By M D Nalapat
Over the years, a group of social scientists have fashioned a narrative that places Jawaharlal Nehru as the individual who brought democracy to India. Hundreds of books have been written and multiple curricula have been fashioned to implant the story that India is an example — if not an exemplar of —democracy, and that this is owed to a single individual,in gratitude for which the people have entrusted his family or their nominees with their governance for all but a total of ten years since 1947. Even during these years, only the period when Morarji Desai was the Prime Minister can it be said that Nehruvian domination of the governmental system was absent. While Deve Gowda and I K Gujral depended on the Congress Party for their survival, both VP Singh as well as AB Vajpayee were admirers of Nehru and the system that was nurtured by him
Mahatma Gandhi nominated Jawaharlal Nehru, first as Congress president and then as Prime Minister, without any recourse to democratic methods. Indeed, in both instances, the Mahatma was in a minority of one in favouring Nehru. Yet, despite the lack of support for the Old Harrowian, he was thrust atop the apex of both the party and the government by the Mahatma. Both as Congress president and as Prime Minister, Nehru took decisions that were to have tragic consequences for the future of India. Rajendra Prasad, Abul Kalam Azad and several others who were active participants in the events of those days have written and spoken about how the man who ( to admirers such as Sunil Khilnani and Amartya Sen) single-handedly made India a democracy had a penchant for taking decisions that were never discussed before hand, even with those close to him, such as Mahatma Gandhi or Louis Mountbatten. They argue that it was the mistakes made by Nehru that assisted MA Jinnah and Winston Churchill in their joint (and ultimately successful) effort to vivisect India.
Nehru publicly —and without any consultation with other senior Congress leaders — trashed the Cabinet Mission plan that was designed to ensure Dominion Status for a united country. He permitted the then Viceroy, Archibald Wavell, to invite the Muslim League to join the Interim Government, disregarding the fact that Wavell was intent on breaking up India so as to create in Pakistan a supposedly reliable military ally of the UK. Nehru halted the Indian army from clearing the Pakistan forces from the whole of Kashmir, and later pursued the contradictory policy of first ensuring a Red Carpet welcome to Mao Zedong when the latter occupied Tibet, but subsequently creating an irreparable break with Beijing by welcoming the Dalai Lama nine years later and presiding over the comprehensive defeat of Indian forces at the hands of the PLA in 1962. None of these decisions was taken after a process of consultation. Neither was there any discussion before Nehru went against the overwhelming majority in the Congress leadership in shutting down large segments of the private sector in India by converting the economy into a diluted version of the Soviet model. Nor was there any substantive discussion before Jawaharlal Nehru implemented his policy of “non-alignment” that ensured zero international backing for India when the 1962 Chinese attack came, and which saw India out of the UN Security Council. Surrounded by a handful of acolytes (similar to those who are these days cheerleaders for the present head of the Nehru dynasty, Sonia Gandhi), the first Prime Minister of India functioned in a manner that can only be described as subjective and arbitrary.
Coming to the core of democratic politics, the party system, it needs to be remembered that Nehru himself was promoted aggressively by his father, and that he himself promoted his daughter, including making her Congress president and his clear favourite to someday succeed him. Today, the Indian party system hhas broken down, in that almost all political parties in India are—in effect - owned by particular families, and are bequeathed to legal heirs generation to generation. Such a perversion of democracy is inherent in the system of nepotism that was crafted by Nehru and followed by his successors and acolytes across the political spectrum in India.
Also, there has thus far been no discussion of the fact that it was Jawaharlal Nehru who ensured that the entire colonial apparatus of law and procedure that was crafted by the British Raj to control their Indian subjects. The British-era law that Nehru and his successors have continued without change since 1947 hand over all discretion to the instruments of the state, leaving almost nothing with the rest of the population. The privileges enjoyed by those in government mirror those that were the right of the British colonialists who oversaw the rule of London. In India, those in government enjoy special treatment at transport hubs and in accommodation.They move around in vehicles that are appropriately bathed in a red light, even as the rest of the population is made to wait while such convoys go past.While the excuse of security has been trotted out to justify such contra-democratic measures, the reality is that the general population is at far greater risk than VVIPs, especially in a context where terror groups are less the focus of intelligence agencies than political foes of those in power.
In Anglo-Saxon law, as followed in the UK, an individual is innocent unless proven to be guilty after a due and predictable process of law. In India, such a rule is indeed applied, but only in the case of those having money and influence.The rest of the population have to wait their turn, often serving as undertrials for a decade and more before their case gets decided. The fact of police corruption ensures the production of false witnesses and evidence, and given the absence of accountability for such a criminal misuse of the justice system, it is small wonder that the only people afraid of the Indian justice system are the honest who are indigent. Wherever a citizen comes up against the state, he or she is put in a supplicatory position, exactly as was the situation during the British Raj. On a whim, multiple agencies can take away an individual's liberty or property, with redress a slow and usually unavailable process.That this state of affairs is the inevitable consequence of the colonial system of law and procedure followed by “free” India since Jawaharlal Nehru took over as Prime Minister is ignored by the many admirers of the individual whom his friends used to refer to as “the Englishman”, and not in jest.
Sadly, each of Nehru’s successors has continued the colonial system, because of the immense patronage that it provides. Apart from a few spasms of de-regulation during the period in office of PV Narasimha Rao (who soon became persona non grata with Sonia Gandhi), thus far there has been no serious effort to ensure that the laws and procedures that are followed in India reflect those that deal with a free rather than a slave people. It is only during the Anna Hazare agitation that substantial segments of the public have suddenly awoken to the fact that their democracy is a myth, and that—as during the period of frank colonialism —the people have to run to the governnment for permission to undertake almost any activity. Anna Hazare himself was presented with a list of 22 demands by the Delhi police, who were confident in the vast British-era powers they enjoy, powers that were and are used to suppress any manifestation that does not have the blessing of the wealthy and the influential.
The Anna Hazare movement is pathbreaking, in that it puts forward the possibility of breaking the monopoly of the politico-official crust over the spoils of office. Just as only the British occupied the top rungs of the administration in the past, since 1947, only those within the administrative structure—overseen by politicians—have been allowed to occupy the numerous levers of office. This despite the fact that the growing complexity of modern life mandates the entry into the layers of governance of those with direct knowledge of fields such as technology, agriculture, medicine and other fields. India needs a system where those from the professions can make a lateral entry into the administration. Instead, it has retained the British-era system that gives full power to a privileged group of generalists. If in the past, being British was enough to get trusted with any sort of position in India, these days, those who have crammed their way into the various administrative cadres monopolise government jobs. Indeed, over the decades, there has in particular been a competition between the IAS and the IPS to get key posts for their own cadre,with the IFS joining in the division of the spoils. Members of the IAS, IPS and IFS are indeed an admirable and versatile group, but to act as though they alone contain the wisdom to man and run the administrative machinery is to deny the need for a system that ensures the entry of individuals with a track record of success in fields that actually matter to the people
Hopefully, just as they challenged the monopoly of the British, the people of India will challenge the neo-British system put in place by Jawaharlal Nehru, and reclaim for themselves the freedoms that ought to be theirs by right. Unlike in the past, when the Opposition quickly adopted the policy of the previous ruling parties when they took over, this time around, the Opposition needs to present a new blueprint for India,and show that they are sincere in implementing it. The people of India deserve the freedoms and rights that are enjoyed by populations in genuine democracies,and hopefully the political class will accept this challenge and fulfill such a mandate. A 21st century governance system is needed to ensure the prosperity of India,not the 19th century construct that is the legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru.