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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 23 New Delhi May 28, 2016

Remembering Jawaharlal Today

Sunday 29 May 2016, by C.N. Chitta Ranjan


The following article, by the first editor of Mainstream, appeared six years after Jawaharlal Nehru’s death in this journal’s May 23, 1970 issue. Born on September 29, 1921 in Ooty, C.N.C., as he was known to his friends and admirers, passed away at Delhi on August 2, 1990. A veteran journalist, he worked in the Indian Express (Madras) in the 1940s; he joined The Hindustan Times in Delhi in 1960, and edited Mainstream when it was launched from the Capital in September 1962. In 1963 he joined Patriot as its Assistant Editor and also became the editor of Link. Thereafter in 1970 he was the Resident Editor of National Herald (Lucknow) before becoming the editor of that daily in 1976. At the time of his death he was the Joint Editor of India Press Agency (IPA). Although the situation in 1970 in the country was quite different from the one prevailing today, the similarity of the contents of this article with the present scenario in India is indeed striking.

When last week Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on behalf of the people of India squarely accepted the grim challenge posed by communal reaction and declared that these enemies of the nation would be relentlessly fought at every level, history was repeating itself; for, she was speaking the language of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru whose uncompromising commitment to secularism and democracy is her own heritage as much as the nation’s.

When the Prime Minister referred to the “naked fascism” visible behind Jana Sangh President Atal Behari Vajpayee’s provocative and mischievous speech which could only be interpreted as a green signal for communal gangs to continue and intensify their inhuman activities against the minority communities, chiefly the Muslims, she was unconsciously echoing words used by her great father over two decades ago.

Cherished Values

Not long after the murder of the Mahatma, Jawaharlal described the dark forces of communalism as “the Indian version of fascism”, and expressed his determination to prevent them from attacking the secular base of Indian democracy. When Smt Indira Gandhi compared Sri Vajpayee’s gesticulations to those of Hitler, she obviously had much more in mind than the Jana Sangh leader’s waving of arms. Like her father, she saw clearly the threat to all cherished values of the country enshrined in the Constitution in these gestures and the diabolical words that accompanied them.

Jawaharlal Nehru was among the first of the national leaders during the years of the freedom struggle to understand the true character and aims of the parties of communal reaction among both Hindus and Muslims. He often undere-stimated their strength, no doubt, but he was never in doubt about what precisely they stood for, whose interests they were frantically trying to protect at the cost of national unity and cohesion.

Vested Interests

He saw clearly enough that both Hindu and Muslim communalists in those years were in fact henchmen of British imperialism whose game they were playing to further the petty interests of a handful of affluent persons in either community. Communalism to him was the most obnoxious expression of the struggle of vested interests in collusion with the alien power to prevent awakening among the masses of India to which the National Congress under the leadership of Gandhiji had directed all its energies.

It the early thirties, Hindu communalism was represented by the Hindu Mahasabha whose offspring is the present Jana Sangh. Of the Mahasabha, Nehru said that it “not only hides the rankest and narrowest communalism but also desires to preserve the vested interests of a group of big Hindu landlords and the princes”. He firmly held that the activities of the Hindu communal organisations “have been communal, anti-national and reactionary”.

It is a fact of history that Nehru did not spare the Muslim communalists who supplemented the work of the Hindu communalists. “Most of them,” he declared once, “are definitly anti-national and political reactionaries of the worst kind.”

In the early thirties he noted that the Hindu reactionaries as well as the Muslim communalists represented no more than a handful of vested interests subservient to the colonial power, and that neither had much hold over the masses of the country despite their obvious capacity to foment trouble taking sinister advantage of religious differences. He was indeed categorical that “there is no essential difference” between the two types of communalism.

One important difference he did note, however. This was that “the communalism of a majority community must of necessity bear a close resemblance to nationalism than the communalism of a minority group”. This was especially true of India, for the Hindus are largely confined to this country and in religious terms they have little affinity with the world outside—a proposition which is obviously not true of minorities like the Muslims, the Christians and others.

It is easy for the Hindu communalists to pretend that they are genuine nationalists taking advantage of the fact that the roots of other religions lie outside the country. This point is of importance in the present context, for today’s Hindu communalists, led by the Jana Sangh and RSS, are precisely making this claim to nationalism for themselves and constantly casting doubts on the loyalty to the country of the minorities on the strength of the wider association of the religions of the latter.

The purpose of the Hindu communalists now, as it was before independence, is to prevent the socio-economic status quo from erosion by the modern ideas of equality and democracy. While this was equally true of the Muslim communalists, whose symbol paradoxically enough came to be the irreligious and ultra-modern Jinnah, Nehru and some other national leaders realised that the greater danger to national purpose was posed by the communalism of the majority community. They realised that minority communalism could be effectively curbed only if majority communa-lism was eliminated.

Hence the leadership Gandhiji and Jawaharlal gave in the struggle against the dark forces of communalism beginning with the ones entrenched in the upper classes of the majority community. There is no doubt that they did succeed to a great extent in reducing the strength of Hindu communalism despite the consistent efforts of the British administrators to encourage it.

Grim Consequences

In the case of Muslim communalism, however, the efforts of the national leaders were not so successful, the main reason being the back-wardness and utter poverty of the majority of Muslims which the Muslim League was able to exploit to the full and in the most cynical manner. It was only when partition actually took place accompanied by the most unprecedented blood-letting and misery for millions of families, both Hindu and Muslim, that the grim consequences of a communal attitude etched themselves on the minds of both Hindus and Muslims.

At the time of partition the leaders of India more than the leaders of Pakistan were on trial; Pakistan had been carved out on foundations of hatred, and religion was used as a cloak to build a state whose sole purpose then was to satisfy the enormous vanity of a handful of arrogant individuals led by Jinnah. India, however, had different traditions imbibed over a far longer period.

The national leadership and the people as a whole were firmly committed to establishing a secular democratic state in which all citizens would have equal rights and all religions would have their place without any one of them being permitted to influence the administration. To the rulers of Pakistan the killing of the Hindu minority was not something altogether abominable; at any rate the philosphy on which they had chosen to found their new state precluded violent reaction to communal orgies.

Not so India; to the leaders of this country, the message of hatred and murder that the vast numbers of Hindu refugess brought from across the border was something that had to be fought fiercely and subdued. It did not, rightly, occur to them that the Hindu refugees or their friends this side of the border were justified in wreaking vengeance on innocent Muslims, men, women and children, living their own lives here as citizens of free India.

It is no accident that there was no parallel in Pakistan to the healing missions undertaken by Mahatma Gandhi in areas where minorities were under attack by organised hooligans, or to the great personal risks that Jawaharlal took by rushing into the midst of frenzied, armed mobs to prevent the butchery of innocent members of the minority community. The difference in attitude stemmed from the difference in purpose in establishing a free state.

Secular Forces

In the years before freedom it was Mahatma Gandhi who led the secular forces in the country despite his preference for communicating with the Hindu masses in the language of the shastras and the epics which the ignorant and the illiterate could comprehend easily. His concern for the safety of all minorities and for all the oppressed sections even within Hindu society was manifest not merely in his words but in his actions.

But, after the attainment of independence, it was left to Jawaharlal Nehru to lead the secular democratic forces in the struggle against communal reaction. This he had to do in the face of sniping from his own ranks often: for example, it is no secret that Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, whom the Hindu communalists of today appear to have adopted as one of their apostles, thought in terms of packing off Muslims from this country in retaliation for the misdeeds of the Muslim majority in Pakistan against the Hindu minority there.

Jawaharlal put his foot down against such tendencies and insisted that it was the sacred duty of the majority community to protect and look after the interests of the minorities who had become citizens of this country, irrespective of the behaviour of the neighbouring country. The people were with Jawaharlal and he succeeded in isolating the communalists in his own camp and establishing understanding with secular forces outside his party.

A little after independence Nehru said: “We in India have suffered from communalism. It began in a big way from the Muslim League. The result was the partition of India. The Muslim League type of communalism is now more or less outside India. Some odd, foolish individual may indulge in it here, but that does not count and nothing can happen in India today from that source. But that poison has, by some reverse process, entered other people’s minds and we have Hindu and Sikh communal organisations as communal as the Muslim League ever was.....

“If you examine the gospel of communalism even under the cloak of nationalism you will find that it is the most dangerous thing and breaks up that essential and fundamental unity of India without which we cannot progress.”

Non-Communal Approach

At that time he noted, too, that communal elements had infiltrated the Congress and pleaded that Congress candidates “must be chosen with particular care so that they might represent fully the non-communal character and approach of the Congress”. As for the Jana Sangh and other communal organisations, they were trying “to frighten the Muslims and exploit the vast number of refugees who had suffered so much already”.

He uttered a clear warning to the communal organisations whose echo was heard in the Lok Sabha the other day from Srimati Indira Gandhi; Nehru said: “So far as I am concerned and the Government I lead is concerned, I want to make it perfectly clear that communal forces will not be given the slightest quarter to sow seeds of dissensions among the people.”

It is no accident that during the fifties, although there were engineered communal incidents here and there, the communal organisations were more or less ineffective. It is no accident either that the minorities in the country came to look upon Nehru as their greatest protector.

It was only during the last years of his life, when his powers were waning and opportunists in power were able to strike deals behind his back, that the communal organisations, notably the Jana Sangh and RSS, began to gain strength once again. Since his death these forces have become increasingly arrogant and violent. And they have been joined by organisations like the Shiv Sena which owe their growth to tolerance and even encouragement from certain Congressmen in office and from vested interests which see in such groups effective instruments to mount an offensive against the progressive policies and attack parties and individuals wedded to socialist ideas.

It is not just by chance that in Bombay, Ranchi and elsewhere the communal orgainsations have been making open attempts to divide the working class on communal lines and destroy trade union solidarity.

Smt Indira Gandhi’s chin-up acceptance of the challenge of communalism is undoubtedly heartenng, but it will amount to little unless the administrative machinery is purged of the communal elements that have infiltrated over the years, firm action is taken to put down poisonous propaganda by the communal organisations and their publicity sheets, and all forward-looking parties and individuals are swiftly moblised at all levels to give a determined fight to reaction in all its forms.

Let us remember Nehru’s warning which is as relevant today as it was when it was uttered. “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.”

The warning is timely in the wake of Ahmedabad, Chaibasa and Bhiwandi. But the struggle against the fascist threat posed by the Jana Sangh, RSS, Shiv Sena and the rest has now to be much more broadbased than it ever was in Nehru’s time; the roots of the poison tree have to be cut and destroyed, and this calls for a dedicated national effort.

In this task, the Prime Minister obviously has the capacity to provide the leadership, but what we need are leaders in every village and every mohalla who will make the elimination of the communalists their first task. Let this battle against communalism be turned into a massive national crusade as the nation pays its homage to the memory of Jawaharlal Nehru this week on the sixth anniversary of his passing away.

(Mainstream, May 23, 1970)

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