New Delhi last week saw former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh release An Examined Life, a collection of essays and reflection by eminent scholar- politician Dr. Karan Singh.
The book, edited by Raghav Verma, a research scholar, carries a poem by Karan Singh on the death of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru whom he refers to on his political guru and mentor.
Now you are gone, to join the ranks of those whose names will ever live in every heart with joyous fragrance, like the budding rose that was of you so intimate a part; You fought and strove to give our nation light, to bring it freedom, break its binding chain, you warred against a vast, imperial might you suffered rief and anguish, loss and pain; But yet you fought, and when at last we won and took our place in freedom’s glowing light you did yourself become the nation’s sun and for her welfare laboured day and night; Now you are gone, and we who stay behind will cherish our sweet memories of you and strive with every power of heart and mind to make your dreams of glory come out true.
Fifty five years ago, this day, Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first and longest serving Prime Minister, passed away. That he was the country’s foremost and unquestioned leader for 17 long years (eighteen if you include interim government) speaks volumes of Nehru’s gigantic contribution to the Making of Modern India and, earlier, to the freedom struggle during which he spent 3662 days in British jails.
Today, on his death anniversary it may be worth recalling, for the benefit of post-Nehru generations, some of the other tributes paid to the Architect of Modern India after his death. Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, who was President of India when Nehru died, in his address to the nation the same evening on All India Radio (AIR) said: “Jawaharlal Nehru was one of the greatest figures of our generation, an outstanding statesman whose service to the cause of human freedom are unforgettable. As a fighter for freedom he was illustrious, as a maker of modern India his services were unparalleled.
His life and work have had profound influence on our mental make-up, social structure and intellectual development. It will be difficult to reconcile ourselves to the image of India without Nehru’s active and all-pervasive leadership.” Atal Behari Vajpayee, who was then a young MP stated on the floor of the House in Lok Sabha: “A dream has been shattered, a song silenced, a flame has vanished in the infinite.
It was the dream of a world without fear and without hunger, it was the song of an epic that had the echo of the Gita and the fragrance of the rose. It was the flame of a lamp that burnt all night, fought with every darkness, showed us the way, and one morning attained Nirvana. Bharat Mata is stricken with grief today — she has lost her favourite prince. Humanity is sad today — it has lost its devotee. Peace is restless today — its protector is no more. The down-trodden have lost their refuge.
The common man has lost the light in his eyes. In the Ramayana, Maharashi Valmiki has said of Lord Rama that he brought the impossible together. In Panditji’s life, we see a glimpse of what the great poet said. He was a devotee of peace and yet the harbinger of revolution, he was a devotee of non-violence but advocated every weapon to defend freedom and honour. The leader is gone, the followers remain. The sun has set, now we have to find our way by the light of the stars.”
Two years later, in 1965, the American civil rights leader Martin Luther King paid glowing tributes to Nehru for his role in nuclear disarmament and forming a powerful Asian- African block. The birth centenary celebration of Nehru took place in 1989 when a special volume on his life and achievements was brought out. It included tributes from those who were witness to the Nehru era, both from the country and abroad. Wrote Benazir Bhutto, then Pakistan premier: In “his seventeen years as Prime Minister, he laid the foundations of a modern India which preserved its own customs, yet marched ahead in industrialization and economic development.
Beyond the frontiers of his own land, Nehru was an acknowledged figure on the world stage. His sensitive understanding of the Third world, of its problems and its aspirations, grew out of a deep knowledge and experience of both east and west. He was thus able to instill in the developing nations a yearning for progress as well as a pride in their heritage.” Michael Brecher, American Journalist and author remarked: “Few statesmen in the twentieth century have attained the stature of Jawaharlal Nehru.
As the pre-eminent figure in India’s era of transition he bears comparison with Roosevelt and Churchill, Lenin and Mao, men who towered above their colleagues and guided their people through a period of national crisis.” Melody queen Lata Mangeshkar who had sung her immortal song Ae mere watan ke logo in the presence of Nehru in 1962, reminisced: “His personality was all that attracts a school going girl, and I was just one of millions. When he spoke, his voice was clear, forceful and filled with fervor for the country.
There was a vision in his speeches. He dreamt about a free, democratic, modern India, and we dreamt with him.” The 125th birth anniversary of Nehru was celebrated in 2014. An international conference to commemorate the event was held in New Delhi, where glowing tributes were paid to what an ex Prime Minister of Nepal called “the epitome of charisma, versatility, knowledge and genius of a very high order.” Nehru’s niece and renowned author, Nayantara Sahgel in her tribute said: “Nehru’s prime ministership was admired worldwide as an era of heroic striving against gigantic odds, with no curtailment of the rights and freedoms guaranteed to all Indians.”
On Nehru’s death, Adlai Stevenson’s tribute summed up this world view: “He was one of God’s great creations in our time. His monuments is his nation and his dream of freedom and of ever-expanding well-being for all men.” Noted journalist Inder Malhotra remarked: “The Mahatma was India’s liberator, Nehru its modernizer and untiring builder of its parliamentary democracy, Secularism, equality before the law, making Parliament a highly effective and respected institution, unflinching observance of every democratic norm, and modernizing India’s colonial economy and fudal society through the use of science and technology as well as economic planning, constituted his creed.”
On Nehru’s first death anniversary, on 27 May 1965 Dr. Radhakrishnan had written: “Jawaharlal Nehru was the greatest Indian, after the Mahatma.” Let us hope the present, and future, generations do not forget this fact of history.
(The writer, an ex Army Officer is a former member of National Commission for Minorities and a political activist propagating secular unity)