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CfB Bureau

For much of the country’s post-Independence history, Indian politics was dominated by a single towering figure: Jawaharlal Nehru. A leading figure of the Independence movement, and Mahatma Gandhi’s chosen successor, Nehru, as India’s first prime minister, from 1947 until his death in 1964, was the architect of its birth as a modern nation-state: a sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic republic.

In this volume, edited By Nayantara Sahgal, some of our foremost thinkers and writers examine the different aspects of Nehru’s personality and his legacy.

Like Kiran Nagarkar, who says in his essay, My Quotidian Companion (The Common Man’s Nehru): “Where had Jawaharlal and his legacy of secularism disappeared? Didn’t the leaders who were present when these atrocities took place not remember that we won independence with a non-violent, civil disobedience movement invented by Gandhiji and emulated by hundreds of thousands of our countrymen, as well as Martin Luther King Jr, and Nelson Mandela? How was it that now we were happy to murder our own [after the demolition of the Babri Masjid]? Most importantly where was the idealism which had sustained us in a prolonged struggle for swaraj? Nehru died in 1964 and yet we keep killing him and his remarkable ideals…”

Nehru’s influence stretched beyond the Freedom Movement and the political and bureaucratic boundaries of prime ministerhood. A man of letters, it was Nehru who initiated the setting up of the Sahitya Akademi devoted to literature, the National School of Drama and the National Institute of Design; just as, in the field of technology and business management, he established the Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institutes of Management across the country. He was equally the force behind the setting up of dams and factories, which he regarded as the temples of modern India.

Today, in the year of his 125th birth anniversary, the four key dimensions of Indian nationhood, as conceived and implemented by Nehru – democracy, secularism, socialism and non-alignment – have altered to a point where they have changed almost beyond recognition or even abandoned altogether. To quote Mani Shankar Aiyar, ‘… What needs examination is whether fifty years after he [Nehru] passed away, these are still the defining parameters of India’s contemporary nationhood and, if so, how should they be interpreted in the light of present circumstances?’

Perhaps Nagarkar has the last word when he says, “Let me recall a few very brief sentences in a re-imagining of the life of Kabir within God’s Little Soldier. This is what Kabir says. ‘There is only one god. And her name is life. She is the only one worthy of worship. All else is irrelevant.’ I cannot pay Jawaharlal Nehru a greater compliment.”

Edited By Nayantara Sahgal, Speaking Tiger, 2015, Hardback, Rs 299.00

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