Ramchandra Guha’s study of history is rooted in current politics. With political leanings on display and political opinions out in the open, the discussion began as a strong reminder of the importance of Jawaharlal Nehru as the first Prime Minister.
Purushottam Agarwal took us through this journey of rediscovery. He brought Nehru to the forefront and wished to give his presence and decisions due credit for building the nation in the initial years. His experience as Chairman, Centre of Indian Languages, JNU and a definitive career in Hindi literature has helped put the spotlight on various innately Indian issues – like the hurting of our newly developed religious sentiments.
With his latest, “Who is Bharat Mata?”, he has published a selection of Nehru’s writings and speeches about history, culture and the idea of India with an illuminating introduction. Nehru’s Discovery of India described an instance when the chant of Bharat Mata was broken down to understand what this ‘Bharat Mata’ referred to? What value did it hold? Did it refer to our stunning landscapes, our geographical beauty, or to the people that made Bharat into one unique society?
Bharat Mata’s journey as envisioned in the past, was identified as very different from the current reality in the session. We were envisioned to move away from oppression into building a society along the principles of inclusion. As the current political environment was once again scrutinised and critiqued, the need for such a book emerged. The session led us to the same crossroads at which Nehru stood so many years ago, and posed the same question to us. Who is Bharat mata?
The special emphasis on Nehru over any other historic figures comes from the author’s own past. The death of Nehru led to the unwinding of many orthodox Hindus who had openly criticised his policies and decisions before. This made him wonder what was it that Nehru represented? Where did this reverence come from?
Mr Purushottam identified two criticisms against Nehru and their dissolution over the past 50 years. Firstly, Nehru’s idea of religion was considered to be contemptuous to the Indian culture. He refused to prescribe to any particular sub sect. He didn’t proselytise any one form of prayer. But this didn’t mean he refused to acknowledge the importance of religion in the shaping of Indian culture. The book samples some of his profound thoughts on culture, its creation, and sustenance.
Secondly, his idea of religion was more globally contextualised. His exposure to ancient Greek and Indian philosophies developed a Pagan worldview which was simultaneously adopted with certain strains of Advaita ideology. This sometimes meant that he practised a higher level of belief that put his practices on a higher pedestal. This global context made him welcoming of religious divergence in the country and that finally developed a political philosophy which was completely opposed to the usage of religious sentiments in politics.
Mr. Agarwal very aptly quoted Nehru in this context, “Where there are sentiments, there is no dialogue.” Gandhi reflected vernacular modernity, while Nehru reflected immigrant modernity. His national identity wasn’t limited to a particular regional identity. This fluidity in identity helped Nehru and Gandhi bridge the gap between the ideological nitty gritties that the two differed on.
About the Author: Deepika Aiyer is a 20 year old Literature Fest enthusiast who looks forward to being blown away by new ideas, opinions, and schools of thought. She currently writes for TheSeer.