The banishment of Nehru

The erasure of Nehru from the school textbooks of Rajasthan created some excitement in the media. But it was left largely to the Congress Party to protest this deletion. It was as if Nehru was only a congressman and there was some injustice being done to his memory. Even last year the government of India chose to ignore 27 May, which happened to mark the fiftieth death anniversary of Nehru.

Looked differently, it is only good that Nehru is now getting detached from the state-dom of India. The officialisation  of Nehru after his death had gradually turned him into a kind of legitimizer of the state. In these last fifty years, if we leave aside his seventeen years of prime minister ship, Nehru  became so synonymous with the state building project of India that it was difficult to imagine the debates between him and his guru Gandhi and other leaders of the congress party where he often comes out as a dissenter and rebel. It is not surprising that the official Gandhians have resented the fondness of Gandhi for him because he was been seen as not-sufficiently Gandhian. They have often tried to explain away the judgment of Gandhi about him by calling it his fatal personal weakness.

Nehru, however chose to describe himself a child of the Gandhi-era. Once while being interviewed By R K Karnajia, he refused to be addressed as a statesman, saying that the last statesman was Gandhi.

There were many things that bound Gandhi with Nehru but in their last years, it was largely the commitment to the dream of an anti-majoritarian nation- state that both of them shared, which drew them even closer. Nehru was not particularly enthusiastic about the economic vision of Gandhi as propounded in his book HIND SWARAJ and grand old man was well aware of it. Yet, he could confidently say that Nehru would speak his language when he was not there.

Gandhi’s trust in Nehru’s firmness about anti-majoritarianism had greatly to do with his awareness of his cosmopolitan mind and his ‘individualism’. Nehru was not sufficiently Hindu but had an agonising relationship with this aspect of his life. This distance gave him a rare advantage over other congressmen and women who were either fully Hindu or Muslim or those who were atheists. Gandhi knew that Nehru would not allow himself to submerge in a larger, abstract identity and would also encourage masses to fashion their own selves which were not given to them.

What is most interesting in this relationship is that Gandhi could  put away the organisational tag of Congress at his will but Nehru remained burdened with a party he often found himself uncomfortable with. The petty worldliness of his party people and their narrow outlook put him off and he tried to find sources of goodness and hope in the unlettered masses of India.

Gandhi had his Constructive Programme to go to whenever he felt stifled with the political struggle. Nehru also welcomed the solitude of prison over the noisy crowdedness of politics.

In his letters to his daughter from different prisons, he seems to suggest that he does not want or intend to come out of jail. Jails were for him, an opportunity to be fully with himself. In a letter of the Naini Central Prison, he writes:

I am in what is called an association barrack-that is we do not have separate cells. Each of us has tried to have  a corner to herself so as to ensure at least a minimum of privacy. It is strange-here we are all together and yet each a world to herself, separate and aloof. More  alone than if one had been in solitary confinement. I even feel that I am developing the awkwardness that comes of being companionless.

Alone… The word is life endured and known.

It is the stillness where our spirits walk

And all but the inmost faith is overthrown.

Nehru never complains about the hardship or lack of facilities in prisons. Instead, he writes,

….what a powerful effect jail has on our mental make-ups. It makes us grow up mentally and gives a different, and perhaps a truer, perspective on life and the world… . It is curious that jail life, which is terrible narrowing of the world of experiences and sensations, often gives us deeper experiences and sensations.

The toughening of souls which both the disciple and the guru achieved through their long stints in prisons away from the public made them gave them the strength to face and fight the temptations of giving into the demands of the ‘public.’

Masses and people were important sources of formation of the personality Nehru, like his mentor, but it was his companionship with nature and books which also helped him to analyse them critically and not succumb to ordinariness and crudity.

It was his repulsion for crudity and sloppiness which made him turn away from any call to ‘herd’ people. It was important to achieve humanity for and on one’s own. It had to a personal endeavour.

Nation building was like building of a nest by swallows. Nehru observes them in his Ahmadbad Fort Prison and writes to his daughter:

The swallows have grown in number and have made their nests inside rooms and verandahs. I like them, they are so swift and quiet, so unlike the noisy and quarrelsome sparrows. It is rather fascinating to see a swallow’s nest being built up, quietly, efficiently and without fuss. It seems to stick on to the bare wall or a corner without any visible support. All feathers , soft and downy, collected from different places and stuck together with some kind of cement.

Nehru was destined not to get this quietness which for him was another name of civility. He was also not pardoned  by his contemporaries and the later generations for keeping them reminding of their lack.

It is , therefore not surprising that Nehru is remembered and applauded for industries and IITS and IIMs but his call for civil humanity is ignored and resented.

It is good, in a way that Nehru is again back in a hostile environment. His individuality always burst in such situations. One can only hope that Nehru’;s banishment from the public spaces would benefit him.  The letter from the Ahmadabad prison concludes with Ghalib which sound so prophetic:

When the tavern itself we were made to leave,

Why restrain in a specific place?

A seminary, a monastery or else a mosque,

Any place it may now be!

When professions of the greed worshipers

admiring beauty soar,

The grace of the truly discerning ones

Finds respect no more.














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