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Why Modi is using Nehru to try and demolish the Gandhi dynasty and Congress

For Modi, Nehru is a recurrent target to attack. Not just because he believes Nehru cast India in his ‘flawed’ image but also to chip away at Gandhi dynasty, Congress.

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Does Narendra Modi suffer from some exotic neurological condition we might call Nehruitis? Is he nuts to mention his name 23 times in his 100-minute reply to the debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President’s address? And is he distracted to exchange banter in the old, healthy if robust style of parliamentary debate with others in the Congress but pour only scorn on Rahul Gandhi who he doesn’t even care to name, or rather takes special care to not name? Check out Shivam Vij’s fine piece in ThePrint on this.

The answer to all three questions is a clear NO. Then, why is he acting the way he is, and for years now? Far too many of his critics among social media influencers routinely mock him whenever something goes wrong under his charge to say, it must be Nehru’s fault again. Modi couldn’t be bothered.

We should have included a fourth question to the three I listed above. But I deliberately left it for later. So, read along with me for a bit.

Check out all of Narendra Modi’s statements, whether casual, delivered in the campaign heat or set-piece as in Parliament. Nehru is a recurrent theme. The 23 mentions this time attracted attention, but in the course of any year since 2014, I will be surprised if he hasn’t mentioned it at least a hundred times, if not more.

He even dragged Nehru into his 2018 Karnataka election campaign by accusing him of having humiliated respected Army Chief Gen. K.S. Thimayya (1957-61), who happened to be from the state — a Kodava or Coorgi, in fact. When you mock or taunt Modi by calling something Nehru’s fault, he doesn’t mind it. He probably believes it is. Everything that has gone wrong with India, and continues to go wrong, from Kashmir to China to the public sector to unemployment, in his worldview, is indeed Nehru’s fault. I am not being snarky.

The biggest mistake we old-style pundits make in analysing the Modi-Shah BJP is to apply old and familiar references, and, even if I so detest that word, paradigms. The Modi-Shah BJP isn’t one-of-a-kind, or sui generis. It is the real thing. BJP, Jana Sangh, RSS, whatever you choose to call it. What we saw under Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani was an aberration. Like us old watchers of Indian politics, they too were working in that old paradigm. Vajpayee would call it inclusive and liberal. Modi and Shah come from the school that calls it Nehruvian, and not with admiration or nostalgia.

Also read: ‘Shehzada’ Rahul & Ahmed ‘Mian’ aren’t routine jibes on Congress, they are Modi’s bigotry

It is a genuinely, and deeply, held belief in the RSS that Nehru never deserved to be given charge of India in 1947. He grabbed it by manipulating Gandhi and Lord Mountbatten and denied it to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. And once he usurped power, he designed the new Republic in his own worldview, preferring Emperor Ashoka, his edicts and symbols for governance and his Buddhist pacifism over the more warlike and successful Chandragupta Maurya, and Kautilya’s Arthashastra as the treatise for governance.

To sum up, Nehru ‘deviously’ cast new India in a non-Hindu image. This led to a whole range of problems, from minority-appeasement to neglect of the military, slavery to Western thought, economic models and so on. Of course, an entire Nehruvian intellectual ecosystem grew around him to dominate India’s thought for seven decades.

For Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, and their generation of BJP leaders, almost all of who emerged from a non-English speaking, non-Westernised environment, this is an article of faith. That is why Modi isn’t faking it when he makes 23 critical references to Nehru in one speech. He speaks from deep inside his heart.

It is a particularly interesting time also for Modi to shift the focus on Nehru. Three substantive books released over these few weeks have revived some prickly old questions. The latest, V.P. Menon, the Unsung Architect of Modern India, by his grand-daughter Narayani Basu, asserts with much documentation that Nehru had indeed excluded Patel from the list of his first Cabinet members.

He relented only after Menon alerted Mountbatten, who intervened. M.J. Akbar, who wrote an admirers’ biography of Nehru (Nehru: The Making of India) decades ago, has also published his latest (Gandhi’s Hinduism — The Struggle Against Jinnah’s Islam), making the same point with much documentation and research.

These two come on top of Congress leader Jairam Ramesh’s biography of V.K. Krishna Menon, where Nehru comes across as a waffling romantic on national security and civil-military relations. The exhuming and a fresh appraisal of Nehru and his era is very much the flavour of the fortnight. Modi isn’t about to miss out on that.

Also read: Was Krishna Menon thinking of a coup against Nehru? COAS Gen Thimayya had privately said this

But, is that all there is to Modi’s Nehru fixation? An obsession with what he and the RSS have always seen as follies and injustices of his times? One thing we know about Modi and Shah is that they aren’t driven by pure sentiment, or waste their time reviving old debates for sheer intellectual and political pleasure.

Which brings us to the fourth question we held back from you so as not to give the larger political argument away. Notice three more things that remain consistent in Modi’s political messaging since 2014. One, he almost never attacks other members of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. He ignores Rajiv Gandhi as if he didn’t matter. Even more important, he is always careful not to attack Indira Gandhi. He does invoke the Emergency often, but is careful not to take on the senior Mrs. Gandhi.

The reasons are easily seen in political logic. Of all the Nehru-Gandhis, she is still the most popular — see the number of buses that bring people from all parts of the country, especially the south, to her old 1, Safdarjung Road residence which was converted into a memorial after she was assassinated there. The second, and I speculate here, Modi probably secretly admires her, for the command she exercised over her party and government, the international respect she commanded and for her dismemberment of Pakistan. This is why she is the one Nehru-Gandhi he’d rather not mess (or take ‘panga’) with.

The second point, you see him constantly praise other leaders of the Congress through those decades, and not just Patel. Lal Bahadur Shastri has now been pretty much adopted as an RSS icon, the next Patel. He found friendly mention in Thursday’s speech more than once. Further, while he wouldn’t ever engage with Rahul and treats him as just that someone who cannot be named, he reaches out to other leaders of the party. He threw friendly barbs at Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and a wisecrack of sorts at Shashi Tharoor, praised Ghulam Nabi Azad and engaged Digvijaya Singh in competitive poetry. He even complimented Dr Manmohan Singh as a great personality and scholar. And third, he keeps paying compliments to other contemporaries of Nehru and his critics, particularly Ram Manohar Lohia.

For us, this answers our fourth question, why does Modi only attack Nehru from the Dynasty? At one level, it is pure politics. He believes the Congress rests on the Dynasty, which, in turn, is rooted in the widely-respected Nehruvian universe. If he can chip away at that, the Gandhis would decline, so also their inherited ideology and their party. Other leaders, smaller opposition parties, he can handle piecemeal. In the process, he will also create space for himself and his successors to recast India in the RSS way of thinking, from Nehru’s ‘muddled’ Ashokan state into a ‘virtuous’ Kautilyan one.

Also read: Liaquat pact, letter to Bordoloi, CAA — the 24 times PM Modi mentioned Nehru in Parliament


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  1. Lack of proper education ( which can’t be shared even under RTI) & breeding results in severe personality disorder & great inferiority complex


  3. RSS vilification of Nehru on the internet is well-known. Earlier they went from house to house, vilifying Nehru by gossip passed by word of mouth; now it is the internet and WhatsApp (true home of all conspiracy theorists). Former RSS chief Sudarshan even claimed that Nehru killed Gandhi. Amulya Gopalakrishnan has listed in The Times of India the most abominable of Nehru-vilifications by the Hindu Right in an article called The Nehru You Don’t Know. Poor Modi is schooled in RSS myth-making. He cannot free himself from it and become a world-class statesman although the stage is really there for him. He cannot because he programmed by the RSS algorithm.

  4. Nothing wrong in this. No other Congress PM, or member of its “Family” except Indira, is really worth any attention. Nehru did more to the eternal damage for India than good. No member of the Nehru family beginning with Rajiv was/is worthy of being a PM. And the very idea of Rahul as one is laughable.

  5. Shekhar Gupta forgot the election is still good four years away. In the mean time, Modi will also bring uniform civil code which no party will be able to go against.

  6. Help me urgently call me plzz this is very important with serious matter I have done only my comment message

  7. Shekhar I heard you why NM& AS are technically attacking Nehrein policies is logically & reasonably correct.Sofar as RG is concerned & may be his advisory committee is concerned it is first handed impressions that no tactical or sound political information is there .So PM &HM both attacks him.

  8. Mr Shekar, If your arguments are correct and Modi succeeds at annihilating Gandhi dynasty, then it should be a boon to the Congress and India. Congress needs some clear headed modernist leader who would lead India from the traditional religious cultural milieu into a scientific and truly secular nation.

  9. The argument that Nehru partitioned India so that he could become first PM of the post-Partition India is not factual. The first politician to be convinced about inevitability of the Partition was Dr. Ambedkar, who in his famous book “Pakistan or Partition of India” (published in 1940 and again in 1944) cogently argued that partition was not in the interest of Muslims of (undivided) India; yet if they wanted partition, it cannot be denied to them. He also described the basis on which partition could be done by dividing Punjab and Bengal. It is significant to note that the actual partition took place almost on the same lines. Thereafter the first Congress big-wig politician to be convinced about partition was not Nehru but Vallabhbhai Patel. Nehru was the next to be convinced by Lord Mountbatten. V.P. Menon , a secretary in the government of the British India was Patel’s favourite bureaucrat. Menon formulated the scheme for partition. This is history.

  10. I don’t know whether the Prime Minister has his own interpretation of history, or whether he says what he does for political expediency, but there was possibly no one who was more brutal in his treatment of the Hindu Mahasabha and of Pune Brahmins than Sardar Patel post Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. That said, did’t M O Mathai’s book “Reminiscences of the Nehru Age” have a lot of unflattering things to say about Sardar Patel? There certainly seems to have been friction between both these giants of Indian history even while they co-operated in government. These days, we are so far removed from all of this for it to be of mainly academic interest, but as you rightly point out, politics sometimes makes it necessary to fall back upon a distant past to push a contemporary narrative. Hopefully, as can sometimes happen, myth does not overcome historical fact post the political rhetoric by a powerful political figure…

  11. It is not RSS alone that thought that Nehru snatch the9 Premiership . The true facts are that All the P.C.C s ( Pradesh Congress Committee) sent the name of Patel by a majority and one or two proposed the name of Rajen Babu in addition, but none that of Nehru.. Even most members of the Congress Working Committee were not altogether happy when Nehru was made PM. Only Gandhi felt Nehru should head the Government. Gandhi , when he was asked about this said,” Jawahar is the only Englishman in my camp.. Jawahar will not take second place. ” Please do some research to write such stories.> It is a fashion in India dictated by the Leftists to blame the RSS>

    • This false narrative continues even after umpteen rebuttals. Like Firoz Gandhi is a Muslim narrative this one will also go and on.

    • Prof. Makhan, a pro-RSS historian and someone accused of misconduct, is circulating this view and I know that this view is very popular in the WhatsApp university of the RSS. Pradesh Committee suggested Patel’s name for Presidency of the Congress but that does not automatically transfer to PMship. In fact, when India became independent Kripalini was the Congress President, not Nehru. Delegates of the All India Congress Committee selected the PM. Nehru was the most popular Congressman after Gandhi. Patel himself told an American journalist that crowds come to see Jawahar and not him.

  12. There can also be a 5th reason, which can be attributed to the Demographic Statistics.

    Nehru died in 1964, which means that most of the population born after 1950’s #, were oblivious to Nehru’s rule, policies and philosophies. This population, which is aged 70yrs or below, forms almost 80% of our voting population. However those born after 1950’s and majorly uptill 1965’s have been privy to Indira Gandhi’s rule and those aged between 60 to 40 privy to Rajiv Gandhi’s rule.

    So probably if Modi makes any comment on their policies, be it factually correct or not, it can raise lot of doubts in the minds of people belonging to this demographics, undermining Modi’s credibility as an honest and hardworking leader and a Messiah.

    So just like how we create a fictional demon to scare off children’s to obey any command, Nehru is like that demon for the majority of voting population of India.

    The problem for present Gandhi clan to defend these barb’s against Nehru, will be considered more as defending the Dynasty, rather than Congress party’s idealogies.

    So it’s a smart political move by Modi and BJP

    # assuming that a person born in 1950 and aged 15 at the time of death of Nehru, would not have formed intellectual maturity to understand politics

  13. For all his criticism of Nehru, Modi is his modern day avatar. The same extreme left wing Marxist beliefs, the same ‘government knows best’ belief, the same ‘big government occupying the commanding heights of the economy’ belief, the same disinterest in education, healthcare and welfare of the common masses, the same obsession with foreign policy and strutting around the world in the mistaken belief that a poverty struck India has something to offer to the world, the same distrust of business and trade with an emphasis on import substitution, and finally the same lack of trust, understanding and confidence in India’s traditions and it’s civilisational ethos.

  14. Modi is dissing Nehru, to prepare ground for the foundation for a new dynasty – that of Amit Shah!

    The reason he does not diss Indira Gandhi, but keeps reminding everyone that she brought in the Emergency, is because he knows that if push comes to shove, he might have to impose an Emergency himself. So, by separating the person from her act, he can again claim moral high ground if and when he does the dark act in ‘national interest’!

    Speculation, after all, can go both ways! 😃

    • They will not dare to declare an Emergency having condemned the same all along although it was imposed to check anarchy and for the sake of internal security in the wake of Nav Nirman agitation and JP Movement.

  15. I use to like articles in The Print In initial days. I liked articles of Mr Shekhar Gupta,Founder because he was neutral & unbiased in his analysis. Slowly his Journalists started giving biased articles while Mr Shekhar Gupta’s article use to remain un-biased. Recent time whole approach of Mr Shekhar Gupta & his entire Journalists team (may be under The Print or freelance writers) are all working in one direction which is criticizing Govt which is favorable to one Political & looks like entire Team of The Print work for one Party which no need to mention. Some time, it looks like The Print is spoke Person of that Party. Mr. Shekhar Gupta, you are a Veteran Journalist, be un-biased,keep ethical & professional Journalism which never work only one direction or work one Political Party..

  16. The more Modi Shah attempts spread hate for Nehru, more would join to admire him. Modi has faulted many times in his 5 years and six months term and many more in his long tenure. It is same for Nehru who has bee PM for more than ten years. In spite of short coming his Nehru s contribution cannot be erased. The government can erase his name in paper not form the heart of people. The media has no guts to do a reality check in Gujarat and simply promoting Modi

    • Very right.. finding excuses for his failures on criticize ING,. earlier govts..let him introspect themselves with Nehru s contribution from zero ECONOMY after independence to 2014 and 2014 to date..

  17. Mr Gupta please retire, just because you own this publication doesn’t mean that you subject it’s reader’s to nonsensical diatribes.

  18. Good analysis by Shekhar, as expected from him. However it also shows Congress in extremely poor light as its leadership is clueless in tacking Modi strategy and offering any alternative vision of India. But that is good for Modi anyway as he has a regular whipping boy around and he can always compare what he is doing with what Congress did not do or could have done. What Shekhar fails to mention is that the way Modi gave detailed references on giving citizenship to minorities from Pakistan, there is no doubt left in anyone’s mind that this was indeed the Congress agenda which was not taken up due to minority appeasement in India! Modi has fully exposed Congress hypocrisy in this regard, the way Amit Shah conclusively demolished Congress during his Art 370 speech. A minor point missed by Shekhar – Modi stood for almost over 4 hours continuously in both houses and spoke with passion; something which even much younger Nirmala could not do for 2 hours! So hats off to Modi’s stamina, strength and commitment to his cause. He is no ordinary politician, whether you agree with him or not!!

    • You are truly an objective commenter, Mr. Surendra Barsode. You actually seem to make a sincere attempt to take a balanced view of the articles you post your views on. In this era, where all observer of politics are rigid in their conceptions, it is always good to read calm, unprejudiced views.

    • Shekhar ji you have written very good thing about Pt. Nehru but never narrated about failure to observe his own statement of Hindi Chini Bhai bhai and J. K. which has been major problem for India since then

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