Nehru, the exceptional revolutionary

  • Posted on: 11 February 2017
  • By: Priyanka Chaturvedi

(This article was written on 14th November - birth anniversary of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru)

Today being Jawaharlal Nehru’s birth anniversary, I picked up a book entitled A Study of Nehru (edited by Rafiq Zakaria, A Times of India Publication). The book was published in 1959 on the occasion of Nehru’s 70th birthday and the collection contains more than 60 essays on various aspects of Nehru. With an introduction by the then President, Dr Rajendra Prasad, it is not a felicitation volume, rather a many-sided assessment of Nehru’s personality.

Among the many contributions, a short piece that caught my eye was Always a Revolutionary by Lee Kuan Yew, the then Prime Minister of Singapore. It highlights an important point about Nehru which we now often miss out on.

In the English-speaking colonial world Jawaharlal Nehru is a legend. There is no nationalist in the British Colonial Empire, determined to fight for freedom from the British Imperialism, who has not heard of Nehru. Few might have not read his early writings, but of those who have there is no one who has not been moved by India’s struggle for freedom, as he told it.

Great revolutionaries often die soon after achieving the overthrow of the old order. This is perhaps because had they lived on to see the failure of fulfillment that was expected after the revolution they would not continue to be classified as great. Nehru is one exception. He has had to stand the test of two judgments: first, how well he succeeded in overthrowing the old order and second, whether he had succeeded in establishing a new order which is better than the old.
Almost thirteen years after independence nobody can say that his reputation has been tarnished as a result of attaining power. This is the highest tribute one can pay to a revolutionary. For, we should never forget that despite the ‘respectability’ which he has achieved since India became independent and he her first Prime Minister, Nehru was, and still is, one of Asia’s great revolutionaries.

It is easy to forget today that Nehru is an exceptional figure in modern history to have stood the twin tests of judgment, both of overthrowing the old order and of establishing a new one. It takes a Lee Kuan Yew to remind us of that amazing fact about one of India’s greatest leaders.

The author can be contacted on twitter @priyankac19

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