Nehru’s India: Essays on the Maker of the Nation

By Nayantara Sahgal

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“Jawaharlal Nehru was different. Though he was a follower of Gandhiji, he was less ideological and more political. For Nehru, the Gita was not the guiding light, Karl Marx was. Spirituality was not his credo, science was. Ram Rajya was not his ideal, socialism was. Ashram was not his medium of political congregation, trade unions or Kisan Sabhas were. He was not a vegetarian nor did he believe that being anti-alcohol was an important ideological point. Gandhiji did not believe in the idea of class conflict, Nehru did. Gandhiji never thought of the Russian Revolution as a forward march of history, Nehru wanted to learn from and emulate Lenin. Though both had lived in London, Gandhiji remained quintessentially a traditional Hindu with a Vaishnava ethos. Nehru, on the other hand represented a dialectical synthesis of the West and the East. Gandhiji advocated freedom from pleasure, Nehru believed in the idea of materialism. Gandhiji thought of sex as almost a sin (notwithstanding his Experiments with Truth), Nehru was against celibacy. Gandhiji looked at large-scale industrialization as destruction of nature and traditional modes of production, Nehru saw in large industry and modern technology the progress of civilization. Both loved nature and thought preservation of environment a duty, but with different perspectives. Gandhiji looked at tradition as a guide, Nehru thought of modernity as the future and regarded old practices as hurdles to progress.” – Excerpted from Kumar Ketkar’s essay, The Platonic Republican: Philosopher-Statesman

“Where had Jawaharlal and his legacy of secularism disappeared? Didn’t the leaders who were present when these atrocities took place not remember that we won independence with a non-violent, civil disobedience movement invented by Gandhiji and emulated by hundreds of thousands of our countrymen, as well as Martin Luther King Jr, and Nelson Mandela? How was it that now we were happy to murder our own [after the demolition of the Babri Masjid]? Most importantly where was the idealism which had sustained us in a prolonged struggle for swaraj? Nehru died in 1964 and yet we keep killing him and his remarkable ideals. I tried to address these concerns in a novel called God’s Little Soldier. My protagonist Zia is a brilliant man but as his brother tells him, ‘You are good man gone terribly wrong.’ Zia is an idealist who forgets that however noble the end, the wrong means cannot justify it. Let me recall a few very brief sentences in a re-imagining of the life of Kabir within God’s Little Soldier. This is what Kabir says. ‘There is only one god. And her name is life. She is the only one worthy of worship. All else is irrelevant.’ I cannot pay Jawaharlal Nehru a greater compliment.” – Excerpted from Kiran Nagarkar’s essay, My Quotidian Companion (The Common Man’s Nehru)

“The rising tide of India’s brand of fascism now endangers the inheritance we celebrate as the Idea of India, and makes it necessary to resurrect Nehru’s role in building and safeguarding it. This collection of assessments, criticisms, opinions, insights and emotions tells us how his contribution is viewed fifty-one years after his death. Common to all of them is one hard fact: No Nehru, no modern India. The ground we stand on was laid in Nehru’s time. One essayist calls for political activism as the need of the hour to protect what we prize as India’s legacy. Meanwhile the battle is on between enlightenment and obscurantism, between Nehru’s vision of India and the BJP/RSS’s shrunken and distorted version of India.” – Excerpted from Nayantara Sahgal’s Introduction, Nehru’s India: In Context

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