A14 INDIA SPECIAL/FIGHT OVER LEGACY India Abroad November 22, 2013
The recent fracas over Sardar Patel’s legacy and the unease amongst the defenders of the dynasty (them- selves members of minor dynasties) triggered a childhood memory of a text book lesson on India’s first prime
The textbooks, to highlight the hardships suffered by
Nehru in going to jail, informed us that the Nehru family
was so rich that Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal’s father; used to
send his laundry to Paris. Just to confirm, this author
checked with contemporaries and even some younger generation persons and all of them remember this bit. One
wonders if this genuine example of unadulterated sycophancy is still part of some Indian text
Historical ‘ifs’ are legitimate questions. If
Dara Shekhu would have won his battle against
Aurangzeb is a question many historians often
ponder over. Recently as the opposition party’s
prime ministerial candidate made a remark that
the country would have been very different had
Sardar Patel become the first prime minister
instead of Pandit Nehru, it provoked a huge
backlash from the Delhi establishment.
The debate on Patel’s legacy is less about the
Sardar and more about the acute sense of threat
felt by the Delhi establishment at the rise of
Narendra Modi and questions he has raised
about the disproportionate share of credit given
to a single family. Actually it is the almost
Stalinist stranglehold that the Left-leaning
cabal that has fictionalized Indian history to
such an extent that when even well known truth
is spoken these individuals go into spasms of
Far too many directorships/fellowships and
goodies are at stake. If Nehru was to have been alive today,
the intellectual in him would have been amused by this
reaction. Of course the country would have taken a different
direction, he would have argued, but would it have been in
better situation, he would have argued.
But the fake outrage is less about these historical personalities and more about the first family milking the Nehru
legacy to the hilt.
In promotion of personalities other than Nehru, they see a
threat to their entrenched positions in Delhi. But the good
point is that this has raised the issue of neglect of other contributors to national cause. Even more than Sardar Patel,
the founder of the Indian National Army (the Azad Hind
Fauj) Subhash Chandra Bose, has suffered greater neglect
and is virtually sidelined in the history of Indian freedom
With the Left-leaning individuals having captured the
Delhi-based institutions, the ‘real’ national heroes have
been relegated to obscurity.
This author has studied post World War-II freedom
movements in many countries. In all these movements there
were the over-ground and political elements and a prominent underground that pursued violence to fight the imperial powers, be it Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya or Nelson
Mandela in his early years India was no exception to this
But such has been the dominance of one family and one
party over the national discourse for last 65 years that the
contribution of the underground and violent moment for
independence has been pushed out of public memory.
As a witness to a bygone era and a WW-II veteran, the late
Lieutenant General Eric Vas was a participant in the tumultuous events of last stages of Indian struggle for independence.
Writing an introduction to a jointly authored book If Bose
had lived? Vas wrote:
‘Once in each century or so, there appears in India a man
who stands out above all others. Subhas Chandra Bose, was
such a person in the last century. Millions of Indians, while
agreeing that Mahatma Gandhi represented all that is noble
in the country’s spirit and soul, would insist that it is Bose
and not Gandhi who was India’s man of destiny. Millions of
Indians, irrespective of their religion, caste, language and
regional affiliations, were captivated, entranced and fascinated by Bose. He received from his followers an unabashed
hero-worship as a kind of unifying national symbol; an
embodiment of the secular modern aspirations of the nation.
Neither Gandhi, nor Jinnah nor Jawaharlal Nehru could
match Bose’s charisma.’
Most Indians of that generation agree with this assessment of Bose. Yet in post-Independence India he is an
almost forgotten figure. Mystery surrounding his death still
persists and even 60 years after the government of India
refuses to part with the documents concerning Bose.
But looking beyond the vested interest in perpetuating the
myth of the ruling family and its prowess is a very un-Indian
academic approach. The Judeo-Christian-Islamic world
view of the Westernized elite tends to see the ‘God’ figure of
Nehru as flawless and complete with no weaknesses.
Whereas the Indian civilization heroes are without exception, flawed. In human form even the God cannot be flawless and perfect. Thus, both Ram and Krishna met tragic
ends. One was never forgiven by Sita, whom he had wrongly abandoned and the other migrated from his birthplace to
far off Dwarka as he failed to stop the infighting amongst
the Yadavas. Incidentally, in many languages the word for
civil war is ‘ Yadavi yuddha’.
The Stalinist mindset displayed by the critics who turn
abusive if the Nehru legacy is questioned is doing great
harm to rational discourse on problems confronting the
nation. Such is the intolerance of this Eglistani (Mahatma
Gandhi’s word to describe them in his Hind Swaraj essay)
elite that any advocacy of even Yoga, Ayurveda, Indian philosophy or culture is dismissed as ‘communal’ and divisive.
This brings one face to face with oft repeated issue of ‘idea
of India.’ The ruling cabal would picture India as the ‘gift’ of
the first family. All that is good attributed to it while the failures are heaped on the weakness of others. What the Sardar
Patel controversy has brought into open is the desperation
of the slow-on-the-uptake great grandson of Pandit Nehru
in claiming political office as matter of inheritance.
By questioning the inheritance itself the critics have hit at
the weak spot of the dynasty.
As a co-author of history of the 1962 India-China conflict,
this author has first-hand experience of the obstacles put in
path of writing and publishing history that shows mistakes
of the Great Helmsman. The saddest part is that Nehru’s
achievements are many and sterling. Despite his failures
and mistakes he remains a tall historical figure.
It is the dynasty and sycophants who are disfiguring his
legacy, not his critics.
Anil Athale is a retired colonel of the Indian Army.
He co-authored the e-book Unmaking of Pakistan:
If Bose had Lived’ with Lt Gen Eric Vas.
A legacy plagued by Stalinist mindset
The debate on Sardar Patel is less
about him and more about the
acute sense of threat the Delhi
establishment feels at the rise of
Narendra Modi, says Anil Athale
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, left, and Gujarat’s chief
minister Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate for India’s
main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party during the inauguration
ceremony of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel national museum in
Ahmedabad October 29, two days before Patel’s birth anniversary.
REU TERS/AMI T DAVE
The writer believes that in the promotion of personalities other than Nehru, the
Congress party leaders see a threat to their entrenched positions in Delhi: ‘Even
more than Sardar Patel, left, the founder of the Indian National Army (the Azad Hind
Fauj) Subhash Chandra Bose, right, has suffered greater neglect and is virtually
sidelined in the history of Indian freedom struggle.’
COUR TES Y: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS