Jawaharlal Nehru: A Guiding Force in Our Past, Present, and Future

Nehru’s fantastic effort to raise India from what Tagore called the ‘mud and filth’ left behind by the British has now been replaced with the Indian people being pushed back into that same ‘mud and filth’ of ignorance, obscurantism, dis-empowerment, unfreedom and above all communal hatred.

The following text is Aditya Mukherjee’s presidential address at the 82nd session of Indian History Congress (IHC), conducted from December 28-30, 2023, at Kakatiya University, in Warangal, Telangana. Mukherjee, who was earlier with the Jawaharlal Nehru University, in his presidential address, spoke about the IHC’s role in the promotion of scientific, secular and anti-imperialist history over the past 85 years.



I am thankful to the Executive Council of the Indian History Congress for electing me as the General President this year. I am deeply honoured to be presiding over this august body, the largest and most representative organisation of historians in India which was created during the heyday of the Indian national movement in the mid nineteen thirties. In conformity with the values of our national liberation struggle, symbolised as the “Idea of India”, the Indian History Congress has spearheaded the promotion of scientific, secular and anti-imperialist history for over 85 years.

As all of you are aware, the Idea of India is deeply threatened today and the discipline of history is being mauled beyond recognition and weaponized to destroy the Idea of India by religious communal forces [1], which not only did not participate in India’s freedom struggle but indeed collaborated with imperialism. It is perhaps appropriate that on his 60th death anniversary I should focus my address on what we can learn from Jawaharlal Nehru, among the foremost champions of the Idea of India, as well as of a scientific and meaningful history. I believe much can be learnt from him to explain our present and chart out a vision of the future.

It is because of what Nehru stood for that he is demonized so blatantly by the communal forces today. All kinds of lies and abuse are spread about him using the massive propaganda machinery that the communal forces command today. Nehru is blamed for all of India’s problems, from the partition of the country, the Pakistan problem, the China problem, the crisis in Indian agriculture, the Kashmir issue, crisis in the educational system, the persistence of poverty, the growing religious polarisation in recent years, amending the constitution to curb democracy, to almost any problem facing the country today. This, nearly 60 years after his passing away! A website called Dismantling Nehru with the subtitle ‘The last Viceroy of India’ is on social media repeating a canard spread by the RSS since independence, which they thought was a black day, refusing to unfurl the national flag. A book called 97 Major Blunders of Nehru has now been expanded to Nehru Files: Nehru’s 127 Historic Blunders (Nehru Ki 127 Aitihasik Galtiyan). The list keeps growing as new ‘facts’ are invented. He is even said to have a secret Muslim ancestry. Such is the hatred spread about him that one BJP leader, as reported in an RSS journal, went to the extent of saying that Nathuram Godse should have aimed his gun at Nehru.[2] 

Apart from spreading lies about him, the effort is to also erase his memory from the minds of the Indian people. The iconic Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) built on the premises where he lived as the first Prime Minister of India is no more. Nehru has been dwarfed in that space which now houses a massive museum to all Prime Ministers (a global first!) and is called the Prime Ministers’ Museum and Library. In Rajasthan, it was reported that textbooks for school children were created during the BJP regime in which “there is no mention of Nehru either in the chapter (on) Freedom Movement or in India After Independence.”[3] The Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR), not to be left behind in pushing the BJP government initiative, recently put up a poster celebrating the 75th Year of Indian independence where the pictures of many freedom fighters were put up but Jawaharlal Nehru was absent and V.D. Savarkar was added,[4] a person who apologized to the British, promising total loyalty, and after his release cooperated with the British Government when the people of India were sacrificing their lives in the Quit India movement and Jawaharlal Nehru spent nearly three years in jail in Ahmednagar Fort with Maulana Azad, Sardar Patel and other Congress leaders.

Not even the British, who were the chief ally of the communal forces, demonize Nehru in this manner, and this despite Nehru spending 30 years of his life fighting the British, nine of those years spent in British jails.[5] Though there has been a resurgence of the neo-colonial critique of Nehru by people like Tirthankar Roy, Meghnad Desai, etc., it is not as crass and vulgar as that done by communalists.

Nehru and the Discipline of History

The demonizing of Nehru and the values he stood for could only be done by distorting history and that is what the communal forces have done blatantly. As I am addressing a distinguished gathering of historians, I would like to begin with a brief discussion on Nehru’s own attitude to the discipline of history before moving on to a discussion of how Nehru is being wrongly demonized by detailing some of his actual historic contributions to the making of modern India. I do so as I believe that Nehru, from as early as the 1930s, provided a framework, partly demonstrated in his own historical writings, that was in sharp contrast to the colonial and communal framework. Some of the most distinguished scholars of the country adopted and developed decades later, the Nehruvian framework. Much can be learnt from Nehru in this sphere even today.

While referring to Nehru’s outstanding historical works, Glimpses of World History, Autobiography and The Discovery of India, all written in British jails between 1930 and 1944, Professor Irfan Habib made a very significant comparison with Gramsci’s iconic Prison Notebooks:

“These prison works invite comparison in both quantity and quality with the kind of writing that Antonio Gramsci produced as a communist prisoner in fascist Italy. There are true similarities in that both … went to history to find answers to the questions raised in their minds as men of action”.[6]

As Nehru himself said, 

“Because fate and circumstances placed me in a position to be an actor in the saga, or the drama of India, if you like, in the last twenty or thirty years in common with many others, my interest in history became not an academic interest in things of the past … but an intense personal interest. I wanted to understand those events in relation to today and understand today in relation to what had been, and try to peep into the future…. one has to go back to (history) to understand the present and to try to understand what the future ought to be”.[7] 

Irfan Habib quoted Marx’s famous statement, “the philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it”, to argue that for a ‘man of action’ like Nehru, history was not just a directionless descriptive narrative placed in a chronological order but a resource from which one sought to understand the present in order to try to shape the future.[8]

Nehru urged historians to approach history in this manner. For example, just when India was emerging from the holocaust like situation caused by communal strife and the partition of the country on that basis, and the newly born Indian state was to embark on the path of building a secular, inclusive country, Nehru tells historians in December 1948: “History shows us both the binding process and the disruptive process… today a little more obviously – the binding or the constructive forces are at work, as also the disruptive or the fissiparous forces, and in any activity that we are indulging in we have the choice of laying emphasis on the binding and constructive aspect or the other”. While exhorting the historians to emphasise the former he warns, true to the rigours of the discipline of history, “We must not, of course, give way to wishful thinking and emphasize something which we want to emphasize… which has no relation to fact". However, he goes on to say, “Nevertheless, I think it is possible within the terms of scholarship and precision and truth to emphasize the binding and constructive aspect rather than the other, and I hope the activities of historians … will be directed to that end”.[9]

This is what Nehru himself did brilliantly in his classic work The Discovery of India, while the colonial/communal approach was to constantly try to weaponize any conflict in the past to exacerbate them in the present.

The colonial/communal interpretation repeatedly emphasized the ‘trauma’ experienced as a result of Hindu–Muslim conflict. These theories of trauma were often created centuries after the so-called traumatic events. A case in point is the alleged trauma felt by ‘Hindus’ because of the destruction of the Somanatha temple by a ‘Muslim’ invader, Mahmud, the Sultan of Ghazni (now in Afghanistan) more than a thousand years ago in 1026. After independence, a demand was made that a grand temple be constructed at Somanatha. K.M. Munshi claimed in 1951, “… for a thousand years Mahmud’s destruction of the shrine has been burnt into the collective sub-conscious of the [Hindu] Race as an unforgettable national disaster.” In fact, there was no evidence of a thousand-year old trauma. Munshi, perhaps unknowingly, was reflecting the colonial perspective created in the 19th century. Because the earliest mention discovered so far of ‘Hindu Trauma’ caused by this ‘Muslim’ invasion in 1026, which had to be avenged, is nearly 800 years later, in 1843 when the issue is brought up in the British House of Commons. Colonial historiography since the 19th century has used such events to evolve a notion of permanent confrontation between the Hindus and Muslims, laying the basis of the ‘two nation’ theory, which argued that Hindus and Muslims constituted two distinct nations. The communalist picked up this theme and amplified it. 

The eminent historian Romila Thapar, using a multiplicity of sources, has convincingly demonstrated that no such permanent confrontation between Hindus and Muslims occurred historically as a result of the destruction of the Somanatha temple. 150 years after its destruction a Hindu king rebuilt the Somanatha temple without even a mention of Mahmud having destroyed it. 250 years later land was given to a Muslim trader to build a mosque on land belonging to the same temple’s estates with the approval of the local Hindu ruler, local merchants and priests! No signs of a ‘trauma’ in the ‘collective memory’ of Hindus is visible until it was a ‘memory’ constructed much later under colonial patronage by their allies, the religious communal forces.[10] Destruction of religious places was routinely done across religions and sects often to loot the wealth of these institutions or establish authority in ancient and medieval times and was perhaps treated as such. Nehru himself had a much more nuanced account of Mahmud Ghazni than that portrayed by the colonial/communal combine, where he sees him as “far more a warrior than man of faith” who used his army raised in India under a Hindu general named Tilak, “against his own co-religionists in Central Asia”.[11]

The nationalist intelligentsia in the colonial period put forward a totally different interpretation of Indian history from the colonial/communal one, where they were not trying to create memories of historical ‘trauma’ in order to create differences in the present. On the contrary they drew on the reality of Indian society and how it organically dealt with religious, caste and other difference through birth of new religions like Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism or movements spanning many centuries like the Sufi and Bhakti movements. Jawaharlal Nehru perhaps best argued this position in his magisterial magnum opus, The Discovery of India, written from prison in the 1940s. 

The lessons that Nehru tried to draw from Indian history were connected to his imagining India’s future as a modern democratic country based on enlightenment values, ‘the Idea of India’. He focused on a critical aspect of India’s civilizational history; an openness to reason and rationality, a questioning mind and acceptance of multiple claims to truth, a dialogical tradition of being in conversation and discussion with each other, the ability to live with difference, accommodate, adjust, resolve and transform rather than violently crush difference.[12] Nehru draws from the Indus valley civilisation, the Rig Veda, the Upanishads, the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, the Gita, Buddha, Aśoka, Alauddin Khilji, Amir Khusrau, Akbar, Vivekananda to Gandhi to illustrate the above. 

He also emphasized how the shared traditions in language, music, poetry, painting, architecture, philosophy and everyday practice cutting across religion and caste contributed to the creation of a composite culture. While talking of songs composed by Amir Khusrau he said, “I do not know if there is any other instance anywhere of songs written 600 years ago (in the ordinary spoken dialect of Hindi) maintaining their popularity and their mass appeal and being still sung without any change of words”.[13] He talked of the emergence of the Indian civilization that occurred over the centuries through the ‘absorption’, ‘assimilation’ and ‘synthesis’ of all the influences India was exposed to through trade, invasions, migration and inter mixing. From the Indus Valley civilization five thousand years ago to the Dravidian, Aryan-Central Asian, Iranian, Greek, Parthian, Bactrian, Scythian, Hun, Arab, Turk, early Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, Afghan, Mughal, etc., all leaving their mark “like some ancient palimpsest on which layer upon layer of thought and reverie had been inscribed, and yet no succeeding layer had completely hidden or erased what had been written previously”.[14]

It is to this organic process through which the Indian people had learnt to negotiate differences of multiple religions, languages, caste etc., that colonialism came as a shock. It is as if Indian history ‘ceased’, to use a phrase used by the African revolutionary, Amilcar Cabral, for the period of colonial rule lasting nearly 200 years. Colonialism not only stopped the dynamic process of negotiating differences but actually froze or even accentuated these differences. And the communal forces were the chief instruments in their hands for accomplishing this task. The world has learnt at a very heavy cost, from Ireland, the oldest colony, to recent events in Palestine (about the Imperialist role in which Nehru has much to say) and the experience of large parts of Asia and Africa, including India, that the longest lasting legacy of colonialism has been that it left behind a divided people.

One method used by the colonial/communal forces to create a religious divide, of which Nehru was very critical, was the colonial periodisation of Indian history, done by James Mill in the early 19th Century, “into three major periods: Ancient or Hindu, Muslim and the British period”. He thought “it is unscientific to divide history like this” and said, 

“This division is neither intelligent nor correct; it is deceptive and gives a wrong perspective. It deals more with the superficial changes at the top than with the essential changes in the political, economic and cultural development of the Indian people”.[15] 

He said, 

“It is wrong and misleading to talk of a Muslim invasion of India or of the Muslim period in India, just as it would be wrong to refer to the coming of the British to India as a Christian invasion, or to call the British period in India a Christian period”.[16 ]

He questioned the defining of a period by just the religion of the ruler and emphasized the wider social and economic and cultural factors which defined a period and also pointed out the continuities and cultural intermixing of people belonging to different religious faiths. Later historians have confirmed Nehru’s position while critiquing the colonial/communal periodization of Indian history.[17]

In fact, Nehru was extremely critical of looking at history with “the old and completely out-of-date approach of a record of doings of kings and battles and the like”. He said, 

“the whole conception of the history of a country being the names of a large number of kings and emperors and our learning them by heart, I suppose, is long dead. I am not quite sure whether in the schools and colleges of India it has ceased to exist or not, but I hope at any rate that it is dead, because anything more futile than children’s study of the record of kings’ regions and battles I cannot imagine”.[18]

On the contrary Nehru, anticipating what has now globally become an accepted norm in cutting edge historiography, emphasized “the social aspect of history”. The need for “much closer research into the daily lives of the common man. Maybe in family budgets a hundred or a thousand years ago…which make us realize something of what the life of humanity was in the past age”. As he put it in his characteristically beautiful prose, “It is only then that we really clothe the dry bones of history with life, flesh and blood”.[19]

Nehru was deeply aware of the various biases in history writing and very critical of the Eurocentric and colonial approaches which often overlapped, and which unfortunately exercise considerable influence including in the former colonies till today.[20] Giving his inaugural address to the Asian History Congress, Nehru said: 

“the immediate object of the History Congress should be to straighten out all the twists which Asian history has received at the hand of the Europeans. While some of them are very fine historians, their approach has nevertheless been based on Europe being the centre of the world”.[21] 

He continued, “In the case of India, a Western scholar, especially from the United Kingdom, inevitably tended to look at the history of India as if the past few thousand years were a kind of a preparation for the coming British dominion in India”. However, Nehru warned that “as a reaction to that sometimes our own historians have gone too far…. There is the nationalist history which, starting from a strong nationalist bias, praises everything that is national at the expense of other things”.[22] As early as the 1930s, reacting to the nationalist tendency to imagine a ‘Golden age’ in the past which the communalists used to create a religious divide, a tendency that has become rampant today, he said: “Everywhere are to be found people who consider their own country the best, and regard it as sacred soil. They only study their ancient history and award it a high place – it becomes Satyayug or Ramrajya; and the hope remains that the same may be restored”.[23] He argued, “Both these approaches…the nationalist approach and imperialist approach distort history. They sometimes suppress history”.[24] Nehru showed in his own writing in the Glimpses of World History and Discovery of India how one could be firmly anti-imperialist and also have pride in one’s own history — – for the genuine achievements without resorting to blind imaginary glorification of one’s past overlooking all the warts and blemishes.

While on the subject of Eurocentric/colonial positions, Nehru very early on refutes the tendency to obfuscate the difference between the empires of the Ancient and medieval period and the modern colonial empires emerging with the rise of capitalism. A tendency which has continued till today.[25] He says as early as 1933, 

“… There have been vast empires for thousands of years, but modern imperialism is a new concept developed for the first time in recent years…. But very few of us have understood its real import and often mistake it for imperialism of the old. Unless we understand this new imperialism properly and discern its roots and branches, we cannot grasp the conditions of the present-day world and cannot properly wage our battle for freedom”.[26] 

In fact, throughout the pages of the voluminous Glimpses of World History, Nehru maintains and highlights this clear distinction and explores the very complex evolution of modern imperialism.

Nehru repeatedly questions the colonial characterisation, picked up by the communalists, of the medieval period when many of the rulers in India were Muslims, as ‘foreign rule’, clearly distinguishing it from British colonial rule, which he described as foreign rule. Lest one thinks it is stating the obvious one may point out that our current Prime Minister repeatedly, from the ramparts of the Red Fort in his Independence Day speech, his speech in Parliament as Prime Minister in 2014, his address to the US Congress in 2023, etc., has reiterated the RSS position and talked of 1000 years of foreign rule (sometimes he makes it 1200, presumably 200 years is of little relevance in a long history). With one stroke all Muslims rulers were declared as foreigners from whose alleged loot and “slavery” India had to win independence![27] The paradox is that the forces which did not play a part in the actual struggle for freedom against British colonial rule, except to weaken the national movement against it, talked of freedom from a so called ‘Muslim’ rule in the medieval period! Nehru, while critiquing the ‘Hindu, Muslim and British period’ characterisation (discussed above) commented on this aspect, distinguishing the medieval period, when many rulers were Muslim in India, from the British period which is what he saw as a period of foreign rule. He said:

“The so-called (Hindu) ancient period is vast and full of change, of growth and decay, and then growth again. What is called the Muslim or medieval period brought another change, and an important one, and yet it was more or less confined to the top and did not vitally affect the essential continuity of Indian life. The invaders who came to India from the north-west, like so many of their predecessors in more ancient times, became absorbed into India and part of her life. Their dynasties became Indian dynasties and there was a great deal of racial fusion by intermarriage. A deliberate effort was made, apart from a few exceptions, not to interfere with the ways and customs of the people. They looked to India as their home country and had no other affiliations. India continued to be an independent country.

The coming of the British made a vital difference and the old system was uprooted in many ways. They brought an entirely different impulse from the west, which had slowly developed in Europe…and was taking shape in the beginnings of the industrial revolution. The British remained outsiders, aliens and misfits in India, and made no attempt to be otherwise. Above all, for the first time in India’s history, her political control was exercised from outside and her economy was centred in a distant place. They made India a typical colony of the modern age, a subject country for the first time in her long history”.[28]

A few more points on Nehru and history writing which are relevant to us even today.

From very early on, Nehru was a votary of looking at history in a global context and was an exponent of what is now fashionably called ‘connected histories.’ He said, “The old idea of writing a history of any one country has become progressively out of date. It is impossible today to think of the history of a country isolated from the rest of the world. The world is getting integrated. We have … to consider history today in a world perspective”.[29] Globally, “events are all closely inter-related. One event affects the other and if all the developments of world history are taken together then some sort of laws and causes emerge and we can understand the course and significance of world history. By knowing this some light is thrown on all events of world history and we can see our course ahead”.[30] Further he said “It is quite impossible today to think of current events or of history in the making in terms of any one nation or country or patch of territory; you have inevitably to think of the world as whole”.[31]

As a ‘man of action’, one who contributed significantly to the making of history Nehru saw the need to keep the big picture in mind while approaching history. He said, “It has been given to us in the present age to play a part in the making of history and for a person who does that it becomes an even more important thing to understand the process of history so that he might not lose himself in trivial details and forget the main sweep”. He urged the historians too not to get lost in the details, so that they may “see the wood a little more and not be lost in the individual tree”. He added, “any subject that you may investigate” should “be viewed in relation to a larger whole. Otherwise, it has no real meaning except as some odd incident which might interest you”.[32]

Again, as a man of action, Nehru urged “historians…that they should not always write only for their brother historians…. for the charmed circle of people who are interested in a specifically narrow aspect” which “loses all interest for the wider public”. They should “try to appeal to the minds of the larger public—the intelligent or semi-intelligent public”. He did not believe “popularization …means a deviation from scholarship. I do not think there is any necessary conflict between real scholarship and a popular approach”.[33] He had as early as 1933 urged, “books should be written not for a few scholarly persons but should be such that a person with very limited reading–a farmer or a labourer even—should be able to understand it. Unless the masses understand it, our labour would be in vain”.[34] Some of the tallest scholars in India inspired by the Nehruvian dream did try to do what he desired, writing school-texts, popular pamphlets and books, [35] while others, often in the name of the poor and the subalterns, went into a post-modernist discourse which at least I, even after more than four decades of trying to understand the discipline of history, have great difficulty even in beginning to decipher.

Finally, a comment on how Nehru saw his role in taking the historical process forward.

The lessons he learnt from Indian history of the acceptance of the existence of multiple truths, of a non-violent dialogical tradition, of negotiations of truth claims and conflict and arriving at a higher level of synthesis, were greatly strengthened by his increasingly deeper understanding of Gandhiji and his practice. This involved a change in his own Marxist understanding which he had argued till the mid 1930s, as seen in the Autobiography, towards a more complex Gramscian Marxist understanding of how social change was to be negotiated.[36] His more mature understanding was reflected in The Discovery. This shift has often been seen as Nehru’s contradictory and vacillating nature, his total dependence and subservience to Gandhiji, his giving in to vested interests etc.[37]

In an insightful work, Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee, sees Nehru’s doubts, his ambivalence, openness and engagement with apparently contradictory positions not as his weakness or vacillating nature but as his strength. He is correctly critical of people like Partha Chatterjee who dismiss Nehru’s absolutely outstanding work, The Discovery of India, as a book of ‘rambling, bristling with the most obvious contradictions’.[38] (Other scholars such as the Eurocentric Marxist, Perry Anderson also shockingly rubbish Nehru’s Discovery calling it “a steam bath of Schwärmereii (over enthusiastic and sentimental)” with a “Barbara Cartland Streak”!) [39]

As Bhattacharjee argues in elegant prose:

“The idea of liberty needs to be reconciled with the presence of contradictions. No idea or truth-claim can justify the sacrifice of human lives. It would mean the barbarism of truth. Ethics provokes us to think of freedom without violence. Nehru did not sit on horseback with sword in hand, and rush towards the windmills of history thinking they were giants he had to exterminate. He did not hallucinate from the desire to rid the world of all its ills and create a gigantic prison in the name of paradise”. [40]

This is where Nehru learnt from Gandhiji. He accepted Gandhiji’s position that however good the end the means had to be ethical and non violent. [41] For Gandhiji, his deep conviction on non-violence did not emerge from the fact that it was a brilliant tactic to fight the British, which of course it was, but from his philosophical position that nobody could make the claim of having arrived at ‘transcendental truth’ or absolute truth. 

His belief in the possibility of multiple truths and multiple paths to the seeking of truth would not allow for violence against anyone. The Enlightenment project emerging from Europe often faltered on this ground, where the notion of possessing the ultimate truth justified mass killings by revolutionary movements (in the name of democracy and the people) thus negating a critical aspect of democracy, every human being’s right to differ. Gandhiji saw this weakness in the French and the Russian Revolution as compared to India’s struggle for freedom.[42] Attention must be drawn here to Tadd Graham Fernée’s work, where he compares the European Enlightenment project with the Indian, Turkish and Iranian efforts at transition to modernity, with a focus on the Indian National Movement under Gandhiji’s leadership with its ‘Ethic of Reconciliation as Mass Movement’ as well as the ‘Nehruvian effort after independence’ at drawing on this heritage, towards an ‘Ethic of Reconciliation in Nation Making’.[43] His conclusion is that the Indian experiment at transition to modernity without violence remained much truer to the Enlightenment objectives.

Bhattacharjee has done us a favour by quoting extensively from Octavio Paz [44],   the great Mexican poet, thinker, diplomat and Nobel Laureate, who was also Mexican ambassador to India in Nehru’s time, showing how he very sensitively comprehended what Nehru had ‘discovered’ for himself from Indian tradition and Gandhiji, and very importantly, brilliantly interpreted Nehru and his supposed contradictions. It is well worth repeating them here, if for no other reason but to show how great contemporaries of Nehru saw him in contrast to scholars whom I would characterise as Eurocentric if not colonial and of course, the communal, fake ‘nationalists’ in India.

In a speech delivered in 1966, Paz says:

“It is remarkable that Nehru, in spite of his mainly being a political leader, did not fall into the temptation of suppressing the contradictions of history by brute force or with a verbal tour de passé (sleight of hand). [It] is unique in our world of fanatical Manicheans (those who see things only in black and white) and hangmen masked as philosophers of history. He did not pretend to embody either the supreme good or the absolute truth but human liberty: man and his contradictions…. He was faithful to his contradictions and for this very reason he neither killed others nor mutilated himself”.

Again, he says very profoundly and with a deep understanding of Nehru:

“In contrast to the majority of the political leaders of this century, Nehru did not believe that he had the key to history in his hands. Because of this he did not stain his country nor the world with blood.”

Nehru tried to move towards his goal, what he thought was his historic role with this sensibility. This meant following a path which could be slower, but took people along and did not resort to violence and brute force as many of his contemporaries trying the same transformation did.

Nehru and the Idea of India

We may ask ourselves the question that if Jawaharlal Nehru was such an evil and incompetent person as the communal/colonial right makes him out to be, why did the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, choose him as his successor and not his other brilliant comrades like C. Rajagopalachari or Sardar Patel?

In a speech at the AICC meeting at Wardha on 15 June 1942 Gandhiji declared:

“…Somebody suggested that Pandit Jawaharlal and I were estranged. This is baseless…. You cannot divide water by repeatedly striking it with a stick. It is just as difficult to divide us. I have always said that not Rajaji, nor Sardar Vallabhbhai but Jawahar will be my successor…. When I am gone…he will speak my language too…. Even if this does not happen, I would at least die with this faith”.[45]

Why did Gandhiji have such tremendous faith in Jawaharlal Nehru? One can surmise at least two reasons.

First, Jawaharlal Nehru quintessentially represented and fought for all the core values of the Indian freedom struggle which have in short been called ‘The Idea of India’. These core values were in brief:

1) Sovereignty, i.e., India will be independent and self-reliant, and oppose imperialist domination globally; 

2) Democracy, i.e., India will be a democratic country with adult franchise and with equal rights to all citizens, irrespective of their caste, class, language, gender, region or ethnicity; 

3) Secularism, i.e., people belonging to different religious faiths will have equal rights in the country. India will not be a majoritarian Hindu state. Secularism and democracy were seen as coterminous, one could not exist without the other. The term secular-democracy was often used conjointly, just as communalism was with loyalism; 

4) Pro-poor orientation. Beginning from the early nationalists like Dadabhai Naoroji whose book was titled ‘Poverty and Un-British Rule in India’ to Gandhiji turning the face of the country towards the poor, the Daridranarayan, to the revolutionaries, socialists and communists — all were agreed on a pro-poor orientation even if there was no consensus on socialism or communism. 

5) Modern scientific outlook was to be propagated (what Nehru called the scientific temper), overcoming obscurantism and blind faith.

It must be noted that there was a consensus among the entire spectrum of the Indian national movement on these core values whatever may have been their other differences. From the early nationalists like Naoroji, Ranade and Gokhale, to Tilak and C.R. Das, to Bhagat Singh and other revolutionaries, to Gandhiji, Nehru, Patel, Subhash Bose, the socialists like Acharya Narendra Dev and Jaiprakash Narain and communists like EMS Namboodiripad, Harkishan Singh Surjeet and P.C. Joshi, all agreed on the above core values of the idea of India. Only the loyalists and the communalists of all hues were opposed to them.

Not only did Jawaharlal Nehru fight for these values during the freedom struggle but he played a stellar role in implementing these ideas in the new born state after independence. Gandhiji perhaps anticipated this capacity of Nehru in choosing him as his successor. In fact, the burden of implementing these ideas fell largely on Nehru’s shoulders with the Mahatma being murdered by a Hindu communalist within six months of India gaining Independence and Sardar Patel passing away in 1950. Nehru performed this task with great élan and imagination as India’s first Prime Minister for about 17 years.

It is on Nehru’s role after Independence in implementing the five core values of the ‘Idea of India’ that I will focus on today. It is necessary to do so as each element of the Idea of India is deeply threatened today.

When we evaluate Nehru’s role in implementing the Idea of India after independence, we must remind ourselves of what economists call the ‘initial conditions’ from which he had to start, to get an idea of the gigantic task ahead of him at independence. The poet Rabindranath Tagore, shortly before his death, had graphically anticipated the condition of India at the end of British rule. He said:

“The wheels of fate will someday compel the English to give up their Indian empire. What kind of India will they leave behind, what stark misery? When the stream of their centuries’ administration runs dry at last, what a waste of mud and filth will they leave behind them.”[46]

The ‘mud and filth left behind’ was a famine-ridden country (three million perished in a man-made famine just four years before independence), where per capita income and foodgrains output was actually shrinking annually for the past three decades before independence, where average life expectancy at independence was a shocking low of about 30 years, 84 per cent of all Indians and 92 per cent women were illiterate. On top of all this, the British left the country deeply divided on religious lines, with millions dead and rendered homeless in a communal carnage that happened under colonial tutelage.[47]

It was a gigantic task indeed to lift India out of this misery following the path laid down by our freedom fighters in their imagination of independent India. It is to Nehru’s credit that he evolved a multi-pronged strategy to lift India out of this morass, which in fact became an example for numerous other countries which gained independence from colonial rule.

I will seek to outline how Nehru undertook this stupendous and in many respects historically unique task of creating a modern democratic nation state in a plural society left deeply divided through the active collusion of the colonial state; of promoting modern industrialization within the parameters of democracy in a backward and colonially structured economy; of finding the balance between growth and equity in an impoverished, famine-ridden country; of empowering the people and yet expecting them to tighten their belt for the sake of the nation as a whole; of promoting the highest level of scientific education, a field left barren by colonialism; in short, of un-structuring colonialism and bringing in rapid economic development but doing it consensually, without the use of force, keeping what has been called the “Nehruvian consensus” intact in the critical formative years of the nation. A Herculean effort was needed to achieve this complex task and Jawaharlal Nehru rose to the occasion putting everything he had into this effort, in the process leaving behind a legacy not only for the Indian people but for all the peoples of the world oppressed by colonialism who were striving to liberate themselves of their past, but in a humane and democratic manner.

The Communal Challenge

The secular vision of the Idea of India was severely threatened at the point of the very birth of the independent Indian nation state, as it is threatened today. Much can be learnt from how this threat was dealt with by our nationalist leaders. The communal challenge in my opinion being the most important challenge before our country today, I shall discuss this aspect in somewhat greater detail than the other aspects of the Idea of India that are being challenged.

The period 1946 to 1952, from the time Jawaharlal Nehru took over as the head of the Interim government till he, as Prime Minister, led independent India into its first general election, was the phase when the secular ‘Idea of India’ was tested against the most overwhelming odds. Independence was accompanied by the partition of the country and widespread religious communal violence. It was a holocaust-like situation where an estimated 500,000 were killed and millions were turned homeless (nearly 6 million refugees poured into India) in a spate of communal hatred and violence. The result was one of the largest transfers of populations in human history in a short span of just a few years. In the midst of all this, the tallest leader of the fledgling Indian nation, Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the nation, was felled by an assassin’s bullet, an assassin who was put up to challenge the very ‘Idea of India’ the Mahatma had lived and died for. In this atmosphere of hatred and violence, guiding India to its first democratic general election based on complete adult franchise appeared to be a nearly impossible task. But Jawaharlal Nehru took the challenge head on and with indomitable energy saw India through its worst ever crisis at its very moment of birth as a new nation. It was, in the words of an Indian historian in a recent study, his “finest hour”.[48]

A spiral of religious sectarian violence engulfed India in the run-up to Independence and Partition. It began with the Great Calcutta Killings as a result of Muslim League’s call for Direct Action in August 1946, barely a month before the Interim Government led by Nehru was set up in September by the British as a prelude to the handing over of power. The very next month, in October, large scale violence erupted in Noakhali, a remote district of Bengal with the Muslim League government that ruled the province doing little to stop it. As a reaction to the violence against Hindus in Calcutta and Noakhali, large scale violence against Muslims broke out in neighbouring Bihar, spreading like wildfire, for the first time in rural areas.

Gandhiji immediately rushed to the villages of Noakhali on 6 November 1946 to take on the most difficult task of trying to contain communal violence with a hostile Muslim League government in power in the province. At a time when perhaps one of the most important events of world history, the preparation for transfer of power from the British Empire to a free India, a transfer which was followed by colonial empires collapsing in most parts of the world, the top leader of the Indian national movement which ousted the British, spent four months, till 4 March 1947, walking on village paths and sleeping in huts in hamlets in this virtually unreachable, remote corner of India. This was the time when the complex negotiations for the transfer of power were under way! This showed the utmost importance Gandhiji placed on fighting communalism. Nehru on his part rushed to Bihar, and between 4 to 9 November 1946, along with virtually the entire top leadership of the Congress Sardar Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Maulana Azad, Acharya Kripalani, Jayaprakash Narayan, Anugraha Narain Sinha and many others toured the affected areas, determined to stop the violence immediately. “One by one, he (Nehru) brandished all the weapons in his armoury, the coercive power of the state, the prestige and ideals of the freedom struggle, the prestige and reverence for Gandhiji, his own personal prestige, and much else”[49] to bring things under control. He put his own life at stake and declared immediately on reaching Bihar:

“I will stand in the way of Hindu-Muslim riots. Members of both the communities will have to tread over my dead body before they can strike at each other”.[50]

By the 8th of November things were under control in Bihar.

Independence came with hundreds of thousands of refugees pouring into East Punjab and Delhi and large-scale violence ensued in this region. On his Independence Day speech from the Ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi on 16th August 1947, Nehru made it clear that communal strife will not be tolerated and that India will be a secular state and not the mirror image of Pakistan, a Hindu state. He declared:

“The first charge of the Government will be to establish and maintain peace and tranquillity in the land and to ruthlessly suppress communal strife…. It is wrong to suggest that in this country there would be the rule of a particular religion or sect. All who owe allegiance to the flag will enjoy equal rights of citizenship, irrespective of caste and creed”.[51]

The very next day he was in Punjab and in the first few weeks after independence he was more in Punjab than in Delhi. Again, in a broadcast to the nation on the 19th of August 1947, he asserted in no uncertain terms:

“Our state is not a communal state but a democratic state in which every citizen has equal rights. The Government is determined to protect these rights”.[52]

Barely had the communal situation come under control that Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated. Nehru was very clear that “this assassination was not the act of just one individual or even a small group… behind him lay a widespread organization” and he made it clear that the organization he was referring to was the RSS.[53] In fact he saw it as an effort to change the very nature of the Indian state by seizing power. In his letter to the Chief Ministers on 5 February 1948 he did not mince his words:

“It would appear that a deliberate coup d’etat was planned involving the killing of several persons and the promotion of general disorder to enable the particular group concerned to seize power. The conspiracy appears to have been a fairly widespread one, spreading to some of the states”.[54]

It was a threat to the very ‘idea of India’ as a secular country and Nehru was not about to let it succeed. With the full support of his Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Patel, he banned the RSS and put 25,000 of its activists in jail. Even when the ban on the RSS was removed in July 1949, after it gave written assurances that henceforth it would function only as a cultural organization and have nothing to do with politics, he warned the chief ministers of the fascist nature of the RSS and the threat of their renewing their activities.[55]

Nehru’s commitment to the secular ideal and his prescient understanding of the grave nature of the threat from the communal fascist forces is evident from the manner in which he converted the first general elections of 1951–52 into a virtual referendum on what was to be the nature of the Indian state. Was it going to be a ‘Hindu Rashtra’, a mirror image of ‘Muslim Pakistan’, or a secular-democratic Indian state? He made the fight against the communal political groups his central objective and campaigned relentlessly for realizing the secular vision of the Indian national movement. “He travelled nearly 40,000 kilometers and addressed an estimated thirty-five million people or one-tenth of India’s population. The result was that in a peaceful fair election held within years of the holocaust like situation and extreme arousal of communal frenzy, the communal parties, the Hindu Mahasabha, the newly formed Jana Sangh, and the Ram Rajya Parishad won between them only 10 Lok Sabha seats in a house of 489, and polled less than six per cent of the vote”.[56] It was a stunning achievement and a fitting tribute to the Indian national movement. Communalism was pushed back for decades.

Now that 75 years later we are again in a similar situation and are bewildered regarding how to combat the communal threat to the survival of secular democracy in India, let us look back and see what our tallest leaders, Gandhiji and Nehru, did in a similar situation. Their frontal attack on the communal forces and the vision they represented, treating it as the topmost priority to save the Idea of India; their standing openly and bravely with the minorities in independent India, the Muslims particularly, as they were the chief targets of the communalists; their refusal to compromise on this question for short term electoral gains to be garnered from an already communalised people, as happens today; their understanding that without secularism there could not be any democracy in India to the detriment of the entire Indian people, are some of the lessons we can learn.

There are several other lessons we can learn from Nehru who was among the first in India to evolve a complex and scientific understanding of communalism, which had to be the first step if one wished to combat it. As he put it, “The oft repeated appeal for Hindu-Muslim unity, useful as it no doubt is, seemed to me singularly inane, unless some effort was made to understand the causes of the disunity”. In a section called ‘Communalism and Reaction’ in his Autobiography written during1934– 35[57] and in several other writings and speeches which I shall cite separately, Nehru explores the issue of communalism with great complexity. I will briefly highlight some of the important generalisations he made from which we can learn even today.

Studying the rise of communalism in India, Nehru is very clear that it was a modern phenomenon, not a left over the medieval past; it did not, for instance, originate with the arrival of Islam in India. He saw communalism clearly as a product of the colonial period with active connivance of the colonial state; “the British Government … throws its sheltering wings over a useful ally”.[58] In fact he traces the origin and growth of communalism with amazing finesse anticipating what was confirmed by much scholarly work that has emerged since.[59] He traces the role of British policy “since the rising of 1857 … of preventing the Hindu and Muslim from acting together, and of playing off one community against the other”.[60] He shows how a number of factors such as the initial heavy discrimination by the British against Muslims after the 1857 uprising, seeing them as more dangerous, the lagging behind of Muslims (as compared to Hindus) in modern education, in social reform, in evolving a modern intelligentsia and a Muslim bourgeoisie and particularly lagging behind in government employment, created a fertile ground for the evolution of a certain kind of Muslim politics. A politics, much aided by the colonial government, where an elite, princely, landed section of the Muslims led by Syed Ahmad Khan, Aga Khan, etc., offered loyalty to the colonial government and opposition to the democratic urges of the emerging Indian national movement against the colonial government. In return the colonial government granted ‘favours’ to the ‘Muslims’ as a community. These seeds of communalism sown by British connivance were to grow among other communities over time. He saw that while the communalist, whether Hindu or Muslim, spoke in the name of the community, it actually did not represent the masses of any community but was backed by the vested interests, the feudal aristocracy, landlords, princes and moneylenders who feared the political changes which Indian nationalism ushered in, and supported the government.[61] In regions where different economic categories or classes belonged to different religions, the economic conflict “was given a communal colouring”.

After independence, in 1952, Nehru added the capitalists among the vested interests supporting communal formations. He said, “behind the façade of religion, vested interests, particularly the Zamindars and the capitalists, were fighting against the economic policies of the Congress”.[62] Till independence the capitalists had, by and large, aligned with the national movement and not the communal loyalists.[63] With land reforms pushed vigorously after independence by Nehru, overtime the back of the Zamindari forces was broken. As Nehru said in October 1951, “jagirdari and zamindari system must go from India….The Hindu Mahasabha, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sevak Sangh or the Jan Sangh may thrive on the funds they get from them but there is no power in the world which can perpetuate the system”.[64] Today we witness the crony capitalists performing this role of backing communal forces through funds and control over media on an infinitely larger scale.

Nehru perceptively argued that communalists had nothing to do with religion or with culture and were “singularly devoid of all ethics and morality” though “they talk bravely of past culture”. He also noted that though the communalists “call…themselves non-political” they “as a matter fact function politically and their demands are political”.[65] Only their politics was reactionary and anti-national.

Nehru had realised very early on that his hope that with the British gone communalism would disappear proved to be unfounded. In the 1930s, he had argued: “Communalism is essentially a hunt for favour from a third party — the foreign power…. Delete the foreign power and communal arguments and demands fall to the ground”.[66] As we saw above, following Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, the RSS was banned and around 25,000 RSS activists were put in jail. However, once the ban was lifted, roughly a year and a half later, in July 1949, and prisoners released, the RSS resumed its ideological offensive. Jawaharlal Nehru repeatedly warned against the dangerous implications of this. In his letters to the Chief Ministers of provinces, he said, “the whole mentality of the R.S.S. is a fascist mentality. Therefore, their activities have to be closely watched”.[67] He was very clear and repeatedly said that there was no space for complacency after the spectacular defeat of the communal forces in the first general election. Writing to the Presidents of the Provincial Congress Committees, he said in 1952:

“One good thing that has emerged from these elections is our straight fight and success against communalism. That success is significant and heartening. But it is by no means a complete success and we have to be wary about this”.[68]

Nehru thought that the first election taught another significant lesson that there was no percentage in compromising with communalism. A very important lesson in today’s context in India. He said:

“We have seen at last that we need not be afraid of communalism and we need not compromise with it as many Congressman did for fear of consequences. Where we fight it in a straight and honest way, we win. Where we compromise with it, we lose”.[69]

As early as the 1930s, Nehru had rejected the warning by friends that his highly critical “attitude towards communal organisations will result in antagonizing many people against” him. He said “in politics people are very careful of what they say and do not say lest they offend some group or individual and lose support” but then he was “yet to learn the ways of politicians” and “remain a silent witness” when the nation was in danger.[70] He therefore refused to compromise and outright condemned the communal organisations. An AICC resolution drafted by him in March 1952 read:

“The AICC expresses its deep gratification at the overwhelming response of the electorate” to the Congress policy of opposing communalism. “This response, however, must not lead Congressman…to think that the danger from communal tendencies is wholly over. Communal and separatist tendencies still exist …and have to be constantly watched and combated, whether they are Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or other….the AICC declares that there should be no alliance, cooperation or understanding, explicit or implicit, between the Congress and any organization which is essentially communal in character or working”.[71]

In the decades following Nehru this advice was unfortunately forgotten. In a society already communalized to a considerable extent, the logic of electoral politics led even secular parties of all hues, to compromise and resort, in varying degrees, to short cuts to popular mobilization, by appealing to or allying with parties that appealed to the existing communal consciousness rather than attempting the relatively difficult and long-term task of altering that consciousness.

Nehru led by example in combating the communal forces by both constantly critiquing communal ideology and using state power when needed to do so. He declared on Gandhiji’s birth anniversary on 2 October 1951: “no quarter would be given” to the communal forces and “as far as he was concerned, he would fight communalism till the last breath of his life both inside and if need be outside the Government”. Hearing of the communalists talk of Hindu Rashtra in Delhi and threaten the Muslims to vacate their houses for the incoming refugees and asking them to go to Pakistan, Nehru warned:

“if any person raises his hand against another person on basis of religion, all the resources at the command of the Government will be used to put him down with an iron hand”.[72]

Aware of the critical role played by the police officials and the district administration in preventing or abetting communal disturbances including riots, Nehru asked his chief ministers not to accept any excuses “and put a black mark in the record of every district officer when a communal incident takes place and to inform him of this”.[73]

Communal ideology also had to be combatted. Nehru no longer believed, as he did in the 1930s, that once the real economic issues were brought before the masses, the “communal problem will fade into the background for the masses will be far more interested in filling their hungry stomachs…”[74] He argued in October 1951, “we must put an end to both conscious and unconscious communal thought in India. There can be no compromise with that….Only then can we realise true freedom and make progress”.[75] He added, “no amount of economic policies and development projects would be of any use if the people were divided”.[76]

As India’s recent history shows, the hope that economic development or growth of economistic class struggles would by itself lead to the erosion of communalism, has been repeatedly belied. Communalism has often spread in economically developed areas and people suffering from hunger have often turned to communalism and communal parties and not necessarily class struggle.

Emphasising the critical importance of an ideological battle to challenge the communal onslaught, Nehru tells his chief ministers shortly after independence, when the RSS threat was still very strong: “Those who are impelled by a faith in a cause can seldom be crushed by superior force. They can only be defeated by higher idealism as well as a vision and a capacity to work for the cause that represents these objectives”.77

Nehru spoke very strongly against the spreading of hate ideology and advocated strong measures against it even if it involved curbing the freedom of the press. While he believed that “every human being has the right to express his opinion even if it is a criticism against me” and did not “like the idea of suppressing freedom of expression of newspapers, even if their views are wrong”, yet he made an exception. In a long speech delivered from the Ramlila Ground in Delhi on 23 September 1956, shortly before the second general election, Nehru talked of “the Hindu Mahasabha, Jana Sangh, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Muslim organisations which have now taken the place of the Muslim League and if it is possible for such a thing to happen, are even worse than the Muslim League” who “rake up religious emotions and incite trouble”. In this context he said:

“I have been deeply perturbed…by the way some newspapers incite violence and spread false rumours and outright lies. Therefore I have reached the conclusion that the newspapers which spread communal hatred and violence should be controlled. I am all in favour of freedom of every kind but if that freedom means rioting and inflaming the people or snatching away the others’ freedom or spreading hatred, then they should be prevented by law and dealt with strictly…. We shall not allow communal violence or hatred to be spread, whether it is the Hindus, Muslims or Sikhs or Christians who indulge in such activities…. I am going to suggest to my …Home Minister, Shri Govind Ballabh Pant…a law be passed as soon as possible because this situation cannot be tolerated any longer that the newspapers should deliberately spread lies and rumours and create enmity and make money out of all this, instead of being punished.”[78]

What a contrast between Nehru as Prime Minister taking such a stand and the current situation where the press and the visual media is playing a much worse role and the police and administration often colluding with the communal forces under the benign gaze of the state if not its active encouragement! In fact perhaps the most important factor in the survival and reassertion of the communal forces in India was the fact that the secular forces failed to undertake any sustained ideological work to combat communal ideology, nor were they able to use state power to firmly contain the communal forces. The Hindu communalists led by the RSS as well as minority Sikh and Muslim communalists continued their propaganda, including in the education system. Claiming to be only a ‘cultural’ organisation, the RSS continued spreading their divisive hate ideology, proving Nehru’s belief right that the communalists say one thing but do the opposite in practice. The divisive hate ideology was spread through propaganda in the RSS shakhas, rumours, newspapers, pamphlets and through a network of educational institutions called the Saraswati Shishu Mandirs, the first of which was started in 1952 in the presence of the RSS Chief M.S. Golwalkar. (The RSS presence in this sensitive sphere has grown phenomenally in the decades after Nehru, particularly when it had access to state power such as during 1977–79, 1999–2004 and 2014 onwards, with its organization looking after education, the Vidya Bharati, in its official website claiming that in 2022–23 it had 12,065 formal schools with 31,58,658 students and 7,797 non-formal schools with 1,88, 334 students. It also claimed a reach in 92 per cent of the districts in India!)[79]

Nothing substantial was done by secular political parties to counter such harmful propaganda through either state action or sustained anti communal-ideological work at the ground level. The honourable exception was the effort made in the 1960s through the NCERT to bring to our school children scientific and secular texts free from communal and colonial prejudices. The tallest of India’s historians [80] and other social scientists were persuaded to write textbooks for school children, which remained popular for decades thereafter for their outstanding quality. However, even this effort was gradually snuffed out by the growing communal forces, using state power whenever they got access to it.[81]

Ultimately, during the NDA regime led by the BJP (1999–2004), these texts were removed and replaced with another set of books. Such was the poor quality of the books and the communal bias in them that the Indian History Congress was constrained to bring out a book in 2003 called History in the New NCERT Textbooks: A Report and an Index of Errors. The report concluded: “Often the errors are apparently mere products of ignorance; but as often they stem from an anxiety to present History with a very strong chauvinistic and communal bias. The textbooks draw heavily on the kind of propaganda that the so called Sangh Parivar publications have been projecting for quite some time”.[82]

More shocking was what happened after the communal forces, particularly after 1999, acquired state power at the national level to rapidly spread communalism through the education system and other means which led to one of the worst pogroms in Indian history since independence, (Gujarat, 2002). The secular forces led by the Congress came back to power with the slogan of secularizing education, of ‘de-Talibanising’ education, and in the ten long years that they were in power from 2004 to 2014, unfortunately not enough was done on this front. The NCERT textbooks brought out during the BJP regime (1999–2004) were replaced with secular and scientific texts written by a wide range of eminent scholars from all over the country. However, no effort was made to prevent virulently communal texts such as those brought out by the RSS[83] from being continued to be taught in large number of RSS schools. Their record in being able to use state power to bring to book those complicit in the Gujarat tragedy was equally dismal.

A few more important lessons to be learnt

A few more important lessons are to be learnt from Nehru on the issue of communalism.

Nehru since the 1930s made a subtle distinction between minority and majority communalism. Nehru was empathetic to the minority condition and their fears when he said, “Honest communalism is fear; false communalism is reaction. To some extent this fear is justified, or is at least understandable, in a minority community. We see this fear overshadowing the communal sky in India as a whole so far as Muslims are concerned; we see it as an equally potent force in the Punjab and Sind so far as the Hindus are concerned, and in the Punjab, the Sikhs”. The colonial state he said stoked these fears and pulled the minority communalists towards loyalism.

While criticising minority communalism, Nehru felt that there was the need to allay the fears of the minority by the majority rather than exacerbate these fears. “A special responsibility does attach to the Hindus in India both because they are the majority community and because economically and educationally they are more advanced”. The founding fathers of the Indian national movement and that of the Indian National Congress since its inception had adopted this approach. The Hindu communalists then, as they do now, saw this as a policy of ‘appeasement’ of the minorities and adopted a stance which worsened matters. As Nehru put it: “The (Hindu) Mahasabha, instead of discharging that responsibility, has acted in a manner which has undoubtedly increased the communalism of the Muslims and made them distrust the Hindus all the more. The only way it has tried to meet their communalism is by its own variety of communalism”. Nehru then goes on to make the classic statement which should be the mantra of all secularists:

“One communalism does not end the other; each feeds on the other and both fatten”.[84]

In fact he also pointed out very early in the 1930s the phenomenon that while “the Hindu and the Muslim communalists attack each other in public they cooperate in the Assembly and elsewhere in helping Government to pass reactionary measures.”[85] This phenomenon has continued over the decades till today. After all the chief enemy of the communal forces is the secular forces as they question their raison d’etre while the communalism of the other helps them grow even more or “fatten”.

While understanding the ‘fears’ that help the growth of minority communalism, it did not lead Nehru to be soft towards, leave alone support, minority communalism. When he was “chided for not blaming Muslim communalists” while making a strong critique of Hindu communalism of the Hindu Sabha in a speech delivered at the Banaras Hindu University on 12 November 1933, at the invitation of the Vice Chancellor, Madan Mohan Malaviya (who incidentally was one of the early leaders of the Sabha), Nehru made a very important point: the need to critique the communalism of the audience one is addressing. He said “it would have been entirely out of place for me, speaking to a Hindu audience, to draw attention to Muslim communalists and reactionaries. It would have been preaching to the converted as the average Hindu is well aware of them. It is far more difficult to see one’s own fault than to see the failing of others”.[86] The critiquing of communalism of the other community than the one being addressed is easy and can even amount to pandering to the communalism of the audience. An important lesson even today.

Nehru, in fact, was as critical of minority communalism as of majority communalism; he believed that “there is no essential difference between the two”.[87] He had no hesitation in describing Muslim League leaders and Muslim communalists as loyalists, “definitely anti-national and political reactionaries of the worst kind”.[88] A lesson to be learnt here as there has been a tendency in the years after independence of certain secular forces to exhibit a softness towards minority communalism, or towards parties that took support of minority communalists, often on the plea that they were relatively backward or were being discriminated against by the majority community. This tendency was exhibited even by sections of the Left. This was a major factor in enabling the majority communalists to extend their influence. A heavy price was paid for ignoring the sage advice given by Jawaharlal Nehru referred to earlier, that “one communalism does not end the other; each feeds on the other and both fatten”. Softness towards minority communalism made the growth of majority communalism much easier.

Interestingly, in contrast to the Hindu communal critique of Nehru being soft on minority communalism and appeasing them, Nehru and the Indian nationalist leadership was also accused of the opposite. Somewhat in line with the colonial position, they were accused of not being sensitive to and accommodating minority/Muslim demands, such as the separate electorates, and hence pushing the country towards a bloody partition. This old view has been repeated recently, by some Eurocentric Marxists like Perry Anderson,[89] and surprisingly by an admirer and fine scholar of Nehru in many other aspects, Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee, whom I have referred to appreciatively above. He says, “The possibility that the fear of the minority against majoritarianism may be real doesn’t occur to Nehru”. Also, he sees the nationalist critique of minority identity politics in a “communal/national binary” as problematic and says it has “an anti-minoritarian streak … that can be termed secular majoritarianism”. He says “To pit communalism against nationalism is a Nehruvian error”. Bhattacharjee grossly misreads the ideology and the actual history of Indian national movement when he sees the nationalists as seeing only minority identity politics as ‘communal’, emerging “surreptitiously” from a “majoritarian reluctance to share power”.[90]

The tallest leaders of the Indian national movement led by Gandhiji and Nehru put their lives at stake to protect minority rights, enable the religious minorities to have equal citizenship rights in the Indian republic, but refused to do so by pandering to minority identity politics as it would stand against the whole republican idea of citizenship. It is an absolute canard to describe the Indian nationalist position as “secular majoritarianism” with “an anti-minoritarian streak (since the late 1920s)”, as Bhattacharjee does. The national movement was correct in erecting a “communal/national” binary. Communal politics by definition broke up the ‘nation’ in a multi-religious country. That is why the colonial state constantly encouraged and supported communalism of all varieties and it is a historical fact that the communal forces who did politics of religious identity, whether they be of minority or majority, allied with the colonial state and saw the Congress which spoke of a nation where religion would not determine politics as the chief enemy. Empowering politics based on religion was the colonial project and could not be that of the nationalists and ought not be that of such a fine scholar of Nehru as Bhattacharjee, or Eurocentric Marxists like Perry Anderson.

Apart from completely missing Nehru’s subtle understanding of minority fears while opposing minority communalism (discussed above), the portrayal of Nehru as ‘Majoritarian’ is a total travesty. The Hindu majoritarians would not have wished him dead if it were so. In fact a more ardent critic of majoritarian, Hindu communalism in India would be difficult to find. In 1933 he said:

“The policy of the Hindu Mahasabha…is one of cooperation with the foreign government so that, by abasing themselves before it, might get a few crumbs. This is a betrayal of the freedom struggle, denial of every vestige of nationalism, suppressive of every manly instinct in the Hindus …. Anything more degrading, reactionary, anti-national, anti-progressive and harmful than the policy of the Hindu Mahasabha is difficult to imagine”.[91]

So much for Nehru’s so called ‘secular majoritarian’ streak.

It is also to be noted that Nehru was also among the first to emphasize that majority communalism easily “masquerades under a nationalist cloak”.[92]   Minority communalism on the other hand “grew and fed itself …on separatism”.[93]   He said “It must be remembered that the communalism of a majority community must of necessity bear a closer resemblance to nationalism than the communalism of the minority…. ‘Hindu Nationalism’…is but another name for communalism”.[94] Nehru, therefore, categorically reiterates that Hindu communal organisations may call themselves nationalist but are in reality “anti-national and reactionary”.[95]

The current type of masculine, aggressive, alpha-male nationalism that is being paraded around by the Hindutva forces was squarely characterised by Nehru and the Indian national movement as ‘anti national’. It is important to remind ourselves of this as there has been a gradual ceding of the nationalist space by the secular forces which has contributed a great deal to enabling communalists, who were pro-colonial and thereby played an anti-national role when the Indian people were struggling for freedom, to successfully masquerade today as the real nationalists and garner the tremendous mass appeal that the nationalist sentiment commands. The very acceptance of the self-description of the majority communalists as ‘Hindu Nationalists’ was a grave error. During the entire national movement for independence, they were called communalists, not Hindu nationalists, as it was so obviously a contradiction in terms; by restricting nation to the Hindus, the others were left out, thus dividing the nation itself. But the phrase gained currency among foreign journalists, commentators and academics writing for foreign audiences unfamiliar with the meaning of the term ‘communalism’ as used in the Indian context and is now unfortunately routinely used by Indian analysts and journalists.

The secular forces have made it easier for the communalists to occupy the nationalist space by themselves neglecting, critiquing and even ridiculing, the national liberation struggle and its tallest leaders. The condemning of Gandhiji, Nehru, Patel, Tilak, Aurobindo as communal or semi-communal, with a ‘majoritarian’ streak, the branding of the national movement as bourgeois, and its leaders as agents of the bourgeoise if not of imperialism itself, or as upper caste leaders fighting for their prescriptive groups rather than representing the people of the country, etc., was done by secular ideologues, including from the Left, such as most recently by Perry Anderson.[96] The need, on the other hand, was to first own up the ancestry and the great legacy of the Indian national movement, one of the most powerful national liberation struggles in the world, and then, standing on its shoulder, build upon it by making advances, going beyond the breakthroughs made by that struggle. Its rejection simply made it easy for the communalists to appropriate its legacy. Witness the attempt to appropriate Gandhi, Patel, Tilak, Aurobindo, Bhagat Singh, Subhash Bose, etc., by the majoritarian communal forces while each one of them were deeply secular. Nehru was spared this ignominy, perhaps as he was seen as too sharp a critic of communalism to be appropriated.

Finally, a major contribution of Nehru was to repeatedly warn of the fascist nature of communalism. As Bipan Chandra wrote: “Nehru was…the first to see communalism as a form of fascism. Before 1947, he saw the close resemblance between the post-1937 Muslim League and fascism both in terms of methods, techniques of hatred and violence, organization and style of leadership and in terms of language and ideology. After 1947, he began to apply this understanding to Hindu and Sikh communalism, especially to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)”. In December 1947, a few months before the assassination of the Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru as Prime Minister warned the Chief Ministers: “We have a great deal of evidence to show the RSS is an organization which is in the nature of a private army and which is definitely proceeding on the strictest Nazi lines, even following the technique of organization”. Even after the ban on the RSS following Gandhiji’s murder was lifted, in 1949, following a written assurance that they would not engage in politics and remain only a cultural organization, Nehru warned the Chief Ministers: “Reports reach us that the RSS is again resuming some of its activities…. But it must always be remembered that the whole mentality of the RSS is a fascist mentality. Therefore, their activities have to be closely watched”.[99] He warned:

“Communalism bears a striking resemblance to the various forms of fascism that we have seen in other counties. It is in fact the Indian version of fascism…. It plays upon the basest instincts of man.”[100]

On another occasion he said, “Communalism was diametrically opposed to democracy and usually relied on Nazi and Fascist methods”.[101] In a public speech in Delhi on 2 October 1951, while warning against the various aspects of communalism, he said, “communalism….I call it by another name—fascism”, by following this path “ultimately the result would be similar to what happened to Hitler and fascism in Europe. I do not want India to follow that terrible path”.[102]

Despite all these early warnings what we are witnessing is the playing out of the fascist threat in India. Having acquired governmental power with an absolute majority, the Hindu communalists find that India is still not a Hindu state or Hindu Rashtra. The effort therefore now is to change the character of the Indian state from a secular state to a Hindu state. This involves not only acquiring governmental power, but also changing the character of all the state apparatuses and changing the mindset of the people, of civil society at large. All of them had to be communalized. This in turn involved control over the bureaucracy, police, judiciary, media, the education system and containment of free speech and civil liberties. It also involved the withdrawal of the civil rights of the religious minorities and shutting out their voices as well as of those who tried to speak up for them. All this could not be achieved without use of coercion and force and even violence. The regime therefore began to take on a fascist character, or as Prabhat Patnaik put it “Fascism arrives in camouflage”.[103]

In a very recent article for The Guardian, Jason Stanley, philosopher at Yale University and the author of the celebrated work, How Fascism Works,[104] makes a scathing critique of the current situation in India. A brief extract is in order:

“The hallmarks of fascism are everywhere. School textbooks are being rewritten to reinforce the fake history behind BJP’s Hindu nationalist agenda. Topics like the theory of evolution and the periodic table have been replaced with traditional Hindu theories, and academics have been silenced for calling out the BJP’s election malpractices. The government has weaponized education in the manner typical of fascist regimes …. There are other clear indications of India’s slide towards fascism. On press freedom, India ranks 161st out of 180 countries, sandwiched between Venezuela (at 159) and Russia (at 164)…. India’s minorities face lynchings and the bulldozing of their homes, among other abuses. Ten percent of the world’s Muslims live in India, over 200 million in all; as Gregory Stanton, the founder and director of Genocide Watch, has warned in a US congressional briefing, we are seeing in India the beginning of what would be by far the largest genocide in history”.[105]

The bulldozer appears to have become the frightening imagery as well as the reality of punishing the minorities. The most recent ‘bulldozing’ of the minorities was done right next to the capital, Delhi, in August 2023, following a deliberately provoked conflict in the Mewat region.[106] The Punjab and Haryana High Court was constrained to take suo moto action intervening against the reported targeted bulldozing of properties of the Muslim minority saying the issue arises “whether the buildings belonging to a particular community are being brought down under the guise of law and order problem and an exercise of ethnic cleansing is being conducted by the state”.[107]

Faced with a similar communal upheaval, Nehru had some advice for the way ahead from which we may learn. A winning of an election, arrest of a few and banning of certain organisations may be a first step ahead but was not going to be enough. Addressing lakhs of people shortly after the murder of the Mahatma by a communalist, he said: “The Government have arrested some persons and put them in jails and have declared two or three organisations unlawful. If by these actions …it is thought that the whole thing is over then people are mistaken. We have to uproot this despicable communalism. It must be obliterated from this land so that it may not take roots again. This poison has … permeated the land”.[108]

This poison had to be fought, as we saw above, not only with “superior force” but a “higher idealism”. The ‘higher idealism’ Nehru and the leaders of his time offered was a humane, inclusive nationalism and socialism.

Building Democracy

The threat to Indian democracy posed by communalism, or by ‘communal fascism’, as Amartya Sen, perhaps first, described it,[109] is now perceived globally. Michelguglielmo Torri, arguably the foremost Italian scholar on India, has outlined the rapid growth in recent years of the forces trying to transform India’s secular democracy into a Hindu State (Rashtra) and the repressive authoritarian manner in which it is being done, leading to a situation where he says India can no longer be called a full democracy.[110] In fact, international bodies such as the V-Dem Institute of Sweden, the US-based Freedom House, and The Economist’s EIU (Economist Intelligence Unit), which produces the Democracy Index, are no longer accepting India as a full democracy. ‘A democratic backsliding’ is said to be occurring and India is being variously described as ‘a partially free democracy’, ‘a flawed democracy’ or even ‘an electoral autocracy’. The downgrading was based on what was perceived as the current regime promoting anti-minority feeling and legislation, the violation of human rights with ‘the diminishing of freedom of expression, the media and civil society hav(ing) gone the furthest’.[111]

How far we have moved from Nehru’s dream? What can we learn from Nehru?

For Jawaharlal Nehru, democracy and civil liberties were absolute values, which could not be compromised for any goal, however laudable, be it planning, economic development or social justice. This impacted critically on how these other goals were sought to be achieved. “I would not”, declared Nehru, “give up the democratic system for anything”.[112] In this he was reflecting faith in a non-negotiable core of the Indian national movement, democracy and civil liberties, best expressed by Mahatma Gandhi in his inimitable idiom: “Civil liberty consistent with the observance of non-violence … is the foundation of freedom. There is no room there for dilution or compromise. It is the water of life. I have never heard of water being diluted”.[113]

The 1931 Karachi Resolution of the Congress, which formed the basic kernel of the future Constitution of India, and was drafted by Nehru and moved by Gandhiji, had as its first item: “Every citizen of India has the right to free expression of opinion, the right of free association and combination, and the right to assemble peacefully and without arms”.[114] Nehru was “the strongest force behind founding the Indian Civil Liberties Union in 1936 as a non-party, non-sectarian organisation”.[115] Nehru persuaded Rabindranath Tagore to become the Honorary President of the Indian Civil Liberties Union and Sarojini Naidu as the functioning chairperson, and actively encouraged the formation of several such unions in the provinces.[116]

Freedom of the press was an essential aspect of civil liberties. Defining what he meant by the freedom of the press, Nehru said in 1940:

‘The freedom of the press does not consist in our permitting such things as we like to appear. Even a tyrant is agreeable to this kind of freedom. Civil liberty and freedom of press consist in our permitting what we do not like, in our putting up with criticism of ourselves…’[117]

Nehru’s commitment to a free press was absolute and remained as strong when he was in government as it was when he was leading the struggle against the colonial state. No cartoonist had to go to jail in his times, nor did stand-up comedians or journalists before they performed or were yet to write a story!

Apart from seeing democracy and civil liberties as essential values in themselves, Nehru strongly believed that a country as diverse as India could be held together only by a non-violent, democratic way of life, and not by force or coercion. Only a democratic structure that gave space to various linguistic, religious, cultural, political, and socio-economic trends to express themselves could hold India together. Almost as if anticipating the danger faced by the nation today, he said:

“This is too large a country with too many legitimate diversities to permit any so-called ‘strong man’ to trample over people and their ideas”.[118]

He was careful not to allow himself to fall prey to populism or plebiscitary/majoritarian democracy at a time when he, after Gandhiji’s and Patel’s death, towered over the Indian political spectrum and could easily smother opposition to himself and his policies. He correctly saw that the heart of democracy lay in respecting difference of opinion, even if it be that of a minority. He said on 2 June 1950, before the first general elections:

“I am not afraid of the opposition in this country and I do not mind if opposition groups grow up on the basis of some theory, practice or constructive theme. I do not want India to be a country in which millions of people say “yes” to one man, I want a strong opposition”.[119]

A telling example of Nehru respecting opposition and his conviction that India should not countenance any tendency towards the emergence of a ‘dictator’ or any one ‘strong man’, was a critique he wrote of himself under a pseudonym at a time when he was at the peak of his popularity. It was as if he was warning himself and the Indian people at large against any such tendency emerging in himself and in Indian politics! Elected President of the Indian National Congress for two consecutive years, he wrote an article (using the pseudonym Chanakya) titled ‘Rashtrapati’ or ‘President’ in a popular journal in October 1937, warning:

“Men like Jawaharlal with all their capacity for great and good work, are unsafe in a democracy…. A little twist and Jawaharlal might turn a dictator sweeping aside the paraphernalia of a slow- moving democracy. He might still use the language and slogan of democracy and socialism, but we all know how fascism has fattened on this language…. He has all the makings of a dictator in him— vast popularity, a strong will directed to a well-defined purpose, energy, pride, organisational capacity, ability, hardness and with all his love of the crowd, an intolerance of others and a certain contempt for the weak and the inefficient…. His over-mastering desire to get things done, to sweep away what he dislikes and build anew, will hardly brook for long the slow process of democracy…. Caesarism is always at the door, and is it not possible that Jawaharlal might fancy himself as a Caesar?”[120]

Nehru was warning himself and his people against any compromises with democracy and civil liberties. While he succeeded in great measure in himself sticking scrupulously to the democratic path and in making the democratic path a part of the common sense of the Indian people, the dangers he was alluding to have not lost their salience for India today, sixty years after the end of the Nehru era.

Now, unfortunately, ‘Mukti’ (deliverance) from any opposition is declared as the goal; Congress mukt, ‘Lutyens Delhi’ mukt, Left-liberal mukt, andolanjeevi/parjeevi (agitationists/parasites) mukt, independently thinking universities like JNU mukt, NGOs mukt, Amnesty International India mukt, Human Rights Organisations mukt, are some examples of what ‘Bharat’ must be mukt of!

Apart from nurturing a robust opposition through a free expression of ideas through an independent media, Nehru also paid a great deal of attention to other critical institutions of a functional democracy, such as the parliament. The respect he gave to the parliament and parliamentary practice and code of conduct, right up to his death, was legendary and could be an abject lesson to our present parliamentarians. He took great care to institutionalize the cabinet system of government. Not only did he not usurp all powers to himself, he refused to give in to the tendency among many of his colleagues to leave important policy decisions to him. C.D. Deshmukh, who was Finance Minister in Nehru’s cabinet from 1950–56, recorded in his autobiography that “Nehru as head of the cabinet was gentle, considerate and democratic, never forcing a decision on his colleagues…”[121]

Nehru was very careful in trying to build democratic institutions with as little interference of the state as was possible whether it be the judiciary, bureaucracy and other institutions. This was particularly true of academic institutions with which all of us here are particularly involved. He said in December 1947:

“A university stands for humanism. For tolerance, for reason, for the adventure of ideas and the search for truth … If universities discharge their duty adequately, then it is well with the nation and the people. But if the temple of learning itself becomes a home of narrow bigotry and petty objectives, how, then, will a nation prosper or a people grow in stature?”[122]

Some of the finest institutions were created and nurtured in his time. Unfortunately, many of these institutions, like my university, JNU, are struggling to survive the current assault on them where ‘the adventure of ideas’ and dissent is suppressed, often brutally. Students are beaten up, arrested and put in jail for years and even denied bail, faculty is intimidated and efforts are made to alter syllabi to suit the government’s communal bias. The ‘temple of learning ‘ is indeed becoming a ‘home for narrow bigotry.’

Almost all the institutions of democracy so carefully nurtured by Nehru are under threat.

Economic Development with Democracy and Sovereignty

If maintenance of sovereignty and democracy with civil liberties were two non-negotiables bequeathed to independent India by the Indian national movement, then all efforts at post-colonial transformation in India had to occur within these parameters. However, never before in history was the process of transition to industrialism or the process of primitive accumulation of capital accomplished along with democracy. The Nehruvian attempt at industrial transformation with democracy was thus a unique attempt. Nehru was deeply conscious of this and often spoke about it being an uncharted path, “unique in history”.[123]

The non-negotiable commitment to democracy meant that the necessary ‘surplus’ required for investment in order to facilitate the transition to industrialism could not be raised forcibly on the backs of the Indian working class and peasantry or on the basis of colonial surplus appropriation as happened in other countries in the past.[124] Nehruvian state intervention and planning was to be consensual and not a command performance. The path of extracting surplus out of agriculture through ‘expropriatory’ land tax or forced collectivization; of forcing surplus out of labour through slavery, indentured labour and in the absence of organized trade union rights or of forcing surplus out of the people of other countries through collection of tribute from colonies, was not open to India. While, during colonial rule, the Indian peasant often ended up handing over more than half of his gross produce as land tax and rent, after independence a democratic regime based on popular will meant that not only was there no tax, or surplus extraction through other forms from agriculture (on which an overwhelming majority of the Indian people were dependent), but a net transfer of income to agriculture occurred through state subsidies. Also, trade union rights to the working class were guaranteed from the very beginning and were exercised vigorously. Of course, the question of appropriating colonial tribute from other countries did not even arise. In fact, even after Indian independence, Nehru remained a relentless champion of liberation movements against imperialist domination in other parts of the world.

Similarly, the non-negotiable commitment to sovereignty meant that the transition to modernity could not be accomplished with foreign aid, foreign capital or foreign intervention in any manner that would make India a junior partner of any advanced country, however powerful it may be. The imperative of maintaining sovereignty was a natural pointer towards the Nehruvian non-alignment policy in the post-World War II Cold War situation where the world was divided into two power blocs.

(a) Industrial Transformation

Nehru and the early Indian planners had correctly understood that political independence was of little value if it could not be used to acquire first economic and then intellectual independence. In a special letter to the Chief Ministers in 1949 he warned them, “in any real sense of the word this fight for freedom is not over, though we may be politically free. It is not over in the economic sense…”[125] At independence, because of the colonial structuring of the Indian economy, India was almost completely dependent on the advanced world for capital goods and technology for making any investment. It produced virtually no capital goods. In 1950, India met nearly 90 per cent of its needs of machines and even machine tools through imports. This meant that despite political independence, it was completely dependent on the advanced countries for achieving any economic growth though investment.

This was a neo-colonial type situation, which needed immediate remedy. And this is what the famous Nehru-Mahalanobis strategy tried to reverse by adopting a heavy industry or capital-goods industry based industrialization. During the first three Five Year plans (1951–65), industry in India grew at 7.1 per cent per annum. This was a far cry from the de-industrialization process of the 19th century and the slow industrial growth between 1914–47. More important, “the three-fold increase in aggregate index of industrial production between 1951 and 1969 was the result of a 70 per cent increase in consumer goods industries, a quadrupling of the intermediate goods production and a ten-fold increase in the output of capital goods”.[126] This pattern of industrial development led to a structural transformation of the colonial legacy. From a situation where, to make any capital investment in India, virtually the entire equipment (90 per cent) had to be imported, the share of imported equipment in the total fixed investment in the form of equipment had come down to 43 per cent in 1960 and a mere 9 per cent in 1974, whereas the value of the fixed investment in India increased by about two and a half times over the period (1960–74).[127]

This was a major achievement towards self-reliance and it considerably increased India’s autonomy from the advanced countries in determining her own rate of capital accumulation or growth. It thus created the key condition for non-alignment or relative independence from both the power blocs. In my understanding no amount of diplomatic finesse could achieve and sustain the objective of non-alignment without the economic basis of relative autonomy having been created. It was this un-structuring of the colonial structure which was to later enable India to participate in the globalization process with considerable advantage to itself. The policy of non-alignment in other words was as much a function of the strategy of economic development chosen by India, as it was a product of the Indian national movement’s commitment to world peace and sovereignty of nation states. Conversely, non-alignment became a viable strategy only as India began to gain economic sovereignty.

As India at independence did not have a sufficiently large indigenous private sector to take on the massive task of developing capital goods industries, the only other option was to develop it through the public sector. The option of basing the development of this sector on foreign capital did not arise as the Nehruvian consensus was that sovereignty would be achieved only if its industrial development was primarily built indigenously and was not based on foreign capital. The public sector was clearly seen, by a wide spectrum of opinion, which included the capitalists and the Left, as the alternative to foreign capital domination.[128] The public sector soon transformed the industrial and infrastructural landscape in India. In Nehru’s time four major steel plants at Rourkela, Bhilai, Durgapur and Bokaro came up in the public sector. Large number of capital goods industries, infrastructure projects and other areas requiring large investments, which the Indian private sector could not have developed at that time, were started in the public sector. To list just a few, Indian Telephone Industries, Bhakra Dam, Damodar valley Corporation and the Hirakud Dam were started in 1947–1948 itself; Hindustan Machine Tools (HMT), Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited, Hindustan Shipyard, Bharat Petroleum, Heavy Engineering Corporation, Indian Oil Corporation, Hindustan Antibiotics, Hindustan Insecticides, Nagarjuna Sagar Dam, National Mineral Development Corporation were started in the 1950s and National Building and Construction Corporation, Indian Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Limited, Fertiliser Corporation of India, Shipping Corporation of India, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, Bharat Earth Movers were started in the early 1960s.

It is important to point out that these public sector undertakings were not loss making ‘white elephants’ acting as a drag on national resources in Nehru’s time, which some of them did become in later decades. On the contrary they contributed to resource mobilisation in India apart from creating a self-reliance in critical areas. The Public Sector savings were throughout the Nehruvian period 1950–51 to 1964–65 considerably higher than the private corporate sector.[129] Nehru could proudly announce while inaugurating the second HMT factory in 1961 that “this factory has been made out of the profits or the surplus of the older Hindustan Machine Tools factory”.[130] Today’s neo-liberals who push for indiscriminate privatisation totally ignore this aspect.

While reducing dependence on foreign capital and technology for making indigenous investment was one way of gaining and keeping the country’s sovereignty intact, other strategies were adopted as well. India undertook a deliberate strategy of diversifying its foreign trade so that her dependence on any one country or bloc of countries was reduced. As a result, the geographical concentration index (GCI) of trade with foreign countries declined sharply. GCI of India’s exports declined from 0.69 in 1947 to 0.22 in 1975. There was a similar decline in GCI in the case of imports. Significantly, the result of the declining GCI was that the share of the metropolitan countries of the West, which earlier dominated India’s trade, declined sharply. For example, the share of UK and USA in India’s exports, which was 45 per cent in 1947, fell by more than half and by 1977 it was only 20 per cent.[131] This was partly achieved by the increase in India’s trade with the Socialist bloc (which bailed out India at a time when she was extremely short of foreign exchange by allowing barter and Rupee trade) and other underdeveloped countries.

In recent years, however, there has been a growing tendency, particularly among neo-colonial scholars like Tirthankar Roy and Meghnad Desai, to dismiss or run down the economic achievements of the Nehruvian era. Looking back from the vantage point of the high growth rates since the economic reforms of 1991, the Nehru years are described as the wasted opportunity. The strategy of trying to reverse the colonial structuring of the Indian economy through a mixed economy with a substantial public sector and an inward oriented, import substituting self reliant growth, which involved protecting the fledgling domestic industry, was seen as the main problem.[132] As Meghnad Desai put it, “the first 40 years of India’s independence were wasted”.[133]

This assessment is completely a-historical. It is oblivious of the massive increase in all indicators of growth, per capita GDP, industry, agriculture, savings, investment or domestic capital formation that occurred in the Nehruvian period as compared the to the colonial times. Also it ignores the fact that the growth parameters in Nehru’s time compared extremely favourably when compared to other countries of the world at the same stage of development including UK, USA, France, China and Japan.[134] Further, this assessment ignores the global structural context. If the post 1991 strategy was adopted in the 1950s, India would surely have headed towards becoming a ‘banana republic’. Conversely, it would not make any sense to have the 1950s economic strategy in the 1990s when the nature of the global economy, including the Indian economy, had undergone fundamental changes.[135] The Nehruvian era created the conditions for the future opening up and growth by ‘un structuring’ many aspects of the inherited colonial structure. Other post colonial countries too required this period of 30 to 40 years of un structuring before opening up. China needed the Maoist phase before Deng’s opening up in the late 1970s was possible. Today’s India is possible because of the base laid in the early decades after independence and has not emerged despite it.

(b) Agricultural Transformation

Another canard spread about Nehru is his supposed neglect of agriculture while focusing on industrial development. Nehru was acutely aware of the complementarity of agricultural and industrial growth. Also, India’s food security was an area of great concern because the maintenance of India’s sovereignty and ability to stay non-aligned and the welfare of the vast masses of India was involved. Indian agriculture had stagnated and even declined under colonial rule and at independence India was faced with acute food shortage and famine conditions in many areas. 14 million tonnes of food had to be imported between 1946 and 1953. There could be no sovereignty if India was dependent on food aid for its very survival. Indian agriculture needed to be revolutionized and Nehru took up the task on a war footing. As Nehru clearly stated in parliament on 15 December 1952:

“We certainly attach importance to industry, but in the present context we attach far greater importance to agriculture and food and matters pertaining to agriculture. If our agricultural foundation is not strong then the industry we seek to build will not have a strong basis either. Apart from that, the situation in the country today is such that if our food front cracks up, everything else will crack up too. Therefore we dare not weaken our food front. If our agriculture becomes strongly entrenched, as we hope it will, then it will be relatively easy for us to progress more rapidly on the industrial front, whereas if we concentrate only on industrial development and leave agriculture in a weak condition we shall ultimately be weakening industry. That is why primary attention has been given to agriculture and food and that, I think, is essential in country like India at the present moment”.[136]

Nehru pushed through the extremely difficult task of land reforms in India within a democratic framework, basing himself on the long and powerful heritage of the national and peasant movements. A remarkable achievement in contrast to the forced land reforms achieved in Soviet Union or China costing millions of lives or the land reforms of Japan under an army of occupation. By 1957 the back of the over 150 years old Zamindari system was broken. Cooperative and institutional credit considerably weakened the stranglehold of the moneylender. Loans advanced by such institutions increased by more than fifteen times, rising from Rs. 0.23 billion in 1950–51 to Rs.3.65 billion in 1965–66. Such institutional reforms were combined with major investments in scientific agricultural research, irrigation and electric power projects.[137]

Nehru made no false dichotomy between agriculture and industry. Keenly aware that an agrarian transformation was not possible without an industrial and infrastructural transformation, i.e., without electricity, tractors, pumps, chemical fertilizers, etc., he pushed for industrial transformation simultaneously with the agricultural reforms. Electricity generation, for example, increased by over 1300 per cent under his guidance between 1950 and 1965.[138]

The combination of institutional changes (land reforms) and massive state sponsored technological change transformed Indian agriculture rapidly. During the first three plans (leaving out 1965–66, a drought year), Indian agriculture grew at an annual rate of over 3 per cent, a growth rate more than eight times the annual growth rate of 0.37 per cent achieved during the half century (1891–1946) of the last phase of colonialism in India.[139]

Attempts are sometimes made to contrast Nehru with his successor Lal Bahadur Shastri, the latter in his all too brief tenure being credited with the ushering in of the Green Revolution strategy. The reality is somewhat different. It is clear that by the late fifties and early sixties, as the benefits from the land reforms that could be carried out in Indian conditions had begun to peak and the possibilities of agricultural growth based on extension of agriculture, i.e., bringing more area into cultivation, were also reaching their limit, Nehru’s focus inevitably shifted further towards technological solutions. Even the New Agricultural Strategy, associated with the Green Revolution, of picking out select areas with certain natural advantages for intensive development with a package programme (the IADP or the Intensive Agricultural Districts Programme) was launched in 15 districts, one for each state, on an experimental basis during the Third Plan in Nehru’s lifetime—a practice which was to be generalised on a large scale a few years later. As one of the major scholars of the Green Revolution, G.S. Bhalla, put it:

“The qualitative technological transformation in India—the Green Revolution …came about not during his lifetime but soon after his death. But the foundations for the technological development were laid during Nehru’s time”.[140]

Nehru thus not only brought about major institutional reforms (land reforms) in Indian agriculture he also laid the foundations for the technological reforms, the basis of the ‘Green Revolution’, which made India food surplus in a remarkably short period.[141] No wonder, Daniel Thorner, one of the keenest observers of Indian agriculture since independence, noted:

“It is sometimes said that the (initial) five-year plans neglected agriculture. This charge cannot be taken seriously. The facts are that in India’s first twenty one years of independence more has been done to foster change in agriculture and more change has actually taken place than in the preceding two hundred years”.[142]

(c) Anticipating the Knowledge Revolution

Jawaharlal Nehru saw focus on scientific education at the highest level as a necessary part of achieving and maintaining sovereignty by reducing dependence on the advanced world. He was acutely aware of India’s backwardness in science and technology, an area deliberately left barren in the colonial period, and therefore made massive efforts to overcome this shortcoming. An unprecedented increase occurred in the educational opportunities in science and technology in the universities and institutes set up in the early years after independence. Almost all the major institutions in this area from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Indian Institute of Management (IIM), the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the Atomic Energy Commission, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, (with the first atomic reactor going critical in 1956 and the first rocket tested from Thumba in 1963!), the Indian National Committee for Space Research (the predecessor of Indian Space Research Organisation, ISRO), the National Physical Laboratory, the National Chemical Laboratory, National Metallurgical Laboratory, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), The National Institute of Virology, The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and numerous other such institutions were all set up in the Nehruvian era. (One must mention here that for Nehru cultivating ‘knowledge’ was not to be limited to the scientific area. In the 1950s, under his initiative, the Sahitya Academy, Sangeet Natak Academy, National School of Drama, Lalit Kala Academy and the National Council for Applied Economic Research, NCAER , the Indian Statistical Institute, were set up as was the Film and Television Institute of India, FTII, in 1960, The National Institute of Design and the National Council of Educational Research and Training, NCERT, in 1961).

National expenditure on scientific research and development kept growing rapidly with each plan. For example, it increased from Rs. 10 million in 1949 to Rs. 4.5 billion in 1977. Over roughly the same period, the stock of India’s scientific and technical manpower increased more than 12 times from 190 thousand to 2.32 million. A spectacular growth by any standards, a growth whose benefits India reaps today as the world moved towards a ‘knowledge’ society, a move which Nehru anticipated.[143] It is because Nehru anticipated the knowledge revolution that India today is able to participate in this global phenomenon and nearly half of India’s GDP is generated from the service sector a significant part of which is based on the knowledge revolution. It is not despite Nehru but because of his farsightedness that India has reached where it has.

One may add that the focus on scientific education at the higher level was not counterpoised to primary education as is often alleged. Nehru’s commitment to primary education from the days of the 1931 Karachi Resolution drafted by him, which committed the state to providing free and compulsory basic education, remained steadfast. The Government system of primary school education during the Nehruvian era, insufficient though it was, is in stark contrast to the near destruction of that system in today’s India where even the poor are increasingly forced to access whatever little education they are able to from the rapacious private sector. Enrolment in schools increased from 23.5 million in 1950–51 to 67.7 million in 1965–66, a significant increase of 188.1 per cent. (While the increase in admissions at the degree level for engineering and technology increased by 502.4 per cent in the same period, the huge difference is explained partly by the fact of the low base from which it started in 1950–51, only 4.1 thousand admissions, increasing to 24.7 thousand in 1965–66, and partly because the need to catch up in this area was critical in maintaining a sovereign, independent path of economic development.)[144]   Rather than building on the public education system painstakingly built up in the Nehruvian era at the school level, as well as, at the highest level, it is either being allowed to die, or active efforts are made to dismantle it. The National Education Policy of 2020 now being pushed is a good example of this dismantling, with the state increasingly withdrawing its role in education and handing over this sector to the private sector and even more ominously to foreign universities.

Keeping Focus on the Poor

Nehru’s success in keeping India on the democratic, civil libertarian path against considerable odds (while most other post-colonial countries faltered on this count), by itself ensured that the poor were not altogether left out of the development process or that their condition was not totally ignored. It is now well recognized that democracy is critical for the survival of the poor. It is democracy in India which has ensured that an inflationary path to growth, which hits the poor hardest, was never adopted. The trend rate of inflation in India since independence had not touched two digits for several decades.[145] Till 1963 it did not exceed 2 per cent per annum. No government in India irrespective of their political ideology has been able to ignore the political implications of uncontrolled inflation.

Also, it is democracy and civil liberties that ensured that no large scale famine deaths could occur in India since independence, despite some extreme conditions created by climatic shocks, while more than 40 million died in famines in China in the late 1950s and 60s, which the world got to know decades later because of the absence of a free media. Amartya Sen has repeatedly emphasized the role of civil liberties and a free press in preventing such mass man-made disasters. With more than 70,000 newspapers and about 700 satellite channels and with nearly 30 newspapers having a daily readership of more than a million it is not easy to keep famine conditions under cover in India.

While political democracy was understood by Nehru to be a necessary condition for people’s empowerment, it was by no means taken to be sufficient. As he put it in 1952:

“If poverty and low standards continue then democracy, for all its fine institutions and ideals, ceases to be a liberating force. It must therefore aim continuously at the eradication of poverty…. In other words, political democracy is not enough. It must develop into economic democracy also.”[146]

Nehru was deeply aware that active efforts had to be made and institutional structures created which would enable the mass of the people to achieve a life of dignity. He set up the massive Community Development Programme in 1952 aimed at ameliorating all aspects of people’s lives in the remote villages, from improvement in agricultural methods to communications, education and health. His basic objective through this programme was “to unleash forces from below among our people” by creating conditions in which spontaneous growth from below was possible. The ultimate aim was “progressively producing a measure of equality in opportunity and other things”.[147] A veritable army of Village Level Workers (Gram Sewaks) and Block Development Officers was spread out in the countryside to achieve this task. As a tendency towards bureaucratization began to emerge in this programme, Nehru tried to integrate it with the Panchayati Raj institutions (elected local self-governing bodies) and set up a large programme of cooperatives in banking, marketing and other services benefiting and empowering millions of peasants.[148] Emphasizing the critical role of local village level self-governing cooperative institutions, Nehru said:

“I feel more and more that we must function more from below than from the top. The top is important of course and in the modern world a large measure of centralisation is inevitable. Yet too much centralization means decay at the roots and ultimately a withering of the branches and leaves and flowers. Therefore we have to encourage these basic organs in the village”.[149]

However, the struggle to make these local institutions function in favour of the most deprived was not an easy one in a society greatly divided by class, caste and gender. In fact, decades after Nehru passed away, Rajiv Gandhi took the initiative to re-invigorate Panchayati Raj by proposing that elections to these bodies be made mandatory and that the deprived castes, tribes and women be given adequate representation in them, which resulted in the 73rd and 74th amendments in the Indian Constitution in 1993. The process of trying to empower the poor and disadvantaged is still carrying on as it must in the future, but the foundation was laid by Jawaharlal Nehru.

Nehru was deeply influenced by Marxism since the late 1920s. His contribution in embedding and then making widely acceptable the socialist ideal of empowering the poor among the Indian people was immense. The fact that not only the Communists and Socialists but an overwhelming majority of nationalist opinion in India since the late 1930s accepted socialism as an objective was to a great extent because of Nehru. So deeply did this idea get rooted among the Indian people as a whole that as late as 1980 when the decidedly right-wing Jan Sangh, which had nothing to do with socialism or the national movement, and whose predecessors, the Hindu Mahasabha, and heroes, like Savarkar, were accused of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, was reborn in its new avatar as the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), it chose to declare its creed as ‘Gandhian Socialism’!

Nehru was able to give the socialist ideal such wide acceptability in India partly because he made a very early break from a narrow, sectarian and rigid interpretation of Marxism which India’s leading historian of the modern and contemporary period, Bipan Chandra, called “Stalin Marxism”.[150] Nehru was among the first in the world to make this break from Stalin-Marxism. Roughly at the same time as the famous Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, (with whom comparisons have already been made in the beginning of the address), Nehru, in the late 1930s, was groping for a strategy of social transformation in a democratic or semi democratic framework, which was different from the insurrectionary and violent Bolshevik model that was not suitable for such situations. Nehru was fortunate in being witness to and part of the Gandhian struggle for freedom which was till then and perhaps remains till today “the only actual historical example of a semi-democratic or democratic-type state structure being replaced or transformed, of the broadly Gramscian theoretical perspective of a war of position being successfully practiced”. The fact that Gramsci saw this “as the only possible strategy” for social transformation “in the developed countries of the west” underlines the huge significance of the Gandhian movement to the world as a whole.[151]

Learning from the practice of the Gandhian movement made it easier for Nehru to break from the Stalin-Marxist paradigm and argue somewhat precociously that, while there could be no true democracy without socialism, there could be no socialism without democracy. He insisted that civil liberty and democracy had to be basic parts of socialism. The socialist transformation required societal consensus, the consent of the overwhelming majority of the people. It could not be a minority revolution led by a band of highly committed revolutionaries, a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. It was also not enough just to have a majority. To succeed, it had to be a socialism acceptable by all sections, by an overwhelming majority. Nehru was anticipating what later events were to validate and what was to be slowly accepted globally by increasing sections of the left. He made this shift long before this change was acceptable to any significant trend in the communist movement in India and the world. The emergence of Euro-communism, which made similar assumptions, occurred only in the 1970s, and 80s. Nehru’s shift was, therefore, for very long analysed by the orthodox Left as the ‘diluting’ of his commitment to socialism for various reasons such as pragmatic pressures, the influence of Gandhiji or even his alleged desire to be in power.

By the late 1930s, Nehru began to veer towards the position that Socialism could not be brought about by coercion or force. How can you arrive at a consensus by force? He argued that to achieve the desirable end of socialist transformation one should not adopt the means of hatred and violence, and that a socialistic pattern of society could be achieved through non-violent and peaceful means. Fully in tune with the Gandhian notion that wrong means could not achieve right ends, he declared:

“There is always a close and intimate relationship between the end we aim at and the means adopted to attain it. Even if the end is right and the means are wrong, it will vitiate the end or divert us in a wrong direction”.[152]

Also, arriving at a socialist consensus would mean that one would have to view it as a process and not an event arrived at in a ‘revolutionary moment.’ This would have to be a long drawn out process with its ups and downs, a process which may have to at times slow down, moderate or tone down its immediate goals, in order to carry the bulk of the people along, including those who held opposing positions. Nehru writing from prison in the 1940s describing his understanding of how the National Planning Committee (NPC), set up by the Congress in 1938, should move in a socialist direction, argued:

“…this was to be attempted in the context of democratic freedom and with a large measure of cooperation of some at least of the groups who were normally opposed to the socialist doctrine. That cooperation seemed to me worthwhile even if it involved toning down or weakening of the plan in some respects”.[153]

Nehru was to retain throughout his life this nuanced persuasive style of functioning while remaining resolute in his goals, which brought him the support, love and admiration of the millions in a manner which was surpassed only by Gandhiji. And as a true disciple of the master, while appealing to all sections of society, he succeeded in keeping his gaze focused on the poor, the oppressed and the disadvantaged. His great achievement was that he got a very large part of Indian society, individuals and institutions, to share his socialist vision. In the Nehruvian period, from the planning commission and the public sector bureaucracy to the media and popular films, the socialist objective was seen as a desirable one, not defined in any narrow fundamentalist way but as Nehru broadly outlined it.

The land reforms, the Green Revolution, the Community Development Programme, the emergence of the public sector, the focus on education and health being a public responsibility, protecting of working class rights, the popularising of the socialist ideal were giant steps taken by Nehru that greatly contributed towards an equitable society. Many of these steps are being reversed today with the privatisation of public sector enterprises and more shockingly handing over education and health to the rapacious private sector, rapid informalisation of labour with no trade union rights and making a mockery of the socialist ideal. The results are there for the world to see. India is witnessing obscene levels of inequality where we boast of our large number of billionaires while nearly half our children are malnourished. The world was shocked by the images of floating dead bodies in the river Ganga, victims of the Corona epidemic, as the relatives of the deceased were too poor to do the last rites of their dear ones or that of thousands of migrant workers walking hundreds of miles to their villages at temperatures of 45 degrees centigrade, dragging their old and infirm and children to avoid starvation because of the sudden lockdown without adequate state support. We are slipping rapidly in the human development index and are today shamefully ranked 111 out of 125 countries in the Global Hunger Index, below many sub-Sahara African countries and much below every other South Asian country, with Sri Lanka at 60, Nepal 69 and Bangladesh 81![154]

Sixty after his death, with infinitely higher economic capacity to empower the poor, when we falter miserably on this count, we realize how important it is to remember Nehru’s legacy.

Scientific Temper

Nehru’s focus on the need to develop a ‘scientific temper’, a term he coined in his Discovery of India, which the Constitution of India reiterated in article 51A laying down the fundamental duties of every citizen of India, is being made a mockery of today. Nehru said:

“The scientific temper points out the way along which man should travel…. It is the scientific approach, the adventurous and yet critical temper of science, the search for truth and new knowledge, the refusal to accept anything without testing and trial, the capacity to change previous conclusions in the face of evidence, the reliance on the observed fact and not pre-conceived theory, the hard discipline of the mind – all this is necessary, not merely for the application of science but for life itself and solution of its many problems”.[155]

Nehru tried to imbibe this spirit in his thinking and action throughout his life.

What a contrast today. The Guardian quoted the current Prime Minister, mixing up mythology about Gods and Goddesses with history and science, while inaugurating a new modern hospital in Mumbai:

“We can feel proud of what our country achieved in medical science at one point of time,” the prime minister told a gathering of doctors and other professionals at a hospital in Mumbai … “We all read about Karna in the Mahabharata. If we think a little more, we realise that the Mahabharata says Karna was not born from his mother’s womb. This means that genetic science was present at that time. That is why Karna could be born outside his mother’s womb….We worship Lord Ganesha. There must have been some plastic surgeon at that time who got an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery”.[156]

The Hindustan Times reported that Governor of Bengal, doing violence to both science and history, said “while addressing a science and engineering fair in Kolkata …that mythological character Arjuna’s arrows had nuclear power and chariots mentioned in the Mahabharata actually flew”.[157] He has since been promoted to become the Vice President of India. The erstwhile RSS chief (sarsangchalak) K.S. Sudershan, an engineer by training, tells us about how Sage Bharadwaja and Raja Bhoj in times gone by not only ‘described the construction of aeroplanes’ but discussed ‘details like what types of aeroplanes would fly at what height, what kind of problems they might encounter, how to overcome those problems, etc’.[158]

No wonder Corona was being fought with state patronage with Gobar (cowdung), Gomutra (cow urine), Thali (metal plate) banging, Tali (clapping), shining mobile phone torches, Ganga-snan (dip in the Ganges) and unverified medicines made by a much favoured yogi!

In sum, it is as if the political leaders have reversed their roles. From that of pulling up society and bringing it in line with the highest global civilizational values, a role performed by the leaders of the Indian national movement like Gandhiji and Nehru, to that of pushing society back by appealing to sectarian identities, acquisitive instincts and traditional prejudices. The hegemonic ‘Idea of India’, the ‘common sense’ of the Indian people created by the Indian national movement is today severely challenged. And that challenge is not coming from a ‘backward’, ‘traditional’ people but from their leaders and the state machinery.

Nehru’s fantastic effort to raise India from what Tagore called the ‘mud and filth’ left behind by the British has now been replaced with the Indian people being pushed back into that same ‘mud and filth’ of ignorance, obscurantism, dis-empowerment, unfreedom and above all communal hatred.

Notes and References:

[1] See Aditya Mukherjee and Mridula Mukherjee, “Weaponising History: The Hindutva Communal Project” The Wire, 10 April 2023, https://m.thewire.in/article/history/weaponising-history-the-hindu-communal project; Mridula Mukherjee, ‘History Wars: The Case of Gandhi-Nehru-Patel’, in IIC Quarterly, Volume 49, Summer 2022, Number 1, pp39-41. See also, Aditya Mukherjee, Mridula Mukherjee and Sucheta Mahajan, RSS School Texts and the Murder of Mahatma Gandhi: The Hindu Communal Project, Sage, New Delhi, 2008, an enlarged revised edition forthcoming shortly with Penguin.

[2] B. Gopal Krishnan in ‘Kesari’, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) mouthpiece in Kerala, 17 October 2014, see https://indianexpress.com/article/india/india others/godse-should-have-targeted-nehru-says-rss-mouthpiece/ Accessed on 17 August 2021.

[3] Times of India, 8 May 2016, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/references to-jawaharlal-nehru-dropped-in-new-rajasthan-school-textbook-congress-cries foul/articleshow/52177280.cms, The Indian Express, 26 May 2016, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/jawaharlal-nehru-erased from-rajasthan-school-textbook-2789754/ accessed on 4 November 2023, 6.41 pm.

[4] See for example, Times of India, 30 August 2021, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/other-posters-will-have-nehrus-image unnecessary-controversy-over-issue-ichr-official/articleshow/85735778.cms, accessed on 3 November 2023 7.34 pm. The Hindu, 29 August 2021, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/chidambaram-slams-ichr-for-omitting nehrus-photo-from-poster-celebrating-indias-independence/article36161501.ece, accessed on 3 November 2023, 7.36 pm.

[5] For a detailed discussion on the close link between colonialism and communalism, see chapter 10, “Colonialism and Communalism: A Legacy Haunting India Today”, in Aditya Mukherjee, Political Economy of Colonial and Post-Colonial India”, Primus Books, Delhi, 2022.

[6] “Jawaharlal Nehru’s Historical Vision” in Irfan Habib, The National Movement: Studies in Ideology and History, Tulika Books, New Delhi, p. 38-39. See for a similar appreciation of Nehru as Habib’s, Joachim Heidrich, “Jawaharlal Nehru’s Perception of History”, (Mimeo.) in a fascinating Seminar on ‘Jawaharlal Nehru as Writer and Historian’, in which large number of scholars from all over the world participated, organised by the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund and Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, 23–26 October 1989.

7 “On Understanding History”, Inaugural address to the silver jubilee session of the Indian Historical Records Commission, 23 December 1948, Jawaharlal Nehru’s Speeches, Vol. 1 (1946-1949), Publications Division, Government of India, New Delhi, 4th edition 1983, pp. 354, 357–58.

8 Habib, Jawaharlal Nehru’s Historical Vision, p. 40.

9 “On Understanding History”, 1948, p. 358.

10 The discussion on the Somanatha and the quotation from K.M. Munshi is from Romila Thapar, ‘Perspectives of the History of Somanatha’, Umashankar Joshi Memorial Lecture, 29 December 2012 and Somanatha: The Many Voices of a History, Penguin, New Delhi, 2003.

11 Jawaharlal Nehru, Discovery of India, (first published The Signet Press, Calcutta 1946), Penguin, Gurgaon, 2010, pp. 250–54. All references to Discovery are from this edition.

12 Amartya Sen expands on this theme in many of his writings. See for example, Amartya Sen, The Idea of Justice, London, 2009, Ch.15, pp. 321–25 and Amartya Sen, The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity, London, 2005.

13 Discovery, p. 263. A song written and composed by Khusrau: “Chaap Tilak Sab Chheeni re Mose Naina Milaike”, for example, is sung till today by millions across religions in the Indian subcontinent, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, till today.

14 Discovery, p. 51.

15 Discovery, p. 254 and “Importance of Archeological Study”, Speech delivered at the Centenary celebrations of the Archaeological Survey of India and the International Conference of Asian Archaeology, New Delhi, 14 Dec. 1961, Jawaharlal Nehru’s Speeches, Vol. 4, 1957–1963, Publications Division, Government of India, New Delhi, 1964, pp. 179–81. Emphasis mine.

16 Discovery, p. 258.

17 See for example, Romila Thapar, Harbans Mukhia and Bipan Chandra, Communalism and the Writing of Indian History, People’s Publishing House, Delhi, 1969 and Micheguglielmo Torri, “For a New Periodization of Indian History: The History of India as Part of the History of the World”, Studies in History, Vol. 30 (1), 2014.

18 On Understanding History, 1948, pp. 353–54.

19 Ibid., pp. 354–55. Emphasis mine.

20 See chapter 13, “Challenges to the Social Sciences in the Twenty-First Century: Perspectives from the Global South” in Aditya Mukherjee, Political Economy of Colonial and Post-Colonial India, Delhi, 2022, for a discussion on Eurocentric/colonial perspectives continuing to be a challenge in the third world and even among finest historians of the West, including Marxist historians.

21 “A New Perspective of History”, Inaugural Address to the Asian History Congress, New Delhi, 9 December 1961, Jawaharlal Nehru’s Speeches, Vol. 4, 1957–1963, p. 179.

22 “A New Perspective of History”, 1961, p. 178.

23 “On the Understanding of History”, Foreword to a book, 8 October 1933, Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, (hereafter SWJN), 1st Series, Vol. 6, 1979, New Delhi, pp. 199–200.

24 “A New Perspective of History”, 1961, p. 178.

25 For a recent example of this obfuscation see, “Empire and Transformation: The Politics of Difference”, Keynote Lecture by Jane Burbank, New York University, at the 6th International Symposium of Comparative Research on Major Regional Powers in Eurasia Comparing Modern Empires: Imperial Rule and Decolonisation in the Changing World Order, Hokkaido University, Japan, 20 January 2012 and for the development of her argument with sources and citations Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper, Empire in World History: Power and Politics of Difference, Princeton, 2010.

26 “On the Understanding of History”, 1933, p. 200.

27 The Wire, 19 July 2023, https://thewire.in/history/claiming-india-saw-1000-years of-foreign-rule-trivialises-british-colonial-exploitation accessed on 5 November 2023, 6:11 pm, The Wire, 15 August 2023, https://thewire.in/government/independence-day-modi-speech-slavery-manipur , accessed on 24 August 2023, 9.16 pm. The PM made the same statement addressing a joint session of the US Congress on 22 June 2023,

https://scroll.in/latest/1051436/india-got-freedom-after-1000-years-of-foreign-rule says-narendra-modi-at-us-congress , accessed on 24 August 2023, 9.33 pm. He talked of 1200 years of slavery in his Motion of Thanks to the President’s address to the joint session of the Parliament on 9 June 2014. https://www.firstpost.com/politics/1200-years-of-servitude-pm-modi-offers food-for-thought-1567805.html , 13 June 2014, accessed on 24 August 2023, 10.04 pm.

28 Discovery, pp. 254–55. Emphasis mine.

29 A New Perspective of History, 1961, p. 178

30 On the Understanding of History, 1933, p.199. Emphasis mine.

31 On Understanding History, 1948, p.354. Emphasis mine.

32 On Understanding History, 1948, pp. 354, 356, 357. Emphasis mine.

33 Ibid., pp. 355–56.

34 On the Understanding of History, 1933, p. 200.

35 For example, R.S. Sharma, Romila Thapar, Bipan Chandra, Satish Chandra, Irfan Habib, D.N. Jha, Arjun Dev, Shireen Mooswi, Ranabir Chakroborty, Upinder Singh and so many others.

36 Bipan Chandra outlines the critical shift in Nehru’s thinking and the impact of Gandhiji. He was among the first in the Left to see this shift positively. See his seminal essay “Jawaharlal Nehru in Historical Perspective” in Writings of Bipan Chandra: The Making of Modern India: From Marx to Gandhi, New Delhi, 2012. For a brief summary see my Introduction to the above volume reproduced in Aditya Mukherjee, Political Economy of Colonial and Post-colonial India, Delhi, 2022. More on this aspect later.

37 See Bipan Chandra, “Jawaharlal Nehru in Historical Perspective” …, pp. 113–14.

38 Quoted in Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee Nehru and the Spirit of India, Gurugram, 2022, p. 181.

39 Perry Anderson, The Indian Ideology, Three Essays Collective, Gurgaon, 2012, pp. 52–53.

40 Bhattacharjee, Nehru and the Spirit of India, p. 21.

41 Bipan Chandra, “Jawaharlal Nehru in Historical Perspective” …, pp. 150–51.

42 See, Tadd Graham Fernée, “The Gandhian Circle of Moral Consideration”, Social Scientist, Vol. 50, No. 11–12, 2022, where he quotes Gandhi comparing the French and Russian Revolution with the Indian struggle.

43 Tadd Graham Fernée, Enlightenment and Violence: Modernity and Nation Making, Sage Series in Modern Indian History, New Delhi, 2014 and Tadd Graham Fernée, Beyond the Circle of Violence and Progress: Ethics and Material Development in India and Egypt, Anti-colonial Struggle to Independence, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, 2023.

44 Bhattacharjee, Nehru and the Spirit of India…, pp. 16, 18, 181.

45 Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 76, pp. 389–90. The imagery used by Gandhiji for futile attempts to divide is very applicable to the current effort by the communal forces to constantly try to denigrate our freedom struggle by trying to point out differences between our national heroes like Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Bose, Bhagat Singh, etc.

46 Quoted in Bipan Chandra, Mridula Mukherjee, Aditya Mukherjee, India Since Independence, Penguin, 2008, p. 23.

47 For an analysis of the colonial situation before independence and the structural break made after independence under Nehru’s guidance, see Aditya Mukherjee, ‘Return of the Colonial in Indian Economic History: The Last Phase of Colonialism in India,’ Presidential Address, 68th session of the Indian History Congress, (Modern India), 2007 reproduced as Chapter 1 in Aditya Mukherjee, Political Economy of Colonial and Post-Colonial India, Delhi, 2022.

48 See Mridula Mukherjee, ‘Jawaharlal Nehru’s Finest Hour: The Struggle for a Secular India’, Studies in People’s History, Vol. 1 (2), 2014, and Mridula Mukherjee, “Communal Threat and Secular Resistance: From Noakhali to Gujarat”, Presidential Address (Modern India), Indian History Congress, Malda, February 2011, for a detailed discussion on how the Indian nationalists led by Nehru and Gandhiji met the communal challenge in this period. This section relies heavily on the above two works. See also, Sucheta Mahajan, Independence and Partition: The Erosion of Colonial Power in India, New Delhi, 2000 and Rakesh Batabyal, Communalism in Bengal: From Famine to Noakhali, New Delhi, 2005.

49 Mridula Mukherjee, “Jawaharlal Nehru’s Finest Hour”….

50 Speech at Biharsharif, 4 November 1946, Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru (hereafter SWJN), 2nd Series, Vol. 1, New Delhi, 1984, p. 57.

51 SWJN, 2nd Series, Vol. 4, p. 2.

52 SWJN, 2nd Series, Vol. 4, p. 9.

53 Jawaharlal Nehru: Letters to Chief Ministers (hereafter LCM,) 5 Feb. 1948, New Delhi, 1985, Vol. 1, p. 56.

54 Ibid., p. 57

55 LCM, 20 July 1949 and 1 Aug. 1949,Vol. 1, pp. 412–13, 428.

56 Mridula Mukherjee, see f.n. 49 above.

57 Jawaharlal Nehru, An Autobiography, New Delhi, 1980 (first published 1936), pp. 458–72. The quotation in the previous sentence is from p. 60.

58 Statement to the Press, 5 January 1934, SWJN, 1st Series, Vol. 6, 1974, p. 182.

59 For example, W.C. Smith, Modern Islam in India: A Social Analysis, Victor Gollancz, London, 1946, Francis Robinson, Separatism Among Indian Muslims: The Politics of the United Provinces’ Muslims, 1860–1923, Delhi, 1975 and a classic, comprehensive analytical work on the subject by Bipan Chandra, Communalism in Modern India, Vikas, New Delhi, 1984 (Har-Anand, New Delhi, 3rd revised edition, 2008).

60 Autobiography, p. 460.

61 Autobiography, pp. 460–67.

62 The Statesman, 17 January 1952, quoted in N.L. Gupta, ed., Nehru on Communalism, Sampradayikta Virodhi Committee, New Delhi, p. 239. Emphasis mine.

63 See Aditya Mukherjee, Imperialism, Nationalism and the Making of the Indian Capitalist Class: 1920-1947, New Delhi, 2002, new edition in Penguin, forthcoming. See also, Aditya Mukherjee, “Imperialism, nationalism and the Nation State” ch. 6. in Political Economy of Colonial and Post-Colonial India, for a gradual shift in the capitalist class position after independence.

64 Nehru’s speech in Delhi on 2 October 1951, SWJN, 2nd series, Vol. 16, pt. II, pp. 115–16.

65 SWJN, 1st Series, Vol. 6, p. 183.

66 Jawaharlal Nehru, Recent Writings and Essays, Allahabad, 1937 extract in N.L. Gupta, ed., Nehru and Communalism, New Delhi, 1965, p. 26, emphasis mine.

67 LCM, 1 August 1949, Vol. 1, p. 428, emphasis mine. See Mridula Mukherjee, ‘Jawaharlal Nehru’s Finest Hour? The Struggle for a Secular India’, Studies in People’s History, Vol. 1 (2), 2014 and Aditya Mukherjee, ‘Inclusive Democracy and People’s Empowerment: The Legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru’, EPW, Vol. 50, No. 16, 18 April 2015.

68 8 February 1952, SWJN, 1995,Vol. 17, 2nd series, p. 133. Emphasis mine.

69 Ibid., Emphasis mine.

70 Jawaharlal Nehru, “Hindu and Muslim Communalism”, The Tribune, 30 November 1933, SWJN, Vol. 6, Series 1, p. 171.

71 SWJN, 1995, Vol. 17, 2nd Series, p. 144. Emphasis mine.

72 Nehru’s speech on 2 October 1951, ‘Relevance of Mahatma Gandhi’, SWJN, 1994, Vol. 16, Pt. II, pp. 102–19 and as reported in the Statesman, 3 October 1951, quoted in N.L. Gupta, “Nehru and Communalism”, pp. 224–28. Emphasis mine.

73 LCM, Vol. II, p. 213.

74 N.L. Gupta,“Nehru and Communalism”, pp. 29–30.

75 The Statesman, 19 October 1951, quoted in Ibid., p. 232.

76 The Statesman, 24 November 1951, quoted in Ibid., p. 234.

77 4 June 1949, LCM, Vol. 1, p. 372. Emphasis mine.

78 SWJN, 2005, Vol. 35, 2nd Series, pp. 3–24, particularly pp. 12, 16–17 and 23. Emphasis mine.

79 https://vidyabharti.net/status-work-session-2022-23-glance

Vidya Bharati official website accessed on 10 September 2023 at 10.20 pm.

80 Reputed historians like R.S. Sharma, Romila Thapar, Satish Chandra, Bipan Chandra and Arjun Dev wrote textbooks for children from class VI to XII.

81 See for a description of this process, Aditya Mukherjee, et.al., RSS School Texts …. and Aditya Mukherjee and Mridula Mukherjee, “Weaponising History: The Hindutva Communal Project”, The Wire, 10 April 2023, https://m.thewire.in/article/history/weaponising-history-the-hindu-communal-project

82 Irfan Habib, Suvira Jaiswal and Aditya Mukherjee, History in the New NCERT Textbooks: mA Report and Index of Errors, Approved and published by the Executive Committee of the Indian History Congress, Kolkata, 2003.

83 Aditya Mukherjee, et al., RSS School Texts ….

84 Nehru’s article “Hindu and Muslim Communalism”, The Tribune, 30 November 1933, SWJN, 1974,Vol. 6, 1st series, pp. 164-165, 168-169. All the quotations in the last three paras are from here. Emphasis mine.

85 Autobiography, p. 468.

86 SWJN, Vol. 6, 1st series, pp. 162–63.

87 SWJN, Vol. 6, 1st series, p. 165.

88 Ibid., p. 163.

89 See my critique of Perry Anderson in chapter 13, “Challenges to the Social Sciences in the Twenty-First Century: Perspectives from the Global South” in Aditya Mukherjee, Political Economy of Colonial and Post-Colonial India.

90 All quotations are from the chapter titled ‘The Citizen and the Secular State Business’ in Bhattacharjee, Nehru and the Spirit of India, particularly pp. 86–112, see also pp. 90–91, 96, and 110. For a detailed analysis of Bhattacharjee’s book and the similarities with Perry Anderson in a false understanding of the Indian national movement and Nehru, see my review of his book in The Wire https://m.thewire.in/article/books/a-relook-at-jawaharlal-nehru

91 This he said at the Banaras Hindu University in the presence of Madan Mohan Malaviya, a leading figure of the Hindu Mahasabha, on 12 November 1933. No pandering to the audience. SWJN,1974, Vol. VI, pp. 157–58. Emphasis mine.

92 Autobiography, p. 467, emphasis mine.

93 The Statesman, 19 October 1951, quoted in N.L. Gupta, Nehru and Communalism, p. 229, emphasis mine.

94 SWJN, 1st series, Vol. 6, pp. 165–66, emphasis mine.

95 Ibid., p. 162.

96 Anderson, The Indian Ideology. See also, Chs. 6, 8 and 13 in Aditya Mukherjee, Political Economy of Colonial and Post-Colonial India for other such critiques of Indian nationalism.

97 Writings of Bipan Chandra, p. 130. See also, Mridula Mukherjee, “Jawaharlal Nehru’s Finest Hour? The Struggle for a Secular India”, Studies in People’s History, Vol.1 (2), 2014.

98 LCM, 7 December 1947, Vol. 1, p. 10, emphasis mine.

99 LCM, 1 August 1949, Vol. 1, p. 428, emphasis mine.

100 The Statesman, 19 October 1951, quoted in Nehru and Communalism, p. 231. See also, S. Gopal. Mainstream, 12 November 1988 and Jawaharlal Nehru: A Biography, Vol. 1, Delhi, 1975

101 Wardha, 13 march 1948, SWJN, 1987, 2nd series, Vol. 5, p. 75.

102 SWJN, 2nd Series, Vol. 16, Pt. II, p.118.

103 Prabhat Patnaik, The Telegraph Online, 15 August 2022, http://www.telegraphindia.com/india/fascism-arrives-in-camouflage-says-prabhat patnaik/cid/1880205 accessed on 1 December 2023 at 9.14 pm and Prabhat Patnaik, “The Fascism of our Times”, Social Scientist, Vol. 21, Nos. 3/4, March-April 1993. See also, Chaitanya Krishna, ed., Fascism in India: Faces Fangs and Facts, Manak, New Delhi, 2003.

104 Jason Stanley, How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, New York, 2018.

105 https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/sep/08/biden-india-modi-g20- autocrat The Guardian, 8 September 2023, Accessed on 8 September 2023, 10.05 pm. Emphasis mine. See also https://scroll.in/article/1055943/arundhati-roy-the-dismantling-of-democracy-in-india-will-affect-the-whole-world where Arundhati Roy, like Stanley is reminding how democracy in India is a public good for the whole world which cannot be allowed to wither away.

106 The Telegraph, 6 August 2023.

107 The Indian Express, The Hindu and The Times of India, 8 August 2023, emphasis mine.

https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/punjab-haryana-high-court-asks-on-nuh demolition-drive-whether-buildings-belonging-to-particular-community-brought down-as-exercise-of-ethnic-cleansing-234623,

accessed on 9 August 2023, 7.50 pm, emphasis mine.

108 Jullunder, 24 February 1948, SWJN, 1987, 2nd Series, Vol. 5, p. 65.

109 Amartya Sen uses this term as early as 1993 to describe one segment of Hindu communalism, in an article he wrote shortly after the demolition of the Babri Masjid by Hindu communalists, see Amartya Sen, “The Threats to Secular India”, The New York Review, 8 April 1993 issue.

110 Michelguglielmo Torri, ‘India 2020: The deepening crisis of democracy,’ Asia Maior, Vol. XXXI, 2020.

111 All the citations in this para are from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia india-56393944 and https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/toi-edit-page/a-more nuanced-democracy-there-is-no-need-for-it-to-be-only-what-the-west-says-it-must be/ accessed on 28 October 2021 at 10.08 pm.

112 Karanjia, The Philosophy of Mr. Nehru, p.123 quoted in Bipan Chandra, “Jawaharlal Nehru in Historical Perspective” in The Writings of Bipan Chandra: The Making of Modern India from Marx to Gandhi, New Delhi, 2012, p. 136, emphasis mine.

113 Harijan, 24 June 1939, Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol. 69, p. 356.

114 Pranab Mukherjee, Aditya Mukherjee, et.al., eds., Congress and the Making of the Indian Nation, Vol. II, Academic Publishers, 2011, p. 19. This volume is a collection of important resolutions, manifestoes and speeches relating to the Indian National Congress from 1920 to 2009.

115 Mridula Mukherjee, “Civil Liberties and Indian Nationalism”, in Rohit Azad et.al., ed., What the Nation really Needs to Know: The JNU Nationalism Lectures, HarperCollins, Noida, 2016, p. 73.

116 See SWJN, 1st Series, Vol. 7, pp. 420–21, 425–28.

117 SWJN, 1st Series, Vol. 11, p. 367.

118 Karanjia, see f.n. 106, emphasis mine.

119 Speech at Trivandrum, 2 June, 1950, in The National Herald, 3 June 1950, cited in S. Gopal, Jawaharlal Nehru, A Biography, Vol. 2, 1947–1956, New Delhi, 1979, p. 68, emphasis mine.

120 The article was published in The Modern Review of Calcutta in November 1937 in the name of Chanakya with the title “Rashtrapati”, See SWJN, Vol. 8, 1st Series, pp. 520–23.

121 C.D. Deshmukh, The Course of my Life, Delhi, 1974, p. 205.

122 SWJN, 2nd Series, Vol. 4, p. 208.

123 See e.g., Minutes of the fourth meeting of the National Development Council, New Delhi, 6 May 1955, File No 17(17&/56-PMS) in SWJN, 2nd Series, Vol. 28, p. 371. See also my “Introduction” in Aditya Mukherjee, ed., A Centenary History of the Indian National Congress, Vol. V, 1964–84, New Delhi, 2011, emphasis mine.

124 See Aditya Mukherjee, “Empire: How Colonial India made Modern Britain”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XLV, No 50, 11 December 2010, chapter 2 in Political Economy of Colonial and Post-Colonial India, for a detailed discussion of how colonial surplus appropriation aided the process of primitive accumulation in the West.

125 4 June 1949, LCM, Vol. 1, 1985, p. 371.

126 A. Vaidyanathan, “The Indian Economy Since Independence (1947-70)”, in Dharma Kumar, ed., The Cambridge Economic History of India, Vol. II, Delhi, 1983, p. 961, emphasis mine.

127 See Aditya Mukherjee, “Planned Development in India 1947-65: The Nehruvian Legacy”, in Shigeru Akita, ed., South Asia in the 20th Century International Relations, Tokyo, 2000. Also in Bipan Chandra, Mridula Mukherjee, Aditya Mukherjee, India Since Independence, New Delhi, 35th reprint 2020, ch.25. These figures are from an extremely persuasive piece by Vijay Kelkar, “India and the World Economy: A Search for Self-Reliance”, Paper read at Seminar on Jawaharlal Nehru and Planned Development, New Delhi, 1980, reprinted in Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 15, No. 5/7, February 1980.

128 See Aditya Mukherjee, “Planning and the Public Sector: Perspectives of the capitalists and the Nehruvian Left”, Political Economy of Colonial and Post Colonial India. See also, Aditya Mukherjee, Imperialism, Nationalism and the Making of the Indian Capitalist Class, New Delhi, 2002, 10 and 11.

129 Pulapre Balakrishnan, “The Recovery of India: Economic Growth in the Nehru Era” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XLII, Nos. 45–46, 17 November 2007, Table 4, pp. 62–63.

130 Ibid.

131 These figures are from Vijay Kelkar, “India and the World Economy.”

132 See for example, Tirthankar Roy, “Economic Legacies of Colonial Rule in India: Another Look”, Economic and Political Weekly,(EPW) Vol. L, No 15, 11 April 2015.

133 Address at Bhoothalingam Centenary celebration, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, 21 February 2009, organized by the National Council of Applied Economic Research. See also his Rediscovery of India, Bloomsbury, 2011.

134 For a detailed comparison of the growth parameters in Nehru’s time after independence with the colonial period as well as with other countries at a comparative stage, see Aditya Mukherjee, ‘Return of the Colonial in Indian Economic History: The Last Phase of Colonialism in India,’ Presidential Address, 68th session of the Indian History Congress, (Modern India), 2007 in Aditya Mukherjee, Political Economy of Colonial and Post-Colonial India, and for a very similar understanding see the insightful article by Pulapre Balakrishnan, “The Recovery of India: Economic Growth in the Nehru Era, EPW, Vol. XLII, No. 45-46, 17 November 2007.

135 See Aditya Mukherjee “Indira Gandhi: Shaping the Indian Economy, from Increased Dirigisme to Economic Reform”, Ch 16 in Political Economy of Colonial and Post-colonial India, and my chapter, ‘Indian Economy 1965-1991’, in Bipan Chandra et. al., India Since Independence, for a discussion of the changes in the internal situation and the global situation and the nature of world capitalism requiring a shift in economic strategy.

136 Jawaharlal Nehru, Speeches, Vol. 2, Publications Division, GOI, New Delhi, 1954, p.89.

137 See my chapters 29-32 in India Since Independence…

138 Jagdish Bhagwati and Padma Desai, Planning for Industrialisation , London, 1970, p.74 and Table 25.3, Growth in Infrastructure Health and Education, in “Indian Economy, 1947-1965: The Nehruvian Legacy”, in India Since Independence, p. 454.

139 See George Blyn, Agricultural Trends in India, 1891-1947: Output, Availability, and Productivity, Philadelphia, 1966, Table 5.8, p. 119, K. N. Raj, Indian Economic Growth: Performance and Prospects, New Delhi, 1965 for the pre and post independence figures respectively. See also Mridula Mukherjee, Colonialising Agriculture: The Myth of Punjab Exceptionalism, New Delhi, 2006. See also Chs. 29–33 discussing the Land reforms and the Green revolution, in India Since Independence.

140 G.S. Bhalla, “Nehru and Planning – Choices in Agriculture,” Working Paper Series, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, 1990, p. 29, emphasis mine.

141 See for a detailed discussion, my chapters (29-33) on Land Reform and The Green Revolution in Bipan Chandra, Mridula Mukherjee, Aditya Mukherjee, India Since Independence…

142 Daniel Thorner, The Shaping of Modern India, Allied, New Delhi, 1980, p. 245, addition in parenthesis mine.

143 See “Indian Economy, 1947-65: The Nehruvian Legacy”, in Bipan Chandra, Mridula Mukherjee and Aditya Mukherjee, India Since Independence….

144 The statistics given here are from Jagdish Bhagwati and Padma Desai, Planning for Industrialisation , London, 1970, p. 74.

145 Sukhamoy Chakravarty, Development Planning: The Indian Experience, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1987, p. 83.

146 LCM, 16 June 1952, Vol. 3, p.18.

147 Jawaharlal Nehru, Speeches, 5 Volumes, New Delhi, 1983, Vol. 2, pp. 50–56.

148 See my chapter on Cooperatives and an Overview of Land Reforms in Bipan Chandra, Mridula Mukherjee, Aditya Mukherjee, India Since Independence.

149 LCM, 5 July 1952, Vol. 3, pp. 38–39, emphasis mine.

150 Bipan Chandra, “Jawaharlal Nehru in Historical Perspective”, in The Writings of Bipan Chandra: The Making of Modern India from Marx to Gandhi, New Delhi, 2012 for an incisive analysis of Nehru, particularly the nature of his vision of ‘socialism’ and social transformation.

151 Ibid., chapter 1 and 2.

152 Jawaharlal Nehru, Speeches, Vol. 2, p. 392, quoted in Bipan Chandra, ‘Jawaharlal Nehru in Historical Perspective’.

153 Discovery, p. 441, emphasis mine.

154 https://www.globalhungerindex.org/pdf/en/2023/India.pdf and https://www.globalhungerindex.org/ranking.html accessed on 23 November 2023 at 8.05 pm.

155 Discovery, pp. 570–71.

156 The Guardian, 28 October 2014,

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/28/indian-prime-minister-genetic science-existed-ancient-times accessed on 19 August 2021.

157 Hindustan Times, 14 January 2020, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india news/arjuna-s-arrows-had-nuclear-power-chariots-flew-says-bengal-governor dhankhar-draws-flak/story-M185xVdjIP8JbzTsSDRkOJ.html accessed on 19 August 2021.

158 See the RSS mouthpiece Organiser, 4 November 2001.

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