Why Nehru Is No Longer An Icon

by Jay Bhattacharjee - Nov 14, 2017 03:59 PM +05:30 IST
Why Nehru Is No Longer An IconNehru

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru will never recover and retain the Himalayan heights where he and his image dwelt comfortably for so many decades. A self-respecting nation and people should never live with doctored history books and myths.

India’s first Prime Minister is being commemorated. He is now 125 years old. There will certainly be a lot of pomp and chest-thumping by the usual suspects in India and overseas, and Jawaharlal Nehru (JLN), who was always a consummate stage artiste, will surely be watching the tamasha from his abode chosen by Yama Raj or more befittingly, the land of Hades, where the Greek dead reside. One says this because JLN made no secret about his being a “Hindu” by accident, and certainly as a last preference.

More on this later.

When history assesses important persons who strutted on the world stage with great élan, its long arm is relentless in the quest for objectivity, accuracy and truth. Dead leaders, dictators, tyrants and their apologists-cum-defenders can never escape the scrutiny of posterity. The classic cases of re-assessment of one-time titans include Stalin, Mao, Churchill, Gandhi and Nehru. We even have a term for this process that the comrades came up with: ‘de-Stalinisation’. This soon led to the old punch line about the ultimate punishment that the Party can come up with—“expulsion from the grave”. This refers, of course, to the pathetic spectacle of Stalin’s body being taken away from the mausoleum in Moscow’s Red Square.

In India, we will thankfully not see the excesses that the comrades committed, but this author, for one, would certainly root for some corrective action against the idolatry and deification of JLN that his Congress acolytes have done for the last five decades.

Recent studies on JLN have contributed a lot to the dissipation of the halo around him. However, the persistent refusal of Delhi’s apparatchiks to declassify and release vitally important historical papers, such as the Netaji dossiers with the Central Government, makes it difficult to arrive at a definitive picture of Indian politics before Independence and during the “transfer of power”.

This very term, used by our erstwhile colonial rulers and subsequent regimes in Raisina Hill after 1947, sums up the essential nature of the events of 1947 when the British packed up their bags and left post haste. The successors of the Raj, with JLN at the helm, turned out to be more royal than the king, sometimes quite literally. The entire history of the change of guard in Delhi, the role of Gandhi, JLN, and the Congress party in this epic process, was faithfully written by a bunch of courtier “scholars”, whose sole credentials were proximity to the new durbar of Delhi.

Official organizations like the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) were shanghaied by the Congress, the Nehru government and the palace factotums, in order to come up with doctored history and fairy tales. These projected a grossly ersatz version of history and sociology to generations of Indian students and scholars. I have always maintained that the head honcho of ICHR in the 1970s, Nurul Hasan, would have fitted in very comfortably in the agitprop organizations of Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia.

However, in the last few years, we have witnessed a glimmer of hope that the nation’s recent history would now become more accurate and reliable. Some of the critically important issues pertaining to JLN  that have been dissected and analyzed recently in the public domain are the following, listed chronologically and not in any order of priority:

•       His nascent years in Harrow, where he was dispatched by his doting father, Motilal

•       His university days in Cambridge and his academic performance there

•       His initiation into Indian politics

•       His alliance with Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and his cohorts

•       His role in the  freedom movement from the mid-1920s till the “tryst with destiny”

•       His links with the Mountbattens (Edwina and Dickie) during the eventful years 1947-49

•       His Commonwealth charade with the British government after the British had departed

•       His role in the entire saga of Netaji Subhas Bose, his life, his political career and his supposed death

•       His stewardship of independent India, and his encouragement of family fiefdom and tolerance of corruption during his reign

•       His decimation of the Indian armed forces, in collusion with V.K. Krishna Menon et al

•       His contribution to the 1962 debacle, including the build-up in Indo-Chinese friction from 1949 onwards and the actual war in 1962 between the two countries, in the aftermath of Neville Maxwell’s revelation of the Henderson Brooks-Bhagat Report.

We need to look at these individual themes, to arrive at a composite picture of JLN and the place in Indian history that he rightfully deserves.

JLN in an English public school

It does not require any profound psychological analysis to understand how Harrow would have impacted the mind of a young boy sent by his affluent and doting father to the epicentre of British elitist culture to become a gora gentleman. For the JLN apologists to claim that the man did not get a complete mental makeover in Harrow is risible.

In fact, this is the stage of life where the differences between JLN and Subhas Bose start. The latter’s father, as affluent a person as Motilal, decided that the young boy would be shifted out of an English-run school (Stewart College in Cuttack) to a Bengali-medium government school, where he came under the tutelage of his life-long mentor, Beni Madhab Das, whose influence on him is so eloquently detailed in his autobiography. Bose’s socio-cultural roots as a proud Indian were implanted permanently at this impressionable age, while JLN carried on as an ersatz sahib. In retrospect, the seeds of a conflict between the two, waged much more intensely by JLN rather than Netaji, were sown at this stage.

JLN at Cambridge

This is another chapter where his hagiographers have had a field day. The academic career of JLN in, arguably, the most distinguished university on this planet, is shrouded in mystery. No records are available, but even the most avid admirers of JLN would not claim that the man did well. Certainly, he was not even within a shouting distance from what other Indians like Sri Aurobindo, J.C. Bose and Netaji achieved. There are also reports that JLN was awarded a “compassionate” or “pass” degree that was officially awarded in those days, to students from elite public schools like Eton, Harrow and Rugby. As they say, the English establishment always looked after their own. In all likelihood, Nehru’s academic record is kept somewhere in the British National Archives in Kew.

As far as Nehru’s Bar-at-Law qualification goes, there is no secret to be unearthed. At that time, any person in England, who joined one of the Inns of Court (law societies) was automatically called to the Bar and enrolled as a barrister if he completed the requisite number of dinners. The joke that went around for decades about barristers is that anyone who could survive a diet of English cuisine for two years deserved to be given a break in life.

Initiation into politics and alliance with Gandhi

JLN and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (MKG) were a made-for-each-other couple. Gandhi, grandstanding to the nation that he would bring freedom within a year, had started the non-cooperation movement in August 1920. Within a year, more than 55,000 satyagrahis were behind bars, but there was no sign of freedom. The British Raj was unbending and resolute. Soon, after the Chauri Chaura incident, MKG did one of his theatrical acts and proclaimed he had committed a “Himalayan blunder” by launching satyagraha without sufficient “soul-cleansing”. He called off the non-cooperation movement in a bizarre Kejriwal-type gesture that flummoxed ordinary Indians who had plunged into the freedom struggle. JLN’s father, true to his character, started the Swaraj “Party” within the Congress, in order to take on the colonial power within the legislative chambers.

Step in JLN. He decided to put in his lot with MKG, although they were poles apart culturally and socially. Jawaharla Nehru, at 41, became the youngest elected Congress President in December 1929, when it passed its Purna Swaraj (Full Indepedence) resolution on January 26, 1930, that was later declared as independent India’s Republic Day. JLN’s betrayal of this solemn oath in 1949-50 when he opted for the Commonwealth farce will be discussed later.

From the mid-1920s till the “tryst with destiny”

Even as MKG and JLN persisted with their ambivalent stance against British imperialism, a large number of the younger members of the Congress were eager to take up arms against the Raj. Many of them looked upon MKG with considerable suspicion and he was even labelled as an ally of the Raj, because of his dubious role in the suspension of the first satyagraha movement. Subhas Bose was proving to be immensely popular with the rank and file of the Congress and among the general public. After he became Congress President twice in 1938 and 1939, the duo of MKG and JLN went into overdrive to protect their turf.

After Bose was unceremoniously expelled from the Congress by the MKG-JLN cabal, the party drifted and never crystallized its stand vis-à-vis the occupying imperialists. These 10 years or so, from 1939 to 1948, when Dickie Mountbatten and the British armed forces permanently departed from our shores, deserve the closest scrutiny. Impartial and dedicated historians now need to look into the entire subject. This would involve studying the documents of the colonial Indian government as well as its parent organization, Whitehall. Whether the British decide to part with their whole cache of dirty secrets is not sure, but Raisina Hill can most certainly do it.

This is where JLN’s old nemesis Netaji again figures prominently. Once the secret Netaji files are released, they will certainly shed a lot of light on how JLN, MKG and the other senior Congress functionaries conducted themselves in the critical years before 1947. The principal clue about JLN’s conduct that is in the public domain is his totally inexplicable decision to retain India as a member of the British Commonwealth, whereby our country would continue to regard the British sovereign as the recognized head of this organization.

This was a bizarre decision, but India’s courtier historians and social scientists never bothered to study its ramifications. The fact is that JLN  conveniently forgot the Congress commitment to Purna Swaraj and committed an act of perfidy that our country barely realises or comprehends. This surely was an extreme example of the Gunga Din syndrome that marked out JLN and his gang and which still hovers over Delhi’s Lutyens zone.

JLN’s pathetic conduct with Edwina and Dickie Mountbatten is now in the public domain. So is the record of Mountbatten’s treachery with independent India when the Kashmir conflict started a few months after the transfer of power. I have never advocated the study of boudoir history. However, when the amorous peccadilloes of a country’s leader adversely impact its security and public order, there can be no sacred boundaries.

After Independence

The opposition parties in our country, including the comrades during the 1970s till the 1990s, would often refer to Indira Gandhi as “the fountainhead of corruption”. They conveniently overlook the stellar contribution of her father in this area. His record of governance was pathetic and dubious—he allowed his sidekick Krishna Menon to carry out the first scam of independent India, the jeep scandal in 1948, when Menon was India’s envoy in the UK. Other scandals that JLN permitted were the Sirajuddin swindle, the Mundhra fraud and more. He got away with all these sins, because he had a doting and semi-captive press and no electronic media at all.

The biggest crime perpetrated by JLN was to almost destroy the Indian armed forces. He had a monumental obsession and fear about the nation’s sword arm, with many people attributing this mania to the events in Pakistan next door. Aided and abetted by Krishna Menon, who was his Sancho Panza, JLN made sure that the defence forces were systematically downsized and deprived of the critical resources that they needed most urgently.

He had a sinister intelligence chief, B.N. Mullick, from the old colonial police service, who played to JLN’s fears and conjured up imaginary threats to weaken the army and also spy on JLN’s political opponents.

Fancying himself as a scholar and a person who understood history and international relations, he refused to pay attention to the Chinese threat. He genuinely thought that that his Panchsheel fairy tale would either bind the Chinese or act as a framework that would guide Beijing’s (Peking’s) behaviour. And to crown it all, JLN started taking his “chacha” image seriously and made sure that some of his Kashmiri kinfolk got appointed to sensitive and important positions in the Army, for which they were totally unsuitable.

This made India a walkover for the invading Chinese forces in 1962. Nehru’s protégé B.M. Kaul ran away from the battlefield faster than Milkha Singh in the Rome Olympics two years earlier.

Yes, this is the lasting and residual image of JLN that the country is left with—a person whose ego and incompetence bruised our national psyche almost permanently. That is the reason that every regime in Raisina Hill has doggedly refused to officially release the Henderson-Brooks–Bhagat Report that casts a steely eye on what JLN and Menon did to the Indian Army’s capabilities for defending the country from external aggression.

However, the Nehruvian clique never quite contended with a feisty Australian journalist, Neville Maxwell, who couldn’t care less for the babus and netas in the soaring heights of Raisina Hill, and decided to upload the entire report on the internet last year. This was the last straw that broke the JLN juggernaut—no apologies for mixing metaphors.

However, the man and his family clearly have a lot of residual firepower in their armoury. But good old Chacha JLN will never recover and retain the Himalayan heights where he and his image dwelt comfortably for decades. If the new regime in Delhi lasts the course and does not get embroiled in the same mistakes that bedevilled the JLN lot, there will soon be definitive scholarly assessments that will finally demythologize the man forever.

These studies will unleash cans of worms, but that is unavoidable.

A self-respecting nation and people should never live with doctored history books and myths.

Jay Bhattacharjee is a policy and corporate affairs analyst based in Delhi.
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