History is a cruel master. Ruthless actually. You can never be sure how future generations will view your present, or even what your past was. Hitler is probably the best example of this phenomenon. Let alone Germany, Hitler enjoyed support, both academic and otherwise across Europe. Yet, today he is reviled as the embodiment of evil. In that context, examining Nehru in modern day India is an exercise in understanding not just him, but also a country, and a society.
I am not going to talk about the factual history of Nehru’s life, as I believe that his persona rose beyond his life and the events that occurred during it. Yet navigating biographies is a tricky business. Writers, and for that matter, humans are yet to transcend the barrier of bias. I guess in a way, it is impossible to not have an opinion on small acts by great people. To that extent, I was pleasantly surprised by the nuance displayed by Dr. Tharoor while talking about one of the tallest leaders of the 20th Century, given that he’s a staunch believer in Nehruvian politics, and is a key member of the Indian National Congress. He doesn’t flinch or even moderate his words while often brutally criticising some of Nehru’s penchants, decisions and thoughts. Although this reads like a complaint, it is perhaps the highest compliment that can be paid to a biography.
A tall statesman, a failing father, an optimistically naive policy maker and the ever pragmatic politician, this book explores Nehru in a way most of us never have. In context of the shrill rhetoric raised in Parliament (in re Prime Minister Modi’s speech as a reply to the President’s address at the beginning of this Budget Session), most people today end up listening to either end of the spectrum. They’re either people who blame Nehru for everything that is wrong with the country today, or are staunch Nehruvians who cannot hear a word against him. Ironically, 21st century India is when Pandit Nehru matters the most to Indians, and to that extent, this book is an amazing place to start.
Cross-posted on The Standing Coin