International Conference by Indian National Congress on 125th birth anniversary of Nehru
Speech delivered by Madhav Kumar Nepal, former Prime Minister of Nepal, at the international conference organized by the Indian National Congress at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi on November 17-18, 2014 to commemorate the 125th Birth Anniversary of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (1889 – 1964)
Esteemed Chair of the Conference,
Honorable Madam Sonia Gandhi, President of the Indian National Congress,
Former Prime-Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh,
Mr. Anand Sharma, Convener of the Organising Committee,
Political Leaders and Members of Parliament,
Distinguished Friends from Other Countries,
Scholars and Professionals,
Ladies and Gentlemen
Namaskar and Good Morning,
I am extremely honoured to be among such a galaxy of renowned personalities here to take part in the Conference organized to celebrate the 125th birth anniversary of one of the most illustrious icons of modern India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Let me, first of all, extend my sincere thanks to Madam Sonia Gandhiji, President of the Indian National Congress, and the organizing committee for the kind invitation that has enabled me to come here once again. The conference has given me an opportunity to pay my cordial tributes to Panditji and interact with so many old and new friends and share my opinions with such an august gathering. I also appreciate the warm hospitality extended to me since my arrival in this historic city.
The Indian National Congress (INC) is one of the oldest democratic political parties of the world having a long history of association with India’s independence struggle with stalwarts like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad all having served as INC President among so many others playing a pivotal role. It also served as a vanguard of decolonization and freedom and rights of the oppressed people of the world. It is a matter of extreme satisfaction that quite a number of our prominent political leaders including B.P. Koirala and Man Mohan Adhikari took part in the Quit India movement with the belief that an early Indian independence would hasten the eradication of Rana autocracy in Nepal to allow our people to enjoy full democratic freedom and human rights.
It is in this background that I deem it a matter of privilege to represent Nepal at this international conference. As Prime Minister of Nepal, I was here on an official visit in 2009 and later again 2013 and have vivid memories of my fruitful interactions with you, Madam Gandhi, and then Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, apart from several other meetings with both of you before and after my official visit. I also cherish very good working relations with Dr. Singh and his Government when I was at the helm of affairs in my country during one of the most critical political junctures of recent years. Nepal and India enjoy excellent relations and these ties of friendship and co-operation date back to history and India has extended generous assistance to us.
As a close neighbour and friend having excellent political, economic, social and cultural relations for centuries, Nepal is proud of India’s emergence as a major economic and technological power house during the last 67 years of its independence.
It is quite notable that you have been heading the INC as its President for the longest period in history since the prestigious organization was founded in 1885 besides being the fifth woman to preside over it during almost one hundred thirty years of its existence. The INC also ruled India for most of the period after India’s independence. As we are here to pay our respect to Panditji today, it may also be relevant to remember two other stalwarts who were both Prime Ministers and Congress Presidents. They were Madam Indira Gandhi who was Prime Minister for a longer inning just short of less than one year in comparison to that of her illustrious father and whose birth anniversary falls day after tomorrow, and your dear husband Rajiv Gandhi both of whom faced cruel ends.
For a man who has been to the capital city of India many times in the past, New Delhi is a familiar place. A beautiful and sprawling metropolis on the bank of Yamuna, it bears testimony to the rise and fall of various dynasties and regimes for centuries before it became the capital of independent India. A mere stroll at the India Gate and its surroundings speaks volumes of umpteen trials and tribulations that India was forced to undergo before its evolution as an independent democratic republic.
Before I come to the main topic, let me also say something about the venue of the two-day conference. That the beautiful Vigyan Bhavan has been chosen to hold this conference is in itself a well thought out idea and a big tribute to the memory of the great visionary leader. Built in 1956 during the early period of his premiership, the impressive architecture of the edifice represents in all possible ways the imprint and composite personality of the first Prime Minister of the country who was a fusion of various thoughts and ideas.
A modern architecture, the Vigyan Bhavan essentially imbibes features of Lutyens’ Delhi and basic strands of Hindu, Buddhist and Mughal architectures. Host to several international and national conferences and high-level functions, the Bhavan also played host to some conferences that have high relevance to Panditji. These include Commonwealth Summit and Seventh Non-aligned Summit both held in 1983 as Nehru was one of the pioneering figures in terms of the evolution of these two international instruments.
I congratulate Madam Sonia Gandhi for hosting this conference to celebrate the birth anniversary of Panditji with such an elaborate function inviting people from India and abroad to pay respects to the great statesman and to revisit his ideology, achievements and broad legacy to India. The topic for the conference, “Nehru’s Worldview and His Legacy –Democracy, Inclusion and Empowerment” spread over two subject sessions dealing with “Inclusive Democracy and People’s Empowerment” and “Nehru’s Worldview and the Democratic Global Order for the 21st Century” is well chosen as these aspects succinctly define stellar contributions that he made to the country and the world at large.
Pandit Nehru was an epitome of charisma, versatility, knowledge and genius of a very high order. As one of the brilliant students of his time, he was one of the best assets of India at the time of independence as he was a great visionary and a creative leader looking both domestic and world affairs from a wider and broader perspective. He was a prolific writer with several standard publications to his credit like Discovery of India, Glimpses of World History, Towards Freedom and Letters from a Father to his Daughter. Multiple volumes of the Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru portray in an extensive manner the extent of his intellectual depth and versatile approach. Many of his writings were from the period of his imprisonment that lasted over fifteen years but continued almost till his last days of his premiership.
Last but not least, the assumption of his most prominent role as India’s first Prime Minister with most memorable and landmark “Tryst with Destiny” speech of the midnight was the apogee of his political career. Panditji’s stewardship of the country continued for almost eighteen years if we also count his role as the Vice-President of the Provisional Government that presided over the rocky and even chaotic transition from colonial disengagement to full independence.
A champion of children as the future leaders of the country, Panditji’s birthday is celebrated as Bal Divas (Children’s Day) as he was fondly called Chacha Nehru. Though trained in England and with soft corner for British parliamentary system and some aspects of Western civilization, he truly encompassed the aspirations of modern India as he was in active public life for over five decades in various facets. While US ambassador to India John Kenneth Galbraith once described him as the “last Englishman to rule India”, French scholar Andre Malraux mentioned him as the “unEnglish English gentleman”.
Some of his most visible roles included practice of a barrister enrolled at the Allahabad High Court, proactive participant in successive All India Congress Committee (AICC) sessions as General Secretary, Head of the Foreign Department of the INC and Congress President, architect of Congress Party’s victory in 1937 provincial elections, active participant in Quite India Movement, and ardent champion of and top-notch freedom fighter for India’s Purna Swaraj.
Nehru’s major contribution to the political stability and succession from colonialism to independence that ensured India’s orderly progress and development with greater emphasis on democracy, inclusion and empowerment is also borne by his central role in promulgating the Constitution almost 65 years ago. As he was quite conscious that political development alone can’t sustain the fabric of democratic order, he took a momentous step to establish Planning Commission to take the country on a planned course of social and economic development to empower the masses particularly the downtrodden and backward communities. In fact, this decision was a continuation of the “Fundamental Rights and Economic Policy” drafted by Nehru during 1929-31 and ratified by the AICC session and establishment of national planning commission by the INC just before the Second World War.
His critical contributions to the country were reciprocated by faith and confidence reposed by the people who elected his party to power to ensure his continuance as the first and so far the longest Prime Minister of the country during the first three successive General Elections to the Lok Sabha in 1952, 1957 and 1962. His emphasis on the empowerment of socially and politically deprived classes of people and balanced and sustained development of the country led to various measures ranging from unification of Indian Princely states and reorganization of states to full empowerment of the rural people with suitable incentives.
While his total sway over the population could afford him to play the role of what can be called a democratic dictator as in many countries that had gained independence from colonialism, Pandit Nehru was a democrat to the core believing in collective leadership and greater participation in terms of nation-building. While Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in less than six months and his senior colleague, Sardar Patel, passed away within the first few years of India’s independence, he continued to rely on the advice and support of his colleagues at the centre and states both at party and government levels.
Pandit Nehru was greatly influenced by socialist ideology and even Marxism but was completely flexible in his approach and did not suffer from any dogma as is shown by his rightful emphasis on the commensurate role of the public and private sectors in terms of advancing India’s progress. Being instrumental in the establishment of elite institutions related to medical science, engineering, technology, research, management and social science, he visualized the idea of India as a pool of high-skill manpower that could not only develop the country but also contribute to global prosperity. He once described massive Bhakra Nangal Project as the “new temple of resurgent India” and a “symbol of India’s progress” while at the same time emphasizing on the need for comprehensive land reforms to empower the toiling masses for upholding their social and economic status and for augmenting food production in the country.
Dear Friends and Participants,
Pandit Nehru was the architect of India’s foreign policy. In a way, he was the personification of independent India’s foreign policy until his sad demise in 1964 and the originator and brain behind the foreign policy of the INC for two decades prior to the country’s independence. Panditji seems to have greatly relished in looking after foreign affairs as he once told that he would have resigned from the post of Prime Minister long ago as it was not his “profession” but for his “interest” in foreign affairs. Even when he was not in a good mood in Montana, Switzerland for the medical treatment of his wife, Kamala Nehru way back in 1927, he made a rather casual note of over 7,000 words spread over 27 pages. This masterly document in the form of manuscript entitled “A Foreign Policy for India” brilliantly outlines the basic contours of future India’s foreign policy that combines forces of continuity and change.
So total was his sway and expertise over the domain of India’s foreign policy that even Mahatma Gandhi once told in 1942 that in terms of foreign policy Panditji was “my Guru”. The establishment of Foreign Department in 1936 was his fundamental idea that was approved by the Lucknow session of the AICC the same year. As he was his own External Affairs Minister throughout his tenure as Prime Minister till his death, another major contribution of him was the constitution of the Indian Foreign Service that was approved by the cabinet of Provisional Government on October 09, 1946, almost a year ahead of India’s independence. He also established the Indian Council for Cultural Relations to promote India’s cultural relations with other countries.
Before India’s formal emergence as an independent country, India was at best an anomalous colony with membership of international organizations and full-fledged participation in international conferences even with well above a dozen quasi-diplomatic missions under its supervision. Some months prior to independence in March-April, 1947, the Indian Council of World Affairs that was established in 1943 by a group of intellectuals including Pandit Nehru hosted an Asian Relations Conference in Purana Qila of New Delhi inviting countries of Asia and Africa and representatives of international and regional organizations.
While Panditji was the moving spirit behind the conference that sought to chart out a new course for countries of Asia and Africa, the conference was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi and the Nightingale of India Sarojini Naidu who had the honour to succeed Mahatma Gandhi as INC President in 1925 was in the chair. The first Asian Relations Conference is appropriately taken as the precursor and forerunner of the Non-aligned Movement (NAM), possibly the largest association of developing countries that had Nehru as one of the central figures in its inception. At a time when the world was divided into mutually conflicting power blocs with Cold War at its height, he took a principled position to stay away from the rival camps while judging every international issue on the basis of merit and national interest by championing the cause of Panchsheel and non-alignment. One of the greatest contributions of NAM is gradual and faster decolonization in various parts of the world.
As Nehru was a strong advocate of strengthening India’s ties with neighbours, a brief description of Nepal-India relations may be relevant. As already stated, our two countries enjoy best of relations on political, social, economic and cultural terms. Pandit Nehru visited Nepal two times and was instrumental in helping us to have a smooth transition from a century-old Rana family autocracy to democracy in 1951. He extended full support to Nepal for its social and economic advancement and our people take him as one of the most important friends of Nepal. While conscious of the policy of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs, he did not hesitate to strongly attack the step taken by the King in 1960 to dissolve the elected parliament and government led by B.P. Koirala, the first elected Prime Minister of Nepal, as a setback to democracy.
We continue to receive the support and co-operation of the friendly people and Government of India in our present task of taking the peace process that started with the Comprehensive Peace Accord and Twelve-Point Agreement to its logical conclusion and promulgation of a democratic constitution at an early date. As Nepal is on the threshold of a new era for bringing about radical socio-economic transformation, we welcome greater private investments from India for our mutual benefit and for acceleration of our policy of bringing qualitative improvements in the standards of our people. Optimum and ecologically sustainable utilization of Nepal’s vast water resources, tourism development, laying of infrastructures, modernization of agriculture and commercial development of Nepal’s herbal and other resources may be some of the promising areas for mutually advantageous co-operation between Nepal and India in coming years.
With these words, I once again extend my most profound tributes to the political and intellectual colossus as so aptly exemplified by Pandit Nehru and wish the conference all success.
November 17, 2014