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Mainstream, Vol XLV No 23

The Ethos of Jawaharlal

Thursday 31 May 2007, by Mulk Raj Anand


Destination Man was the ideal of advance for our people, which Jawaharlal Nehru put forward in one of his earliest speeches in Parliament after our freedom.

Growing from within the two worlds of Asia and the West, aware of the heritage of ruin of feudal wars, imperial hegemonies and two big bloodbaths of the world, he wanted, specially the freed peoples of the ex-colonies, to emerge into a world without war, in a hundred years of peace—by which he meant peace forever.

And into the freed lives of those crushed peoples, he wanted, first and foremost, to bring human rights, so that the individual man, woman and child, could have the opportunity to grow in the knowledge of one’s own country, of peoples of other continents, the earth itself, in order that awareness may come to all humanity, and people may be able to live and let live.

In India he inspired the coming of a Constitution, for men and women, irrespective of caste, creed, tribe and religion, with fundamental human rights, in a secular democracy, which would respect all the different religions equally, but leave them to the private conscience of each believer.

Although he appreciated the achievements of Indian’s ancient civilisation, he did not want to take the whole of India’s past. And, while he was impressed by the knowledge amassed by the West, through the renaissance, he wished only to take such discoveries of the new knowledge, as in the sciences, which might be integrated into the consciousness of our people.

He deplored the immoral use of science to make bombs which could destroy mankind.

And, from the emphasis on the individual, as against the State, he wished to take from Dharma the emphasis on the individual, whom the Raja had to listen to, even as he took democracy from the West, without accepting the State, both capitalist and totalitarian, which arrogates ever more power to the State above the individual.

Impressed by the concept of planned growth, Jawaharlal Nehru initiated the Five Year Plan economy to achieve a sharing society, in which the rich may not grow richer and the poor poorer.

And he tried to work out the concept of a Federation of States, which would have aid from the Centre, but use their own resources to develop, in a decentralised policy of participatory democracy which may reach down to the deprived, specially the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women.

He saw that, after the disappearance of the small nation-states of Europe and the breakdown of the colonial system, there would be the need for interconnections between the peoples of the world. Therefore, he evolved the concept of peaceful co-existence, based on Panchsheel or the Five Principles, of which the cure came from Ashoka of the third century BC.

These principles are:

1. Mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty;

2. Mutual non-aggression;

3. Mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs;

4. Guarantee of equality and mutual benefit;

5. Principle of Peaceful co-existence.

Propounded in an Asian Conference, the Panchsheel have become the cornerstones of Indian foreign policy, been signed by most of the ex-colonial states, and they have become the manifesto of the Non-Aligned Movement.

Altogether, then, Jawaharlal Nehru seized upon the primary need for peace against the nuclear threat to mankind. He knew that the big powers were spending billions of dollars and roubles to arm themselves, from fear and hatred of each other, while large parts of Africa and Asia were underfed, with billions of men, women and children dying from undernourishment.

He also knew that a cut of 50 per cent in the annual military spending would bring food for all, education and health and housing, with enough development, both in industry and on the land, to make civilisation emerge from a pre-history of killing in war, to survival and growth.

The visionary Jawaharlal Nehru thus sought to lay the foundations of a world without untold misery and devastation, in which people may learn to live and let live.

He dedicated himself to many beginnings, one of which flowered in the hope of men and women everywhere for freedom.

He felt, like the poet Rilke, that there were endless possibilities for mankind, if only fear and hatred would go, and there could flourish an Insani Biradari of which his manifesto was in the words: All Men are Brothers. n

The author, an eminent writer and novelist, was one of the leading figures in the Afro-Asian writers’ movement.

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