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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 23, May 31, 2014

Nehru for Today

Sunday 1 June 2014

May 27 this year marked Jawaharlal Nehru’s fiftieth death anniversary. On this occasion we remember him by reproducing the following excerpts from his speeches and writings. We are also reproducing N.C.’s Editor’s Notebook in Mainstream on Nehru’s twentieth death anniversary and publishing several articles by academics, scholars, journalists offering tributes to Nehru by highlighting his abiding relevance in the present context.

Nehru for Today

We talk a great deal about democracy but in its present shape and form it is a relatively new concept. The old type of democracy was a limited one in many ways. Now we have adult suffrage and the biggest electorate in the world. With all my admiration and love for democracy, I am not prepared to accept the statement that the largest number of people are always right.

We know how people can be excited and their passions roused in a moment. Is this House prepared to submit to the momentary passion of a democratic crowd? Was not democracy functioning five-and-a-half years ago when people were killing one another and millions of them were migrating to escape from atrocities and horror? I do not blame those poor people but I do say that even democracy can go mad; democracy can be incited to do wrong. Democracy, in fact, is sometimes more warlike than individuals who at least have some training.

In any case, we have to build India according to democratic methods. We have decided to do so because we feel that democracy offers society something of the highest human values. But war puts an end to the very values that democracy cherishes. Democracy, in fact, is a casualty of war in the world today. It does not seem to function properly any more. That has been the tragedy of the last two world wars and something infinitely worse is likely to happen if there is another war...

An hon. Member talked of the ‘right type’ of communalism. I am afraid I do not understand what he means. We remember the occurrences in the autumn of 1947. And finally, we also remember January 30, when the greatest of us was shot down by a foolish youth. I do not quite know how the hon. Member interprets the last thirty years of India’s history. The normal analysis has been that there are, in India, various kinds of forces. There are some Rightists, some Leftists and others that are neither. The Rightist groups have gradually found that they could not be effective in a purely social sphere. They have, therefore, taken advantage of the cloak of religion to cover up their reactionary policies, have exploited the name of religion in politics and have excited people’s passions in that name. This was done with a tremendous degree of success by the Muslim League. It was done by some Hindu and Sikh organisations also. There is a basic weakness in us as a national community. Our caste system, our provincialism and our regionalism have all encouraged us to live in compartments. I am glad to say that we are now growing out of it. I have no doubt that India would not have been partitioned but for communalism. The narrow outlook of trying to gain a favour for this group or that community at the expense of the larger good has weakened us in the past. It was only in the measure that we got over it—and we got over it in the past on account of our national movement—that we gained our freedom; but we did not get over it adequately enough to prevent the partition. In the modern world, you cannot employ force in dealing with people. You cannot hold them by the bayonet. You must hold their minds and their hearts. Of course, you can excite them at any moment but in the long run you have to win their goodwill.

We have in India 40 million Muslims—as big a number as any other Muslim country has excepting Pakistan and Indonesia. Pakistan, in any cae, is split up into two. Neither East Pakistan nor West Pakistan has as many Muslims as India. Any propaganda, that gives these people a sense of insecurity or makes them feel that they do not have the same opportunities for development and progress as everybody else, is an anti-national thing and a communal thing. I submit that such propaganda is going on and that there are organisations in the country whose sole purpose seems to be to promote it.

An hon. Member talked a great deal about the full integration of Jammu and Kashmir State with India. I think tht the proper integration of India is a major question and I give it the highest priority. Compared to it, I would give even the Five Year Plan the second priority. By integration I do not only mean constitutional and legal integration but the integration of the minds and hearts of the people of India. We have inherited a strong tradition of unity, built largely on two contradictory factors. The first was our subjection to British rule and the other the national movement. An hon. Member has suggested Hindu culture as a third factor but he is mistaken. What he is saying is important in another context and not in that of political unity. It led to cultural unity, which is a different thing entirely. We are talking about political unity at the moment. We have also, it must be admitted, inherited powerful disruptive tendencies. The question is, whether the unifying influence will prove to be stronger than the disruptive forces. I believe that the unifying influence is stronger. The danger is that people, who do not give much thought to this, feel secure in a false sense of unity. They pursue disruptive tendencies till they have gone too far and reach a point where they cannot be checked. That is why the integration of the minds and hearts of the people of India is vital. That is not a matter the law can settle. The law and the Constitution should come in to register the decrees of the mind and the heart. That is the point of view from which the question of Jammu and Kashmir should be approached.

An hon. Member repeatedly said that I had refused to meet the Praja Parishad people and that I treated them as political untouchables. About a year ago I did, as a matter of fact, meet the President of the Praja Parishad, Pandit Premnath Dogra. I met him here in Delhi and had a long talk with him. Of course, the present agitation had not started but there were some minor agitations. We talked of important matters affecting Jammu and Kashmir and it seemed to me that he had accepted my viewpoint and agreed to what I said. I had told him that his method of approach was bad for Jammu and Kashmir State and for Jammu specially and also for the objective he sought to achieve. Two days later, I saw a statement in the press that had been issued by him. To my amazement, it said the opposite of what he had given me to understand. The statement gave the impression that I had accepted his argument. Letters were sent to tell him that it was very wrong of him to have done that. The incident made me feel that he was not a safe person to see often because he would exploit every meeting and I would have to explain each time what had happened. About two months later, he asked to see me and I sent word that our last interview had not been a success, had, in fact, created difficulties and since I was also busy with my duties in Parliament I could not see him. There was no third occasion when such a question had arisen. I should like to read a few lines from the report of a speech delivered in the other House, not by a member of our Party but by a very eminent Member of the Opposition, Acharya Narendra Dev. That, surely, must be an objective analysis because it is by a person who has no desire merely to support the Government. That is what he said:

“The other question, Sir, is the delicate question of Kashmir. I am not competent to pronounce any authoritative opinion on this matter but I will say with a full sense of responsibility that it is a communal agitation, that the Parishad is the old RSS. It opposed the land reform movement. It supported the Maharaja in the days of old and when the RSS was suppressed, it assumed a new name overnight and is masquerading under the name of the Praja Parishad. I say that this agitation is ill-timed, ill-conceived and is calculated to render the greatest injury to our larger interests.”

Since I do not wish to be unfair to the House, I will add that subsequently Acharya Narendra Dev went on to say:

“...It has assumed a mass character in that area and we have to find out the actual reasons which have led these masses to be thrown into the net of communalists. I want the communalist leaders to be isolated from the masses. And we should, therefore, try to understand with sympathy the reasons, however wrong they may be, which have led a large number of people to join the communal forces in the country.”...

I do not wish to go into the details of the Praja Parishad movement. I say that mere repression will not do; I also realise that the grievances of the people concerned—I am talking about the large number of people, the masses and when I say grievances, I am referring to economic grievances—must be met. To use the words of Acharya Narendra Dev, these people should be separated from the wrong leadership that has misled them; but this must be left to them to decide.

[From a reply to the debate on the President’s Address in the House of the People (Lok Sabha), New Delhi, February 18, 1953]

We call our state a secular one. The word “secular” perhaps is not a very happy one. And yet, for want of a better, we have used it. What exactly does it mean? It does not obviously mean a state where religion as such is discouraged. It means freedom of religion and conscience, including freedom for those who may have no religion. It means free play for all religions, subject only to their not interfering with each other or the basic conceptions of our state. It means that the minority communities, from the religious point of view, should accept this position. It means, even more, that the majority community, from this point of view, should fully realise it. For, by virtue of numbers as well as in other ways, it is the dominant community and it is its responsibility not to use its position in any way which might prejudice our secular ideal.

The word ‘secular’, however, conveys some-thing much more to me, although that might not be its dictionary meaning. It conveys the idea of social and political equality. Thus, a caste-ridden society is not properly secular. I have no desire to interfere with any person’s belief, but when those beliefs become petrified in caste divisions, undoubtedly they affect the social structure of the state. They prevent us from realising the idea of equality which we claim to place before ourselves. They interfere in political matters, just as communalism interferes. We have opposed communalism and continue to be stoutly opposed to it. It is, in fact, a negation of nationalism and of the national state. Communalism means the dominance of one religious community. If that community is in a minority, this is opposed to all ideas of democracy. But if that community is in a majority, even so its dominance over others as a religious community would be wholly undemocratic.

....Therefore, we have opposed communalism not only in minority communities, but also in the majority community.

[From a circular to the Pradesh Congress Committees, August 5, 1954]

We talk about a secular state in India. It is perhaps not very easy even to find a good word in Hindi for ‘secular’. Some people think that it means something opposed to religion. That obviously is not correct. What it means is that it is a state which honours all faiths equally and gives them equal opportunities; that, as a state, it does not allow itself to be attached to one faith or religion, which then becomes the state religion.

Where the great majority of the people in a state belong to one religion, this fact alone may colour, to some extent, the cultural climate of that state. But nevertheless the state, as a state, can remain independent of any particular religion.

In a sense, this is a more or less modern conception. India has a long history of religious tolerance. That is one aspect of a secular state, but it is not the whole of it. In a country like India, which has many faiths and religions, no real nationalism can be built up except on the basis of secularity. Any narrower approach must necessarily exclude a section of the population, and then nationalism itself will have a much more restricted meaning than it should possess. In India we would have then to consider Hindu nationalism, Muslim nationa-lism, Sikh nationalism or Christian nationalism and not Indian nationalism.

As a matter of fact, these narrow religious nationalisms are relics of a past age and are no longer relevant today. They represent a back-ward and out-of-date society. In the measure we have even today so-called communal troubles, we display our backward-ness as social groups.

Our Constitution lays down that we are a secular state, but it must be admitted that this is not wholly reflected in our mass living and thinking. In a country like England, the state is, under the Constitution, allied to one particular religion, the Church of England, which is a sect of Christianity. Nevertheless, the state and the people there largely function in a secular way. Society, therefore, in England is more advanced in this respect than in India, even though our Constitution may be, in this matter, more advanced.

We have not only to live up to the ideals proclaimed in our Constitution, but make them a part of our thinking and living and thus build up a really integrated nation. That, I repeat, does not mean absence of religion, but putting religion on a different place from that of normal political and social life. Any other approach in India would mean the breaking up of India.

Acharya Vinoba Bhave has recently been saying that politics and religion are out-of-date. And yet we all know that Vinobaji is an intensely religious man. But his religion is not a narrow one. He has, therefore, added that the world today requires not that narrow religion or debased politics, but science and spirituality. Both these, at different levels, are uniting and broadening factors. Anything that unites and broadens our vision increases our stature and is good and creative. Anything that narrows our outlook and divides us is not good, because it prevents us from growing and keeps us in a groove.

Ultimately even nationalism will prove a narrowing creed, and we shall all be citizens of the world with a truly international vision. For the present, this may be beyond most peoples and most countries. For the us in India, we have to build a true nationalism, integrating the various parts and creeds and religions of our country, before we can launch out into real internationalism. Without the basis of a true nationalism, internationalism may be vague and amorphous, without any real meaning. But the nationalism that we build in India should have its doors and windows open to internatio-nalism.

[Foreword to Dharam Nirpeksh Raj by Raghunath Singh (1961)]

We have laid down in our Constitution that India is a secular state. That does not mean irreligion. It means equal respect for all faiths and equal opportunities for those who profess any faith. We have, therefore, always to keep in mind this vital aspect of our culture which is also of the highest importance in the India of today. Those who put up barriers between one Indian and another and who promote disruptive tendencies do not serve the cause of India or her culture. They weaken us at home and discredit us abroad. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that we should work for this emotional integration of India.

This applies to linguistic differences also. It is our proud privilege to have great languages, intimately connected with each other. Let us serve them all and not consider any language which is not our own mother tongue as something alien. All these languages have grown up through the ages and are of the flesh and blood of India. If any one is injured that injury is of India.

I appeal, therefore, for this conscious effort on the part of all of us for the emotional integration of all our people. I want this translated into the day-to-day activities of ours, official or non-official, so that we may build the India of our dreams.

[From an appeal, July 5, 1961]

India is a country of many communities and unless we can live in harmony with each other, respecting each other’s beliefs and habits, we cannot build a great and united nation.

Ever since the distant past, it has been India’s proud privilege to live in harmony with each other. That has been the basis of India’s culture. Long ago, the Buddha taught us this lesson. From the days of Asoka, 2300 years ago, this aspect of our thought has been repeatedly declared and practised. In our own day, Mahatma Gandhi laid great stress on it and, indeed, lost his life because he laid great stress on communal goodwill and harmony. We have, therefore, a precious heritage to keep up, and we cannot allow ourselves to act contrary to it.

Pakistan came into existence on the basis of hatred and intolerance. We must not allow ourselves to react to this in the same way. That surely will be a defeat for us. We have to live up to our immemorial culture and try to win over those who are opposed to us. To compete with each other in hatred and barbarity is to sink below the human level and tarnish the name of our country and our people. One evil deed leads to another. Thus evil grows. That is not the way to stop these inhuman deeds. If we can behave with tolerance and friendship to each other, that surely will have its effect elsewhere. If now, this vicious circle will go one bringing sorrow and disaster to all of us and others.

It is, therefore, of the utmost importance that we should realise our duty to all our country-men, whoever they might be. We must always remember that every Indian, to whatever religion he might belong, is a brother and must be treated as such.

I earnestly trust that our efforts will be directed towards creating communal harmony and that all our people, and especially our newspapers, will appreciate the grave dangers that are caused by communal conflict and disharmony. Let us all be careful in what we say or write which might create fear and conflict. Let us pull ourselves together and create and atmosphere of co-operation and work for the advancement of India and of all who live here as her sons. Thus only can we serve our motherland and help in making her great, united and strong. Jai Hind.

[A broadcast to the nation, March 26, 1964]