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28 May 2013

Fifty Years After Nehru's Death, His Philosophy and Family Still Govern India

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By Kaleem Kawaja

May 27, 2013 is the 49th anniversary of the death of Jawaharlal Nehru, India's great freedom fighter, builder of modern India, man of vision, who died on May 27, 1964. Next to Mahatma Gandhi he is the most revered of the leaders of modern India. Indeed though there was great commonality between the two of them, Nehru's thinking of what India should be like was very different from that of Gandhi. Today Gandhi is a revered point of reference and ideal for India, but Nehru's philosophy, institutions and legacy is actually operating the various avenues of the nation.

Nehru's Legacy vs Gandhi's Legacy

Whereas Gandhi was an extreme and sometimes impractical idealist, Nehru was a pragmatist. Gandhi's genius was in being able to have most people believe in him and follow him, despite the fact that they did not agree with him entirely. Nehru found it far more difficult to have most people follow him and used creative politics to have the country follow his philosophy and sideline his opponents. Remember the Kamraj Plan!

It is a credit to Nehru's ability and skill that in the short span of 17 years as the leader of India which is a country of extreme diversity and contradictions, he put in place so many institutions and policies for India's future that are pretty much still leading India. And he did so by more or less democratic means.

Since independence, two generations have gone by and now the third generation is hitting the threshold. The complexion of the country has changed radically. The population of the country has mushroomed five-folds; the number of states in India have more than doubled; so many political parties based on the castes and ethnicities and religious straits have mushroomed and even have significant following.

Quite a few of Nehru's socialist policies , institutions, public sector industrial infrastructure have been replaced. Yet the new economic order that began twenty years ago in 1991, opening India's economy and society to the Western countries, is not a major departure from the Nehru thought. Because unlike Gandhi who was so much for Swadeshi structure, Nehru always talked about India reaching out to the world and adopting some of their institutions and social styles.

Yet despite so many conflicts and contradictions Nehru's modernistic, progressive and pluralistic vision of going forward, taking every segment of the nation in the mainstream is still thriving in India. Much as Mao tse Tungs legacy and vision for China are thriving, Nehru's legacy and vision are thriving in India. In the same time phase Lenin's vision for Russia has been completely debunked by his descendants who have moved away from Lenin's vision and legacy.

Continuing sway of Nehru philosophy and family on India

What is indeed remarkable about Nehru's legacy is that not only his philosophy and vision for India have survived, his own family has retained its supremacy and control on India , fifty years after his death. Even though Nehru's grandson Rajiv Gandhi did not survive as his descendant in the power echelons of the nation, his daughter Indira Gandhi put the Nehruvian stamp on the nation and managed the nation's contradictions extremely well.

Even when others became leaders of the nation in the interim, they still followed the Nehruvian philosophy faithfully. It is absolutely remarkable that for the last about ten years, Sonia Gandhi - an Italian woman, the daughter-in-law of the Nehru family, has maintained remarkable control on the apparatus and subsets of the vast and diverse nation and has kept pushing the Nehruvian thought process. At this time despite much political and social turmoil, it is difficult to say that the nation will depart from the Nehru philosophy and even his family.

Other icons of freedom movement are only points of reference now

In contrast none of the descendants of Gandhi or Sardar Patel or Maulana Azad or Rajendra Prasad or Subhash Bose or other top freedom fighters remained on the national scene. Indeed just a decade after their demise no one even knows their names or where they are. Today these illustrious leaders of the freedom movement remain the icons of the nation, but not many people know what were their philosophies like.

Where will the Nehruvian vision and philosophy take India in the next fifty years is anybody's guess and extremely hard to say. But the fact that Nehruvian legacy has become an integral part of India's governance, seven decades after independence, is by itself an absolutely remarkable phenomenon.

[Kaleem Kawaja is a community activist based at Washington DC. He can be contacted at kaleemkawaja@gmail.com]

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