Revisiting Pandit Nehru - A personal account
I have always had an affinity towards Jawaharlal Nehru.
Maybe, it was because I spent about 15 years of my life in JNU where his name featured in my address or maybe, and I give this one more weight, it is because both my parents have always spoken highly of him and introduced him to me as a man who was immensely intelligent, extremely educated and unbelievably popular but at the same undeniably humble till the very end.
What else can you call a man who by his own admission used every form of transport to travel across India and get in touch with her people directly? What else can you call a man who never gagged the media, not even when it was critical of him, thereby ushering in a freedom that the press in this country enjoys till date? What else can you call a man who despite enjoying such immense popularity and success never tried to install himself as the permanent head of the government like many in a similar position had done throughout the world? What else can you tell about a main who led the rebuilding of India after centuries of subjugation? What else..
Above all – a human being
I have grown up on tales of many freedom fighters and social thinkers but there was something about Jawaharlal Nehru that made me come back to him again and again. Maybe it was the fact that I could identify with him for his scientific temper? I don’t know for sure. What I do know for sure is that, by way of the many anecdotes and tales that I heard and read about him from my parents, relatives, historians etc, is that Nehru was a man of history to whom I could point and say - Look, he is not just an icon but a human - like me.
Stories about Nehru have tumbled from my parents’ lips like anecdotes from their own past. One of my father’s favorite tales to recount is how, apparently, Nehru used to carry around a ruler/baton so as to control crowds if they ever got a wee bit too excited. My father, till date, maintains that good statues of Nehru are those which observe this habit of his and have him holding a ruler.
Maybe it was this attitude of taking things head on coupled with his genuine love for the well-being of this country and all its citizens, regardless of their caste, creed or religion that propelled Nehru, according to many historical accounts, to personally intervene in violent clashes during the tense times of partition and extend help to those in need of it.
Stories, but not mere stories
For me, it is the following incidents that bring forth in the most emotion and respect for the man. The first stands testimony to Nehru’s silent admission of his own decisions being proved wrong in hindsight. The other proves that he was a leader connected to his people, even those who may differ with him. While recounting both of these incidents, my parents have always had a strange sheen in their eyes - a sheen which I could not understand as a child but which I too feel today in my own eyes as I sit here and pen them down.
The first incident is when Nehru could not stop himself from weeping during Lata Mangeshkar’s rendition of ‘Ae Mere Watan Ke Logon’ post India’s defeat in the hands of China in the 1962 war. It had been a crushing defeat resulting in the loss of many lives along with the loss of face for Nehru personally and instead of hiding it with rhetoric and blame games like the politicians of today, that man took it all head-on.
The second is perhaps more personal in nature. Both my mother and my father tell this tale that unraveled in each of their homes roughly 350 kilometres apart but in that moment joined together with a thread of stunned grief shared with almost every other household in the country - north, south, east, west.
It was the day of Nehru’s death - 27th May 1964. My Nana and Nani, staunch Congressmen, spent the day fasting in respect like they would for a member of the family. Meanwhile their daughters, including my mother, read out a lesson in Shradhanjali on Gandhiji as they had no lesson on Nehru himself. The next day was spent trying to catch a last glimpse of Nehru come hell or high water.
Contrast this with my father’s family. My Dada and Dadi did not have any sympathy with the Congress and, according to my father, one of their favorite past-time was to criticise Nehru for his economic, social, political, everything under the sun policies. But on 27th May 1964, no food was made in the Agrawal household. My Dada who by his own, very loud, admission hated Nehru spent the day in stunned silence while my Dadi who by her own, not as loud, admission did not care about Nehru at all spent the day weeping into the pallu of her sari.
That was the bond Pandit Nehru shared with the people of this country, of his country.
It is these stories which make Nehru transcend that seemingly untouchable, unachievable realm that is occupied by your idols and heroes to become a living breathing human being with whom you can agree with, disagree with, whom you can criticise and still identify with.
This is precisely what scares Nehru’s detractors. Now I am not talking about the serious academicians and historians who have disagreed with many of Nehru’s decisions and policies by way of what their repercussions might have to come be but with those who have nothing to say about his work but everything to conjecture about his personal life without, more often than not, any basis in facts.
Their weapon of choice is to take away from Nehru’s public person by way of vilifying his personal life through constructed realities i.e. photoshopped images, images without context or the wrong context or, my personal favorite, long WhatsApp messages filled with vitriolic lies.
However, I am not scared of any of this. You know why? Because Nehru occupies a space so much larger than these people can imagine. He is not an icon limited to the pages from which they are attempting to remove his names but rather his spirit is entrenched in institutions like the IITs, AIIMS, ISRO, IIMs which by their very existence stand testimony to his dreams of ushering in an age of modernization in our country when it was left ravaged by its colonized past.
What these poor fellows fail to realize is that Nehru’s contribution is not limited to a certain sect of people or to a specific time in history. Instead they ring far and wide in the arena of world politics, economics and social forums. For instance, his contribution to NAM (Non-Aligned Movement) gave many a newer and weaker countries, including India, in those days of the Cold War a third option.
So, yes, I am not afraid because I know Nehru cannot be erased from time and history, he transcends borders and boundaries. Nehru will remain etched into the very foundations of this country and of many aspects of world history.
Nehru’s own will and testament asked his ashes were to be thrown in the Ganga because for him it is “symbol of India’s age long culture and civilization” and the rest were to be carried high in an aeroplane and scattered over the fields which the “peasants of India toil, so that they might mingle with the dust and soil of India and become an indistinguishable part of India.”
This was Nehru.
This is Nehru.
Reference for Nehru’s will and testament - http://nehrumemorial.nic.in/en/gift-gallery.html?id=196&tmpl=component
The author can be contacted on twitter handle @RitambharaA
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