Sunday, 16 November 2014

"JUDGING NEHRU"--Fragment of a one-act play in progress, extracted from my novel The War Ministry

‘Jawaharlal Nehru, you have been remanded here to stand
trial and answer for the sins you committed against the people of
India. How do you plead?’

‘Where am I?’ Pandit Nehru blinked and shielded his eyes from
the lights blinding him. He stood up looking around, trying to
discover the source of the booming voice.

‘This is your purgatory, dear Prime Minister.’

‘Purgatory is for Catholics and I am definitely not one of the flock.’

‘This is the only part the Catholics got right, but here religious
identity is superfluous, only applicable to the living. Of course,
you were a famed atheist, weren't you? Apparently without faith,
but yet encouraging everyone to call you Panditji, the unbelieving
Brahmin. Your life’s story abounds with such ironies, doesn't
it? The most English of Indians who turned on the Empire, the
socialist who loved the finer things in life, the democrat who gave
birth to a family of dynasts. Does your hypocrisy know no bounds,

‘Ridiculous. Who or what are you?’

‘It depends. Now that you are here in this place beyond
existence, do you still cling to your atheism?’

‘I assumed death, one way or the other, would answer all
these metaphysical riddles we encounter in life…obviously not. I
never explicitly said I was an atheist, but neither did I concede to
identifying myself as a spineless agnostic. I yearned for far more
than mainstream religions could provide and had no patience
for the simplistic piffle they fed the masses. Perhaps the non-dualistic
nature of Advaita Vedanta and the ethic-based teachings
of the Buddha got closest to the truth. They directed us to look
within for the answer to the universe’s mysteries. But no religion
ever completely swayed me and I always maintained that I was
far more interested in the real world than worrying about the
unknowable. My dharma was always to help the people and I gave
my life to that purpose.’

‘So you are not an atheist but you still do not believe in a higher
power? Then you may call us vox populi, the voice of the people,
the judge and jury of every great democrat such as yourself. But
you should bear in mind that “vox populi, vox dei” is a belief held
by many of your fellow democrats. I’m sure you remember that
quote from Harrow and Cambridge, only the best education for
daddy’s pride and joy, an Englishman’s education.’

‘The voice of the people is not the voice of God, of that I’m sure.’

‘So you say.’

‘It has also been said by Alcuin, a man far wiser than me, that
we must not heed those who keep saying the voice of the people
is the voice of God, for the riotousness of the mob is very close to

‘Bravo, Panditji, your memory holds beyond your earthly
passing. But then you would know about the mob more than
anyone, having subverted the people’s love for you into your own
version of demagoguery!’

‘What rot. Is that the charge against me? Being a demagogue?
I refute it with the contempt it deserves. You are going to have to
come at me harder than that because even my enemies could not
doubt that I put my country’s interest before my own. My years in
gaol are proof of my commitment.’

'Granted, but did you not once write a pseudonymous article
about yourself, warning readers against your worst impulses? What
did you refer to yourself as? An Indian Caesar, of course. Your ego
could not tolerate any smaller comparison. Is that not what you
had turned into, feeding high-minded dreams and honey-dripped
rhetoric to the people while you built a dynasty just like Caesar
did? The charge against you is that you turned the Indian republic
into a monarchy for you and your heirs.’

‘That is ludicrous; you cannot blame me for what happened
after I left the scene. Shastri succeeded me, not Indu; she had to
wait her turn.’

‘And she did wait, perhaps for the last time in her life, but not
for long. She was your secret weapon, fulfilling your covert agenda;
to turn India’s polity into a royal court for your daughter, the
empress. How you must have looked on with pride as she trampled
on the very Indian democracy you so claim to treasure, which
she did not stop destroying till she completed her task with the
proclamation of Emergency. India was officially transformed into
a monarchy with a sullen and vicious crown prince to complete
the cast.’

‘If you had to judge me, why did you wait so long?’

‘You are a great man, Jawaharlal, and history takes its time
giving its verdict on great men.’

‘History is on my side, you may hold to account my family
for their subsequent conduct and that’s fair enough, but Indian
democracy survived even the worst that my heirs, as you call them,
put it through. The fact that democracy has flourished in India
is the ultimate verdict that I will be judged by, because there was
no cause I pursued with more vigour than to ingrain democratic
values in the Indian people and build institutions. I consider that
to be my legacy and it will withstand the test of time.’

‘Don’t be impudent; you have much to answer for beyond your
family’s doings. You will be judged, just like everybody else who
was taken over by hubris and dared believe they could lead men
and nations without having to answer for the consequences of their
actions. A day of reckoning comes for everyone and to be purged of
your sins you must first accept responsibility…if you had stepped aside in 1958 you would have avoided all the indignities that were to befall India in the years to come, and you would not have died a broken man, Jawaharlal...’

‘…I admit fault for everything that transpired during the 1962
war, for the war dead, for the national humiliation, for having
to betray the path of Non-Alignment and beseech the Kennedy
Administration for emergency military assistance. Those were
grave errors and I admit them, but historians have the benefit of
hindsight; leaders, however, are forced to lead even in the fog of
war with limited information, while facing multiple pulls and
pressures, which is why I stand by every one of my decisions in
office from September 1946 onwards, irrespective of how they may
have turned out.’

'So be it, you have said your piece. Your judgement awaits you...'

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