When the process of objective assessment of “great” historical figures starts, hagiography takes a back seat and truth takes over. Once the records are available for scrutiny by scholars and the general public, it becomes impossible for the courtiers and family loyalists to salvage anything from the ugly mess. Restoring the fallen idol to his or her earlier pedestal turns out to be a futile endeavour.
Shashi Tharoor, the one-time poster boy of the Congress durbar, has lately taken to penning “open letters” to the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi (NM), asking him to initiate steps for the commemoration of the forthcoming 125th birth anniversary of independent India’s first holder of this post, Jawaharlal Nehru (JLN). Tharoor’s effort, although couched in elegant prose, is so over the top, that it led me, once again, to look at the role and contribution of JLN to our country and civilisation. It took me a few weeks to do so, and, in retrospect, it was appropriate. A hurried response would not have been as calibrated and effective as I wanted it to be.
Let me, at the outset, summarise my thoughts about Tharoor’s “letter” to NM. It is an amazing piece of chutzpah, based on a melange of confused thinking, poor analysis, distorted / mangled history and appalling sociology. All brought together in a rusted and leaking intellectual framework that no one, apart from the deranged cohorts of the Congress, will give the time of day for.
The entire febrile exercise seems to have a solitary objective: the resuscitation of JLN in the collective conscience of our nation. This is because the man’s image has taken a terrible beating in the academic world as well as in the public eye in the last two decades. Hitherto unknown / undisclosed facts have emerged about JLN that have brought him no credit at all. His ideology, if he ever had a cohesive and logical set of values and norms, has been severely critiqued and his track-record as PM and Congress party leader has been exposed mercilessly.
Now, we can’t have this remorseless dissection of the First Family’s founding father, can we? No, siree, that’s not on. Because, if the Nani’s and mother-in-law’s pater is found to be discredited and worthless, the entire mystique of the ruling clan will be destroyed.
Let’s start with the first piece of grandstanding by the Congress agitprop machine – the fatuously pompous pronouncement that JLN was called “Panditji” or “generally known” as such. This, again, is a huge assumption. When and how the Jawaharlal Nehru began to be addressed as “Panditji” is, indeed, a matter for research. If ever a serious study is done on this subject, I am sure the research findings will be most uncomfortable for 10 Janpath and the rank and file. Research will show that it was the Congress, the party faithful and the family retainers that first bestowed this appellation on JLN, and it stuck, or JLN and his factotums made sure it stuck.
If we carefully look at JLN’s academic performance at Cambridge, there will be more sorrow. The man was an also-ran, pretty much in line with his daughter (at Oxford) and his great-grandson, again at Cambridge. The records of JLN’s results at Cambridge are not readily available, but there are strong rumours that he got a “compassionate” or “gentleman’s” pass degree. This was an old Cambridge rule that allowed the university authorities to be considerate to students from the elite or privileged backgrounds (like Harrow, Eton and the other “public” schools, where the English upper classes studied). To put it simply, JLN’s academic record, under any criteria, was pathetic when compared to the Indian savants who also studied in Cambridge. Netaji, for example, got a First, and so did Sri Aurobindo. Jagadish Chandra Bose and Ramanujan were lauded and praised for their outstanding research. Babu JLN’s footprint, around the same decades, in the world of learning was a big zero.
However, Nehru could not resist his pretentiousness. His “Discovery of India”, incessantly touted by his party hacks and family (that included the entire Kashmiri Pandit clan), has been rightly panned as “Mills and Boon” historiography. Others have more charitably described it as a doting father’s guide to an intellectually–challenged daughter (Indira) whose educational career path had been a disaster by any standards, except those of the Congress Party. Compared to the likes of Manish Tewari, Digvijay Singh, et al, she was, clearly, a titan.
JLN was a disgrace abounding. His entire role during the transfer of power is now under the scanner. His appalling and disgraceful conduct vis-à-vis the Mountbattens is open knowledge. Any self-respecting Indian cringes when seeing the photographs of JLN in the company of Edwina Mountbatten and her Viceroy husband, known popularly in Britain as Tricky Dicky. I am not really going into the issue of Nehru’s affair with Edwina; they may or may not have had one. But the undisputed fact is that the Mountbatten couple had a mesmerising influence over JLN. It is impossible to paper over the fact that JLN acted like a “mundu” or the most menial domestic servant, in front of these two Britishers.
There is even evidence that Tricky Dicky Mountbatten persuaded JLN to order the victorious Indian Army to stop its operations, when it was about to throw out the invading Pakistanis from the whole of Kashmir. The entire lunatic plan of taking the Kashmir issue to the United Nations was clearly something that JLN got from Mountbatten. With this single act of delusion and treachery, JLN ensured that the entire future of India would be compromised and threatened for centuries. If you have any doubts, read Chandrashekhar Das Gupta’s incisive book on the subject, War and Diplomacy in Kashmir, 1947-48 (Sage, 2002). Das Gupta was the Indian High Commissioner in Britain and managed to get access to official British archives. He demonstrates clinically that Mountbatten, the last British Viceroy and the first Governor General of independent India, aided and abetted by two successive British Commanders-in-Chief of the Indian Army (another criminal decision of JLN’s), systematically stymied the efforts of the Indian Government and its armed forces to repel the Pakistani invaders in 1947-1948.
JLN’s conduct in other areas of governance was equally dubious and debased. He allowed his sidekick Krishna Menon to carry on with the first scandal in independent India, the jeep scandal. Other scams under JLN included the Mundhra affair, the Sirajuddin fiddle and more. JLN’s Himalayan folly of course, was to allow the deranged Krishna Menon whom he (JLN) had appointed as Defence Minister to almost destroy the Indian Army. Thereafter, JLN landed India in the war with China, a calamity that we have still not got over with. Ournational psyche was almost permanently bruised by the actions of the tin-pot hero, the self-anointed Pandit JLN
. (Fallout of Henderson Brooks)
Yet, it is this man’s birth anniversary that the First Family would like NM and the country to celebrate. Tharoor’s panegyric to JLN is so pathetic that it is almost risible.
“An exceptionally gifted writer and speaker, he authored some of the most remarkable books on Indian history and politics. He was a thinker, a humanist, a passionate democratic socialist and internationalist, and a statesman respected around the world even by those who may have disagreed with him. With his rationalist and liberal worldview, his scientific temperament and his faith in modern industry, he was very much a man of the 20th century, whose vision laid the foundations for a progressive India.”
Another poseur Ram Chandra Guha also writes similar purple prose about JLN. When they propagate the notion that JLN is the author of some of the “most remarkable books on Indian history and politics”, they surely must be dreaming in colour, as their American friends say. The nadir, of course, is the attempt to tell NM about what his party comrade Atal Bihari Vajpayee is alleged to have said about JLN.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee, for all his other attributes, could be as astute a politician as JLN was. Therefore, any songs of praise by him for Nehru, need not be given any importance. If 24 Akbar Road and 10 Janpath think they can pull a fast one like this on the Indian public during this day and age, it makes me doubt their basic intelligence. In any case, trying this spiel with NM is a non-starter. Or don’t they know?
The Indian public will be far from impressed with the First Family’s and the Congress Party’s shenanigans. That is because the fundamentals of their assessment of JLN are flawed. One cannot pick up an idol that has fallen and splintered into pieces and paste it with adhesives and tape. And then sell it to one’s customers. Yet, they are dumb enough to try this gimmick. The chances of contemporary India buying their shabby trick are as remote as the survival prospect of a snow-flake in Saudi Arabia in summer – or am I offending their “secular” world view?
Let me sign off with a slightly charitable take on the Ramachandra Guhas and the Tharoors of the world. Their entire effort reminds me of what they specialised in their salad days in Delhi’s St. Stephen’s — that pathetic little copy of Cambridge and Oxford that the Anglican padres constructed in the arid dust of Delhi in the early years of the 20th century. If ever there is a world competition in pretentiousness, make-believe, ersatz posturing and chicanery, the inmates of this institution (Stephanians, as they label themselves), will walk away with most of the prizes. And Chacha Nehru / Panditji or plain JLN will, of course, be beaming from the special pantheon where poseurs and frauds end up.
Jay Bhattacharjee is a Senior Advisor in Corporate Laws and Finance.