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Mainstream, Vol XLVII No 24, May 30, 2009

Jawaharlal Nehru : excerpts from his speeches and writings

Tuesday 2 June 2009

On May 27 this year falls the 45th death anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru. On this occasion we are carrying some relevant excerpts from his speeches and writings for the benefit of our readers. We are also reproducing a speech by our former President, R. Venkataraman, who passed away earlier this year, and a contribution made by former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao in a volume brought out in 1989 on the occasion of the Nehru birth centenary. We are further publishing a piece on Nehru that is topical and timely.

Nehru for Today

I must frankly confess that I am a socialist and a republican, and am no believer in kings and princes, or in the order which produces the modern kings of industry, who have greater power over the lives and fortunes of men than even the kings of old, and whose methods are as predatory as those of the old feudal aristocracy. I recognise, however, that it may not be possible for a body constituted as is this National Congress, and in the present circumstances of the country, to adopt a full socialistic programme. But we must realise that the philosophy of socialism has gradually permeated the entire structure of society the world over, and almost the only points in dispute are the pace and the methods of advance to its full realisation. India will have to go that way, too, if she seeks to end her poverty and inequality, though she may evolve her own methods and may adapt the ideal to the genius of her race…

Our economic programme must, therefore, be based on a human outlook and must not sacrifice man to money. If an industry cannot be run without starving its workers, then the industry must close down. If the workers on the land have not enough to eat, then the intermediaries who deprive them of their full share must go. The least that every worker in field or factory is entitled to is a minimum wage which will enable him to live in moderate comfort and humane hours of labour which do not break his strength and spirit….

But industrial labour is only a small part of India, although it is rapidly becoming a force that cannot be ignored. It is the peasantry that cry loudly and piteously for relief, and our programme must deal with their present condition. Real relief can only come by a great change in the land laws and the basis of the present system of land tenure. We have among us many big landowners, and we welcome them. But they must realise that the ownership of large estates by individuals, which is the outcome of a state resembling the old feudalism of Europe, is a rapidly disappearing phenomenon all over the world. Even in countries which are the strongholds of capitalism the large estates are being split up and given to the peasantry who work on them. In India also we have large areas where the system of peasant proprietorship prevails, and we shall have to extend this all over the country.

[Presidential Address at the AICC Session, Lahore, December 29, 1929]

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The Congress stands today for full democracy in India and fights for a democratic state, not for socialism. It is anti-imperialist and strives for great changes in our political and economic structure. I hope that the logic of events will lead it to socialism for that seems to me the only remedy for India’s ills. But the urgent and vital problem for us today is political independence and the establishment of a democratic state. And because of this, the Congress must line up with all the progressive forces of the world and must stand for world peace….

We have great tasks ahead, great problems to solve both in India and in the international sphere. Who can face and solve these problems in India but this great organisation of ours, which has, through fifty years’ efforts and sacrifice, established its unchallengeable right to speak for the millions of India? Has it not become the mirror of their hopes and desires, their urge to freedom, and the strong arm that will wrest this freedom from unwilling and resisting hands? It started in a small way with a gallant band of pioneers, but even then it represented a historic force and it drew to itself the goodwill of the Indian people. From year to year it grew, faced inner conflicts whenever it wanted to advance and was held back by some of its members. But the urge to go ahead was too great, the push from below increased, and though a few left us, unable to adjust themselves to changing conditions, vast numbers of others joined the Congress. It became a great propaganda machine dominating the public platform of India. But it was an amorphous mass and its organisational side was weak, and effective action on a large scale was beyond its powers. The coming of Gandhiji brought the peasant masses to the Congress, and the new constitution that was adopted at his instance in Nagpur in 1920 tightened up the organisation, limited the number of delegates according to population, and gave it strength and capacity for joint and effective action. That action followed soon after on a countrywide scale and was repeated in later years. But the very success and prestige of the Congress often drew undesirable elements to its fold and accentuated trhe defects of the Constitution. The organisation was becoming unwieldy and slow of movement and capable of being exploited in local areas by particular groups. Two years ago radical changes were made in the Constitution again at Gandhiji’s instance. One of these was the fixation of the number of delegates according to membership, a change which has given a greater reality to our elections and strengthened us organisationally. But still our organisational side lags far behind the great prestige of the Congress, and there is a tendency for our committees to function in the air, cut off from the rank and file.

It was partly to remedy this that the mass contacts resolution was passed by the Lucknow Congress, but unhappily the committee that was in charge of this matter has not reported yet. The problem is a wider one than was comprised in that resolution for it includes an overhauling of the Congress Constitution with the object of making it a closer knit body, capable of disciplined and effective action. That action to be effective must be mass action, and the essence of the strength of the Congress has been this mass basis and mass response to its calls. But though that mass basis is there, it is not reflected in the organisational side, and hence an inherent weakness in our activities.

We have seen the gradual transformation of the Congress from a small super-class body to one representing the great body of the lower middle classes and later the masses of this country. As this drift to the masses continued the political role of the organisation changed and is changing, for this political role is largely determined by the economic roots of the organisation.

We are already and inevitably committed to this mass basis for without it there is no power or strength in us. We have now to bring that into line with the organisation, so as to give our primary members great powers of initiative and control, and opportunities for day-to-day activities. We have, in other words, to democratise the Congress still further.

[Presidential Address at the AICC Session, Faizpur, December 27, 1936]

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The success that has come to us is a matter of good fortune. The defeats that have faced us are a just punishment. Let us not find excuses and blame others. The fault was ours.

Some things stand out: (i) The need for discipline; (ii) the need for continuous personal contacts with the people; (iii) the need for hard work among and with the people; (iv) the need to make our people understand our problems and our difficulties and (v) the need to attract fresh blood and vital people to the Congress.

We have to function in future as a compact political party with a well-defined economic programme. We can no longer carry on in a loose and inchoate way accepting anybody and everybody as a Congress member or candidate. Let us have a broad enough basis, but a Congressman must believe and act up to certain basic principles and policies. There must be a hallmark of a Congressman in regard to political and economic policies. In the old days we had certain distinguishing features. But, with the coming of independence, these have disappeared and many of us talk in a variety of languages and express a variety of opinions on important matters. Anybody can pose as a Congressman, whatever his views might be. One good thing that has emerged from these elections is our straight fight and success against communalism. That success is significant and heartening. But it is by no means a complete success and we have to be wary about this. We have seen at last we need not be afraid of commu-nalism and we need not compromise with it as many Congressmen did for fear of consequences. Where we fight it in a straight and honest way, we win. Where we temporise with it, we lose.

While we have met the challenge of straightforward communalism with success, we have seen the growth of casteism with all its narrow-minded and painful consequences. This has to be fought against.

It is perfectly clear to me that the Congress, as it is organised today, is a very feeble instrument for carrying out national work, more especially among the people. It has won elections but that has been due to many causes. It has been due to old tradition, past reputation and to the weakness of others. It has also been due to the hard work put in by a number of people during the elections, with earnestness and vigour. They brought something of the old spirit in this contest and it was heartening not only to see their work but also the immediate reactions of the people to it.

It was disheartening to see office-bearers of Congress Committees and executive members functioning something most inadequately and without any faith in the cause they represented.

….One noticeable feature of the Congress organisation in past years has been its lack of appeal to the youth of the country. The type of young man or woman, who came to us in the past as worker or volunteer, and carried out the message of the Congress with zeal and enthusiasm, has not been coming to our organisation. We become progressively elderly men with elderly ways, interested in small committees and reluctant to go to the people. The great problem, therefore, before us is how to bring in the youth of the country to work for the Congress and the cause for which it stands.

….The elections have shown that money does not go very far, though undoubtedly it makes some difference. It is the men and women that count. We have therefore to get the right type of men and women as our colleagues and comrades and, above all, we have to set an example ourselves of what should be done. Every candidate, whether he has been successful or not, must maintain close and continuous contact with his constituency. He must visit his voters and speak to them from time to time on the problems that face us. It is necessary for us to give our workers talking points on these problems. I hope that the AICC office will organise this. But each Pradesh Congress Committee must do likewise. We must treat our vast electorate in an intelligent way and pay them the tribute of intelligence and discrimination which they have shown to a surprising extent.

On no account can faction and sectional groups in the Congress be tolerated in the future. We have to function as a disciplined army now with definite objectives and with continuous work to attain them.

[A Circular to the Presidents of the Pradesh Congress Committees, February 8, 1952]

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