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Jawaharlal Nehru’s personality played a very important role in moulding a newly born India. He was a multi-faceted personality and a discussion on him is relevant in the backdrop of the dangers from religious superstition, obscurantism, and fundamentalism at the present moment.
India’s struggle for Independence received an international outlook when Nehru attended the Congress of Oppressed Nationalities held in Brussels in 1927.
When Gandhi proposed dominion status (which was also the British desire) for India in 1928, it was Nehru who demanded complete independence for the country and in line with this opposed the Govt.of India Act, 1935. He instead demanded a popularly elected Constituent Assembly. The Objectives Resolution of December 13, 1946, which declared India’s decision to become an independent sovereign republic was keeping with Nehru’s views.
When in 1947, Lord Mountbatten proposed a plan to devolve power in India to the provinces in effect allowing them to create confederations and balkanize India, Nehru opposed it tooth and nail leading to Mountbatten postponing his announcement. Later, the plan prepared by V.P Menon to partition India and transfer power to 2 dominions was announced.
As chairman of the Union Constitution Committee and Union powers committee Nehru was able to balance the powers of the Union govt and the states to maintain the unity of the country. He saw to it that the individual citizen became the focus of the constitution.
It was due to Nehru’s relationship with Sheikh Abdullah that Kashmir became a part of the Indian union.
In line with the Bombay Plan, Nehru advocated a mixed economy which balanced the private with the public sector.
Nehru facilitated the passage of the four Hindu code bills in the parliament despite the opposition by the conservatives and Hindu nationalists. These bills declared polygamy illegal, allowed inter-caste marriages, equated daughters with sons as regards property inheritance, and made divorce procedure simple.
Nehru was a visionary and played a major role in establishing a modern scientific and technological infrastructure in the country such as the ISRO, IIT’s, and the Atomic Energy Commission. Today we are world leaders in information technology, digital services, and launching of rockets and satellites. We are upholding and continuing his legacy.
Nehru firmly anchored secularism as a core character of Indian polity. It was to serve national integration, eliminate inequality, and promote social and political change. Nehru desired separation of religion from politics and wanted religion to be confined only to private spaces. He worked towards religious and linguistic pluralism believing in India’s unity in diversity’. Socially he promoted education and ensured equal rights for women.
Nehru had firm faith in democracy, parliamentary procedures, constitutional system, inclusion, socio-economic empowerment, and socialism to promote the development and social justice. He handled the infant democratic institutions with kid gloves and paid due respect to the country’s ceremonial presidency and largely archaic vice-presidency letting the public known that these offices were superior to him protocol-wise. He regularly in letters explained to the chief ministers of states his policies and sought their feedback. Since strong opposition is essential for a healthy democracy, Nehru allowed the numerically small but talented opposition to cross-examine the govt in Parliament. He gave due respect to the judicial system too. He was accessible to the people and started the practice of offering ‘Janata Darshan’ at home for an hour each morning to hear their grievances in person.
Nehru wanted to bring freedom and opportunity to the common man of the country, fight and end poverty, ignorance, disease; to build up a prosperous democratic and progressive nation and to create social, economic, and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman, barring any kind of discrimination. We remain wedded to Nehru’s concern for the weakest sections of our society. He believed that the majority community had a special obligation to protect the rights and promote the well being of the minorities.
His respect for democratic procedure and parliament, regard for an independent judiciary, his respect for those with different political inclinations, his staunch belief in a free and fair electoral system and his homage to institutions over individuals, his inclusive social vision and independent foreign policy all remain vitally relevant to young Indians today.
In foreign policy, Nehru opted for the policy of non-alignment in a bipolar cold war era to safeguard India’s independence and self-respect against potential encroachments on its sovereignty. Thanks to him, we remain free to conduct our foreign relations according to our lights and national interest.
Nehru condemned the apartheid regime in South Africa and in 1949 ceased to trade with that country. Some of us Indians are committing atrocities against our North Eastern brothers and sisters. Therefore, what Nehru did towards a foreign cause can surely be continued within our frontiers.
India as a ‘soft power’ is Nehru’s legacy: Based entirely on the country’s civilizational history and moral standing he developed a role for India as the voice of the oppressed and the marginalized. This gave our country enormous prestige and standing across the world for years out of all proportion to our military strength and economic might.
Among his negatives include: Sending the Kashmir issue to the UN, his handling of the border dispute with China, and overlooking the impact of Krishna Menon’s abrasive personality on the military.
Nehru’s extraordinary life and achievements are part of the inheritance of every Indian. We might not agree with everything he stood for but his legacy is ours. What we are today, both good and bad, we owe in great measure to him. His impact is so great that he needs to be re-examined periodically.
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