3. Epilogue

EPILOGUE

Having read the summarised blunders above, the readers may justifiably ask: What about the positives? The other side?

A mammoth official, semi-official and unofficial army of sycophantic netas and babus, sarkari historians, Leftist-Marxist academics, and obliging, self-serving media persons have been at the job of eulogising Nehru since independence, and therefore, there is a deluge of material highlighting Nehru’s ‘greatness’. Why add a few more drops in that ocean? The reader may study those books.

The purpose of this book is to summarise and highlight as many vital and critical aspects of Nehru as possible within the constraints of a short book, that are often swept under the carpet.

You can’t do justice to evaluating a person by just talking in general terms like: “He was a great patriot...he sacrificed so much... he ensured unity of India (as if under someone else, India would have got divided) ...he made India a democratic country... he was founder of India’s foreign policy... and so on.”

Often, when we talk of “greatness” of a political leader in India, it is “greatness by definition”, not “greatness evaluated by factual, material achievements"!

For a fair evaluation, you have to adopt a right approach, a proper set of rules, the “dos” and the “don’ts”:

DOs

Rule-1 (Dos)

When evaluating a national leader, evaluate his or her contribution to the nation on a set of vital parameters, for example, GDP, Per-Capita Income, Relationship with Neighbours, Internal Security Position, External Security Position, Literacy Level, and so on. Determine those set of parameters at the start of the tenure of that leader, and also at the end of his or her tenure. Check the difference.

Rule-2 (Dos)

The above, by itself, is not sufficient. Some progress would anyway be made with the passage of time. The point is whether the progress was as much as it could or should have been. For example, say 5 IITs were opened in 17 years. Could or should they have been 50? Were only 5 out of the possible 50 opened? That has to be evaluated.

For this, also determine a set of developing, but fast-growing countries against whom you would like to benchmark your performance. Evaluate the progress of those countries for the same period. Compare.

 

DON’Ts

Rule-3 (Don’ts)

Do not mix the personal with the professional or the political. There is little point offsetting poor political performance against good personal traits, and vice versa. If you are evaluating a politician, evaluate political contribution.

Other aspects may be evaluated, but separately, so as not to mix up issues. For example, Gandhi as a person must be evaluated separately from Gandhi as a politician.

Rule-4 (Don’ts)

Greatness has nothing to do with popularity—media can be managed, popularity can be purchased, general public can be manipulated and led up the garden path. Nor has greatness anything to do with winning elections and ruling for a long time.

Hosni Mubarak ruled for 41 years—does that make him great? Gaddafi had been ruling for decades—did that make him great?

The point is, after winning an election, what you did for the people and the country. If you did little, you actually wasted the precious time of the people and the country.

Rule-5 (Don’ts)

Don’t go by generalised descriptions or attributes that don’t measure the real comparative position on the ground.

For example, statements like, “He was a great democrat, thoroughly secular, highly honest, scientific-minded person who loved children and gave his all to the nation,” or, “He was my hero, he inspired generations, and people loved him,” don’t help the purpose of evaluation.

Rule-6 (Don’ts)

Don’t go by what the person wrote or spoke or claimed. A person may talk big on lofty ideals and make grand claims, but the real test is what concrete difference he made to the nation and to the lives of the people—that measurement alone is relevant. Did the person walk the talk? Did he really help achieve the goals he talked about?

I may make big claims on being democratic. But, is my actual conduct democratic? Do I respect the opinion of others? Or, do I act dictatorial? Am I above nepotism? Or, do I promote my own? I may talk big against social injustice. But, has it substantially come down during my tenure? Mere talking is not enough.

Unless a leader scores high as per rules 1 and 2, he or she cannot be adjudged as great. This is quite logical. You do not evaluate Sachin Tendulkar's cricket on his personal goodness, you evaluate it on his performance on the field, on the runs scored—not in isolation or as an absolute, but in comparison with others.

On these criteria, one can say that LKY—Lee Kuan Yew—of Singapore was indeed a great leader.

You evaluate Ratan Tata for his business performance by evaluating not Ratan Tata, the person, but the Tata Group—its actual business and financial performance. What was the business and the financial status of the Tata Group when Ratan Tata took over, and what was it when he relinquished control; and how did it compare with the progress made by other business houses. If the performance of the Tata Group is evaluated to be bad, then it is the performance of Ratan Tata which would also be evaluated as bad. You would not try to lessen Ratan Tata's bad performance by either blaming his subordinates or colleagues; or offset the same against his stellar personal qualities.

This is the right approach. You evaluate Ratan Tata or Mukesh Ambani or Narayan Murthy by evaluating the performance of the companies they are heading. If the companies are doing well, you give credit to them. But, rare is a case where a company does badly or goes into bankruptcy, and you still evaluate the person heading it as good and competent.

Strangely, this common sense approach goes for a toss when you try to evaluate a political leader.

Keeping the above rules in mind, and checking the major blunders of the Nehruvian era that we highlighted above, Nehru's 17 year period stretching from August 1947 to May 1964 appears to be an unmitigated disaster! Nehru fails to measure up both as per Rule-1 and Rule-2 of evaluation explained above. Nehru's balance-sheet is therefore in deep red on all the major counts.

Can a country attain greatness even if its leaders are Lilliputs; and vice versa, can the country's leaders be considered great even if the country goes to dogs—or remains wretchedly poor and achieves only a fraction of what it could have?

Unfortunately for the millions of Indians, particularly its poor, Jawaharlal Nehru, despite his  best intentions, ended up as an all-round comprehensive failure, unwittingly laying the foundations of India’s misery. Sadly, Nehru’s dynasty, rather than retrieving India from the mess, reinforced those blighted foundations.

Very often you find Nehru evaluated as per rules 3 to 6 above, the “don’ts”. People—even intellectuals, social commentators, politicians, senior journalists and writers—make generalised statements to eulogise him, even as they show indulgence to his gross failures.

Unfortunately, this led to giving him a stature he didn’t deserve. Falsehood is always harmful to the nation. He was so drunk on his own false image that he arrogantly went about with his own “wisdom”, ignoring or belittling others, and committed blunders after blunders, with no one to stop him. Ultimately, it harmed the nation.

It didn’t stop at that. He was given such a projection, that his descendants found it easy to claim the top-most position without working for it or deserving it. So, those who unjustly praise or eulogise a national leader do a disservice to the nation.

Dreamer & an Idealist?!

Unable to rebut Nehru’s faulty handling of many issues like Kashmir, India-China war, economy and so on, his admirers have invented an innovative alibi: Nehru was a dreamer and an idealist! “Dreamer” implying he had great vision, and “idealist” implying that he was a man of high principles, lofty moral standards, and impeccably cultured and hence, thanks to the machinations of his unprincipled adversaries, he  lost out on certain counts.

Rather than a dreamer or an idealist, Nehru was indeed, as someone has said, a ‘Nabob of Cluelessness’.

One would have highly appreciated Nehru as a dreamer if he had helped millions realise their dreams that they had upon independence. Sadly, the fond dreams of millions turned into nightmares! Was dreaming of a political leader at the top-most responsible position an elitist luxury and an indulgence afforded by the exclusive environs of Lutyen's Delhi!

Talking of “idealism” and “high principles”, may one ask what were those high principles that prevented Nehru from finding a negotiated settlement of Indo-China borders?

What was that lofty ideal that allowed Nehru to mutely accept erasure of our peaceful neighbour, Tibet,  as a nation? What were those principled compulsions that drove Nehru to refuse Tibet’s repeated pleading to raise its issue in the UN?

What were those high moral  standards that forbade Nehru to ensure Sri Lanka treated its Tamil citizens fairly?

What was that idealism that allowed nepotistic promotion by him of his daughter?

Where was the great morality in protecting the corrupt—which he tried for some of his colleagues?

Was it conscionable for him to continue as a prime minister after the debacle in the India-China war?

Why the cultural “finesse” of some of his acts upon the death of Bose, Patel and Rajendra Prasad—highlighted earlier—are inexplicable?

Further, being a dreamer and an idealist may be excellent personal qualities, but when evaluating a person politically and as a leader, the relevant points to evaluate would be if the dreamer-idealist managed to convert those dreams into reality for the masses and whether the nation moved towards some great ideal.

Innovative Counterfactuals!

Unable to eulogise Nehru on the basis of the actual facts, many admirers, on the self-serving assumption that a person other than Nehru would not have been able to do what Nehru did, resort to innovative counterfactuals like: “Had it not been for Nehru India would not have remained united and secular. But for Nehru, there would have been no democracy and the citizens would not have enjoyed freedom...” If facts don’t help you, go by presumptions and probabilities!

What if one advanced an alternate counterfactual and argued that an alternate person (like say Sardar Patel or C Rajagopalachari or Dr BR Ambedkar) as prime minister would have made India more united, more secure, more secular and free from communalism, more democratic and much more prosperous, and India would have been well on its way to becoming a first-world nation by 1964!

Conclusion

Nehru’s leadership is unique not only in terms of the paucity of achievements, or the large gap between the potential and the actuals, or a very poor show compared to other comparable nations; but in the blunders that he made. Other leaders too make mistakes, but Nehru can beat them all hands down. The number, the extent, and the comprehensiveness of the Nehruvian blunders can’t be matched. Comprehensive? Other leaders blunder in one or two or three areas. Not Nehru. His coverage was comprehensive. He blundered in practically all areas (and sub-areas, and in very many ways): external security, internal security, foreign policy, economy, education, culture,… it’s a long list. An examination of his record leaves you gasping. Here is a very cryptic label to capture the essential Nehru: “Nabob of Cluelessness”.

Of course, quite irrespective of the fact that the balance-sheet of the Nehru-period was deep in red, it cannot be denied that Nehru meant well: it is another matter that his erroneous understanding of economics, foreign affairs, external security and many more things led to policies that proved disastrous for the country. Also, he was well-intentioned. But, then, road to hell is often paved with good intentions! 

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