The below piece was written by Atulananda Chakravarti for the 2nd April 1960 issue of Swarajya.
“Why do people follow me?” asked Prime Minister Nehru of the press sometime ago. He answered his own question. “It is” he said, “because of my dedication to them, because of my patriotism”. The world came to read all this next morning with amusement and a shot of pain at the same time. They were amused by the stagey, theatrical tone of it; and the pain they felt was due to the Prime Minister trying to come out of a muddled self-appraisal.
His isolated eminence in the Indian political set-up is not due to what he supposes. At least he is not alone in dedication and patriotism. There were and probably are thousands who can boast of the same. Where are they? Some have probably suffered and sacrificed much more, vastly more than he has. Do the people know them even? The answer he gave was not the right answer. The right answer is that people are still searching for the fierce idealist, the uncompromising leader, in the faded shadow that is Prime Minister Nehru.
Since Nehru became Prime Minister, he has been giving his strength and succor, the warmth of his heart and soul, to keep alive the decadent, disintegrating Congress and a cold calculating bureaucracy. His leadership is compromised by prima donna-ish petulance. At times he declares he would retire from politics. But-the pity of it- he cannot.
The expected leadership has channeled out into some disparate ineffectual ideological movements that are at the best choked by the very media by which they are supposed to be helped. His pacifist idealism which made him welcome to the nations of the world once, has now been suspected as feeble opportunism. Gandhi wanted “the peace which is exposed to the arrows of a whole world”. Nehru wants no entanglements.
At home he wanted to unify India, but the agents he employed have substituted centralization instead. He initiated the Plans to make the people prosperous, economically and socially. The Plans have only let loose rackets of all kinds and degrees. While his apparently loyal followers are seeking to industrialize India, they batten on the economy and impoverish it, letting the essentials go neglected. The inevitable result is that people have begun to wonder and question.
The trouble began as Nehru took, to a new role not his own. Gandhi had appointed him as his heir. A person bequeaths to another only what belongs to him. In the same way, an heir can be said to have inherited just that office which his predecessor used to hold. Though he can very well acquire some other new position that would not be his inheritance. What was the office that Gandhi held ? His was only the unofficial office of the leader of the Congress, of the Opposition; institutionally it was Congress, spiritually, it was Opposition. And remember, Gandhi’s announcement of successor-ship was made at a time when Prime Minister-ship was not envisaged at all.
He could not have possibly chosen Nehru as Prime Minister. And it would be a queer piece of logic to say that Nehru is Prime Minister by right of Succession to Gandhi’s Office. He became Prime Minister by virtue of being the leader of the Congress Party – but then it was a Congress from which Gandhi had just gone out and which he was thinking of remaking after his own ideal in the light of the new necessities created by the Independence in which he could not participate.
And since Nehru went over to the government it was left to the old man—the master as he was called – to work as the symbol of popular opposition to the government run by Nehru, and added that if the king would do a wrong he would say so and stand up against it.
It may be remembered that Nehru was built in the way of opposition. His mind was made already before Gandhi met him; and to Gandhi’s credit the old master utilized the young pupil’s talents giving him fuller scope and closer training. He went further and religiously indulged Nehru in his opposition to Gandhi – even to Gandhism. In fact, Nehru made his mark when he, with Gandhi’s blessings, came out to oppose Gandhi in a session of the Congress and unfurled his flag of full independence in opposition to the Congress variety of Swaraj.
Since then, Nehru had been giving his best to the country as the spokesman of the left wing of the Congress. Great, though unperceived, tragedy followed the sudden change of Nehru’s habitual faculty, his radical amendment of his own mental constitution. It is seen only today in its naked horror when the only effective voice of opposition – Gandhi’s voice – has been silenced by destiny.
The result has been painful and pathetic. No omission, no commission, no corruption of the government can now be corrected by the force of fearless opposition; for that force, furthered by Gandhi, was Nehru’s; but he is the government, and as Prime Minister, its invariable defender. The self-contradictions of a great man whom Nature made an opposition leader and history turned into a Prime Minister are bound to have fatal consequences.
These are reflected in the chronic conflicts within his party as well as within his government. Nehru goes much faster than it is possible for his men to catch up. His ideas rush upon him more impetuously than he can himself handle them. Before one innovation is absorbed in the system he embarks on another. There is thus division over his policy as much in his own mind as in his own camp, converting the country into a splendid wreckage of indefinable outlooks and unrealizable dreams. All this is the natural consequence of his trying at all costs to be in every respect the latest of the twentieth century and to leave everyone else at the scornful distance of the nineteenth. All this is a fitful attempt to fit oneself into a situation for which one is an intrinsic misfit.
A professional politician may easily adapt himself from opposition to the ruling position, but one who derives energy from inspiration cannot so easily change his place, for inspiration is not an outer garment that can be cast off at will or opportunity. Because of this anomaly Nehru’s great leadership has failed to yield any great result in any direction whatever. It is the tragedy of a political philosopher playing the role of a political technician
Selections from Swarajya's 40,000 pages of archives since 1956.
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