Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2015 > Nehru for Today

Mainstream, VOL LIII No 23, May 30, 2015

Nehru for Today

Saturday 30 May 2015

May 27 this year marks Jawaharlal Nehru’s fiftyfirst death anniversary. On this occasion we remember him by reproducing the following excerpts from his speeches and writings. We are also reproducing several articles on Nehru by noted personalities as well as excerpts from a paper presented by the present editor of Mainstream at a Nehru seminar in Kolkata this year.

Hinduism has ever prided itself on its toleration. But today it stands in need of a reminder. ‘All sects deserve reverence for one reason or another,’ said the great Asoka. ‘By thus acting a man exalts his own sect, and at the same time does service to the sects of other people..... His Majesty cares not for donations or external reverence as that there should be a growth of the essence of the matter in all sects.’

There is a common belief among the Hindus that Islam is an intolerant religion and that it has spread by means of the sword. Most of them would mention the names of the Chenghiz Khan and Timur and Mahmud of Ghazni as examples of Muslim tyrants. I wonder how many know that Chenghiz Khan was not even a Mohammadan? Or that Timur was as fond of erecting his favourite pyramids of heads in western Asia where Islam flourished as in India? Or that Mahmud of Ghazni threatened the Khalif at Baghdad with dire penalties?...

Intolerance is always due to want of understanding and ignorance of each other. Let us therefore try to learn each other’s history and understand each other’s past culture. The future can only hold out its promise to us if we learn to march together. Our chief enemy today is absence of reason, and its necessary consequence—bigotry. Let those, therefore, who believe in reason and in freedom for this country and in human progress, fight and conquer this enemy wherever and whenever it is found. There will then be few obstacles to unity and progress.

[An Article written in Prison, August 1934, from Selected Works, Vol. 6 (1974), pp. 434-9]

Science and academic halls have not known me for many a long year, and fate and circumstances have led me to the dust and din of the market-place and the field and the factory, where men live and toil and suffer. I have become involved in the great human upheavals that have shaken this land of ours in recent years. Yet, in spite of the tumult and movement that have surrounded me, I do not come to you wholly as a stranger. For I too have worshipped at the shrine of science and counted myself as one of its votaries.

Who indeed can afford to ignore science today? At every turn we have to seek its aid and the whole fabric of the world today is of its making. During the ten thousand years of human civilisation, science came in with one vast sweep a centuruy and half ago, and during these 150 years it proved more revolutionary and explosive than anything that had gone before. We who live in this age of science live in an evnvironment and under conditions which are totally different from those of the pre-scienctific age. But few realise this in its completeness, and they seek to understand the problems of today by a reference to a yesterday that is dead and gone.

Science has brought about all these mighty changes and not all of them have been for the good of humanity. But the most vital and hopeful of the changes that it has brought about has been the development of the scientific outlook in man. It is true that even today vast numbers of people still live mentally in the pre-scientific age, and that most of us, even when we talk glibly of science, betray it in our thought and actions. Even scientists, learned in their particular subjects, often forget to apply the scientific method outside that charmed sphere. And yet it is the scientific method that offers hope to mankind and an ending of the agony of the world. This world is racked by fierce conflicts and they are analysed and called by many names. But essentially the major conflict is between the method of science and the methods opposed to science......

Perhaps there is no real conflict between true religion and science, but, if so, religion must put on the garb of science and approach all its problems in the spirit of science. A purely secular philosophy of life may be considered enough by most of us. Why should we trouble ourselves about matters beyond our ken when the problems of the world insistently demand solution? And yet that secular philosophy itself must have some background, some objective, other than merely material well-being. It must essentially have spiritual values and certain standards of behaviour, and when we consider these, we enter immediately into the realm of what has been called religion.

But science has invaded this realm from many fronts. It has removed the line that was supposed to separate the world of things from the world of thought, matter from mind; it has peeped into the mind and even the unconscious self of man and sought the inner motives that move him; it has even dared to discuss the nature of ultimate reality. The reality of even a particle of matter, we are told, is not its actuality but its potentially. Matter becomes just a ‘group agitation’ and nature a theatre for such agitations or ‘for the inter-relations of activities’. Everywhere there is motion, change, and the only unit of things real is the ‘event’ which is, and instantaneously is no more. Nothing is except a happening. If this is the fate of solid matter, what then are the things of the spirit?

How futile the old arguments seem in view of these astonishing developments in scientific thought. It is time we brought our minds into line with the progress of science and gave up the meaningless controversies of an age gone by. It is true that science changes, and there is nothing dogmatic or final about it. But the method of science, and it is to that we must adhere in our thought and activities, in research, in social life, in political and economic life, in religion. We may be specks of dust on a soap-bubble universe, but that speck of dust contained something that was the mind and spirit of man. Through the ages this has grown and made itself master of this earth and drawn power from its innermost bowels as well as from the thunderbolt in the skies. It has tried to fathom the secrets of the universe and brought the vagaries of nature itself to its use. More wonderful than the earth and the heavens is this mind and spirit of man which grows ever mightier and seeks fresh worlds to conquer.

[From an Address at the National Academy of Sciences, Allahabad, March 5, 1938]

The spirit of dogma, I say with respect, has affected badly the religious quest and made both minds and practices conform too rigidly. Rigid and intolerant ideas, ideas which assert in effect that ‘I am in possession of the truth, the whole truth, every bit of the truth, and nobody outside the pale has it’, narrow men’s minds, shutting the door against a tolerant and objective approach, where man not only look up at the heavens without fear but are also prepared to look down into the pit of hell without fear.... It seems to me that people in the Buddha’s time were more advanced in tolerance and compassion than we are, although they were not so advanced in technology and science. While I was at Nalanda it struck me that quite apart from the religious issues, there might be something worth while in the pagan view of life, because it is a tolerant view of life. While it may hold one opinon it respects the opinions of the others, and allows that there may be truth in the others’ opinons too. It looks at the universe and the mysteries of the universe and tries to fathom them in a spiirt of humility. It realises that truth is too big to be grasped at once, that however much one may know there is always much else to be known, and that it is possible that others may possess a part ot that truth; and so, while the pagan view of life worships its own gods, it also does honour to unknown gods.

....The scientist is supposed to be an objective seeker after truth. Science has grown because in a large measure the great scientists have sought truth in that way. But I suppose no man today, not even a scientist, can live in a world of his own, in some kind of ivory tower, cut off from what is happening. Therefore, science today has perhaps begun to cross the borders of morals and ethics. If it gets divorced completely from the realm of morality and ehtics, then the power it possesses may be used for evil purposes. But above all, if it ties itself to the gospel of hatred and violence, then undoubtedly it will have taken a wrong direction which will bring much peril to the world. I plead with the scientists here and elsewhere to remember that the scientific spirit is essentially one of tolerance, one of humility, one of realisation that somebody else may also have a bit of the truth. Sceintists should note that they do not have a monopoly of the truth; that nobody has a monopoly, no country, no people, no book. Truth is too vast to be contained in the minds of human beings, or in books, however sacred.

Let us be a little humble; let us think that the truth may not perhaps be entirely with us. Let us co-operate with others; let us, even when we do not appreciate what others say, respect their views and their ways of life.

Let us go back to an ancient age in India. Asoka’s period 2300 years ago. This man who was infinitely more than an emperor has left memorials all over this great land—memorials which you can see today. Among the messages that he gave, there is one which I think we should all remember not only in this country but elsewhere. Addressing his own people he said, ’If you reverrence your faith, while you reverence your own faith you shall reverence the faith of others. In reverencing the faith of others, you will exalt your own faith and will get your own faith honoured by others.’ If you apply that message of tolearance not only to religion but to the other activities of human life such as politics, economics and science, you will find that it puts things in a different context. It is a context which is not very much in evidence today in the world where differences of opinion are not liked, where the tendency is to suppress the view, the opnion, or the way of life that is not approved of, where ultimately science itself becomes vitiated by a narrow outlook. This would have been bad enough at any time, but when we have the new weapons forged by the work of scientists hovering above us, then it becomes far more important and vital how people think today, how they react to other people’s thinking, whether their minds are full of hatred and violence and intolerance, or whether they are growing in tolerance and in the appreciation of others.

[From a Speech at the Indian Science Congress, Calcutta, January 14, 1957]

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 internationa-lism. 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 internationalism.

[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 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]