Nagpur: Today is the 52nd Death anniversary of India’s first and longest serving Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. (Yes, he was a Kashmiri Pandit and also pandit by education and intellect!)
Nehru was also a great statesman, visionary, author and thinker. Not just Indians, but the world, and its leaders of that time, adored and respected him. His theory of ‘Panchsheel’ for world peace had many takers. When the world was in the throes of a bitter Cold war between the two super powers, he was equally respected in both USA and USSR. It was often said that the phalanx of Non Aligned Nations he created and led from the front, kept the world from a disastrous and final World War 3 !
In a turbulent and highly polarized country/ world we are living in at present, one often wonders: what if Nehru had been alive and been P.M. today??
I think any observer will agree that unfortunately, in this new Millennium which should have propelled us into a sane and scientific future, we are embroiled in Hate wars based on Religion as never before. What were Nehru’s views on religion? Let’s hear from his mouth only!
Nehru’s views on Religion
“The spectacle of what is called religion, or at any rate organised religion, in India and elsewhere, has filled me with horror and I have frequently condemned it and wished to make a clean sweep of it. Almost always it seemed to stand for blind belief and reaction, dogma and bigotry, superstition, exploitation and the preservation of vested interests.”
― Jawaharlal Nehru
Blind belief and reaction…dogma and bigotry…preservation of Vested interests! I think Nehru, half a century after his death, had hit the nail on its head in describing India of today.
Nehru, who had a deep understanding of history and evolution of nations, as we can see from his immortal creation Discovery of India always had a foreboding that religious fanaticism would be or could easily be India’s undoing.
That is why while emphasizing that “Politics and Religion are obsolete. The time has come for Science and Spirituality ” he also gave a stern warning : “If any person raises his hand to strike down another on the ground of religion, I shall fight him till the last breath of my life, both as the head of the government and from the outside”
Having seen the horrific killings of 1947 immediately after Partition, he was always trying to impress upon his countrymen to develop a rational and scientific bend of mind, which would transform us into a modern, industrialized and progressive nation.
In stark contrast to ‘sister country Pakistan’ who was born at the same time as India, but soon got mired in religious fanaticism that ultimately gave the reigns of power into the hands of the Army, Nehru in his initial years as Prime Minister concentrated on building dams, basic industries (often through PSUs) and Modern Educational Institutes.
While inaugurating the Bhakra Nangal Dam, Nehru called it “The temple of modern India.”
Though, it became fashionable later to deride such huge dams, fact remains that this dam changed the destiny of people all across Punjab, Haryana and North India.
Noted Business Standard as lately as 2006 :Bhakra irrigates 2.68 million hectares in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, much of this being new acreage or areas where supplies have been firmed up. Surface irrigation has also sustained considerably increased groundwater utilisation through conjunctive use, a factor commonly misunderstood and cited to denigrate the contribution of canal flows. Assured irrigation has made famine a thing of the past.
Punjab-Haryana is the country’s foremost bread basket and anchor of the first Green Revolution, based on substantially higher farm productivity and agro-employment. The 1,430 Mw of installed generation capacity has also been a mainstay of the Northern grid and the primary source of energy for groundwater lift, farm processing and a network of small and medium industry.
Nehru believed that dams would not only solve water scarcity and shortage, it would change lives of farmers by giving them year round irrigation and the Hydel power based on dam waters would generate would generate electrify to light up our villages.
He exhorted people ( read Hindus) to not go on pilgrimages to holy places like Benaras or Amarnath but take their children and go to see dams and industries – India’s “modern temples”.
I personally remember there WAS a time when Indian parents did just that, even villagers! There was always a constant rush of people going to ‘visit’ the Bhakra Nangal dam and Vrindavan gardens in the South which is a world famous garden built around a dam! If this feeling of reverence to dams had continued, imagine how happy the farmer would be today??
Nehru’s admiration of Scientists
He said about science : “It is science alone that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty, of insanitation and illiteracy, of superstition and deadening custom and tradition, of vast resources running to waste, or a rich country inhabited by starving people… Who indeed could afford to ignore science today? At every turn we have to seek its aid… The future belongs to science and those who make friends with science.”
It is with this view to foster growth of science and run our industries that Nehru and his cabinet created IITs, IIMs and Institutes for Research in Basic and Applied Science. Institutes like NEERI, IICT, Institute of Science Banglore and he transformed the Pusa Institute, into IARI for research in Agriculture. This institute was the Lab for India’s Green Revolution.
It was due to the tone and tenor set by Nehru that visionaries like Dr. Verghese Kurien, who began life as a Govt. officer, envisaged and turned Amul into a reality – making India the world’s largest milk manufacturer who could take on Nestle monopoly in the subcontinent. It was but natural that Prime Minister, Nehru visited Anand to inaugurate Amul’s plant and embraced Kurien for his groundbreaking work.
India became a Nuclear power and made big strides in Space technology in those very heady days of post independence only.
A Socialist, not a Communist!
Like scientists, Nehru admired technocrats and industrialists like JRD Tata, Ghanashyam Birla , Walchand Hirachand Doshi and Bajaj. In fact many of nascent India’s leading industrialists were followers of Gandhiji and members of the Congress party at some time or other.
Despite his support to these industrialists in the private sector, Nehru fostered Public Sector Units – which also he called ‘temples of India’ – to accelerate our industrial growth by building basic industries like Iron and Steel, Power, Petroleum and fossil fuels etc. Thus were created PSU units like SAIL, BHEL, ONGC, Oil India etc.
One reason why PSUs were created for these basic industries was private players just did not have the finance power then to make the heavy investments these enterprise needed; they were mostly based on foreign technologies which Nehru with his clout could get for India and he also wanted such mega industries to be a source of employment to a great number of Indian youth and spread the fruits of development uniformly.
Finally, a great Democrat
With the kind of cult following he had not just in India, but the world over, Nehru could have easily turned into a Dictator or a despot, but he did not! He valued the ideals of Democracy and cherished the goals of Equality, Secularism and Justice too much for that.
He respected genuine people’s leaders whether they were Congressmen or not. So he made Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar his Law Minister and entrusted work of the Constitution to him, though Ambedkar’s differences with Gandhi were well known. In Jammu and Kashmir, he first encouraged Sheikh Abdullah and befriended him but did not hesitate to arrest him and jail him either as soon as he was suspected of Sedition.
We so wish that with his vision, his compassion, his intellect and his acumen, Nehru would have been born later and ruled today.
India would have been so different!
—Sunita Mudaliar (Associate Editor)