Home In the Spotlight Shashi Tharoor gets it wrong again: Institution of democracy, not Jawaharlal Nehru...

Shashi Tharoor gets it wrong again: Institution of democracy, not Jawaharlal Nehru set stage for ‘chaiwalla’ as PM


In his overenthusiasm to display his commitment towards the Nehru-Gandhi family, Shashi Tharoor has, in fact, substantiated what Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accusing Congress of practicing: a sycophantic first family worship culture whereby everything has to be credited to it.

File image of Congress MP Shashi Tharoor. PTI

File image of Congress MP Shashi Tharoor. PTI

At the launch of the new edition of his 2003 book Nehru: Invention of India—where Sonia Gandhi was chief guest—Tharoor said, “So, if today we have a chaiwalla as prime minister, it is because Nehru ji made it possible to create the institutional structures through which any Indian can aspire to and rise to the highest office in the land.”

The BJP responded to the Congress MP and former Union minister’s remark with wit:

While there is no doubt that Nehru as first Indian prime minister created some notable institutions, the key question is this: Did he create the institutions that made it possible for the likes of Modi to occupy highest constitutional office in the land?

The other question is, assuming Tharoor is right, is this: Why did Nehru, who held Congress president’s post on several occasions in pre-Independence era and then again for several years after 1951 (when he was also prime minister), not create institutions or a structure in his own party whereby a chaiwalla could become Congress president. Yet another question could be why he shaped Congress—during his lifetime as prime minister and party president—in such a way that that it became his family fiefdom for all times to come?

Indira Gandhi became Congress president in 1959 (at age 42) when Nehru was prime minister. It’s true that Indira became PM over a year-and-half after her father’s death (Nehru died in May 1964 and Indira became prime minister in January 1966) and Nehru didn’t nominate her as his successor, but it’s also a fact that she had, by then, grown into such prominence that the syndicate thought it prudent to catapult her to the top post. What she did to the syndicate is a different story.

Once Indira established herself as a leader, she either made an outright loyalist like Devakant Barua of “India is Indira and Indira is India” fame as Congress president or occupied the post until her death in 1984. Rajiv succeeded her from 1984 (until he was assassinated). Sonia took the mantle in 1998 after unceremoniously throwing out Sitaram Kesri out of Congress headquarters and became the party’s longest serving president (19 years). For the past year, Nehru’s great grandson Rahul has been Congress president.

The institution which Tharoor is crediting Nehru of creating for the likes of Modi to become prime minister is democracy.

Consider the facts: Nehru didn’t create or lay down foundation of democratic polity in India. He was the first beneficiary of this newly-created system, albeit as a personal favourite of Mahatma Gandhi for the top post. The creation of India as a democratic Republic was contribution of Constituent Assembly and drafting committee of Constitution headed by BR Ambedkar.

Members of 389-member (292 representatives of the states, 93 represented the princely states and four from the chief commissioner provinces of Delhi, Ajmer-Merwara, Coorg and British Baluchistan) Constituent Assembly were elected by the provincial assemblies by a single, transferable-vote system of proportional representation were elected in August 1946. Nehru was one members of Constituent Assembly.

As per historical records, the Constituent Assembly (elected for an undivided India) met for the first time on 9 December, 1946, reassembled on 14 August, 1947, as a successor to the British Parliament’s authority in India. Its last session was held on 24 January, 1950.

Though there were 13 Committees for framing the Constitution and Nehru chaired some committees but the most important committee was seven-member constitution drafting committee, appointed on 29th August, 1947, through a resolution of Constituent: “..scrutinise the draft of the text of the Constitution of India prepared by Constitutional Adviser, giving effect to the decisions already taken in the Assembly and including all matters which are ancillary thereto or which have to be provided in such a Constitution, and to submit to the Assembly for consideration the text of the draft constitution as revised by the committee”. The Drafting Committee had seven members: BR Ambedkar, Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyar, N Gopalaswami Ayyangar, K.M Munshi, Mohammad Saadulla, BL Mitter and DP Khaitan. Constitutional Advisor was BN Rau.

Tharoor should note that a “chaiwalla” Modi and likes of him as prime minister or as chief ministers are a product of a parliamentary democratic set up as enshrined by Constitution, not because of a system Nehru created. More so, Modi shot into prominence as a leader and captured the imagination of public by directly challenging the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and Nehruvian political and economic legacy.