On Jawaharlal Nehru’s 128th birth anniversary, many of his political, philosophical and cultural ideas appear to be under assault. Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, is in danger of being ghettoised as merely a Congress party politician.
Will Nehru’s political and philosophical vision for India endure?
Today, the country should be enthusiastically celebrating the birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India. But we also sadly recognise that determined efforts have been made by the party in power to erase his memory from the annals of modern India.
This is a double tragedy. One, a society can only understand its present when it knows where it has come from. Two, Nehru is a worthy exemplar, because he showed us the way to cosmopolitanism, and inspired us to turn our back on chauvinistic nationalism. The leaders of the Indian National Congress had looked to the outside world for inspiration in their struggle. Nehru promoted this trend because he was, by temperament and experience, cosmopolitan.
His deep familiarity with the past, and his understanding of the contemporary ideologies of the day, from liberalism to Fabian socialism, to communist internationalism, had convinced him that the future of India was incomplete without the liberation of other colonies.
Here are other sharp perspectives on Nehru’s political and philosophical vision for India:
Shankar Saran: Hindi columnist and professor, Political Science, NCERT
Jaithirth Rao: entrepreneur and writer
Mridula Mukherjee: political historian
Neeti Nair: historian and professor, University of Virginia
At the beginning of his celebrated work ‘The Discovery of India’, Nehru asked: “What is this India, apart from her physical and geographical aspects? … What did she represent in the past? How did she lose that old strength, and has she lost it completely? Does she represent anything vital now? How does she fit into the modern world?”
This wider international aspect of the problem grew upon him, “as I realised… how isolation was both undesirable and impossible. The future that took shape in my mind was one of intimate cooperation… between India and other countries”, he wrote.
That vision has been abandoned by the Indian government today. It sees other countries either as sources of investment, as markets, or as partners in containing protest. We have become insulated and isolated from the world of solidarity that Nehru had constructed.
Neera Chandhoke is a National Fellow, Indian Council of Social Science Research, and former professor of political science at DU.