This Article is From Aug 30, 2014

Shashi Tharoor's Open Letter To PM Modi

(Dr. Shashi Tharoor, a two-time MP from Thiruvananthapuram and the former Union Minister of State for External Affairs and Human Resource Development, is the author of 14 books, including, most recently, Pax Indica: India and the World of the 21st Century.)

Respected Pradhan Mantri, dear Modiji:

I have not yet had the pleasure of writing to you, except on Twitter. I hope you will forgive me for sending my first direct communication to you in public, because I believe it is on a matter that should also engage the entire public of India.

Ever since assuming the highest executive office in our land, Modiji, you have so far, not even once, mentioned the illustrious name of our first Prime Minister.

I am sure you recall his name, since in the past you have said it has been used too often: it is Jawaharlal Nehru. (Like me, you are not overly fond of titles, but for the record, he was generally known as Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, hence "Panditji" for short.)

I mention Jawaharlal Nehru because in just a couple of months, on November 14 to be exact, we will be reaching the 125th anniversary of his birth. As you know, we are a country that is very fond of marking anniversaries. We commemorate births, deaths, events of various kinds. Normally, the 125th birth anniversary of a nationalist leader who fought for our independence, graced the high office that you now hold, and guided the destiny of our country till he passed away on 27th May, 1964, would be the occasion for a major national commemoration. I am sorry to say that I see absolutely no sign of any such intention on the part of your Government.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was, I am sure you will concede, unrivalled as an architect of modern India. I have not forgotten the other great icon you have been lauding of late. Again like you, I am a great admirer of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, and his role in merging the princely states into the Indian Union -- and his setting up of the administrative structure of independent India -- is unquestionably of great value. But the great Sardar passed away in 1950, and his impact on our country was therefore limited by comparison with that of Nehruji, who helped shape our nation's foundations for another fourteen years.

Jawaharlal Nehru was no ordinary political leader. An exceptionally gifted writer and speaker, he authored some of the most remarkable books on Indian history and politics. He was a thinker, a humanist, a passionate democratic socialist and internationalist, and a statesman respected around the world even by those who may have disagreed with him. With his rationalist and liberal worldview, his scientific temperament and his faith in modern industry, he was very much a man of the 20thcentury, whose vision laid the foundations for a progressive India.

His abiding faith in Indian pluralism helped keep the nation united; his commitment to democracy and democratic institution-building meant that we never strayed down the path of dictatorship that afflicted so many other newly-independent nations.

At the risk of immodesty, I would like to draw your attention to my short biography, Nehru: The Invention of India, which describes all this with a brevity that might commend itself even to a busy Prime Minister. Jawaharlal Nehru's life is a fascinating story in its own right, and I tried to tell it whole, because the privileged child, the unremarkable youth, the posturing young nationalist and the heroic fighter for independence were all inextricable from the unchallengeable Prime Minister and peerless global statesman.

At the same time, I sought to analyse critically the principal pillars of Nehru's legacy to India - democratic institution-building, staunch pan-Indian secularism, socialist economics at home and a foreign policy of non-alignment - all of which were integral to a vision of Indianness that you and your party fundamentally challenge today.

Today, Modiji, you lead the India Nehruji made possible. You say you will be the Prime Minister of every Indian. The very term "Indian" was imbued with such meaning by Nehru that it is impossible to use it without acknowledging a debt. Our passports incarnate his ideals.

Where those ideals came from, whether they were brought to fulfilment by their own progenitor, and to what degree they remain viable today were the themes of my book, and are legitimate subjects for discussion on his 125thbirthday. When I started delving into his life,  I was as divided between admiration and criticism as when I finished my work; but the more I delved into the life, it was the admiration which deepened.

Jawaharlal Nehru's impact on India is too great not to be re-examined periodically. His legacy is ours, whether we agree with everything he stood for or not. What we are today, both for good and for ill, we owe in great measure to one man. That is why his story is not simply history. A history, it would seem, that you, your party, and your government prefer to ignore.

Panditji never claimed he was infallible. He once said that only the dead don't make mistakes. You and your party spokesmen have relished dwelling on his mistakes. Jawaharlal Nehru's achievements in ensuring the stability, unity, development and progress of our country find no acknowledgement in your own speeches or those of your party leaders, but anything and everything that has gone wrong in India is routinely ascribed to him.

As the historian Ramachandra Guha has observed, "No man has been so greatly revered in his lifetime and so viciously vilified since his death".

There is one exception in the BJP's constant reviling of Jawaharlal Nehru, and it came from none other than your only predecessor as a BJP Prime Minister of India, Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Speaking in Parliament on Nehruji's death, Vajpayee declared emotionally -- and poetically -- that with the Prime Minister's passing "a dream has remained half-fulfilled, a song has become silent, and a flame has vanished into the Unknown. The dream was of a world free of fear and hunger; the song a great epic resonant with the spirit of the Gita and as fragrant as a rose, the flame a candle which burnt all night long, showing us the way". The loss, Vajpayee averred, was not merely that of a family or even of a party. Mother India, he said, was in mourning because "her beloved Prince has gone to sleep"; even humanity was sad because its servant and worshipper had left it forever.

Vajpayee went on to describe the departed Prime Minister as a "benefactor of the downtrodden" and the "chief actor of the world stage" whom he compared to none less than Lord Ram, for like Valmiki's (and the Hindutvawadis') hero, Nehru was "the orchestrator of the impossible and inconceivable". He too (I'm still quoting Vajpayeeji) "was not afraid of compromise but would never compromise under duress".

You might say that these words were only to be expected from a gracious adversary in tribute to a deceased Prime Minister. But Vajpayeeji's statements went far beyond the claims of ritual. He called on the nation to rededicate itself to Nehruji's ideals. "With unity, discipline and self-confidence," Vajpayeeji said, in words that could have been yours, "we must make this Republic of ours flourish. The leader has gone, but the followers remain. The sun has set, yet by the shadow of stars we must find our way. These are testing times, but we must dedicate ourselves to his great aim, so that India can become strong, capable and prosperous...".

Modiji, these are the very objectives you say you share. You may disagree with Nehruji's policies, but like Vajpayeeji, you can have no quarrel with his ideals. You have often expressed respect for your illustrious predecessor and party founder - but none for your very first predecessor, the nation's founder.

Is it not time you heeded the former's advice and used the 125th anniversary of our founding Prime Minister's birth to re-examine the latter's great contributions to our country? And should your government not be preparing to use the occasion to rededicate our nation to his ideals?

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