The way the Hindutva brigade has, of late, been targeting Jawaharlal Nehru, one could be pardoned for thinking he or she is living in the 1950’s. More criticism has been aimed at India’ first Prime Minister than the present day leaders who are opposed to the RSS-BJP combine’s idea of India. It is no mean feat for a person, who passed away more than 54 years ago, to still remain a potent threat to the present dispensation in power.
Nehru is representative of those political values which are opposed by the Hindutva brigade, such as respect for democratic values and institutions, secularism and social progressivism. But perhaps a more significant reason is that Nehru, in his conduct and life, represented a distinct culture which people belonging to a different ‘cultural organisation’ found difficult to digest.
There is an interesting anecdote published in the special issue commemorating the birth centenary of Ram Manohar Lohia. Once Lohiaji was taken seriously ill and it was being discussed as to where he should be taken for medical treatment and care. Some said he should go to Calcutta and some advised that he should go to Hyderabad and stay with Badrivishal Pitti. Lohiaji said, “You know where I can be best looked after? Even today, the care and treatment I would get in Anand Bhavan, I can’t get it anywhere.” And this was long after he had become a strong opponent of Nehru.
Another episode is mentioned in Raj Thapar’s book ‘All Those days’. Romesh Thapar was working as a voice-over artist for documentary films. The then Chief Minister of Bombay state, Morarji Desai, had imposed a ban on giving him work as he was accused of being a communist. Friends and well-wishers advised Thapar to complain to Nehru about this. At that time, the Communist Party of India (CPI) was anti-Congress and anti-Nehru. But Thapar wrote a letter nonetheless, addressing it to the Prime Minister of India and detailing how he was facing injustice. He then dropped it in a letter box right in front of the PM’s residence in New Delhi.
The very next day, Romesh Thapar received a call from the Prime Minister’s secretary. The latter informed Thapar that the Prime Minister had read his letter. He also said the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting would get in touch with Thapar. The next day, Thapar got a call from Dr Keskar, I&B minister. He asked Thapar to meet him. Thapar met him and he started getting work again.
Another episode was narrated by India’s former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar. When Chandra Shekhar attended Parliament for the first time, he bitterly criticised Nehru. The very same evening, Nehru asked the leader of Praja Socialist Party (PSP), Nath Pai, “Why is this young man so angry?” Nath Pai talked to Chandra Shekhar about it and then conveyed the conversation to Nehru. The next day, Nehru gave a detailed speech in Parliament on the issues raised by Chandra Shekhar.
Another incident was remembered by former Chief Minister of Delhi Madan Lal Khurana. When Khurana was studying at Allahabad University, a student’s delegation from Delhi University came to meet Nehru. After meeting Nehru, the students got up to leave and leader came to the gate to see them off. When the hesitant students said that it was not required, Nehru replied, “Young men, it is necessary that I come to see you off so that you remember that this is the Tahzeeb (etiquette) in our country.”
All these episodes show tolerance, adherence to a culture of civility and dignity which today’s so-called champions of Indian culture feel repeatedly uncomfortable with. This is because they show them their own reality. Nehru’s liberal and generous behaviour reflects not only the highest values of democracy but also the profoundness of Indian culture. The natural and spontaneous dignity, grace and liberty inherent in Indian culture for millennia is also reflected in Nehru’s personality. With this, the falsity and hypocrisy of the present Hindutva brigade also stand exposed. With his democratic, cultured and liberal personality, Nehru stands as a strong wall against the assault of narrow-mindedness, parochialism and regressive worldview.