... How will he Find the Country of his Dreams
Nehru dreamt of an educationally advanced, scientifically oriented, economically progressive, industrially vibrant India adhering to democratic, secular, and socialist principles, in which the dignity of and opportunities to every individual were secure. Although in certain matters he occasionally showed streaks of being a romantic idealist, his approach to individual, society, nation and the world was essentially pragmatic and rational. He was a writer par excellence as well as an orator whose words touched the hearts of one and all. Some of his quotes given below will depict some of his ambitions for India and the world:
"We aim at a strong, free and democratic India, where every citizen has an equal place and full opportunity of growth and service, where present day inequalities in wealth and status have ceased to be, where our vital impulses are directed to creative and cooperative endeavor."
"The forces in a capitalist society, if left unchecked, tend to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Socialism is... not only a way of life, but a certain scientific approach to social and economic problems."
"Peace is not a relationship of nations. It is a condition of mind brought about by a serenity of soul. Peace is not merely the absence of war. It is also a state of mind. Lasting peace can come only to peaceful people."
In order to realize these dreams,
- Jawaharlal Nehru strived for education for India's all children and youth, believing it essential for India's future progress. Nehru ensured mass village enrollment programmers and the construction of thousands of schools. Nehru's emphasis was on scientific education and science subjects were introduced progressively in more and more Intermediate colleges and universities.
- Adult education centers, vocational and technical schools were also opened- especially for rural youth.
- Established many institutions of higher learning, including the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, the Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institutes of Management. He also started D. R. D. O., Space Research Program, etc.
- Established infrastructure projects for industrialization like Bharat Heavy Electricals Factory, Bhakra Nangal Project, Guwahati Oil Refinery, Steel plants. Hirakud project, etc.
- Introduced reservations in government services and educational institutions to eradicate the social inequalities and disadvantages faced by the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
- Laws were enacted to criminalize caste discrimination and increase the legal rights and social freedoms of women.
- Championed secularism, religious harmony and increasing the representation of minorities in government.
It is an interesting intellectual exercise to visualize how Nehru would react if he were to descend now in this country. This visualization may differ in details from individual to individual because of differing perceptions of the world around us, but, if personal biases are deliberately minimized, the gross outcome should not differ significantly.
I wish that Nehru descends first in Lucknow - not only because I live in Lucknow, but also because its transformation from a City of Gardens to a City of Stones best represents the transformation of India since the time of his death till today. Nehru will marvel at the opulence, grandeur and neatness of stony parks and their stony surroundings, which eloquently speak of the economic prosperity and technical advancement of the state and also at the capability of its rulers to splurge public money on agenda dear to oneself or a section of the population rather than on general public welfare.
Nehru, with his penchant for European neatness, will be highly impressed by the clean, vast and abundantly lit parks. However, since he was a historian, a factual comparison with Sahahjahan’s times will not escape his fertile brain.
On a second look at the parks, his soul will also crave for the missing rose-flower for his button-hole because amid stones palms alone can grow. Another universal truth will also prick his sensitive mind: gardens cannot look as grand and cannot be maintained as cleanly as stone-parks, yet gardens give calmness, coolness and solace while stones emanate heat when it is not needed and cold when it is least needed. Nehru will later, when he visits other parts of the country, find that this is applicable to most of the developments in the entire nation. There is no dearth of opulence and abundance in the country while there is no commensurate amelioration in stark poverty - and the poor still account for almost one fourth of the population.
Abundant growth of educational institutions in urban as well as rural areas will give great solace to Nehru, but once he inspects a school or any office of education department, the mercenary attitude of teachers and employees as well as their conversion to caste-politics will depress his soul greatly. Total failure of adult education program and misuse of budget grant under this head by the bureaucracy and the politicians may also make him a bit wiser about the theory and practice of planning by the state, of whose he was a great champion.
Nehru will surely be pleased by the fruits of his efforts in imparting scientific and modern education. The nation has taken significant leaps in computer science, nuclear technology, space programs and medicine; and our scientists are in demand everywhere as they are competing with the best in the world. However, he will be saddened to see that despite heavy funding by the government medical facilities are beyond the capacity of the poor of the nation.
The fruits of his labors in establishing infrastructure projects will be a cause of great satisfaction and pleasure to Nehru, because India is now one among the ten most industrialized nations of the world. At the time of gaining independence, we did not manufacture even good lanterns or even needles, and today we build almost anything including planes and ships. But a comparison with achievements of Chinese during the same period may throw some cold water on his elation.
The policy of caste-based reservations in appointment and promotions initiated during his regime and steadily widened and strengthened by subsequent governments will be a great eye-opener for a romantic visionary like Nehru. During his regime caste-based reservations to scheduled caste/scheduled tribes might have been a necessity due to excruciating social discriminations existing then. But he will learn to his disbelief that caste-based reservations have done almost everything that he loathed to do - this policy has strengthened the caste rather than annihilating it, this has divided the society in general and services in particular on caste-basis so badly that caste-conflicts and caste-favoritism have become a norm and will keep on increasing for ever, reservations in promotions have ensured that only comparatively junior, inefficient and corrupt reach the higher echelons and efficient and honest workers must become their demoralized subordinates, this policy has created vast opportunities to corrupt, criminal and self-seeking politicians reaching the top, and has also created a neo-Brahmin class among its first generation beneficiaries who are hell bent to ensure that most of the reservation benefits are grabbed by their progeny and really down-trodden do not share that pie. Such an unhealthy and unjust policy, if not amended, is bound to rebound sooner or later, and even Nehru and Ambedkar should not be surprised, if it leads to fragmentation of the country.
Nehru was a great votary of secularism and religious harmony. Mahatma Gandhi's sacrifice for the cause of religious harmony and Nehru's policy of secularism had created such bedrock that this nation still remains a secular democracy despite our politicians' prolonged efforts to use communities as vote banks and our neighbors' sustained efforts to destroy our religious cohesion. However, Nehru will be a sad man when he finds that hardly any Islamic nation is ready to move forward towards the goal of secular democracy: Instead, saving exceptions, their effort is generally to create Islamic domination through disturbances in peaceful lands.
I feel that, ultimately, Nehru will return as a happier person, because despite our casteism, corruption and conceit, we have progressed far more than most other nations, which became independent during mid-twentieth century. And despite some of the retrogressive and fragmentative policies, our adherence to democratic norms may soon force us to adopt more progressive and just policies.