ONE major thrust of Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi’s campaign has been on how Nehruvian policies, in the realm of both economics and foreign policy, have failed India. Nehru’s obsession with socialism, India’s humiliating defeat in 1962 against the Chinese and the decision of India’s first prime minister to internationalise the Kashmir issue are cited to bolster this argument.
Of late, many have also begun to criticise Nehru’s version of secularism which was not suited to India. Interestingly, the word ‘secular’ was incorporated into the Indian constitution only in 1976 through the 42nd Amendment. Modi has often stated that India would have made far greater progress under the leadership of Sardar Patel.
Essentially, the legacy of India’s founding fathers is always split down party lines. Nehru remains essentially a favourite of the left and the centre left, though it must be mentioned that former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was an admirer of Nehru. Gandhi meanwhile is respected by both parties who stake a claim to his legacy. In fact, Modi often invokes Mahatma Gandhi.
But in India, Pandit Nehru’s ideals have begun to be questioned, especially by sections of the middle class which have benefited from many of his contributions. These include the strengthening of Indian democracy by the creation of robust institutions, not to mention the emphasis he laid on setting up of world-class educational institutions, such as the IITs as well as the strides made in the realm of information technology.
Unfortunately, Nehru has had to face criticism not merely for his own errors, but of subsequent Congress governments — most led by members of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
In Pakistan, Jinnah looms larger than any other historical figure and his legacy — always contested — is laid claim to by even those who had opposed him during the independence movement. Some critics of the man have attributed this to an uncanny ability of the Quaid-i-Azam to run with the hare and hunt with the hound.
What they forget is that Jinnah had to play, intermittently and alternatively, the roles of Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, B.R. Ambedkar and even Vinayak Savarkar. While on the other side — the Congress side — there was an orchestra, Jinnah alone had to play the organ, the bass guitar and the guitar while also being the lead singer.
That he was a secular-minded liberal is an undeniable fact, but he was forced by circumstance to don various hats at various times. His leadership model was an example of adaptive leadership, moulding, evolving, progressing and regressing, without — and this is important — ever conceding more than what was the bare minimum to any group.
The most extraordinary achievement of this Khoja Ismaili Shia lawyer — who was known not to speak any language but English publicly (though he spoke Gujarati and Kutchi very well) and who did not wear his religion on his sleeve — was to manage to get the ragtag multitudes of Muslims united under his leadership.
In India, therefore, Narendra Modi can openly take on India’s maker-founder Jawaharlal Nehru and still be considered a patriot and an Indian nationalist, but in Pakistan, even parties like Jamaat-i-Islami that had opposed Pakistan’s creation trenchantly, speak of Jinnah with a certain amount of reverence, claiming, facetiously, indeed that he was one of them.
It is customary in Pakistan to appeal to Jinnah’s authority on any issue. This is the power of the man and indeed the unique position he enjoys in the Pakistani pantheon. Perhaps had he lived, Jinnah would have lost some of the halo or would have had opponents coming out against him, but even his early demise, so disastrous for the new country, only served to add to his posthumous political charisma.
Jawaharlal Nehru meanwhile led India for close to two decades, cementing his ideology and politics and in the process becoming partisan and controversial. While beyond the fact that he favoured an inclusive polity and a democratic constitution, Jinnah did not get the time to unveil his political and economic agenda; Nehru embarked on a distinctly socialist economic and political programme which has been both admired and criticised by sections in Indian society.
Nehru once described Jinnah as one of those extraordinary men in history whose success lies in holding off on any action. In many ways, posthumous Jinnah remains a consensus figure for most Pakistanis because he just did not get a chance to define his political programme.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is a lawyer and the author of the book Jinnah Myth and Reality.
Tridivesh Singh Maini is Associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, Sonepat.
Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2014