May 27 was Jawaharlal Nehru 56th death anniversary. There was hardly any mention in the mass media marking the anniversary. It is really sad to see that one of the founding fathers of India has been virtually forgotten
May 27 was Jawaharlal Nehru 56th death anniversary. There was hardly any mention in the mass media marking the anniversary. It is really sad to see that one of the founding fathers of India has been virtually forgotten. It is also sad that the history is big rewritten so that all the great heroes of India’s independence movement like Nehru are being relegated to the background.
Nehru was a great intellectual, very democratic person and a very decent man. Those who criticize him as a "pseudo secularist" do not realize that he had a pan-India vision and admired everybody who loved and valued India. Swami Vivekananda was one of them.
In his classic book “The Discovery of India” Jawaharlal Nehru has devoted six pages describing the philosophy of Swami Vivekananda, the philosopher-saint. He did not devote that many pages in it to anyone among the modern leaders except Mahatma Gandhi.
Nehru wrote this book in early 1940s while he was imprisoned in Ahmednagar jail during the freedom movement. This book, after its publication in 1946, was widely read in India and abroad and must have played an important role in informing the general public about the seminal ideas of Swami Vivekananda.
Nehru was very much influenced by the modern outlook of Vivekananda’s teachings since they blended science and spirituality. Also the practical ideas of Vivekananda who said that spirituality cannot be taught on an empty stomach and the rejuvenation of India can only take place when poverty is reduced appealed to Nehru. This was probably the first example of practical Vedanta!
Vivekananda's secular outlook
Too often people criticize Nehru for being a wooly-eyed secularist but do not realize that he was a visionary and took a pan- Indian approach about the pressing problems of the time. Vivekananda’s scientific and spiritual message together with its practical focus therefore appealed to him tremendously.
For example Vivekananda’s international approach where he said that we should have a new Indian society which will be a blend of European society with India’s spirituality was quite revolutionary and appealed to Nehru’s international outlook. This is similar to what Mahatma Gandhi said in his Round Table Conference speech in 1931 when he proposed a real Commonwealth between an independent India, with its huge market and labor force, and helped by British technology and innovation.
Nehru, himself a socialist, was also impressed by Vivekananda’s socialist thinking and quotes him, “I am a socialist not because I think it is a perfect system, but half a loaf is better than no bread. The other systems have been tried and found wanting and let this one be tried if for nothing else, for the novelty of thing”.
Besides Nehru also liked the secular outlook of Vivekananda who believed in the unity of all religions and had said many times that they are just different paths leading to the same universal truth. I think he was really taken aback by the audacious approach of Vivekananda when he wrote to his Muslim friend, “For our own motherland a junction of the two great systems, Hinduism and Islam- Vedanta brain and Islam body – is the only hope!” I wonder what the present Hindutva supporters would think of this!
I think all great men have similar thinking. Some of the speeches of Vivekananda that he gave during his travels in India mirror the type of speeches that Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru gave much later on.
Nehru echoed Vivekananda
The abject poverty and degradation of thought that Vivekananda saw during his travels in India touched him deeply, just like they had touched Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru later on, and Nehru was simply echoing those ideas in The Discovery of India.
Vivekananda was much before Nehru’s time and people may have known about him - particularly in Bengal - from his writings and speeches that were published by Advaita and Ramakrishna Ashram Press. However, those publications were sporadically printed and not available to a large number of people all over India.
Nehru’s “The Discovery of India”, which was widely publicized and readily available in public libraries and those of schools and colleges, might have kindled in people’s mind a desire to know about Vivekananda, and thus I feel that Nehru might have been responsible in 'rediscovering' him.
So let us remember this great soul of India who was not only a great democratic prime minister but also an intellectual and helped make Vivekananda an icon for millions of Indians.
(The writer is Director, Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI), Phaltan, Maharashtra. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)