During his visit to India in 1938, John Gunther was confronted with the same question everywhere across India, “Have you seen Jawaharlal?” The American journalist and author then wrote an article with this as the title in the February 1939 issue of the Asia magazine. In a twisted way, the same question could well be posed in today’s India.
As the union government insists on celebrating 75 years of India’s independence as “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav,” a twitter update by the official Twitter handle of the event posted the original letter written by Jawaharlal Nehru to the Viceroy stating the names of the members of his cabinet in independent India. The tweet read, “On 4th August 1947, the then Hon’ble Prime Minister of India presented a few names…” showed the extreme lengths this government goes to avoid taking Nehru’s name. Nehru’s photo is also absent on a web poster of the Indian Council of Historical Research, meant to celebrate 75 years of independence.
The current dispensation’s desire to erase Nehru is well known. It converted the Teen Murti Bhawan—which served as a memorial to Nehru—into a memorial for all of India’s prime ministers, as if to somehow diminish his role. With 3,259 days in colonial prisons across nine different stints, Nehru played an outsized role in India’s independence movement.
Nehru stood for everything that is an anathema to the current ideology ruling India. He opposed the Hindu Rashtra and warned of majority communalism being mistaken for nationalism. A staunch believer in a plural, modern India, he was proud of India’s numerous diversities—religious, ethnic, regional, linguistic and cultural—which were rooted in its ancient and medieval history. He promoted science and modern education and was opposed to obscurantism. Proficient in Sanskrit and an avid practitioner of Yoga, he was not enamoured of religion or religious practices. His personal beliefs and political convictions were progressive, liberal and humane—rooted in rights and freedoms. The country that he shaped and created, from the days of the freedom movement, is the India the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh wanted, and is working hard, to dismantle.
During the freedom movement, the call for Purna Swaraj or complete independence was given by Nehru as the Congress president. He had been opposed to the idea of a dominion status for India, something a commission under his father had proposed in 1927. Arun Asaf Ali remembered it as “a thrilling spectacle” where Nehru “looked every inch the knight errant of the Freedom Movement.” On the midnight of 31 December 1929, a pledge of independence was read out and “on New Year’s Day 1930, Jawaharlal unfurled the national flag on the bank of the river Ravi.” The declaration of independence was officially promulgated on 26 January 1930, which was celebrated as Independence Day. The day was subsequently designated as Republic Day.