Nehru’s Word: What is good for the masses must be good for India
You must make industrial workers feel psychologically that you are giving them a square deal and certainly that you are being fairly treated also, says India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru
" The COVID-19 crisis and the government’s response has brought to public attention issues such as self-reliance, relations between labour and employers and how the welfare of the millions of common people should be the first charge of the state. Presented below are extracts from an address delivered by Jawaharlal Nehru to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (ASSOCHAM), Calcutta, 15 December 1947, in which many of these concerns are addressed.
First things first. The first thing is the good of the Indian masses and everything should be judged by that standard. If there is any obstruction in the way of the good of the Indian masses, that obstruction must go. How do the millions of India benefit or prosper? that is the real test of any policy, economic, political or otherwise, that we may put forward….
Industry, by bringing together large numbers of workers, produces a big problem which has led to this conflict between capital and labour, between employer and employee all over the world. We have to face that. We cannot just ignore industry and leave things to chance. At no time can these things be left to chance, certainly not at the present time. Suppose there is a big strike, would the employer like Government to come and protect the industry or leave things to chance? I presume you want protection; you are entitled to protection. If there is violence it ultimately comes to this, that leaving things to chance means protecting the employer against the possible unorganised action of the employees. That is not leaving things to chance. It is really siding with one party. It simply cannot be done. No Government can afford to allow matters of this kind to develop when violence breaks out. Suppose you have no strike but people simply sleep and slow down production.
This is a more difficult thing to tackle; production goes down, the industry goes down and the country goes down. You must make industrial workers feel psychologically that you are giving them a square deal and certainly that you are being fairly treated also. Once that psychological feeling has come and once also a certain assurance through legislative measures etc. has come, I think the major part of this labour problem will be solved.
As I was listening to you, Mr. President, about Government not interfering with industry by further legislative measures etc., I suddenly thought of similar appeals having been made so many times in so many countries during the last 100 years. Similar appeals were made when the 12 hours day was introduced in England and again (when) the 12 hours came down to IO hours a day…. It is just impossible for any Government today not to interest itself very closely in the relations between the employer and the employee, the peasant and other groups.
I have not said anything about bigger economic policy…. Nevertheless, I have little doubt that that approach will involve a large measure of socialisation in regard to certain industries. This does not mean that we are going to do away with private enterprise. Private enterprise is going to continue and I think ought to be encouraged, but in regard to certain basic, certain key industries, I have little doubt that the tendency will be for them to be State-owned or at any rate to be State-controlled….At the same time, if we have any kind of real planning, it is inevitable that a measure of State direction and State control should apply to other industries also. But a large field will necessarily still be left to private enterprise.
We want to develop and industrialise our country rapidly and in order to do so, undoubtedly it would help us greatly to have foreign assistance, foreign capital, foreign technical assistance. We are not going to stop that. In fact, we would welcome it.
At the same time, you will realise that we are anxious to preserve our economic independence. We do not want to encourage foreign capital to come in at the cost of bartering away any part of that independence. We should like foreign capital to come on favourable terms. It will be a business transaction; we shall take technical assistance on advantageous terms. Obviously, for the Government of India the aim will be the good of India…You cannot have any special privileges for foreign interests in India.
(Extracts are from the proceedings of the annual general meeting of the ASSOCHAM, reproduced in the Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Second Series, Volume 4, pp556-70.)
Selected and edited by Mridula Mukherjee, former Professor of History at JNU and former Director of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library