May 30, 2016

Relevance of Nehru (Sankar Ray)

Daily News and Analysis

Sankar Ray | Fri, 27 May 2016-08:00am , Mumbai , dna

India’s first Prime Minister was at heart a libertarian, a necessary democratic virtue

The spectre of Jawaharlal Nehru unnerves hardcore right-wing Hindu nationalists in their continuing nightmares. Little wonder, Sangh Parivar engages its storm troopers, especially outfits like Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, to target anything where the name of Nehru is tagged. Which is why the saffron vigilantes had swung into action at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. These strong-armed activists got a fillip from the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in Rajasthan when Nehru’s name had been deleted from school text books.

But this retaliatory stand from the propagandists of the saffron ideology is natural as Nehru in his autobiography — Toward Freedom: the Autobiography of Jawaharlal Nehru, written when he was at the Ahmednagar jail in 1936 — lashed out at organised religion “The spectacle of what is called religion, or at any rate organised religion, in India and elsewhere has filled me with horror, and I have frequently condemned it and wished to make a clean sweep of it. Almost always it seems to stand for blind belief and reaction, dogma and bigotry, superstition and exploitation, and the preservation of vested interests.” Three years before that he wrote to Gandhiji: “Religion is not familiar ground for me, and as I have grown older, I have definitely drifted away from it. I have something else in its place, something older than just intellect and reason, which gives me strength and hope.” Yet he was not intolerant of religious practices until it was politicised and motivated.

But the Sangh Parivar ideologues identified Nehru as their main enemy obviously for one reason. He repeatedly said that the Indian variant of fascism might only come through “majority communalism”. He never hid his belief that the minority communalism, albeit detestable, was highly unlikely to bring in fascism. This formulation was one of the path-breaking contributions to understanding fascism as a possibility in the Indian subcontinent. He didn’t confine himself to the narrow bookish explanation by official Marxists who used to parrot Georgy Dimitrov, secretary general of Communist International, that fascism “is terrorist dictatorship of finance capital” which was true for Europe but not India. Mind you he formulated fascism as a hidden phenomenon in India when Europe was what Rabindranath Tagore wrote in a lyric “The world is wide with the delirium of hatred”.

Nehru’s biographer Sarvepalli Gopal in his Ansari Memorial Lecture (1988) stated that “Muslim communal groups seemed to him at least middle class and representative in some degree of the Muslim viewpoint, while its leaders behaved with greater dignity than those of the Hindu Mahasabha, who spoke only for capitalists, landlords and a few princes and their hangers-on.” Nehru continued to hold the view that communal parties were props of political reaction, but he eventually came to the comprehension that “to the extent that it existed among the Hindus and was able to disguise itself as nationalism, it was the Indian version of fascism and deserving of the severest condemnation”.

Nehru was very different from other leaders of the Indian National Congress on several counts. He was the only leader who spoke against the modern State in his autobiography. “Violence is the very life blood of the modern State and social system”, he stated, adding that the ‘basic nature of the state is the force, the compulsion and the violence of governing group”. There he was one with Marx (Tagore too) while official Marxists (including Lenin, not to speak of Stalin, even Trotsky) deviated from Marx and Engels.

Paresh Chattopadhyay, unquestionably one of the best known Marxian scholars the world over, in a recently published paper in the Economic and Political Weekly, Twentieth Century Socialism A Minority Rule focused on terror, let loose on Kronstadters who were the heroes of the 1905 revolution, in the beginning of May 1918, when Lenin and Trotsky were at the helm of Bolshevik power. An estimated 1,46,000 workers of Petrograd rallied demanding food and jobs. “The regime swiftly reacted. Any sign of sympathy for the strike was declared a criminal act. On July 1, machine guns were placed at all the main points in Petrograd and Moscow. Meetings were forcibly dispersed, and thereby, the strike was prevented,” wrote Chattopadhyay.

At the Ninth Congress of Russian Socialist Democratic Labour Party (Bolshevik), Lenin, the author of Bolshevik Revolution took up cudgels “against the survival of the notorious democratism (preslovootogo demokratisma)”, wrote Chattopadhyay. All this was a fundamental deviation from Marx who unflinchingly defended individual freedom and libertarian principles.

When the Communist Party of India split in 1964, the faction that set up the CPI (Marxist) branded Nehru as an anti-communist. This was slanderous. Historian Ramchandra Guha wrote that in 1958 somebody asked Nehru which was the greater danger between communism and communalism? Pat came the rebuff: “What a stupid question! Of course, communalism is a greater danger. The communists — they might be wedded to violence, but they have certain economic ideas which I am prepared to accept. But, communalism will be the ruin of the Indian people.”

Nonetheless, the patriarch had slippages too from his pro-socialist commitment, particularly during his very early years as the Prime Minister. In 1948, Nehru assured the leaders of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry that his government was not keen on nationalising big industries. “We have to think and consider what to nationalise and what not to” (quoted in Kamal Aron Mitra Chenoy’s The Rise of Big Business in India, pg 126) One remembers his self-deprecating statement in his autobiography: “My politics had been those of my class, the bourgeoisie.”

However, even 42 years after his death, Nehru’s relevance remains undiminished especially for libertarians who have presence in both the Congress and the Left. In his diary he wrote on April 17, 1935: “What a disgusting people we are? Politics, progress, socialism, communism, science — where are they before this black religious savagery?”

The author is a veteran journalist, specialising in Left politics, history and environmental issues