Nearly 130 years have passed since the birth of Jawaharlal Nehru. He was born four years after the formation of the Indian National Congress. Born in a relatively rich family, it was not difficult for his father to send young Jawahar to England for early and higher education. He was in England from 1905 to 1912 and could have easily continued to become an elite Non Resident Indian (NRI).
But he was a sensitive young boy, with an inquisitive mind, learning about the “Brave New World” emerging. Actually, the idea of such a world was yet to take shape in the literary classic of that title. Aldous Huxley wrote that dystopian novel in 1931. But the new scientific awareness was sweeping the consciousness of the people who were curious about the universe.
Albert Einstein’s special ‘Theory of Relativity’ had stunned and enlightened the world in 1905. The flying machines created by Wright Brothers in America had opened new horizons, which would later lead to air travel on a mass scale and finally to space travel. Bertrand Russel and A N Whitehead’s magnificent treatise Principia Mathematica had fired imagination of scholars. Young Jawahar was creatively curious. But there was also another window to the twentieth century opening up.
That was the window from which the winds of freedom had begun to blow. The Grand Old Man of India, Dadabhoy Naoroji, was making deep inquiries into the nature of poverty and deprivation of Indian people. He had concluded that the the backwardness of India was because of British imperialism. To study further and fight against the forces of foreign power, he had gone to England and even became of Member of British Parliament (1892-95). Indeed, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was to go to England with a reference to Dadabhoy.
Of course, young Jawahar neither knew Dadabhoy, nor Gandhiji when they were in England. Gandhiji soon had gone to South Africa and when young Jawahar came to India, the people here were getting charged up with the very winds of freedom he had seen blowing in his young day, without comprehending the historical meaning of them. In later years, when he wrote the Discovery of India and Glimpses of World History, he realised the profound meaning of those forces. But that was much later when he suffered jail sentence for fighting for freedom, under the leadership of Gandhiji who had come to India in 1915.
When Jawaharlal came to India in 1912, Lokmanya Tilak was in Mandalay jail serving the term on the charges of sedition. The moderates under the leadership of Gopal Krishna Gokhale were not able to guide the 27-year-old Congress in a new direction. Neither inspiring leadership, nor programme, the Congress was struggling to fight organisational and political stagnation. Gokhale had gone to South Africa to urge Gandhiji to come to India and take the lead. Gokhale had read and heard about his philosophy of non-violence and Satyagraha.
Gandhiji came to India in 1915, but the same year, after a few days, Gokhale passed away. By now, Tilak was released from the jail in 1914. The political scene was undergoing change. Jawaharlal was 26 years old and learning with passion and concern about the emerging freedom struggle. He was not sure as to what exactly he should do. Only one thing had become clear in his mind: He was not to pursue any career, nor enlarge the inherited wealth. He wanted to join the freedom movement.
His father was a political moderate. But Jawaharlal was impatient with moderates. He wanted militant action. During his years in England, he had encountered great thinkers and literary figures, philosophers and scholars. George Bernard Shaw was one of them. Shaw was a rebel, in every sense of the term. Charlie Chaplin was another. Young Jawahar had also become aware of the philosophy of Karl Marx.
Two years after Gandhiji arrived in India, the world was shaken by a major historic event: The Russian Bolshevik Revolution under the leadership of Vladimir Illych Lenin. Initially, both philosophies, of Lenin (who based his action on the theories of Karl Marx) and that of Gandhiji inspired him. He tried to integrate them too.
The world of science and ideologies was unfolding in front of him. No other leader in the world had incorporated the notion of scientific temper in the very idea of freedom. Without scientific temper, there would be no inquiry into the nature of things. Without inquiry, there would be no scientific progress. Without progress, it will not be possible to fight and eliminate poverty and injustice. To achieve that, people must be free and be able to decide for themselves. For him, the ideas of freedom and peace, ethics and economics, culture and civilisation were one integrated weltanschauung.
Unless we take into account this mood of the first two decades of the twentieth century, we would not be able to understand Nehru and his worldview, his politics and his philosophy of life.
As the superficial stability and calm began to evaporate in the second decade of the twentieth century, Nehru began to formulate on the ideas of freedom and peace, social justice and the causes of the misery in the world. The Great War and the Russian Revolution were the triggers that set him thinking on these issues.
Nehru was continuously evolving, growing and creatively trying to understand the world. He wanted to change it, and so he must understand it in all its splendour. That is why, we see the stages and phases of his life evolving: the teenager Jawaharlal in Harrow, young “Fabian” debater in Cambridge, angry and uncomfortable young man when he returned to India, a kind of Marxist-Leninist in the twenties, dedicated Gandhian in the freedom movement and that too without giving up his socialist ideals, courageous fighter against the British Raj, negotiator in the most difficult times of Partition and freedom, Prime Minister and global statesman, mentor to many African countries liberation movements, founder of non-aligned movement — are various stages on the trajectory of growth in his personality, his thinking and action.
His understanding of the symbiotic relationship between freedom and peace as expressed in the Discovery of India, is a profound reflection on the history of mankind as well as direct response to the troubled decades of war and devastation in the First and Second World War. Actually, it was written a couple of years before the war was over and the Nazis vanquished. This means that he had not only seen the mindless World War One but also the formation and failure of the League of Nations, whose aim was to avoid wars and establish peace. Within a decade of the collapse of the League of Nations, the Nazis established their Reich in Germany and did not hide their plans of aggressive hyper-nationalist Aryan expansionism.
The ominous rise of Hitler and spread of his tentacles, the concentration camps and extension of terror across Europe, the discontents of civilisation exploding in the same region which was known for Renaissance. The miltarised Japan was expanding its territories — all this in just a matter of three decades, were his direct encounters with his times. All that became history much later. For him, it was living through such volcanic eruptions though he was in jail contemplating about past and future.
Two years after his release from the jail, came Independence, but with Partition and holocaust. The whole Indian subcontinent was in turmoil. The world had become even more insecure despite the victory of the allies and defeat of the Nazis. The American bombing of Hiroshima-Nagasaki in August 1945 had brought the world to the nuclear precipice. Four years later, Communist Soviet Union conducted its own atomic tests. Now in the real sense, the Cold War began and with it nuclear brinkmanship. From Korea to Cuba and from Palestine to Vietnam, there were tensions everywhere and each with a nuclear dimension.
In almost each global crisis, from Suez to African region, it was Nehru’s intervention which proved to be crucial. It may sound hyperbolic, but without Nehru, the world could have faced yet another world war. But are we, as Indians, as liberals, as internationalists, even grateful to him? What efforts have we made to take his ideas and ideals to the people? We have remembered him on birth and death anniversaries and forgotten that we are a democratic, secular, liberal country today, thanks mainly to him. Most countries which became free after the Second World War, ended up in military dictatorships and civil wars. Let us not take India for granted; it too is on brink of anarchy and multiple civil strifes.
When India became free, there was hope and people rejoiced in Africa and most of Asia. Jawaharlal Nehru was like a “Deep Stambha” in the turbulent history. Almost whole of Africa was in colonial chains. Most of Asia was under colonial yoke but was awakening to the idea of freedom. The Latin American countries had begun to assert for themselves. But the colonial masters in Europe who talked of Liberty and Equality, Democracy and Plato’s Republic were not ready to give up their imperial hold. The Jewel in the Crown, India, the largest colony of the British Empire was subjected to humiliation, subservience and denial of all freedoms and basic rights. Unless the people in all these continents were free, there would be no peace. Nehru thought that this realisation would dawn on the so-called civilised nations. But that did not. The struggle then became inevitable. Indeed, the very idea of Non-Aligned Movement was born out of this realisation. The current regime has given up the idea of Non-Alignment, along with the Idea of India.
The End of History is nowhere in sight though. In fact, we are witnessing the repeat of history, but not as a farce, but yet another tragedy. The neo-imperialist and neo-colonial corporate-capitalist control of the world, the soulless march of the market forces, the superpower hegemony with global policing and half of the world population still half-starved show that Nehru’s dream is yet to be fulfilled. Most of the African and Asian countries were liberated after India became independent and Jawaharlal Nehru was the iconic leader of those people.
Yet, when the India-Africa summit was held in Delhi a couple of weeks ago, the current Indian leadership thought of not even mentioning Nehru’s name, forget his legacy. It was left to some African heads of states to recall the glorious Nehruvian ethos. That is the depth of hatred of Nehru. The present Prime Minister is globetrotting today as if there was no world before he became India’s Fuehrer. He and the RSS want to wipe out from history, not only Nehru’s name, but the annals of the whole freedom movement. They will not succeed in their bizarre effort, because Nehru’s footprints are all over India and the world. But let us also not forget that these dangerously regressive forces have come to power by using the democratic institutions built by the Independence movement and Pandit Nehru’s direct personal contribution.
We must not remain complacent. Indeed because of our collective complacence, political irresponsibility of all liberal and progressive parties and ideological neglect of Nehruvian legacy, we are in the present predicament. I am not sure whether
we have really understood Nehru’s politics, his philosophy, his global perspective. That is what we should preserve and promote so that the people all over the world are able to live in freedom and in peace. That would be the real tribute to Jawaharlal Nehru on his 130th birth anniversary.