Illustrated biography: Former President Pranab Mukherjee, former Vice-President Hamid Ansari, former PM Manmohan Singh, N. Ram, Chairman of The Hindu Group of Publications, and author A. Gopanna at the launch of a book on Nehru in New Delhi on Sunday.

Former President Pranab Mukherjee paid rich tributes to India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, on his death anniversary here on Sunday, saying that but for him, India would have gone down the path of other newly liberated countries of Asia and Africa.

He was speaking at the release of an illustrated biography of Nehru authored by Tamil Nadu Congress leader A. Gopanna at the Constitution Club here. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former Vice President Hamid Ansari were present.

“The history of modern India is closely associated with a few personalities. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru is one of them. It is not because he was the first Prime Minister or even because, till today, he remains the longest-serving Prime Minister for 17 years. It is because he was truly the architect of the modern, democratic set-up in India,” Mr. Mukherjee said. “But for him, India would have gone the way in which many other newly liberated countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America went.” Praying rich tributes to Nehru as someone who built and nurtured India’s institutions, Mr. Mukherjee added, “[He was] a great democrat and it was possible for him to say: ‘I don’t want an India where millions will say yes to a man. I want an India where thousands and thousands will oppose the proposals of one man, one group, one party’.”

“Therefore, when we pay homage to this great soul of India, we do a duty to ourselves, and perhaps it compels us to take a pledge — whether we can keep it or not — that we cannot betray this man, his vision, his dream and also his discovery of India,” he said.

‘Distortion of history’

Former Vice President Hamid Ansari took a dig at what he saw as recent attempts to distort history.

“A long time back, a book was written by H.G. Wells called The Time Machine. The idea behind that book was that there would be a form of technology by which we could go back to visit what might have happened in the past. Well, it was a great success. But today, I notice another set of inventors — not writers, inventors — trying to create a time machine by which you can go back in history and rewrite it,” he said. “Such an effort is not going to succeed. History is history. It has to be read. You can draw inspiration from it.History cannot be changed…,” Mr. Ansari said.

‘First and the greatest’

Commending the author’s effort in gathering 7,000 photographs in 10 years (700 of which have been used), N. Ram, Chairman of The Hindu Group of Publications, lauded Mr. Nehru as, “India’s first and greatest Prime Minister, bar none.”

“An attempt is being made in recent times to suggest that Jawaharlal Nehru’s outlook, ideas and contribution to India’s development have been overtaken by other forces, have been outdated, and so on, and harsh criticisms are levelled. And this is the time, with the launch of this book, to emphatically reject that attempt,” Mr. Ram said. “Nehru saw, as the service of India, primarily the abolition of poverty, of disease, of ignorance, and that tryst with destiny is yet to be fulfilled.”

Mr. Ram added, “We need to remember today his solidarity with liberation struggles, including the Palestine struggle, when there is an attempt to dilute the foreign policy of India.”