Jawaharlal Nehru’s fallen reputation

Ramchandra Guha looks at Jawaharlal Nehru’s legacy and fallen reputation in the Economic and Political Weekly.

“Forty years after his death, Jawaharlal Nehru is a visible presence in our public and political life. His name is invoked often, but almost always in a negative sense, as an object of derision or abuse. . . Just before the general elections of 2004, the Delhi monthly National Review interviewed two stalwarts of the political firmament: Lal Krishna Advani, then home minister and deputy prime minister in the government of India, for many years now the leading ideologue of the Hindu right; and Ashok Mitra, the former finance minister of the government of West Bengal, and a still serving ideologue of the radical left. This, without first checking with one another, is what they said about Nehru’s practice of secularism:

Lal Krishna Advani: ‘We are opposed to Nehruvian secularism. We accept Gandhian secularism. Nehru started off with the assumption that all religions are wrong. For Gandhi, all religions are true, and they are different paths to the same goal. We thought many of Gandhi’s political policies were not sound, but we accepted his idea of secularism.’

Ashok Mitra: ‘Nehru turned the meaning of secularism upside down. Secularism, he thought, was embracing each religion with equal fervour. And which he exemplified by frequent visits to mandirs and mosques, to dargahs and gurdwaras, to churches and synagogues. But once you embark on this slippery path, you end up identifying the state’s activities with religious rituals such as bhumipuja and breaking coconut shells to float a boat built in a government workshop. This was inevitable because since Hindus constitute the majority of the state’s population, Hindu rituals came to assert their presence within state premises.’

Which of these assertions is correct? Did Nehru hate all religions equally, as Advani suggests? Or did he love all equally, as Mitra claims? Perhaps it does not really matter. Perhaps these statements tells us less about Nehru’s actual beliefs (or policies), and more about the political preferences of his contemporary critics.”