Modern Indians regard Nehru with more ambivalence. As novelist Shashi Tharoor points out in his new biography, Nehru: The Invention of India, the architect of modern India turned his country into a democracy and an industrial giant but also shackled it to a heavily regulated socialist economy. If Nehru managed to fuse a disparate jumble of regions and principalities into a united nation, he also bequeathed India its most serious political problem, the insurgency in Kashmir. Although Tharoor's biography lacks the exhaustiveness and depth of some of its predecessors, its attitude is perfect for the times. Writes Tharoor, "What we are today, both for good and for ill, we owe in great measure to one man."
Some Indians were never happy with Nehru. A Hindu-nationalist leader once accused him of being "English by education, Muslim by culture and Hindu by accident." The son of one of colonial India's most famous lawyers, the young Jawaharlal had British tutors and was educated at two of England's most élite establishments, Harrow and Cambridge. Gandhi's example transformed a mediocre Anglophile lawyer into a nationalist hero, but the two men's visions were hardly alike: Gandhi believed India's future lay in self-sufficient villages, but Nehru, influenced by Soviet socialism, wanted to urbanize and industrialize, filling India with steel mills, hydroelectric dams and engineering colleges. And Nehru's vision won out.
But, as Tharoor points out, even during Nehru's own lifetime, his halo began to fade. His concentration on industrialization, rather than reforming the primitive agricultural sector, led to food shortages by the late 1950s. The state-controlled economy bred corruption and stagnation. Kashmir was another growing problem; as Tharoor notes, most Indian commentators blame Nehru for his decision to take the Kashmir dispute to the United Nations, thereby turning it from a domestic matter into an international issue. (Tharoor's day job is as an under secretary-general of the U.N.) Then, in 1962, the Chinese invaded Indiaa crushing humiliation for Nehru, whose reputation as a world leader collapsed overnight.
A good part of Nehru's India, Tharoor notes, is gone already. Socialism is being slowly dismantled. The result has been a rapid acceleration in growth and prosperityammunition for those who would like to dismiss Nehru's legacy altogether. But religious fundamentalists have also launched an attack on two other Nehruvian institutionsreligious tolerance and pluralist democracythat have repeatedly demonstrated their value in holding India together. As Tharoor writes, "India's challenge today is both to depart from [Nehru's] legacy and to build on it."