Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have chosen to ignore Jawaharlal Nehru’s contributions to the country purely for political reasons. But not Singapore or its public intellectuals!
In a report published in The Straits Times, coinciding with Mr Modi’s visit to Singapore this week, Mr Tommy Koh, Ambassador-at-Large at Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, notes: “Nehru united the country with his vision, charisma and eloquence.”
Nehru delivered a memorable Independence speech when he spoke of “India’s tryst with destiny.”
He elevated the status and role of India in the community of nations. He left India with a positive legacy of democracy, rule of law and secularism.”
Mr Koh is also co-Chairman of India-Singapore Strategic Dialogue (ISSD), a group constituted in 2007 to foster ties between the two countries. So, let Modi bhakts not imagine that it was his brainchild.
Nehru, a Visionary: Tommy Koh
Mr Koh considered both Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru as heroes. “Nehru was a visionary and a man ahead of his time. His 1947 statement that the future is bound to see a closer union between India and South-East Asia is coming true.”
Mr Koh had also acknowledged that he was inspired by the moral crusade by Mahatma Gandhi against the British in India.
He, however, points out that under Nehru, India did not achieve great economic progress as he had “pursued an economic policy which was based on socialism and state planning.”
Inward Looking: Mr Koh is right but Nehru’s economic policies had to be inward looking primarily after the country’s experience with the British rule which was preceded by Mughal rule – 500 years in their control before India could be a “master of its own destiny.”
Nehru’s policies then will necessarily have to be put in that context with India not just having had to contend with alien rule but also the painful Partition and the turmoil that accompanied it.
Bust for Nehru: As I had pointed out in my earlier post, Nehru had visited Singapore a few times (even during the freedom struggle and later as PM), enhancing relations between the two countries.
In his memory, Singapore also unveiled a commemorative bust of India’s first Prime Minister at the Asian Civilisations Museum in November 2011.
Netaji Monument: Mr Modi found time to visit the INA monument for which the foundation stone was laid by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose in July 1945. It was erected by Japan, among the countries that Netaji reached out to for overthrowing the British from India.
But Lord Mountbatten had it demolished, but in 1995 Singapore put in a marker, declaring it as a heritage site.
Among the others Netaji sought help from are Hitler and Mussolini!!
Still, India may not have been kind to Netaji as all his actions were the result of love for his country though it deviated from the non-violent movement pursued by Gandhiji.
I welcome Mr Modi’s efforts to correct that wrong. He just does not need to do it out of spite and hate for the Nehru family.
Present-Day Paradox: India then had the fortune of being led by intellectuals who steered the country’s freedom struggle – unlike today when paradoxically poorly qualified people hold key ministries.
There is no dearth of qualified people in India today, but the political leadership is starved of that.
Mr Koh also hails the contribution of former Prime Ministers PV Narasimha Rao and Dr Manmohan Singh who together “dismantled some of Nehru’s worst economic policies.”
Mr Koh calls it India’s second tryst with destiny, the third being now with Mr Modi in the driver’s seat, enjoying independent majority in Parliament. This was a constraint some earlier governments faced.
The Other Point of View
Prof. Cherian George, a journalism professor currently based in Hong Kong and author, also writes “Singapore owes a debt to Modi’s predecessors, the founding fathers of the Indian republic. For instance, non-discrimination in Singapore was largely inspired by leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi.”
In a piece published by Ahmedabad Mirror, Mr Cherian George, a Singaporean who was earlier a journalist with The Straits Times, wishes “Singapore’s religious and ethnic diversity made it to Mr Modi’s travel scrapbook or his Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts.”
In my view, Mr Cherian George, who had to leave the Nanyang Technological University under controversial circumstances, was the best of the Asian writers The Straits Times had – forthright and incisive, holding no punches back.
More tellingly, he asserts: “To admire the city’s 21st century modernity and overlook how it has dealt with the deep pulls of blood and belief would be to miss the core of its identity.”
G Joslin Vethakumar