Instead of being noted for its exceptional space programme (Mangalyaan!) and brilliant string theorists (Ashoke Sen!), India would have become a garbage dump for every kind of crackpot science. Medical research would have concentrated on medicines made from cow urine and cow dung, the celibacy of peacocks would be under intense scrutiny, astrology would be taught in place of astronomy, and instead of teaching actual mathematics there would be Vedic mathematics. As in Pakistan, Darwinian evolution would be considered heretical and destructive of religious faith.
Nehru’s stamp upon Indian science can be seen across the length and breadth of India in the form of dozens of scientific institutes and universities that owe to him. India is probably the world’s only country whose constitution explicitly declares commitment to the “scientific temper” — a quintessential Nehruvian notion formulated during his years in prison. Briefly: only reason and science, not holy scriptures, provide us reliable knowledge of the physical world.
I was able to see the huge difference that Nehru had made to his country while on a speaking tour in 2005 before audiences in about 40 Indian schools, colleges, and universities in seven cities. Without Nehru there could never have been the huge and palpable mass enthusiasm for science. This was manifested in the many science museums within a single city, and countless scientific societies working to spread understanding of basic science among ordinary Indians. I do not know how much of this has changed under Hindutva. But most definitely not even a fraction of such enthusiasm was visible then, or can be seen now, in Pakistan.
Nehru must also be credited with keeping a lid on his generals. In a democracy the army should be subordinate and answerable to civilian authority, not the other way around. And so, immediately after Partition, Nehru ordered the grand residence of the army chief to be vacated and instead assigned to the prime minister. This move carried huge symbolism — it said clearly who was boss.
When Ayub Khan’s coup across the border happened in 1958, it led to rules that further diminished the role of the Indian army in national affairs. Gen Cariappa, who had retired but praised the coup, was told to shut up. Officers, serving or retired, were strongly discouraged from commenting on matters related to public affairs and economics — and particularly their pensions and retirement benefits. There was no concept of army owned enterprises and businesses.
All this could now be changing. Army chief Gen Bipin Rawat, known for his bellicosity, has broken with the army’s tradition by freely commenting on many foreign policy matters — the Rohingya refugee problem, how India should deal with the Doklam crisis with China, and the need to call “Pakistan’s nuclear bluff”. Time will tell whether Rawat is an exception or, instead, the new rule characterising an interventionist army. Ominously for Indian democracy, criticising the army chief is being described by its media as anti-national.
How much of Nehru’s India will be undone by Modi and his cronies remains to be seen. A demoralised and broken Congress opposition means that they are here to stay for long.
Meanwhile, it is becoming easier by the day for Pakistan to recognise its mirror reflection across the border.