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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 23, May 29, 2010

Nehru for Today

Tuesday 1 June 2010

(On May 27 this year falls the 46th death anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru, our first Prime Minister, widely known as the architect of modern India. On this occasion we are carrying some relevant excerpts from his writings and speeches for the benefit of our readers. We are also reproducing articles by distinguished public figure and women’s leader Aruna Asaf Ali, historian Bipan Chandra, and writer and littérateur Mulk Raj Anand that came out in a volume at the time of Nehru’s birth centenary in 1989. )


Many of us, regardless of what is happening all around us, still live in the ancient past. Some want the Vedic age, others a reproduction of the early days of Islam. We forget that our ancient civilisations were meant for different conditions. Many of our traditions, habits and customs, our social laws, our class system, the position we give to women, and the dogmas which religion has imposed on us, are the relics of a past utterly out of joint with modern conditions. India will only progress, as Turkey and Russia have progressed, when she discards the myths and dogmas of yesterday in favour of the reality of today.

Many of us who denounce British imperialism in India do not realise that it is not a phenomenon peculiar to the British race or to India, or that it is the consequence of industrial development on capitalist lines. Capitalism necessarily leads to exploitation of one man by another, one group by another, and one country by another. If, therefore, we are opposed to this imperialism and exploitation, we must also be opposed to capitalism. The only alternative that is offered to us is some form of socialism.

As a necessary result of this decision, we must fight British dominion in India, not only on nationalistic grounds, but also on social and international grounds. Britain may well permit us to have a large measure of political liberty, but this will be worth little if she holds economic dominion over us. Another consequence of the socialistic view is that we must change all customs which are based on privilege of birth and caste. We must cast out all parasites and drones, so that the many who lack the good things of life may share in them. Poverty and want are not economic necessities. The world and our country produce enough (or can produce enough) for the masses to attain a high standard of well-being, but unhappily the good things are cornered by a few and the millions live in want. In India, the classic land of famine, famines are not caused by want of food, but by the want among the masses of the money to buy food.

We may demand freedom for our country on many grounds, but ultimately it is the economic one that matters.

Our educated classes have so far taken the lead in the fight for swaraj, but in doing so they have seldom paid heed to the needs of the masses. And so the demand has taken the form of the ‘Indianisation of the services’, of higher posts being thrown open to Indians. Whenever vital questions affecting the masses have arisen, they have been postponed still swaraj has been attained. But what shall it profit the masses of India—the peasantry, the landless labourers, the workers, the shopkeepers, the artisans—if every one of the offices held by Englishmen in India today is held by an Indian? It may benefit them a little, because they will be able to bring more pressure to bear on an Indian than on an alien government but fundamentally their condition cannot improve until the social fabric is changed.

Even from a narrow point of view it is now recognised that no effective pressure can be brought to bear on the British Government without mass support but there is fear of the masses and little is done. Mass support cannot come from vague ideals of swaraj. It is essential that we must clearly lay down an economic pro-gramme for the masses, with socialism as its ideal. We must cultivate a revolutionary outlook. Everything that goes towards creating a revolutionary atmosphere helps; everything that lessens it, hinders. I use the word ‘revolutionary’ without any necessary connection with violence. Indeed violence may be the very reverse of revolution. Acts of terrorism often have a counter-revolutionary effect and are injurious to the national cause.

[The New Leader (August 11, 1928)]

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There is much talk of industrialisation. In the initial chapters of the Plan, certain figures pertaining to the amounts allotted to industry, agriculture, social service, transport, etc., are given. In this respect, industry does not seem to occupy as important a place as agriculture. If I remember correctly, a very large sum is to be spent on irrigation. We certainly attach importance to industry; but in the present context we attach far greater importance to agriculture and food and matters pertaining to agriculture. If our agricultural foundation is not strong then the industry we seek to build will not have a strong basis either. Apart from that, the situation in the country today is such that, if our food front cracks up, everything else will crack up, too. Therefore, we dare not weaken our food front. If our agriculture becomes strongly entrenched, as we hope it will, then it will be relatively easy for us to progress more rapidly on the industrial front, whereas if we concentrate only on industrial development and leave agriculture in a weak condition we shall ultimately be weakening industry. That is why primary attention has been given to agriculture and food and that, I think, is essential in a country like India at the present moment.

However, certain basic and key industries have been given due consideration. The essential basis for the development of industry is power——electric power. The progress made by a country can be judged by the electric power it has. That is a good test for development in any country. Provision has been made for electric power in the various hydro-electric and multi-purpose schemes in the Plan.

[A Speech in the Lok Sabha, December 15, 1952]

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The conception of planning today is not to think of the money we have and then to divide it up in the various schemes but to measure the physical needs, that is to say, how much of food the people want, how much of clothes they want, how much of housing they want, how much of education they want, how much of health services they want, how much of work and employment they want, and so on. We calculate all these and then decide what everyone in India should have of these things. Once we do that, we can set about increasing production and fulfilling these needs. It is not a simple matter because in calculating the needs of the people, we have to calculate on the basis not only of an increasing population but of increasing needs. I shall give you an instance. Let us take sugar. Our people now consume much more sugar than they used to, with the result that our calculations about sugar production went wrong. Now, why do they eat more sugar? Evidently because they are better off. If a man getting a hundred rupees finds his income increased to a hundred and fifty, he will eat more sugar, buy more cloth, and so on. Therefore, in making calculations, we have to keep in mind that the extra money that goes into circulation because of the higher salaries and wages, affects consumption. So we find out what in five years’ time will be the needs of our people, including even items needed by our Defence Services. Then we decide how to produce those things in India. In order to meet a particular variety of needs we have now to put up a factory which will produce the goods that we need five years hence. Thus, planning is a much more complicated process than merely drawing up some schemes and fixing a system of prioritites.

Behind all this is another factor—finance. Finance is important but not so important as people think. What is really important is drawing up the physical needs of the people and then working to produce things which will fulfil such needs. If you are producing wealth, it does not matter very much if you have some deficit financing because you are actually putting money back through goods and services. Therefore it does not matter how you manipulate your currency so long as your production is also keeping pace with it. Of course there is the fear of inflation. We must avoid it. But there is no such fear at present in India. On the other hand, there is deflation. Nevertheless, we have to guard against inflation. We have to produce the equivalent of the money pumped in. Sometimes there is a gap between investment and production, when inflation sets in. For example, let us say we put in a hundred crores of rupees in a river valley scheme which takes seven or eight years to build. During the years it is being built we get nothing out of it but expenditure. This can be balanced in cottage industries, in which the gap in time is not large. The additional money that you have put in is not locked up for long. Therefore in planning we have to balance heavy industry, light industry, village industry and cottage industry. We want heavy industry because without it we can never really be an independent country. Light industry too has become essential for us. So has cottage industry. I am putting forward this argument not from the Gandhian ideal, but because it is essential in order to balance heavy industry and to prevent the big gap between the pumping in of money and production.

But production is not all. A man works and produces something because he expects others to consume what he produces. If there is no consumption, he stops production. Therefore whether it is a factory or a cottage unit, consumption of what is produced should be taken care of. Mass production inevitably involves mass consumption, which in turn involves many other factors, chiefly the purchasing power of the consumer. Therefore planning must take note of the need to provide more purchasing power by way of wages, salaries and so on. Enough money should be thrown in to provide this purchasing power and to complete the circle of production and consumption. You will then produce and consume more, and as a result your standard of living will go up.

[An Address to the Indian National Congress, Avadi, Madras, January 22, 1955]

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