New Delhi: It is only when a legacy is in terminal decline that its questioning becomes profound, and this is the fate of Jawaharlal Nehru’s bequest, which so far has propped up the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, but lost its elan for new, resurgent India. Often, men become couriers for history, and in challenging Nehruvianism, and in hoping to supplant it with the vision of Sardar Patel, Narendra has assumed that role. But the man is not as important as that there was a great chink in the narrative of Nehru’s alleged unalloyed greatness that was ripe for interrogation and exposure, and a project in that course has commenced with uncommon vigour. Such historical re-evaluation of the Founders is a dreary and often embarrassing exercise that a sovereign state in earnest quest of the truth of its beginnings can, nevertheless, never shy away from, and frankly, this endeavour ought also to encompass Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who has become a highly lucrative staple for hagiographers. But the project against Nehru has been considerably assisted by the abject failures of his present-day descendants, of one of whom, Rahul Gandhi, the inaugural prime minister perhaps would have been acutely abashed about.

Gandhi saw Nehru and Patel as a team in the fictive Indian pastoral but privileged Nehru over his own beloved follower for prime-ministership. Since Gandhi was the driving force of the freedom movement and carried the figurative bullwhip, you had to accept the finality of his decision, however misplaced, and Patel certainly did. Though he refused to support Nehru’s opposition to Rajendra Prasad as the first President, nor would stymie Purushottam Das Tandon’s run for the Congress presidency, and resisted the authoritarian tendencies that he espied in the prime minister from early on, Patel did not undermine his office. Patel had given his pledge to Gandhi about backing Nehru, and he would not break his word to the man he cherished above all else. Perhaps, both Gandhi and Nehru exploited his strength of character and sense of honour.

But viewed dispassionately, Patel was a better man to lead India than Nehru, and if Gandhi knew this, he chose to oppose his private instincts. Patel’s integration of the princely states was an act of pure genius, and that he accomplished a bulk of the work in a little over a year of being assigned it speaks volumes of his administrative and diplomatic brilliance, with no small part played by his able aide, Vappala Pangunni Menon. Chroniclers of that time say a better division of power between the two men would have been to make Nehru foreign minister and Vallabhbhai Patel the prime minister, but that arrangement, if seriously contemplated, did not materialize on account of Nehru’s flat refusal to be number 2 to Patel. So the older and better man acquiesced in the flashy youngster getting the top job.

But this writer thinks the basic premise of that formula was wrong. Patel had the smarts in a way that Nehru, for all his polish and Cambridge halo, did not, and this assessment would greatly pique and scandalize generations of loyal Nehruvians. You need smarts to get over 600 recalcitrant royals to tow your line. He sent the army into Hyderabad when an opportunity presented an escape from Nehru’s dilly-dallying. He opposed Nehru’s Kashmir and Tibet policies and warned against their future ramifications in all of which he was proven devastatingly prescient. To be honest, what is Nehru’s legacy? Non-Alignment? But has it led to India’s autonomous strategic empowerment? Secularism? It is reduced to another form of communalism. In opposing the princely rulers, Nehru spoke against the divine right of kings. How is the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty better? The Emperor has just some new clothes.

But Nehru principally failed in his inability to understand and appreciate the Indian genius for entrepreneurship. Granted, there was paucity of capital, and in the absence of generous Western aid, you needed Soviet assistance. Five-year plans seemed like manna from Heaven. But he could not envision that India needed another political economy in the decades to come, one that was more attuned to its entrepreneurial culture and ethos. From the example of the United States, he was unable to gauge that entrepreneurship and enterprise were the path to robust political freedom and rise, and trapped the country in self-defeating Socialism, in which it remains bound. Nitish Kumar thinks nothing of demanding doles from the Centre, and Rahul Gandhi is forever exhorting people to embrace a “mai baap sarkar”. Sardar Patel would simply not have stood for making India into a mendicant state. He is accused of being pro-big business, but so was Gandhi, who did not want a revolution to accompany freedom. You can argue against crony capitalism, but the counter is not Socialism. It is more competitive capitalism, transparency and entrepreneurship. Even at India’s diminished and endangered levels of entrepreneurship, it is superior in some respects to Russia and vastly better off than a majority of African nations. That entrepreneurship could not entirely be killed despite decades of Nehruvian Socialism, but it is only barely alive. Patel would have given a greater start. It is simply in the blood of Gujaratis to be entrepreneurial.

In every parameter, you would find Sardar Patel outranking Nehru. Specific to Nehru’s supposed foreign-policy strengths, he was, rather, a bad judge of foreign interlocutors and nations, and far too emotional and naive in his dealings. The sun verily set over the British Empire with the end of the Second World War and the loss of India. The Suez Crisis outed Great Britain’s puniness smacked to a corner by the new gendarme, the United States. So what was the great idea of persisting with the Commonwealth? The Panchsheel with the Chinese was a costly joke -- costly to India. You had an effete joker on one side and hardliners coming out of the Long March, a victorious revolution and the Korean War on the other. Added to the mess of the Jammu and Kashmir fighting, Nehru disgraced India in 1962, whose shock effects are felt to this day. Nehru left India psychologically damaged, in the same way that 10 years of Manmohan Singh’s government have made the country vulnerable on the frontiers. The worst of Nehruvianism is on exhibition today, and it would never have come to such a pass but for Nehru’s unfair victory over Patel, in which Gandhi played a distressing role.

And it cannot be argued that since Patel remained to the end in the Congress party, it implied a squaring of any historical wrong. By no means. That is victor’s history, a victorious viewpoint. For all the theories of determinism, individuals do make history. And it is not at all necessary that Patel’s history-making would have been similar to Nehru’s by virtue of both being Congressmen. It is as certain as day isn’t night that Sardar Patel would have crafted a different India, one that was confident, innovative, solidly founded on free enterprise, that would have pitted its genius against the best of the world. Indians are notorious for not thinking for themselves. This is also an effect of Nehruvianism. Nehru imported second-rate ideologies and killed the flowering of home-grown vision. To this writer, Sardar Patel remains the epitome of a creative politician. He would have nurtured the growth of a creative society, and since creativity is at the core of all greatness, greatness would also have been India’s trajectory long ago.

Instead, we have the dismal Nehru-Gandhis hanging like albatrosses around our neck.

How could we go so wrong?