Prominent freedom fighter and first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru was not featured on any stamp issued in the 75th year of independence. In fact, over the past 25 years, after the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government effectively drove Nehru out of the philatelic space, he has only featured on three key postage stamps and been mentioned in the information brochures of some others. This contrasts sharply with the post-Nehru years from 1964, when he died, to 1998, when he dominated others in the philatelic space and was often the only person depicted alongside Mahatma Gandhi in commemorative stamps.

The abundant philatelic production featuring Nehru between 1964 and 1998 presents him as a builder of institutions. In addition to his role in laying the foundations of industries and infrastructure projects, postage stamps and their pamphlets highlighted his contribution to various institutions ranging from the National Savings Organization to the National Defense Academy.

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The Postal Service also highlighted its contribution to our public culture. For example, the stamp brochure on 100 years of Indian Scientific Congress alluded to his commitment to promoting the scientific temperament when he noted that he had attended the annual session of the Indian Scientific Congress in 1947 as General President. Another pamphlet highlighted his role in organizing the first Asian Games in New Delhi in 1951. Other pamphlets highlighted his keen interest in the Children’s Film Society and the India International Centre.

But all of these stamps were issued after 1964 and retrospectively commemorate Nehru and his contributions. It would be interesting to retrieve the idea of ​​India from the philatelic production of Nehru’s own government from 1947 to 1964.

Modern India

In the stamps issued by the Nehru government, we see a clear acknowledgment that the material basis of much of what we recognize as modern India was laid down during the colonial period. Some of the major stamps commemorated key colonial institutions such as Geological Survey of India (1951), Railway (1953), Telegraph (1953), Postal Service (1954), Universities (1957), Army of the Air (1958), the All India Radio (1961), the Archaeological Survey of India (1961) and the High Courts (1962).

On the other hand, his government also commemorated the rich pre-colonial cultural foundations of India. The beautiful stamps on Saints and Poets (1952), the 2500th Buddha Jayanti (1956), Thiruvalluvar (1960), Kalidasa (1960), Tyagaraja (1961) and Purandaradasa (1964) are examples.

Amid acknowledgment of links with the past, we also see a new India in stamp making on Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1956), Mahatma Gandhi (1948), Republic of India (1950), Steel Industry (1958), Jagadish Chandra Bose (1958), Children’s Day (1958-63), Sir M Visvesvaraya (1960), Panchayati Raj (1962), Gauhati Refinery (1962), Swami Vivekananda (1963) and Dadabhoy Naoroji (1963). This new India engaged with the rest of the world in many ways, including participating in the Universal Postal Union (1949), the Asian Games (1951), the International Labor Organization (1959), the United Nations (1954, 1960, 1963), scientific conferences (1954, 1962) and industrial exhibitions (1959).

Nehru’s Vision

Four commemorative and definitive issues capture Nehru’s broad vision for a modern India rooted in its rich heritage. The first definitive series (archaeological) and Saints and poets celebrated India’s rich architectural and literary heritage. The Archaeological Series comprising 18 stamps was issued on the occasion of the second anniversary of Independence. It featured iconic landmarks from across India including Golden Temple, Lingaraj Temple, Taj Mahal, Qutub Minar, Gol Gumbaz, Bodh Gaya Temple and Satrunjaya Temple. A set of six stamps issued in 1952 commemorated Kabir, Tulsidas, Meera, Surdas, Mirza Ghalib and Rabindranath Tagore. A beautiful notebook published with these stamps reproduces quotes from poets. That of Ghalib noted: “It is difficult for a man to be human.

The second definitive series on planning and the stamp on Panchayati Raj highlighted the country’s modern political and economic infrastructure and institutions.

The second definitive series issued on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the republic announced the objectives of the second five-year plan using 18 stamps on industry, rare earths, agriculture and multipurpose projects, health, l crafts, transport and communications. Its pamphlet aptly noted that while India’s first definitive series “rekindled memories of the glory of her legacy in art, architecture and sculpture”, it was “fit that the second definitive series should express the effort of its people to build a new India” (emphasis added).

The stamp pamphlet on Panchayati Raj issued on the occasion of the twelfth anniversary of the republic and in the run-up to the third general election noted that the regime “must derive its strength and its sanction from… the people as a whole working in cooperation with it -same “. -government agencies at higher levels in an organic configuration. »

Three aspects of the limited but very tastefully and thoughtfully designed stamps issued by the Nehru government are noteworthy. First of all, the continuities with the past, from the ancient and from the pre-colonial to the colonial, were recognized without any inhibition. Moreover, diversity has not been reduced to a catalog and inclusiveness has not been equated with statistical proportionality. However, there were significant shortcomings.

For example, only one Muslim, a few women and no one from the Dalit community appeared on the stamps during Nehru’s time. But even Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Bhagat Singh did not find a place in the limited philatelic production of the Nehru government, while Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was presented late in 1964.

The Nehru government issued about 10 stamps per year, which is much less than the philatelic output of subsequent governments. But unlike its successors, the Nehru government stamps focused on policies rather than particularistic identities and personalities. Almost half of the stamps issued under Nehru dealt with politics and institutions, while these stamps made up less than a fifth of the stamps issued by later governments. The Nehruvian stamps foregrounded our progressive aspirations rather than tying us to an imaginary past. They kept citizens informed of what the government was trying to achieve rather than presenting them with hand-picked stories about the past. The brochures issued with the stamps described the government’s vision at length and contained a wealth of information. Nehruvian philately reflects the confidence of a government open to public scrutiny.

(The writer teaches economics at Azim Premji University and is co-author of “Numbers in India’s Periphery: The Political Economy of Government Statistics” (Cambridge University Press, 2020)