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The Slippery Path of Progress

Salil Misra

Edited by Mushirul Hasan
Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 887, Rs. 800.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 12 December 2008

As independent India, under the leadership of Nehru, embarked on the ‘slippery path of progress’, it soon became clear that the path was not just slippery, but was also hampered by multiple roadblocks, u-turns, crossroads and obstructions ahead. It was simply not enough to know the trajectory of the path and be in possession of some kind of a blueprint. The actual journey was complex and unpredictable. Nehru understood this quite early and if there was a single idea that pressed itself upon his consciousness and conscience, on a regular basis, it was this. The 847 pages of Volume 39 (second series) of Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru can actually be read as the story of unfolding of this long and troublesome journey towards progress under Nehru’s stewardship during the period, August-October 1957.   Nehru had understood the close and intimate relationship between nationalism and development. Any kind of sustained prosperity to Indian society and people could only come by making a successful transition to industrialism. This transition, for a large and culturally diverse country like India was bound to be tortuous, hazardous and painful. It was simply not possible to make a painless transition. The process of growth and development was bound to be uneven. It could generate tremendous social discontent and tear apart the entire fabric of the society. The trauma of displacement, unevenness and disparity could be soothed by stressing the desirability of national unity. In other words, the ideology of nationalism could ensure that people bore the burden of the transition with a grin. It was partly for this reason that Nehru referred to nationalism and development together. He explained at a public meeting: ‘We are all in one boat, we have to go forward together. If some people begin to jump about in it, then the boat will not go forward but it will surely capsize’ (p. 8).   It was quite clear to Nehru that coming of freedom was only the removal of the precondition to development. Freedom in itself could not be a substitute for the vital questions of removal of poverty, and development. In a speech delivered to Indians settled in Japan, he explained the crux of independence clearly and explicitly: ‘India became independent by coming to an agreement with the British. But you must bear in mind the fact that the agreement took place at a time when it had become quite impossible for British rule ...

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