I was sitting with several close relatives recently, many of whom had occupied very high positions in the country, but were now retired. They all began strongly criticizing Jawaharlal Nehru, particularly over his handling of the Kashmir and China issue.
I decided not to say anything, particularly since they were my elders, and I remained quiet for a long time, until some of them insisted that I should express my opinion.
In my usual blunt manner I then said " What you people have said about Nehru only reveals the bankruptcy of your minds. Nehru is the political leader in modern times who should be most respected, but instead you are castigating him. "
This set off a lively discussion in which I stuck to my guns.
I pointed out that so far as Kashmir is concerned, several things must be kept in mind. Firstly, the situation was very fluid and topsy turvy at the time of Independence in 1947 and the Partition of India. Secondly, there were international pressures of the big powers , and our leaders were new at governance and lacked experience, because of which they were bound to make mistakes.
But does this mean that we should not see the positive contribution of Nehru ? They may be briefly summarized as follows :
1. Modernization of India by promoting science and technology.
The British policy was to keep India broadly unindustrialized, so that it may not become a rival to British industry. As a result our British rulers kept us broadly feudal and agricultural, which meant poverty for the masses..
Nehru's contribution in this field was to lay the foundation of a heavy industrial base in India, with steel plants, power projects, coal mining, chemical plants,etc. The further growth in the Indian economy was the consequence of that heavy industrial base.
Before India became independent in 1947, even safety pins had to be imported from England, because the British policy was that we should be dependent on their industrial products. Nehru aimed at import substitution, and the result has been that today we manufacture most of the products we use.
Also, agriculture was sought to be modernized by abolishing landlordism through the Zamindari Abolition Acts, setting up Agricultural Institutes, erecting dams for irrigation,etc.
Also, Nehru and his colleague Maulana Azad were determined to set up engineering and management colleges and technical institutes, as well as centres of scientific research and teaching. This led to the setting up of IITs, IIMs, CSIR, and other science and technology institutes and departments.
The Five Year Plans were aimed at steadily industrializing India to get rid of our poverty.
2. Nehru and his colleagues,including Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad, etc were determined that India will be a secular state, and not a theological one like Pakistan. They defended religious pluralism, and in a country of such diversity, rightly so,. This becomes evident when we see what is happening in Pakistan today, which has become a Jurassic Park.
3. Nehru and Azad laid great emphasis on education, including both primary education. and also institutes of higher learning.
4. Nehru's foreign policy of non alignment was the correct one, as we would have lost our independence if we had become too dependent on one super power.
5.Nehru respected institutions like Parliament, the judiciary, the administrative service, etc. and was a supporter of civil liberties and democracy, unlike his daughter Indira Gandhi who in her lust for power almost destroyed all of them, particularly after the judgment against her by the Allahabad High Court in 1975 holding her guilty of election misconduct, and the fake Emergency she imposed thereafter.
The recent attempts by some politicians to downplay Nehru's role and overemphasize that of Sardar Patel is wholly misplaced. Nehru and Patel had great respect for each other, and complemented each other. All major policy decisions, e.g. uniting the princely states with India were jointly taken by them, as well as other leaders like Azad. Hence to say that if Patel had been Prime Minister instead of Nehru,the Kashmir problem, and other problems would have been solved, is talking a lot of nonsense.
It is said that the sins of a man visit his next 7 generations. In Nehru's case, the sins of his daughter, grandson, grand daughter -in-law and great grandson are visiting him.