November 14, 2012

Remembering Nehru

I realized with a start that this week is the birthday of my favorite character from the pages of history.

When I flip through the pages of history and of course I am no professional historian, I find that I have more regard and affection for Jawaharlal Nehru than anyone else.

Of course, there is Mahatma Gandhi. And there are others belonging to India and to other nations whose achievements I find awe inspiring or admirable or creditable or inspirational.

Internationally, there were men like Washington to Jefferson to Lincoln – three of the great presidents of the United States. There was Napoleon and there was Lenin. And Mao. The 20th century was a period that provided enough scope for megalomaniac men of varied hues to chase their dreams. So, recent history is replete with larger than life characters – some who achieved an astonishing amount of infamy such as Hitler and Stalin and Mussolini to others who have left their mark on human history which is essentially positive: men such as Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy. Of course, the position of President of United States seems to offer an undue amount of scope to create heroes out of ordinary men. So, may be, some of those who have held that position probably don’t deserve the kind of fame and recognition and greatness that they have been endowed with. As the immortal Bard had said: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.”


Be that as it may, I don’t claim to be able to have any great expertise in being able to weigh the relative contributions to human welfare of these men who lived and contributed and died under very different circumstances across a time span of centuries.
So, it is rather perplexing to single out any single individual from this diverse bunch of great men (and surprisingly, the list comprises of ‘men’ exclusively! – maybe that’s due to my scholastic shortcomings) and say that this individual stands out as the greatest of them all. And indeed, that’s not what my perception of Nehru is.
I don’t claim that he is the greatest human being in all of human history. But, it’s merely my submission that he’s the most “MULTI-FACETED” Indian that I know of and someone who was the perfect person to lead India at its birth. I can’t really measure the greatness of say the Founding Fathers of America and what were the challenges that they overcame. Nor can I do an assessment of the conditions which prevailed in 19th century Russia which was the backdrop for Lenin’s revolutionary ideas. European history of the 20th century with two World Wars is so vast that perhaps one will need to devote one’s entire life to absorb it adequately. So, as laymen, I would not like to venture into judging the greatness or otherwise of European and American leaders from Churchill to Kennedy.
As an ‘unknown’ Indian, all I would like to say is that Nehru had this fortunate combination of skills – a deeply ingrained appreciation for the lessons of human history, an abiding confidence in the beneficial influence of science, a sense of empathy for the diverse multitudes inhabiting this vast country, an ability to hold his own on the international stage, etc.
Some people choose to focus on the negatives and like to blame Nehru for such issues as the continuing problems in Kashmir and Nehru’s anti-US and pro-Soviet leanings in the early years of India’s economic renaissance.
I look at it from the perspective of the kind of leadership we have in India today.
Nehru clearly stands head and shoulders above the present generation of leaders in India.
Lastly, I would merely say that I think I am not really in a position to make a proper appraisal of Nehru nor are the countless pundits who like to pontificate on each and every issue. I think I need to better educate myself on who Jawaharlal Nehru really was as a person and what roles he played in his 17 years as Prime Minister of India in formulating policies that had a bearing on everything from India’s economy to science & technology to its agrarian economy and its complicated and tangled legacy of caste problems.
I am sure, if any of us likes to revisit Nehru or consult with him by going through his voluminous writings, each of us will come away rather surprised and chastened by the kind of insight we will find Nehru had into any and every aspect of this drama of human life.
Let’s find time to read more of Nehru’s writings…and remember to celebrate November 14 as the birthday of this great Indian and a great human being.

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