Monday, May 26, 2014

Remembering my Political Hero - Jawahar Lal Nehru


50 years ago today it is said that lying on his death bed India's first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru wrote these lines by Frost:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

A giant of humanity did indeed fall asleep soon thereafter. Sometimes I wonder if Thomas Jefferson had to be born again he would have been Nehru. Nehru not only had that Jeffersonian curiosity and commitment to democracy but he was more progressive than Jefferson in recognizing the humanity of every individual. He definitely shared Jefferson's passion to keep religion and the state separate. But in some sense the comparison is not valid.

Nehru was India and India was Nehru. The people and their love permeated his soul and his love for them could not be put in words. Outside of religious figures, very few in human history have been loved so much by so many.

Over the years his policies have been scrutinized and critiqued with the obvious advantage of hindsight. As Ramchandra Guha recently wrote in the The Hindu, people forget that the policy structure that Nehru built had the full backing of academics, industry and a wide array of political leaders. He was the most vociferous defender of the greater common good and also its most articulate advocate.

Above all, Nehru was the most ardent soldier in defending India's pluralism. He had a very keen eye for majoritarian tendencies. And, duly recognized the threat they posed to a recently partitioned nation. When thinking of the disadvantaged he wasn't just guided by religion or caste but at the end the wretched poverty that engulfed the nation drove him. His generation had fought immensely hard to gain freedom that was first lost in the economic sphere two centuries ago. There indeed was the apprehension that another economic tide could make the nation derelict to motives that may not carry the greater common good forward. Hence, his initial policies like import substitution seem quite rational for the time.

Nehru was a man of deep curiosity. His commitment and encouragement of Indian science, arts and music have not been matched by any successor. He realized the centrality of culture in India's democratic evolution. This was a culture of synthesis not assimilation. He saw India as the moral light in a world darkened by clouds of armament, ideologies and narrow nationalisms. The world did indeed see him as that torch bearer.

A tribute to such a man is hard to capture in short note. Coming a couple of generations after him I can only convey my deepest gratitude for giving me a nation that is still democratic and is continually striving for a more perfect union despite all its challenges. Jawahar Lal Nehru will always always be my greatest political inspiration. Thank you.

May Pandit ji's soul forever rest in peace.