Author and commentator Nayantara Sahgal regards her uncle Jawaharlal Nehru as the `biggest influence’ in her life and work. The daughter of Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit is appalled at the alleged attempts to wipe him out from history. Speaking to Atul Sethi at her home in Dehradun, the octogenarian says the Modi government should stop being `psychopathic’ about India’s first PM
What is your reaction to the Union government’s recent announcement that they intend to recast the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library as a museum of governance?
This is an effort by the present government to not just rewrite history , which they have been doing by removing the heads of all our premier institutions and replacing them with RSS appointees, but also to wipe out Nehru from history . In fact, they are quite psychopathic about Nehru. They fear the position that Nehru occupies in our country’s modern history . The Nehru Museum, for instance, is not something that is just confined to Nehru. A record is kept there of the entire freedom struggle. It even has Veer Savarkar, who I would term nothing else but a coward since he opposed the freedom struggle and wrote to the British government from jail in Port Blair begging for his release and telling them that he would serve them any way they wanted. The government’s effort -in fact, their whole Hindutva ideology -is to overturn what they term the Nehruvian idea of India. But it’s not really the Nehruvian idea of India. It’s the idea of In dia which grew during the freedom struggle under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi.
You say the government is psychopathic about Nehru. Can you elaborate?
There have been many instances of this.Some months ago, for example, the 60th year of the Non-Aligned Movement was celebrated at Bandung in Indonesia. Our external affairs minister made a speech there in which she left out Nehru. He was one of the founders of the Non-Aligned Movement and present with the others at the original Bandung conference. Not acknowledging this is like talking about the Ramayana and leaving out Ram. How can you do this? History which has happened has to be left alone. You can’t start fiddling with it and put your own popular version in its place.
So you fear that the younger generation may grow up with a different version of modern history?
Absolutely . And it’s being done to suit a very dangerous ideology . In this scenario, how can Nehru’s -or anybody else’s -genuine image survive? We are under a fascist regime which has put a clamp on freedom of thought and expression. If anyone disagrees or they are out of favour, they are killed. Look at the number of writers who have been murdered in recent times by so-called Hindutva forces.I want to say here that Hindutva has nothing to do with Hinduism. I am a Hindu and I’m very upset at what they have done to the m e a n i n g o f H i n d u i s m . H i n d u t va is something that no real Hindu would subscribe to.
Do you think the Congress, being the main opposition, is doing enough to counter what you term as the government’s fascist agenda?
I can speak as an outsider since I am not a member of the Congress party . What I see and read is that they are trying to put together or be a part of an opposition that will oppose the government on various issues. This is important and it is greatly needed. Also, what one sees is that they are trying to reorganize the party to bring about a younger leadership.
Do you think the party will benefit by having a different leadership?
Well, they seem to think so. That’s why they are trying to reorganize. It’s not for me to decide who their leaders will be. But apparently, they are trying to reorganize with the thought that there should be a new leadership which will put forward its own ideas on what should be done.
Many believe that the Congress can survive only if it stops being a dynastic party.
I have always been opposed to dynastic politics -right from the time when it began in the Congress during Indira Gandhi’s time.I must point out that Nehru had no truck with dynasty . He neither approved of it nor did he appoint his successor. The party chose Lal Bahadur Shastri to replace him in the usual democratic way . But now, there are dynasties in place in almost every state in the country. It is something which I am absolutely not in favour of.
Your mother Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit was very close to her brother Jawahar. What are your own recollections of your uncle?
I really can’t answer that because I have written so much about him. My first book was about growing up during the freedom struggle. My essays tell you what I think about Nehru. It would be putting the whole thing on a very small scale if I start recollecting incidents or events connected to him. If I have to put it in a nutshell, I will say that my whole life and all my writing has been influenced by Nehru. In my opinion, Mahatma Gandhi was one of the greatest men of all time and Nehru was certainly one of the greatest of the 20th century.