Tuesday, 24 May, 2022
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Talk Point: We need a more robust defence of Nehru’s ideas – for us, not for him

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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? 

I believe that Jawaharlal Nehru’s political and philosophical vision for India will endure, for two reasons.

One was his commitment to democracy. Nehru believed in democracy and a civil libertarian polity, and that included freedoms at various levels, whether it is freedom of speech or expression, freedom to dissent, freedom to form associations and unions. This vision will endure in the long run.

Second was his commitment to equity. He believed strongly in giving equal opportunities to all to have a good life. He didn’t have an elitist vision of society, he had built a strong foundation of equity in his own time, and again, this will also endure in the long run.

Here are other sharp perspectives on Nehru’s political and philosophical vision for India:

Shankar Saran: Hindi columnist and professor, Political Science, NCERT
Neera Chandhoke: National Fellow, Indian Council of Social Science Research
Jaithirth Rao: entrepreneur and writer
Neeti Nair: historian and professor, University of Virginia

Yes, under the present government, his ideas are under assault. The people who are in power never had a say in building up the nation post-independence, and it is very unfortunate that now, they are denigrating Nehru, who laid the foundation of the nation in terms of the Constitution, in terms of successfully conducting elections etc. He brought prestige to Parliament by participating actively in its discussions, and he was open to listening to dissenting voices as well.

I think we need a more robust defence of his ideas. And we need to do it for us, not for him. Do we want to take forward the positive things that he gave us? If we deny that, then we are the losers, not Nehru. We are not doing any favours to him.

Both the reasons that I gave above – democracy and equity – are still valid today. For example, the idea of non-alignment which he evolved was to make India self-reliant, so that it doesn’t become a puppet of the most powerful nations, whether the Soviet Union or the US, or in future, maybe China. So I think his legacy still endures.

Mridula Mukherjee is a political historian.

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