November 30, 2014

125th Birth Anniversary Celebrations Of Jawaharlal Nehru by SAHMAT

Amol Saghar

TO mark the 125TH birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru, Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT), in association with India International Centre, has organised a series of lectures by eminent personalities on the theme ‘Indian Modern and Nehru’. The first of these talks was held on 22 November 2014. The talk was delivered by eminent historian Professor Irfan Habib. He spoke on ‘Jawaharlal Nehru and Indian National Movement’. The talk, which was chaired Professor Mushirul Hasan, was attended by a large number of people from various walks of life. The lecture was also attended by CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat and senior Party leader M A Baby. Prof. Habib began his lecture by speaking on the early history of the nationalism and how this term came to be employed in various political contexts by Benedict Anderson and others. He threw light on the fact as to how the term nationalism was first coined and how it has come to be relevant in the global context in defining the historical trajectories. Prof. Habib threw light on the important role that Jawaharlal Nehru played in popularising this idea during the course of national movement. His visits to the USSR and how these visits helped Nehru to evolve his worldview that ultimately helped him grow were also discussed at length by Prof. Habib. The lecture threw light on the complex relationship Nehru had with Gandhiji. The sharp differences and the contrasting images that the two world leaders presented on various important social and economic issues were brilliantly brought forth by Prof. Habib. He also spent some time in discussing the various works penned by Nehru. He discussed how one could discern the changing perspective of Nehru on various issues by reading his works. According to Habib his stance on issues that he felt so strongly about in his initial years such as religion and about which he writes so poignantly in his early works including his Autobiography change dramatically by the time he writes Discovery of India. There is a sort of in-built clash of ideas and perspectives in his works. Prof. Habib dwelt at length on Nehru’s celebration of reason. Prof. Habib also addressed the important issue of Quit India Movement of 1942. He pointed out that launching a movement at a time when Nazi and Fascism threat was looming large and the British along with the USSR were fighting tooth and nail to save the world from the impending catastrophe was nothing short of opportunism and betrayal. The fact that Nehru advocated support for the movement was a surprising development. He pointed out that Nehru had always till that time advocated for socialism and revolution and his supporting the most backward looking and anti-poor powers in order to merely force the British colonial power to leave India was least acceptable. He also blamed the movement for the rise of Muslim League which until then was struggling for its survival. However, once the Congress leaders were jailed and their offices closed, their literature banned and proscribed by the colonial state it gave an opportunity to the Muslim League to grow and spread its tentacles and fill the political vacuum that was created. The lecture also saw Prof. Habib speaking at length on the issue of Karachi Resolution and how it brought froth the radical image of Nehru and at the same time showed the reluctance of Gandhiji in supporting radical changes that the resolution aimed at. It is another matter; Habib argued, that Gandhiji ultimately did extend his support to the resolution as he felt the Swaraj he aimed for has no popular acceptance among the masses when compared to the clauses that were outlined in the Karachi Resolution by Nehru. While speaking on Nehru’s stance on secularism, Prof Habib pointed out the fact that even though he was secular to the hilt and had always spoken for religious freedom and non-interference of state in religious matters yet he himself was not able to stop the growth of communal elements within his own party – the Congress. In the course of his lecture, the eminent historian also narrated a couple of anecdotes involving his father’s interactions with Nehru and his own interaction with him. The anecdotes brought about the little known side of the great world leader. Prof. Habib ended his insightful lecture on a poignant thought by saying that Nehru and Gandhiji though disagreed on various points still they knew how to bury their hatchet for the sake of the greater good. The greatness of these leaders lies in this. Gandhiji chose Nehru as his political heir despite their differences. During Partition both wanted communal slaughter to stop and worked with great vigour to this end. Professor Hasan, who chaired the lecture, made some insightful comments on the talk which enriched the event. This was preceded by a short duration of question and answers. (END)