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

Nehru for Today

Sunday 29 May 2016


May 27 this year marked Jawaharlal Nehru’s fiftysecond death anniversary. On this occasion we are reproducing the following excerpts from the speeches and writings of Nehru that are of exceptional relevance today.

I have long been of opinion that the Hindu Mahasabha is a small reactionary group pretending to speak on behalf of the Hindus of India of whom it is very far from being representative. None the less misapprehensions have been created by their high-sounding titles and resounding phrases and it is time that these misapprehensions are removed. Nothing in recent months has pained me quite so much as the activities of the Mahasabha grup culminating in the resolutions passed at Ajmer.

Going a few steps further, the Arya Kumar Sabha, which is presumably an offshoot of the Hindu Mahasabha, has proclaimed its policy to be one of elimination of Muslims and Christians from India and the establishment of a Hindu Raj.1 This statement makes it clear what the pretensions of the Mahasabha about Indian nationalism amount to. Under cover of seeming nationalism, the Mahasabha not only hides the rankest and narrowest communialism but also desires to preserve the vested interests of the group of big Hindu landlords and the princes. The policy of the Mahasabha, as declared by its responsible leaders, is one of cooperation with the foreign government so that, by abasing themselves before it, they might get a few crumbs. This is a betrayal of the freedom struggle, denial of every vestige of nationalism and suppression of every manly instinct in the Hindus. The Mahasabha shows its attachment to vested interests by openly condemning every form of socialism and social change. Anything more degrading, reactionary, anti-national, anti-progressive and harmful than the present policy of the Hindu Mahasabha is difficult to imagine.

The leaders of the Mahasabha must realise the inevitable consequences of this policy of their lining up with the enemies of Indian freedom and most reactionary elements in the country. It is for the rest of India, Hindu and non-Hindu, to face them squarely and oppose them and treat them as enemies of freedom and all that we are striving for. It is not a mere matter of condemnation and dissociation, though of course there is to be both these, but one of active and persistent opposition to the most opportunist and stupid of policies.

[Speech delivered at the Banaras Hindu University on November 12, 1933—published in The Bombay Chronicle, November 15, 1933; reprinted in Recent Essays and Writings (Allahabad, 1934), pp. 45-46.]

I am glad that the remarks I made at Banaras regarding the Hindu Mahasabha have galva-nised a number of people and made them think furiously. This thinking has even taken the form of personal denunciation of me.2 This personal aspect is unimportant and will pass because the question is far too important and vital to be considered in relation to personalities. I hope to say something in reply to the criticisms later. But I should like to point out that my criticisms related to the Hindu Mahasabha chiefly because I was addressing a purely Hindu audience. There was no point in my tracing Muslim or other non-Hindu communalism there as the average Hindu is sufficiently aware of the feelings of others. It is always difficult to appreciate fully the weaknesses of oneself or one’s own community. As I have stated, my remarks against communalism and anti-national activities apply in an equal measure to all communal organisations in India—Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, etc. There seems to be a race between them as to which can be more communal than the other. For a long time past I had remained quiet on the subject because I wished to ignore this aspect of Indian public life and hoped that national activities would gradually divert people’s attention from it. But matters have come to such a pass that I felt silence on the subject was in itself a compromise and acceptance of this evil. We all know of the amazing communal and reactionary outlook and activities of the Muslim communalists in India. These require no publicity but there is a misapprehension in some quarters that Hindu communalists are of a greyer colour and not quite so black as the others. This notion is thoroughly unjustified as the attitude of the Hindu Mahasabha and the many other Hindu organisations, specially in north India, connected or unconnected with the Mahasabha, has conclusively demonstrated during the last year. The statements and evidence before the Joint Select Committee in England as well as numerous speeches and resolutions chiefly in the Punjab show this.3 Leading members of the Hindu Mahasabha and other communalists have deliberately advocated cooperation with British imperialism in the hope of getting some odd favour. This attitude is both anti-national and reactionary, and even from the narrow point of view of Hindus, foolish and shortsighted.

There seems to be some mystery about the resolutions passed by the Arya Kumar Sabha at Ajmer. My reference to a certain resolution has called forth denials, although the denial does not tell us exactly what the resolution was. This can easily be verified and I shall be very glad indeed to learn that my information was wrong. I received a copy of that resolution apparently from some official of the Sabha for my information. This resolution was also received by others and Dr Mahomed Ullah Jung4 has given publicity to the text of it.5 I shall be glad if the Arya Kumar Sabha will publish their resolutions and if it appears that we have been victims of a hoax, I shall gladly and willingly express my regret to the Arya Kumar Sabha. But apart from this my main criticism would hold as it is based specially on the activities of Hindu communalists during the last many months.

[Interview at Allahabad, November 21, 1933; from The Leader, November 23, 1933.]

Q: How far is the communal problem due to economic causes?

JN: This question perhaps is not properly framed (I am partly responsible for that), in the sense that the communal question is not fundamentally due to economic causes. It has an economic background which often influences it, but it is due much more to political causes. It is not due to religious causes; I should like you to remember that. Religious hostility or antagonism has very little to do with the communal question. It has something to do with the communal question in that there is a slight background of religious hostility which has in the past sometimes given rise to conflict and sometimes to broken heads, in the case of processions and so forth, but the present communal question is not a religious one, although sometimes it exploits religious sentiment and there is trouble. It is a political question of the upper middle classes which has arisen partly because of the attempts of the British Government to weaken the national movement or to create rifts in it, and partly because of the prospect of political power coming into India and the upper classes desiring to share in the spoils of office. It is to this extent economic, that the Mohammedans are on the whole the poorer community as compared with the Hindus. Sometimes you find that the creditors are the Hindus and the debtors the Mohammedans; sometimes the landlords are Hindus and the tenants are Mohammedans. Of course, the Hindus are tenants also, and they form the majority of the population. It sometimes happens that a conflict is really between a money-lender and his debtors or between a landlord and his tenants, but it is reported in the press and it assumes importance as a communal conflict between Hindus and Mohammedans. Funda-mentally this communal problem is a problem of the conflict between the members of the upper middle-class Hindus and Moslems for jobs and power under the new constitution. It does not affect the masses at all. Not a single communal demand has the least reference to any economic issues in India or has the least reference to the masses. If you examine the communal demands you will see that they refer only to seats in the legislature or to various kinds of jobs which might be going in the future...

Q: In your answer to the fourth question, regarding the communal problem, you suggested, I think, that the religious clement was a small part of it and that it was not primarily economic, but that it resolved itself into political jealousy, political ambitions. How do you see it resolving in the light of the national movement? Do you feel that the central national aim would be so big that it would bring all the parties together?

JN: No. First of all I said that the communal movement was not religious, but that does not mean, of course, that there is not a religious background in India, and sometimes that is exploited. It is political mainly. It is also economic in the sense that the political problem largely arises because of the problem of unemployment in the middle classes, and it is the unemployment among the middle classes that helps the communal movement to gain importance. It is there that the jobs come in. To some extent the growth of nationalism and the nationalist spirit suppresses the communal idea, but fundamentally it will go when economic issues and social issues come to the forefront and divert the attention of the masses, and even of the lower middle classes, because these issues really affect them, and inevitably then the communal leaders would have to sink into the background. That happened in 1921, at the time of the first noncooperation movement, when no communal leaders in India dared to come out into the open. There was no meeting held and there was no reference to them in the papers. They disappeared absolutely because there was such a big movement on other issues. As soon as a big political movement starts the communal leaders come to the forefront. They are always being pushed to the front by the British Government in India. Therefore the right way to deal with the communal question is to allow economic questions affecting the masses to be discussed. One of the chief objections to the India Act is that, because it divides India into seven or eight—I am not sure how many—separate religious compartments,6 it makes it difficult for economic and social questions to be brought up. Of course they will come up, because there is the economic urge behind them, but still it makes it difficult.

Q: Do you not think caste comes into the communal question at all—Brahmin against non-Brahmin? That is a matter we know so well in Madras.

JN: I do not think the communal question is affected much by caste. In south India, of course, the question of caste comes in, and it has given rise to great bitterness. I was thinking more of Hindu versus Moslem. I am not personally acquainted with conditions in the south in recent years, but it used to be more a question of non-Brahmin versus the vested interest. Taking the depressed classes, they really are the proletariat in the economic sense; the others are the better-off people. All these matters can be converted into economic terms, and then one can understand the position better. I do not think the Brahmin and the non-Brahmin question as such is very important now. There is a very large number of non-Brahmins in the Congress. In the Congress the question does not arise. It has some importance in local areas in the south, because of various local factors, but I do not think the question of Brahmin and non-Brahmin comes into the communal question at all.

[Excerpts from a discussion with the India Conciliation Group, at its meeting of Februay 4, 1936—published in the Bombay Chronicle, May-June, 1936; reprinted in India and the World (London, 1936), pp. 226-262.]

Dr Ansari’s greatest contribution was in regard to the Hindu-Muslim question. We should sink our petty differences in the cause of the nation. We are fighting among ourselves for trivial causes and are overlooking bigger and more vital issues. We should study contemporary history to understand what is happening in Palestine, Egypt, Sumatra, Java, Indo-China or Syria. The exploitation of the people in these countries differs only in degree, though in some countries the people are not as enslaved as we in India. But everywhere they are forming united fronts to win their freedom. The questions of seats in the legislatures and offices do not affect the masses of Hindus and Muslims whose interests are one and the same.

The big questions staring India as well as the world in the face are poverty and unemployment and these are common to both Hindus and Muslims.

The only remedy for these problems is a socialist order. The solution cannot be different whether it be in the case of Muslims or Hindus. India should find her own solution in the light of the world experience—of socialism. Substituting Indian capitalists in the place of British capitalists will not alter the lot of India.

A properly constituted and democratically elected constituent assembly alone can formulate the constitution of India. The Congress will not stop its fight till success is achieved and we shall not rest content till our goal is reached.

[Address lo Young Muslim Brotherhood, Bombay, May 17,

1936—from The Bombay Chronicle, May 18, 1936.]

...I am only telling you that socialism when it is applied to India, will have, I think, to fall within the wide framework of socialistic theory. The manner of its application, the speed of its application and the measures for its application, will, however, have to depend on Indian conditions. They will have to depend on Indian industrial conditions, Indian cultural conditions and, to some extent, on what may be called the genius of the Indian people. All these will have to be taken together. Therefore it is impossible for anyone now to state which particular shape, form or colour the future socialist organisation of India will take. You can generally say what its probable shape or form or colour might be. But as to the exact form or as to how long it will take to get into that form, nobody can say anything definitely now. It will be foolish to be dogmatic about it because you cannot know.

None the less, if we really want to understand and prepare ourselves for that socialist India, we have to think hard and deep. We have to see it in connection with our present struggle for freedom and independence. If you isolate it from that, you function in the air. Today, the hunger and poverty of the Indian people are inevitably driving them to socialistic thought. Why do you talk of socialism to me, young men and women all over the country? Not because a few odd persons have been delivering speeches about it but because of the growing middle class unemployment in the country. Because of that, you are forced to examine the problem and to think. Because you think of it and examine it, you are driven in the direction of accepting socialism. So, there is a growing urge to socialism and that will go on increasing. But remember this, that the dominant urge in India today, the dominant urge in any country that is a subject country, inevitably must be the nationalist urge. Whilst I tell you socialism is not an ‘anti’ thing, nationalism, I think, is an ‘anti’ thing fundamentally. I do not want to be ‘anti’ anything, unless it be solid, constructive and health-giving. The fact remains that essentially the background of nationalism is anti-foreign. It derives its strength not so much from love but from dislike. It is to some extent a racial matter, although we may not think on racial lines. I want to tell you I dislike nationalism. But I do like nationalism so far as India is concerned, situated as it is today, because nationalism for us means that it takes us in the direction of our freedom and of our own growth physically, mentally, morally and spiritually. For us, nationalism is a releasing force, and therefore, it is good. But nationalism in a country like Germany today or Italy is not a force which takes one to freedom. It confines and restricts. It is a narrowing thing.

It is not an enlarging thing. Therefore nationalism in Europe today has become a bane and a curse. Therefore, progressive people of Europe today feel insulted if you call them nationalists and they ask you, “Do you think we are narrow-minded, bigoted people, fascists or nazis?” Nationalism is a confined and excessively narrow creed there. But it is a definitely different thing here in India. But still, the fact remains that the background of nationalism is not so much, I think, an active positive feeling as a negative feeling.

You know that in the past eighteen or twenty years, we in India have had a unique experience, the experience of a great and inspiring leader dinning into our ears the doctrine of nonviolence, peace and goodwill and love for our opponent. That continuous dinning and teaching has inevitably produced a certain atmosphere in the country. It has not wholly got rid of the background of nationalism, viz., the ‘anti’ element in it, but has reduced it to a minimum. Ordinarily a nationalist movement like ours, if we had not that continuous pressure from our leader in the direction of peace and goodwill, would have resulted in something terribly racial, anti-foreign, devouring and consuming us and perhaps occasionally giving us a certain energy to go ahead, but ultimately making us much smaller men. And the solution of the problem would have, quite apart from the moral issue, become much more difficult; because it is difficult to solve problems by accumulating violence and hatred.

Although we have functioned as a nationalist movement and our nationalism has been of a fairly intense variety, yet it has led to relatively little of the bitterness that is the natural line of nationalism elsewhere. But I cannot say that we have escaped those hatreds and bitternesses altogether. We have them still in our hearts and sometimes they come out, if not against our opponents, at least against our own colleagues.

The problem before us is, nationalism being the dominant urge of the country and socialism being, according to you and me, the right path to tread to solve the problems which face us, how to combine the two? We cannot have one of the two alone, because nationalism alone does not solve the problem and to follow socialism alone will be to ignore the vital issue before the country and the vital urge which moves millions in the country. We have to combine the two. Socialism has inevitably to push nationalism forward in its political garb. That is the common aspect between socialism and nationalism. Both like political independence. But nationalism, more or less, stops there, while socialism wants to go ahead. Socialism, if it is wise, presses forward with its ideas and turns nationalism in its direction. At the same time it does not combat with nationalism because the first tremendous step is common to both. Socialism wants to cooperate with nationalism, cooperate not only with the socialist elements and others who are friendly to socialism but even with anti-socialist elements in that nationalism. Without that proviso, there can be no cooperation, because there is no common ground left.

[Excerpts from a speech at Madras, October 8, 1936—from The Hindu, October 8, 1936.]

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 nationalism, 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 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 internatio-nalism.

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

1. The report of the resolution passed by the Arya Kumar Sabha, the youth wing of the Arya Samaj, was later found to be incorrect.

2. In a letter published in The Leader of November 20, 1933, Bhai Parmanand attributed Jawaharlal’s criticism of the Mahasabha to the fact that owing to his “early training” and upbringing abroad “he is incapable of thinking as a Hindu”.

3. On July 31, 199, they protested that the government’s decision on the communal problem was unjust to the Hindus and the separation of Sind was an “ex-parte judgement”.

4. A resident of Allahabad.

5. In a letter to the editor published in The Leader of November 20, 1933.

6. The Act of 1935 divided the total number of seats allotted to the Federal Assembly into several categories like general seats, general seats reserved for scheduled classes and separate electorates for Sikhs, Mohammedans, Anglo-Indians, Europeans and Indian Christians.

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