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Friday, November 14, 2014

Regrets only

By Swapan Dasgupta

Hosts of a function whether a private individuals or a non-official body have the complete and inalienable right to invite whosoever they choose. By implication, they also have a right to disregard the elaborate sarkari rules of protocol and go by individual or institutional preferences. In normal circumstances, these standard operating procedures of civil society should hardly warrant reiteration.

In recent times, however, civility has come to be rationed. First it was Delhi’s self-important Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid who chose the occasion of the forthcoming anointment of his son as the Naib Imam to needlessly make a political point: that he was not inviting Prime Minister Narendra Modi but, at the same time, inviting Pakistan’s Prime Minister who, of course, is unlikely to attend. I don’t think Mr Modi expected an invitation just as he is unlikely to expect an invitation from my local Resident’s Welfare Association for the inauguration of the new Senior Citizens’ Park. But for the Shahi Imam to state explicitly that he was snubbing the Prime Minister with a non-invitation was gratuitous.

Now, the Indian National Congress has chosen to emulate the grandstanding of the Shahi Imam. For the beleaguered party, the celebration of the 125th birth anniversary of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru is an important occasion. There are suggestions that the party would like to use the occasion as a first step in its overdue rejuvenation programme. Whatever its intention, the right of the Congress leadership to use the occasion in the best way it deems fit by either re-reading history or charting out the future is undeniable. This is more so because in its own version of its 129-year-old history, Jawaharlal Nehru was more than a Prime Minister: he was the founder of a dynasty that continues to rule the roost in the party.

The Bharatiya Janata Party would not expect Sonia Gandhi to grace the occasion when it celebrates the 2014 general election victory at a future National Council meeting. Such an invitation would be singularly inappropriate and, to be fair, the Congress president wouldn’t feel disappointed by the non-invitation. Likewise, I don’t think that Prime Minister Modi was cut up at not being able to go to Delhi’s Talkatora Stadium to address the assembled Congress members.

However, it is one thing for the Congress to laugh off any suggestion that Mr Modi should have been invited just because there are some foreign dignitaries likely to be present. It is an act of willful discourtesy for the long-winded Anand Sharma to add some needlessly gratuitous remarks to his assertion that Mr Modi hadn’t been invited. According to one media report, Mr Sharma said: “We can discuss Nehru with those who are either informed or have the capacity to understand Nehru’s vision. We have invited those who respect Nehru’s philosophy and acknowledge his contribution.”

In the course of a few sentences, Mr Sharma encapsulated exactly why the Congress finds itself on the back foot and why its claim to have a monopoly of all intellectual wisdom is today the object of so much derision. Just as Marxists, particularly those in academia, are inclined to sneer at those who disinclined to share their so-called “scientific” analysis of human societies, self-professed Nehruvians have a tendency to juxtapose their own lofty “enlightenment” and “cosmopolitanism” against the apparent “insularity” and “Right-wing” proclivities of opponents.

To what extent this elevated self-esteem stemmed from Nehru is a matter of conjecture. In one of the early studies of Nehru, Walter Crocker, who served as Australia’s high commissioner to India in the 1950s, experienced a sense of camaraderie with “Nehru and the upper class Indian nationalists of English education”. But he felt disconnected from Nehru’s ministerial colleagues and other Congress functionaries. Members of this non-U group, he wrote bluntly, “were provincial mediocrities, untravelled, ill-educated, narrow-minded; not a few were lazy; some were cow worshippers and devotees of ayurvedic medicine and astrology” and, to cap it all, “some were dishonest”.

The similarities between Crocker’s understanding of those Nehru had kept at an arm’s length and Mr Sharma’s criterion for membership into the Nehru Club are quite eerie, considering the 50-year gap between the two pronouncements.

Nehru was a patrician something that, curiously, endeared him to the earthy Mahatma Gandhi and he was blessed with a fierce sense of entitlement that he garnished with noblesse oblige. But he was also remarkably alert intellectually. This contributed to his keen sense of political pragmatism the most notable feature of which was his ability to put all his private reservations aside and ride piggyback on the Mahatma’s popularity. At the same time, he had a fascination for new ideas and new trends that set him apart from his more rooted Congress colleagues. Socialism, planning and grandstanding internationalism appealed instinctively to him because they were fashionable among a particular set at that time. He somehow saw India as a plasticine ball that could be moulded according to fashion and reshaped again. He underestimated the resilience of indigenous social institutions and allowed his prejudices to determine policy choices hence the disdain for native entrepreneurship. He was lucky that in the first flush of Independence, loyalty to the Congress allowed his personal will to prevail. On Indian politics becoming truly competitive after 1967, the hegemony of the Nehruvian consensus was challenged, culminating in the victory in 2014 of those he regarded as outlanders.

Arguably, had the intellectual alertness that characterised Nehru been carried over down the generations, the Congress could have persisted with its dominant party status. However, the injection of the dynastic principle ensured that Nehru’s legacy became a family trust. Even the private papers of Nehru, lovingly preserved at Teen Murti at state expense, are treated as family property, access being allowed to only those who have been vetted.

In many ways, the November 14 celebrations could well be reminiscent of the 12-day wedding celebrations of Jawan Bakht, the favourite son of Bahadur Shah Zafar, in 1852. It was the last public spectacle of the Moghuls and the event has barely registered in history.

Asian Age/ Deccan Cronicle, November 14, 2014


Anonymous said...

Nehruvian legacy is nemesis of developed India. When he rode to power by emotional threat blackmail of gandhijee it was apparent that he wanted power at any cost and for that he agreed to partition of India,genocide of Hindus and making India weakened.In his rule period he went out a developed vibrant india to a weak communist country.His pampering of Birla was his hallmark.His communism killed all business and trade by Inspectr Raj.It is of paramount importance that Japan whichw as ruined by WW2 came out of its ruins and progressed huge,China has progressed,all south east nations have progressed but India is Nehruvian democracy who doped whole India by Govts hold over all . Now Modi rule wants cleanse all Nehruvian legacy by starting a rule of law democracy and pluralism.Congress doped people by opium of subsidies.we want get rid of all subsidies and allow people to earn more to came out of distress despondency and depravity.

Alakshyendra said...

Absolutely spot on. It is like the proverbial last nail in the Congress' coffin.

Anonymous said...

Nice one Mr. Swapan.. Greatly said..

Shivangni said...

Very educating & enlightening, confirms my impression

Anonymous said...

i fail to understand why these pseudo secularists/intellectuals gloat endlessly about this great "idea of india"?does it have any relevance to the 65% of youth in our nation who under 35 years of age?these people need to come out & live in the real world & realize that their free loading egos have been shattered!

Anonymous said...

Congress is still not understanding that they need to move beyond Modi, there entire life and politics is stuck with Modi. They dont have anyone who can talk about India and vision, rather they choose this occasion as Modi bashing. They will further realize these mistakes in next election. Sad part is no one, in such a big party can this the writing on wall :-)

RS said...

It’s all very well for the uber privileged Nehru to favor “Socialism, planning and grandstanding internationalism” , but the consequences as well all know have been calamitous for India. Nehru bequeathed poverty, as a force multiplier to India. Not flattering for anyone professing to love the poor. To add to insult to the injury , it would seem his successors viz. Indira G felt a certain Schadenfreude looking at the misfortunes of India, otherwise she could have done course correction, as was put to her .

Why is it, that these atrocious ideas that were “fashionable among a particular set at that time”, largely included grand losers of the last century, principally - Nehru , Mao & Nasser . Could it be because [as some historians have suggested] , they had an inferiority complex vis a vis the west, and to cover that up, they pretended in the superiority of their catastrophic ideas ? Not even the most left of left variant dispensation in west Europe, ever implemented the disastrous Nehruvian socialistic model in their nations .