Dreams for India

Dreams for India

Dreams for India

Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India, spelled his dreams in the letters he wrote to state ministers, writes
M K Chandra Bose

More than ever, the legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru is under attack in the backdrop of his limited appeal in contemporary India. It is high time we formed a dispassionate view of our first prime minister and his contributions. He was a visionary statesman whose deep commitment to democratic values and civil liberties inspired generations.

Soon after becoming prime minister in 1947, Nehru started writing fortnightly letters to chief ministers of provincial governments, a practice that he continued till a few months before his death. These letters cover myriad subjects reflecting the trials and tribulations of a nascent nation. He writes passionately on communalism, law and order, planning and development, governance and corruption and India’s place in the world. Letters For A Nation: From Jawaharlal Nehru To His Chief Ministers 1947-1963 is a collection from 400 such letters.

The letters, arranged in chronological order under various subjects like citizen and the nation, the institutions of democracy, national planning and development, war and peace, are significant for their historical value. The letters are not in the nature of advisories but enunciate Nehru’s political ideas, his concerns over sectarian tendencies, slow growth and his dilemma on how to make India self-sufficient without compromising civil liberties. The letters offer glimpses of India’s failures as well. We have no idea what the responses from the chief ministers were. Had they followed his words even in a limited way, the nation’s history would have been different. Some of the problems that Nehru had faced refuse to go away even now.

Nehru believed in the composite culture of India and tried hard to rid politics of considerations of religion, caste and language. He had the conviction that communalism was the greatest threat and for fighting economic ills it was essential to tackle communal and sectarian issues. He considered majoritarian communalism more dangerous as it created insecurity among the minorities, aggravating their sense of alienation. In some letters, Nehru alludes to the role of RSS in fomenting communal strife.  In a letter dated January 5, 1948, he writes, “It is openly stated by their leaders that RSS is not a political body, but there can be no doubt that their policy and programme are political, intensely communal and based on violent activities.” He also cites the need to keep them under check. In his wildest dreams, Nehru would never have dreamt of a situation as today when RSS is setting the nation’s agenda.

Even in the early days of Indian independence, Nehru was aware of the scourge of corruption. As early as May 5, 1948, Nehru wrote to the chief ministers, “I am particularly concerned about the growth of corruption, both at the Centre, and in the provinces. This must be tackled efficiently, or else we shall sink in this morass.” We did sink deeper and deeper over the years. Such homilies had no impact on amoral Congress leaders. In the same year, Finance Minister Shanmukham Chetty resigned following his involvement in the closure of income tax cases against some industrialists.

At a time when the planning process itself is being dismantled, Nehru’s ideas of planning assume significance. He visualised an era of mixed economy with the public sector enjoying the pride of place. His primary concern was how to attain self-sufficiency in food. He wanted economic growth with our own resources propped by science and technology. His ideal was a socialist economy through democratic means, “to develop a society where there are no great differences and where opportunity comes to all.” For him, community-development programme was the “biggest hope for our future”.

Nehru never recovered from the shock of Chinese invasion in 1962. In the wake of Chinese attack on Tibet, he writes on November 17, 1950, “What would happen when China with its new born strength and dynamism and a certain aggressiveness, came right up to the border of India?” They did come 12 years later to decimate our ill-equipped and ill-clad troops. Nehru offers two reasons for the debacle. One is that the terrain was ill-suited for Indian soldiers. The other is that the troops were rushed to the mountains before being acclimatised. But that is not a convincing enough reason for the colossal intelligence failure to spot aggressive Chinese designs early.

Nehru revelled in handling international affairs. He wanted India to play a distinctive role in the world without aligning with any power group. The advantage of non-alignment that attracted several newly-independent Afro-Asian nations and his concern for world peace resonate in several letters.

Nehru was a visionary who did not have the wherewithal to realise the dreams. The men whom he reposed faith in were men of straw. His successors failed to build on the strong foundations he had laid. The letters have a unique contemporary relevance as the problems that India faces now are not very dissimilar.

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