Friday, September 17, 1999

Let us now praise famous men II -- Rajeev Srinivasan

Rajeev Srinivasan continues his article exposing some modern-day myths created by the Nehru Dynasty that vastly exaggerate Nehru's contribution to India.

Rajeev Srinivasan writes on Rediff:
Let us now praise famous men II

India is not theocratic primarily because it is practically impossible in the tolerant Hindu world-view to abuse other religions. In fact, Nehru's brand of 'secularism', which he defined as the oppression of Hinduism and other things Indic, is almost certainly what is behind the backlash from the silent majority that is now making the Bharatiya Janata Party so popular.

2. As regards language, it could be argued that the right choice for India would have been the revival of Sanskrit, just as the Israelis have revived the 'dead' Hebrew into a symbol of national pride and a vibrant modern tongue. Sanskrit, the most scientifically designed language ever invented, with its unmatched -- in the world -- literature, is such a good choice it was only Nehru's disdain for anything Indian that prevented him from seeing that it made sense.

3. Pakistan is not a good analog for India -- Islam, wherever it has gone, has a martial angle; thus their respect for warriors and for military might. Hindus (and Buddhists) have traditionally been the most docile people on earth, usually turning the other cheek. It is arguable, but I don't accept the facile judgement that without Nehru (reminds me of Louis XIV, "apres moi, la deluge") India would have become a military dictatorship. Caudillos wouldn't thrive in the Indian ethos.

4. Yes, it is true that Nehruvian Stalinism built massive steel mills and dams and other such white elephants. Some of these have lost their entire capital base -- I read that the Steel Authority of India Limited lost (I think) 17,000 million rupees in 1998-99 -- and have epitomised colossal waste; in addition to creating substandard goods and services. In hindsight, was this the right choice for the use of precious capital? As a free marketer, I'd say no. Worse, Nehru also neglected agriculture to favour these grandiose heavy industries.

5. It is also true that Nehruvians created excellent tertiary educational institutions such as the IITs, the Indian Institutes of Management, etc. But these are, in the bitingly truthful words of my former professor Anthony Reddy of the IIT, Madras, "finishing schools for the middle classes"; and also, I might add, export-oriented. It might have been better to create a fully educated labour force by focusing on primary and secondary education, as the East Asians have done so successfully.

6. By forcibly isolating India from the world economy, Nehru condemned hundreds of millions of Indians to continuing poverty -- see how the rest of Asia has marched ahead of us. Admittedly, self-reliance was a good slogan, but the implementation was terrible: the combination of a dirigiste state with crony capitalism was the worst of all possible worlds. Yes, East Asia had a hiccup last year, but the region has roared back now; and its citizens are far better off than India's.

7. It is debatable as to whether what passes for 'democracy' in India is indeed worth having. It is in fact organised thievery with the poor public powerless to do anything. Even if this is worth having, democracy was not only a recent Western import nurtured by a Nehru. There is an old tradition of participative village democracies going back at least to ancient Chola times, my trusty A History of South India (Nilakanta Sastri, Oxford India Paperbacks) informs me.

8. The idea of India has existed from times immemorial; it is not, unlike what Churchill claimed, a British invention. It happens to have been a Hindu idea, as exemplified by Sri Sankara setting up monasteries in the four corners of the conceptual Indian territory. Of course, since it is a Hindu idea, it has been devalued and denigrated by the court historians of JNU; yet, as Galileo said famously in a different context, it is still true, and it still exists.

What, indeed, then ailed Nehru? I think there were several things:

1. He was the uber-Macaulayite: the epitome of the brown man with a white interior. As the self-confessed "last Englishman", he was hopelessly mixed up. He could never really empathise with the average Indian, partly due to his childhood spent in British schools. He never realised that, unlike in the materialistic West, religion mattered, and matters, enormously. He thought he could convert the Empire of the Spirit into the Paradise of Dialectical Materialism.

He never understood what Swami Vivekananda said: "On one side, new India is saying, 'if we only adopt Western food, Western language, Western dress and Western manners, we shall be as strong and powerful as the Western nations'; on the other hand, traditional India is saying, 'Fools, by imitation, others' ideas never become one's own; nothing, unless earned, is your own. Does the ass in the lion's skin become like the lion?' "

2. He was foolishly enamoured of the Soviet model and of the Chinese. At the time, I suppose it was not unreasonable to believe that the Soviet model was a good choice. But his love for China is harder to understand. Especially when he betrayed the Tibetans, in the process allowing the buffer state to disappear, not to speak of millions of Tibetans being colonised and brutalised. I am reading a remarkable book, The Fate of Tibet by Claude Arpi (Har-Anand Publications), and it is unbelievable how Nehru colluded, blindly, with the Chinese rape of Tibet.

3. He thought he, and only he, knew what was good for India. I read, for example in Stanley Wolpert's mostly appreciative biography Nehru: A Tryst with Destiny (Oxford University Press), how Jawaharlal was imperious, brooking no opposition. For instance, in 1923, the Moderates in Congress had almost brought to fruition a possible Dominion status for an undivided India (much like Canada and Australia have). Nehru single-handedly torpedoed this. The result? Partition, and the never-ending Pakistan problem.

4. He had a severe inferiority complex about whites and was always seeking their approval. Possibly because he was humiliated as a child at his English public school -- they are brutal places anyway; it must have been hell for a little brown boy tormented by racist/imperialist little white boys. Nehru carried this lifelong chip on his shoulder -- this explains his fascination with white women (eg. Edwina Mountbatten); and the attempt to gain whites' pat on the back by taking Kashmir to the United Nations instead of wiping out Pakistani invaders in 1948. Even the Non-Aligned Movement was probably an attempt to prove to whites that he was somebody.

5. He was a megalomaniac, conversely, when it came to Indians. He felt that he was destined to rule Indians, and he wanted to be emperor. Unfortunately, Mohammed Ali Jinnah also wanted to be king. To accommodate two kings, you needed two kingdoms. Lo and behold, the Partition of India, perhaps the most senseless and tragic event in our long history. Mahatma Gandhi's weakness was Nehru; if only he had not put Nehru's interests above India's interests! Of course, "if only" are supposed to be saddest words in the English language.

6. He presided over the debasement of the Indian politician. He encouraged the personality cult at least tacitly by never allowing anybody else in the Congress to come up. And he did not put in place effective structures to prevent the endemic corruption and criminalisation that is today the cornerstone of politics.

It really was our fault; collectively, because of our feudal attitudes, we allowed this man free rein. He should never have been made an executive prime minister. Instead, he would have made a terrific titular president: a good writer, a charming speaker, one with undoubted personal integrity. He was the right man in the wrong job.

Finally, the ironic title of this essay, "Let us now praise famous men," is that of a touching Depression-era book by James Agee about very unfamous ordinary men, poor Southern sharecroppers in the United States. I was reminded of them when I read about the deaths of scores of poor Andhra cotton farmers who committed suicide because of crop failure and unbearable debt. In the deaths of these ordinary Indians, fifty years after 1947, lies the gravest indictment of Jawaharlal Nehru. He was truly Shakespearean, a fatally flawed hero; alas, we are still paying for his folly.

Postscript: A couple of readers asked why I hadn't written a column on the barbarians within India with regard to Kargil as I had promised to. I did, but sadly,'s editorial board did not think it suitable to publish. I did abuse quite a few people therein, in particular one of the 'progressive' professional whiners. Perhaps they wanted to protect certain tender sensibilities; or maybe they were wisely avoiding libel. Discretion being the best part of valour, I did not protest.

Some readers also suggested that I shouldn't talk about Sonia Gandhi's father the Fascist, as she should be considered as an individual. However, she has no individual qualifications, other than her 30-year association with the Nehru dynasty, from which she must have absorbed a lot. Therefore, it is only fair to consider what she absorbed in the impressionable first seventeen years of her life that she spent in the Maino household. After all, she still has her accent from those days (and even her daughter appears to have an Italian accent!). So if she can claim family-related credentials on one side, I can surely consider her family-related credentials on the other side.

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Thursday, September 16, 1999

Let us now praise famous men -- Rajeev Srinivasan

Rajeev Srinivasan exposes some of the modern-day myths created by the Nehru Dynasty and its sycophants that vastly exaggerate Nehru's contribution to India.

Rajeev Srinivasan writes on Rediff:
Let us now praise famous men

It is unquestionable that the Nehru dynasty has had an enormous impact on India. As the grand-daughter-in-law also rises, and the great-grandson and great-grand-daughter wait in the wings, it is only fair to ask what exactly the dynasty has wrought. For, after all, the entire Congress claim to rule seems to be based on the halcyon days of Camelot, when the dynasty ruled, and God was in His Heaven, and all was well with the world.

And it is not only the Congress. The Economist ran a story in late 1998, saying that India has had not one, but two saints -- Gandhi and Nehru! Perhaps this is a self-serving western view ( The Economist is practically the voice of NATO), for Nehru was the last Englishman to rule India -- as he himself told John Kenneth Galbraith. But I was startled by the assertion that Nehru was a saint, a pure unalloyed Great One to be mentioned in the same breath as a Gandhi.

I must admit to a certain prejudice against the Nehru dynasty. It began with annoyance at the Kim-Il-Jung-like personality cult of naming everything in India after them: the Rajiv public school and the Indira hospital and the Jawahar stadium get on my nerves. The Americans named their new, orbiting, X-ray observatory 'Chandra' after Subrahmanyam Chandrasekhar, the physicist; it occurred to me that if India were to ever send up a space telescope, it would almost certainly be named 'Jawahar'. Apparently no one else in India matters!

It is also my uneasy feeling that not only the dynasty, but Nehru himself was a disaster for the nation in almost every way conceivable. His legacy is a very mixed bag: despite laying some of the foundations of a modern State, much like the Soviets he admired -- absurdly -- Nehru has left behind a corrupt, cronyist, decaying Stalinist ideology.

Nevertheless, I shall attempt to deconstruct Nehru with a modicum of journalistic objectivity. After all, I personally do owe something to what the man did -- I got a world-class five-year undergraduate education at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, for the piffling sum of $1,000 at the then-prevailing exchange rate!

A reader suggested I was merely following a currently fashionable trend of blaming Nehru for everything. That may well be true, but perhaps Nehru was not quite the paragon of virtue we believed him to be. Upon investigation, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Nehru was (admittedly, with 20-20 hindsight) pretty much wrong about practically everything. I am sure he had good intentions, but the results are definitely wanting.

Consider the following: Kamla Chowdhury, chairman of the National Wasteland Development Board writes in The Hindu that 'India has 35 million people who have no access to basic health facilities, 226 million lack access to safe drinking water, half of the adult population is illiterate, 70 per cent lacks basic sanitation facilities, and 40 per cent of the population survives in absolute poverty.'

Contrast this to what Nehru proclaimed in his first Independence Day speech: 'It [Independence] means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity... it must be clearly understood that the interests of our long suffering masses must come first and every entrenched interest that comes in their way must yield to them.'

Very fine words, but what is the reality? Consider Words like Freedom by Siddharth Dube (Harper Collins India), about a poor rural family that is landless, low caste, living in the badlands of the Gangetic Plain in Uttar Pradesh. After fifty years, nothing has changed for them. Or P Sainath's Everybody loves a Good Drought(Penguin India), the heartbreaking chronicle of poor families caught up in a vicious cycle of poverty, malnutrition and illiteracy.

Clearly, this nation has paid a very big price for believing in Nehru -- we gave him our explicit trust, and he turned out to be, at best, only partly worthy of it. Before I consider why he failed, let me quote a deeply lyrical, but also deeply damning, passage from O V Vijayan's superb Malayalam novel The Path of the Prophet (DC Books). Not very flattering, but poignant and poetic. (Translation mine).

The beloved leader fled, in his solitude, to escape from the screams of the kothwal, from the accusing ancestral voices, from their loving sorrows. The sight of his flight thrilled the illiterate bystanders. Ecstatic, they cried: India's yaga stallion, he who cannot be tied up by anyone!

My cherished people, he said, his voice dulled by thirst: I am nobody, I am merely one who has worn the vestments of the king of the starving. I claimed to have discovered India, but all I saw was, like Narcissus, my own aged face in the flowing mirror of the Ganga. Ganga, mother, daughter, sister, lover, why did you not cover up the wrinkles on my face? My god, I did not discover anything, other than myself; and other than the throne I built for my daughter and my grandson. My god, forgive me, a revolution cannot exist without self-glorification; the glimpses of world history that I have seen frighten me.

With the anguish of the prophet, he hastened down the path covered with rocks and thorns and obstacles. The herds of goats on either side of the path became curious. Their unlettered tongues made odd sounds that turned into words. They said, India's man of the millennium, our king of the goats!

The fleeing recluse cried, my fellow beings, I am nothing; I am running away from my grandfather's outcry, his poverty, from the sweat-scent of his police uniform. Not only from that, but also from the untold generations of poor ancestors -- they who came from somewhere, who knows where, and settled on the banks of a river. My forebears, who accepted the name of the river as their family name: ferrymen, fishermen, those who filled their stomachs with dreams. I turned their hunger into the sweetness of banquets. Those who stood on either side of the path applauded. They said: king of the starving, please host more banquets, let us understand how emperors taste sweetness.

When finally, he fell, exhausted, broken-hearted, the crowds grieved for him. When that beloved corpse began its final journey, the black sky rained gently, like mother's milk; and the earth quaked.

Vijayan, with his novelist's insight, has captured the essence of what was wrong with Nehru: he lived an illusion -- the discoveries of India that he thought he made and the glimpses of world history that he thought he had seen were mere mirages. In the end, after 1962, Nehru realised that he had understood little, and that he had led this beloved country catastrophically astray. He was a good man, so he had the decency to die of a broken heart.

The kothwal reference is intriguing -- I had never realised this before reading Vijayan, but it is not as though the Nehrus were traditional aristocrats; Motilal Nehru's father was a kothwal, a minor functionary in a police station. Those who succeed should be proud of their humble origins, yet how many of us know that Jawaharlal's grandfather was a lowly kothwal? Why is this hidden? What else, I wonder, is similarly hidden?

The official hagiography propagated by the pliant historiographers of the Jawaharlal Nehru University and the Indian Council of Historic Research suggests that Jawaharlal came from immense wealth, that he was more or the less the uncrowned prince of India; and that the British crown prince, at college with him, was allegedly jealous of him and of his Saville Row suits and his laundry being sent to Paris! Laughable, indeed.

Further, the hagiographers would have it appear that Nehru single-handedly brought freedom to India. Well, maybe Mahatma Gandhi helped a little, too. A veritable army of great patriots like Netaji Subhas Bose, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, et al have had their contributions downplayed. As a child growing up in India, I was told to hero-worship "uncle" Nehru. Classic Orwellian tactics.

In fact, I think, in the dynasty, the genius was Motilal, a self-made millionaire and visionary; Jawaharlal was an impractical dreamer; Indira was a street-smart fighter; Rajiv an average Joe who had power thrust on him. Sonia has no demonstrated talent; and Priyanka/Rahul have not distinguished themselves at anything whatsoever. I guess dynasties deteriorate rapidly.

What, then, was Nehru's contribution to India? I asked several people who disagree with my evaluation of the man, and this is what they suggested to me:

1. Nehru's secularism prevented India from becoming a theocratic Hindu state.

2. Nehru prevented India from becoming a Hindi-dominated state. He insisted on keeping English alive.

3. If it weren't for Nehru, the army would have taken over, as in Pakistan.

4. Nehru established the heavy industry that is India's backbone today.

5. Without the educational system Nehru created, India wouldn't have its capability today, for example in Information Technology.

6. Nehru isolated India from the world economy, and that is why India didn't suffer from Asia's crash of 1998.

7. Without Nehru, Indian democracy would never have lasted.

8. Nehru sustained the 'idea of India.' (as in Sunil Khilnani's book of the same title).

All these sound plausible, but I think they are all far from axiomatic.

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