Our first prime minister, Mr Jawaharlal Nehru or Chacha Nehru, as he is fondly called, was a man who took charge of a country in ruins. His task was onerous: to build a country from scratch. Instead, he left the country poorer, nearly bankrupt and defeated. Has India been too kind to Nehru? This question has again been raised by the re-publication of Nehru: a Contemporary’s Estimate a book by Walter Crocker. He was Australia’s high commissioner to India in 1960s and wrote the book in 1965. He was an avid Nehru watcher and admired his suaveness, good- breeding and family history.

The book, however, is just a subset of all the tragedies of the time. Who can forget Nehru’s famous reply in Parliament when asked about the lost area in Kashmir which Pakistan handed over to China: “Not a blade of grass grows there”. This was coming from our prime minister.

Nehru was, no doubt, an intelligent man. He was a patriotic man at heart.. But he was impulsive and acted rather impractically at times. His deficiencies came with a huge price tag. Indeed, he was the man behind big industrialization projects and of course, IITs. He was an ardent supporter of Science. His ideas on secularism were the basis of our secular fabric. But he was not an able administrator as is evident in his foreign and economic policies.

Many of us believe that the Chinese aggression in 1962: the month long war which ended in India’s bitter defeat; was a result of Nehru being duped. It is often believed that he completely trusted China. Indeed, he signed Panchsheel agreement and accepted even the Chinese annexation of Tibet in a 1954 agreement without settling the Indo-Tibetan border. But many critics argue that he was completely distrustful of China right from the outset. Times of London correspondent, Neville Maxwell argues that Indian army, which was very feeble at that time, provoked the Chinese at the behest of Nehru government which led to a full blown war. Maxwell’s records carry value as he is the only journalist to have accessed the confidential Brooks-Bhagat committee report. This report, submitted by the Henderson Brooks committee set up by the Indian army to study the debacle, is still out of public domain. It shows that some cold and bitter facts which go against the official position that Nehru was duped must have found their way into it.

The border dispute was always there. But it was in March 1959, that tensions really did start to surface. During this time, Nehru had sent a categorically stated rejoinder to the then Chinese premier, Zhou Enlai; stating that “’the area now claimed by China has always been depicted as part of India on official maps”. This foreclosed any hope of compromise on this issue. Although this fact can easily be debated as it is recorded in the official Chinese diaries.

If we do believe that Nehru was cheated by En Lai and didn’t see the war coming; we cant digest the fact that Indian army wasn’t prepared for the war at all even though the two nations attained independence at nearly the same time. Strategic defense capabilities of the Indian forces were severely constrained at that time. In his zest for non-aligned movement, Nehru forgot to build up defense capabilities. The 62 war jolted us out of the blue.

But much before this war, on January 1, 1949; India had already made another grave strategic mistake under Nehru. It was the day when ceasefire was declared between India and Pakistan in Kashmir with India having declared the victory over a tribal force comprising mainly of Pakistani army soldiers. At that point of time, Pakistan was still occupying a large part of Kashmir, which it divided later into “Azaad” Kashmir (the PoK) and eastern area which it “gifted” to the Chinese. Instead of wresting that area from a defeated force, Nehru declared ceasefire and despite pleas from Indian forces, took the matter to UN. It’s a well known fact that we could have lost the whole of Kashmir in voting at the UN had Russia (USSR then) not vetoed the proposal. The Kashmir problem is still lingering on with Pakistan demanding a plebiscite.

Moving beyond the wars, his economic policies also deeply hampered the nation. His reliance on socialism and prejudices against the capital systems led India on the brink of crisis in 1960s. Inflation was rising and exports shrinking. The wars with China and Pakistan (1965) made matters worse. We think that India was near bankrupt in 1991. However, we were at the same position in 1965. Somehow, we survived the crisis by allowing some controls on exports to wear off. Nehru’s policies that public sector should be at the “commanding heights of the economy” and that exports are a necessary evil, which should be curtailed, were a failure.

Nehru’s legacies are not much to write about. Still, we are repeatedly told that India should be grateful to him. We, no doubt, admire his scientific temper and penchant for big industries and education. But the policies he followed have left us with burdens such as the Kashmir dispute, article 356, border dispute with China, socialism and what not? Its time to ask the question: Have we been too kind to Nehru?

Quoting from the book by Crocker: “For a man who left the country not better fed, clothed or housed, more corruptly governed…”; its time we take a relook at the history.

Mayank Sharma

[Image Source: http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/India/NehruBhabha640c20.jpg]