Let’s look at two representative instances[i] from the post-independence history of India drawn at random. Both concern the same people, both are related to each other and both provide a good framework of reference to understand much of the seventy-year-long national economic woe that followed.
- On Nehru’s side, his basic wariness with businessmen warred with friendship. The Tatas were one of the few business houses to emerge from the post-war tax investigations with their reputation fairly intact, but even so, Nehru’s attitude hardened towards his capitalist friend. JRD [Tata] remembered one particularly sharp exchange of words. ‘Nehru told me, “I hate the mention of the very word profit.” I replied, “Jawaharlal, I am talking about the need for the public sector making a profit!” Jawaharlal came back: “Never talk to me about the word profit, it is a dirty word.”’…Nehru was an ignoramus in economic matters and he insisted on the business of socialism…I did not count. I was merely a businessman.
- JRD…[said] that there was so much to do in India…when turning down Nehru’s request to head Indian Rare Earths, one of the earliest public sector undertakings.
What followed JRD Tata’s refusal of Nehru’s offer is Exhibit #87373747347374 of Nehru’s characteristic trait of intolerance to disagreement, let alone opposition. In 1953, Nehru brazenly nationalized one of the greatest airline companies in the world at that time: the Tata Airlines, which JRD Tata had built with blood, sweat, tears, and sheer entrepreneurial genius. JRD Tata lamented about this in his diary that “my own close friend stabbed me on my back!” In its fundamental nature, Nehru’s nationalisation was no different from his shameless dismissal of the first-ever non-Congress Government in Kerala. We all know the story of what happened to Tata Airlines post-nationalisation: it didn’t take long for Air India to morph into a sprawling den of bureaucracy, corruption, red-tape, nepotism…it is a continuing story of a seventy year-long loot of precious taxpayer money. In other words, it was a rinse-repeat of the same story of almost every public sector undertaking.
But JRD Tata’s woes didn’t end with Nehru’s death. It worsened under his daughter, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. In a 1986 interview to India Today, JRD Tata (now 82) in his refined, gentlemanly way says the following:
[JRD Tata]: I never was able thereafter to discuss economic matters [with Nehru].
Q. Did you try?
A. Yes. He
and Mrs Gandhi later developed this similar little polite way of telling me to
shut up. Jawaharlal, when I started to bring up the subject of economic
policy, would turn around and look out of the window. Mrs Gandhi did something
Q. She doodled?
A. Yes, she doodled. Doodling I didn’t mind so much. She started picking up envelopes, cutting open the envelopes and pulling out letters. It was a polite indication that she was bored. [Emphasis added]
Speaking tangentially, even cynically, a lion’s share that contributed to Dhirubai Ambani’s spectacular success was his keen, raw and native knack of understanding how to clinically exploit and profit from the Nehruvian communist apparatus that had an inbuilt capacity to foster corruption. We have an understated but fine cinematic depiction of this in Maniratnam’s Guru in which the protagonist is shown handing over a currency-filled suitcase to the Prime Minister remarking that he has returned an old favour that the Prime Minister’s mother had done him. That scene was set in the early-to-mid 1980s.
But Jawaharlal Nehru’s socialist state had attained the apex of its full horrors in the 1970s itself. The seeds of this though, were sown in the ominous 1955 Avadi Session of the Congress Party, which literally handed over India to the Communists and set a definitive tone for filling the Government and the Congress Party with sycophants and sloganeers who were never inclined to do a day’s worth of honest labour. Who better than a former Communist to describe the Avadi Session? Writing in 1963, the former British Comintern agent Philip Spratt observes[ii] that
Nehru’s Communism is revealed in the extraordinary favour he shows to the Communist Party…. No other ruler in the world tolerates this kind of thing. Why does Nehru? … Ten years ago (1953) the Congress Party was by no means socialistic. When the resolution on the socialistic patter was passed at Avadi, an important Congressman compared it to Akbar’s Din Ilahi. Socialism, he said is Nehru’s personal fad, which will quickly be forgotten when he passes from the scene. It seemed a shrewd judgment at the time, but it overlooked the attraction of socialism for a ruling party of hungry careerists… The purpose [after Nehru’s death] is to arrange the succession to Nehru in such a way that the pro-Communists retain control. The dispute over this question is of the greatest importance for India’s future…It is really whether India shall continue to be ruled by a Government of usurpers, who will go on pushing the country against its will towards Communism.
A small example will suffice to show how accurate Spratt was in his note about “hungry careerists.” It lies in the cynical transformation of Mohan Kumaramangalam, an avowed Communist, into a prized sycophant of Indira Gandhi.
At any rate, the story is now really well-known to bear recounting at length. By the 1970s, Nehruvian Communism had transformed Indian economy into a hellhole of perpetual shortages, rampant unemployment, corruption, hoarding, racketeering, and, quite obviously, had simultaneously nurtured a flourishing Black economy.
Then there is the other Great Pillar of the Nehruvian Nightmare: Secularism, the political soft-porn version of celebrating Islamism and demonising Hinduism. One has to only read the archives of opinions, editorials, columns, academic papers and books written especially between the early 1960s up to the late 1980s to realize the staggering fraud perpetrated on our national conscience in the name of secularism. And this doesn’t include the selfsame fraud committed in the areas of art, culture, etc, where the damage has been more sustained and longer-lasting. It is truly a miracle that Sanatana Civilisation has managed to survive this level of assault, the battle scars notwithstanding.
The logical outcome of such mindless chaos inflicted from the top by a self-serving political system was pervasive and repeated social unrest. And it provided fertile soil for the luxurious flowering of cinema that actually celebrated the same ideology that caused this chaos in the first place.
The 1975 “cult classic,” Deewaar (The Wall) stands as the crowning glory of this ideological celebration. Without doubt, Deewaar is an extraordinary specimen of filmmaking measured by the yardsticks of craft, storytelling, script, screenplay and dialogue. But Deewaar in a way, marks a critical junction in the journey that began in the iconic refrain in Pyaasa’s [iii]“jinhe naaz hai Hind par woh kahan hai,” a direct and scathing attack against Nehru’s socialism.
But Deewaar has also largely remained critically unexamined in the fantastically subtle manner in which it peddles a toxic mix of Communism and Nehruvian secularism. In my limited reading, apart from the run-of-the-mill reviews and cinematic critiques, the only book that explores the film in detail is the rabid Communist professor, Vinay Lal’s, Deewar : The Foothpath, The City And The Angry Young Man. It is largely a gushing account of the movie.
And so, this essay is the beginning of a critical examination of why Deewaar is the classic cinematic textbook that celebrates the worst of Nehruvian secularism and Communism.
To be continued
[i] R.M. Lala (1993). Beyond the Last Blue Mountain: A Life of J.R.D Tata, Penguin pp 521-6. Emphasis added.
[ii] Sita Ram Goel (1993). Genesis and Growth of Nehruism: Commitment to Communism, Voice of India. Preface by Philip Spratt. Emphases added.
[iii] Translation: Where are those great leaders who are proud of India? Lyric by Sahir Ludhianvi.