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While the nation remained in an endless and hopeless queue for the eighteenth day, for us (me) there was something very disturbing in store for the day. After a gap for many days, I went for the morning walk to the Delhi University Park yesterday (also known as Nehru Park). There were many co-walkers with the same question as to where I had disappeared and to each one of them my answer was that because of my badminton sessions in the evening, I had developed a proclivity to keep postponing the morning walk to a “soon to come” future time zone.

As soon as I got back today and had just initiated my daily ritual of avid newspaper reading, I received a call from an unknown number. The caller was however a known person. It was Abhay, the son of Prof. Rajendra Singh, a retired professor from DSSW, who was also my PhD guide. His narration went like this…. Bhaiya!! Papa fainted day before yesterday and we took him to Metro hospital where we were told that he had a massive brain haemorrhage. While he was telling me all this, I had a make-believe kind of sense that he must be critical, and never for a moment I imagined anything other than this. Cutting him short, I asked Abhay, how his father was, and to my utter shock, his next words were…Bhaiya, I wanted to tell you that Papa is no more! And from that moment nothing has been in place. A Sunday morning planned to be spent in the throes of academic and impending administrative engagements transformed into an endless foray into the memory lane. As head of DSSW, I had the unenviable task of informing my colleagues about the sad news, which I did with a heavy heart. And as soon as I was done, the memories of all the times spent with him flooded my mind. The time when he was the warden of the hostel, and our teacher for sociology at the Department of Social Work. I remembered how almost on a daily basis he would summon me and issue me stern warnings for something or the other. It struck me just now that almost on all occasions; it was I, who was on the wrong side of the norm or an established practice. He would tell me often that I had, what he determined was a palpable anti-establishment streak, and that if I did not deal with it or tone it down, I would always be a non-achiever. Every other day, he would also issue harsh warnings to me and threaten me thus: ‘अब आगे से ऐसा कुछ भी करोगे तो हॉस्टल से निकiल दूंगा. To be truthful, I deserved every one of those warnings for I was such an incorrigible mischief maker. I can never forget that evening, when I was back from a protest. He called me and recounted the umpteen violations I had committed in last one month. It was enough to make me realize the shaky premises of my existence and how close I was to losing all that I had come to Delhi for. It also struck me that if he were to deal with a person with such a “difficult to suppress” anti-establishment fervour as myself, he could have acted as a typical administrator. In being so, he could have very easily exercised the easier options available to him, like calling my father and informing him about my misdemeanours. But he did not do that. And it was this, which in many ways proved to be the turning point in my life vis-à-vis myself as well as with Prof. Singh. In those moments, it was obvious to me that his idea was to help me focus on my studies, to which I had not paid the kind of attention and seriousness that it deserved. It was he, who told me that I was not made for the corporate jobs (India was just getting globalised and people were talking in the language of packages and profiles) due to my persistent anti-establishment mannerisms. He forewarned that either I would be kicked out or would have to quit of my own accord. For the same reason he also told me categorically that I would not survive in the national or the multi-national NGOs. It so turned out that my first job in the corporate sector was a disaster and I remembered Sir’s words while I was writing my resignation letter. Thereafter, I never tried to venture into a tryst with NGOs.

After weathering the rough edges of the world outside the campus, I came back to do my M.Phil and it was he who appreciated my decision…देखो तुम्हे पढने पढ़ाने के काम में आना चाहिए. बोलना तुम्हे अच्छा लगता है तो यहाँ मौका मिलेगा. खूब बोलना… पचास मिनट कम लगे तो एक्स्ट्रा क्लास ले लेना लेकिन बस अब एम्.ए की तरह मत करना. And I knew what he meant. I knew that he did not want me to fail and I began my M.Phil on that note (which was largely his note). It was he who made me feel and realize that my reading of literature could help me make a different argument. And I did listen to him and followed subsequently. I must share that we were not always on the same page as far as method, ideology or theoretical preferences were concerned. We used to have arguments and both of us would very strongly hold on to our stated (and preferred) positions. But in the end he would relent and allow me to go the way I wanted. He did it, not because, he did not believe in the nuanced arguments he had put forth before me, but to tell me that I should learn to look at the ‘other possibilities’ as well. He would relent because he knew I would not be able to sustain and carry it further. He would relent because he was liberal and I was still someone who was enamoured by an ‘imminent revolution’ and one who would look at alternative viewpoints with suspicion, or to put it bluntly, as traitor to the cause. By relenting on innumerable occasions, he made me realise that I was closed to being open. Sir!! Today when you are not around… I thank you for helping me see that reductionist ideas have a limited life span.

In 1994, when I got a permanent position as a lecturer at Jamia Millia Islamia, I converted my M.Phil into PhD, which was on the riots in the backdrop of the Babri Masjid-Ram JanmBhoomi agitation. Here too, we did not agree on the premises of communal construction, on competitive mobilisation and on role of police etc. but following his impeccable academic character he preferred my autonomy and my choice. One particular instance I would like to recall which seems freshly etched in my memory. I had submitted my chapter on the review of literature for my PhD wherein I had followed a thematic pattern rather than a chronological one. I did not have any prior conversation with Sir, so I followed what I thought WAS appropriate, particularly following Dipankar Gupta’s Nativism in a Metropolis. He called me and I could see that he was very angry. After a prolonged discussion, he simply said that the chapter was unacceptable. By that time, I had reached a stage wherein it was difficult for me to accommodate a change which required so much time. I told Sir… सर!! छोड़ दीजिये मुझे अब Ph.D नहीं करनी है और मैं विभाग से चल पड़ा. After I left, he called for my younger brother and another colleague to reach me at home and take care of me. Both of them later told me that he was worried for me and had asked them to spend time with me. I once again realized that Sir had beaten my obstinacy by relenting and yet he appeared the winner and not me. Like the candle burning at both the ends, he consumed himself to give me a sense of contentment. Today, when you are not around, I wish to thank you Sir for letting me confirm that disagreement is a virtue, particularly in a plural democracy like ours.

I spoke to him last week, as he was keen to come to the SBI branch of Delhi University to submit the life certificate. I told him to postpone this for a few weeks as banks have been sites of chaos on account of demonetization. He again relented but let me share that I am now most unhappy for having him relent yet once again because had it not been for my request, he would have come, and I would have met him for one last time!

Sir!! I wish to tell you today that at that historical juncture of my life, when many did not believe in me, you were the one who told me that I was worth something. Thank you Sir for your faith!!!

I cannot end without offering you a few apologies Sir, and you know I have tendered apologies many a time to you, during my residency at the hostel.

I wish to present them in numeric form…more so because this was your preferred format after retirement from the Department.

  1. In spite of my earnest desire, I could not come to see you at your home. Today when you are gone I realise what is the meaning of the life in a metropolitan city where you cannot take time out for a few hours to meet someone you love and value. I shall rectify this Sir, before I have to write another apology like this for someone else.
  2. Sir! I am not able to see and assess the social movement cycle as you taught us… for I am still caught in a kind of time warp. I promise you that I shall try to change this soon.
  3. And Sir!! In spite of your advice and request, the anti-establishment streak refuses to leave me, and just as you predicted, it has done considerable harm as well. But Sir… I cannot promise you to rectify this, for maybe I am too old to undertake this transformation now, or maybe a little too headstrong…., but I am sure that this streak will not let either of us down. In fact I pray to God that it makes you proud of me one day.

And last but not the least Sir………I thank you for the pains that you took to carve out ‘something’ from an otherwise proclaimed deviant. With this I rest my case. God bless you Sir! Wherever you are ….remain happy and assured that many like me shall always feel blessed to have been taught and mentored by you.

Rest in Peace!!!

Manoj K Jha

rsingh

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Hai ajab majmooa-e-izdaad, Ai Iqbal tu

Rauna-e-hangama-e-mehfil bhi hai, tanha bhi hai[1]

 

In the month of November 2014, one leading newsweekly published from Delhi had a black and white cover with the title-‘Can Nehru Survive Modi?’ Thankfully the question mark used by the magazine cover left scope for those voices which earnestly believe that the loss in the 2014 general election was in no way attributable to Nehru and his ideas. On the other hand, the truth probably lay in the fact that grand old party was probably punished for drifting miles away from what Nehru stood for.

It is by no means a hidden fact that the last couple of years have seen the ascendency of an unfortunate vilification campaign about and around Nehru and his ideas. The campaign managers have gone to the extent of juxtaposing Nehru and Patel in order to induce the nation to believe that the misfortune of this nation tragically began with the choice of Gandhi to pitch Nehru as his political heir. What followed was the most methodical and structured campaign to belittle the Nehru legacy and to replace it with the more ‘organically patriotic’ legacy of Sardar Patel. This, without doubt is the most dangerous design created to manipulate the collective memory of this nation.

As a child growing up with an ‘inherited’ memory derived from a lineage of well-read and politically informed family members, and having been a recipient of historical reminisces derived from factual text books in the mid and late 1970s, it was indeed a matter of good fortune that the counterfactual did not befall me and many people within my generation. Probably, the idea of ‘what-might-have-been’, was an indulgence that was not accessible to those of us who sailed through government run schools, and were nurtured with a pedagogy aiming to cultivate the ‘seeds of unity in diversity’ in us. Perhaps, and more fortunately so, the ones who configured the contours and content of history to be transmitted to us at that time, believed that the brutalization of collective memory based on speculation can only mar the possibility of a diverse yet inclusive India. We were always given to understand that there were significant differences over the nature and direction of the freedom movement as also with regard to the strategic positioning at any given point of time, but there was nothing unduly unnatural or unwarranted in this. Even popular memory informed us that there were unpretentious differences of opinion between Gandhi and Bhagat Singh, between Patel and Gandhi, between Nehru and Gandhi, between Subhash Bose and Gandhi and so on and so forth. This list is exhaustive enough to include more or less the entire galaxy of leaders, together with their divergence of opinion and stance with others in the spectrum. However, what was of immense academic delight was that we in our generation and creed were groomed to acknowledge and appreciate the conspicuous presence of differences of Gandhi with Gandhi himself, or Nehru with Nehru himself and even Patel with Patel himself. The annals of history revealed to us that the palpable differences between Gandhi of 1916-17 and Gandhi of 1931, or between Patel of the Bardoli Satyagrah days to Patel of the Dandi March realm, and Nehru of the Lahore Congress 1929 context and Nehru of the Quit India Movement frame. Suffice it to say, we learnt that such ‘differences’ did not agitate either history or the historians. They certainly did not rake up even a microcosm of quarrel with the historical data. We were encouraged to believe that history is not constituted by mono-causality, and that even great people within the folds of history had the freedom and the prerogative to appear less consistent.

Thus, while the history(and the memory) of the freedom movement appeared to us as a beautiful drapery of different colours and designs, at the same time it was able to showcase the unsullied commitment of our leaders, particularly Pandit Nehru, for the ‘Idea of India’; irrespective of the factual and perceived differences with self and others. In spite of their differences, they certainly were not ailing with what Erik Erikson(1968) terms as pseudospeciation, the belief that only one’s in-group i.e. clan, religion or nation is the whole of humanity. They were much more cosmopolitan in their outlook and thus, were impeccably committed towards translating India into a haven ‘where the mind is without fear and the head is held high.’

We were gratified to discern that the Indian National Congress during the freedom movement was essentially an umbrella organisation with members drawn from all shades of political belief and opinion, which could be seen and imagined in India. It bespeaks of the tall stature of our stalwarts that even within their supposed standoffs, say between Gandhi and Subhash or between Nehru and Patel, the divergence of their views did not dilute their unwavering fervour for a shared vision for India. It did not undermine their collective and synchronised endeavour to build an India that should to be known to the world for its unstinting commitment to secular democracy. These were indeed remarkable people, who took annus mirabilis as well as annus horribilis in their stride; without ill-will, regrets and grudges. Articulated differences on the trajectory of the national movement or the choice of a particular strategy in a roundtable conference only helped them to learn to value and respect equipoise early in their careers. And it is this that has enabled each of us, as inheritors of their legacy, to look fondly at each one of them, individually and collectively, in sepia tone and in colour. In such a context, what could be more regrettable than the counterfactual inferences, of the nature and kind that we see emanating out of the ‘what ifs’, for they can be weapons of mass destruction in the hands of those politicians who love to have sporadic brushes with history. And if the counterfactual posed is distant from the data at hand, it can cause irreparable damage to memory as also history…..for let us not forget that the human civilisation has not yet been able to develop either an instrument or a technology that could rebuild and reconfigure shattered memories and wounded histories.

JawaharLal Nehru occupies a central position in the cognitive framework of a huge majority of Indians, not only as an exceptional writer, a profound thinker, and an exemplary statesman, but also as one who was a youthful dreamer who strove to integrate the ideas of liberalism onto a nation deeply divided on all possible parameters of birth and belonging. Even his ardent critics seldom deny that modern India and some of its most revered and vibrant institutions have been able to withstand the most regressive contestations and challenges only because of the steadfast ideological foundation laid by Nehru and his vision of secular, socialist and democratic India. An agnostic by training and temperament, Nehru had great faith in democracy. He solemnly believed that the Parliament, the Judiciary, the press and the civil society need to work in tandem to enrich each other in the process. He firmly believed that the secular political democracy would not sustain itself unless there was a simultaneous process of democratization of the economy and society. Further, if the economy and the society remained aloof, or were kept insulated from the democratic processes, it shall invariably fail to win a decisive battle against poverty, hunger and inequality. To Nehru, democracy did not merely constitute a political doctrine; it translated into a committed and continuous engagement in the shape of lived reality.

Among the nations which attained independence during the fourth and the fifth decade of the last century, Indian saga emerges as the most notable. This was mainly on account of its pronounced commitment to the secular values, which were deemed as non-negotiable instruments for the state’s engagements in every realm. It goes to the credit of leaders like Gandhi and Nehru who ensured that the concept of Indian secularism moved beyond their limited connotation of an intellectual construct and became the creed shaping the lived reality of this vast and diverse nation. It goes to their credit that we learnt, as an unacquainted and an even reluctant nation, that if the idea of India could exist and sustain, it could only do so within the confines of a secular democratic ethos.

It was Nehru who also strongly advocated the idea of ‘multi-religious’ and went ahead with the professed philosophy of ‘sarva dharma sambhav’ and composite culture. He believed that in a modern plural India, the concept of personal faith and personal conduct must be respected. It is in this context that he famously declared, ‘we are building a free Secular State, where every religion and belief has full freedom and equal honour, whose every citizen has equal liberty and equal opportunity’

 

Scientific Temper and Nehru

A journey into Nehruvian secularism has to be necessarily seen through the lens of a scientific temperament, for it was this temperament which Nehru meticulously tried to inculcate in himself, before making an argument for it to be integrated in the national creed. He wrote:

My early approach to life’s problems had been more or less scientific, with something of the easy optimism of the science of the nineteenth and twentieth century. A secure and comfortable existence, and the energy and the self-confidence I possessed increased that feeling of optimism.  A kind of vague optimism appealed to me. (Nehru, 2002:25)

Nehru’s agnosticism also emanated out of his very personal encounter with the manner in which he saw the practiced reality of religion to which even the thinking and the rational minds submitted without offering any critique. To him, the images of religion (and he meant all the religions of India) were in proximate alliance with credulous practices and rigid beliefs. Nehru believed that ‘there was an element of magic about it, an uncritical credulousness, a reliance on the supernatural.’   ((Nehru, 2002:26)

Unlike some of his contemporaries, Nehru regarded science as a method guiding rational behaviour in public as well as private sphere. His faith in the scientific method was unwavering and unrelenting. Though he never denied that modern science had brought its own share of miseries for humanity, yet he remained committed to the belief that the most vivacious change that it had brought about was the much requisite expansion in the scientific outlook in human beings across continents. He goes on to reiterate: 

Essentially, I am interested in this world, in this life, not in some other world or a future life. ………. The environment in which I have grown up takes the soul (or rather the atma) and a future life, the karma theory of cause and effect, and reincarnation for granted. I have been affected by this and so, in a sense, I am favourably disposed towards these assumptions.  (Nehru, 2002:27)

Through a reading based on reason and scientific temper, Nehru knew the social and economic contours of his nation and her people, and thus had no qualms in declaring that science alone could address the problems of hunger and poverty. A Socialist and a republican by conscious choice, he was truly instrumental in drawing the margins of the society into the mainstream, the latter being hitherto a citadel of a privileged few. He held that the state had to have a ‘maximalist’ role in bridging the gaps between rich and the poor, the privileged and the underprivileged.  As an extension to this impeccable premise, he was vociferously opposed to all forms of oppression and remnants of colonialism.

Nehru was equally aware of the images of superstition and the numbing customs and traditions which could bridle the path of a newly evolving democracy, and therefore he repeatedly articulated that for any society to ignore the charm of science and scientific temper was to do so at its own peril. Nehru was also one of the greatest public intellectuals of his time, for way he thought; and the way he reflected and engaged with his fellow citizens at a very comprehensive level. It was through scientific and methodological tools that he was able to continuously engage in open dialogue and share new insights. He had a tremendous ability to speak with reason even during those times when reason and passion could be easily pitted against each other. Despite having had the misfortune of witnessing some the most barbaric forms of violence and conflict under the garb of religion during his life time, it was his affirmation in reason that made him iterate that the key to a humane, civilised and just society lay within the possibility of a vibrant inter-faith connect and engagement. The agnostic in him did not deter him in envisioning the growing scope of continuous dialogue between faiths so that challenges of a diverse nature could be collectively withstood.

Yes I am convinced that the methods and approach of science have revolutionized human life more than anything else in the long course of history, and have opened doors and avenues of further and even more radical change, leading up to the very portals of what has long been considered the unknown. (Nehru, 2002:31)

His was one voice, and at times a lonely one, which stood for reason and reasonable outcome, even if it led to the shaking of the foundation of a popular belief or a venerated tradition. While proud of the rich heritage of India, he was conscious of the ills prevalent in its society. He lamented the widespread deterioration in public life and inter-community engagement, attributing it to a preference for irrationality over reason.

A rational spirit of inquiry, so evident in earlier times, which might well have led to the further growth of science, is replaced by irrationalism and a blind idolatry of the past. Indian life becomes a sluggish stream, living in the past, moving slowly through the accumulations of dead centuries. (Nehru, 2002:54)

In true sense, Nehru was madly in love with science and believed that it was scientific temperament alone that could create the contours of a diverse, yet inclusive and dynamic India. Many of his critiques misinterpreted his deep regard for science when they trivialised science as being hugely costly research labs or big dams, but for Nehru science was much more than all this….it was a fundamental idea which India needed to imbibe and use, to reboot itself in the newer context in which she found herself. This scientific thinking remained integral to his persona and was instrumental in shaping the policy framework of the government of independent India. It is in this regard that Sarvepalli Gopal, one of the finest biographers of Nehru writes,

‘This fair chance of raising a rational, educated and forward looking society based on modernisation, industrialisation and a scientific temper was made possible by a government that accepted the task, planned for it and informed the people that they had been sentenced to hard labour striving for it (Gopal, 2015, Volume 2, p-306).

 A Tryst with Secularism

Secularism as a political idea undoubtedly had its origins in the West, and it acquired a robust structure through the processes and stages of the Renaissance, the Reformation and the yearning for democracy on the Western shores. It is believed that though certain spiritual and cultural elements of secularism were visible within the annals of Indian history, yet, it was the freedom movement which initiated a discussion and a subsequent articulation on secularism in the Indian context. This version of secularism was not a copy of the text, but an adaptation coursed through our own history and experiences, and who could understand or exposition this better than Nehru?  Indeed it was his unwavering belief that the solution to the problems of India and the world lay in ‘socialism’, perceived not only as a scientific economic doctrine, but accepted as the very guiding philosophy of life.

Nehru’s articulation and subsequent position on secularism indicates a near perfect synergy of scientific temper and his attraction towards Advaita (non-dualist) philosophy of Vedanta. And it is in this context that Nehruvian secularism did not take an adversarial position vis-à-vis religion and traditional belief. Through thousands of letters and public speeches, his impassioned and recurrent appeal to his colleagues and fellow citizens was to keep matters of faith and belief in the personal realm, while keeping matters of governance in the public realm. Nehru envisioned an Indian persona, which could be religious in personal faith and secular in public sphere, in dealing with public institutions as well as with others, who may not share in faith and belief. This could only come from the mind of one who found himself ‘incapable of thinking of a deity or of any unknown supreme power in anthropomorphic terms…..’(Nehru, 2002:28)

It was essentially this scientific temper that Pandit Nehru wanted Indians to nurture in themselves, while encouraging others to imbibe and work on it, which necessitated a submission to science, logic and reasoning, and principled circumvention to preconceived notions and prejudices with respect to others. The Nehruvian ideals of secularism cannot be understood without appreciating its unflinching commitment to justice, equality and democracy. Nehru was acutely aware that the roots of Western secularism had emerged as a reaction against the prevalent religious orthodoxy in that context. While his open and liberal mind appreciated the historical trajectory of the western secularism as an outcome of the prolonged conflict between religion, society and politics, he reckoned that the Indian version of secularism would have to negotiate its structure and position in the context of the specificities of religion, politics and culture in India. For Nehru, secularism was not simply a political philosophy, but a comprehensive normative framework aiming to embrace all faiths, beliefs and communities. It also meant creating a state which should not accord preference on the basis of one’s faith and religion. Nehru’s continuous endeavour was to prepare the instruments and institutions of governance and the state in a frame that considered the practice and profession of religion to be invariably considered in the personal domain of the citizen. As far as the State was concerned, it was premised to remain engaged and committed to the equal opportunity for all against all odds. The desire to draw the shape of a very Hindustani secularism could be traced in one of his early writings:

Whatever the word we may use, Indian or Hindi or Hindustani, for our cultural tradition, we see in the past that some inner urge towards synthesis, derived essentially from the Indian philosophical outlook, was the dominant feature of Indian cultural and even racial development. Each incursion of foreign elements was a challenge to this culture, but it was met successfully by a new synthesis and a process of absorption. This was also a process of rejuvenation and new blooms of culture arose out of it, the background and essential basis, however, remaining the same. (Nehru, 2002:76)

Nehru took his ideas on secularism to the platform of the freedom struggle, and to be fair to him and his contemporaries, it was not an easy expedition.  In the initial years, the great leaders of the movement were not on the same page as far as secularism was concerned. Yet, he carried on with his relentless struggle to bring in the issues and concerns of democratic practices and liberal-secular principles onto centre stage. Several leaders considered the Nehruvian position on Secularism as antithetical to religion, and Nehru had to go through the ordeal of having to repeatedly convince each one of them about his uncompromised respect for religion, with a caveat that religion should not result in decimating the vibrant strands of diversity, which had remained the bedrock of the Indian civilisation. He was in favour of building a political climate wherein religious and cultural aspirations of each citizen were accorded equal respect and recognition. Any violation from this intrinsic principle angered Nehru and he minced no words in denouncing the same openly. On one such occasion, he said:

Friends! you receive me with cries of Bande Mataram , Jai Hind and Jawaharlal ki Jai. These very lusty shouts do not please me anymore. The sturdy peasants, those indefatigable fighters of freedom, those sacrificing millions of Bihar, who toiled and tilled and bore a heavy burden, have gone astray, gone mad with communal frenzy, which I cannot conceive of even. I heard that some want to avenge wrong done in East Bengal districts. Governmental machinery is being accelerated to bring evil doers to proper justice and relief and succour were being made available to sufferers. It is all the mire astonishing and astounding, I consider it to be bad enough, that such things which made the common foe of all communities-British Imperialism-laugh in unholy glee, should have at all happened. This frenzy has delayed the whole scheme of Swaraj. (Selected works, Vol-1, p-59)

While traversing the length and breadth of the country, Nehru kept on sharing with people that in a country like India, with its rich diversity of faith and religions, no other political alternative was either feasible or desirable than carving out a nation on the basis of a secular and democratic framework. To him, anything else would eject India onto a disastrous path, wherein Nationalism itself would become the reason for the breaking up of the country. Nehruvian secularism was therefore a prodigious amalgamation of his  definitive critique of religion posing as an orthodox belief system, as well as a profound appreciation and respect for religion the way it had shaped the Indian civilisation and the psyche of its people. And it was not long when Gandhi expressed the same sentiment. He did not expect India of his dreams to develop one religion that is to be wholly Hindu or wholly Christian or wholly Mussalman, but desired it to be wholly tolerant, with its religions working side by side with one another.

Right through the freedom movement, even when many of his ideas appeared far ahead of the times, and did not always find favour with his colleagues, Nehru remained committed to his dream of working for an India, which would be a happy home to everyone as equals. Beginning with the late 1920s, he could see the impact of religious and communal divide on national life, and as a result he kept on cautioning everyone against the dangers of a politics which thrived on demonising and dehumanising the people and communities of different faiths. With Gandhi on his side, Nehru symbolised a glimmer of hope for people and forces which wished to see India as a secular, socialist and democratic republic. Of all the leaders of the Indian freedom movement, he was the first one (and probably the only one) to see through the design and the inherent dangers of Fascism and Nazism as they were emerging in Europe. It would be in the fitness of things if we look at the Indian political situation of 1940s, wherein the Muslim League was carrying forward a version of nationalism, which was antithetical to what the Indian National Congress had been positioning with. With each passing day there was not enough space available for the articulation and consolidation of that stated position, which Gandhi and Nehru represented, and which was in sync with the thousands of years of historical stream of India. It was this constriction of space, which witnessed a consolidation of rabid communal elements resulting in frequent instances of violence in different parts of India. Bengal in particular was emerging as the hotbed of communal polarisation and following the call by the Muslim League for direct action on 16th August 1946, there were large scale violence. Calcutta symbolised the rot that had set in our political system and thus the Great Calcutta killing which followed witnessed more than ten thousand people dying in just a few days. This indeed was one of those most unfortunate episodes which led to a vicious cycle of violence elsewhere, under the cover of reaction and revenge. Such episodes of violence disturbed the rhythm of the leaders who dreamt of composite nationalism as the foundation stone of independent India and saddened people like Nehru, who had to admonish his fellow citizens quite frequently during the period. He was of the firm belief that in spite of provocation of any magnitude, if people make active and sincere efforts based on reason and rationality, a politics based on the hate and distrust could not succeed. To one such groups in Monghyr (Bihar) on 5th November 1946, he had to use harsh words to convey that the idea of India was far more powerful and far more emotionally unifying than the ones which positioned themselves against.

Twelve years back I visited Monghyr when a great natural calamity in the shape of a great earthquake devastated your district. Today I am again here to witness the distressing effects of another calamity brought about by human beings by their actions against fellow brethren. In case of natural calamities everyone comes to the help of his fellow beings but what is the result when brothers run at each other’s throat. Do you propose to repeat the unfortunate happenings in Bengal by killing the Muslims in Bihar? Is this the way in which you are showing your culture and civilization of what you are so proud? I am sorry to think that those who will suffer for their misdeeds will be the simple minded, unsophisticated kisans who have been hoodwinked and misguided by their leaders who incite them at the cost of their country’s cause. You should be ashamed of your acts of lawlessness. (Selected Works, Volume-1, p-61)

He argued convincingly both within the Congress meetings as also in his public speeches that by itself religion did not have the capacity or the strength to mobilise and lead people to what was communal assertion. He knew and wanted his people to believe that the images of communal polarisation had put fundamental and more urgent questions of equality and justice to the margin of the prevalent discourse. He could see a design in which some people from within the Congress too dreamt of India becoming a majoritarian (communal) state as a natural response to the votaries of Pakistan. Even during the nightmarish years before partition, Nehru remained committed to his imagination of India which shall be run with the spirit of true republicanism, and where there shall be no space for any exclusive brand of nationalism. He was aghast to see some of his political co-travellers putting forward the idea of a Hindu state and had to tell them that such ideologies may hold some charm in the beginning but an entire civilisation would eventually be led to a catastrophe. He articulated his position to his fellow citizens as:

All of you are shouting Jai Hind and ‘Long Live Revolution. But what sort of country do you want to build up? What kind of revolution are you trying to herald by all these communal disturbances that are prevailing in Bihar? It is shameful that Hindus should try to kill a handful of Muslims who are living as their neighbours in the province. I appreciate courage and strength and want people to be courageous and strong. But this courage and strength has to be directed to proper channels and not fritted away in outbursts of communal frenzy. (Selected Works,Vol.1 P-55)

With partition and the creation of a separate state of Pakistan, unlike others in his company, Nehru realised that the issues of communal concerns per se could not be left in the domain of those who raised these issues and thrived on them. After the birth of Pakistan, he had to make sure that the struggle went on to ensure that his nation did not become the Hindu Pakistan. He knew that the best safeguard to counter such reactionary sentiment lay in vigorously promoting tolerance, and committing the state to safeguarding of the uniqueness of each religious group and its culture, apart from promising equality in every sphere. Though deeply aggrieved, he knew his responsibility of explaining the circumstances leading to unavoidable imageries of partition.

India’s heart has been broken but her essential unity has not been destroyed. How will you repair the broken heart? It can be only on the basis of programme. The horrible riots in the Punjab, Bengal and elsewhere were no isolated riots. ……..Our first task should be the establishment of strong central government to rule the country firmly and to assure the individual’s liberty and life. All other questions are of secondary importance.(Selected works, Vol-3, p-110)

Here was a leader whose politics did not believe in propagating a nationalism based on religious identity, yet had to accept the same in view of the restoration of peace and order in a country which was suffering one of the worst spate of communal violence. Throughout his political career he kept on condemning and opposing Jinnah and his Muslim league for rigidly adhering to the two nation theory. However, he was more anguished to witness the echo of the same divisive theory amongst a section of Hindus and the Sikh populace and an unmistakable sympathy for the same in some of his colleagues, with whom he had shared years of struggle to have an India based on composite nationalism.

He exhorted his people to unite to gain strength. But he iterated that this strength must be channelized for constructive purposes and not for killing and looting. A sense of unease was obviously seen during this period when as the prime minister of a just born nation he had to attend to multiple tasks including dealing with some of his colleagues who were keen to make India, the mirror image of Pakistan. His biographer, S. Gopal writes, ‘this disappointment with the general mood gradually extended into a sense of his own isolation from the rank and file of the party. To Nehru the issue of secularism was always one on which no compromise was possible.’(Gopal, 2015:82). The sense of despair notwithstanding, Nehru was not going to give up his position and thus he relentlessly continued to speak of the dangers of majoritarian nationalism, which according to him was akin to fascism. He knew that the battle against communalism had to be fought at many levels, including a persistent struggle in the sphere of culture and psyche. To him, communalism as a narrowing creed could never usher India as a free democratic and liberal society. ‘The only thing communalism can give rise is fascism. This may seem a surprising statement but both fascism and communalism are products of narrow attitude of mind. Both ultimately lead to authoritarianism.’(Selected Works,Volume-4, P-493).

The instantaneous response to the scale of slaughter that Nehru witnessed was one of disbelief. He was horrified but still saw the images of violence as essentially between humanity and inhumanity, between normal decent interaction and brutish behaviour. He wanted his colleagues and the ordinary citizens of India to calm things down and to cooperate with each other so that the tryst with destiny could be saved from going berserk. During all the months of disturbing images of communal polarisation, Nehru grabbed every opportunity to draw Gandhi and his pervading influence on people in order to bring normalcy in the country, as also to contain his colleagues who were swayed to an extent by the politics of communal polarisation. While addressing the students of Allahabad University on 13th December 1947, he echoed the indebtedness of an entire nation to what Gandhiji had done in the riot torn Noakholi and other places.

 

How many of you realise what it has meant to India to have the presence of Mahatma Gandhi these months? We all know of his magnificent services to India and to freedom during the past half century and more. But no service could have been greater than what he has performed during the past four months when in a dissolving world he has been like a rock of purpose and a lighthouse of truth, and his firm low voice has risen above the clamours of the multitude pointing out the path of rightful endeavour.(Gopal, 2015:17)

Speaking at Allahabad, Nehru would not have imagined that the fanatic Hindu right wing design was planning to shut the ‘lighthouse’ Nehru really needed, more than ever before.  A spate of tremors were thus in the offing for the entire nation while communal polarisation was engulfing new areas and hitherto unaffected people. Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by Nathu Ram Godse, a flag bearer of the Hindu right wing organisation. That inauspicious day when the Mahatma was killed for standing up for an inclusive and secular India, marked not only the tragedy of having lost the ‘light’, it also indicated the abysmal  level of the ‘rot of intolerance’ which had set its foothold in  society. Nehru was emotionally shattered and dejected for having lost a ‘father figure’ with whom he disagreed quite often, but also adored and regarded as a beacon of hope when despair was the order of the day. Reaching Birla House on listening to the tragedy, he ‘sobbed like a child’ and his devastated first reaction was, ‘The light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere. I do not know what to tell you and how to say it. Our beloved leader, Bapu as we called him, the Father of the Nation, is no more’. But the pragmatic in him made him immediately revise his first emotional reaction for he knew that the rising tide of communal conflagration would not be satiated even by the sacrifice of the most precious of Indian lives.

The light has gone out, I said, and yet I was wrong. For the light that shone in this country was no ordinary light. The light that has illumined this country for these many years will illumine this country for many more years, and a thousand years later, that light will be seen in this country and the world will see it and it will give solace to innumerable hearts. For that light represented something more than the immediate past, it represented the living, the eternal truths, reminding us of the right path, drawing us from error, taking this ancient country to freedom. (Gopal, 2015:25)

He wanted an entire nation which was in mourning to see what the spectre of communalism had done and wanted each one of the citizens to feel responsible for this unprecedented tragedy. He wanted the nation to see through the loss of world’s greatest man as a collective national shame. He exhorted his people that this mourning should give them the conviction to say a bold ‘No’ to continued bloodshed and intolerance towards the demonised others.

The past three days have changed the entire face of the country. A mad man has shot Gandhiji. But what is the use of being angry with an individual? He will be tried under the law and punished. What we have to see is that how and why even one man among 40 crores of Indians dared to inflict this terrible wound on our country. How was an atmosphere created in which people like him dared call themselves Indians? (Selected Works, Volume-5, p-42)

Nehru was acutely aware of the dimensions that communal politics had acquired, and thus just two days before the assassination of Bapu he wrote to Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, sharing his concerns regarding the nefarious activities of the Hindu Mahasabha. While sharing his anguish over the Hindu Mahasabha, he also shared with him that he was also aware of the objectionable posturing of the RSS and its involvement in riots and disorder in different parts of India.

…..what pains me most is the extreme vulgarity and indecency of speeches being made from Hindu Mahasabha platforms. Gandhi Murdabad is one of their special slogans. Recently a prominent leader of the Hindu Mahasabha stated that an objective to aim at was the hanging of Nehru, Sardar Patel and Maulana Azad. Normally one does not like to interfere with any political activities however much one may dislike them. But there is a limit to this kind of thing, and I fear that the limit is being reached if it has not already been crossed. I write to you especially because of your own close association with the Hindu Mahasabha. (Selected Works,Volume-5, pp-30-31)

Since the beginning of the 1950s, there was a phenomenal increase in the migration of Hindus from East Bengal, creating a panic amongst the Muslims of Calcutta.  During this tumultuous phase, Nehru contemplated resigning from the position of Prime Minister as he was getting an appalling feeling that the party and the people he had worked for so far were drifting away to the politics of communal polarisation. S. Gopal (2015:82) cites an excerpt out of his letter to Mehar Chand Khanna in this context:

So far as I am concerned, my own mind is perfectly clear in these matters and I have viewed with dismay and sorrow the narrow and communal outlook that has progressively grown in this country and which shows itself in a variety of ways. I shall cease to be the Prime Minister the moment I realise that this outlook has come to stay and that I cannot my duty as I conceive it.

On the issue of continuous migration from Bengal and the conflicting views of some of the Congress ministers and functionaries, Nehru wanted to urgently provide a sense of security to the Hindus of East Bengal. According to S. Gopal, for this to happen, Nehru would have to don the mantle of Gandhi. Writing to Sardar Patel, he was indisputably clear in his mind that in order to reach out and provide healing touch to the suffering humanity, he would have to give up the position of Prime Minister. Contemplating this, he wrote to Sardar Patel:

I think I could make a difference there and it is of the highest importance that we should not allow ourselves to be submerged by the Bengal problem. Hence I come to the conclusion that I should get out of office……….I cannot do this as Prime Minister, more especially because the views of the party are not in line with my own…… … I wish to repeat that, constituted as I am, I find it more and more difficult not to take some such action. (Gopal, 2015:83).

Despite all of these traumatic events, coupled with the uncomfortable and adversarial political posturing by some of his colleagues, Nehru was not willing to compromise his position on the liberal and secular tenets governing the state and public life. Several of his colleagues accepted his advocacy of secular creed for the nation, albeit reluctantly, but were keen that the Indian Muslims should provide their proof of loyalty. While they agreed with Nehru that attacks against the Muslims were cowardly, they also believed that Muslims would have to be faithful to India, and if not, they would have to go to Pakistan. But to Nehru, it was patently wrong to seek any guarantees of loyalty; that could not be produced to order or by fear, but could only come as a natural product of circumstances, and it was for the majority, in India or Pakistan, to create such circumstances. (Gopal, 2015-86)

…….But you will appreciate that the history of the last few years especially of last year has increased communal suspicion and bitterness. Is it surprising that those Muslims who till yesterday were champions of Pakistan should be viewed with suspicion when they talk of loyalty to India? It is a little absurd of some of our people to speak incessantly about demanding loyalty from the Muslims or any others. Loyalty does not come by compulsion. I have little doubt that the Muslims in India have undergone a big sea change as soon as the partition came and after they have seen the consequences of this partition.( Selected Works, volume-7, pp-4-9)

Taking the issue further, Nehru continued to write to his Chief Ministers about the dangers of parochial and partisan approaches in matters of governance. He was absolutely clear in his mind that as Prime Minister and as leader of the Congress party, he would not sanction communal polarisation to dictate matters of statecraft and would do everything under his command not to tolerate any uncivilised and barbarous behaviour.

Even amidst the spate of frequent discordant notes with some of his most valuable colleagues, Nehru was deeply traumatised by the developments in a rather non-descript town called Faizabad (Ayodhya) in UP. It was this locale that saw the manufacturing of a very serious challenge to the Nehruvian commitment to Secularism. At midnight of 22nd December 1949, an idol of Lord Rama surreptitiously appeared within the precincts of the Babri Masjid. This event vitiated the already charged up communal atmosphere. This was a huge jolt to Nehru, for during most part of his early political career, he had spent time in every nook and corner of this state, which had developed such a communal hotbed. A visibly shaken, but not deterred Nehru, continued his battle against the communal elements both within his party and outside. He kept appealing to his colleagues to understand and develop respect for each other, which essentially was the core of any meaningful human relationship. In the backdrop to the developments in Ayodhya, some of the Congress leaders were demanding that the Muslims adopt the ‘Hindu culture’, thereby leading the town to become a veritable tinderbox (Jha and Jha, 2012:85). In such a temporal context, Nehru wrote to Mohanlal Saxena, the Union minister for rehabilitation:

 

…. what does upset one is the complete degradation of human nature and even more, the attempt to find justification for this…. Indeed the U.P is becoming almost a foreign land for me. I do not fit in there. The U.P Congress committee, with which I have been associated for thirty-five years, now functions in a manner which amazes me. Its voice is not the voice of the Congress I have known, but something which I have opposed for the greater part of my life…….communalism has invaded the minds and hearts of those who were pillars of the congress in the past. It is a creeping paralysis and the patient does not even realise it…(Gopal, 2015: 92)

Even amidst the seemingly dark clouds of communalism hovering around, Nehru wanted his colleagues and his fellow citizens to see that communal polarisation and separatist tendencies would only push the important issues of fight against poverty and unemployment to the side-lines of public concern and priority. It was also likely to weaken the institutions and structures which were created to lead India on the path to being a vibrant democracy. He wanted the rank and file of the Congress to acknowledge that the success of communalism would also indicate the failure of the party in developing a counter strategy to the politics of polarisation. He declared that ‘..nothing was worse in a democracy than complacency on the part of a government or of the people.(Gopal, 2015:156). Even on the eve of the first general election, Nehru was more worried about the democratic practices and processes rather than the outcome; for he believed that he had bigger things in mind such as democratising the organisation of the Congress; and making institutions attend to the needs and concerns of everyone without bias and prejudice. Yet, he was more than instrumental in ensuring the accomplishment of the first ever election in a free and fair manner. This indeed was the first seed sown to ‘strengthen and deepen the spirit of democracy’. On issues relating to the means and ends in such an important election, Nehru was lovingly candid in speaking his mind when he said:

 ‘I would like to repeat that it is better to lose elections than to give up something which has been the basis of our national movement and that is the foundation of all progress in India’.(Khosla, 2014:56).His biographer S. Gopal writes, ‘the decision to hold elections on the basis of adult suffrage in a vast country with a large and mostly illiterate population had been a pure act of faith on Nehru’s part; and he was vindicated by the result’.(Gopal, 2015:162).

In this open season, when Nehru is being fervently disparaged by those who probably have no sense of history, and who lack both the conviction and the courage to look at the finer details of the making of India in those turbulent years, do they not see that it well-nigh impossible to weave a historical narrative on the way the Indian state and society have worked for strengthening communal relations without acknowledging the significant part played by Nehru? It was indeed Nehru who continued to speak a language of peace and togetherness, even when some of his dearest colleagues wanted him to make India take on the mantle of a Hindu Pakistan. It was Nehru who believed that a politics which tells its people to situate themselves in a self-perpetuating image of their own faith or in a dominant way of thinking and doing things that may appear to be the natural course or just common sense. He had to warn his people and his colleagues that, it was potently dangerous in the longer run for the same people. Can we deny that the Nehru’s warnings are coming so spot-on, in view of harangues being undertaken by the diseased body of the right wing Organisations? In spite of the Ayodhyas and the Godhras, and even the Gharwapsis, if the moral community from amongst the Indian citizens stands up to question, it shall only reinforce the sentiment that the Nehruvian ideas on secularism can never be crushed, and least of all in a general election which comes after every five years. Notwithstanding a climate which aims to threaten the liberal democratic ethos of the Indian people, one must realise what Bauman (1986), articulated so meaningfully when he said, ‘the hardest of struggles is to remain human in inhuman conditions, and that is the essence of remaining committed to ideas like secularism, even when they at times appear not to be in vogue.

Even for the most ardent of his admirers, wrapping up a discussion on Nehruvian secularism is undoubtedly an exceedingly difficult proposition, and being one in this creed, I can only follow and reproduce what Inder Malhotra(2006-7), the veteran journalist wrote of the man that Nehru was and remains:

India is a better place to live in because Nehru lived, and no matter how long the babies born on the diamond jubilee of Independence live, they will never see the like of him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

 

Erikson, E. H.(1968). Identity, Youth and Crisis, New York, W. W. Norton

Gopal, Sarvepalli (Ed.)  (1988). Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru. Second Series, volume-1 to 11. Delhi: Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund..

Gopal, Sarvepalli (2015).  Jawharlal Nehru-A Biography (Vol.1-3). New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Jha, Krishna and Jha, Dhirendra K. (2012).  Ayodhya : The Dark Night. New Delhi: HarperCollins Publishers India.

Khosla,  Madhav (Ed.). (2014). Letters for a Nation. New Delhi: Allen Lane.

Malhotra, Inder  (2007). Nehru’s Luminous Legacy. India International Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 60 (WINTER 2006-SPRING 2007):33

Nehru,  Jawaharlal (2002). The Discovery of India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

 

[1] O Iqbal, you really are something else!

You can be the life of the party,

Yet be alone all the while.

 

Hai ajab majmooa-e-izdaad, Ai Iqbal tu

Rauna-e-hangama-e-mehfil bhi hai, tanha bhi hai[1]

 

In the month of November 2014, one leading newsweekly published from Delhi had a black and white cover with the title-‘Can Nehru Survive Modi?’ Thankfully the question mark used by the magazine cover left scope for those voices which earnestly believe that the loss in the 2014 general election was in no way attributable to Nehru and his ideas. On the other hand, the truth probably lay in the fact that grand old party was probably punished for drifting miles away from what Nehru stood for.

It is by no means a hidden fact that the last couple of years have seen the ascendency of an unfortunate vilification campaign about and around Nehru and his ideas. The campaign managers have gone to the extent of juxtaposing Nehru and Patel in order to induce the nation to believe that the misfortune of this nation tragically began with the choice of Gandhi to pitch Nehru as his political heir. What followed was the most methodical and structured campaign to belittle the Nehru legacy and to replace it with the more ‘organically patriotic’ legacy of Sardar Patel. This, without doubt is the most dangerous design created to manipulate the collective memory of this nation.

 

As a child growing up with an ‘inherited’ memory derived from a lineage of well-read and politically informed family members, and having been a recipient of historical reminisces derived from factual text books in the mid and late 1970s, it was indeed a matter of good fortune that the counterfactual did not befall me and many people within my generation. Probably, the idea of ‘what-might-have-been’, was an indulgence that was not accessible to those of us who sailed through government run schools, and were nurtured with a pedagogy aiming to cultivate the ‘seeds of unity in diversity’ in us. Perhaps, and more fortunately so, the ones who configured the contours and content of history to be transmitted to us at that time, believed that the brutalization of collective memory based on speculation can only mar the possibility of a diverse yet inclusive India. We were always given to understand that there were significant differences over the nature and direction of the freedom movement as also with regard to the strategic positioning at any given point of time, but there was nothing unduly unnatural or unwarranted in this. Even popular memory informed us that there were unpretentious differences of opinion between Gandhi and Bhagat Singh, between Patel and Gandhi, between Nehru and Gandhi, between Subhash Bose and Gandhi and so on and so forth. This list is exhaustive enough to include more or less the entire galaxy of leaders, together with their divergence of opinion and stance with others in the spectrum. However, what was of immense academic delight was that we in our generation and creed were groomed to acknowledge and appreciate the conspicuous presence of differences of Gandhi with Gandhi himself, or Nehru with Nehru himself and even Patel with Patel himself. The annals of history revealed to us that the palpable differences between Gandhi of 1916-17 and Gandhi of 1931, or between Patel of the Bardoli Satyagrah days to Patel of the Dandi March realm, and Nehru of the Lahore Congress 1929 context and Nehru of the Quit India Movement frame. Suffice it to say, we learnt that such ‘differences’ did not agitate either history or the historians. They certainly did not rake up even a microcosm of quarrel with the historical data. We were encouraged to believe that history is not constituted by mono-causality, and that even great people within the folds of history had the freedom and the prerogative to appear less consistent.

Thus, while the history(and the memory) of the freedom movement appeared to us as a beautiful drapery of different colours and designs, at the same time it was able to showcase the unsullied commitment of our leaders, particularly Pandit Nehru, for the ‘Idea of India’; irrespective of the factual and perceived differences with self and others. In spite of their differences, they certainly were not ailing with what Erik Erikson(1968) terms as pseudospeciation, the belief that only one’s in-group i.e. clan, religion or nation is the whole of humanity. They were much more cosmopolitan in their outlook and thus, were impeccably committed towards translating India into a haven ‘where the mind is without fear and the head is held high.’

We were gratified to discern that the Indian National Congress during the freedom movement was essentially an umbrella organisation with members drawn from all shades of political belief and opinion, which could be seen and imagined in India. It bespeaks of the tall stature of our stalwarts that even within their supposed standoffs, say between Gandhi and Subhash or between Nehru and Patel, the divergence of their views did not dilute their unwavering fervour for a shared vision for India. It did not undermine their collective and synchronised endeavour to build an India that should to be known to the world for its unstinting commitment to secular democracy. These were indeed remarkable people, who took annus mirabilis as well as annus horribilis in their stride; without ill-will, regrets and grudges. Articulated differences on the trajectory of the national movement or the choice of a particular strategy in a roundtable conference only helped them to learn to value and respect equipoise early in their careers. And it is this that has enabled each of us, as inheritors of their legacy, to look fondly at each one of them, individually and collectively, in sepia tone and in colour. In such a context, what could be more regrettable than the counterfactual inferences, of the nature and kind that we see emanating out of the ‘what ifs’, for they can be weapons of mass destruction in the hands of those politicians who love to have sporadic brushes with history. And if the counterfactual posed is distant from the data at hand, it can cause irreparable damage to memory as also history…..for let us not forget that the human civilisation has not yet been able to develop either an instrument or a technology that could rebuild and reconfigure shattered memories and wounded histories.

JawaharLal Nehru occupies a central position in the cognitive framework of a huge majority of Indians, not only as an exceptional writer, a profound thinker, and an exemplary statesman, but also as one who was a youthful dreamer who strove to integrate the ideas of liberalism onto a nation deeply divided on all possible parameters of birth and belonging. Even his ardent critics seldom deny that modern India and some of its most revered and vibrant institutions have been able to withstand the most regressive contestations and challenges only because of the steadfast ideological foundation laid by Nehru and his vision of secular, socialist and democratic India. An agnostic by training and temperament, Nehru had great faith in democracy. He solemnly believed that the Parliament, the Judiciary, the press and the civil society need to work in tandem to enrich each other in the process. He firmly believed that the secular political democracy would not sustain itself unless there was a simultaneous process of democratization of the economy and society. Further, if the economy and the society remained aloof, or were kept insulated from the democratic processes, it shall invariably fail to win a decisive battle against poverty, hunger and inequality. To Nehru, democracy did not merely constitute a political doctrine; it translated into a committed and continuous engagement in the shape of lived reality.

Among the nations which attained independence during the fourth and the fifth decade of the last century, Indian saga emerges as the most notable. This was mainly on account of its pronounced commitment to the secular values, which were deemed as non-negotiable instruments for the state’s engagements in every realm. It goes to the credit of leaders like Gandhi and Nehru who ensured that the concept of Indian secularism moved beyond their limited connotation of an intellectual construct and became the creed shaping the lived reality of this vast and diverse nation. It goes to their credit that we learnt, as an unacquainted and an even reluctant nation, that if the idea of India could exist and sustain, it could only do so within the confines of a secular democratic ethos.

It was Nehru who also strongly advocated the idea of ‘multi-religious’ and went ahead with the professed philosophy of ‘sarva dharma sambhav’ and composite culture. He believed that in a modern plural India, the concept of personal faith and personal conduct must be respected. It is in this context that he famously declared, ‘we are building a free Secular State, where every religion and belief has full freedom and equal honour, whose every citizen has equal liberty and equal opportunity’

 

Scientific Temper and Nehru

A journey into Nehruvian secularism has to be necessarily seen through the lens of a scientific temperament, for it was this temperament which Nehru meticulously tried to inculcate in himself, before making an argument for it to be integrated in the national creed. He wrote:

My early approach to life’s problems had been more or less scientific, with something of the easy optimism of the science of the nineteenth and twentieth century. A secure and comfortable existence, and the energy and the self-confidence I possessed increased that feeling of optimism.  A kind of vague optimism appealed to me. (Nehru, 2002:25)

Nehru’s agnosticism also emanated out of his very personal encounter with the manner in which he saw the practiced reality of religion to which even the thinking and the rational minds submitted without offering any critique. To him, the images of religion (and he meant all the religions of India) were in proximate alliance with credulous practices and rigid beliefs. Nehru believed that ‘there was an element of magic about it, an uncritical credulousness, a reliance on the supernatural.’   ((Nehru, 2002:26)

Unlike some of his contemporaries, Nehru regarded science as a method guiding rational behaviour in public as well as private sphere. His faith in the scientific method was unwavering and unrelenting. Though he never denied that modern science had brought its own share of miseries for humanity, yet he remained committed to the belief that the most vivacious change that it had brought about was the much requisite expansion in the scientific outlook in human beings across continents. He goes on to reiterate: 

Essentially, I am interested in this world, in this life, not in some other world or a future life. ………. The environment in which I have grown up takes the soul (or rather the atma) and a future life, the karma theory of cause and effect, and reincarnation for granted. I have been affected by this and so, in a sense, I am favourably disposed towards these assumptions.  (Nehru, 2002:27)

 

Through a reading based on reason and scientific temper, Nehru knew the social and economic contours of his nation and her people, and thus had no qualms in declaring that science alone could address the problems of hunger and poverty. A Socialist and a republican by conscious choice, he was truly instrumental in drawing the margins of the society into the mainstream, the latter being hitherto a citadel of a privileged few. He held that the state had to have a ‘maximalist’ role in bridging the gaps between rich and the poor, the privileged and the underprivileged.  As an extension to this impeccable premise, he was vociferously opposed to all forms of oppression and remnants of colonialism.

Nehru was equally aware of the images of superstition and the numbing customs and traditions which could bridle the path of a newly evolving democracy, and therefore he repeatedly articulated that for any society to ignore the charm of science and scientific temper was to do so at its own peril. Nehru was also one of the greatest public intellectuals of his time, for way he thought; and the way he reflected and engaged with his fellow citizens at a very comprehensive level. It was through scientific and methodological tools that he was able to continuously engage in open dialogue and share new insights. He had a tremendous ability to speak with reason even during those times when reason and passion could be easily pitted against each other. Despite having had the misfortune of witnessing some the most barbaric forms of violence and conflict under the garb of religion during his life time, it was his affirmation in reason that made him iterate that the key to a humane, civilised and just society lay within the possibility of a vibrant inter-faith connect and engagement. The agnostic in him did not deter him in envisioning the growing scope of continuous dialogue between faiths so that challenges of a diverse nature could be collectively withstood.

Yes I am convinced that the methods and approach of science have revolutionized human life more than anything else in the long course of history, and have opened doors and avenues of further and even more radical change, leading up to the very portals of what has long been considered the unknown. (Nehru, 2002:31)

His was one voice, and at times a lonely one, which stood for reason and reasonable outcome, even if it led to the shaking of the foundation of a popular belief or a venerated tradition. While proud of the rich heritage of India, he was conscious of the ills prevalent in its society. He lamented the widespread deterioration in public life and inter-community engagement, attributing it to a preference for irrationality over reason.

 

A rational spirit of inquiry, so evident in earlier times, which might well have led to the further growth of science, is replaced by irrationalism and a blind idolatry of the past. Indian life becomes a sluggish stream, living in the past, moving slowly through the accumulations of dead centuries. (Nehru, 2002:54)

 

In true sense, Nehru was madly in love with science and believed that it was scientific temperament alone that could create the contours of a diverse, yet inclusive and dynamic India. Many of his critiques misinterpreted his deep regard for science when they trivialised science as being hugely costly research labs or big dams, but for Nehru science was much more than all this….it was a fundamental idea which India needed to imbibe and use, to reboot itself in the newer context in which she found herself. This scientific thinking remained integral to his persona and was instrumental in shaping the policy framework of the government of independent India. It is in this regard that Sarvepalli Gopal, one of the finest biographers of Nehru writes,

 

‘This fair chance of raising a rational, educated and forward looking society based on modernisation, industrialisation and a scientific temper was made possible by a government that accepted the task, planned for it and informed the people that they had been sentenced to hard labour striving for it (Gopal, 2015, Volume 2, p-306).

 

A Tryst with Secularism

 

Secularism as a political idea undoubtedly had its origins in the West, and it acquired a robust structure through the processes and stages of the Renaissance, the Reformation and the yearning for democracy on the Western shores. It is believed that though certain spiritual and cultural elements of secularism were visible within the annals of Indian history, yet, it was the freedom movement which initiated a discussion and a subsequent articulation on secularism in the Indian context. This version of secularism was not a copy of the text, but an adaptation coursed through our own history and experiences, and who could understand or exposition this better than Nehru?  Indeed it was his unwavering belief that the solution to the problems of India and the world lay in ‘socialism’, perceived not only as a scientific economic doctrine, but accepted as the very guiding philosophy of life.

Nehru’s articulation and subsequent position on secularism indicates a near perfect synergy of scientific temper and his attraction towards Advaita (non-dualist) philosophy of Vedanta. And it is in this context that Nehruvian secularism did not take an adversarial position vis-à-vis religion and traditional belief. Through thousands of letters and public speeches, his impassioned and recurrent appeal to his colleagues and fellow citizens was to keep matters of faith and belief in the personal realm, while keeping matters of governance in the public realm. Nehru envisioned an Indian persona, which could be religious in personal faith and secular in public sphere, in dealing with public institutions as well as with others, who may not share in faith and belief. This could only come from the mind of one who found himself ‘incapable of thinking of a deity or of any unknown supreme power in anthropomorphic terms…..’(Nehru, 2002:28)

It was essentially this scientific temper that Pandit Nehru wanted Indians to nurture in themselves, while encouraging others to imbibe and work on it, which necessitated a submission to science, logic and reasoning, and principled circumvention to preconceived notions and prejudices with respect to others. The Nehruvian ideals of secularism cannot be understood without appreciating its unflinching commitment to justice, equality and democracy. Nehru was acutely aware that the roots of Western secularism had emerged as a reaction against the prevalent religious orthodoxy in that context. While his open and liberal mind appreciated the historical trajectory of the western secularism as an outcome of the prolonged conflict between religion, society and politics, he reckoned that the Indian version of secularism would have to negotiate its structure and position in the context of the specificities of religion, politics and culture in India. For Nehru, secularism was not simply a political philosophy, but a comprehensive normative framework aiming to embrace all faiths, beliefs and communities. It also meant creating a state which should not accord preference on the basis of one’s faith and religion. Nehru’s continuous endeavour was to prepare the instruments and institutions of governance and the state in a frame that considered the practice and profession of religion to be invariably considered in the personal domain of the citizen. As far as the State was concerned, it was premised to remain engaged and committed to the equal opportunity for all against all odds. The desire to draw the shape of a very Hindustani secularism could be traced in one of his early writings:

 

Whatever the word we may use, Indian or Hindi or Hindustani, for our cultural tradition, we see in the past that some inner urge towards synthesis, derived essentially from the Indian philosophical outlook, was the dominant feature of Indian cultural and even racial development. Each incursion of foreign elements was a challenge to this culture, but it was met successfully by a new synthesis and a process of absorption. This was also a process of rejuvenation and new blooms of culture arose out of it, the background and essential basis, however, remaining the same. (Nehru, 2002:76)

Nehru took his ideas on secularism to the platform of the freedom struggle, and to be fair to him and his contemporaries, it was not an easy expedition.  In the initial years, the great leaders of the movement were not on the same page as far as secularism was concerned. Yet, he carried on with his relentless struggle to bring in the issues and concerns of democratic practices and liberal-secular principles onto centre stage. Several leaders considered the Nehruvian position on Secularism as antithetical to religion, and Nehru had to go through the ordeal of having to repeatedly convince each one of them about his uncompromised respect for religion, with a caveat that religion should not result in decimating the vibrant strands of diversity, which had remained the bedrock of the Indian civilisation. He was in favour of building a political climate wherein religious and cultural aspirations of each citizen were accorded equal respect and recognition. Any violation from this intrinsic principle angered Nehru and he minced no words in denouncing the same openly. On one such occasion, he said:

 

Friends! you receive me with cries of Bande Mataram , Jai Hind and Jawaharlal ki Jai. These very lusty shouts do not please me anymore. The sturdy peasants, those indefatigable fighters of freedom, those sacrificing millions of Bihar, who toiled and tilled and bore a heavy burden, have gone astray, gone mad with communal frenzy, which I cannot conceive of even. I heard that some want to avenge wrong done in East Bengal districts. Governmental machinery is being accelerated to bring evil doers to proper justice and relief and succour were being made available to sufferers. It is all the mire astonishing and astounding, I consider it to be bad enough, that such things which made the common foe of all communities-British Imperialism-laugh in unholy glee, should have at all happened. This frenzy has delayed the whole scheme of Swaraj. (Selected works, Vol-1, p-59)

While traversing the length and breadth of the country, Nehru kept on sharing with people that in a country like India, with its rich diversity of faith and religions, no other political alternative was either feasible or desirable than carving out a nation on the basis of a secular and democratic framework. To him, anything else would eject India onto a disastrous path, wherein Nationalism itself would become the reason for the breaking up of the country. Nehruvian secularism was therefore a prodigious amalgamation of his  definitive critique of religion posing as an orthodox belief system, as well as a profound appreciation and respect for religion the way it had shaped the Indian civilisation and the psyche of its people. And it was not long when Gandhi expressed the same sentiment. He did not expect India of his dreams to develop one religion that is to be wholly Hindu or wholly Christian or wholly Mussalman, but desired it to be wholly tolerant, with its religions working side by side with one another.

Right through the freedom movement, even when many of his ideas appeared far ahead of the times, and did not always find favour with his colleagues, Nehru remained committed to his dream of working for an India, which would be a happy home to everyone as equals. Beginning with the late 1920s, he could see the impact of religious and communal divide on national life, and as a result he kept on cautioning everyone against the dangers of a politics which thrived on demonising and dehumanising the people and communities of different faiths. With Gandhi on his side, Nehru symbolised a glimmer of hope for people and forces which wished to see India as a secular, socialist and democratic republic. Of all the leaders of the Indian freedom movement, he was the first one (and probably the only one) to see through the design and the inherent dangers of Fascism and Nazism as they were emerging in Europe. It would be in the fitness of things if we look at the Indian political situation of 1940s, wherein the Muslim League was carrying forward a version of nationalism, which was antithetical to what the Indian National Congress had been positioning with. With each passing day there was not enough space available for the articulation and consolidation of that stated position, which Gandhi and Nehru represented, and which was in sync with the thousands of years of historical stream of India. It was this constriction of space, which witnessed a consolidation of rabid communal elements resulting in frequent instances of violence in different parts of India. Bengal in particular was emerging as the hotbed of communal polarisation and following the call by the Muslim League for direct action on 16th August 1946, there were large scale violence. Calcutta symbolised the rot that had set in our political system and thus the Great Calcutta killing which followed witnessed more than ten thousand people dying in just a few days. This indeed was one of those most unfortunate episodes which led to a vicious cycle of violence elsewhere, under the cover of reaction and revenge. Such episodes of violence disturbed the rhythm of the leaders who dreamt of composite nationalism as the foundation stone of independent India and saddened people like Nehru, who had to admonish his fellow citizens quite frequently during the period. He was of the firm belief that in spite of provocation of any magnitude, if people make active and sincere efforts based on reason and rationality, a politics based on the hate and distrust could not succeed. To one such groups in Monghyr (Bihar) on 5th November 1946, he had to use harsh words to convey that the idea of India was far more powerful and far more emotionally unifying than the ones which positioned themselves against.

Twelve years back I visited Monghyr when a great natural calamity in the shape of a great earthquake devastated your district. Today I am again here to witness the distressing effects of another calamity brought about by human beings by their actions against fellow brethren. In case of natural calamities everyone comes to the help of his fellow beings but what is the result when brothers run at each other’s throat. Do you propose to repeat the unfortunate happenings in Bengal by killing the Muslims in Bihar? Is this the way in which you are showing your culture and civilization of what you are so proud? I am sorry to think that those who will suffer for their misdeeds will be the simple minded, unsophisticated kisans who have been hoodwinked and misguided by their leaders who incite them at the cost of their country’s cause. You should be ashamed of your acts of lawlessness. (Selected Works, Volume-1, p-61)

 

He argued convincingly both within the Congress meetings as also in his public speeches that by itself religion did not have the capacity or the strength to mobilise and lead people to what was communal assertion. He knew and wanted his people to believe that the images of communal polarisation had put fundamental and more urgent questions of equality and justice to the margin of the prevalent discourse. He could see a design in which some people from within the Congress too dreamt of India becoming a majoritarian (communal) state as a natural response to the votaries of Pakistan. Even during the nightmarish years before partition, Nehru remained committed to his imagination of India which shall be run with the spirit of true republicanism, and where there shall be no space for any exclusive brand of nationalism. He was aghast to see some of his political co-travellers putting forward the idea of a Hindu state and had to tell them that such ideologies may hold some charm in the beginning but an entire civilisation would eventually be led to a catastrophe. He articulated his position to his fellow citizens as:

All of you are shouting Jai Hind and ‘Long Live Revolution. But what sort of country do you want to build up? What kind of revolution are you trying to herald by all these communal disturbances that are prevailing in Bihar? It is shameful that Hindus should try to kill a handful of Muslims who are living as their neighbours in the province. I appreciate courage and strength and want people to be courageous and strong. But this courage and strength has to be directed to proper channels and not fritted away in outbursts of communal frenzy. (Selected Works,Vol.1 P-55)

With partition and the creation of a separate state of Pakistan, unlike others in his company, Nehru realised that the issues of communal concerns per se could not be left in the domain of those who raised these issues and thrived on them. After the birth of Pakistan, he had to make sure that the struggle went on to ensure that his nation did not become the Hindu Pakistan. He knew that the best safeguard to counter such reactionary sentiment lay in vigorously promoting tolerance, and committing the state to safeguarding of the uniqueness of each religious group and its culture, apart from promising equality in every sphere. Though deeply aggrieved, he knew his responsibility of explaining the circumstances leading to unavoidable imageries of partition.

India’s heart has been broken but her essential unity has not been destroyed. How will you repair the broken heart? It can be only on the basis of programme. The horrible riots in the Punjab, Bengal and elsewhere were no isolated riots. ……..Our first task should be the establishment of strong central government to rule the country firmly and to assure the individual’s liberty and life. All other questions are of secondary importance.(Selected works, Vol-3, p-110)

Here was a leader whose politics did not believe in propagating a nationalism based on religious identity, yet had to accept the same in view of the restoration of peace and order in a country which was suffering one of the worst spate of communal violence. Throughout his political career he kept on condemning and opposing Jinnah and his Muslim league for rigidly adhering to the two nation theory. However, he was more anguished to witness the echo of the same divisive theory amongst a section of Hindus and the Sikh populace and an unmistakable sympathy for the same in some of his colleagues, with whom he had shared years of struggle to have an India based on composite nationalism.

He exhorted his people to unite to gain strength. But he iterated that this strength must be channelized for constructive purposes and not for killing and looting. A sense of unease was obviously seen during this period when as the prime minister of a just born nation he had to attend to multiple tasks including dealing with some of his colleagues who were keen to make India, the mirror image of Pakistan. His biographer, S. Gopal writes, ‘this disappointment with the general mood gradually extended into a sense of his own isolation from the rank and file of the party. To Nehru the issue of secularism was always one on which no compromise was possible.’(Gopal, 2015:82). The sense of despair notwithstanding, Nehru was not going to give up his position and thus he relentlessly continued to speak of the dangers of majoritarian nationalism, which according to him was akin to fascism. He knew that the battle against communalism had to be fought at many levels, including a persistent struggle in the sphere of culture and psyche. To him, communalism as a narrowing creed could never usher India as a free democratic and liberal society. ‘The only thing communalism can give rise is fascism. This may seem a surprising statement but both fascism and communalism are products of narrow attitude of mind. Both ultimately lead to authoritarianism.’(Selected Works,Volume-4, P-493).

The instantaneous response to the scale of slaughter that Nehru witnessed was one of disbelief. He was horrified but still saw the images of violence as essentially between humanity and inhumanity, between normal decent interaction and brutish behaviour. He wanted his colleagues and the ordinary citizens of India to calm things down and to cooperate with each other so that the tryst with destiny could be saved from going berserk. During all the months of disturbing images of communal polarisation, Nehru grabbed every opportunity to draw Gandhi and his pervading influence on people in order to bring normalcy in the country, as also to contain his colleagues who were swayed to an extent by the politics of communal polarisation. While addressing the students of Allahabad University on 13th December 1947, he echoed the indebtedness of an entire nation to what Gandhiji had done in the riot torn Noakholi and other places.

 

How many of you realise what it has meant to India to have the presence of Mahatma Gandhi these months? We all know of his magnificent services to India and to freedom during the past half century and more. But no service could have been greater than what he has performed during the past four months when in a dissolving world he has been like a rock of purpose and a lighthouse of truth, and his firm low voice has risen above the clamours of the multitude pointing out the path of rightful endeavour.(Gopal, 2015:17)

Speaking at Allahabad, Nehru would not have imagined that the fanatic Hindu right wing design was planning to shut the ‘lighthouse’ Nehru really needed, more than ever before.  A spate of tremors were thus in the offing for the entire nation while communal polarisation was engulfing new areas and hitherto unaffected people. Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by Nathu Ram Godse, a flag bearer of the Hindu right wing organisation. That inauspicious day when the Mahatma was killed for standing up for an inclusive and secular India, marked not only the tragedy of having lost the ‘light’, it also indicated the abysmal  level of the ‘rot of intolerance’ which had set its foothold in  society. Nehru was emotionally shattered and dejected for having lost a ‘father figure’ with whom he disagreed quite often, but also adored and regarded as a beacon of hope when despair was the order of the day. Reaching Birla House on listening to the tragedy, he ‘sobbed like a child’ and his devastated first reaction was, ‘The light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere. I do not know what to tell you and how to say it. Our beloved leader, Bapu as we called him, the Father of the Nation, is no more’. But the pragmatic in him made him immediately revise his first emotional reaction for he knew that the rising tide of communal conflagration would not be satiated even by the sacrifice of the most precious of Indian lives.

 

The light has gone out, I said, and yet I was wrong. For the light that shone in this country was no ordinary light. The light that has illumined this country for these many years will illumine this country for many more years, and a thousand years later, that light will be seen in this country and the world will see it and it will give solace to innumerable hearts. For that light represented something more than the immediate past, it represented the living, the eternal truths, reminding us of the right path, drawing us from error, taking this ancient country to freedom. (Gopal, 2015:25)

He wanted an entire nation which was in mourning to see what the spectre of communalism had done and wanted each one of the citizens to feel responsible for this unprecedented tragedy. He wanted the nation to see through the loss of world’s greatest man as a collective national shame. He exhorted his people that this mourning should give them the conviction to say a bold ‘No’ to continued bloodshed and intolerance towards the demonised others.

The past three days have changed the entire face of the country. A mad man has shot Gandhiji. But what is the use of being angry with an individual? He will be tried under the law and punished. What we have to see is that how and why even one man among 40 crores of Indians dared to inflict this terrible wound on our country. How was an atmosphere created in which people like him dared call themselves Indians? (Selected Works, Volume-5, p-42)

Nehru was acutely aware of the dimensions that communal politics had acquired, and thus just two days before the assassination of Bapu he wrote to Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, sharing his concerns regarding the nefarious activities of the Hindu Mahasabha. While sharing his anguish over the Hindu Mahasabha, he also shared with him that he was also aware of the objectionable posturing of the RSS and its involvement in riots and disorder in different parts of India.

…..what pains me most is the extreme vulgarity and indecency of speeches being made from Hindu Mahasabha platforms. Gandhi Murdabad is one of their special slogans. Recently a prominent leader of the Hindu Mahasabha stated that an objective to aim at was the hanging of Nehru, Sardar Patel and Maulana Azad. Normally one does not like to interfere with any political activities however much one may dislike them. But there is a limit to this kind of thing, and I fear that the limit is being reached if it has not already been crossed. I write to you especially because of your own close association with the Hindu Mahasabha. (Selected Works,Volume-5, pp-30-31)

Since the beginning of the 1950s, there was a phenomenal increase in the migration of Hindus from East Bengal, creating a panic amongst the Muslims of Calcutta.  During this tumultuous phase, Nehru contemplated resigning from the position of Prime Minister as he was getting an appalling feeling that the party and the people he had worked for so far were drifting away to the politics of communal polarisation. S. Gopal (2015:82) cites an excerpt out of his letter to Mehar Chand Khanna in this context:

So far as I am concerned, my own mind is perfectly clear in these matters and I have viewed with dismay and sorrow the narrow and communal outlook that has progressively grown in this country and which shows itself in a variety of ways. I shall cease to be the Prime Minister the moment I realise that this outlook has come to stay and that I cannot my duty as I conceive it.

On the issue of continuous migration from Bengal and the conflicting views of some of the Congress ministers and functionaries, Nehru wanted to urgently provide a sense of security to the Hindus of East Bengal. According to S. Gopal, for this to happen, Nehru would have to don the mantle of Gandhi. Writing to Sardar Patel, he was indisputably clear in his mind that in order to reach out and provide healing touch to the suffering humanity, he would have to give up the position of Prime Minister. Contemplating this, he wrote to Sardar Patel:

I think I could make a difference there and it is of the highest importance that we should not allow ourselves to be submerged by the Bengal problem. Hence I come to the conclusion that I should get out of office……….I cannot do this as Prime Minister, more especially because the views of the party are not in line with my own…… … I wish to repeat that, constituted as I am, I find it more and more difficult not to take some such action. (Gopal, 2015:83).

Despite all of these traumatic events, coupled with the uncomfortable and adversarial political posturing by some of his colleagues, Nehru was not willing to compromise his position on the liberal and secular tenets governing the state and public life. Several of his colleagues accepted his advocacy of secular creed for the nation, albeit reluctantly, but were keen that the Indian Muslims should provide their proof of loyalty. While they agreed with Nehru that attacks against the Muslims were cowardly, they also believed that Muslims would have to be faithful to India, and if not, they would have to go to Pakistan. But to Nehru, it was patently wrong to seek any guarantees of loyalty; that could not be produced to order or by fear, but could only come as a natural product of circumstances, and it was for the majority, in India or Pakistan, to create such circumstances. (Gopal, 2015-86)

…….But you will appreciate that the history of the last few years especially of last year has increased communal suspicion and bitterness. Is it surprising that those Muslims who till yesterday were champions of Pakistan should be viewed with suspicion when they talk of loyalty to India? It is a little absurd of some of our people to speak incessantly about demanding loyalty from the Muslims or any others. Loyalty does not come by compulsion. I have little doubt that the Muslims in India have undergone a big sea change as soon as the partition came and after they have seen the consequences of this partition.( Selected Works, volume-7, pp-4-9)

 

Taking the issue further, Nehru continued to write to his Chief Ministers about the dangers of parochial and partisan approaches in matters of governance. He was absolutely clear in his mind that as Prime Minister and as leader of the Congress party, he would not sanction communal polarisation to dictate matters of statecraft and would do everything under his command not to tolerate any uncivilised and barbarous behaviour.

Even amidst the spate of frequent discordant notes with some of his most valuable colleagues, Nehru was deeply traumatised by the developments in a rather non-descript town called Faizabad (Ayodhya) in UP. It was this locale that saw the manufacturing of a very serious challenge to the Nehruvian commitment to Secularism. At midnight of 22nd December 1949, an idol of Lord Rama surreptitiously appeared within the precincts of the Babri Masjid. This event vitiated the already charged up communal atmosphere. This was a huge jolt to Nehru, for during most part of his early political career, he had spent time in every nook and corner of this state, which had developed such a communal hotbed. A visibly shaken, but not deterred Nehru, continued his battle against the communal elements both within his party and outside. He kept appealing to his colleagues to understand and develop respect for each other, which essentially was the core of any meaningful human relationship. In the backdrop to the developments in Ayodhya, some of the Congress leaders were demanding that the Muslims adopt the ‘Hindu culture’, thereby leading the town to become a veritable tinderbox (Jha and Jha, 2012:85). In such a temporal context, Nehru wrote to Mohanlal Saxena, the Union minister for rehabilitation:

 

…. what does upset one is the complete degradation of human nature and even more, the attempt to find justification for this…. Indeed the U.P is becoming almost a foreign land for me. I do not fit in there. The U.P Congress committee, with which I have been associated for thirty-five years, now functions in a manner which amazes me. Its voice is not the voice of the Congress I have known, but something which I have opposed for the greater part of my life…….communalism has invaded the minds and hearts of those who were pillars of the congress in the past. It is a creeping paralysis and the patient does not even realise it…(Gopal, 2015: 92)

Even amidst the seemingly dark clouds of communalism hovering around, Nehru wanted his colleagues and his fellow citizens to see that communal polarisation and separatist tendencies would only push the important issues of fight against poverty and unemployment to the side-lines of public concern and priority. It was also likely to weaken the institutions and structures which were created to lead India on the path to being a vibrant democracy. He wanted the rank and file of the Congress to acknowledge that the success of communalism would also indicate the failure of the party in developing a counter strategy to the politics of polarisation. He declared that ‘..nothing was worse in a democracy than complacency on the part of a government or of the people.(Gopal, 2015:156). Even on the eve of the first general election, Nehru was more worried about the democratic practices and processes rather than the outcome; for he believed that he had bigger things in mind such as democratising the organisation of the Congress; and making institutions attend to the needs and concerns of everyone without bias and prejudice. Yet, he was more than instrumental in ensuring the accomplishment of the first ever election in a free and fair manner. This indeed was the first seed sown to ‘strengthen and deepen the spirit of democracy’. On issues relating to the means and ends in such an important election, Nehru was lovingly candid in speaking his mind when he said:

 ‘I would like to repeat that it is better to lose elections than to give up something which has been the basis of our national movement and that is the foundation of all progress in India’.(Khosla, 2014:56).His biographer S. Gopal writes, ‘the decision to hold elections on the basis of adult suffrage in a vast country with a large and mostly illiterate population had been a pure act of faith on Nehru’s part; and he was vindicated by the result’.(Gopal, 2015:162).

 

In this open season, when Nehru is being fervently disparaged by those who probably have no sense of history, and who lack both the conviction and the courage to look at the finer details of the making of India in those turbulent years, do they not see that it well-nigh impossible to weave a historical narrative on the way the Indian state and society have worked for strengthening communal relations without acknowledging the significant part played by Nehru? It was indeed Nehru who continued to speak a language of peace and togetherness, even when some of his dearest colleagues wanted him to make India take on the mantle of a Hindu Pakistan. It was Nehru who believed that a politics which tells its people to situate themselves in a self-perpetuating image of their own faith or in a dominant way of thinking and doing things that may appear to be the natural course or just common sense. He had to warn his people and his colleagues that, it was potently dangerous in the longer run for the same people. Can we deny that the Nehru’s warnings are coming so spot-on, in view of harangues being undertaken by the diseased body of the right wing

 

 

Organisations? In spite of the Ayodhyas and the Godhras, and even the Gharwapsis, if the moral community from amongst the Indian citizens stands up to question, it shall only reinforce the sentiment that the Nehruvian ideas on secularism can never be crushed, and least of all in a general election which comes after every five years. Notwithstanding a climate which aims to threaten the liberal democratic ethos of the Indian people, one must realise what Bauman (1986), articulated so meaningfully when he said, ‘the hardest of struggles is to remain human in inhuman conditions, and that is the essence of remaining committed to ideas like secularism, even when they at times appear not to be in vogue.

Even for the most ardent of his admirers, wrapping up a discussion on Nehruvian secularism is undoubtedly an exceedingly difficult proposition, and being one in this creed, I can only follow and reproduce what Inder Malhotra(2006-7), the veteran journalist wrote of the man that Nehru was and remains:

 

India is a better place to live in because Nehru lived, and no matter how long the babies born on the diamond jubilee of Independence live, they will never see the like of him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

 

Erikson, E. H.(1968). Identity, Youth and Crisis, New York, W. W. Norton

Gopal, Sarvepalli (Ed.)  (1988). Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru. Second Series, volume-1 to 11. Delhi: Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund..

Gopal, Sarvepalli (2015).  Jawharlal Nehru-A Biography (Vol.1-3). New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Jha, Krishna and Jha, Dhirendra K. (2012).  Ayodhya : The Dark Night. New Delhi: HarperCollins Publishers India.

Khosla,  Madhav (Ed.). (2014). Letters for a Nation. New Delhi: Allen Lane.

Malhotra, Inder  (2007). Nehru’s Luminous Legacy. India International Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 60 (WINTER 2006-SPRING 2007):33

Nehru,  Jawaharlal (2002). The Discovery of India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

 

[1] O Iqbal, you really are something else!

You can be the life of the party,

Yet be alone all the while.

Kashmir: With a Missing Title

Posted: September 8, 2016 in Uncategorized

A passing glance over media reports and news coverage in the last few weeks generates a numbing feeling that as a nation we are no longer in control of events and developments in the valley. Leave aside being in control; it seems that we do not even seem to understand the angst of our citizens in Kashmir, which is indicative of a disturbing trend suggesting that governments are consciously abandoning the will to grasp meanings when such gestures are needed the most. Moving still further, instead of discussing the potential and possible strategies of dealing with the bona fide upsurge of the anguish and unrest in the valley, the strategy-builders and policy makers unabashedly hide behind the ruse of national integrity and sovereignty

Mistrust is writ large in the interactive patterns and modules between the disobedient generation and the political establishment in the valley. The underlying trust deficiency between the key players in the valley is likely to damage the anticipated dialogue, which perpetually remains elusive in reality. If left unattended, this trust deficiency is likely to cast its ominous shadow on the generations of the valley of today, as well as of tomorrow. I have had students from Kashmir in almost every batch that I have taught at the University of Delhi; and apparently there have been no visible differences between the Kashmiri students and the others on the campus. However, a little demonstration of sensitivity to the locale and the context and the subsequent interaction invariably brings forth the distinctive aspects of these students. What makes my Kashmiri students disconnected to others on the campus are the experiences they invariably carry with them; experiences of what constitutes the idea of India in the valley; experiences of blatant subjugation and denial of opportunity to voice dissent; and experiences of failing to live a life in the valley which they get used to, while being in Delhi. Invariably, each one of them shares personal experiences of watching familiar faces from the neighbourhood being whisked away regularly, and of living with their anxiety-laden trepidation as to who would be the next in line. They have not one or two, but millions of stories in their memory repertoire of how it feels to come across and pass by uniformed men in the valley. They share their ordeal of continuously raising their hand with an identity card held aloft, and repeating this exercise after every half-a-kilometre in the valley. They shudder while recalling how each step that they take is like a panic step imbued with an inherent uncertainty of what the next moment might augur for them. These students have harrowing narratives which open before us that disturbing face of the idea of India, which unfortunately we have been assiduously trained to reject, disbelieve and dismiss as the handiwork of an anti-India propaganda. For more than six decades, we have preferred to believe in this utopian idea of India that has come to us through the ever inspiring national and communal unity slogans from the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, and through the Bollywood masala films, which habitually juxtapose this innocent nation of ours with the enemy others; either within or outside. It has also come through the insidiously planned textbooks and oral histories made available to people of my generation in the supposedly mainland India.

My Kashmiri students transport me and others like me to the proximate corridors of an ugly reality that behests the idea of India, which is vastly unsettling. I am sure that a large number of friends and colleagues from the world of academia, media and civil society must have gone through more or less the same feeling while listening to and interacting with the Kashmiris, irrespective of class, gender and spatial location. Virtually, each of the students whom I have heard has had stories amassed since their childhood, which reveal the reality of a mistaken Indian chauvinism coursing through the life lines of one of the most militarised zones in the world. Yet what is unfortunate is the inherent difficulty that we face in believing and accepting this reality, for we have been so very comfortable about our own idea of India and so disdainful of theirs. What also came through in my interactions were the grotesque images of hurt and betrayal received at the hands of people and institutions, aka the nation and the state in the valley. Yet again, as non Kashmiris, we did not want to look into them because they could have contested our position on the very infallibility of India. However, this carefully calibrated and purposeful denial seems to have summarily failed us when we witness the forceful resentment of ordinary citizens in the valley since July 2016. To very many of us the images of protest in the valley represent what Chesterton had said of patriotism, ‘my country, right or wrong is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying my mother, drunk or sober.’  And that also reminds me of a novella- strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, wherein the author, fascinated with the notion of duality in human nature tries to incorporate an interface between the good and the evil in a story. It was undoubtedly a brilliant portrayal of a split personality; that is the possibility of both an apparently good and an evil co existing with each other. In view of the Vietnams, the Palestines, the Afghanistans, the Balochistans and our own Kashmir, one is tempted to imagine that like some human beings afflicted with a split-personality syndrome, the nations of the world have also tended to exhibit the same in substantial portions. They manage to do so through their incongruous positions on what is just and human, which they assume without even a miniscule consideration of the location and the people being talked about. It is just because we did not want this great nation of ours to be equalled with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that made us set all such instances aside. We continue to intentionally perceive all such images as merely a version of several other versions emanating out of the entangled wires in the valley. And the fair weather liberal from amongst us would at best look at them as an aberration; not expected from the largest democracy in the world. Either way, it is a blatant case of selective amnesia, meant to provide near-clinical support to dealing with the images of denial and discrimination perpetually emerging from the core of the valley narratives.

In the highly volatile and enmeshed political upheavals in the valley in recent times, a rational and method based endeavour to understand and uncover the complex layers of the protest has been one of the most notable casualties one can envisage. As the events since July unfold, the valley is vociferously witnessing what seems to be a deliberate corrosion of spaces for dissent in a democratic politics. To compound it, the valley and its constituents are also witness to the glaring absence of a healing touch, either from the state or from the central government.

Irrespective of the political affiliations and preferences that we may manifest as a nation and as concerned citizens, it is indeed high time that we ponder over certain integral questions such as, what constitutes justice or human rights; and what meaning does democracy hold in the context of the valley, not only in today’s context but in the historical frame. We need to also look at the very possibility of India and all that it can portend for its constituents.  We need to ponder and rethink as to how the idea of India can survive, and even thrive, with all its innate conflicts and contradictions which are ironically set aside in the guise of safety or security or national interest. We need to question how and why is it that the democratic principles acquire a differential meaning as soon as they are unfolded in the valley. Why is it that some of the most important pages in the manuscript of the idea of India seem to be intentionally left blank when it opens in the valley?

The status of Kashmir and the present spate of upsurge that it is experiencing cannot certainly be dealt with through a singularity of versions; notwithstanding the dominant perception about the same. Rival and competing claims regarding the origin and continuation of the contemporary protests and the crackdown by the security forces in the valley is aiming to eliminate a location from where one could draw some inferences about people and their grievances amidst the deafening noises drawing binaries in and around the possibility of India. Amidst the chaos caused by weeks of unrest and unprecedented security situation, the people in the valley have almost lost faith in what has been given to them as their own ‘elected’ government. Weeks of curfew, together with unmatched gag orders from the regime have alarmingly repositioned the idea of freedom of speech and assembly, thereby making democracy appear as a caricature of what it should have been….and of what it could have been. And all this is sadly and most certainly… not a sound proposition for the possibility of India.

As we all know by now that the democratic national convention held in Philadelphia has officially declared Hillary Clinton as the democratic presidential candidate for the presidential elections in November. And the discussion in American political sphere as well as elsewhere revolves round the personalities of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. But let us go a few months back…

And that tells us that in spite of an unprecedented churning witnessed during the campaign for winning the delegates on his side, Bernard (Bernie) Sanders was not able to win the democratic nomination. The big corporations, the big banks and the ones who control the levers of the American arms and ammunition lobby as well as the captains of the wall street  indeed took a big sigh of relief after months of anxiety on account of the wave that Bernie was creating in major parts of America where the working populace only manage to eke out a meagre living; where the “people of colour” are still made to feel the vestiges of white supremacist thinking; where the middle classes are forced to fall in the honey trap of big banks; and where immigrants accost a glass ceiling in spite of the promise of a liberal and accommodative America. In a context where economic and social inequality is tending to overpower, Bernie made America dream of the possibility of an egalitarian society. Bernie’s dialogue with thousands of citizens across the width of the country made them aware that in all these years they had merely been reduced to being human robots, whose vocation was to consume, both ideas and product, which largely travelled down from above. In the beginning of his campaign he recounted that living in the richest country in the history of the world was only a sham because in reality this wealth was controlled by a tiny handful of individuals. And therefore a situation where the top ten per cent of Americans owned much more than what the bottom ninety per cent possess could not remain a jigsaw puzzle under the predictable scrutiny of the economists whose very locus standii was being controlled by the same ten per cent of the haves. Going further, he passionately appealed to the inscrutable Americans that this unimaginable wealth and income inequality needed to be contested not only as a political or economic concern, but more importantly as a moral imperative. Bernie went on to exhort the American people to share what they already knew, and that was that in order to live up to Abraham Lincoln’s idea of democracy, they needed to guard the system against the unbelievable influence of ‘big’ money and even ‘bigger’ corporations. According to him, a vibrant democracy could not afford to watch the gradual rigging of its electoral process, resulting in almost predictable outcomes in the name of peoples’ choice. Bernie’s progressive campaign included; decent paying jobs, improvement in working conditions, fighting racial justice, a humane immigration policy, and strengthening and expanding social security, to name just a few. While he changed the way corporation funded campaigns were used to create a spectacle in US elections, it was for the first time in recent decades an American white- male-old time politician generated so much curiosity and interest among very diverse constituencies. The passion and commitment with which he highlighted the issues which affect an average American household across colour, class and sexual preference was as unprecedented as the issues themselves.

Sad it is therefore that in all likelihood, the same big money which he called a nuisance for American democracy has ensured that Bernie Sanders does not march ahead as the democratic claimant to the White House. Even as he departs from the scene, he has left certain vital ideas for democracies everywhere, including India. It is certain that if the points and concerns highlighted by him are released on the Indian streets, even without knowing that there is someone called Bernie Sanders, ordinary Indians shall not fail to be impacted by the resonance of his ideas. Needless to share that some of the images of the general and state elections in India in recent times have conveyed the same horrifying message that our democracy is rapidly moving into the custody of big money. This is a proposition which is much more horrifying than what America experiences, in view of the increasing evidence of absolute poverty and unparalleled level of structural inequality that India confronts. The perpetuation of ideas like brand making and brand building and the leader as a brand in public memory is the unsavoury creation of a neo-liberal conglomeration of economics and politics which aspires to create an establishment which is only accountable to the market and not to the populace. Contrary to the widespread fear amongst the workforce, it wants the much desired labour reforms to be perceived as being in the best interests of the state and the society. It wants the state to adhere to a premeditated location and operate within a limited sphere of influence, as far as the macroeconomic interventions and initiatives are concerned. Suffice it to say that the mystique of the well-guarded growth story is indeed a euphemism chosen to hide the larger reality which could have exposed the crude images of the marginalisation of three-fourth of the population. The role of the media is as questionable as the issues that it chooses to obliterate. The well-designed black out by the corporate controlled media of those evidences and images which can disturb the conscience of the nation are no longer a hidden affair. Questions and answers by devious anchors of news channels are carefully crafted in such a manner that the nation gets to know only what the medium desires the viewer-citizens to know. Mainstream political parties tout growth and development almost in chorus, without ever bothering to unpack what they de facto contain for the people and communities on the lower rungs and on the margins. Even for the sake of rituals, they do not scrutinise what this growth really means to the peasants and labourers in Vidarbha, Marathawada and Bundelkhand! They do not even begin to fathom how this growth story has impacted the lives of the workers who find themselves placed within constricted spaces of negotiation under the MGNREGA. They do not enlighten as to how someone like Rohit Vemula can manage to cope with a brazenly discriminatory and omnipresent institutional mechanism or how the countless people at the bottom fail to align with this growth phenomenon when they find virtually no access to health, education and employment.

Alas, if we had our own home grown Bernie Sanders! Not only for the millions of the subaltern, for whom he could be an uncontested messiah, even the fictitious middle class in India needs a Bernie Sanders to reveal to it the deep wounds inflicted by the fairy-tale neoliberal boom story. Which political party or media house has asked as to what happened to the Right to Food legislation? Concerns such as these are not raised because neoliberal politics has an extraordinary capacity to produce the deafening consensus of silence across the political spectrum. However, if in the holiest of the sanctuaries of neo-liberal economy and politics, Bernie Sanders, by his sheer grit, imagination and commitment to the ordinary Americans could show a full size mirror to the big money and the big corporation to demonstrate that their success story is only at the cost of fundamental values cherished by the founding fathers, then one can only speculate about the sheer impact that the power of his ideas could create in a context like ours, where hope is rapidly dwindling. The colossal absence of a resisting force in the form of a Bernie Sanders has led to the creation of a few islands of prosperity developed by the corporate giants, and these are sold to the people of this country as precursors to India’s success story. These perpetuate as they remain largely uncontested. Listening carefully to the issues raised by Bernie, we find that much like the US, even in India important socio-economic concerns of the majority population are being pushed to the darkest corners of private spheres, faraway from public consideration. Barring a few individuals who are openly and humiliatingly referred to as cynics, and a few civil society organisations, which are invariably dubbed as anti-development aka anti-national, political parties often choose not to speak up, and the media unsurprisingly follows the same route. The reasons are not very different from what Bernie Sanders diagnosed for America, and that is that ‘Washington is dominated by big money’. If one were to just replace Washington with Delhi, the canvas would largely remain unchanged.

Such is the modus operandi of the neoliberal economy and politics that we have been made oblivious of the fact that politics essentially means to question the manner in which resources are allocated and to intervene and explicate that less than ten per cent of the people at the top shall not decide what the priorities of the bottom ninety per cent shall be. This is  essentially why it is imperative, that placed as we are in our troubled times, we desperately need our own Bernie Sanders who would let people reckon that when politicians are navigated by big money and big corporate houses, democracy merely becomes a shield for Gaetano Mosca’s ‘predictable circulation of familiar elites.’

SHADOW……

Posted: September 8, 2016 in Uncategorized

When the situation unsettle your senses,

shaking your belief in civilization

yet you agree to call it ‘normal’.

Never mind the reasons for your choice.

 

When the dead bodies become moving archives,

ridiculing you in the face for your oppressive regime,

yet you agree to acquiesce to the command

and look the other way towards the beautiful blue sky.

 

When your conviction demands you to listen to your conscience

and speak out for that moving archive

yet you choose to quietly, albeit reluctantly,

move to the comforting zone of silence.

 

Whether you like it or not, you are just a shadow of yourself.

And shadows do not count in human history.

GAZA can still have hope….

Posted: August 8, 2014 in Uncategorized

Baroness-Sayeeda-Warsi-001These are bizarre times for us in India….. Suddenly you get a feeling of ‘strangeness’ almost every moment in your apparently familiar surroundings. Thanks to ANI and thanks also to some of the television channels (and a few newspapers too), which are still open to providing space to ‘an alternative version’ when the public sphere is being forcefully run by ‘the versions’. These are also bizarre times when you find that the age-old value of commitment to the idea of little more equal and tolerant society is being ridiculed and mocked with a ‘rich consensus’. These are inexplicable times when there are enough domestic triggers almost on a daily routine basis to make you say and articulate a position which certainly is not ‘fashionable’, going by the trends in the public sphere. One of such issues has been the recent humanitarian crisis caused by Israel which has resulted in the loss of more than two thousands lives including a large number of children who were probably not even aware of the larger meaning of their own existence, leave aside the existentially(and historically so) brutal reality of the Israel and Palestine. The brutal and well planned Israeli attack was quite precise and non-discriminatory in nature, as a result of which there was no difference in bombing Hamas hideouts, schools, colleges, universities and even hospitals. They did not even have to develop the bogey of collateral damages. They were (and have been) simply reminding innocent Palestinian civilians that the only article of faith they can hold and have is to accept the cultural and political subjugation of their being. The largest, the biggest and the greatest democracies of the world have perfected the art of dispensing with the clamour for democratic engagement as far as the Palestinian people are concerned. The mood of our own ruling regime was no different when it did everything to block the discussion in the parliament. That must have saddened the father of the nation who believed-Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs… Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home.
Since 1949, the world has changed, though the nature, quantum and direction of the change varies from one nation to another; needless to reaffirm that Palestinian people have only longed for it, through multiple forms including poetry but certainly not limited to it. Democracy is a virtue which has become the privilege of a few, in terms of proprietorship and license and it indeed has been commodified in a manner whereby some of the greatest nations of the world have actually ‘excelled’ and become de facto exporters. If I go on….and on it shall be an endless story, whereas, I wish to quickly share what prompted me to write a few lines today.
In these dark times, when standing up for truth and rights is considered the most subversive of acts, Sayeeda warsi’s resignation lends a ray of hope to millions across the globe. Sayeeda warsi, a firebrand conservative party member, was part of the David Cameron cabinet till the other day when she chose to resign over what she considered was a wretched British approach towards the conflict in Gaza. Following the policy of COPY LEFT, I am sharing her resignation letter addressed to the British PM.
Dear Prime Minister

For some weeks, in meeting and discussion, I have been open and honest about my views on the conflict in Gaza and our response to it.

My view has been that our policy in relation to the Middle East Peace Process generally but more recently our approach and language during the current crisis in Gaza is morally indefensible, is not in Britain’s national interest and will have a long term detrimental impact on our reputation internationally and domestically.

Particularly as the Minister with responsibility for the United Nations, The International Criminal Court and Human Rights I believe our approach in relation to the current conflict is neither consistent with our values, specifically our commitment to the rule of law and our long history of support for International Justice. In many ways the absence of the experience and expertise of colleagues like Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve has over the last few weeks become very apparent.

This decision has not been easy. It has been a privilege to serve for 3 years in your Shadow Cabinet and over 4 years in your Cabinet. Introducing you in Blackpool in 2005 as you made your bid for leadership I had the pleasure of being there at the start of the journey and it would have been rewarding to have been there til the end.

The last decade has given me the opportunity to work with some of the best in the Conservative Party and indeed in Government. William Hague was probably one of the finest Foreign Secretaries this country has seen and has been inspirational. He dismantled foreign policy making by sofa government and restored decision making and dignity to the Foreign Office. There is however great unease across the Foreign Office, amongst both Minister and senior officials, in the way recent decisions are being made.

Eric Pickles has supported me tirelessly in our work on combating hate crime. Challenging anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia and the pioneering work of celebration faith in the public sphere. This new found confidence in Government has allowed me to take the very public International lead on religious freedom, specifically on the ever growing crisis of the persecution of Christians. However, early evidence from the Home Office and others shows that the fallout of the current conflict and the potential for the crisis in Gaza and our response to it becoming a basis for radicalisation could have consequences for us for years to come.

From both Eric and William I learnt the art of reconciling passion and idealism with pragmatism and realism, but I always said that long after life in politics I must be able to live with myself for the decisions I took or the decisions I supported. By staying in Government at this time I do not feel I can be sure of that.

It is therefore with regret that I am writing to resign.

You will continue to have my personal support as leader of the Conservative party as you continue to ensure that our Party evolves to meet the challenges we face in Britain today and ensure that the Party is relevant and responsive to all communities that make up today’s Britain.

Yours sincerely

Sayeeda

हम सिर्फ ये चुनाव नहीं हारे

हम हार गए असीम संभावनाओं और अव्यक्त आकांक्षाओं को

हम हार गए जीती हुई पिछली लड़ाइयों और हासिल मंजिलों को

हम हार गए अखबार के उन पन्नों को

जिनकी जनपक्षधरता हमें ज़िन्दा होने का अहसास कराती थी

हम हार गए उन तमाम छोटी मोटी जगहों को अपने गाँवों और शहरों में

जहाँ चंदू सिर्फ हिन्दू नहीं था और न ही सुलेमान सिर्फ मुसलमान

हम हार गए कई पत्रकार मित्रों और उनके तेवरों को

जिनकी कलम की स्याही और जुबान की कसमे खायीं जाती थी

हम हार गए कई उन साथियों को भी इसी चुनाव में

जो बीते कई सालों से हमारी जनवादी यात्रा के हमसफ़र थे

हम हार गए उन खूबसूरत सपनों को भी इसी दौर में

जिनकी तामीर हमारा साझा सरोकार था और हमारी मुहब्बत की वज़ह भी  

सच कहूं तो यह चुनाव सिर्फ हम नहीं हारे दोस्त  

बल्कि थोड़ा थोड़ा हम सब हारे हैं.. और हमारा बहुत कुछ हारा है.