In de­fence of Nehru

He was si­mul­ta­ne­ously na­tion builder, lib­eral demo­crat and strate­gic vi­sion­ary

The Hindu - - OPED - Mo­hammed Ay­oob

It is fash­ion­able these days to den­i­grate Jawa­har­lal Nehru. Al­though he had his weak­nesses, those who fol­lowed him, re­gard­less of party or ide­ol­ogy, have been in­tel­lec­tual and po­lit­i­cal pyg­mies by com­par­i­son.

Nehru had a vi­sion of In­dia as a mod­ern, sec­u­lar state that would be in­clu­sive and lib­eral. When ad­vised to out­law com­mu­nal par­ties as they flouted the spirit of the Con­sti­tu­tion, he de­clared that com­mu­nal­ism had to be de­feated po­lit­i­cally and not by the use of le­gal in­stru­ments. When asked why he was so stri­dent in at­tack­ing Hindu com­mu­nal­ism while soft-ped­dal­ing Mus­lim com­mu­nal­ism, he replied that it was be­cause ma­jor­ity com­mu­nal­ism was far more dan­ger­ous since it could eas­ily pass off as In­dian na­tion­al­ism. A pre­scient com­ment in­deed!

Un­like Gandhi who be­lieved in the idea of an In­dia con­sti­tuted of au­tonomous vil­lage com­mu­ni­ties with all the caste and eco­nomic in­equities they har­boured, Nehru was com­mit­ted to the es­tab­lish­ment of a strong In­dian state where the con­cept of equal rights of cit­i­zens would over­ride all so­ci­etal di­vi­sions. It was he who es­tab­lished the ro­bust tra­di­tion of civil­ian supremacy over the mil­i­tary that pre­vented In­dia from be­com­ing an­other junta-ruled Third World au­toc­racy. Nehru laid the foun­da­tions of a dual-track nu­clear pro­gramme with­out which In­dia would never have achieved nu­clear ca­pa­ble sta­tus. His eco­nomic poli­cies of in­vest­ing in heavy in­dus­tries and pro­tect­ing the nascent man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor saved In­dia from be­com­ing a mere cash crop econ­omy de­pen­dent on the va­garies of the global mar­ket for its eco­nomic sur­vival.

In­dia gained in­de­pen­dence at a very dif­fi­cult junc­ture in in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics. Global alliance groups were all the rage. Nehru’s re­sponse was to ad­vo­cate a pol­icy of non­align­ment to main­tain In­dia’s strate­gic au­ton­omy in the face of pres­sure, es­pe­cially from the U.S., to choose sides. Non­align­ment may not have been the an­swer to all of In­dia’s for­eign pol­icy prob­lems, but it helped in­su­late the coun­try from the worst ef­fects of su­per­power ri­valry. Un­like Pak­istan’s sub­servient re­la­tion­ship with the U.S., non-align­ment set the stage for a fruit­ful arms sup­ply re­la­tion­ship with the Soviet Union with­out com­pro­mis­ing In­dia’s strate­gic goals.

The 1962 In­dia-China war, forced upon Nehru by an ill-in­formed and jin­go­is­tic op­po­si­tion and pub­lic opin­ion, posed a ma­jor chal­lenge to his for­eign pol­icy. Nonethe­less, co­in­cid­ing as it did with the Sino-Soviet rift, it helped ce­ment New Delhi’s re­la­tions with the Soviet Union. This re­la­tion­ship stood In­dia in good stead dur­ing the Bangladesh war when Moscow pro­vided cover for the In­dian mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion in the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil and the Indo-Soviet Treaty neu­tralised U.S. and Chi­nese sup­port for Pak­istan.

Nehru was si­mul­ta­ne­ously na­tion builder, lib­eral demo­crat, and strate­gic vi­sion­ary, qual­i­ties in short sup­ply to­day. Mo­hammed Ay­oob is Univer­sity Dis­tin­guished Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus of In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions, Michi­gan State Univer­sity

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