Dear Priyankaji...

Salman Khurshid | Updated on January 10, 2020 Published on January 10, 2020

Author’s note: ‘Nehruji wants you to take up the unfinished tasks of his lifetime’   -  REUTERS/AMIT DAVE

Senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid wonders whether Jawaharlal Nehru’s imaginary letter — in these columns — to his great-granddaughter was prompted by the current political climate

I read the letter Nehruji wrote to you recently and feel that you are indeed very lucky to have received the missive. Indeed lucky that you have him as your great-grandfather. We ourselves are fortunate to be able to say that our forebears had him as their leader and saw him in real life. I too can recall precious moments when I met him — and even spoke to him in great awe. Panditji was Chacha Nehru and certainly not called Panditji because he was born a Kashmiri Pandit. To several generations of Indians he was a philosopher king, a visionary and a dreamer. If a stray individual spoke an unkind word about Nehruji we saw it as sacrilege, for he was, indeed, the god who walked on Earth.

We lost Chacha Nehru on May 27, 1964, and gradually he receded into the pantheon of great souls whose footprints remain on our ancient land. But why do some people (and their number is perplexing) question his legacy, casting dark shadows on the bright collective memory of that great man? Is that why he wrote to you? Is Nehruji disturbed about what’s happened to the India he bequeathed to us? I guess it is in the nature of life that people move on beyond the footprints of those they loved and admired. It happened to Stalin and Mao; to Churchill, even Mandela. In their countries new leaders were born and, in others like Bangladesh, the legacy of a departed leader continued, and, even now, has not entirely faded. But nowhere has a new generation sought to find roots or build new foundations by poisoning the soil of a late leader.

Priyankaji, has your great-grandfather chosen to reach out across time because the words of Robert Frost [Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening] still keep him awake?

The woods are lovely, dark and deep

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep...

We know that intimations of mortality do not allow any human, however great, to keep all promises. So it was for Nehruji, and it descends upon us to redeem the other pledges he gave to destiny. He must feel that other than keeping the Congress alive and active in competitive politics, you and the millions of Indians touched by the Nehru magic have to account for unfulfilled promises, in times when people dwarfed by his aura continue to harp about their validity. Perhaps they are afraid of him half a century after his demise or are incapable of dealing with his vision of India. They are now in dominance but worried that they can be relegated to where they came from.

Nehruji wants you to take up the unfinished tasks of his lifetime. But to do that we need to defeat the forces that plan to cheat destiny. We need to rediscover what Nehru’s brilliant mind conceived, what he presented to modern India as the perpetual moral message of Mahatma Gandhi. I worry about crosscurrents that flow into the party from other intellectual sources which contradict Gandhiji’s sage advice about opening the windows of our home to allow winds of change to blow in. But, of course, we must not be blown off our feet. Contemporary India and our party must return to our roots — in true spirit and essence — while embracing the discovery of a new world. Ideology and faith are — and must remain — constant. It is their application to live situations that weaves innovation, without departing from the core ideology.

Panditji agonises about what appears to be a dilution of secularism in our core beliefs. His initial hesitation in giving advice in contemporary India’s complicated social context is understandable. The list of critical moments mentioned certainly did not then have easy answers and each response has been judged as an error one way or the other: Appeasement of minority or surrender to the majority. We did it all to keep a monster at bay; yet we were mauled and displaced by the monster. If there were no viable path of slaying the monster our existence as a political party would be meaningless. The truth is that your engagement in UP, noticed by Nehruji, is proof of that path being available but it is an arduous one. The courage with which you took to that path has energised our ranks and stirred the sleeping cynical competition. As we travel forward we will have to look out for dark spots and uneven surface, even check the vehicle we travel in and the company we keep. No campaign is immune to saboteurs and betrayal.

Our task is complicated because our adversaries swear by the Constitution. However it is ‘their’ Constitution versus ours. Our struggle will settle the issue finally but we need to elucidate our idea of equality; freedom; dissent and civil disobedience; inviolability of universities; accountability of police and armed forces; affirmative action; right to practise faith; judicial independence; responsive and sensitive civil service; the balance of civil liberty and state security; et al. The meaning of our great and noble Constitution must be clear for us to swear by it. We must settle the arguments that have spilled onto the streets with accommodation of diversity but without compromising on political integrity. Needless to say, as Parliament disappoints us, we will look to the judiciary to keep our spirits intact.

So, Priyankaji, when you write to your great-grandfather, tell him that we will apply ourselves in right earnest though the task is vast. We may have to leave it unfinished too for future generations to carry further forward. Please do tell him that we all do our utmost to promote social mobility and equal opportunity but there are historical legacies that secure us in a democratic way. He will surely understand.

Please share with him too that the young boy who met him many decades ago in the Patna Raj Bhavan and then at Teen Murti recalls his beautiful smile and the red rose in his sherwani.

Sincerely yours,

Salman Khurshid

Salman Khurshid   -  PTI


Salman Khurshid has written this letter in response to Smita Gupta’s article ‘My Dear Priyanka...’ published on January 4

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Published on January 10, 2020
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