Deccan Chronicle

Aakar Patel | Nehru a model of modernity Why his vision & legacy endures

Deccan Chronicle.| Aakar Patel

Published on: January 19, 2021 | Updated on: January 19, 2021

The problem is that nobody in the world of Hindutva has any vision good, bad or indifferent when compared to Nehru



I was being interviewed for my book and was asked a question unrelated to it — Why does Hindutva hate Jawaharlal Nehru so much? It is an interesting question and has two parts to the answer. To know it, we must first understand what Nehru was and what he wanted.

Before Independence, Nehru wrote a series of works through which he aligned himself to India as a civilisational entity of the sort that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh also approves of. He traces the modern nation to its origins in the Indus Valley Civilisation (discovered only a few years before he wrote Glimpses of World History and only 15 or so years before he wrote The Discovery of India) to the periods of the first and second millennia after Jesus Christ.

But having acknowledged that India was ancient, Nehru sought also to align it to the modern world and the era he was a part of and the future that he saw for all mankind. To that end he used the State as an instrument to modernise the country. Nehru based his strategy on two things — heavy industry and higher education. India had limited resources but these two would get priority.

You could argue about whether the strategy was good, bad or indifferent, but it would be difficult to say that he did not execute what he sought out to do. Having determined that he was going to modernise this civilisational entity he set about doing it because Nehru was not only a man of vision (you could argue with him about whether your vision was better) but also a man of action.

He began building institutions, including some which are today called "navratnas", but were then nothing and needed to be built. Some such examples are Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (1964), Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (1956), Steel Authority of India (1954), Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (1964), Indian Oil Corporation (1959), Isro (formerly INCOSPAR) 1962, Department of Atomic Energy (1954), Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (1954). And then Nehru set up the Indian Institutes of Technology (1951), the Indian Institutes of Management (1961), the National Institute of Design (1961), and the Sahitya Akademi (1954).

The list goes on and on. Why were all these set up? They were set up because they were the means through which Nehru determined India would be modernised. He inherited a pre-modern economy, where the vast majority of production lay in agriculture and that agriculture was being largely managed by farmers whose means of farming had changed very little for over a thousand years.

Nehru did not inherit a trillion-dollar economy. He had to figure out how to get India there.

The problem is that nobody in the world of Hindutva has any vision — good, bad or indifferent — when compared to Nehru, and that includes our Prime Minister. He can offer us statements like "$5 trillion economy" but he does not say, because he does not himself know, what needs to be done to get us there. More important, he does not know what the State needs to do differently to get there. You can only build institutions if you can think of what to do with them. The reason that Narendra Modi has not built institutions while Jawaharlal Nehru was so prolific is because Mr Modi does not have even Nehru’s starting point.

Nehru had said: Heavy industry and higher education! What does Narendra Modi say? If the answer to that is difficult for you to come up with, it is because there is no answer. This is the first reason that the BJP and Hindutva adherents hates Nehru: Jealousy.

The second reason is that Nehru was not a fraud nationalist. He was a real one. He did not only name China, he fought against it. Nehru lost because Nehru fought. And he fought because he could not bear the thought of surrendering any land of his precious India.

External affairs minister S. Jaishankar said at the Ramnath Goenka Lecture on November 14, 2019 that Nehru should have accepted Zhou Enlai’s offer on the border dispute during Zhou’s 1960 visit to India. What was that offer? That India should accept the Karakoram range as the Sino-Indian boundary. This is where the Line of Actual Control exists today. But this was not acceptable to Nehru. He wanted the border much further into Tibet. And he was willing to fight for it. He may have lost, yes, but he did not give up India’s claim.

This is unlike Mr Modi, who has not only given up the claim, but is also unwilling even to name the opponent for fear of what China might do. This is the second reason that the BJP and Hindutva hate Nehru. He was a nationalist who exposed thoroughly their own fraudulent nationalist credentials.

The name Nehru is used far too loosely in today’s times without much understanding of what he really stood for because we have not explained his thinking in simplified terms. 

He is not only much superior to whatever came after him, particularly as we see now in a period of economic collapse and national security failures, but he is a model for modernity. He died more than 55 years ago but is still spoken about and his legacy is all around us today. Of how many Prime Ministers, and that includes this current one, will we be able to say that?

About The Author

Aakar Patel is a senior journalist and columnist

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