Shashi Tharoor is a delightful novelist. I loved his Riot not just for its unique experiment in structure and form but for the author’s skillful treatment of a delicate subject.
I wish Tharoor displays a bit of that in his columns and sundry articles. Sadly, he doesn’t. Blame it on his St. Stephen’s pedigree. I suspect that institution mysteriously indoctrinates its spring chicken in Political Correctness 101. The ideas, and pattern of thought of every Stephens luminary alumni are systemmatically uniform. From Tharoor to Pankaj Mishra, every Stephens star thinks that the idea of India begins with Nehru despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. The Nehru fixation is longer and stronger than that other Great Wall they find adorable.
An article that supposes to commemorate our independence and democracy on the eve of its 60th anniversary reads like a hymn written to Nehru. Whatever his personal admiration for Nehru, Tharoor could have done without some incredible generalizations like
…Jawaharlal Nehru had no serious rival for power; the only credible alternative, Sardar Patel, died in 1950.
History tells us that barely about six months before Patel death, Nehru had confided in Rafique Kidwai that he planned to float his own party because Patel’s influence within the Congress party was overwhelming.
Nehru was a splendid orator and a prolific writer of volumnious nonsense. As a politician, he was as double-faced as they come, a virtue in that field. I find it incredible that Tharoor chooses to believe that Nehru was democratic at heart when he says:
Nehru consciously went the other way. He himself was such a convinced democrat that, at the crest of his rise in the 1930s, he authored an anonymous article in the Modern Review warning Indians of the dangers of giving dictatorial temptations to Jawaharlal Nehru. “He must be checked,” he wrote of himself. “We want no Caesars.” And indeed, his practice when challenged within his own party was to offer his resignation; he usually got his way, but it was hardly the instinct of a Caesar.
This book I reviewed long ago convincingly demonstrates how Nehru was a true-blood communist. Sita Ram Goel, the author of the book describes Nehru as a bully who “licks the boot that kicks him.” We’ll dwell on this a little later before examining Tharoor again:
As prime minister, Nehru spent a political lifetime trying to instil the habits of democracy in his people â€” a disdain for dictators, a respect for parliamentary procedures, an abiding faith in the constitutional system. He carefully nurtured the country’s infant democratic institutions, paying deference to the country’s ceremonial presidency and even to the largely otiose vice-presidency; he never let the public forget that these notables outranked him in protocol terms…
It is strange for a person that democratic and freedom-loving to side with the Soviet Union. It is incomprehensible that a person who had a “disdain for dictators” to mourn the death of “Marshall” (sic) Stalin when the whole world breathed a little easier. Says Sita Ram Goel in this book:
The power and prestige which Pandit Nehru acquired within a few years after the death of Sardar Patel had nothing to do with his own merits, either as a person, or as a political leader, or as a thinker. They were the outcome of a long historical process which had brought to the fore a whole class of self alienated Hindus. Pandit Nehru would have never come to the top if this class had not been there. And this class would not have become dominant or remained so, had it not been sustained by establishments in the West, particularly that in the Soviet Union.
And Goel’s eyewitness accounts of an incident also provides insight into the kind of person Nehru was:
I, therefore, felt excited when wall posters went up all over Delhi, announcing that the great man [Nehru] was going to address a public meeting in the Gandhi Grounds adjacent to the Chandni Chowk. I do not remember the exact date. It was most probably in late 1934 or early 1935. I was a student of the seventh standard…There was a thunderous applause as Pandit Nehru came up on the rostrum, greeted the people with folded hands, and was formally introduce,d by a local Congress leader. But the next thing I saw made me rub my eyes. The great man had become red in the face, turned to his left, and planted a slap smack on the face of the same leader who was standing near the mike. The mike had failed. Pandit Nehru was gesticulating and shouting at the top of his voice as if something terrible had happened. Meanwhile the mike started functioning again so that he could be heard all over the place. He was saying: “Dilli ki Congress ke karkun kamine hain, razil hain, namaqul hain. Maine kyatti bar inse kaha hai ke intizam nahin kar sakte to mujhe mat bulaya karo, par ye sunte hi nahin (the leaders of the Congress in Delhi are lowbred, mean, and mindless people. I have told them time and again not to invite me if they cannot make proper arrangements. But they pay no heed).” [...]
I happened to be in Delhi towards the end of 1947 or in early 1948, and went to see my journalist friend from America. As I have mentioned, he had left Calcutta for Delhi soon after India became free. As I sat down with him in the Coffee House, he said, ” Sita, who does this man think.he is? Almighty God?” I asked him, ” Who? What has happened?” He told me the story of some Sadhus who had sat down on an indefinite fast near Pandit Nehru’s residence in New Delhi, and were seeking an assurance from him that cow slaughter would be stopped now that the beef eating British had departed. My friend said, “I had gone there to take some pictures, and gather a report. American readers love such stories from India. But what I saw was a horror for me. As I was talking to one of the Sadus who knew some English, this man rushed out of his house accompanied by his sister, Mrs. Pandit. Both of them were shouting something in Hindi. The poor Sadus were taken by surprise, and stood up. This man slapped the Sadu who had moved forward with folded hands. His sister did the same. They were saying something which sounded pretty harsh. Then both of them turned back, and disappeared as fast as they had come. The Sadus did not utter so much as a word in protest, not even after the duo had left. They had taken it all as if it was the normal thing.” I observed, “But in the case of Pandit Nehru, it is the normal thing. He has been slapping and kicking people all his life.” He concluded, “I do not know the norm in your country. In my country, if the President so much as shouts on a citizen, he will have to go. We take it from no bastard, no matter how big he happens to be.” I kept quiet.
The words in bold illustrate the meaning of freedom, equality, liberty and all other nice things in a way no book can. Yet this is the man Tharoor calls democratic. Another example:
By his speeches, his exhortations, and above all by his own personal example, he imparted to the institutions and processes of democracy a dignity that placed it above challenge from would-be tyrants.
Funny how his own daughter became a dictator. But Tharoor has an explanation for that. He says Indira felt
…compelled to return to the Indian people for vindication, held a free election and comprehensively lost it.
If it was only as simple as that. She wasn’t “compelled.” Like every dictator, her Achilles heel at that time was her delusion that she could not lose coupled by extreme dependency on a crackpot like Sanjay Gandhi and other trusted sycophants.
The American editor Norman Cousins once asked Jawaharlal Nehru what he hoped his legacy to India would be. “Four hundred million people capable of governing themselves,” Nehru replied.
And just a few years ago, Winston Churchill was sure that “Indians are not fit to govern themselves.”
Let’s forget Tharoor for a moment and examine the legacy of Nehru’s “democracy”:
- For a firm believer of democracy, Nehru didn’t mind ruling India for 17 years–perhaps more had he not died.
- For a man who set in place all those nice democratic institutions, we’ve been ruled mostly by his descendants. Still. Did someone say Manmohan Singh?
- For a great upholder of the Constitution, Parliament, etc, Nehru engineered the first of a series of unconstitutional dismissals of non-Congress state governments.
Back to Tharoor who concludes with:
Forty-three years after Nehru’s death, that [Nehru's democracy] offers our nation, this August 15th, one more cause for celebration.
Forty three years after his death, we’ve formed committees to substitute governance, and sloganeering to substitute work. Nehru’s democracy has ensured that 60 years of independence has denied millions of Indians basic stuff like clean water, roads, sanitation, and health.
India’s democracy is little more than factionalism.