August 15, 1950: The lesson of fearlessness
To mark the 74th anniversary of Independence Day, we bring to our readers excerpts from a speech delivered 70 years ago by Jawaharlal Nehru
To mark the 74th anniversary of Independence Day, we bring to our readers excerpts from a speech delivered 70 years ago by Jawaharlal Nehru in which he emphasizes that “India can become strong and can progress only when there is complete equality for everyone, irrespective of religion, caste and province”, and that people must guard against cowardice, narrow-mindedness and fear
Sisters and Brothers,
This is the third anniversary of the Independence of India. I congratulate you on this auspicious occasion. We have come a long way during these three years. We have stumbled and fallen but have picked ourselves up and gone on. I congratulate you for everything that has happened, good and bad, during these years.
Why do I include the bad? Perhaps that is wrong. But what I mean is that you are to be congratulated for the joys as well as the sorrows that these three years have brought…When long years go by without a nation being tested it becomes slack and weak. We have been through gruelling tests during the last three years, and also in the years which preceded Independence. We gained Independence by passing those tests with flying colours. Now the nation faces even greater challenges and we shall succeed to the extent that we succeed in facing them with courage and confidence…What you must guard against, however, is cowardice, narrow-mindedness and disunity because they weaken the nation and pave the way for its downfall by debilitating its strength to protect its freedom.
We have been able to reach many of our goals in the last three years. On the 26th of January this year, we saw a big dream of ours come true. There are many other dreams which still remain unfulfilled. Within a few months, millions of people will be going to the polls to elect a new government and the new Constitution which we have adopted will bear fruit…
Freedom of thought and of expression is an essential prerequisite of a free country. People should be free to form different parties and express their political views. Without this freedom a country cannot remain free. But, at the same time, you should beware of people who work against our freedom or do something by which that freedom is shaken or weakened…. Freedom of expression does not mean the freedom to abuse others in the street or print obscenities in newspapers. Such things will vitiate our entire life. Freedom particularly does not mean a right to strike at the roots of that freedom.
If someone attempts such a thing, it is obvious that we have to prevent it. There are many people in the country today who have fomented trouble and incited people in the name of freedom and tried to weaken the nation. They have been dealt with, and since India is strong in spite of our weaknesses, we have succeeded and continue to progress. Some people have made a declaration that they would not participate in the Independence Day celebrations. (The spokesmen of the Hindu Mahasabha announced on 14 August that the Mahasabha could not participate in the Independence Day celebrations as 15 August 1947 marked the Partition of India “rather than the transference of power from British hands.” Note number 4 on p.4 of JNSW, Vol 15, Part I).
Some others went a step further and said they would obstruct the proceedings. You can imagine the kind of mentality which prompts such thinking and emotions. This has nothing to do with freedom of expression or thought. It is an outright onslaught on India’s freedom and, no matter who they are or to which party they belong, we have to fight against them and root them out completely.
What brought us together in the past was the unity of India despite various diversities of religion, caste, province and region. Now I find that some parties are once again raising their voices in favour of communalism and fostering fissiparous tendencies in the country. They invoke the name of religion for purely political purposes. You can imagine whether communalism and provincialism will weaken the country or strengthen it. People are welcome to hold different views and to give free expression to them. I do not want everyone in India to repeat the same thing like parrots as though they had no power to think for themselves. We have every right to express our views…
Many problems are before us today, the biggest being that of food. Everyone needs to eat. We have made tremendous efforts during the last two to three years to solve this problem…So our first priority is to solve the food problem. It is obvious that we have to become self-sufficient in food…We have been thinking of ways and means of doing so. I want you to understand that we will stick to what we said about stopping all import of foodgrains and becoming self-sufficient in two years. Even if there are some shortages, we shall have to put up with that. This is our policy and programme and we will stick to it despite difficulties …
The other thing, which is more serious, is that there are many people in India who have no scruples in making profits out of other people’s distress. Traders and shopkeepers hoard foodgrains in order to make a profit later. I cannot understand this mentality which prompts people to cash in on adversity. How can we tolerate that…You may have read in the newspapers that a Bill was moved in Parliament a few days ago and only last evening a law has been passed to put an end to these activities. The law will be implemented within a few days and we shall take action to curb inflation…
There is another problem before us which concerns the whole of India and particularly the city of Delhi. This is the refugee problem.….
Behind all such problems as food shortage and the rehabilitation of refugees lies the real problem of the economic development of India. How are we to bring that about? It can be done only through cooperation between the Government and the people. Neither the Government nor the people can do it on their own.
You have every right to point out the weaknesses and shortcomings of the Government, to criticise them, and also to change the Government any time that you choose…Governments and people come and go. Our time will also gradually come to an end. As I told you, we are soon going to have general elections. In any case, we will not be in power for ever. But so long as we have the responsibility of administering the country, we cannot show any weakness…
I would like to repeat on this anniversary of India’s Independence that though India is free, freedom brings in its wake its own responsibilities, not only for the Government but for every single individual who enjoys that freedom…If there is an external attack upon India, our armed services, the army, the navy and the air force, in which some of our best young men work, will no doubt fight and repel it. But, ultimately, it is not the armed forces which save a country; it is the men and women in the country who do so and unless every single individual in India considers himself or herself as India’s soldier, the country cannot remain safe.
When we were fighting for freedom, we did not wear any uniform and yet we regarded ourselves as soldiers in the cause of freedom and faced the British empire fearlessly. People in other countries were amazed at what we dared to do-a motley rabble of weak and unarmed human beings challenging the might of a great imperial power! But the strange thing is that at that time, there was no fear in our hearts. We had learnt the lesson of fearlessness from that great leader of ours, and so we went ahead boldly as soldiers of India’s freedom. We must create that atmosphere once again and learn to be completely fearless.
We must remember these fundamentals on the anniversary of India’s Independence and avoid petty quarrels. The unity of India is of fundamental importance. India can become strong and can progress only when there is complete equality for everyone, irrespective of religion, caste and province. All doors of opportunity are open to everyone, and all the citizens of the country are equal shareholders in freedom. If there is disunity and people fight with each other, believe me, we shall weaken ourselves and the country’s freedom. The only course open to us is to forge ahead and face the problems which confront us, whether it is of food shortage or something else, squarely and without fear or panic in our hearts.
A man who is afraid is useless and unfit for anything. When the problems are bigger, we have to face them with greater fortitude instead of giving in to panic or running away in fear. So, I greet you once again on the third anniversary of our Independence. I hope that in the coming year we shall face our problems with courage and determination, rather welcome them, and solve and overcome them.
Excerpts from a Speech from the Red Fort, Delhi, on Independence Day, 15 August 1950. A.I.R tapes, N.M.M.L.,Original in Hindi, reproduced in Jawaharlal Nehru Selected Works, Second Series, Volume 15, Part-1, pp3-8
(Selected and edited by Mridula Mukherjee, former Professor of History at JNU and former Director of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library)