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August - September 2007


From Nehru to Manmohan - A Reappraisal of their contribution to India’s progress

by Krishan Ralleigh

“We can never forget the ideals that have moved our race, the dreams of the Indian people through the ages, the wisdom of the ancients, the buoyant energy and love of life and nature of our forefathers, their spirit of curiosity and mental adventure, the daring of their thought, their splendid achievement, in literature, art and culture, their love of truth and beauty and freedom, the basic values that they set up, their understanding of life’s mysterious ways, their toleration of ways other than theirs, their capacity to absorb other peoples and their cultural accomplishments, to synthesize them and develop a varied and mixed culture, nor can we forget the myriad experiences which have built up our ancient race and lie embedded in our subconscious mind. We will never forget them or cease to take pride in the noble heritage of ours. If India forgets them she will no longer remain India and much that has made her our joy and pride will cease to be.”
‘Discovery of India’
by Jawahar Lal Nehru (pp522)

India’s first Prime Minister laid the foundation of Indian democracy. In his personal life, he was an aristocrat who valued meritocracy, shunned sycophants and abhorred corruption. A benign leader and a visionary who knew where India should be in the comity of nations. He had the power and authority from the people who loved him and would listen to him. He was Prime Minister for 16 years and won three general elections for his party, the Indian National Congress. He was riding the tide of history but he failed to deliver. His demise in May 1964 made India vulnerable to her neighbours. China had already humiliated his policy of non-alliance. Pakistan had the courage to pounce upon India within 15 months of his death. The new Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri bravely repulsed Pakistan’s attack but did not get enough time from Destiny to build on his popularity. The Congress party chose Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi to be the next leader. Indira, at this stage, was just an apprentice in the art of statecraft; but she learnt fast; and managed to win handsome majority in the 1967 general elections; and again in 1971. The declaration of Emergency in 1976 was a blunder caused by her love of power. In 1977, Janata Dal and other groups who opposed the Emergency came to power. The leaders put forward by Janata Dal were intellectually and morally feeble; but they craved for power for the sake of power. Some of them were old disgruntled Congress leaders who left the Congress because they could not stand the imperious attitude of Indira Gandhi. There was continuous infighting amongst the Janata Dal leaders for the position of Prime Minister. Morarji Desai was followed by Charan Singh in 1979. However, in the general elections of 1981 Indira Gandhi came back to power because of sheer incompetence and naked ambition of Janata Dal leaders. Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her own Sikh bodyguards after the Blue Star operation catapulted Rajiv Gandhi to power. He won the 1984 elections merely because of the sympathy vote after the assassination of his mother. He was neither a politician nor a good administrator. It would have been better for the nation and for him if he had stayed a pilot with the Indian Airlines; and may be he would be living a retired life in luxury with Sonia in some salubrious surroundings of Switzerland. He had no understanding of India’s destiny, her past glory and vision of her destination. The Congress under Rajiv Gandhi lost the general election of 1989. A hotchpotch of Janata Dal/National Front formed the government underV.P. Singh, another incompetent and shortsighted Prime Minister India had the misfortune to have. In 1991, Congress won again due to sympathy vote caused by the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi by Tamil extremists of Sri Lanka. The slender majority of the Congress party was kept afloat by the shrewd and sly stewardship of Narasimha Rao who was highly educated and competent although lacked charisma. The decline of morality in Indian politics was so rapid that by 1996 general elections there were score of parties vying for power at the Centre. Political morality had reached its nethermost point. Out of this chaos arose the Bharatiya Janata Party led by LK Advani and Atal Behari Vajpai. After winning 1999 election, the BJP began to steer the country to its true destination. However, the leadership failed its cadre and the country. The leadership was too old and timid. The vision was there; but realisatiion of that vision needed bold decisions and upright values. BJP-led National Democratic Alliance lost the general election in 2003 because the values they preached they never practised. They themselves proved to be just as corrupt and incompetent as were some of the members of the Congress party. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance under Sonia Gandhi’s leadership is not taking India anywhere even though it has provided an economist as the head of government who does not happen to be an elected member of the Lok Sabha. The president of the Congress party with only 134 members in the Lok Sabha is running the country with the support of regional and left wing parties.

Sixty years on from independence, economy may be blooming but politic is in doldrums. Has the political system failed India? Parliamentary system of government, adopted by the fathers of Indian Constitution has perhaps not been able to provide the leadership which, a presidential system may have done. A huge and diverse country like India could only be politically united if there were one person at the helm of affairs leading for a period of time; and who was to be elected by at least 50% of the voters of India. Such a person could at least bring symbolic political unity, which in Britain is the preserve of the Royalty. The time has come for the legal and political luminaries to put their heads together to look at the Constitution again to adapt it to meet the challenges of modern India, in the light of lessons learnt from the past post-indepence years; but of course without compromising the principls of democracy.

As a simple exercise, how many of the fourteen prime ministers India had in the last 60 years would be elected to the highest office if there were a presidential system? Let us know your views.
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