Discovery of Nehru

27 May, 1964 — Jawaharlal Nehru’s last day on earth happened to be my first. My father, TRR, a great admirer of ‘Panditji’ or an admirer of the ‘great’ Panditji, as he would prefer it, promptly named me after the just-dead PM. So, I was among the first to be born into an India minus Nehru, the earliest possible member of the post-Nehru generation. It is a generation that was since raised on a diet of unquestioned reverence, unadulterated respect and unbounded love for Nehru, in all his resplendent glory: Children’s Chachcha, the red-rose reformer, the white dove peacenik, the mentor of modern India, the mascot of the Third World … in short, an icon beyond compare. That I schooled in Jawahar Vidyalaya and my mother’s name was Indira, besides my father’s non-stop Nehru Namayana till he himself joined his idol up there, only added to the Nehru aura that had engulfed me right at birth.

So, for someone of such pedigree, to be critically appraising Nehru, is indeed a great leap of faith. And it must be so for many of my peers though to some such a venture would tantamount to blasphemy. For, secular and atheistic Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru is among the nation’s most sacred holy cows. But alas, truth is no respecter of well- entrenched imageries or carefully cultivated reputations, and destiny demands that even Nehru must have his tryst with history, real history, which of late is hitting back with phenomenal force and fury, exploding myths, exhuming facts and laying bare skeletons.

The de-classified CIA archives that reveal in graphic detail Nehru’s naivette and cowardice vis-a-vis Chinese aggression and his rollicking affair with Mrs Mountbatten as told by the lady’s daughter herself, have truly put Nehru in a spot posthumously. Sure, the revelations are nothing new and have been the subject of many books earlier. Yet the fresh round of digging into his past that they have spawned has completely dwarfed the ‘colossus’. Honey, how they have shrunk our Chachcha! So let’s join the party and add our bit … and sorry, Dad! It’s not that we love Nehru less, only that a nation, still under his spell, needs to know him more! In fact, peer evaluation of Nehru was comparitively objective because there were many who knew his failings and flings. Only the post evaluation got a bit too euological. So, we have been hearing only his glories. We need to know the other side, and there is so much tittilating stuff in it that no responsible father could tell a toddler son. Of course, now we have grown up, even outgrown Nehru.

Let’s leave dull China out and zero in on Chachcha’s flame, the enchanting Edwina. The setting is romantic Kashmir, the paradise on earth, now a hell, thanks to Nehru’s Himalayan blunders. Only, that it is now official, from the pony’s mouth itself, that Edwina might have used her charms to influence her lover-PM during those fateful days. Here’s a quick take on Nehru’s classic gaffes, courtesy Edwina, on J&K.: a) Volunteering a plebiscite after securing a letter of ascension to India from Kashmir’s maharaja, b) Referring the issue to the UN and thus bringing the aggressor Pak on equal footing with victim India in the world’s eyes c) Calling a ceasefire just when the Indian army was on the verge of evacuating the raiders from PoK and d) Art 370, a preposterous provision that made the Indian Parliament subservient to the J&K Assembly!

So, was our Jawaharlal set up? One cannot be faulted for assuming so. The British, realising that it would help to have a pliable premier ruling their erstwhile colony and also being alive to the chinks in Nehru’s moral armoury, probably unleased the oldest trick known to humanity, a trick that Lord Indira himself played on Vishwamitra; and the lonely but romantic Nehru fell hook, line and sinker. In 1946, a year before Independence, the British government invited Nehru to Malaysia and Singapore. Over to veteran journalist and political observer, Satya Dev Narayan, who writes in his book, They betrayed you, Dear Mother: ‘ …the chance rush of the crowd in the Red Cross building in Singapore where Edwina as Red Cross chief was waiting to show her work to the distinguished visitor, her falling down on the ground in that rush and being promptly and gallantly lifted by Nehru himself to be carried to safety and quiet where the doctor could go to work: every little bit looks suspiciously like part of an elaborate plan to hook the coming man, Nehru. A carefully contrived plan, with much attention to timing and finesse in execution. If successful, it would no doubt give Britain a great deal of advantage during negotiations in the final phases of transfer of power. It would be a great situation to be in if, of the two representing their respective sides and facing each other at the conference table, one was the hooker and the other, the hooked…’

Thus Nehru’s chivalry became the nation’s curse. Edwina’s daughter also informs us that though her mother had many lovers, Nehru was very special. What an honour for the nation that its top man also topped Edwina’s lovers’ list! But why not? It is not often that PMs come calling at your door! And the daughter adds with a touch of respect: ‘My father knew all about my mother and was inured to it’. And why not, again? Having gotten used to the ways of his wayward wife, why would Mountbatten bat an eyelid when it came to his ‘best friend’ Nehru? Particularly, when it served a political purpose as M.Batten,who was batting for Pakistan, might have, according to the daughter, used his better(?) half to clinch Kashmir? One does not know if M was a cuckold (look up the dictionary, stupid, this is a decent family paper), but he sure din’t care. But forget M’s morals. How does it feel, as a nation, to know that the man it so implicitly trusted with its fate, future and fortune, could be so easily compromised? Whether it was platonic love or plain adultery, the nation has paid a stiff price for Nehru’s extra-curricular activities!

There were other blunders too. He gave us socialism. It bombed. He gave us secularism. It backfired. He implanted his dynasty. We are now struggling to uproot it. Again, a foreign lady is at play. He is touted as the architect of modern India. But he is the known wrecker of India’s cultural past: He was McCaulay’s ideal Indian. Every country that attained freedom first seeks to rediscover its glory and identity, but Nehru’s India took off as if it never had any. India was born on Aug 15, 1947 and N discovered it anew. Period!

Even now, when Nehru’s immortal and immoral blunders are self-evident, his apologists call him a dreamer-visionary at best and a misplaced idealist, at worst. In reality, he had both a passion and penchant for pomp, power and personal glory, not to speak of pleasure on the sly. A case in point is the way he became the Cong president and thereby the prospective PM over the head of Sardar Patel who had better credentials and more support. The common impression that N was the foremost freedom fighter is not just owing to his eloquence and elegance but also to a good amount of PR and posturing. And to the Mahatma, who according to Rajmohan Gandhi, was totally taken in by Nehru’s glamour! And thus putting greater mortals and more dedicated freedom fighters to shade!

Hope readers would pardon me for the personal touches. Difficult to let them pass. And I hope my father forgives me. But should the nation forgive Nehru? Or seek to exorcise his ghost from its psyche? Or should we wait for another memoir, sleazier and more sinister?

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Jawahar T R