BJP-RSS strategy to make India forget Nehru by nixing his name from textbooks won't fly

In their war against Jawaharlal Nehru, since the BJP, RSS and their foot soldiers are so keen to wipe the former Prime Minister from history books, here is a suggestion: Why don't you start the book burning from your home?

On 27 May, 1964, around 2:30 pm, the Indian Parliament was informed that Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had passed away.

Former Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru. AFP

Former Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru. AFP

Within a few hours, huge crowds started gathering outside Teen Murti House, where the PM's body was kept for the last rites. Soon, the numbers swelled to lakhs of mourners waiting for a glimpse of the departed leader.

The most moving tribute to Nehru came from a young parliamentarian from the Opposition benches. Speaking in Parliament, the young MP said with Nehru's death "a dream has remained half-fulfilled, a song has become silent, and a flame has banished into the unknown."

"The dream was of a world free of fear and hunger; the song a great epic resonant with the spirit of the Gita and as fragrant as a rose, the flame a candle which burnt all night long, showing us the way. With unity, discipline and self-confidence we must make this Republic of ours flourish. The leader has gone, but the followers remain. The sun has set, yet by the shadow of stars we must find our way. These are testing times, but we must dedicate ourselves to his great aim, so that India can become strong, capable and prosperous ..."

The speaker? Former Prime Minister and the BJP's public face for decades, Atal Behari Vajpayee.

The mark of a man's greatness is not just the number of paeans dedicated to him by friends, followers and sycophants. The best way to judge him is through the words of his rivals and competitors. And when Vajpayee, raised on the political philosophy of the RSS, spoke those immortal words in Parliament, he immediately ensured Nehru's place in the hall of great Indian icons.

If the BJP-RSS want to strip Nehru of his halo, want future generations to not even know about this architect of modern India, they must first do something to erase from public memory the encomiums to Nehru by his venerable rivals like Vajpayee.

For, to rephrase a popular slogan, Jab tak Vajpayee ka speech rahega, Nehru ka bhi naam rahega.

A visitor once had asked the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai, if Mahatma Gandhi erred in preferring Nehru over Sardar Patel. Desai, according to a journalist, who was witness to the conversation, replied Patel was a great leader and a great administrator but was not known outside India. When India became free it was not strong economically or militarily. Nehru, who was known abroad, managed to win respect for India at the international level, which would have been difficult for Patel.

Unfortunately, instead of acknowledging Nehru's contribution, some of his rivals today are keen to erase his name from history. They do not even want a discussion on him.

The Rajasthan government, according to reports, has deleted all references to the former PM from textbooks for schools. In the new textbooks, Nehru's name appears just twice, but only as a casual reference in a chapter on the Indian Constitution. He has been completely ignored in the chapter on India's freedom struggle.

This isn't the first assault on the former PM's legacy. Tweaking the narrative around Nehru is a familiar obsession of the BJP under Narendra Modi and its various governments. Over the past few years, there have been concerted efforts to sully Nehru's image through misinformation, insinuation and malicious propaganda based on fake and forged documents.

The Sangh's obsession with Nehru's legacy is understandable. The idea of Nehru — a liberal, secular and intellectual leader of masses — is in stark contrast to the conservative and communal politics of muscular majoritarianism practised by the RSS.

For decades, the Sangh has failed to produce even a single leader of repute who can tower over Nehru and present a compelling alternative to the idea of Nehru. So, it has been trying to create fake binaries between Nehru and Patel. It has been spreading canards to argue that almost all of the former PM's contemporaries —Subhas Chandra Bose, BR Ambedkar, Sardar, et al — were his bitter enemies. The Sangh's theory is simple: if you can't rise to Nehru's greatness, bring him down to your own pettiness.

The idea of Nehru is entrenched so deep in the psyche of Indians that the Sangh has so far not been able to erase him from public memory. Nehru still survives in the mind, both consciously and unconsciously, of every liberal, secular and rational Indian like Vajpayee.

The strategy of making India forget Nehru by erasing his name from textbooks won't work either. The real purpose of education is the pursuit of truth. When children fed on Sangh's version of history grow up, learn to ask questions, understand the difference between fact and propaganda, they will always find their own version of Nehru.

Ironically, Vajpayee's words would continue to guide them in their quest. Like the "shadow of stars."

Updated Date: May 09, 2016 13:44 PM

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