Both M.K. Gandhi and Jawa­har­lal Nehru played an im­por­tant role in In­dian pol­i­tics. They helped their coun­try get rid of its colo­nial past and in­fuse some of the ba­sic tenets of democ­racy into the fab­ric of In­dian pol­i­tics.

Southasia - - Cover story - By Mashal Us­man

Which lead­ers shaped the po­lit­i­cal legacy of In­dia?

The par­tic­u­lar­i­ties that char­ac­ter­ize the ide­o­log­i­cal dis­tinc­tions be­tween Gand­hian and Nehru­vian schools of thought orig­i­nate in more than three mil­len­nia of In­dian his­tory. Specif­i­cally, the ori­gin of the clash be­tween spir­i­tu­al­ity/re­li­gion and moder­nity/sec­u­lar­ism that ap­pears as a re­cur­rent theme in the philoso­phies of these two in­di­vid­u­als pre­dates their im­me­di­ate his­tor­i­cal pe­riod. Al­though Gandhi’s rise to in­flu­ence in In­dia spans the first half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury while Nehru ac­quires power mid cen­tury hold­ing it for more than a decade hereafter, the mid­dle pe­riod in which these two pro­tag­o­nists come to­gether on the stage of In­dian pol­i­tics pro­vides a pow­er­ful in­sight into the con­flict be­tween com­pet­ing vi­sions of In­dian po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy.

Gandhi’s ideas of “satya­graha” (the search for the truth) and “ahimsa” (non vi­o­lence) were deeply em­bed­ded within the spir­i­tu­al­ity and mys­ti­cism that has his­tor­i­cally char­ac­ter­ized In­dian so­ci­eties and ex­erted con­sid­er­able in­flu­ence upon the po­lit­i­cal struc­ture he en­vi­sioned for In­dia. By keep­ing these ideas as the foun­da­tion of his strug­gle for im­prov­ing the lot of the or­di­nary In­dian, he was able to build a pow­er­ful re­serve force of la­bor that could be and was mo­bi­lized to op­pose colo­nial­ism. It is im­por­tant that some of the most pow­er­ful el­e­ments of his work such as the search for “satya” (the truth) and the em­pha­sis upon de­vel­op­ing supreme con­scious­ness cut across re­li­gions; any­one could re­late to them. An­other use­ful po­lit­i­cal move was the use of lo­cal sym­bols such as the “charkha” and “khaddi cloth” which rep­re­sented the ru­ral way of life and had pow­er­ful res­o­nance with the In­dian masses into his phi­los­o­phy. The wide­spread use of the khaddi cloth would then sym­bol­ize the need for na­tional unity and equal­ity while the em­pha­sis upon ru­ral in­dus­try and use of re­gional lan­guages high­lighted Gandhi’s em­pha­sis upon the need for sol­i­dar­ity with the or­di­nary In­dian and rep­re­sented a silent re­bel­lion against the west­ern way of life. In ad­di­tion his in­ten­sive per­sonal in­volve­ment with ashrams re­sulted in the cre­ation of en­tire fam­ily net­works of ad­her­ents of his phi­los­o­phy. Gandhi there­fore was able to con­nect with the In­dian peo­ple on grass root level and had a bot­tom up tra­jec­tory of po­lit­i­cal sup­port.

Nehru­vian sec­u­lar­ism on the other hand is un­der­pinned by the be­lief that In­dia can only be­come a part of the de­vel­oped world by de­vel­op­ing a “sci­en­tific tem­per” that would throw off the chains of mys­ti­cism and fa­tal­ism that have his­tor­i­cally im­peded its progress and made it sus­cep­ti­ble to col­o­niza­tion by the Bri­tish. While Gandhi was en­tirely ob­sessed with the so­ci­eties and prob­lems of In­dia, Nehru was deeply in­ter­ested in In­dia’s po­si­tion­ing in the global con­text and the role it could play as a me­di­a­tor be­tween the two ide­o­log­i­cal po­lar­iza­tions that di­vided the world dur­ing the cold war era. It is also in­ter­est­ing that in spite of hav­ing been well aware of the role that cul­tural unity could play in unit­ing so­ci­eties di­vided due to eth­nic­ity and other pri­mor­dial loy­al­ties and hav­ing ob­served his men­tor Gandhi flesh out this idea first hand, Nehru chose to not pur­sue this path. Gandhi’s path to so­cial re­gen­er­a­tion had af­firmed and up­held In­dia’s ru­ral iden­tity while the ex­treme em­pha­sis that Nehru laid on de­vel­op­ing west-

ern style in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion and his dis­missal of In­dia’s agri­cul­tural roots and iden­tity marginal­ized the core val­ues of the masses. Maybe Nehru’s most im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tion to In­dia’s po­lit­i­cal struc­ture was the in­sti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion of par­lia­men­tary pol­i­tics. He was such a strong be­liever in the par­lia­men­tary sys­tem that in the ab­sence of ef­fec­tive op­po­si­tion to the Congress in the ini­tial decades, he would him­self act as ef­fec­tive op­po­si­tion. He was con­sid­er­ably en­thused by the process of cam­paign­ing. In his own words: “I find this busi­ness of elec­tion­eer­ing most ex­cit­ing.”

The two lead­ers had a very in­ter­est­ing re­la­tion­ship. Nehru placed Gandhi on a very high pedestal and held him in the deep­est re­gard. He says: “And then Gandhi came. He was like a pow­er­ful cur­rent of fresh air that made us stretch our­selves and take deep breaths, like a beam of light that pierced the dark­ness and re­moved the scales from our eyes, like a whirl­wind that up­set many things but most of all the work­ing of the peo­ple’s minds.” How­ever, Nehru placed lim­ited sig­nif­i­cance on the role that spir­i­tu­al­ity could play in In­dia’s up­lift. As far as ide­olo­gies were con­cerned, he had more faith in Marx­ism than in Gandhi’s spir­i­tu­al­ism. In­ter­est­ingly, one of the big­gest dif­fer­ences be­tween the two lead­ers was that Gandhi’s spir­i­tu­al­ity brought all the di­verse re­li­gions of In­dia to­gether on a sin­gle plat­form while Nehru pos­i­tively shud­dered from or­ga­nized re­li­gion of any kind and held ab­so­lute faith only in sec­u­lar­ism which he saw as be­ing In­dia’s sal­va­tion from re­li­gion and spir­i­tu­al­ity. His plans for In­dia’s sec­u­lar­iza­tion in mod­ern­iza­tion in the early years were un­der­pinned upon Marx­ism. How­ever he lost con­vic­tion in the ide­ol­ogy to­wards the later years of his life, partly due to a re­al­iza­tion of the in­con­sis­ten­cies of the ide­ol­ogy and partly due to the op­po­si­tion it faced from the Congress.

Gandhi played the im­por­tant role of trans­form­ing Nehru from an aris­to­crat re­moved from the peo­ple to a leader of the peo­ple. Al­though he chose Nehru as his po­lit­i­cal heir, Nehru faced sig­nif­i­cant op­po­si­tion within the Congress to some of his ideas and did not ac­quire the un­chal­lenged lead­er­ship po­si­tion that Gandhi had ac­quired dur­ing his life­time. Both lead­ers played im­por­tant roles in In­dian pol­i­tics, not only by bring­ing In­dia to the point at which it could ef­fec­tively get rid of its colo­nial mas­ters but also by in­sti­tu­tion­al­iz­ing some of the most cru­cial tenets of democ­racy such as po­lit­i­cal par­ties and elec­tion­eer­ing in the fab­ric of In­dian pol­i­tics. As nei­ther sec­u­lar­ism nor spir­i­tu­al­ity can be sep­a­rated from the In­dian ethos, nei­ther Gandhi nor Nehru can be sep­a­rated from its his­tory and both made pro­found con­tri­bu­tions to its po­lit­i­cal legacy. The writer is ma­jor­ing in Eco­nom­ics and Po­lit­i­cal Science at the La­hore Univer­sity of Man­age­ment Sci­ences.

Gandhi’s re­li­gious fer­vor and Nehru’s sec­u­lar­ist ideas to­gether shaped In­dia’s po­lit­i­cal legacy.

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