― S. Gurtej Singh
Those who have not lived through the later Jawahar Lal Nehru period, will not realise how his personality was the reference point for every development and event that took place in the country. Sceptical scholars and honest politicians could assess the incalculable harm he was doing to the establishment of democracy in the country and the needless agitations he was provoking by his personalised administration, authoritarian political functioning and arrogant behaviour.
The people had borne the burden of political subjugation for such a long time that they knew nothing about the freedom of being governed by laws and constitution. It was hard for them to understand that in a republic they elected their servants and not masters. Deification of Nehru was an epidemic in that era. Many in the academia were severely struck by the ailment.
Professor Amar Singh Bhatia, one of the ablest teachers of political science and Gandhian thought at the government college Chandigarh, was an ardent admirer of Nehru and would not tolerate even a slight disregard of his idol. One day he noticed no admiration in my demeanour for the political leaders he was praising to the skies and was genuinely shocked. “Don’t tell me you don’t like Gandhi and Nehru”, he said, looking straight into my eyes. I said, “you are right sir, I don’t like any of these chaps.” The honourable gentleman was greatly disturbed. His raised eyebrows under his widely opened eyes, nearly touched the under turban on his forehead. “ I am surprised you call them chaps. India is holding on together just because of them. There will be doom and chaos when Nehru goes. You yourself will see what happens once he is no more.” Amar Singh Bhatia was a ‘no nonsense’ person and I had already said too much. Nehru’s health was very unstable and I was sure I would still have a similar brief discussion on the subject again.
During these days, I came across this report in one of the newspaper (perhaps The Statesman). It was concerned a meeting of the Press people with Nehru where the question of his succession was raised. ‘After Nehru who?’ was the burning topic of the period. A rumour was rife that he was grooming his daughter to succeed him. The press felt duty bound to report that the prime minister was in robust health – though the entire country knew he was not. The question of succession was raised with him. They were ecstatic and ‘breaking convention loudly cheered’ when he said, “my life time is not ending so very soon.” To me this sentence had the eerie screeching scream of death about it. It was also reported that he was going for a brief holiday to Dehra Dun and was scheduled to take a longer one soon on higher mountains.
I clipped the news item and kept it to check whether my apprehension was right. This news appeared on May 22, 1964, and on the 27th the prime minister died. Back at the College, Bhatia Sahib was a much confused and bewildered. Everything went on smoothly to his utter surprise. He saw from my face that I was asking, ‘what happened to the expected doom?’ He chose not to address the unspoken question but turned away his gaze to look at the adjoining football field for a long while. Not many in the class knew of the upheaval that was taking place in his mind. Out of deference for his sensibilities, I remained silent and so did he for want of anything worth saying.
Nehru apparently had less acquaintance with Guru Nanak’s word than even his predecessor Aurangzeb on the throne of Delhi. He admonished the Bengali who would be his acolyte with the Guru’s mahawaak, “kullahn dende baawle laindai wade nillaj” (mentally disturbed seek acolytes and excessively shameless accept the status). Nehru, who aided by the might of the state, strove all his first life time to exterminate the Guru’s thought, had rendered himself incapable of benefitting by the divine wisdom. Otherwise he would have known that life is ephemeral and a mortal does not know even whether he will take in the next breath or not. ‘Death considers no auspicious moment and comes when it comes.’ Nehru’s second lifetime lasted less than a week. He left many like my teacher, mourning and expecting doom, which never could have come about.