Have you ever wondered why Nehru’s famous freedom at midnight speech – ‘India shall awake to life and freedom..’ is not in Hindi? Have you ever heard a Hindi version of this world famous speech? Answer is an emphatic ‘No’. The accent in which this speech was delivered is a British one. Added to that, it’s not the accent of British common man – It’s the accent of the ‘British Aristocrat’. Aristocrats are the ruling class of Britain who were entirely responsible for its colonial past.
This speech is symptomatic of a peculiar Nehruvian phenomenon – ‘World Statesman Syndrome’. Nehru always considered himself to be part of the class of elite world leaders. He never thought he should be confined to mere Indian issues and politics. He wanted to play a part in world affairs at global scale. In his mind his stature was befitting a global leader. We can’t blame a politician for harbouring such ambition howsoever illogical it might seem given the poverty, under development, illiteracy that was prevalent at the time when he inherited India from the British.
Nehru was educated in England from a very early age. He spent most of his childhood getting his schooling at elite ‘Harrow’ School in London. He went to Trinity College in Cambridge, another elite institution that has, along with Oxford, supplied 80% of Prime Ministers in UK till date. It’s not a surprise that he was more comfortable with the privileged elite classes of Europe than the common man of India. He was one of them! He rubbed shoulders with that gentry all his life. Any notion that he was a grass root politician is an artificially planted one only to get him acceptance. In today’s cantankerous political discourse, we say Sonia is a foreigner. In reality, Nehru was the first foreigner to rule India. He was born in India but shaped in England. Yes, a number of other stalwarts in our Freedom struggle were also product of English education system but they went for education at a later stage. Much after they had developed as individuals in India.
The British aristocrat treated him as one of their own. Officers of the British Empire in India and other parts of the empire were from the same ruling class. District Magistrates, Jailers, Police officer, Barristers all were in awe of this Cambridge educated elite who is a star campaigner in India. Who has the same accent as them, same taste as them, has a refined western taste in music.. he was pretty much an extension of the Empire. He was treated as a 5 star prisoner whenever he was lodged in any Indian jail. He had his supply of morning papers, magazines, books delivered to him in his jail cell. Many memoirs of British and Irish officers who served in India, detail their meeting with Mr. Nehru with great reverence. To them he was Mr. Nehru, great intellectual, who is fighting for the masses of India who are somewhat undeserving of his services.
If you understand this privileged background and the company he kept – all the strategic, defence, political blunders and policy oversights make sense. There’s no point gong into those details as much has been said and written about those. A common theme in all his legacy is a desire to be treated as a global leader at par with any European Leader. Therein lies the biggest lesson that we learn: India deserves to be governed with an Indian mindset and not with a global outlook. We are a unique democracy with unique reuirements. Global templates don’t fit. If a leader from the ‘Right’ in a western democracy came up with a welfare scheme like ‘Ujjawala yojana’, he will be swiftly removed from his chair in no time. What we need to know if that ‘Right’ or ‘Left’ in India is an imported construct; It doesn’t fit Indian political discourse. Nehru was a true liberal socialist but an elite one nonetheless. He didn’t know what actually made India tick. His policies are a mix and match of Soviet communism and British welfare state, both of which didn’t work for India. Be it, now defunct ‘Non-Aligned movement’, ‘Panchsheel’, ‘5 Year Plan’, ‘Over reliance on UN’, and many more, none worked in an Indian context.
He got on well with the Royal family in Britain; Mountbatten was uncle to the present queen Elizabeth. He was well received in British establishment but Nehru never really got on with American leaders. His famous meeting with Kennedy comes to mind, which Kennedy declared as a ‘disaster.’ The reason can be found in his communist socialist leanings and global statemen delusion. American leader are neither socialist nor wishy-washy statesman. His inability to forge strong relations with rising American power was a major policy failure that cost us dearly for decades.
One other lesson we must learn from Nehru is his inability to support democratisation of Indian institutions. He considered himself above everything. One famous incident where he formed president KR Narayanan, as a young IFS officer wanted to marry a Bhutanese national something service rules don’t allow. He just asked her if she could cook Indian food and declared that she was Indian. Rule books thrown out of the window. Not to say that that shouldn’t have been allowed but established procedure could have been followed as it should in a democratic institution. At a broader level he didn’t break up Congress to allow for good opposition as it should be in a functional Democracy. We had to wait a very long time for a true non-Congress leadership because of that blunder.
It’s also quite obvious, although can’t be proven, that due to his communist leanings, Nehru was not proud of his Hindu identity. It probably also came in the way of his global image. This policy of secularism that’s actually containment of Hindu right to practice their faith has made a generation of politicians, bureaucrats misinterpret secularism only to hurt national psyche and ironically co-existence. Minorities living in ghettos, voting as a block, is legacy of this policy. Inclusiveness is not inimical to diversity, special treatment is. This again is a British or European construct. Modern day France, Austria, Britain are testament to that.
Nehru’s legacy is an impressive one despite all the Nehruvian blunders above. We must learn from these so we are not condemned to live it again.
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