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Nehru promoted inclusive nationalism: Nayantara Sahgal

Saturday - March 30, 2019 7:20 pm , Category : ART & LITERATURE
New Delhi, March 30 (IANS) It was Jawaharlal Nehru's accomplishment, as the leader of India for its first 17 years of Independence, to make an inclusive national consciousness an everyday experience for Indians as the legacy of modern India, renowned novelist and writer Nayantara Sahgal said.
Sahgal, 91, made the remarks here on Saturday while speaking on "The Idea of India".
While delivering the keynote address of a conclave on "Nehru's legacy: Its relevance to contemporary India", organised by a retired civil servants' collective Constitutional Conduct Group, she explained her viewpoint of the first Prime Minister's government and outlook.
"As a political creation, modern-day India dates from 1947, when this subcontinent became a singular political entity for the first time in its history. The Congress party that came to power had been the first political formation to demand political independence from British rule and to build a country-wide movement under Gandhi to fight for it.
Referring to Mahatma Gandhi as the architect of "this first-ever national consciousness and national unity", Sahgal, who is Nehru's niece and his sister Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit's second daughter, said Nehru took this consciousness forward and made it an everyday experience for Indians.
She argued that a fight for freedom is always accompanied by the frame of mind that inspires it, and the then government's "avowed commitment to equality, pluralism and secularism came out of this experience of a unity about differences and a shared Indian identity".
"After the bloodshed and devastation of Partition, Nehru's immediate and overwhelming priority was communal harmony. His personal pledge to safeguard religious freedom left no room for doubt. Speaking to a public gathering in 1951, he said 'if anyone raises ... hand against another in the name of religion, I shall fight him till the last breath of my life, whether from inside the government or outside'."
In her address, she put it briefly: "India had been drained of resources and impoverished by over two centuries of plunder and exploitation under British occupation. An economy designed for British profit halted indigenous growth and in the 1930s had seen a series of famines. During the WW-II, when Indian grain was diverted to British armies and war zones, the Bengal Famine had killed nearly 3 million Indians.
She argued that India watchers at the time "took a very different view" and went on to say "how India fared under Nehru was seen as striving against gigantic odds in an open society with no curtailment of rights and freedom".
Contrasting this idea of India with "a diametrically opposed idea of India", what she calls Hindutva, which even attacks the former, the writer who had returned her Sahitya Akademi Award in 2015 to protest the country's "rising intolerance", said that Indians will have to answer if Nehru's legacy will "survive this onslaught" in a global political climate now "replicated in India where democracy, pluralism and human rights are being retraced by an enforced uniformity and criminalisation of those who do not conform".
Concluding, Sahgal remarked that "the choice before us today, or the choice between one idea of India or another, is in fact a choice between fiction and reality".

--IANS sj/pgh/nir

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