Sonia Gandhi: Nehru belongs to the nation

Nehru’s attitude towards the Opposition recognised its importance in the life of the nation; he actually encouraged it to flourish and speak out forcefully and fearlessly

Photo courtesy: social media
Photo courtesy: social media

Sonia Gandhi

Jawaharlal Nehru secured resounding mandates from the people of our country in 1952, 1957 and 1962. He used these mandates to strengthen the institutions of parliamentary democracy, to firmly ground the principles and provisions of our Constitution and to allow the Opposition to play its legitimate role.

He treated Parliament with the greatest respect, never failing to be present at its sittings. His attitude towards the Opposition recognised its importance in the life of the nation; he actually encouraged it to flourish and speak out forcefully and fearlessly.

In Parliament or outside, there was never any attempt to muzzle dissent, to denigrate those opposed to him as being anti-national, even when – and this was not infrequent – he was at the receiving end of criticism and hostile comment. Rather, individuals and political parties were free to espouse and propagate diverse points of view.

Nehru had many contemporary political adversaries. They were bold in their criticism of the man and his policies. Nehru was mercilessly lampooned in cartoons. Yet at no point of time did he seek to threaten or intimidate.

He was authoritative, but at no point of time did he become authoritarian. He had a huge majority, but never was that majority viewed as a license to impose his will. His was the method of persuasion and reason, of give and take, so that all points of view could have the satisfaction of having been heard and accommodated.

Today, the large-heartedness that Nehru exemplified is conspicuous by its absence. We see our once proud, functioning liberal democracy fast being converted into a fractured, illiberal political entity, a system in which the autonomy and independence of all institutions is being subverted, in which prejudice, bigotry and discrimination are encouraged as instruments of state policy to keep society in a state of perpetual polarisation. As we approach the seventy-second anniversary of our independence, the signs are grim and full of foreboding.

Is this the democracy we want? Is this the democracy for which our forefathers and freedom fighters struggled and sacrificed? The answer is a resounding ‘No’.

The time has come to affirm the values Nehru and his generation espoused – values that are being called into question by forces who had no role in setting the foundations of our nationhood, but who today control the levers of power. Denigration and obliteration of Nehru – and by extension of all those who struggled and worked with him – is the single-point agenda of the Sangh Parivar.

The attacks on Nehru must be recognised for what they are: part of a larger project to re-engineer not just the Indian nation-state, not just Indian democracy, but the very nature of Indian society. To accomplish this, history is being mischievously distorted, facts are being twisted, events as they took place are being re-written. This falsifying of the Nehruvian legacy must not go unchallenged and uncontested.

Nehru was a Congressman, first and last. Yet he belongs to no one political party; he belongs to the nation. Undoubtedly Congressmen and women have a special role to play in preserving, protecting and promoting his values and principles. But this has to be a gigantic national endeavour, in which people of different political persuasions must be engaged, united by a commitment to liberal and pluralistic values.

This does not mean freezing Nehru in time; many of his policies have necessarily to be seen in the context of the times. But we must cherish what he has left us of perennial significance to the life of our country: his uncompromising belief in secularism, in opposing communalism of all kinds; his steadfast faith in a scientific temper; his commitment to eradicating poverty and creating a fair and just society; and his dedication to carving out a niche for our country in the comity of nations.

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Published: 15 Aug 2019, 8:30 AM