The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- The dynasty that made India will now be its unmaking

Jawaharlal Nehru was without question one of the principal architects of Indiaís freedom movement. While Gandhi Maharaj was the inspiring deity, Nehru was, to the millions, the prince charming. Nehru was also the independent nationís first prime minister; he stayed the stretch for 17 years until his death. He was, besides, an elegant writer of English prose; his books had a large international clientele. What is even more relevant, he was the worldís window to India and vice versa; a hitherto stuck-in-the-mud people learnt, through his tutelage, the contexts of both history and geography. And who can deny the magnificence of his obsessive desire to see India embark on a great adventure of planned, self-reliant growth, which could blaze a trial for other poor nations'

The other side of the balance-sheet, however, deserves equal mention. Nehruís charisma was at the root of the establishment of the dynasty. The Indian National Congress has been unable to get out of its fatal attraction. Nehruís many positive contributions to the nationís cause are in danger of obliteration on account of the deleterious consequences of the dynasty. But more on this later.

It is, of course, possible to attribute a member of other unfortunate developments to Nehruís prime ministerial tenure. Kashmir is stuck in the nationís throat, we can neither swallow it, nor spit it out. Our foreign policy has been hostage to our doings in ó and aspiration related to ó the valley. It has cost the nation, over a period of more than one-half of a century, enormous resources which could have been, at least theoretically, channeled towards promoting rapid economic growth, the agenda for which Nehru himself had set. It is not altogether impossible to work out, in economic terms, an approximate cost-benefit analysis of what Kashmir has turned out to be for India.

It need not have been so. Kashmir initially came to India, let us have the grace to admit, because of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and the National Conference. The reason for Nehruís refusal to recognize that fact was a severely subjective factor, and it spelled disaster. Nehru put Sheikh Abdullah in prison. There could be, in his view, only one uzir-e-azam for India, and especially for Kashmir. Didnít he himself come from top-notch Kashmiri stock' The valley was his legitimate inheritance, no buffoon of an Abdullah had any business to claim co-su- zerainty over that heavenly paradise.

The idea of the ruling persona emerged as the nationís ruling idea in due course; Kashmir is ours, right or wrong. That there could be a flip side to the claim, the nation, by and large, is not prepared to admit, even to itself. The inevitable happened. For all practical purposes, Kashmir is now a land occupied by Indiaís armed forces. It has caused the nation enormous damage in international relations, in addition to enormous material cost.

Let us cross over to the China tangle. Speculation is afloat that the present regime in New Delhi is on the verge of striking a deal with China to end the nagging border dispute. The specifics of the proposed agreement, according to reports, include conceding the legitimacy of Chinaís presence in the Aksai Chin region even as China agrees to Indiaís retaining all territories south of the McMahon Line. Were not these, though, precisely the terms offered to Nehru by Zhou en Lai when he made a special visit to New Delhi in the wake of the 1959 skirmishes' True, large elements of professional anti-leftists had then made things difficult for Nehru. Even so, one major reason for his totally cold response to Zhou en Laiís compromise formula was his own imperial hauteur: he, Jawaharlal Nehru, was the supremo of the great democratic republic of India, whatever demarcations of borders the British left behind along the high Himalayas were fine and excellent with him, how dare these barbarians from the northern kingdom set terms to alter them'

For four long decades, we have, as a result, indulged in the absurd wish-fulfilling dream of giving China a bloody nose sooner or later, later if not sooner. That dream has receded with each day. China is currently the worldís second most important economic power, while we loll in mediocrity. In the early phase, the good Americans used to egg us on by spinning stories of how India was a better economic prospect than China. They ditched us at the end of a couple of decades, and, all illusion spent, we only marvel at the magnificent strides China has registered; some of us have even begun to cherish the hope of having a share of the China pie. It is a harsh thing to say, but this sequence of waste and lost opportunities, spanning over forty years and more, could have been avoided had Nehru put a leash on his imperious bearings.

Far worse is the grimness of dynasty-building. It is pointless to enter into a deconstruction exercise here, such as whether Nehru himself badly wanted to set up the dynasty, or whether it came about because of circumstances over which he had no control. The fact remains that, without Nehru, there would be no dynasty. Nor can the other reality be pushed under the carpet: the hard datum of the Indian National Congress gradually becoming an annexe of the dynasty, just as Number 1, Akbar Road became the annexe of Number 27, Safdarjung Road. The party is the dynastyís pocket borough. Utilitarianism got rendered into a faith. Till 1962, Nehru used to win elections for the party. After the indeterminacy of 1967, Indira Gandhi took over. The pattern did not change even following the infamous Emergency. Dynastic calamity even helped the party. Every time a Nehru or Gandhi was assassinated, the Indian National Congress safely returned to power. Habit-forming is as habit-forming does. The Congress learnt which side its bread was buttered. Subsequent events have failed to disentangle it from that stock of knowledge, since the party has totally lost its separate identity meanwhile.

We enter the contemporary period. The Indian National Congress is fast going downhill because its present leader, ipso facto the head of the dynasty, is inept beyond description. She is incompetent not because of the accident of her foreign birth, but because she possesses the Nehru-Gandhi ego, without possessing either the Nehru-Gandhi charisma or the Nehru-Gandhi cunning. She is not, in sum, a believable entity to the Indian electorate and as long as she continues to lead the Congress, the majority of the voters would tend to travel in the reverse direction. This is the prime lesson derivable from the just-concluded assembly elections in five states.

Unfortunately, it is not a party tragedy alone. Given the datum of the dynasty, the Congress party is putty clay to the lady. The lady presides over what was once the biggest vote-bank in the country; the bank will disintegrate faster the longer she is at its helm. In the process, she would be handing over the country to the Bharatiya Janata party, and on a platter. It has been Hindutva crawling all over India in the manner of the saffron-clad sadhus since Uma Bharatiís installation this week in Bhopal.

Given its mores and composition, the BJP is unlikely to succeed in keeping India as a political integer. Its ethos is soaked with religious fundamentalism; it will be beyond its capability to shed its chronic anachronistic behaviour. Give or take a certain interval of time, under a BJP dispensation, the Centre will be unable to hold; parts here and parts there will move away. Which is to say, India will cease to be a nation. And this will happen because the Indian National Congress cannot tear itself away from the dynasty. The dynasty ó its forebears ó contributed to the making of India. It will now contribute, comprehensibly, to its unmaking.

If your are searching for a subtitle, you can have it either way: Curse of the Dynasty, or The Great Indian Tragedy.

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