Jawaharlal Nehru: A Troubled Legacy

By Suman Dubey | India Today, June 15, 1984

Twenty years after the death of modern India's architect Jawaharlal Nehru, has the country fulfilled any of the goals he envisaged for it? Nehru's passions which guided him were to modernise a feudal society, to industrialise the rural economy, while adhering unfailingly to the tenets of democracy. And therein lies his legacy. Has India moved ahead on the path he charted? How has his legacy fared?

The tributes come with ritual predictability in this ancient land of myth-makers and deifiers. They come year after year for a man who 20 years after his death still provides a touchstone to reality and whose name evokes an era nostalgically recalled by those who lived through it, like some golden age gone, never to return.

Jawaharlal Nehru, like Gandhi, is now public property to be remembered when convenient and forgotten when expedient. The laboured litanies of homage on their anniversaries are supremely ironic: modern India is guilty not of forgetting its founders but of not remembering them well and correctly.

Nehru died on the morning of May 27, 1964. "His own passing did not fall below his hopes," writes biographer Sarvepalli Gopal in his soon-to-be-published final volume on Nehru. "He had been spared the slow agony of a prolonged illness and crossed over, without sad leave-takings, after a full day's work."

If that was a fitting enough departure, what can be said of the fate of the legacy he left behind, the ideas and vision, the nuts and bolts, the brick and mortar he painstakingly put together as the first builder of independent India?

Nehru has to be separated from the folklore that has gathered around him. He was a master builder, one of the few great architects in the delicate and uncommon art of nation-building. But he was not an isolated creation.

He was the product of half a century of freedom struggle, moulded by men like Gandhi, by imperial Britain, and by a galaxy of lifelong comrades. And, he was made by countless Indians who gave him their affection "in such abundant measure".

In essence, Nehru's goals were uncomplicated. With his own understanding of history, he tried to accelerate the historical processes he saw: to achieve within the space of decades what had taken other nations centuries; to modernise a feudal society; to industrialise a rural country; and to mould a fragmented quilt of princely states into a 20th century nation state.

Three passions guided him and gave direction to his work: a passion for independence, a passion for democracy and a passion for modernism. And it is in these that his legacy principally rests, his building of democratic institutions, his effort to forge a united, secular society with a modern scientific outlook, a self-reliant industrial country, non-aligned in a world dominated by superpowers.

Nehru ruled for 17 years, less than the two decades his successors have had since his death. Where is his legacy today? What has been the fate of his institutions and his ideas, his programmes and his policies? Has India moved ahead on the path he charted? Have his ideas stood the test of two decades without him?

Has India fallen below his expectations? These are not questions that can any longer be left to the future, for only their answers, a stocktaking, no less, will pull India back from the wilderness into which it seems headed.

"Nehru's enduring achievement is the democratic ethos, the feeling in the country that democracy has come to stay," says Gopal. It is a tribute to Nehru that India stands among a handful of Third World states where constitutional, democratic governments still function.

It is a tribute to his vision that the one experiment in undemocratic government, the Emergency of 1975-1977, was so vehemently rejected that no government, Central or state, has since been able to take the electorate for granted.

Parliament was the centre-piece of Nehru's faith and because he knew it was a difficult transplant - a Westminster - type democracy based on universal suffrage in an economically backward and largely illiterate society - he worked hard to make it succeed.

"He would come to the Lok Sabha each morning at 11 sharp," recalls a political contemporary. "There was scarcely a debate that he missed, and because he took it seriously, so did everybody else."

Nehru did more than ensure his presence; he integrated Parliament in the country's decision-making processes. When the five-year plans were to be formulated, the Parliament discussed them threadbare. When he needed national backing for his foreign policy, Parliament would adopt the right resolutions.

Nehru's Parliament was a serious business, a chamber for lofty debate, and he treated the Opposition to a sense of importance quite unjustified by its real strength in the House. This was always evident whether he was debating with Lohia on the earnings of the average Indian - the three anna versus ten anna debate - or facing the only no-confidence motion against his government.

Minoo Masani, who often crossed swords with Nehru, says: "He never used the police to silence his critics, he played the game according to the rules." He adds: "His biggest legacy is that in 1977 Indira Gandhi felt she needed legitimacy."

"Nehru can be remembered for many things, but the one thing above all was institution building," says political scientist Rajni Kothari who believes that his legacy is tarnished because "we've undermined our institutions". Parliament today is a cynical reflection of its former self. Far from conducting serious business, all too often it hosts slanging matches that are more evocative of bazaar brawls than civilised debate.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in an interview published last fortnight spoke of how "sometimes it is difficult to sit because the noise is so much you can't hear anybody." Day after day the speaker is obliged to admonish ministers and members for being absent when their business comes up for discussion. Nehru's last Lok Sabha, elected in 1962, spent nearly half its time on legislative business.

The Lok Sabha that succeeded it in 1967 spent around 18 per cent - and things haven't improved much since. "I don't know how long it is that there has been any meaningful discussion on education or health," Mrs Gandhi lamented in the same interview. For the last 15 years, Parliament has been singularly devoid of parliamentarians of stature who once gave substance to debate on any issue. Today, when its business isn't acrimonious, it is, at best, trite.

Part of the explanation can of course lie in the system of universal 'suffrage adopted as the basis of Indian democracy. Since that was unavoidable, it was inevitable that the nature of representation would reflect the nature of the electorate once the initial pre-eminence of the stalwarts of the freedom struggle phased out. But a more important reason is the fate of the other institution that Nehru and his colleagues worked so hard to nurture - the Congress Party, which has so completely dominated Indian politics.

As the party which led the independence movement, the Congress was a party of Nehru's peers, of men and women of dedication and ability, experience and strength. Nehru welcomed their independence. He didn't see them to be in competition with him, neither was he looking for their loyalty.

As Kothari says, "He never allowed challenge to his own power, but having got his way he would want to carry everybody with him." Thus he left the states to men like Morarji Desai, Bidhan Chandra Roy, Pratap Singh Kairon, and Ravi Shankar Shukla who not only represented their states but were able to contain the very forces of regionalism that have deprived the party of office in several states. Where Nehru's Congress Party husbanded talent, Mrs Gandhi's Congress(I) has in the course of three splits cleaved off experience and ability.

Today's party is an agglomeration of loyalists, satraps and sycophants. And in place of strong chief ministers, it has had men like T. Anjiah, Gundu Rao and A.R. Antulay, each in his own way responsible for the party's leaden image. Nehru's chief ministers lived useful political terms; today's tend to grovel, leaving everything to "Madam", as the jargon has it, spending their time trying to stay in office and ward off factional assaults.

Says economist D.T. Lakdawala: "When there is stability you can take a longer view, but when you are not stable, your attitude changes, everyone takes a very short-term view. This is why progress is hampered."

Nehru had his share of party problems, whether it was with Subhash Chandra Bose or Purushottam Tandon, but then he combined the force of his personality and the powerful sanction provided by the freedom movement to ward off challenges.

In the concluding years of his life, when the China war of 1962 showed up his vulnerability, the political system began to rumble with discontent, and there is no guarantee that the Congress would have fared much better in 1967 if he'd been around. But even though he failed to convert it into a cadre-based party, he did recognise that if the party had to function, it had to have inner-party democracy. The method was frequent and regular party elections, from the bottom to the top.

No elections have been held within the Congress since 1969 and the party's democratic culture has yielded to a 'nomination' culture with power funnelling to a few, giving birth to extra-constitutional authority. "It is a question of attitude to some extent," says former Congressman C. Subramaniam. "Since about 1975-76, chief ministers have been nominated and the Centre has had to pay for whatever they've done wrong." Nehru wouldn't recognise his party today, the degeneration of political morality, the buying and selling of legislators, their agile floor-crossings and the contortions of the Congress(I) to form governments undeservingly.

In 1952, the Madras state electorate voted decisively against the Congress. C. Rajagopalachari was nonetheless keen to form a government. But Nehru wrote to him: "The one thing we must avoid is giving the impression that we stick to office, and that we want to keep out others at all costs." Rajagopalachari succeeded with Governor Sri Prakasha's help, but he lost Nehru's respect.

Perhaps with his strong majorities, Nehru could afford these principles, but they've been thrown into the dustbin since and replaced by rent-a-crowd politics, money and muscle power - and the all-pervasive corruption. Nehru wasn't entirely blameless, for although he was a stickler for personal probity, he tended to be loyal to his men.

He saw only the dynamism of Kairon's handling of Punjab, not the allegations about his family's financial misdeeds. But he was a stickler enough for propriety to let men like T.T. Krishnamachari and K.D. Malaviya resign on the suspicion of wrongdoing. "I once told him his trouble really was that he thought the whole world was made up of Jawaharlal Nehrus," says a retired civil servant who knew him well.

The Antulays of this world and their abuse of legislative privilege to try and pass retroactive legislation to protect themselves would have been beyond his comprehension. No wonder that an elder Congressman like former home minister K. Brahmananda Reddy should say: "The first requisite of democracy is restraint, and this is lacking in our system of government."

If the erosion has been unconcealed in the institutions manned by politicians, those of the professionals are fighting a rearguard battle against political encroachment. Nehru nurtured the judiciary even though it differed with him on occasion.

His solution was to amend the Constitution and keep the judiciary independent, but he did so in harmony with his vision of the future of India. Today, parts of the judiciary and the legislative and executive branches of government have long been at loggerheads and, constitutional amendments apart, benches are being packed with men of the right persuasion.

Two supersessions to the chief justiceship of the Supreme Court, that of Justice A.N. Ray in 1973 and Justice M.H. Beg in 1977 put the seal on this trend. Judicial transfers, unknown in the past, are commonplace punitive actions, and vacancies are left unfilled, judges not confirmed in their jobs - all because the right men are not available.

The civil service, once the steel skeleton which held India together, is now like a pliable bamboo frame. "In the old days we were told to make honest mistakes if we had to but we were taught to be decisive. A man is now made to feel he can take a decision only at his peril," says a retired civil servant.

There was, in Nehru's time, a covenant between the civil servants and the politicians, to respect their individual roles and duties. That covenant broke down with the coming of the unstable politics of the late '60s, when the norms that obtained for the first two decades of independence gave way to political convenience.

"Politicians had their way in the past against the advice of their civil servants," says the retired bureaucrat, "but those were differences on policy and principle. Today these politicians have been replaced by men who take decisions knowing that they are doing wrong, so they need henchmen and pliable people to carry them out."

One single statistical detail reveals the grim fall-out. According to a Home Ministry study, in the 1950s, the average tenure of an IAS officer in a posting was 48 months. This came down to 38 months in the '60s and 21 months in the '70s. The main reason: punitive transfers.

Small wonder that there is a rising eagerness in the civil services to seek premature retirement. As the Indian Express commented editorially last fortnight: "The civil services have been politicised and independent and honest administrators often find it difficult to survive in an atmosphere of sycophancy, intrigue, corruption and worse.... It is the careerist who flourishes or others who are prepared to shut their eyes and drift. The rot has gone deep and must be arrested. The responsibility rests on the political leadership."

Some of the responsibility rests with Nehru's generation too, for not seeing the need to reform the administrative system. Experiments with community development and panchayati raj were abandoned once it became clear that they wouldn't easily mesh with the civil administration inherited from the colonial era, and the systems of government and politics already in existence.

Not that the transformation would have been an easy one, for Nehru, with all his foresight, forged instruments to give substance to his vision without fully understanding the reality on the ground. C.T. Kurien of the Madras Institute of Development Studies describes Nehru's concept of socialism: "For Nehru, socialism was a social order in which basic needs are met, but he didn't pay attention to the social dynamics of it, how it would be achieved. He thought that with a commitment to a set of ideas and political power, he would be able to shape Indian society."

Small wonder that socialism was so quickly and gleefully accepted by the mythifiers. "It has been debased into a cliche to be used only at times of elections," says West Bengal Finance Minister Ashok Mitra who believes that at one level Nehru was a "romantic" with little understanding of reality. Ironically enough, socialism was catapulted into the Constitution at just about the time Sanjay Gandhi emerged as a political force and announced that he was against all 'isms'.

Some of Nehru's concepts were general and imprecise. Socialism was to be a pattern of society, avoiding the pitfalls of both the unbridled competition of the West and the economic totalitarianism of the East but it was never translated into specifics.

It led him inevitably to middle-of-the-road concepts, and obviously they suited the social diversity and cultural history of this heterogenous country. "I don't see how the mixed economy formula that he advocated can be altered for India," says Ravindra Kumar, director of the Nehru Museum and Library.

True, but the nature of the mixture was never very clearly spelt out. Perhaps it couldn't be. Nehru as the prophet was free to make his own interpretations, but his inheritors fell out. For Nehru, the public sector was the mortar of growth. It had to seize the commanding heights.

But the private sector, he once told the Lok Sabha, "has a very important task to fulfil provided always that it works within the confines laid down and provided always that it does not lead to the creation of monopolies and other evils that the accumulation of wealth gives rise to."

Because these were mere generalisations, the subsequent handling of both the public and private sectors has hampered industrial growth. The industrial growth rate was impressive at 7.1 per cent in the late '50s and early '60s.

Much of this was because India started from scratch. Since then it has been far less impressive, only 5.5 per cent in the late '60s and the '70s. In 1960, India was the tenth largest producer of industrial goods in the world outside of eastern Europe.

The myth endures, but it is now actually 17th. The reason: neither the private nor the public sector has worked as efficiently as it should have. Today, an inefficient public sector dominates the economy, its unyielding grip on key sectors of the infrastructure - basic services and raw materials - which prevent an increasingly energetic and vibrant entrepreneurial class from growing, from leading the revival of the economy.

"Nehru chose policy issues but never paid enough attention to organisational areas, to making them work," says author and manager Prakash Tandon who has experience of both the private and public sectors.

"He set up a public sector but laid down no standards of performance." The public sector is in sheer variety and size, a marvel of industrial development. It makes everything from bread and shoes to ships to satellites. But it does so in a most inefficient way. In 1982-83, its Rs 30,000 crore investment yielded a wispy profit of 2 per cent - a level at which no private investor could survive. Yet the public sector has not only survived; using public funds, it has, like Alice's neck, just simply grow'd and grow'd.

The disillusionment is such that after years of restrictive policies, the private sector is being allowed into its hallowed ground in such areas as telecommunication, steel and, in the near future, power. But the private sector has little to be cheerful about. Nehru's regulation of private business was, as he said, to protect it from the evils of monopoly accumulation.

In these controls has incubated the seeds of the licence raj which keeps a throttling hand on private enterprise. Old habits die hard: even though there has been an easing of controls, Nehru's distrust of monopolies has been distorted into a blind aversion of anything big.

Although investments of less than Rs 5 crore are now free of licensing requirements, the old Rs 20 crore limit on assets to define monopoly has been left intact since it was introduced in 1969 even though inflation alone has shot that up in real terms to Rs 80-90 crore now.

Inevitably, these disappointments have taken the glitter off the focal point of Nehru's economic concepts: planning. "He attached great importance to getting a national consensus on major issues of planning," says Tarlok Singh, Nehru's one-time private secretary and later member of the Planning Commission. For Nehru, it was modernism at work, and he was a superb performer at the inauguration of dams and factories, lending his personal prestige to enhance the image of planning.

The Planning Commission today has been hauled off the pedestal on which Nehru put it; it is, more or less just another government department and one that all too often has received stepmotherly treatment from the Government.

The disillusionment is deep-rooted. Planning was, after all, more than simply a matter of drawing up plans; they had to be made to work and nobody, not even Nehru, has been able to do that well enough. Apart from the first plan, which was a stock-taking, no plan has achieved its targets except in some sectors (such as agriculture, of late).

No wonder there have been experiments with rolling plans and plan holidays. The plan process itself, far from being at the forefront of public consciousness where Nehru put it, now fills some remote mental recesses.

The cynical view is that while the Planning Commission plods through its five-yearly exercise, projects that really need to be pushed are pursued beyond its purview: the Maruti project, for instance, and the huge Asiad investments.

The one strand that extends clear in an unbroken line from Nehru's day to the present is the ultimate goal of all these instruments: self-reliance, which remains at the heart of so much of the Government's decision-making.

There is some opening up of the economy, a greater stress on trade, a slightly less icy welcome to foreign investment and a willingness to borrow commercially abroad and take larger loans from the financial institutions. In spite of these tentative openings, debt servicing remains manageable at around 14 per cent of total exports.

It may rise, but it continues to be lower than at the end of Nehru's era. "India is recognised as a country that has followed a wise policy, one that has never failed to meet its commitments and even now is relatively cautious," says a government official.

Even in agriculture and petroleum two sectors where India has long paid the price of being heavily dependent on imports - the gut instinct was correct: self reliance in food (though not in some other crucial commodities like vegetable oil) is within reach and India's progress in oil exploration and exploitation would one decade ago have been unthinkable.

Yet, there have been distortions. Self-reliance at one time meant import-substitution, and that meant an emphasis on products that were imported, steel and motor cars, for example, at the cost of investment of others like cement and electricity, which weren't. This philosophy negated the role of exports and led planners to frown on over-production as something evil, until the bottlenecks became so tight that the choice really became one of liberalise or suffocate.

The institutions that Nehru built still work but they could work better. And if he himself couldn't see how they could be made to perform, it was because he was essentially a visionary. As former Reserve Bank of India Deputy Governor Ravi Hazari says: "Visionaries don't think of systems and mechanisms. The church was not created by Christ." Others had to give those ideas muscle and bone. Nehru, even his most enthusiastic supporters and adulators affirm, believed that once institutions were set up or laws enacted, the results would follow.

Results did follow, but two decades after his death, they have not always been as he expected. In science and technology, which were for Nehru the key to transforming India from a backward-looking feudal society into a modern nation, his efforts were pioneering.

They helped give this country one of the most elaborate and comprehensive scientific and technological establishments in the Third World.

Nehru was a fervent modernist. He wanted his countrymen to shed their traditional and, as he saw it, obscurantist and superstitious ways and evolve a scientific temper. And he believed that the salvation of India lay in the creation of a vast scientific, managerial and technological base.

Both tasks were something of a personal challenge, whether he was using his public meetings to talk about science and development, taking his word to the country's farthest corners, or whether he was charting the blueprints of the institutes of technology or management, agricultural universities or national laboratories.

The fruits, at least of the second endeavour, weren't long in the coming. From shooting satellites into orbit or exploding nuclear devices, designing jet fighters or evolving new strains of wheat, Indian scientists have pulled India into the club of a handful of nations. Over two million graduates from the new faculties of science and technology enabled them to claim the largest stock of trained manpower in the world next to that of the United States and the USSR.

Yet, like all his legacies, this one too has evolved in a distorted form. The numbers are impressive but don't tell the whole story. India's spending on research and development is about 0.7 per cent of the gnp, about the same as Italy's, but in actual terms it works out to $1.35 per head against Italy's $28.41 - and Japan's $118.85 and against Japan's 273.68 trained scientists and engineers per 1,000 of population, India has a mere 2.63.

As for the quality of this trained manpower, Dhirendra Sharma of Jawaharlal Nehru University estimates that at least one million of them are unemployed, underemployed, or find themselves in jobs which have nothing to do with their training.

"This must be the only country in the world which does not have universal primary education but where anyone who can afford to is able to find his way into a university," says Dinesh Mohan of the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi.

Nehru wasn't alone in underestimating the need for educational reform; the sin has been multiplied manifold since then. There is little demand for the hordes of degree-holders, and the economy is simply unable to sustain them.

Nor have the institutions taken up programmes which tackle the real problems of India. Too many scientists find their Meccas in the MIT's rather than the IIT's. Says A. Rahman, director of the National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies: "In my opinion scientists should change their language, they should stop thinking of the problems of the people of Europe and America and start thinking of the problems of India."

Rahman, like many others, believes that Indian scientists have been lured by the prospect of recognition in the West and away from the problems of India, and that they've failed to take science and technology to their own people. Clearly, there is less glamour and money in looking for new energy sources for rural India than in cracking the genetic code.

Scientists alone cannot, of course, be faulted in this. Those who give them priorities and allot them money are equally to blame. Science and technology outlays in the sixth plan show a system so heavily weighted in favour of a few glamorous areas that the others seem, in comparison, to be all but forgotten.

The pride of place goes to atomic energy and space programmes, and agriculture which took away almost Rs 835 crore from the Rs 1,919 crore allotted for science and technology in the sixth plan. And what of others? Health got Rs 40 crore, electronics Rs 32.34 crore, petroleum Rs 39.08 crore, coal Rs 25 crore, textiles Rs 6.50 crore, mines Rs 16.16 crore, steel Rs 41.7 crore, and social welfare Rs 2 crore.

Small wonder India's scientific achievements are in space, atomic energy and agriculture, but that there is still such a waste of energy, that epidemics remain uncontrolled and that so much of rural India remains largely untouched by the fruits of modernisation.

The dualism of thinking, therefore, persists. H. Narasimhaiah, the Bangalore-based president of the Indian Rationalist Association - just one of his many posts - laments the decay of scientific temper. "We seem to have two theories about the eclipse," he says, "one taught in the class room, the other, about Rahu and Ketu, taught outside."

Nehru translated the idea of scientific temper in society into secularism, a part of his legacy which has given India the means of holding together its disparate religions and regions, communities and castes. The concept of secularism wasn't, of course,Nehru's; it sprang from Gandhi's thinking and the freedom struggle which evolved a consensus on secularism, especially after the idea of a separate Pakistan had been decided. But it fitted well with Nehru's understanding of history and his determination to give the Muslims of India a safe berth after the holocaust of Partition.

Indeed, in many ways the establishment of secularism, even as an idea, was an uphill task. Men like Sardar Patel and Rajendra Prashad didn't see the necessity of it. And, Nehru himself was unable to reconcile conflicting goals as he bent over backwards to protect the Muslims from feeling that the far more numerous Hindus would swamp them. He allowed them to keep their personal law even though this conflicted with his ideas on the emancipation of women.

The Partition carnage was followed by a catharsis that lasted through the '50s, but communal riots began to erupt in the last three years of Nehru's life. He despaired "that our freedom and independence are in danger" when communal incidents rose from 26 in 1960 to 92 in 1961. If these numbers terrified Nehru, what would he have thought of events as they unfolded in later years, the slayings in Assam or the ferocity of the Moradabad and Jamshedpur killings, to take recent examples.

Last fortnight's carnage in Bhiwandi is merely the most recent reminder that the communal virus sets off epidemics all too easily. The numbers tell the story. In 1978, 230 communal incidents and 110 deaths, rising to 304 incidents and 251 deaths in 1979, to 427 and 375 in 1980, declining slightly in the years to rise, once again, to 474 incidents and 238 deaths in 1982. Then the graph went crazv with the violence in Assam in 1983.

But secularism and communalism are more than a matter of statistics. Where Nehru in his time sought to evolve an Indian identity and carry with him all this nation's diverse communities, religions and regions, politics today emphasise separate identities, slicing at the symbiotic roots that spring spontaneously between them.

"Secularism today is very much weaker," says seasoned administrator L.K. Jha, "and up to a point it is weakening because of an economic failure, the unevenness of economic growth." Jha argues that when the cake isn't growing fast enough to satisfy everyone, people tend to gravitate to narrower interests, smaller interests groups, and these tend to be based on religion or community or caste.

And when this happens, the politicians step in. "We should not have given the impression that emphasising a minority or separate character would bring advantages," says former foreign minister Dinesh Singh. "If you emphasise the advantage of being a minority, you get a leadership that exploits this."

Political calculations get cast in sectarian terms. The vast Hindu community, which cannot retreat into its religion to derive economic and political advantage, emphasises narrower creeds: of caste and language or region in the pursuit of political power and economic advantage.

Reservations, to which Nehru acquiesced as a means of righting social injustice, have acquired a new life of their own, an incarnation he would scarcely recognise. The Mandal Commission, which has recommended raising reservations for specified "backward" people to 62 per cent, but whose report has yet to be adopted widely, is symptomatic of precisely the same disease as, say, Bhindranwale with his blinkered view of Sikh interests.

Obviously, appeals of this kind didn't strike a resonant chord overnight, but this kind of political exploitation lies at the root of several contemporary movements. It once persuaded the Shiv Sena that non-Maharashtrians were a threat to the sons of the soil; today it leads to riots between its supporters and Muslims in Bhiwandi.

Unbridled political opportunism is responsible for the creation of Sikh extremism where four years ago there was nothing, and for damaging perhaps beyond repair the fraternal, familial relationship that has long existed between Hindus and Sikhs in Punjab.

It lies at the root of the Kannadiga movement just as much as it prompts Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N.T. Rama Rao to don saffron, exploit his screen career as a portrayer of Hindu deities and contemplate a gross travesty the creation of a "Hindu Vatican" at Tirupati.

Political opportunism lies behind such current calculations as the Congress(I) seeking Hindu votes in northern India and its preying on the insecurity of the Hindus in Jammu and the Sikhs in Delhi to win votes in recent elections. And that after the massacre of so many Muslims in Assam, the party has forfeited the trust of that community.

Political expediency lies behind the assertiveness of Muslim fundamentalism and the tremors of Hindu revival manifested in the growing activities of such organisations as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the innumerable yagnas that criss-crossed the country last year.

It is no coincidence that issues such as the alleged adulteration of vanaspati with beef tallow get such airing, that the Bharatiya Janata Party, which stands for a Hindu dominated India, should be a resurgent force in northern India, that the challenge to the Congress(I) should come not from the Left, as might be natural in a poor country, but the conservative Right, which has its ideological starting point in religion, caste and community.

Nehru's passionate belief in India's independence expressed itself in the pride of place foreign policy and non-alignment occupied in his thinking. Nehru saw his policy not as a passive expression of non-involvement but as an active participation in global politics.

It was in part a natural extension of Gandhi's ideas of non-violence into a global ethos. And it was in part as P. N. Haksar says, "A means at a particular time and in a particular place to advance, to promote and to protect not just India's interests, for Nehru interpreted India's interests in a manner which did not conflict with the interest of maintaining world peace."

Non-alignment also gave him the right to intervene actively in world affairs, and he did so with pride and determination. From Korea to the Suez to the Congo, through Bandung and Belgrade, Nehru's foreign policy, based on non-alignment and panchshila, blossomed.

At the zenith of India's global role, in the mid-50s Nehru noted: "I have been watching, with restrained pride and pleasure as well as an evergrowing sense of responsibility and humility, the growth of India's prestige in the world."

His was a policy that served India's interests and he had no hesitation in seeking Soviet help in the UN's Kashmir debates or British and American assistance after the war with China, or economic assistance from both the West and the East.

If there was a tilt towards the Soviet Union even in Nehru's days - his reaction to the Soviet invasion of Hungary wasn't quite as quick as his condemnation of the Anglo-French attack on Egypt - it was because of his early approval of Soviet egalitarianism, a perception of the Soviet Union as an anti-imperialist power, and India's gains from the Soviet connection.

The world has changed immeasurably since Nehru's time. A bipolar world is now a multi-polar world and the issues of the '80s are far away from the concerns of the '50s. Yet, the thread of Nehru's policy remains unbroken, and Mrs Gandhi's handling of foreign policy shows much the same elan.

It is another matter that there is less room for initiatives like Nehru's to settle international conflicts. The basic thrust of independence from blocs, the treaty with the Soviet Union notwithstanding, remains intact. Even a seasoned cold warrior like Henry Kissinger acknowledged Mrs Gandhi's staunch independence.

What of the concept of non-alignment as a global phenomenon? At one level, there can be no greater vindication of Nehru than the legions of countries that have queued up since his day to join the movement, countries that range in ideology from Cuba to Singapore. "The beach is getting crowded," says Natwar Singh, current secretary-general of the movement, pointing out that from 25 countries that attended the 1961 Belgrade summit, the membership today is 104.

But it is in this dilution that lie the seeds of trouble in the movement. For unlike in Nehru's time, most members are unable to handle the conflict that arises between what they see to be their individual interest and the interest of the movement. And with cracks in the front, the word of the non-aligned isn't heard so clearly above the din of international conflict.

Where a group of six non-aligned countries took the initiative in 1962 to make peace between India and China, Iran and Iraq expressly turn away offers of mediation. For every Korea that the spirit of non-alignment helped ameliorate, there is a Kampuchea that defies solution and for every Suez there is an Afghanistan.

Compared with the salad days of non-alignment in the '50s with the end of decolonisation, the achievements since have been less spectacular, but in some ways more basic. "In the last three decades, the area of direct cold war confrontation has been contained and slowly reduced, mostly due to the effect of the doctrine of non-alignment," says K. Subramaniam of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis.

The banding together of the Group of 77 and the achievements - such as they are - of the North-South dialogue can also be credited to non-alignment. Since Nehru's day, there has also been a realistic retraction of expectations, a tailoring of ends to the means available, which has lowered the movement's profile on the international stage, but not its relevance.

"Some people think that non-alignment is a medicine for all international ailments," said K.P. Mishra of JNU's School of International Studies. "It isn't so. Some problems fade in time, others the movement has to learn to live with."

Non-alignment is, indeed, learning to live with problems and just as Nehru had to contend with shadows that refused to go away, so too must his successors. But there will be no great loss if the basic premise holds, of an India in pursuit of its own independent national interest.

Nehru would have been the last person to claim infallibility. It was a mark of his greatness that when he was proved wrong he admitted it. But it is much more a measure of his greatness that Nehru's vision has been proved so correct through two turbulent decades.

And if his legacy is a troubled one, intact in parts but forgotten in others, it is because of those who have inherited it, not just the few individuals who have sat in the chair he vacated but the whole class of decision makers who followed him.

As lawyer Nani Palkhivala says: "If we have lapsed, I don't think he can be blamed. A man can show the way and you have to follow it. But if you don't and behave like a mule after three steps, you can't blame him for it."

Nehru was like a colossus who straddled the diversity of India and held at bay its enormous tensions and contradictions that for five millenia have made it an impossibly difficult civilisation to unite and to govern. Nehru succeeded by the force of his personality and because he wore a mantle of authority draped over his shoulders by Gandhi and also because he was possessed by a vision. The passions that he was able to control have since found new, turbulent expression, giving the idea of a nation qualitatively different to the one he governed.

The stark fact is that Nehru's era was not representative of the temper of this nation. Since his time India has changed and these tensions have heightened - as the population has grown by leaps and bounds, as more and more people have had their hopes of a better tomorrow belied, and as its component communities, castes and creeds have drifted apart into their own separate compartments.

Yet it is to the undying credit of Nehru and his contemporaries that in spite of all this, national unity remains tenacious, that the seeds of modernism have begun to sprout, and that the institutions and ideals are here to stay.

Nehru had a grand design for India. He looked not just to today, but much more was he concerned with the tomorrow. He had his share of problems no less intractable than those of today. He had his Punjab agitation, his communal holocausts, his language disputes, foreign policy challenges and conflicts within the party.

But he came to his challenges with a sense of mission, a sense of the future, and because of this, his years were endowned with a sense of hope. He showed that a leader who is driven by a vision can succeed against seemingly impossible odds. Such was the essence of his legacy. What more could one man have done?

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