NEHRU The debates that defined India

Wednesday 17th November 2021 05:18 EST

The  Nehru Centre recently gave a platform to two co-authors Tripurdaman Singh and Adeel Hussain who were in conversation with Dr Swapan Dasgupta (Hon’ble MP, Rajya Sabha) who launched their book titled ‘Nehru - The debates that defined India’. 

Senior journalist Pallavi Ghosh moderated the conversation.

Adeel Hussain said that part of the reason why he and Singh wrote this book is that it began a series of debates with leading Indian intellectuals and politicians that still remain contested to this day. And part of what they wanted to do was to bring the debate back to its origins because debates after a century tend to transmute and transform and take very different shapes and forms. They wanted to highlight how Nehru originally engaged with them. 

“And what that tells us is, for instance, what Nehru’s constitutional moves were when he was thinking about how to bring about a democratic constitution for the Indian Republic,” Adeel said. 

Hussain further explained that part of the appeal of the book is that it historicises his ideas, like how socialism was a disaster for India, it did not bode well, and it created the no top downstate that's wasn't very much conducive from benefiting of the capitalist expansion that many other countries did in the latter part of the 20th century. 

“But if we start thinking about national socialism in the context of what capitalism means, and then what capitalism means for the West, and what it means for India, then it comes with very different promises. So for the West capitalism came with the promise of liberty, regardless of how incompletely it was able to distribute that but it came with the promise of wealth and liberty and that generally, humankind would march into a direction of progress. 

“Now in India, capitalism came with the East India Company, which wasn't a promise of liberty. So for an Indian politician who comes of age in the early 20th century, it was expected that he would associate everything that capitalism stands for, and everything that capitalist modernity stands for, like something, or at least the economic system of capitalism is something that he would fight and he would want to fight even though of course, never kept alive the promise of modernity. Hence, we have on India has all of these institutions that reflect that, but in general, narrow socialism is something that was widely prevalent at the time amongst an entire generation of nationalist leaders,” Hussain said. 

Tripurdaman Singh reminded saying, “It's important to remember that Nehru was not just a socialist, he was also an internationalist.”

Speaking on what extent was Nehru’s socialism motivated by contemporary fashion, I think, to some extent, Swapan Dasgupta said, “It was the spirit of the times, at least for Nehru, enhanced sort of social demeanour was very much an upper-class Englishman in various ways. And even if he didn't sort of embrace vegetarianism, and some of the alternative lifestyles, which were a feature of the 1930s socialist culture in Britain, he did take up some of those issues. But it's important to note that so far as his socialism was concerned, it was not a consensus within Indian nationalism at that time. I think that's a very important point between say, that Nehru certainly represented a stand, but it was by no means the only stand. The Congress had a very active policy of encouraging indigenous capitalism, Indian capitalism, Nehru stood apart from that, even as late as 1948.”

The conversation also navigated through Nehru’s stand on China, NATO, his relationship with Lady Mountbatten and more of his socio-political ideologies that shaped the future of present-day India. 

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