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Mainstream, VOL LV No 23 New Delhi May 27, 2017

Excerpts from Nehru’s writings and interviews

Saturday 27 May 2017

May 27 this year marks the fiftythird death anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru. On this occasion we are reproducing the following excerpts from Nehru’s writings and interviews that are of exceptional relevance even today. 

Words that Endure

The want of clear ideals and objectives in our struggle for freedom undoubtedly helped the spread of communalism. The masses saw no clear connection between their day-to-day sufferings and the fight for swaraj. They fought well enough at times by instinct, but that was a feeble weapon which could be easily blunted or even turned aside for other purposes. There was no reason behind it, and in periods of reaction it was not difficult for the communalists to play upon this feeling and exploit it in the name of religion. It is nevertheless extraordinary how the bourgeois classes, both among the Hindus and the Muslims, succeeded, in the sacred name of religion, in getting a measure of mass sympathy and support for programmes and demands which had absolutely nothing to do with the masses, or even the lower middle class. Every one of the communal demands put forward by any communal group is, in the final analysis, a demand for jobs, and these jobs coud only go to a handful of the upper middle class. There is also, of course, the demand for special and additional seats in the legislatures, as symbolising political power, but this too is looked upon chiefly as the power to exercise patronage. These narrow political demands, benefiting at the most a small number of the upper middle classes, and often creating barriers in the way of national unity and progress, were cleverly made to appear the demands of the masses of that particular religious group. Religious passion was hitched on to them in order to hide their barrenness.

In this way political reactionaries came back to the political field in the guise of communal leaders, and the real explanation of the various steps they took was not so much their communal bias as their desire to obstruct political advance. We could only expect opposition from them politically, but still it was a peculiarly distressing feature of an unsavoury situation to find to what lengths they would go in this respect. Muslim communal leaders said the most amazing things and seemed to care not at all for Indian nationalism or Indian freedom; Hindu communal leaders, though always speaking apparently in the name of nationalism, had little to do with it in practice and, incapable of any real action, sought to humble themselves before the government, and did that too in vain. Both agreed in condemning socialistic and suchlike ‘subversive’ movements; there was a touching unanimity in regard to any proposal affecting vested interests. Muslim communal leaders said and did many things harmful to political and economic freedom, but as a group and individually they conducted themselves before the government and the public with some dignity. That could hardly be said of the Hindu communal leaders.

[From An Autobiography (1936), pp. 137-8]

I do not think we can ignore the political aspect. India, in spite of its overwhelming Hindu population, is a composite country from the religious and other points of view. It is a vital problem for us to solve as to whether we are to function fundamentally in regard to our general policy as such a composite country, or to function as a Hindu country rather ignoring the viewpoints of other groups. It is inevitable that the majority Hindu sentiment will affect our activities in a hundred ways. Nevertheless it does make a difference whether we try to think of India as a composite country or as a Hindu country. It should be remembered that the stoppage of cow-slaugher means stopping non-Hindus from doing something which they might do. For economic reasons steps can always be taken because they are justified on economic grounds. But if any such step is taken purely on grounds of Hindu sentiment, it means that the governance of India is going to be carried on in a particular way, which thus far we have not done....

This question, therefore, raises rather vital issues in regard to our approach to almost all our problems. As you know, there is a very strong Hindu revivalist feeling in the country at the present moment. I am greatly distressed by it because it represents the narrowest communalism. It is the exact replica of the narrow Muslim comunalism which we have tried to combat for so long. I fear that this narrow sectarian outlook will do grave injury not only to nationalism as such but also to the high ideals for which Indian and Hindu culture has stood through the ages. We are facing a crisis of the spirit in India today and a false step may have far-reaching consequences.

[A Letter to Rajendra Prasad, August 7, 1947]

I look back on the recrod of the Congress, with its ups and downs, and its successes and failures. It is a proud record in spite of our failings. But such a record brings with it tremendous responsibility. Even today the responsibility of the Congress all over India is very great. The governments that the Congress runs are important. But behind the governments is public opinion, the opinion of millions of people. It is the function of the Congress to guide, mould and to be guided by this public opinion, to discipline it and help it to work in right channels. That is the real strength of the country and of the government. If any people in government imagine that they are above this public opinion or above the Congress, then they are greatly mistaken and the very foundations that they stand on might be swept away.

I have been convinced of the high importance of the Congress functioning today, carrying on its work of unifying and integrating India, laying stress on peaceful and co-operative methods, and carrying our people along the line of progress. We are not a sectarian body consisting of the elect. We are fellow-travellers with the people of India. That means sometimes that our pace may be a little slower than we would like it to be. It is easy for a group to lay down fine policies, but such policies should bear relation to the multitude of facts that surround and confront us. At the same time the need for rapid progress is evident. The greatest danger to India and to the Congress is a feeling of complacency that all is well. All is not well in the world or in India today.

... For any organisation to be effective, it must have discipline and effective work to its credit. That discipline need not be the narrow discipline of a sect, but it has to be an effective discipline; otherwise, the organisation becomes just a loose collection of human beings with no clear purpose or will to work. I have noticed with deep regret conflicts among Congressmen in some States. Where such conflicts occur, regardless of the merits of the question, there is narrowmindedness and lack of vision, and sometimes there are group loyalities or caste considerations. Both have no place in a great movement, both are disruptive. Ours is a work of construction, not disruption.

We have always to remember that our great country exhibits a wonderful variety not only in physical features and geography and climate, but also in human beings, their languaes, customs, backgrounds and urges. We have to keep this broad picture in view and not seek to impose something on one part of the country which may not suit it and which may create a feeling of suppression. Freedom functions in a different way. While disciplineis essential and a certain uniformity necessarily follows, the rich variety of India has always to be understood and maintained. Only in this way does disciplined freedom flourish. We are a vast community of free individuals joining together in great national tasks, restricting that individual freedom only when it comes up against the larger freedom that we cherish.

There are many religions in this country, several of hoary antiquity, each has an honoured place in this country and each must have a sensation of freedom. That is why the Congress has always been opposed to what we have called communalism which is the narrow and bigoted villager’s outlook mixing with politics to the detriment of both religion and politics. In particular, the great majority of the people of India, who are Hindus, must always remember that the interest and the well-being of the minorities are their sacred trust. If they fail in that trust, then they injure not only the country, but themselves. They go against the past tradition of India and, more especially, that great tradition which Gandhiji has bequeathed to us. Therefore, we have to take particular care that in the various activities of the nation, whether it is in the working of government and its services or in our elections or in the organisation of the Congress, the minorities have an adequate and respected place.

In particular, we must fight wholeheartedly against those narrow divisions which have grown up in our country in the name of caste, and which weaken the unity, solidarity and progress of the country. Gandhiji gave first place to the uplift of the Harijans. That is essential, but that is only a symbol for the equality of all our people and for the elimination of the pride and privilege of caste.

...Our basic questions are after all economic and the land question is the most important of all. We have gone a good way in the direction of putting an end to zamindaris,jagirdaris and the like. Yet, even this step has not been completed in some States. But that step itself is not the final step and others have to follow. Ultimately, as the Congress has often said, there should be no intermediaries, of any kind, between the state and the cultivator. Also, we move progressively towards limiting the extent of a holding. Any hard and fast rule is difficult to make because of the difference in conditions in various parts of the country. Also we have always to bear in mind that production must not suffer.

[A Circular to the Presidents of the Pradesh Congress Committees, May 26, 1954]

Michael Brecher: Well, aside from the fact that Kashmir has legally acceded to India, what makes Kashmir so important to India? Does it have any implications for India’s efforts to establish a secular state and to maintain communal harmony in this country?

Jawaharlal Nehru: Yes, that is probably the most important aspect of it. There is a sentimental aspect, not so important. Kashmir has been intimately connected with India, culturally and otherwise, for 2000 or 3000 years. It has been a great centre of Indian culture, it has been a great centre of Buddhist culture, it has been a great centre of Islamic culture. Probably in Kashmir more than anywhere else in India there has been less of what is called communal feeling, and Hindus and Muslims and others have very rarely quarrelled. And even if they have quarrelled, it has been of short duration. Their lives are generally more or less alike. Their culture is alike. And they have lived happily together even if there has been trouble in India. Now, we have never accepted, even when partition came to India, the two-nation theory, that is, that the Hindus are one nation and the Muslims are another. If Muslims want to go out of India, that is a different matter, that is, a certain area of India votes itself out. But we did not accept it and, even if every Muslim says so—every Muslim did not say so—I say we cannot accept that because once we accept that nationality goes by religion, we break up our whole conception of India. India is a country with many religions. Maybe one is larger than the others, but there are fairly big religions here, any number of them. And, as in any other country, nationality has to be based on other factors, not on religion, of course giving freedom to various religions to function. Pakistan came into existence and a large number of Muslims decided that way when we accepted it. Many went there, and many Hindus came here. Nevertheless, 35 million Muslims remained in India. Today there are more Muslims in India than there are in West Pakistan.

MB: A fact that is generally unknown.

JN: Unknown, because Pakistan is in two bits. In Kashmir, even before the partition, there was, as you must know, a struggle for the mind and heart of Kashmir between the Muslim League and the national movement of Kashmir. We did not come into the picture then. Later, we came in, and the national movement of Kashmir deliberately rejected the Muslim League idea of the two-nation theory. That was before partition and, naturally, we welcomed it and we co-operated with them in the larger national movement. Then came the partition and the struggles in India. There were no troubles in Kashmir. And, when Kashmir joined India, both in the constitutional sense, through the Maharaja who had the right to do so, and in a popular sense through the organisation, well, apart from political and other aspects, it was very important for us because it helped our thesis of nationalism not related to religion. If the contrary thesis were proved in Kashmir, it would affect somewhat—I don’t say it would break up India—but it would have a powerful effect on the communal elements in India, both Hindu and Muslim. That is of extreme importance to us—that we don’t, by taking some wrong step in Kashmir, create these terribly disruptive tendencies within India....

MB: In view of the tragic aftermath of partition, Mr Prime Minister, in the form of communal riots, the Kashmir problem and other unresolved issues between India and Pakistan, is it visionary, do you think, to expect a genuine rapprochement between the two countries in the forseeable future?

JN: Before I answer that question I shall say something about a related matter. Many people think and say that the Kashmir problem is a major problem which comes in the way of good relations between India and Pakistan. That is true, in a sense, but not basically true. What I mean is this: the Kashmir problem is a result of other conflicts between India and Pakistan, and even if the Kashmir problem were solved, well, not in a very friendly way, those basic conflicts would continue. If it were solved in a really friendly way, then, of course, it would help. But it is a friendly approach to the problem that is important, not a forcible solution, which gives rise to other problems.

MB: Yes, I think most people would agree but what are these basic conflicts?

JN: I should say, basically, they are ideological. And we go back again to what I was just talking about, this business of the two-nation theory, what is nationalism and all that. Also, I am sorry to refer to it, there is an unfortunate tendency—not of Muslims as such—but of some people, saying: ‘We were the rulers of India before the British came, why shouldn’t we again be rulers over India? We shall capture Delhi, we shall do this!’ Of course, it is rather fantastic and nonsensical but this kind of thing produces action and reaction. I would also say that so far as the people of Pakistan and the people of India are concerned, they are in a much better and more friendly frame of mind today than they were some years ago at partition time. Conditions have improved very greatly. There really is hardly any prejudice against each other qua individuals or qua groups. As a nation the political issue may come up or some other issue, or they may be excited about some religious story. But when Indians go to Pakistan in groups, they are welcomed and embraced. When the Pakistanis come here they are welcomed and embraced too. You see, we have the same language, so many things in common.

MB: What effect, if any, Sir, does the current political crisis in Pakisan have on the establishment of more friendly relations between the two countries?

JN: It is difficult to answer. When a country is afraid, it is afraid of taking any step forward...

MB: Because it doesn’t feel that its own foundations are secure?

JN: Yes, it is afraid and they have fed them-selves on fear of India. This is totally unjustified because under no circumstances whatever, even from the view of the narrowest national interests, do we wish to interfere in Pakistan. We want them to be an independent country and a flourishing country. It is not good for us to have a country that is not flourishing because that leads to political crisis, conflicts and all kinds of things. And when Pakistan, either politically or economically, grows weak, the fear element increases and is played upon deliberately, so as to divert people’s attention. And one is always afraid of adventurist action, that kind of thing. It stops a natural development—it has taken place in the past—of more friendly relations between India and Pakistan.

[National Herald (August 2, 1956)]

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