New Delhi: It was a modest official do to kick off the 125th birth anniversary celebrations of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru on Friday (November 14, 2014). The venue was the auditorium at the Neheru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) at Teen Murti, which served as Nehru’s residence for the 17 years he was prime minister. The function was organised by the ministry of culture and tourism, and the man who was given the portfolio as minister of state (independent charge), Dr Mahesh Sharma, was present and so was culture secretary. There were not too many VIPs, except Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, Mallikharjun Kharge. The hall was occupied by staffers of the NMML.
The man of the function was Union home minister Rajnath Singh, the designated No 2 in the Modi cabinet because he chairs cabinet meetings when prime minister Narendra Modi is away. Singh was the chief guest, and therefore the government has accorded the highest importance to the Nehru celebrations.
The home minister was was former BJP president had delivered a homily that would leave the Nehru partisans both embarrassed and uncomfortable. Singh did not push under the carpet his party’s differences with Nehru. He said Nehru’s policies -- neeti -- could be questioned but not his -- neeyat -- integrity.
Singh did not suppress the BJP’s ideological tenets but he gave full credit to Nehru’s achievements. He said that Nehru’s policies on Kashmir and China were to be questioned, but that Nehru was the man who modernised the ancient Indian state, that he loved India and her people despite his affluent and Westernised upbringing and education. He also recounted that though Nehru did not agree with the Rahstriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ideology, he acceded to the food secretary’s suggestion in 1950 that voluntary organisations like RSS should be into the food campaign. The other example he gave was that of RSS being included in the Republic Day parade in 1963 in the wake of the October 1962 China war. The home minister underscored the fact that you cannot be small-minded when you are the prime minister of a great country, doffing his hat as it were both to Nehru and to his boss, Modi.
Singh was full-throated in his praise of Nehru for the policy of non-alignment, keeping India out of the camps of America and Russia during the Cold War. The only mistake he made was to mention Bulganin, who was the Russian prime minister, while referring to Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia and Nehru as the founders of Non-Alignment. He missed out on Egyptian president Nasser. He said that during the Suez crisis of 1956, US president (Dwight) Eisenhower thought that only Nehru was tall enough a leader to mediate between the Arabs and Israel.
He also praised Nehru for the concept of a planned economy and for the idea of a “mixed economy” which allowed public and private sectors to co-exist.
Singh has launched a web portal on Nehru, on the lines devoted to Gandhi and Tagore, where writings of Nehru and the audio recordings of some of Nehru’s speeches are available. He promised that an attempt will be made to publish all the records of Nehru’s tenure in office which will help in the assessment of the role of India’s first prime minister.
The recording of Nehru’s famous speech, “At the stroke of midnight, when the world sleeps, India awakes to freedom” was played along with a Films Division documentary made in 1957 on Nehru. The function began with the singing of Vande Mataram, but the function did not end with the national anthem.
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