Nehru and the root of India's problems

Date: 22 Dec 2008


Nehru and the root of India's problems

October 31, 2003

India was incredibly unlucky in the leadership she received in the immediate aftermath of Independence. Jawaharlal Nehru was a man with little experience of administration even at the purely municipal level, a rich man's only son who had never been confronted with the need to earn a living, leave alone to provide for a family.

In fact, the root of many -- some would say most -- of the problems we face today are thanks to decisions made by our first prime minister.

It was he who chose to refer the Kashmir issue to the United Nations, a decision he made against the advice of Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel. It was he who chose to stand by in silence as Communist China invaded Tibet (ironically invoking rights claimed by the emperors) in 1950. 

On November 7, 1950, the Sardar wrote to Nehru to challenge the basic assumptions of his foreign policy. 'For the first time in centuries,' he warned, 'India's defence has to concentrate itself on two fronts simultaneously... In our calculations we shall now have to reckon, apart from Pakistan, with Communist China in the north and the northeast.' 

But the Sardar was a dying man -- he would pass away a little over a month later -- and Nehru continued unfazed.

The last restraints on Nehru had been removed by the Sardar's death, and now the mistakes started coming in thick and fast. Socialism was enshrined as the official policy of the ruling party at the Avadi session of 1955, inaugurating an era that would stifle private enterprise and encourage corruption. Linguistic states would follow a year later. India's defences would be ignored, leading to decay in what had been, immediately after World War II, one of the best, most professional armies on the planet. Article 356 would be invoked to pull down the first elected Communist ministry in Kerala...

Thirty-nine years after his death, it is hard to think of a single policy inaugurated by Jawaharlal Nehru that would meet with acclaim today. But enough about the mistakes of the past. Is there anything that can be done to rectify the errors even now?

Some small steps have been taken to rectify the disasters of socialism (though the Congress continues to enshrine that perfidious doctrine). I am afraid it is far too late to halt the cultural genocide taking place in Tibet; at best, we can continue to offer sanctuary to the few who succeed in crossing the mountain passes as they flee from Chinese terror. But do we, even now, have a strategy to deal with Pakistan, specifically to deal with the Kashmir issue?

There are two myths that continue to bedevil any attempt at a serious analysis of the relationship with our meddlesome neighbour. First: increasing people-to-people contacts will put pressure on the respective governments to improve relations. Second: ameliorating matters should be an easy task given the shared culture.

Who says the people of Pakistan have any influence on their rulers? Not a single ministry has lasted its term of five years, going back to Liaquat Ali Khan. Power in Pakistan does not rest with the multitudes but with the armed forces, the feudal elements, some bureaucrats, and a section of theocrats. Remove the thought of India as a threat and what justification do the generals have to wield power?

Second, what shared culture are we talking about? True, some Punjabis have a little in common with their neighbours. But what of the rest of India? What does a Tamilian share by way of language, clothing, or cuisine with Pakistanis? Yet the ISI is as much a threat to Chennai as to Chandigarh. As General Musharraf once candidly admitted, 'We hate each other!'

That is what makes the latest Indian gesture to Pakistan seem so quixotic. It is certainly not a vote-catcher; I recall the Congress taking out a float in 1999 that mocked the prime minister's bus trip to Lahore. So either this is a well-timed ploy to attract applause elsewhere (especially in Washington), or it is a genuine move for peace.

Either way, Islamabad has little to lose by taking India's proffered hand. The generation of Indians to whom a unified country is a living memory shall not be with us much longer. Pakistan would do well to seize the opportunity before a generation comes to power whose only memories are of war. Will the generals agree, or will they be as myopic in their own way as Jawaharlal Nehru?