Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, died 50 years ago (27 May 1964). Tomorrow the country will get to know a new Prime Minister, most probably. How far will we have come from Nehru then?
Nelson Mandela, while admitting Mahatma Gandhi’s influence on him, said, “But Nehru was really my hero.” Nehru was a true democrat, explained Mandela in his Rajiv Gandhi Foundation lecture on 25 Jan 1995, who strove to ensure a life with dignity for every citizen. Nehru transcended the narrow boundaries like religion that tended to divide man against man.
Arguably, Nehru’s greatest contribution to India was his concept of secularism. Today the word causes frowns on the foreheads of the country’s culture guardians. The Congress that ruled over India after Nehru is to be blamed partially for those frowns. But the lion’s share of the blame should go to the vested interests of certain other political parties and religious organisations that refused to understand Nehru’s secularism.
Nehru wanted religion to be left to the individuals. The state should have no official religion. The state should respect all religions and even non-believers. Nehru was an agnostic whose religion was humanity. Poverty was an ugliness produced by ignorance and passive resignation engendered mostly by religions. Even today ignorance is encouraged and propagated by religions. Passive resignation has, however, given way to active militancy which is more perilous. It is good to be reminded of what Nehru told Gandhi, “You have stated somewhere that India has nothing to learn from the west and that she has reached a pinnacle of wisdom in the past. I entirely disagree with this viewpoint and I neither think that the so-called Ramarajya was very good in the past, nor do I want it back.”
Radicalism of any sort was abhorrent to Nehru who held very clearly rational views. Technology and development were Nehru’s religions, so to say. He dared to call dams India’s temples. Human dignity was the ultimate goal.
Nehru was a scholar who wrote many books that can be considered classical. He emerges as a visionary who valued every human life as important. The practical ways of ensuring a life of dignity to every person would be secularism, socialism and a scientific approach to reality including history. Nehru detested fascism and the Nietzschean supermen spawned by fascism. He criticised the potential dictator within himself with ruthless clarity. Caesarism with its “vast popularity, a strong will directed to a well-defined purpose, energy, pride, organisational capacity, ability, hardness and ... love of the crowd and intolerance of others ... over-mastering desire to get things done, to sweep away what he dislikes and build anew...” is an ominous menace to the country and its democracy.
The words quoted belong to Nehru himself. He was introspecting in an article he wrote anonymously. Fifty years after his death, will we end up getting a Prime Minister who embodies all the vices that Nehru feared the most?