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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 47, November 15, 2014

Nehru for Today

Sunday 16 November 2014

On the occasion of Jawaharlal Nehru’s 125th birth anniversary on Novermber 14, we are remembering our first PM by reproducing his following words that are highly relevant in the present situation. Thereafter we are, besides reproducing an ‘Editor’s Notebook’ by N.C., carrying some articles on Nehru by noted scholars and writers as well as excerpts from historian Mushirul Hasan’s Fourth D.S. Borker Memorail Lecture, New Delhi, August 24, 2002 [that was published in Mainstream Annual Number (December 21, 2002)].

We have recently faced a very difficult, critical and painful situation—I refer to West and East Bangal and Assam and partly to other places—and, as I said in another place, we just managed to save ourselves from falling over the edge of the precipice and are new beginning to turn in a different direction. This turning was remarkable, although it is true that many terrible evils still continue. Problems are not solved by merely looking in a different direction. Millions of people have been uprooted and have greatly suffered; and it is no good trying to be over-optimistic. I am talking about the point of view, if you like, of sheer opportunism for a practical, objective approach to our problems. We do not want to be swept away by the passion of the moment but we must realise that passion does exist. We have gone through painful experiences and, even now, tens of thousands of people are going through painful experiencs. The exodus is continuing and those who have stayed behind have not, obviously, got rid of the fear that oppresses them. How are we to meet the situation?

There can be three ways of meeting it. One is to think that this kind of thing will go on happening and nothing will stop it. We simply go from one disaster to another as the culmination in a Greek tragedy. We cannot prevent it; therefore, we simply accept it. The other way is, since reason and logic point in that direction, that we must try our best in the faith that we will succeed. I do not mean that we shoud minimise the dangers; nevertheless, we must go in the direction of peace and co-operation and try to root out the fear that dwells in the minds of millions of people. There is also a third attitude. ‘It is good to have peace and co-operation; but we do not see it anywhere—not much of it, at any rate. We do not think that this attempt will succeed at all. We are prepared to see how it works. We will wait and see what happens.’

I confess that, constituted as I am, I dislike intensely this kind of negative, passive approach—the third one. I can quite understand full-blooded opposition and bear with people who say ‘we cannot have peace: why talk about it?’ I disagree with them of course but I can understand their attitude. What I cannot understand and have no sympathy for is the weak approach. For us to watch and wait and see when powerful forces are at work is characteristic of the weak approach. This is not the approach which a strong nation or a strong man takes with regard to vital problems. Besides, I think, it is an approach which takes you nowhere.

I, personally, have arrived at the conclusion that we should have a strong approach, a positive approach, a constructive approach and an approach which has behind it, in spile of every difficulty, a large measure of faith and confidence. If I have that confidence, if you have that confidence, it will spread to millions of other people. I am no prophet, I am no astrologer to say what the future will be. But I can govern my actions to a large extent and I do not see why I should be passive and be pushed about. If I consider my policy to be right, I propose to follow it to the best of my ability and strength. Having had a fair measure of experience for 30 to 35 years of my life, not so much of governmental ways of working but of mass feeling, of how the masses feel and move, I am not afraid of the masses. I have always had a large measure of faith and confidence in the masses of people, whoever they are. If I have put my confidence in them, they have been good enough to respond by placing their confidence in me. Therefore, I approach this problem, not with doubt, not idealistically, not weakly but having come to this logical, opportunist conclusion.

How are we to go about this? We have to approach the problem keeping in view the basic thing—the general atmosphere. How far we can change it is a very important factor. The second thing is how far we can implement the various details connected with it. With regard to the basic feeling, let us take East Bengal. The minority community, the Hindus in East Bengal, are obviously frightened. They feel they have no security of life. Therefore, they feel like coming away and I can understand their position.

This also applies to the minority community in West Bengal and we might add that a large number of Muslims have gone away from UP and Rajasthan also. I entirely understand this because they are frightened. Maybe, the fear was not justified; but the fact is that they have gone. We have really to face a fear complex. Fear is a terrible thing; it is the worst possible thing that can happen the people because it is infectious. How are we to get rid of this fear? I do not mind if people want to go away from one country to another. But let them not be driven out by fear; let them not go because life is insecure and they do not know what the morrow will bring. How can we remove fear? The Government at the top and the large number of officials can do a good deal. But, obviously, the press can do a great deal more. Until fear is overcome, this problem will not be solved. You saw the tremendous upheaval in the Punjab in August 1947; first in West Punjab and then in other areas, terrible things happened. Massacres took place on a vast scale; you saw elemental forces at work. No government could have either created or controlled it. That particular upheaval stopped but fear continued. You saw the exodus of population from Sind and East Bengal continuing, not because any major incident had happened there, not because ther was any killing but because of fear. Sometimes, there might have been economic pressure. Anyhow, by and large, things were settling down, when this situation developed in Bengal.

Again we see a large scale exodus on both sides and fear at work. There is no end to it yet. Not only in Bengal but elsewhere also. This is an impossible situaton. So, we have to instil confidence in the minorities. We have to make the majority feel that it is not only their responsibility, it is not only their duty, it is not only for their good name and credit that they have to try and expel fear from the hearts of the minorities but also from the pont of view of the narrowest opportunism. If they fail, everybody will suffer.

[From an address to the joint session of the Pakistan and Indian Newpaper Editors’ Conference, New Delhi, May 4, 1950]

There is no doubt that conditions in East Bengal and West Bengal are not normal. There is no doubt that there is a feeling of frustration and insecurity in the minds of the minorities. Now, I shall express my own opinion for what it is worth, because one cannot judge. I think that on the whole, the Muslim minority in West Bengal—which also, I think, suffers from a feeling of frustration and a certain insecurity—is relatively more secure than the Hindu minority in East Bengal. Nevertheless, I want you to remember that the Muslims in West Bengal are frustrated, too. I say this with certainty and I also say, with a certain measure of knowledge, that this applies to a large number of Muslims in other parts of India also. Let us not, in any way, preen ourselves and say that we have done our duty by the minorities which others have failed to do. I am prepared to apply one test to Pakistan and India and, as far as I am concerned, it is an adequate and sufficient test. The test is what the minority thinks of the majority and not what the majority thinks. So long as the minority in Pakistan does not feel secure and does not trust the majority, there is something wrong there. I am prepared to apply this test to India, too. So long as the minority in India does not feel secure and is not prepared to repose its confidence in the majority, there is something wrong here, too. We must consider both sides of the case objectively and fairly. If we do not do so, we put ourselves in the wrong and take a lop-sided view of the situation.

[From a speech in Parliment on the Motion; “That the Bengal situation with reference to the Agreement between the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan signed on April 8, 1950, be taken into consideration”, New Delhi, August 7, 1950]

I have to convey to you, Sir, and to the House, mournful news. A little over an hour ago, at 9.37 am, the Deputy Prime Minister, Sardar Vallabh-bhai Patel, passed away in Bombay City. Three days ago, many of us saw him off at the Willingdon airfield and we hoped that his stay in Bombay would enable him to get back his health which had been so grievously shattered by hard work and continuous worry. For a day or two, he seemed to improve but early this morning he had a relapse and the story of his great life ended.

It is a great sorrow for us and for the whole country; history will record many things about him in its pages and call him the Builder and Consolidator of New India. But, perhaps, to may of us here he will be remembered as a great captain of our forces in the struggle for freedom, as one who gave us sound advice in times of trouble as well as in moments of victory, as a friend and colleague on whom one could invari-ably rely and as a tower of strength that revived wavering hearts. We shall remember him as a friend and a colleague and a comrade above all and I, who have sat here on this bench side by side with him for these several years, will feel rather forlorn and a certain emptiness will steal upon me when I look at this empty bench.

I can say little more on this occasion....in spite of this grievous sorrow that has come over us, we have to steel ourselves to carry on the work in which the great man, the great friend and colleague who has passed away, played such a magnificent part.

[From a statement in Parliament, New Delhi, December 15, 1950]

I am addressing you after a long interval and much has happened since I spoke to you last on the radio. Many calamities have fallen on us, bringing distress to our people. But the greatest of these calamities and sorrows has been the passing away from amongst us of a giant among men. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was a dear and valued comrade in the brave days of our struggle for freedom, full of wisdom and determination, a rock of patient strength to whom instinctively all of us went for guidance. Later, when we occupied the seats of Government, inevitably some of the heaviest burdens fell on him and history will record how he discharged that duty. He will always be remembered not only as a great leader in the fight for freedom but also as a great builder, the unifier and consolidator of new India. It is a proud title to fame which he well deserved. For him it is well, for his life’s duty was well performed and is over now. But for us, it is not well, for we miss his strength and wisdom and we can no longer go to him for counsel and advice. That burden, which his broad shoulders carried so lightly, has now to be shared by all of us.

[Excerpts from a broadcast from All India Radio, New Delhi, December 31, 1950]

Before I can deal with the communal spirit of Pakistan, I want to deal with the communal spirit in India, the communal spirit of the Hindus and Sikhs more than that of the Muslims. I want this House to realise that this spirit will stand in the way of our progress and weaken us. In the event of a war, we cannot fight the enemy if mischief is done behind our backs. No army can fight if its base is not strong. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that this wild and vague communal talk be put an end to at once. I am stressing this because people tend to express their great patriotism by cursing Pakistan and the Muslims. I want this House and this country to feel friendly to the people of Pakistan, because those poor people are not much to blame anyhow. What would you and I do in their place? If we had to read in the newspapers and hear on the radio stories full of falsehoods day in and day out, if we were enveloped in the atmosphere of fright and fury all the time, we might not behave very differently from them. It is not the fault of the people; but I do blame those who are responsible for all this. It is a heavy responsibility. It is not for me to say much about it. Anyhow, let us not create a feeling of ill-will for the common people there or for the country as a whole, because the feelings of hatred and violence weaken us.

[From a reply to the debate on the President’s Address to Parliment, New Delhi, August 11, 1951]

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 backwardness 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)]

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 not, 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 an 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]

Nehru on Communalism

It must be remembered that the communalism of a majority community must of necessity bear a closer resemblance to nationalism than the communalism of a minority group. One of the best tests of its true nature is what relation it bears to the national struggle. If it is politically reactionary or lays stress on communal problems rather than national ones, then it is obviously anti-national....

Nor is it enough to blame Muslim communalists. It is easy enough to do so, for Indian Muslims as a whole are unhappily very backward and compare unfavourably with Muslims in all other countries. The point is that a special responsibility does attach to the Hindus in India both because they are the majority community and because economically and educationally they are more advanced.....

Many a false trail is drawn to confuse the issue; we are told of Islamic culture and Hindu culture, of religion and old custom, of ancient glories and the like. But behind all this lies political and social reaction, and communalism must therefore be fought on all fronts and given no quarter. Because the inward nature of communalism has not been sufficiently realised, it has often sailed under false colours and taken in many an unwary person. It is an undoubted fact that many a Congressman has almost unconsciously partly succumbed to it and tried to reconcile his nationalism with this narrow and reactionary creed....

Communalism bears a striking resemblance to the various forms of fascism that we have seen in other countries. It is in fact the Indian version of fascism. We know the evils that have flown from fascism. In India we have known also the evils and disasters that have resulted from communal conflict. A combination of these two is thus something that can only bring grave perils and disasters in its train.