The Indian Council of Historical Research had unveiled this poster to commemorate the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav, and the poster included the images of everyone from Mahatma Gandhi to Bhagat Singh, BR Ambedkar, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Dr Rajendra Prasad, among others. Conspicuous by its absence was an image of Nehru, who by most accounts is regarded as the architect of modern India.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor was among those who decried this exclusion, which he defined as an attempt to rewrite history in a petty manner, adding that excising Nehru from India’s freedom struggle is rationally impossible. Other senior leaders of the party including P Chidambaram and Jairam Ramesh had likened the act to the hypothetical omission of Henry Ford when it comes to writing the history of automobiles.
The allegations about historical revisionism that have been employed by warriors of Hindutva have been refuted by the outgoing ICHR Chairman, who said the omission was inadvertent. But even such inadvertent missteps beg the question, whether it’s necessary for parties in power to do away with evidence of history of one’s political predecessor? If one were to look at the legacy of Nehru, it is rife with examples of exemplary achievements that have put India on the global map. From the creation of centres of excellence such as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), AIIMS, and world-class resources such as dams, to even establishing the idea of parliamentary democracy in India, and free elections too. It is worth remembering that once liberated of colonial rulers, not every nation had the privilege to fall back on such modern forms of governance, instead choosing to rely on autocracies and military rule.
The present government’s disposition vis-a-vis ignoring our proud political history stands in stark contrast with the actions of some of the veterans in the BJP itself. The late Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was known to be a staunch critic of Nehruvian policies, was nevertheless an individual who lived by a higher principle. In a speech made by Vajpayee that went viral a few years ago, the BJP veteran recounted how a portrait of India’s first prime minister went missing from the South Block during the late 70s, when Vajpayee served as foreign minister. Following Vajpayee’s probe on the sudden disappearance of the portrait and subsequent intervention, it was restored to its former seat of glory.
Of course, one might argue that times have changed since then and now. But examples of such political largesse have been witnessed right here in Tamil Nadu itself. Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister M K Stalin had recently decided to refrain from removing the images of former Chief Ministers J Jayalalithaa and Edappadi K Palaniswami from the school bags that were being distributed to children for free as part of the state’s welfare measures. The maturity exhibited by the ruling party in TN could certainly be looked upon as a reference point, not just by the Centre but parties in power across India.
It needs to be remembered that no political party - whether the ruling government, or the Opposition - can exist in a vacuum. For a nation as diverse as India, the hues of our statecraft have been painted by parties with different ideologies at different points in time. Collectively, they form the rich and multi-faceted tapestry of our democracy. And denying the existence of any such predecessor will only result in us retaining a tattered patchwork of governance with no past to speak of, and no measurable future to work towards.