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Nehru laid strong foundation of parliamentary democracy

Nehru had a grand notion of democracy. He considered the Oppn leaders equal partners in nation-building.

Nehru laid strong foundation of parliamentary democracy

VISIONARY: India’s first PM was a champion of socialism, social justice and equality. PTI



Bhupinder Singh Hooda

Former CM, Haryana

ON his death anniversary today, a grateful nation pays homage to Pt Jawaharlal Nehru. It is difficult to remember him for just one thing or reason. His contribution continues to resonate in so many ways. He was a freedom fighter who spent more than nine years in British jails. The country’s visionary first Prime Minister shouldered onerous responsibilities and faced several challenges, such as hunger, illiteracy, the horrors of Partition, and setting up a parliamentary democratic structure. He was a nation-builder who established institutions such as IITs, IIMs, AIIMS, laboratories, research centres, space and atomic setups. He was instrumental in the establishment of heavy industries and dams for ushering in an era of prosperity and generation of employment. A promoter of scientific temper in national thought, he was a champion of socialism, social justice and social equality. An originator of the Non-Aligned Movement and Panchsheel, he was also a writer, philosopher and orator par excellence.

In the contemporary political milieu, he is invariably and befittingly remembered for laying a strong foundation of parliamentary democracy. The peaceful transfer of power at the Centre and in the states through elections based on universal adult franchise since Independence is testimony to that. Pandit Nehru was a man at the helm when India awoke to freedom. As he famously said, “Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge…”

A scholar-statesman, he was the most influential and popular leader of India. He set the agenda and high ideals for a nascent nation and took bold initiatives to make India a modern and vibrant democracy. He declared, “This is no time for petty and destructive criticism, no time for ill-will and blaming others. We have to build the noble mansion of a free India where all her children may dwell.”

Nehru had a grand notion of democracy. He considered the Opposition an equal partner in nation-building and treated its leaders with utmost respect. For him, the absence of a vigorous and vigilant Opposition was compelling evidence of the absence of democracy. Majority is not majoritarianism, the Opposition is not the enemy. He believed that the Opposition is needed for constructive criticism, to restrict the arbitrariness of his government and safeguard the liberty and rights of the people. That is why he also groomed and encouraged Opposition leaders. Perhaps, because of that, JB Kripalani remarked about Atal Bihari Vajpayee that he was a “Nehruvian in Jan Sangh guise”. Nehru got Vajpayee, a first-time Member of Parliament, included in the delegation for the UN General Assembly session in 1960. The Prime Minister’s Office instructed MK Rasgotra, then one of India’s officers with the UN (who later become Foreign Secretary), to introduce the first-time visitor to leaders from all continents so that he “gets a sense of how the real world works”.

In a rare political gesture, he reached out to Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee of the Hindu Mahasabha, Dr BR Ambedkar of the Scheduled Caste Federation, Sir RK Shanmukham Chetty of the Justice Party and John Mathai, an economist, so that their expertise and experience in public life could spur the nation’s progress. These leaders were bitter critics of Nehru and the Congress, but he sought the opinion and cooperation of every ideological hue to arrive at a consensus in policy-making. It was Nehru, essentially a democrat, who came up with the idea of electing a member of an Opposition party, Hukam Singh, as Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha in 1956, even though he was a critic of Nehru and was quoted as having said that Nehru, to say the least, was a tyrant who eulogised democracy! Since then, this healthy democratic tradition was more or less followed in all legislative bodies. Unfortunately, this noble parliamentary practice has been abandoned and the Supreme Court had to issue a notice to the Centre and five states over their failure to even elect a Deputy Speaker, which is a constitutional obligation under Article 93 (Lok Sabha), Article 178 (State Assemblies), and Article 89(2) (Council of States — Rajya Sabha).

It is not that Nehru was above criticism and controversies, but he faced dissent with grace and answered his opponents with decency, dignity and exemplary tolerance. He always maintained discipline and decorum in public life and never abused or scared his opponents. While replying to the debate in the Lok Sabha on the President’s Address to the first session of Parliament, he said, “It is good in a House of this kind to have a vigorous Opposition so that whether it is the government or the majority party, they do not become complacent.” It would be relevant here to mention the observations of Taylor C Sherman in his recently published book, Nehru’s India — A History of Seven Myths: “He was exceptionally democratic. Few leaders with his popularity, charisma and almost complete lack of Opposition have not given into temptations of authoritarianism.”

One also remembers the glowing tributes paid by Vajpayee in the Rajya Sabha to Nehru after he died: “Bharat Mata is stricken with grief today. She has lost her favourite Prince. Humanity is sad today — it has lost its devotee despite differences of opinion. We have nothing but respect for his great ideals, his integrity, his love for the country, and his indomitable courage.” We, the people, salute his memory!


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