The idea of India

This idea of a secular, democratic, left-of-centre polity was very much the brainchild of Jawaharlal Nehru.

There is no doubt about it now. The 2014 election will be the most significant one since 1977. The ideology of the Congress, which the party has very cleverly made the ideology of India, is going to be fundamentally challenged. The idea of India is at issue.

This idea of a secular, democratic, left-of-centre polity was very much the brainchild of Jawaharlal Nehru. It had Gandhian lineaments, but as Nehru believed in planning and industrialisation, as well as having a strong army ready to preserve territorial integrity (though he did not quite succeed in this), it was not a Gandhian ideal. Nehru argued for a caste-less, class-less society, modern and rational, not subject to religious superstitions, tolerant of diverse views and open to arguments. Above all, he led a party which was very broad-based and would get into many arguments at AICC meetings, some of which he lost.

This idea was taken up in universities and discussed by intellectuals. It was burnished and given historical foundations, so that the story of a syncretic India became a standard one in Indian historiography. An alternative Hindu nationalist account of Indian history, published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, was never rewarded by being prescribed in universities. Indian history was as designed by the Congress hegemony. Martyrs of the Independence movement who had chosen the path of violence were downgraded, principally Subhas Chandra Bose.

For the first 20-odd years after Independence, this idea was the basis of national consciousness. I grew up under the umbrella of this idea. The Congress was more than a party. It was a system. Information flowed from the grassroots to the central level and orders flowed downstream from the top to reach the smallest village. There was one Congress, one India, and one idea of India.

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