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