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Nehru, Modi, and the Idea of India

There can be no doubt that Mr Modi is the best political thing that’s happened to the BJP in recent years. But the moot question is –is he the best thing to have happened to the Idea of India?

If Nehru’s Idea was right for post-Partition years, is Modi’s right for post-post Liberalization India? Endemic is the acceptance oft- touted by pundits that span both sides of the ideological fence– that if Nehruvian ideal held the fragile nation together when Partition wounds were raw, it is Modi’s decisive determination that will complete the residue of Rajiv Gandhi/ Narasimha Rao economic vision of India’s 21st century.  So in a sense Modi becomes the true inheritor of an India whose overarching scaffolding is Nehruvian? Some of Media and its accompanying accessories would have us believe so.

Now if we are to agree—that Modi is the best thing to happen to post-post Liberalization  India—both Congressmen and Saffronites will find it hard to swallow the linking of a truly liberal man with the icon of a Saffron Party–sheer political anathema? —kya baat hai!  Nehru & Modi? Certainly both determinedly wished to stamp upon this fragmented nation a unifying imprint. And in this vision they brooked/will brook no deviation from a cause.

Let us look at the blueprint which both Nehru & Modi vowed to serve. Nehru’s contribution is well chronicled—whether BJP wishes to acknowledge it or not–Institution building, Panchsheel, ashram for political refugees (Dalai Lama etc.), the PSU’s and 5 Year plans driven by socialist concerns—were the need of the hour in those nascent years when, let’s face it, neither `India’ or `Bharat’  existed as an entity in the Comity of Nations. Nehru made us accepted in world parlance of UN, NATO, Warsaw Pact countries etc. Through Panchsheel he made them sit up and notice us a `player’.

Modi tries for the same—he ostensibly wishes to be remembered for a `Grand Hindu/Buddhist’ alliance of SAARC countries, Japan & China? Or a Pacific alliance to include Australia, jostling against Nehru’s Panchsheel to place India a notch higher in the International Comity.

However his Idea of India needs a correction. For the lurking fear amongst many is that  this grand vision is accompanied by the rejection of the liberal outlook even as he speaks of `Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan’, and the multiple  `Saath Saath’ slogans. Through statistics thrust at us on rate of growth, transparent governance, GST, single facilitation cell etc. it is the secular ideological frame work of our nation that is slowly but surely taking a back seat as soft Hindutva permeates–a wormhole into our collective consciousness.

But can a nation grown up on free thinking be muffled to hear the beat of but one sound? “Give me liberty or give me death.” Said Patrick Henry before the American War of Independence. Tagore famously wrote ”Where the mind is set free….” Even Veer Sarvarkar’s chains rattled ferociously in Andaman jail because he wanted freedom to propagate his idea of India however pernicious others thought it might be.  Bal Gangadhar Tilak our `Lokmanya’, famously said “ ..a true nationalist desires to build on old foundations…”

But were that liberal Idea of India to go—what would remain—a uni—dimensional Idea of culture engulf us? A veritable `kauf’ as we say in Urdu, a suffocation would descend on our polity. Time and again history has taught us that people need to be free to think as we please, a basic human need we hold as dear as water.

Hindutva apologists say Modi is correcting the wrong of ` over-appeasement of minorities’ of Congress rule, that the majority community sentiment is hurt.  Even middle of the road Hindus feel a sense of being drawn to this argument. They opine more liberal Muslims need to speak out over Muslim atrocities against Hindus in Kashmir, the terrorist attack on Parliament, the valid demand for a temple in Ayodhya. This is a must to protect the old Idea of India or many more may find themselves susceptible and it will be abandoned. To us who grew up post—Independence, when Nehruvianism shaped our thinking,  it will be a sad day indeed.

True Nehru had his flaws; just as history judged him, Indira, Atalji etc, so it will judge Modi. The Gods have not yet descended upon us in the form of its politicians. But Nehru was truly a grand visionary, patriot and statesman; that his daughter, the Iron Lady (hailed as a Durga) who avenged Partition too was a patriot,  there too can be no doubt. They however wore their patriotism on their Secular sleeve with panache and subtlety. Modi too needs to do the same to be able the tall leader he obviously wishes to be.

As one Editor of a leading paper said in private conversation, let’s face it to a Hindu, the lure of soft Hindutva, comes natural, just as Muslims may be drawn to right wing Islam.  It’s being a `liberal’ we have to work at consiously. That is the vision of an ideal world. That is the true legacy of Nehru.

With a red rose buttoned into his (Nehru) jacket lapel and churidar pajamas, Nehru spelt an aesthetic and sartorial elegance that was rooted, one Modi emulates only adding swathes of more colour even as he speaks like `Chacha Nehru’ through his Man ki Baat. And yet Nehru’s was a cultivated global mind that had shaken off parochialism. Can Modi shake off his  to absorb the myriad colours of India? If Modi does his Nehru jacket might actually spout a red rose.  Then only will Modi 2.0 be a hard act to follow

Dr. Manju Kak

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