The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” Idols have feet of clay. The origins of this expression lie in the Bible (Daniel 3.3). In the King James version, “His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay.” The idol’s feet weren’t completely made out of clay, they possessed iron too.
Jawaharlal Nehru was Independent India’s first Prime Minister. There is a tendency to idolise him, blow his importance up disproportionately and relatively denigrate roles of others.
A case in point is a book published in 1958 by Alexander Campbell, titled The Heart of India. It was downright patronising, but the only reason it remains banned in India is because of uncharitable references to Nehru. Conversely, there are also harsh critiques of Jawaharlal Nehru’s policies and his legacy too. Nehru was PM from 1947 to 1964, a long span. The heady post-Independence hubris led to an eventual nemesis.
In 1964, he wasn’t the individual he was in 1947. On balance, with the assets and liabilities, was Independent India better off with him as PM? What would some other PM have done? Is Nehru being criticised for foreign policy miscalculations, handling of Kashmir or economic policies? The answer shouldn’t be in black or white, but in shades of grey.
As the title of this book makes abundantly clear, this is a dyed-in-black volume. It lists 97 of Nehru’s major blunders. I thought of adding three more, and making it a round figure of 100. Ten more blunders are listed in something like an addendum, but are not included in the numbering.
These blunders are classified under distinct heads—Pre-Independence, Integration of Princely States, External Security, Foreign Policy, Internal Security, Economy, Misgovernance, Educational and Cultural Mismanagement, Hubris and Dynastic Democracy.
The facts are not new. All these blunders are known. And none of the blunders is discussed in great detail, at best, a page or two. I have read good (and bad) books on Nehru, irrespective of whether the authors liked or disliked him.
But I haven’t yet seen such a ready reckoner of Nehruvian blunders. Let me give you a quote, from ‘Debilitating Babudom’, as a sample of what you can expect. “The Nehruvian era laid the foundations of Indian babudom that is authoritarian, arrogant, callous, unfair, heartless, ill-mannered, indifferent, incompetent, inefficient, ineffective, nepotistic, sloppy, sluggish, self-seeking and shamelessly corrupt. Bureaucracy is now Kleptocracy….We now have babudom that indeed have very low IQ—low Integrity Quotient.”
The Preface explains how the word “blunder” has been defined. “Blunders is used in this book as a general term to also include failures, neglect, wrong policies, bad decisions, despicable and disgraceful acts, usurping undeserved posts, etc.”