What’s in a name? Plenty as the Congress party has proved in its years in power by renaming everything they could possibly rename after the Nehru-Indira-Rajiv trinity. To take a line out of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s famous poem – how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. It is estimated that the Congress party loved Nehru —Gandhis in at least 650 ways from Jawahar Dweep in Mumbai Harbour to the Indira Gandhi Canal Project to the Rajiv Gandhi Gold Cup Kabaddi Tournament. It is only natural and fitting that a new government will look for new heroes and not feel it necessary to automatically genuflect before the Nehru-Gandhi trinity and perpetuate the myth that anything worth anything in India came from the noblesse oblige of that one family.
But that does not mean the legacy of that family can be wished away as Sushma Swaraj, India’s current Minister for External Affairs seemed to do in Bandung at the 60th anniversary of the Bandung conference. Jawarharlal Nehru was India’s first prime minister. And he was one of the moving spirits behind the Bandung Conference in 1955.
In the 1950s, the United States was trying to corral Asian countries into its camp via SEATO (the South East Asian Treaty Organization) which Pakistan had already joined. Nehru quickly invited the Indonesian Prime Minister to Delhi to counter the US moves and that resulted in the Bandung conference in 1955.
Many efforts were made to disrupt that conference. An Air India plane rumored to be carrying Chinese premier Chou En-Lai blew up over the South China Sea. But the Bandung conference still happened with 340 delegates representing almost two-thirds of the world’s population.
At the conference Nehru made a passionate speech for non-alignment.
"(A)re we, the countries of Asia and Africa, devoid of any positive position except being pro-communist or anti-communist? Has it come to this, that the leaders of thought who have given religions and all kinds of things to the world have to tag on to this kind of group or that and be hangers-on of this party or the other carrying out their wishes and occasionally giving an idea? It is most degrading and humiliating to any self-respecting people or nation. It is an intolerable thought to me that the great countries of Asia and Africa should come out of bondage into freedom only to degrade themselves or humiliate themselves in this way."
One can argue about whether non-alignment in practice was practical or whether India was actually truly non-aligned. But one cannot deny that at that time Nehru enjoyed great stature and the Bandung conference was taken very seriously by the superpowers. The USA found itself caught between its support for decolonization and its friendship with the European colonial powers. Meanwhile the newly independent countries were looking at the US and asking pointed questions about the great gap between its civil rights at home and its rhetoric abroad.
All this to say Bandung was important even if we can debate about its actual legacy. And that is why the Bandung conference is still commemorated and that is why there was a conference to mark the 60th anniversary of the historic meeting.
But neither Swaraj nor V K Singh could bring themselves to say the N-word. Read their lips. No Nehru.
Thanks to the Congress version of history, Nehru and his heirs get plenty of false credit for great chunks of India’s history but sometimes you just have to give credit where credit’s due and know that you stand on the shoulders of others. Especially in foreign territory. In Bandung, Nehru is not a Congress leader and Sushma Swaraj is not a BJP Foreign Minister. In Bandung Nehru is India’s first prime minister and Swaraj too is representing the current prime minister of India. Bandung should be an example to showcase statesmanship not reiterate petty partisanship which is best left behind in Delhi. But whether they intended to or not, the silence of Swaraj and Singh, suggested both pettiness and insecurity as if even the mention of Nehru’s name was an act of treason to the new order in Delhi. The name of Nehru is no threat to the new government of Narendra Modi.
While Narendra Modi was elected on the promise of great change, even the promise of a Congress-mukt Bharat, India’s history did not start in May 2014. The past history can and should be acknowledged. And it would actually add to Modi’s stature to not do what the Congress was always accused of doing – only pay obeisance to its own heroes at the expense of everyone else.
The dismantling of the egregious overuse of the Nehru-Gandhi name across India is not unwarranted. There is no reason why the Rajiv Awas Yojna should not be named after Jai Prakash Narayan. The Indira Vikas Patra would work just as well as the Kisan Vikas Patra. And airplanes will land just fine at the NT Rama Rao Airport in Hyderabad instead of the Rajiv Gandhi Airport. But the name of Jawaharlal Nehru means something in Bandung. And it would have only added to Sushma Swaraj’s stature if she could have brought herself to utter it.
Updated Date: Apr 24, 2015 15:31 PM