Vantage point

Saturday, June 14, 2003


For the past few years there has been a huge rise in the "if only" articles one sees in the media. You get to see a lot of such posts on blogs too nowadays. The one point agenda of these articles, other than getting all misty eyed and wondering "what if" something had happened, is basically to shred to pieces those two individuals named M.K.Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. It becomes a "G&N" bashing exercise.

I am a fan of history, and I know the immense knowledge it holds for us. By going over past mistakes, we can learn to avoid them in the future. Since it was Gandhi and Nehru who were the leaders of India, obviously, mistakes were made by them. These mistakes were detrimental to our country's progress. And yes, others appear not to have made any mistakes....but don't you think that is because they never got a chance to rule?

It is easy to ridicule Ganguly for electing to field first in the World Cup final, but how would you react kindly to an article fantasising "what if Dravid had been the captain?" and "what if Parthiv Patel had been the captain?". Asinine, I would say. To blame India's defeat in the final on ganguly alone would be stupid. See my point?

In the same way, blaming everything on "G&N" smacks of the ostrich syndrome. Of course it is nice to live in a delusional world and say "If Patel were the PM, we would have been a superpower" and "If Rajaji were the PM, we would be so strong", and the best of them all, "If Netaji Bose were alive, partition would never have happened!!!!".

These guys, had they made it to power would have made mistakes of their own. If you write an alternative history, you will find people writing "if only" articles about Nehru.

The fact remains that when you see some things wrong in a country, it does not make sense to blame just 1 person for it. The way some libertarians and rightists go hammer and tongs at Nehru, it would make one seem as if the country had 50 crore free market proponents and just 1 big evil dictator who ushered in poverty. When you want to remove something or uproot something, it is good strategy to demonise everything about it. So people who want to do away with the "license permit quota" raaj use that strategy.

Reality is much more complex than that. Hitler can not be the single person responsible for rabid anti semitism. There was an entire society that was receptive to his ideas and made him powerful. In history, you will always find that most successful leaders were only spearheads of idologies, not the fountainheads.

There is a fine line between mulling over mistakes in history to learn from them, and digging up mistakes from history and blaming them for everything. Most of the articles that irk me cross the line and become an excuse-seeking exercise to justify our lack of progress. That is clearly a regressive way to go about bettering the country.

As Yazad and I discussed the other day, 'Nehru bashing' is not something one likes to indulge in. Though his Fabian socialism is poles away from my economic beliefs, I believe the man ended up doing more good for the country than bad. Despite aberrations, we are still a by and large secular state. The democratic institutions, while prime cases for improvement, are at least there and working at a basic level. The army is firmly in control of the civilians. Look around us. Look at Nehru's contemporaries in Asia!!! Tell me who did a better job than him under those circumstances?

While it is fair to say that Nehru's policy may have prevented us from being another Korea/Japan, it would also be churlish to deny that had it not been for Nehru's 17 year rule, we would have become another Central Africa or Yugoslavia.

We are moving ahead. We need to liberalise more and give more power in the hands of people. Socialism has to go. But why do we have to burn effigies while we are at it, is beyond me.