Pundit Nehru: One of the least understood and the most criticized Indian leader

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In ancient Greek, Aristotle, the father of political science corrected the prescriptions given by his guru, Plato. Plato said that the rule of the philosopher king would be the best. But Aristotle corrected by saying that philosopher-king may be the best but polity is the best practicable form of government. It is called ‘best practicable’ because other alternatives to democracy suffer from deep challenges. It doesn’t mean that democracy is free from ‘all’ challenges. Populist politics is one of the side effects of democracy.

Some intellectuals describe the age of populist politics in the 21st century as a “post-truth era”. “Post-truth era”, according to them, is the time when the emotions of the people dominate over reason. In this process, political parties choose one of the forefathers as a hero and simultaneously criticize others to draw a parallel analysis. Following the same trajectory, pundit Nehru in India has largely been misread. It is because actions of the 1950s are being analyzed in the 21st century. People do not understand the time and space before developing an opinion or a narrative.

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Contextual understanding is missing

Jacques Derrida, a French philosopher worked on the concept of ‘deconstruction’. According to him, every understanding is a misunderstanding. Thus, according to him, an understanding needs to be deconstructed and reconstructed again. In the context of Pundit Nehru, whatever perceptions critics currently possess are not totally organic. A set narrative has been inculcated in their mind through electoral machinery in a democratic setup. They should deconstruct their narrative and think once again in order to reconstruct it.

For example, in the circle of foreign affairs, non-alignment as Indian foreign policy is criticized by many. But we miss the contextual understanding behind such a decision. Some claim it as an ‘idealistic approach’. In fact, it is one of the most realistic foreign policies of India. We should understand the fact that in those days India lacked economic capabilities. Britishers left India with poverty and hunger after centuries of draining Indian wealth. In such conditions, participating in world affairs independently with limited resources cannot be called an idealist approach at all.

On the same line, other Indian leaders like V.D. Savarkar and Mahatma Gandhi are criticized and tagged as “villein” by the respective politicized masses. However, both of them worked for the independence of India in their respective time and context. Similar to the Gandhian mass movement, we can’t forget the contribution of V.D. Savarkar in the context of 1857 and his work in a secret society. After 1906, for some, he appears communal. But they failed to read the room at that point of time when the Muslim league was created in 1906 and the Government of India act 1909 was created to appease Muslims.

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The refurbishing idea of India

Similarly, the debate related to the role of ‘Pundit Nehru as a modern architect’ is also a contested one. When Nehru died in 1964, the New York Times plainly referred to him as the “maker of modern India”. From a critical point of view, he was just a freedom fighter like others. For them, India is already a civilizational nation and it just got freedom from slavery and colonialism in 1947. However, pundit Nehru conceptualized a secular, industrial and cosmopolitan nation. He started the five-year plan that was obtained from the USSR (The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics).

Since India was facing hunger issues, his first five-year plan focused on agriculture. But from the second five-year plan, he started focusing on industrial development. With the help of Britain, Germany, and the USSR, he laid the foundation of the industrial structure for India by establishing steel plants. It further helps in developing heavy industries followed by consumer goods industries. Along with this, he focussed on capability buildings by establishing AIIMS, IITs, National Museum, Sahitya Akademi, Lalit Kala Akademi, etc. He also stressed on inculcating scientific temperament in the people.

Even though pundit Nehru was a socialist leader, he believed in a parliamentary means to democracy. He pushed forward the system of parliamentary governance based on universal adult franchise and secret ballot. He believed that democracy and civil liberties were not just means but the end. According to him, a diverse country like India would remain united only when democracy flourished. He was against those principles – communalism, and regionalism – that threatens India’s sovereignty. For example, pundit Nehru opposed the demand of states on linguistic lines.

Understanding criticism

However, his decisions are also not free from criticism. If we today look at his decision with respect to Kashmir, we would certainly find is wrong. But we forget the circumstances of 1950 when a new liberal institutional world order was created after the end of the second world war. Newly independent nations were looking at multilateral platforms like the UN as a new hope for peace. Pundit Nehru tested the capability of the UN by bringing up the Kashmir issue. Enacting Article 370 for Kashmir was indeed a wrong step in the long run but his intention was not different from Vajpayee’s ‘Kashmiriyat’.

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Thus, expecting the decisions of a leader as a ‘timeless wisdom’ is not a good idea, especially in a dynamic world. Similarly, Nehru did not focus on military power. Consequently, India received a humiliating defeat in the India-China war 196. It is also true that India lacked financial resources in those days. Thus, it was the choice of pundit Nehru to focus more on development, rather than the military. From Nehru’s point of view, India would not be threatened since it didn’t join any block during the cold war.

Apart from Kashmir and India-China war, Nehru’s secularism is criticized by the conservative people in India. Upon the restoration of the Somnath Temple in 1951, KM Munshi invited Dr. Rajendra Prasad to inaugurate the temple. When pundit Nehru came to know about it, he wrote a letter to Dr. Prasad for not attending the ceremony. At the same time, he started the tradition of the Iftar party in his residence. From the critic’s point of view, it seems oxymoron in the context of secular commitments. However, it may be the case of building harmony among communities after the bloodbath due to partition.

Legacies of pundit Nehru deepening democracy

Pundit Nehru drafted and moved the ‘Objective resolution’ on December 13, 1946, in the Constituent Assembly. It provided the philosophy and guiding principles for framing the Constitution. Later, its reflection is found in the Preamble of the Constitution of India. It guaranteed to secure justice, equality, freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith etc. to all the people of India. It is rightly said that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Thus, the objective resolution also provided adequate safeguards for minorities, backward and tribal areas, and depressed and other backward classes.

Thus, for his role in giving an outline of the Indian constitution, columnist – Sudheendra Kulkarni – call ‘Nehru stands above Ambedkar in writing of India’s constitution. Apart from this, his impact on world politics is widely acknowledged. After the defeat of fascism in the 2nd world war, the world started taking shape of a Bipolar world. It was pundit Nehru who provide a third front in the Bandung conference in 1955. Subsequently, he led the non-aligned movement (NAM) to provide voices to the newly independent third world.

Along with his contribution in making of constitution and the world politics, his role for the people in India is also appreciable. Unlike Mahatma Gandhi, pundit Nehru sought for a centralized system so that things can be done at full capacity. In my opinion, he might be democratically elected but he is the true philosopher King of Plato, the father of political philosophy. He didn’t face large opposition. In such a situation a leader has both ways either to misuse it to become a totalitarian leader or work in the interest of the people. He wisely used his intellect in the interests of people and became the philosopher king of Plato.

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In conclusion

We often see discontent regarding the role of pundit Nehru. In the age of social media, he becomes an easy target. There could be multiple reasons behind it. But the surge of social media and the rise of rights in India happened simultaneously. In this process, the tenure of Atal Bihari Vajpayee is deemed as the transition period between the ‘congress system’ and the ‘BJP system’. For some, he was also known as liberal-conservative i.e., a blend of liberal principles and conservative principles. Post Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the conservative party first tasted power in 2014.

From the perspective of Harsh Madhusudan and Rajeev Mantri (Book: “A New Idea of India: Individual Rights in a Civilisational State“), NDA led government in New Delhi challenged the Nehruvian legacy and developed a new idea of India. It is seen as parallel to the Nehruvian idea of India. Thus, he is seen frequently in news for the actions taken 70 years ago. Apart from it, he also belonged to a wealthy family. The status of ‘wealthiness’ is also not liked by many in a democratic society. So, we need to deconstruct any political discourse and see through the respective time and space.


  1. Business Standard | The Nehru that our country cannot forget
  2. Book | A New Idea of India: Individual Rights in a Civilisational State by Harsh Madhusudan and Rajeev Mantri 
  3. The Quint | Nehru Stands Above Ambedkar In The Writing Of India’s Constitution
  4. The Indian Express | Why Jawaharlal Nehru disapproved Rajendra Prasad’s presence at Somnath temple inauguration
  5. The Hindu | A short history of the political iftar
  6. Britannica | Non-aligned movement
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