By RAJ KANWAR
Now that when attempts are being made by some in the current ruling dispensation to erase from India’s political history the name of Jawaharlal Nehru – India’s first and, by all accounts, the most popular Prime Minister, it is time to recall, celebrate and indelibly etch on stone his great contribution towards making India a modern secular parliamentary democracy. It has today become all the more imperative when an insidious campaign is also underway to challenge this lasting legacy of Nehru and thus demolish the halo that still surrounds his persona.
ANOTHER oft-repeated statement made by Modi and his lieutenants is that their government has done much more in the past four years than the Congress governments did in the past 70 years; conveniently forgetting that five non-Congress stalwarts including the much venerated Atal Bihari Vajpayee held the prime ministerial reins for 14 years. Vajpayee’s first tenure was very brief but his second tenure that had lasted six years turned out to be epoch making in more ways than one. Incidentally, Modi’s statemate Morarji Desai too had held the prime ministerial office with much distinction.
Suffice it to say that Nehru’s sterling role in the freedom movement does not need any repetition; he was one of its pillars and the darling of the masses. Subsequently, as the Prime Minister, Nehru – the Statesman was instrumental in giving India a tall stature in the comity of Nations.
Nehru’s Non-Aligned Movement
It further needs to be emphasised that the Non-Aligned movement spearheaded by Nehru, Sukarno and Nasser had become a powerful balancing group between the Western countries and the Communist Bloc during the Cold War years at the end of World War II. The irony today is that the challengers to Nehru’s bequest are the very same parties who have themselves been the beneficiary of Nehru’s lasting legacy.
Nehru had considered parliamentary democracy as the critical bedrock for building a forward-looking and self-reliant country. And every possible safeguard was incorporated in the Constitution to ensure that its fundamental features were not tampered with. Even though many amendments over the past 71 years have changed some of its contours, yet the “basic structure doctrine” has ensured that the fundamental rights granted to the citizens remained sacrosanct and unaltered. India’s political stability over all these years stands in sharp relief to the tumultuous changes and coups d’état that have been the fate of some of India’s neighbours who too had become independent almost at the same time. However, Nehru’s most lasting legacy was the parliamentary democracy that has in fact now enabled Modi’s BJP to rule the country.
Despite Gandhi’s assassination on 30 January 1948, it nevertheless goes to Nehru’s credit that he steadfastly pursued development projects in spite of the turmoil of the Partition and the resultant migration of populations. He left in the competent hands of Sardar Patel the issues regarding the maintenance of law and order and those related to the accession of hundreds of Indian princely states to the Dominion of India. The reassuring presence of Patel was a great help and enabled Nehru to continue without distraction with his development agenda. In fact, the two leaders greatly complemented each other and that perhaps was the principal reason that India could peaceably overcome the turbulent post-independence years and laid the foundation of a strong India.
ONGC and other industries
It is not the scope of this piece to dwell at length on the scores of major industries that Nehru was instrumental in setting up both in public and private sectors in the post-independence decade. State-of-art steel plants were set up at Bokaro, Bhilai and Durgapur in cooperation with West Germany, Soviet Union and the United Kingdom, respectively. One of his most notable contributions was the setting up of Oil & Natural Gas Commission in August 1956 despite virulent opposition from foreign oil companies and other vested interests.
That was followed by nationalisation of the oil refineries owned by Burmah Shell, Caltex and STANVAC. Indian Oil Corporation was set up to look after the marketing and refining of petroleum products. KD Malaviya as Nehru’s point man gave India not only its own national upstream oil companies but also set up a chain of downstream refineries and allied petrochemical industries.
Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) were yet another major legacy left behind by Nehru. Beginning with Bombay, Delhi, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Kharagpur and Madras, there are today 16 such IITs in the country producing yearly thousands of engineers and technologists.
Hens that lay golden eggs
Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd, Steel Authority of India, et al, are today some of the Maharatna government undertakings yielding annual revenue worth thousands of crores of rupees by way of dividend and taxes to the Central exchequer. This is not all. There are nearly a hundred major, medium and small government companies covering a wide variety of industries. Many of these public sector companies are like hens that lay golden eggs. The market value of some of these companies today is in lakhs of crores of rupees. Fortuitously, this ‘family silver’ has now become so very valuable that the current Union Government finds it convenient to sell some of the family silver in order to reduce the current account deficit.
These are just some of Nehru’s tangible contributions that made India an industrial power of some substance. His critics may find fault even in his positive contributions. However, it needs to be emphasised that the Nehru’s ideas were exceptional. If some of these failed to live up to the expectations, then the fault must lie in their implementation. In principle, Nehru’s contribution to India’s industrial and infrastructural growth was based on sound economics. Nevertheless, the nation today must pay homage to Nehru for his tangible contribution to India’s development.
Fundamental rights and freedoms
More importantly, Nehru gave his compatriots many fundamental rights and freedoms. Among those was the right to disagree and right to dissent. Unfortunately, some powerful groups today both at the Centre and in the States are trying to undermine these sacrosanct rights to disagree and dissent. Dissent is not only looked down upon but also brutally curbed. Unfortunately, this fear has also infected the media and there is today a noticeable descent into submissiveness. Even seasoned journalists are shying away from taking a contrarian stand.