Atanu Dey On India's Development

The Holy Land of Nehru

Most regular readers of this blog figure out soon enough that when it comes to the question of India’s ills and its causes, I refer to Jawaharlal Nehru. Like all roads eventually leading to Rome, all my explanations into what India is suffering from and why lead to Nehru, the Nabob of Cluelessness, at some point. I look around the country and marvel at how much damage has been caused by one single individual. It will take centuries to clean up and the cost in terms of lives lived in abject poverty and misery will amount in the billions. According to estimates, fully 700 million people in India are below the poverty line defined by international standards which is approximately less than $2 a day. Nehru and his descendants — both direct (Indira Gandhi and her progeny) and intellectual (the communists) — are responsible.

Occasionally one comes across criticisms of Nehru but mostly indirectly and mostly done by non-Indians. To Indians, Nehru is a holy cow to be worshipped and never questioned. I like to keep a watch out for those rare pieces which tell it like it is. Here is a piece I came across (Hat tip: Prashant Kothari) in the New York Sun of March 1st 2006, titled Passage to India.

[Bush's] visit to India comes at a time of the triumph of capitalism over socialism, long the operative ideology in most of the world’s 135 Third World, or developing, countries. It pays homage to the fact that this ancient culture once was among the most robust adherents of the free market – well before Adam Smith invented its modern form. That it veered sharply from homespun capitalism was because of one man, Jawaharlal Nehru, the scion of an aristocratic family who studied at Cambridge University and who eventually came under the influence of Britain’s Fabian socialists and injected an alien ideology into India’s struggle for independence.

Nehru managed, through charisma and oratory, to mesmerize the Indian National Congress, which led the fight against the occupiers of a land that novelist Paul Scott memorably called the “Jewel in the Crown.” And because Nehru was the favored politician of Mohandas Gandhi, the Mahatma, his prescription for a post-independent India’s economic path – socialism – was generally accepted as dogma. But Nehru had a rival, both politically and for the Mahatma’s affections, named Vallabhbhai Patel, the man who, more than anyone, was responsible for lining up India’s 535 maharajahs in support of aligning their territories with secular India, and not theocratic Pakistan, after the Subcontinent was partitioned capriciously by the departing British.

It was Patel who said that India needed to fully open the floodgates of free enterprise in order to sustain economic growth. Under Nehru’s stewardship, and later that of his daughter, the haughty Indira Gandhi – no relation to the Mahatma – India became a case study in bad governance and, even while ostensibly in the non-aligned camp, a fellow traveler of the Soviet Union. The federal bureaucracy mushroomed to more than 10 million (at any given time, no more than 2,500 Britons had administered the vast Subcontinent, which is geographically half the size of continental America). An India that should have become one of the world’s most dynamic economies was instead transformed into a basket case. Vallabhbhai Patel died a broken man, convinced that India would implode on account of Nehru’s errors. {Emphasis added.}

Isn’t it a marvel that India actually has roads, airports, ports, parks, colleges and universities, hospitals, research labs, theatres, governmental programs, non-governmental institutions, monuments, etc etc, all named after those who were primarily responsible for the disaster that is India? It is something that I often find myself puzzling about. Why are Indians so slavish in elevating those who were arguably bad for India? Here is what I mean. Have you heard of Aurangzeb Road in New Delhi? When they named the road, did they even bother with the fact that Aurangzeb was a tyrant and butchered the people of the land? Do you think that the Jews will ever name streets after Adolf Hitler?

Actually, the Indian subcontinent has that amazing ability to elevate as heroes those who screwed them over. See Pakistan, for instance. They actually name their weapons after those whose armies raped their women and their lands centuries ago. Those plunderers are worshipped in the land of the Pure (Pakistan) as their liberators. Take Bangadesh, for another example. The Pakistani army slaughtered anywhere between three and six million East Pakistanis and yet Bangladesh today considers Pakistanis to be their heroes. What is the matter with these idiots?

Deva! Deva!

  • http://www.lifeandsomething.blogspot.com Gaurav

    Atanu,

    One word

    “Dhimmitude”

    It is the most abiding and fashionable religion in India,

    Whether of British or Nehru-Gandhi dynasty
    the servility continues.

    This is a nation of Gungadeens.

    Regards

    PS Sorry for Rant :-)

  • http://ambarthejovian.blogspot.com/ Ambar

    Actually, the Indian subcontinent has that amazing ability to elevate as heroes those who screwed them over.

    Those who succesfully screwed us over are “fitter” than us, in the darwinian sense. Which automatically makes them praiseworthy. :D

    Atanu’s response: Ambar, “fitter” is a descriptive word, and not a laudatory word. So while it is true that in the conflict between the Greeks and the barbarians, the barbarians win and therefore they are “fitter,” it does not make the barbarians more worthy of praise. Cockroaches are “fitter” than many other living species; but one wouldn’t want to invite one to dinner, would one? :)

  • http://krishna23.blogspot.com Krishna

    It is impossible to disagree with your particular assessment and I believe too that Nehru’s sympathy for socialism is a major reason for India’s backwardness.

    Though this is not directly related to your post, I thought I must make this point. When we got independence, it was by no means a certainty that India would be a stable, free (albeit poor) country. A look at many countries just clawing out of colonialism reveals a history of instability and despotism. That was a real possibility in India too with its amazing diversity. However, that did not happen. I am not saying things were extremely smooth, but India did not unravel and remained an essentially free and coherent country. I think that aspect is overlooked by many. It is true that we did not develop as we should have and there are many reasons for that. Still, India remained one of the few really stable and free and stable countries in the third world. That is by no means a substitute for development, but it is a desirable state of affairs.

    As much as any one person can be held responsible for a nation’s fortunes (I see you have no qualms for holding Nehru alone responsible for India’s economic foolhardiness), it is due to Nehru’e leadership that India remained a stable and free country. Please read Shashi Tharoor’s
    Nehru : The Invention of India. I think this aspect of Nehru’s legacy needs to be acknowledged.

    As for the deification of individuals that you lamented, it is true that belongs only to an irrational realm. In any rational world, a logical analysis is carried out and good and bad things are discussed. It is indeed sad that most of discourse in India happens in the irrational realm. And Nehru (or anybody else) is treated as a holy cow. It is my belief that that is not complimentary to anyone, even Nehru. Remember that reproaching Nehru without any logical analysis is also fashionable, though in much smaller circles.

  • Vivek S

    I think I was studying in school when Dr. Singh was finance minister for the first time. I was hearing news around me like India is growing more than ever and this was the best period of economic growth in the post-Independent era etc. Even as a school boy who was taught that “Nehru was great”, that common(sense) question arose: “Nehru was the best; but under some ‘ordinary’ fellows called Singh and Rao, the economy is the best ever ? That means during Nehru’s times or Indira’s times or Rajiv’s times, it was not this good; So, if the economy is doing better under Rao and Singh, how good the previous ones were actually?”

    As far Nehru’s legacy, his position was that of an opener who comes to bat when his team is enforced a follow-on of 200 runs (years in the actual sense).

    I feel that moral decay in India started during Indira Gandhi’s times. She was the first to show how bad democracy can be by indulging in all sorts of ugly politics.

    More than Socialism, it is corruption that causes more harm.

  • jjreddick

    I find it very hard to believe that ONE person can do damage on such an enormous scale in a country as large as India. There have to be other reasons…

    Atanu’s response: Yes, one person can indeed do a whole lot of damage. Hitler was the main force behind much of the damage and destruction of Europe–he did not personally with his own two hands wreak havoc of course, only managed to create the system which did so. I am not saying that Nehru and Hilter were twins: only that it is quite feasible for an individual to cause great harm.

    Of course, Nehru could be entirely blameless and there could have been other reasons why India became an irrelevant “Third-world” overpopulated poverty-stricken country. But I have not yet seen any other candidate proposed by anyone else.

  • Guru Gulab Khatri

    Gandhi and his followers did more damage to india than Nehru.
    Ever wonder why canada and US are different.
    Look at how they got their independance.

  • Subrat Mishra

    ha ha ha! ur talking of roads!!! The dead man & his daughter still occupy prime properties right in the heart of New Delhi – and they’ll continue to do so for eternity!! I wouldnt be surprised if we hav e Sonia Memorial at 10 Janpath in the future & a Rahul Memorial, a Priyanka Memorial & even a Robert Vadra Memorial etc etc… No other family has done more harm to India than the Nehru-Gandhi Family, yet we treat them as royalty, no wonder Rahul Gandhi has the gall to say he could have become prime minister at 25 if he’d wanted to.