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Ram Jethmalani is a senior politician and eminent lawyer.

Bravely evaluate your leaders, starting with Nehru

An official shows a book with pictures of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Feroz Gandhi and their son Rajiv Gandhi, at the Anand Bhawan museum in Allahabad, last September. REUTERS

emocracy flourished in ancient Greece and Rome. These were primarily pagan societies with plenty of gods who never commanded blind reverence and faith from humans. In fact, the gods shared the emotions, problems and weaknesses of ordinary mortals. There was no all powerful or all knowing god who was attributed to be master of the universe and dispenser of all gifts and pleasures to make the course of life worthwhile and happy. Men were free to fashion their lives and fight for what they desired or coveted. These free societies, without shackles of dogma or diktat, could without much difficulty govern their people through the democratic form of government that recognised certain liberties in basic form, most importantly the right to equality.

With the birth of Christianity and the notion of an all powerful God beyond reproach, criticism or even scrutiny, taking hold of the minds of people, democracy was bound to dissolve. Society sank into a condition of slavery; denial of God or any questioning of him as creator of injustice, evil and pain became punishable as a capital offence of blasphemy. The era of intellectual and spiritual servitude was born, nicknamed by historians as the Dark Ages.

Sovereignty that had resided in the people when democracy flourished now got vested in God. This was indeed a social and intellectual tragedy, but what made matters worse was that some clever people managed to convince the not so clever ones that they alone were the anointed representatives of the unseen God on this sorry planet. So we got the pontiffs, the popes, their armies of bishops and cardinals and lesser representatives of divine power who became the repositories of all divine and secular authority. The advent of Islam perpetuated the intolerance of the arbitrarily and specially anointed. The Biblical account of creation was wholly borrowed by Islam without demur or doubt.

One of the Christian apostles, Saint Augustine, if I remember correctly, preached that men in power are ordained by God, and therefore beyond all human investigation and punishment. This precept should be abhorrent to all who have interest in sustaining the health and vigour of democracy.

However, the idea of democracy had its own powerful dynamo of energy throughout history. The domain of democracy, notwithstanding its historical setbacks, has incrementally expanded at a furious pace and the recent Arab spring has been a refreshing experience. But let us not be lulled into a false assurance that all is well with democracy. Humanity will continue to produce evil men who mesmerize others of lesser education and lower understanding by subtracting from them their critical faculties of constantly examining and evaluating their political leaders. Democracy is like a swimming pool. If you do not periodically change the water, it will almost certainly turn into a stinking cesspool.

One of the Christian apostles, Saint Augustine, if I remember correctly, preached that men in power are ordained by God, and therefore beyond all human investigation and punishment. This precept should be abhorrent to all who have interest in sustaining the health and vigour of democracy. It was precisely this kind of teaching that produced Hitler and the holocaust and other evil dictators.

It is fortunate that our western educated leaders, some of them superb statesmen and constitutional experts, fashioned the Constitution of free India. A Democratic Republic where every citizen possessed fundamental rights, over which even its sanctum sanctorum of Parliament even by unanimous vote of all its members in both Houses, dare not trespass, was their precious gift to the people of India. No royalty, no aristocracy, but only the freely elected representatives of the people were to run the country's affairs. We are duly grateful to our first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru that he laid the foundation of a stable democracy and hitched his vision to the polestar of peace and economic development. He resisted the temptation of founding a dynasty and even his daughter was told that Lal Bahadur Shastri would be his successor if he had the choice. But let it be remembered that Nehru himself was Gandhiji's choice, and this in a significant sense started the process of weakening Indian democracy. For the bright light of Gandhiji and the universal adulation that he commanded blinded the people and succeeding generations to the enormous debits in his political balance sheet, by no means a completely flattering one. If the people of India are to truly act as "sovereign", not merely for the feel good factor through this flattering epithet, but in a more real sense, they must be fully equipped through education and information to discern the unpardonable misdemeanors of their rulers, including of the great Nehru himself.

I propose to start with him and then proceed to deal with his successors. The only one amongst his successors who had an unblemished tenure, unfortunately cut short by cruel providence, was the late Lal Bahadur Shastri. We have not produced another like him till today. He was a "gem of purest ray serene", almost written out from India's political history by flatterers and sycophants of the Nehru family.

Logically one should start the list of Nehru's failings and failures. His first was the betrayal of Tibet. Until the year 1947, the flag of independent Tibet was flying along side the flag of China. Though in 1921, Britain had informed China that it was recognising Tibet as an autonomous state under suzerainty of China and would deal with it on that basis, yet Tibet conducted itself as an independent nation and did not join China as ally in the Second World War, declaring instead its neutrality. In the year 1947, its trade mission travelled abroad on Tibetan, and not Chinese, passports. There is absolutely no doubt that up to the year 1950, when the Chinese army entered Tibet to conquer Lhasa, there was absolutely no trace of any Chinese authority in Tibet. Soon after Mao's Republic of China was established, China announced that it would shortly march into Tibet. India's own interest was at stake. Our trade agents in Tibet had their own military escorts. Crimes committed by Indians were dealt with under Indian law and not the law of Tibet. Postal and telegraph services were under Indian control. India made a mild protest, which Beijing contemptuously rejected.

Nehru just lost his nerve and it resulted in the enslavement of the unfortunate Tibetans. The Chinese arrogantly warned us that they would not tolerate our interference. In contrast, one must read a letter written in November 1950 by Sardar Patel to Nehru. He warned, "We can, therefore , safely assume that very soon they (the Chinese) will disown all the stipulations which Tibet has entered into with us in the past... The undefined state of the frontier and the existence on our side of a population with its affinities to Tibetans or Chinese have all the elements of potential trouble between China and ourselves." Patel wanted the India government immediately to set out a definite policy, particularly in regard to the McMahon Line.

If Patel's advise had been followed, we would not have suffered the humiliation of 1962. Despite advice from within the Congress, Nehru continued to champion China's cause at the United Nations. It is now well known that even President Truman wanted India to commit itself to the defence of Tibetan independence.

This is the first of a two-part article

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