue Subramaniam Swamy came forward with the statement that ‘the books of Nehruvian historians’ i.e. historians like Romila Thapar and Bipan Chandra should be “burnt in a bonfire”.

Even during the last few months of BJP Government the total contrast between Nehru;s policies and Modi’s policies are starkly obvious. We restrict to only policies related to diversity, rational though and pluralism in this article. One recalls that Nehru shaped the initial years of state policies, state vis a vis religion. His initial challenge was to walk the delicate path between the secular constitution and the society deeply gripped by religiosity and the prevalence of the impact of communal politics. He had to face the challenge of his President wanting to go and inaugurate Somnath temple in his official capacity. Nehru put his foot down and refused to permit such a mix up. Then when the idols were installed in Babri mosque by Hindutva elements, he was more than keen to ensure that idols were removed forthwith. As the matters stood due to the machinations of the state government and the local magistrate K.K. Nayyar, who later joined and worked for Bhartiya jansangh, the previous avatar of current BJP, the idols were not removed and that created the tragedy of Babri demolition in times to come.

In the same way when the first post partition violence took place in Jabalpur, he ensured that it is curtailed, sent his friends to douse the fire of violence and went on to lay the foundations of National Integration Council (NIC), to ensure that communal amity prevails in the country. NIC did play some role in the communal amity. Interestingly, during the previous regime of NDA led by BJP, NIC was not reconstituted and one waits to see its fate with the new dispensation.

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Coming to Modi, during last few months of his being in the power, we see the ferocity of suppressing liberal values to suppress the things critical of his government. There is an attempt at deeper level to undermine scientific temper and promote irrational kite flying in the arena of mythology. The presumption that India had all the scienfic achievements of genetic engineering (birth of Kauravas) and transplantation of elephants head on Lord Ganesha’s body being bandied by the Prime Minster as the examples of the same indicate that.

The Modi administration’s intervention in the field of culture and education has begun right away. Prof Rao has been appointed as the Chair of ICHR, Prof Rao holds that caste system had virtues and goes on to say that there were no complaints against this system. Prof. Rao’s central concern is to establish the historicity of epics like Ramayan and Mahabharat. Rao is also president of the “Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana” (ABISY), something which is close to the agenda of BJP and RSS.

Modi’s RSS training is out in his speeches. In his parliamentary speech he referred to India’s “1000 years of slavery”. This is significant part of the communal historiography, which is the core of RSS’ political project of “Hindu India’. The hint is clearly meant to nearly six centuries of the rule of Muslim kings of different dynasties in certain part of the subcontinent. His view of history looks at this period as the period of slavery, despite the fact that the administration of the Hindu and Muslim kings was mixed and the battles of kings were for power not for religion. This view of history reinforces the Hindutva view that Muslims are outsiders and violent. This view of Hindu nationalists is totally opposite of the way Gandhi and Nehru saw it. They saw it a period of development of syncretic traditions and coming up of Ganga Jamani Tehjib, the could see the Muslims and indu kings were interacting with each other in different types of alliances for power.

While Modi, on his part, appealed for a moratorium on communal violence his associates in political arena are doing the divisive activities wither in the name of ‘Love Jihad’ or ‘Cow slaughter’. Modi’s loyalty to the RSS and its ideology of Hindu nationalsim became more than apparent with the live TV relay of the annual vijaydashmi speech by RSS Sarsanghchalak (Supreem Leader) Mohan Bhagwat. This was a ‘first’ in the history of independent India.

The contrast could not have been more obvious. It is a case of ‘chalk and cheese’. Nehru was deeply rooted in the diversity of the nation, his understanding of the country as a plural multi-religious country was an unshakable article of understanding for him. The policies of Modi even during this short span of time are a clear indication of shape of things to come. Not only Modi’s past starting from his role in Post Godhra violence, his comment ‘Every action has a equal and opposite reaction; the refugee camps are factories of child production, his appointments in the administration and educational-cultural bodies are totally undermining the secular legacy of Nehru.


If Nehruvian philosophy is rooted in secularism, pluralism, inclusion and scientific temper, Modi’s party’s is exactly the opposite. His abiding faith in Indian pluralism helped keep the nation united; his commitment to democracy and democratic institution-building meant that we never strayed down towards the path of dictatorship that afflicted so many other newly-independent nations.