Jawaharlal Nehru is accused by his detractors today of being overtly socialist, creating the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and dooming the Indian economy to a struggling pace.
Apart from being India's first Prime Minister, he has finally been relegated to being the sole Indian leader who was fond of children. But have we judged the leader too unkindly?
In an editorial in the Hindu, historian Ramchandra Guha points out that Nehru was a defining influence on many world leaders like Nelson Mandela and Mikhail Gorbachev because he presented a more practical view of the world than Mahatma Gandhi did to them. They may have been inspired by Gandhi's philosophy but found it easier to adhere to Nehru's implementation of them.
Guha points out that the most vitriolic criticism of Nehru came in the 1980s and 1990s where his economic policies, political policy and foreign policy were completely overhauled without much gain.
Nehru's state-run firms, that controlled the production of everything from coal to aircraft has given away to private enterprise and entrepreneurship, but Guha argues that it has also given rise to crony capitalism that in turn has fed corruption. Nehru's policies based on secularism have given way to those of regionalism and communalism. And in foreign policy, Nehru's non-aligned movement has been dismantled in favour of a more pro-US stance which according to Guha has failed to yield the returns that were once hoped for.
According to Guha, what has been missing is a more balanced analysis of Nehru and his impact:
Nehru’s respect for democratic procedure, his inclusive social vision, and his independent foreign policy all remain relevant. Other aspects of his legacy are more problematic: these include his neglect of primary education, his lack of interest in military matters, and his scepticism of political decentralisation. However, a balanced appreciation of Nehru’s legacy — its positive and its negative aspects — is inhibited by the fact that the ruling Congress Party is controlled so closely by individuals related to him and who claim to speak in his name.
Guha attributed the unflattering present day image of Nehru on his family, particularly Indira Gandhi, who while creating the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has since ruled India's largest political party has also ended up doing away with the best parts of Nehru's philosophy.
Read the complete editorial here.