Now, can we get back to the 21st century, please?

Here’s the Thing

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (PTI Photo)

Dear Modiji, now that Ayodhya is done, could we possibly get back to the 21st century, rather than remain stuck in the barbaric age of Babur and before, if the BJP and the Sangh Parivar will kindly permit the nation, that is?

Now, given that we are four days away from Jawaharlal Nehru’s 130th birth anniversary, here’s a challenge for you. But first, an appeal. Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Bose, Azad, et al, exerted themselves — in the run-up to freedom and in its aftermath — to ensure the unity of India, amidst its diversity. This was, and is, the first and foremost requirement for the survival of India as a nation. And if India survives as a united entity, it’ll naturally, given its attributes, be a power of great global consequence. Indeed, it has been one for the last 70 years. It was in 1934 that Nehru first said that India would be one of the four great powers of the world in the future. This, while we were still under colonial rule, which Nehru spent 30 years of his life fighting alongside Gandhi, Patel and Bose, 10 of them in jail, writing books on India’s glorious past and about an even better future.

Nehru’s way to global great power was through modernising India, in all respects. It was why he undertook to build not the Somnath Temple but what he evocatively called the ‘Temples of Modern India’ – the IITs, the IIMs, AIIMS, India’s nuclear programme that made us a nuclear weapons power, the space programme, the DRDO, the public sector and through it the nation’s industrialisation (when the Bombay Club Lalas refused to pour money into the task), and so on. Why, it was under Nehru that India even built its first supersonic fighter, the HF-24 Marut, which did great service during the 1971 war.

Remember that he, the men and women he chose, and the nation, did it all through those years of great injuries and dangers to India – the aftermath of the Bengal famine, Partition and its horrendous consequences, lack of resources, widespread poverty and government finances in limbo; and while preserving Indian unity and expanding its democracy (universal adult franchise, for instance, because of which eventually even a certain ‘chaiwala’ could become PM), even as countries all around India in Asia and Africa fell victim to the lure of authoritarianism and dictators, military and elected ones. (Yes, Patel, and VP Menon, were key to unifying India into a whole, but Patel died too soon, in December 1950, when independent India had not yet learned to walk).

I often ask myself, what would Gandhi, Patel, Subhas Bose and even Atal Behari Vajpayee have told you, had they been alive, about Nehru?

Don’t you wonder how, amidst all this, this man toured India and the world extensively (as Sardar Patel said of Nehru, “Our leader has raised India’s profile high in the world”), made thousands of speeches in every nook and corner of the country exhorting Indians to democracy, unity and hard work, wrote fortnightly to all chief ministers explaining to them the great issues before the country, wrote tomes on democracy, development, India and its place in the world and so on – enough to fill more than a hundred thick volumes!

Of course, you already know all that, Modiji, even if you have to pretend for political purposes that all of India’s ills today are due to Nehru and all that’s good because of either Patel or yourself. But here’s my challenge to you: You have enough power over the masses, and near total control of almost all arms of our democracy today, and you can probably last in power as long as you wish (now that even the Ram temple will be built). But at the end of it all, how many great educational institutions will you have established? What achievements will you have to showcase of the scale and significance of our nuclear, space and defence research establishments, in a new world in which India once again is in danger of being left behind in the new industrial revolution of our times?

It is not that I think you are not capable of doing great things for India and its future. The question is, do you want to? Or, are you happy merely being in power and doing whatever you need to do to stay there?

In other words, you can build a temple, can you build a nation and its future?


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