The official biography of Nehru or history books promoted by the then government does not cover the dark areas during Nehru’s reign adequately.
Jawahar Lal Nehru has been mostly eulogized over the last 70 years, as a true democrat and uncompromising fighter against injustice. The Government of India, while he was reigning as Prime Minister, awarded him Bharat Ratna. Innumerable roads, parks, infrastructural buildings, and educational/technical institutions have been named with his name as pre-fix. He was given pride of place in history books. His birthday is commemorated/celebrated as the Children’s Day.
Even with his overwhelming leadership hold, he made no real effort to prevent the biggest tragedy of the twentieth century, the Partition.
He emerged as an eminent leader of the Indian independence movement promoted by Mahatma Gandhi and served India as Prime Minister from its establishment as an independent nation in 1947 until his death in 1964. Nehru and the Congress dominated Indian politics during the 1930s as the country moved towards independence. His leadership was seemingly validated when the Congress, under his leadership, swept the 1937 provincial elections and formed the government in several provinces; on the other hand, the separatist Muslim League fared much poorer. But these achievements were severely compromised in the aftermath of the Quit India Movement in 1942, which saw the British effectively crush the Congress as a political organization. Nehru, who had reluctantly heeded Gandhi’s call for immediate independence, for he had desired to support the Allied war effort during World War II, came out of a lengthy prison term to a much altered political landscape. The Muslim League under his old Congress colleague and subsequently opponent, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, had come to dominate Muslim politics in India. Negotiations between Congress and Muslim League for power sharing failed and gave way to the independence and bloody partition of India in 1947. Nehru was elected by the Congress to assume office as independent India’s first Prime Minister, although the question of leadership had been settled as far back as 1941 when Gandhi acknowledged Nehru as his political heir and successor.
But was his sacrifice during the freedom movement as big as made out to be? Nehru served long prison terms during the freedom movement, but as established leader of Congress party, his prison life was not very harsh unlike when ordinary workers of the party or the revolutionaries were imprisoned. In that sense, he did not suffer much or have to make many sacrifices during the freedom movement. With ever-flowing support and patronage of Gandhi, he also had rather easy time dealing with his opponents in the party like Bose.
Nehru did not seriously oppose partition of India. Even with his overwhelming leadership hold, he made no real effort to prevent the biggest tragedy of the twentieth century, the Partition. Perhaps his burning ambition for the position of Prime Minister-ship of India stood in the way. He also failed to provide adequate relief to the Hindu immigrants/refugees from East and West Pakistan. In this connection, mention must be made of his mismanagement of Kashmir problem, ignoring and even humiliating Patel and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee. India is still paying for the mess he made of the Kashmir issue in the early years of independence.
One can even question his role in introducing and facilitating the Freight Equalization Scheme for neutralizing the natural claims of Bengal, Bihar, and Odisha on their own mineral resources and utilizing these more efficiently. Even the anti-Bengali agitation in Assam started in his time. He instead of solving the problem, offered only platitude and that is why the problem has now aggravated so much.
Also questionable is his alleged spying on Netaji family and support to UK, Russia, and the USA in their maltreatment of Netaji.
With some idealistic ideas of socialist economy, Nehru could only encourage license-permit raj with rampant corruption
Nehru’s India was always seen as a ‘soft state’ incapable of enforcing policy choices big or small. In 3 decades since 1947, 600000 Tamils were expatriated from Sri-Lanka to India. In 1962, 400000 Indians were repatriated from Burma now called Myanmar. Then, Tibet was occupied by China. Finally came the Chinese aggression and India’s total capitulation, Henderson Brooks report on the debacle also got suppressed. Where was Nehru, the great leader, and statesman during all these happenings?
Then there were many scams during his time, namely, Jeep scandal, Haridas Mundhra- TTK scandal and Dharma Teja scandal. Dynasty role and nepotism made their maiden entry during his time and Indira Gandhi could come into the forefront only because of the personal efforts of Nehru. As his dealings with Bose and Patel bear out, he was also an authoritarian and brooked no opposition.
With some idealistic ideas of socialist economy, Nehru could only encourage license-permit raj with rampant corruption. New laws in the name of land reform, imposed limits on the amount of land one could own. The resulting fragmentation of land contributed to the destruction of the agriculture. He was also a complete failure in international economics. As pointed out by Murali KV in PGURUS dated 14/09/18, he made himself ‘the father of petrodollar economic imperialism’. During the 1960s, INR was the de-facto currency in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula and was considered usable in the oil trade. But subsequent Indian economic mismanagement had strained INR so badly that it failed to maintain its status and value especially for international trade and thereby putting the value of holdings of these oil producing nations in Re, at stake. Thus, Saudi controlled OPEC had no choice but to adopt USD as the sole currency for oil trade.
The official biography or history books promoted by the then government do not cover these dark areas adequately. There is, therefore, a crying need for re-evaluation of the history of Nehru’s contribution to India.
1. Text in Blue points to additional data on the topic.
2. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.