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SEEMA MUSTAFA | 14 NOVEMBER, 2014

Whose Nehru is he?

Jawaharlal Nehru with Mahatma Gandhi


NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, confronted by a highly defensive and weak Congress, seems to be re-writing history on a world platform by taking over Gandhi, Sardar Patel and now even Jawaharlal Nehru as the leaders of an India that had not seen opposition to their politics from the right wing forces before and immediately after Independence. The RSS opposition to the leaders and their strong condemnation of the same has been overshadowed by celebrations of their ‘contribution and legacy’ supervised and presided over by the Prime Minister himself.

The mega-statue being constructed in Gujarat in memory of Sardar Patel; the cleanliness drive started on Gandhi’s birth anniversary; and now the celebration of the 125th birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru are all ideas propagated by PM Modi who has taken the lead in usurping the legacy of the icons that the Congress has always held as its own, unchallenged.

The RSS did try and queer the pitch with a recent article in its Malayalam mouthpiece by BJP leader B.Gopalakrishnan which suggested that Godse was not planning to kill Gandhi but India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. But the RSS distanced itself from the article and the sentiment almost immediately. And left it to PM Modi to do the rest.

He did. Even while the Congress was slumbering about its first Prime Minister and great grandfather of Rahul Gandhi, PM Modi set the ball rolling by setting up a committee to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Nehru. He invited intellectuals and politicians to the committee but left out Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her family.

The celebrations were launched in a sense in both Brisbane where the Prime Minister is on a visit, and in Delhi by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh who in a meeting attended by a cross section of academics, historians and others said,“the RSS was banned in 1947 but Nehru invited the Sangh leaders for food programmes and even for the Republic Day parade in 1963. He was inclusive.” Singh admitted that “in fact the idea to celebrate the anniversary was PM Modis only.”

PM Modi himself, surrounded by schoolchildren in Brisbane where he is currently on a state visit, said that he was happy to be with them on “Chacha Nehru’s” birth anniversary. Clicking selfies he tweeted, "Today we mark the 125th birth anniversary of our first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. My tributes to him. We remember Pandit Nehru's efforts during the freedom struggle and his role as the first Prime Minister of India,"

The Congress party that had not really made any noticeable move towards celebrating Nehru’s legacy seemed to have been jolted into action by the Prime Minister’s committee. It decided to hold a major meeting and retaliated by not inviting PM Modi for it. At a stadium function Congress president Sonia Gandhi said,“But the very idea of India that Pandit Nehru had in his heart and even succeeded in forging in just 17 years as its Prime Minister is now under attack. Every Congress worker must unite and ensure that we fight all those divisive forces, bearing different colours and hues, tooth and nail to preserve the secular ideology that was Nehru's and was Nehru himself.”

Rahul Gandhi alleged: “Today, the angry people who run the country want to ban English to promote Hindi.”

“On the one hand, they pick up brooms so that they can have photo-ops while on the other they spread venom in the form of communal hatred. Only the Congress can fight and defeat the hatemongers running the country these days,” he added.

Both his mother and Mr. Gandhi accepted that the 129-year-old Congress was currently facing a crisis but insisted that the grand old party would bounce back.

“If he [Nehru] was alive, he would have asked us to go to the people, to establish a better connection with them and to strengthen the organisation. But let our critics know that our party has existed for over a hundred years and will continue to since we take inspiration from our forefathers,” Ms. Gandhi said.

"Nehru belongs to India and is India's heritage," Home Minister Rajnath Singh said today.

In this one move Nehru has been effectively taken out from the Congress party fold and placed on the global and national stage by the BJP as a “leader” of all, and not just a party or a family. The inability of the Congress party to conceptualise, to think ahead, and to act innovatively has made it incapable of countering the Prime Minister’s clear decision to take over if not the history as yet, then the icons definitely of the freedom struggle and de-link it from the Congress party as it exists at present. What shape this takes in influencing the writing of history remains to be seen, but clearly if the Congress response remains as weak kneed as it has been in recent weeks it might just find its role being diminished in the new history text books on the anvil.

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