It is a celebration of Nehru in an era of Modi and politIcal tensions are visible. The 125th birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, on Nov 14 has already sparked a political face-off with Congress seeking to resurrect his legacy as its chief custodian and the Narendra Modi government seeking to commemorate the event on its own terms.
Nehru stood for tolerance of view point of those who disagreed with him but his anniversary will see parallel functions by the Congress and the BJP-led government.
The divide is apparent.
Congress apprehends that Modi government is seeking to appropriate freedom fighters and leaders of its pantheon, while the BJP leaders feel that the past few Congress governments have mainly focused on commemorating roles of leaders from the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and many others have not got their due.
The Congress has not invited Prime Minister Narendra Modi or the Bharatiya Janata Party to the international conference on Nehru being organised by it Nov 17-18. Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi are not part of the official committee that was reconstituted by the new government to commemorate Nehru’s anniversary.
“His (Nehru’s) values, ideology, philosophy are under attack. What better opportunity than this to inform people (of his legacy),” Congress leader Anand Sharma told IANS.
The Congress appears keen to use Nehru’s anniversary celebrations to stage an electoral revival after its debacle of this year’s Lok Sabha elections and defeat in assembly polls in Haryana and Maharashtra.
Congress leaders say that the Modi government was seeking to usurp legacy of heroes of freedom fighters including former home minister Sardar Patel without subscribing to their values.
There is also apprehension in the party of the NDA government trying to downplay role of leaders from the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
The allegation has some foundation with the NDA government lining up programmes to commemorate Nehru’s anniversary, observed as children’s day.
The government is organising “Bal Swatchta Mission” from Nov 14 to Nov 19, which is the birth anniversary of Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi. A launch of portal on Nehru is also on the anvil.
In absence of Modi, who is on a visit abroad, Home Minister Rajnath Singh will preside over the official function to mark Nehru’s 125th anniversary, officials said.
Former external affairs minister K. Natwar Singh said that India owes a great deal to Nehru.
“He gave democracy, secularism, pluralism, established institutions such as Planning Commission, University Grants Commission, the IITs. The Bhakra dam and steel plants were Nehru’s gifts,” Natwar Singh told IANS.
He said there was no alternative to policy of non-alignment propounded by Nehru.
“He (Nehru) read history, witnessed history, made history. But history has been unkind to him. There is no Nehru revival for the last 50 years,” Singh said, who has fallen out with the Congress.
He said Nehru was a great freedom fighter, a great prime minister but the same could not be said about his dealing of foreign affairs in the neighbourhood as Kashmir was still a unresolved problem and India faced debacle in 1962 war with China.
Nehru’s critics accuse him of allowing the Kashmir issue to fester and not giving adequate attention to military preparedness before the 1962 war.
Mushirul Hasan, former vice-chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia, said various forces were at work “to denigrate him (Nehru) and to demolish his stature but history will vindicate salience of his role.”
“We will soon realize that he was the true architect of modern India and that there is no comparison with any other leader after Independence,” Hasan added.
He said that country’s secularism was under threat and Hindutva negates both Gandhianism and Nehruvianism.
“Also worth remembering is that Nehru was Gandhi’s political heir, his appointed successor, but he left his own impress on Congress policies and programmes,” Hasan told IANS.
Born on Nov 14, 1889 at Allahabad, Nehru was educated in India and abroad. Nehru’s close association with the Congress began in the immediate aftermath of World War I and he emerged as a key lieutenant of Mahatma Gandhi.
Nehru passed away in 1964 after steering the country as prime minister for about 17 years.
Former union minister and Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said that Nehru became the keeper of the national flame after Mahatma’s assassination.
“Incorruptible, visionary, ecumenical, a politician above politics, Nehru’s stature was so great that Gandhi’s death could have led him to assume untrammeled power, but he did not,” Tharoor told IANS.
Scholars, who have written on Nehru, said that Nehru nurtured and built Indian state from its inception and put democracy on a firm footing.
Aditya Mukherjee, Professor, Centre for Historical Studies at JNU, said that India’s Independence was accompanied by partition which saw a holocaust-like situation with over 500,000 killed and millions made homeless.
“In that situation, he (Nehru) controlled the riots and held peaceful general elections in three years,” Mukherjee told IANS.
He said Nehru built scientific temper and fought against obscrutanism and there is need to remember him more at the current juncture.