Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Doing the unfashionable - defending Nehru - I

In spite of their differences, Nehru and Rajaji had great regard for each other. Rajaji was among the first to be awarded the Bharat Ratna.  When Nehru passed away, Rajaji wrote the following obituary in Swarajya:
 Eleven years younger than me, eleven times more important to the nation, eleven hundred times more beloved of the nation, Sri Nehru has suddenly departed from our midst and I remain alive to hear the sad news from Delhi and bear the shock....
The old guardroom is completely empty now... I have been fighting Sri Nehru all these ten years over what I consider faults in public policies. But I knew all along that he alone could get them corrected. No one else would dare to do it and he is gone, leaving me weaker than before in my fight. But fighting apart, a beloved friend is gone, the most civilised person among us  all . Not many among  us are civilised yet. 
God save our country. 
Over the last few years Nehru has been denigrated rather unfairly in my opinion with his critics concentrating on his faults and ignoring his contributions. The more I read about Nehru the more I find that his views on various issues were more complex than partisans and critics would have you believe. It is not easy to shoehorn him into a pre-conceived box of your convenience.

About his much criticised economic policy, most Indian industrialists and economists were in favour of it despite their protestations to the contrary now. There is an extensive discussion about this in India after Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha . The economic plan had its roots in the Bombay Plan whose signatories included J.R.D.Tata, Ghanshyam Das Birla and Kasturbhai Lalbhai. Among other things it called for state monopoly in heavy industries  as being advantageous in the initial years after Independence. It should be remembered that at the time of independence, many were against capitalism because of its association with colonialism which they had just fought against.

In this article, Sam Harris says, '...throughout the 1950's--a decade for which American conservatives pretend to feel a harrowing sense of nostalgia--the marginal tax rate for the wealthy was over 90 percent. In fact, prior to the 1980's it never dipped below 70 percent.' So the zeitgiest at that time was different from what it is now. It is wrong to take a historical personality out of the context of his time and judge him by the stands of today. In India After Gandhi, Ramachandra Guha    writes:
In 1980 Mrs Gandhi returned to power. The next year, the head of the Tata Group of Companies gave a long interview to a leading newspaper. J.R.D. Tata said here that 'the performance of the Indian Economy from the mid-fifties to the mid-sixties reflected the soundness of the mixed economy as originally conceived.'Industrial production grew at a handsome 8 percent a year.  Then, in late 1960s, the opportunity arose to open up the economy to competition. Had this been done, thought Tata, 'employment would have grown more quickly in all sectors; production would have increased considerably and shortages removed; and government revenues too would have materially increased, which in turn could have been utilized for developmental programmes.' What actually happened, however, was that the government embarked on 'the nationalization of major industries on an expropriatory basis'. 
In this discussion Ramachandra Guha says that Nehru has been visited by the reverse of the Biblical curse. In the Bible it is written that the sins of the forefather will be visited on future generations. In Nehru's case, the sins of the future generations have visited upon the forefather.Of course he made mistakes, otherwise he wouldn't be human. I am not an expert on the relevant issues but even if I was I would hesitate to say emphatically that doing this or that differently would have changed history for the better. In Imperialists, Nationalists, Democrats, there is a quote about the historian  Sarvepalli Gopal's views:
"The achievements of a country or society cannot be epitomised in single persons." The study of the past was "not a game of personalities but an analysis of the interaction of economic forces, social relations and thrusting as well as hegemonic ideas. In the evolution of these trends and patterns, representative and symbolic individuals may emerge, and a study of their leadership may cast some light on the whole."

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