This piece was first published in Center Right India. Posted here in full.
Of all “Days” that India celebrates every year, only Engineers’ Day is meaningful, and Children’s Day, the most wasted. It stretches the limits of even fantasy to find a link to Jawaharlal Nehru and children. It boggled my brain way back in primary school when the lesson told me that November 14, Jawaharlal Nehru’s birthday was celebrated as Children’s Day because “Nehru was fond of children” and “he gave a red rose to every child he met” or some such nonsense including the “chacha” Nehru nonsense. You might explain this nonsense away by attributing it as part of creating the Infallible Nehru Myth. It is doubtless that, but it’s also something deeply sinister—you must give it to Nehru or his myth-makers for catching ‘em kids young and watching their lives grow around the Nehru Myth. I challenge you guys to find just one instance of Nehru’s service to children. Just one.
But that’s how people-centric myths are woven. That’s how they endure. Indeed, the Nehru Myth has been more effective than the Gandhi Myth. Today there’s no dearth of people who freely call the bluff on both Gandhi and Nehru but nothing has really changed as far as the Nehru Dynasty is concerned. The family jewels are safe in Italy even as the party is imploding under the unbearable weight of its 8-year long loot. The next in the bloodline doesn’t seem overtly bothered where the nation is heading. He shouldn’t because his great grandfather laid such a firm foundation. But look at what’s happened to Gandhi’s grandsons. Forget that. Look at the relative market values of Gandhi’s and Nehru’s 21st Century biographers.
Far too much has been written about how Nehru wrecked the Indian economy and education so I won’t bother repeating them here. Instead, there are two prominent myths that haven’t been given the attention they deserve, as well as several sub-myths that merit equal attention.
Nehru was India’s 20th Century Tughlaq. Over the last four days, I’ve been thinking of a term to characterize independent India’s first Prime Minister and this is the closest and the most accurate I could think of. Other Suggestions are welcome. The parallels are so stark and evident that I cursed myself for not noticing them earlier. India was a playground on which Nehru played out his numerous self-designed sports—except that every single sport he designed ended up grievously wounding if not killing the actual players who merely happened to be the citizens of India. Not too unlike Tughlaq. And not too unlike Tughlaq, Nehru was full of ideas. To our eternal misfortune, this Nabob of Cluelessness, like Tughlaq, had the power to, and implemented those ideas whose rightful place is in the world of fantasy. Like Tughlaq, Nehru’s unrivalled cluelessness was only complemented by his incurable megalomania. Tughlaq at least lived in a time when the Royal Ego was a desired qualification in a ruler. What excuse did this champion of democracy have when he wrote the following in the third person in November 1937 in a Calcutta journal profiling himself?
“…he has all the makings of a dictator in him—vast popularity, a strong will, energy, pride…and with all his love of the crowd, an intolerance of others and a certain contempt for the weak and inefficient….in normal times, he would just be an efficient…executive, but in this revolutionary epoch, Caesarism is always at the door, and is it not possible that Jawaharlal might fancy himself a Caesar? Therein lies the danger for Jawaharlal and India.”
[Nehru: A Political Biography, M.Edwardes pg 245]
Indeed, Edwardes rightly calls out yet another despicable myth that Nehru was a democrat. To quote from the same page (emphasis mine),
“In 1951…some thought that Nehru would become the unchallenged Caesar. They were right but the Caesarism of the next decade was to be the Caesarism of Nehru’s weaknesses. The arrogance and pride were to have full rein and were tolerated because those who really held the levers of power needed his vast popularity to preserve their positions. Democracy, the shackle Nehru placed upon his own anti-democratic tendencies turned out to be an admirable preservative for the status quo…but Nehru was an inefficient executive and an incompetent administrator
who could not delegate even if he wanted to.”
This then was the sickening refrain that echoed throughout Nehru’s rule as the Prime Minister of India—he was convinced that he held answers to everything. The only time he listened to dissent was when it emanated from the Communists. And even with them, he drew the line—his absolutepower was to remain unchallenged. When that happened constitutionally, when Kerala elected its first non-Congress government, this Champion of Democracy unceremoniously dismissed it. And this act also busts yet another myth that Nehru was a builder of institutions—he mauled the office of the Governor to unseat EMS. Similar things occurred during Tughlaq’s rule when chieftains rebelled against him. They were instantly, cruelly put to death. Thank God for democracy.
Indeed, there’s no evidence that Nehru cared much for institutions. Much before he illegitimately dismissed the EMS government, he had stifled free speech by introducing India’s First Amendment. This is often used by Nehru-style state governments and others to put people in jail for speaking the truth fearlessly. The likes of Kapil Sibal derive their (im)moral authority from this wretched amendment. And why should we be surprised that an innately dictatorial leader like Nehru introduced this amendment? Why should we be surprised that he impaired institutions?
The answer to this question lies in how Nehru became Prime Minister. He wasn’t elected. He was thrust upon the nation by Mahatma Gandhi who chose him over Sardar Patel. If we cut back to the freedom movement, it’s pretty clear that Nehru was never popular within the Indian National Congress. He was popular with the masses but it was reflected popularity thanks to his proximity to Gandhi. As long as Patel was alive, Nehru couldn’t do much within either the party or the Government. In a vain attempt, Nehru once fired a bullet against Patel from Kidwai’s shoulders by encouraging him to form a splinter group called the Congress Democratic Front and even considered breaking away from the mother party. Indeed, Patel’s death proved a bonanza for Nehru to embark on running the country based on fanciful whims which continue to remain disastrous for India.
A measure of how Nehru fought the 1951 elections is a good pointer to begin to understand the true nature of Nehru’s legacy. Again, we can turn to Edwardes:
“The anxiety of Congress members to fight the election with the weapon of Nehru’s…charisma rather than policies, was well-founded…Nehru…talked of broad and mostly incomprehensible issues and almost never of the local candidate. It was always Congress the liberator from British rule, the Congress the hope of the future, never the Congress of the present…the whole election was a travesty of democracy.”
[Pages 246—248. Emphasis on "charisma" in the original, rest mine]
A travesty of democracy as early as 1951, just a year after we adopted the Constitution. In fact, it’d be a good academic exercise to thoroughly examine which of the innumerable ruinous gaffes that Nehru foisted upon the nation qualifies to be termed “policy.” They were decisions based on the delusions of an intolerant leader passed in Parliament through sheer brute force. This is not to say that Nehru had no ideas. In fact, the opposite is true. Nehru overflowed with ideas. He overflowed with the Big and the Great Questions that tormented all Great Leaders since time immemorial given that he fancied himself to be one of those leaders. Truly a Great Leader, he had nary a second to spare for tackling the cancer of corruption that had begun to eat the Congress party’s innards as early as the 1930s.
Nehru’s commitment to democracy is also measured by the kind of leaders he held in immense esteem. Almost every genocidal maniac in history evoked the highest degree of fearful respect in Nehru. The Nabob of Cluelessness would shudder in pleasure whenever he spoke about people like Mahmud Ghaznavid. But it was “Marshal” Stalin who truly gave him the most pleasurable Goosebumps. While the entire world sighed in relief when that mass-murderer monster died, our Nabob adjourned the House from March 5—March 9, 1953 because:
perhaps no single figure has moulded and affected and influenced the history of these years more than Marshal Stalin. He became gradually almost a legendary figure… He proved himself great in peace and in war. He showed an indomitable will and courage which few possess… but every one will agree that here was a man of giant stature… who ultimately would be remembered by the way he built up his great country… he was in a sense ‘intimate’…with vast numbers of human beings, not only the vast numbers in the Soviet Union with whom he moved in an intimate way, in a friendly way, in an almost family way… So here was this man who created in his life-time this bond of affection and admiration among vast numbers of human beings, a man who has gone through this troubled period of history.
He may in the opinion of some have made mistakes or succeeded – it is immaterial. But every one must necessarily agree about his giant stature and about his mighty achievements… If I may suggest it to you, Sir, perhaps this tribute and our message of condolence might be conveyed by you, Sir, on behalf of the House to the Government of the Soviet Union. May I also suggest, Sir, that the House might adjourn in memory of Marshal Stalin?
[Parliamentary Debates, House of the People', Official Report – Volume 1, No. 18, Friday, 6th March 1953, Parliamentary Secretariat, New Delhi. Emphases mine.]
If you ever wondered as to the exact extent of the Nabob’s cluelessness, this is your answer.
But truthfully speaking, almost every gaffe, every stupid utterance, and every Himalayan blunder that Nehru made can be traced back to his inherently weak and inferior personality. Look at it any which way, he was a weak man who cowered under just a stare from much stronger personalities. The fact that Motilal Nehru could turn his 30-something old son into a frightened puddle with just a stern look says a lot about the son. That is also the reason that Nehru clung to Gandhi’s dhoti. The elder Nehru was overpowered into speechlessness by Gandhi’s saintly but powerful will. It is this weak personality that made Nehru such an unabashed worshipper of absolute power and by extension, a worshipper of all those tyrants who wielded it unabashedly.
He needed strong men around him. The record of what he did when he was left to his own devices is well-known. Left to his own, Nehru’s cluelessness flowered disastrously. Two examples suffice. The mammoth and near-impossible task of integrating 570-odd Princely States into the (new) Indian Union was accomplished by Sardar Patel as if it was child’s play. Equally, the Junagarh and Hyderabad problems were resolved in no time. But the moment Nehru’s clueless hands touched Kashmir, it blew up in his face and remains a festering sore even today. It is because Nehru used his own brain that it was easy for Communists to comprehensively brainwash him during his trips to Europe. It was because he used his own brain that he fell in love with Stalin’s fake 5-star prisons, and much to our woe, it was why he mortgaged that brain and soul to Stalinist USSR. Whenever Nehru used his own brain, the results were invariably destructive to others, not to himself.
There’s yet another little-known instance that throws instructive light on Nehru’s mindset. Here’s what he did on the eve of Indian Independence, a sort of precursor of things to ensue if he was given power.
On March 23, 1947, the day after Lord Mountbatten arrived in India for the first time, an Asian Relations Conference was held in Purana Qila, Delhi. While the other freedom fighters and Congress leaders were busy shaping strategies to combat Mountbatten, Nehru was busy attending this Conference and giving interviews to The Hindu and The Manchester Guardian where he waxed eloquent that an Asian Federation was a “possibility in the near future.” This gained him some currency on the world stage. He cashed on this and went on a whirlwind fundraising tour to South East Asian countries in March 1946 to hold an Asian conference.
In April 1946, an unofficial body called Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) began preparing for this conference with an over-zealous Nehru lending his full weight to it. The fact that Nehru found time to do this when the subcontinent had exploded in an orgy of communal violence, the fact that Gandhi, Patel, and most others were furiously negotiating with Mountbatten and trying to contain the violence…none of it mattered to this champion of secularism and Apostle of World Peace.
Throughout his pre-Independence career, Nehru was a comprehensive disaster in domestic affairs. Not merely because his cluelessness was put in place by other sensible leaders but because he never cared to understand his own nation and/or its people. Where he was concerned, the unwashed masses of India were all kaminey. Nehru went abroad frequently to escape humiliation within the Congress party because it paid no heed to his socialist fantasies and his thoughtless utterances on international affairs.
Indeed, this failure on the domestic front magnified after he became Prime Minister. Because these are too well-known, there’s no point repeating them. However, we need to pay special attention to how he wrecked the nation’s defence. And this is not just with respect to how he was solely responsible for the humiliation that China meted out to us. It is the run up to that humiliation that holds the key.
The episode of how Nehru humiliated someone of General Thimmayya’s caliber needs to be repeated and repeated more often. The story of how Nehru’s evil genius manipulated Thimmayya’s resignation is sickening. When Thimmayya’s resignation created public outcry, Nehru, instead of doing the honourable thing, decided to isolate the poor General. He lied to the heads of the Air Force and Navy who had decided to follow Thimmayya and made them withdraw their resignations. The reason? Nehru’s incurable fondness for his Man Friday, Krishna Menon. But the real reason was the fact that letting Thimmayya stay on indirectly meant admitting that he, the Naboob was wrong about China. This episode had far-reaching consequences.
The armed forces became thoroughly politicized because General Thimmayya’s exit paved the way for the incompetent B.M. Kaul to take over and hand victory over to China. It’s not merely incidental that Kaul was Nehru’s distant relative. Yet another vital institution destroyed. The fallout of 1962 is beautifully described by Edwardes again [Page 314. Emphasis mine].
It is difficult to believe that in any other democratic state, [Nehru] and his cabinet could have survived…his survival was due to the fact that the Sino-Indian imbroglio had left the mass of the Indian people untouched and those inside the Congress who might have wished to topple Nehru and were in a position to do so were unwilling to lose their greatest electoral asset.
In other words, the Nehru cult had already been firmly established by then and had proven to be indispensable. But a defeated and a visibly broken Nehru still didn’t think of doing the honourable thing. While he began to take steps to modernize the Armed Forces, he feared they would stage a coup to unseat him. He directed the Intelligence Bureau to subject senior army officers to physical and electronic surveillance and ordered battalions of the Central Police Reserve to be stationed near the Indian capital. In what I feel is a great tribute to our Armed Forces, Edwardes writes [Page 315],
The Government had in fact nothing to fear from the highly professional officers who now commanded the army. They were so pleased at having the war material they wanted that apart from requiring non-interference in purely technical matters, their interest in the political process was almost non-existent.
Nehru died shortly after that. However, in his own lifetime, he had laid a very strong foundation for the national disaster that would inescapably follow. His words were always contrary to his deeds. When he said democracy, it meant “The Nehru Dynasty.” When he said secularism, it meant a destruction of everything Hindu. When he spoke about great democratic institutions, he meant having absolute control over those institutions. Like a banyan tree, he never allowed anybody to grow. He was content to surround himself with third-grade minds so that his power would remain unchallenged. In short, he cared nothing about the fate of the nation so long as he stayed in power as long as he lived. As we witness, this sick trait has continued throughout the Nehru lineage. His Dynasty, starting with him, has been responsible for engineering communal fissures and for impoverishing the Indian people on a scale never before seen in its history.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the true nightmarish legacy of Nehru. The rest are all mere details. Ramachandra Guha can fill them in for you.