Jawaharlal Nehru’s warnings on communal forces continue to be valid 

With the UP chief minister targeting minorities and ‘secular’ Hindus in his state, Nehru’s seven-decade old warnings continue to be validated

Jawaharlal Nehru (Social Media)
Jawaharlal Nehru (Social Media)
user

Arun Sharma

Most of us are inclined to think that the period immediately after our country attained independence was one of peace and tranquility; that all was right after 15 August 1947 and school children marched on the streets singing patriotic songs.

Nothing is farther from the truth. India witnessed serious instability and turbulence as soon as it became free and its very existence was under serious threat. That things were brought under control within a few years was nothing short of a miracle and owes a lot to the sagacity of the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Nehru’s vision for India and his concern for the problems facing the country are revealed in the letters he fortnightly wrote to the chief ministers, a practice he followed till a few months before his death in 1964.

In his very first letter written on 15 October 1947, he admonishes himself and the chief ministers for not keeping to the schedule of this mutual correspondence he had suggested in the middle of August. Nehru insists that first ‘they’ write to him and adds that a fortnightly schedule did not mean they could not write to him more often.

Although Nehru writes about many things in his letters, including the economic situation, the organization of governmental structures, foreign affairs and development, the issue uppermost in his mind was the communal atmosphere in the country following independence.

In his very first letter, Nehru warns of the grave dangers the country faces from communal strife following Partition. He wonders whether people, especially those not affected, realised the gravity and warning of the partition riots. He says that had the riots not been halted in western UP and had spread to Bihar and West Bengal, entire northern India and eventually the whole country would have been in chaos.

‘We would, in fact’, says Nehru ‘have faced complete disorder and the destruction of constitutional government’. In his letter dated 19 March 1950, he refers to the ‘deep seated nature of the communal malaise’ and in a despondent mood, wonders whether we appeared to live in a disintegrating world. In another letter, dated 01 November 1951, he bemoans the fact that communalism was being nurtured in the name of nationalism and culture.

Nehru is uncompromising in his approach to dealing with communal riots. In the letter dated 15 October 1947 referred to above, he says: “Whatever the provocation from Pakistan and whatever the indignities and horrors inflicted on non-Muslims there, we have got to deal with the minority in a civilised manner. We must give them security and the rights of citizens in a democratic State.”

In his letter dated 22 November 1947, therefore, he advises the chief ministers that as a government, they should not show partiality to any group and warns of the reactionary and communal forces trying to disrupt order. Nehru is wary of the activities of the RSS whose cadres were breaking prohibitory orders.

In his letter dated 7 December 1947, Nehru mentions that he was not for interference with civil liberties and the fact that the RSS was against the government need not be considered enough for any action against them and any legitimate propaganda might certainly be allowed.

However, he is categorical in his view that training in arms of large number of persons with the obvious intention of using them could not be encouraged. He also decries the promotion of hatred by the RSS through its newspapers. Although Nehru does not deny the existence of Muslim communalism, which he considers too weak to raise its head, it is Hindu and Sikh communalism that he finds more dangerous.

He mentions of the RSS’ involvement in several communal events and about the evidence that had been collected to implicate it in certain horrible happenings. He also clarifies that although the leaders of RSS claim it was not a political organisation, there could be no doubt that their policy and program are political, intensely communal and based on violent activities (letter dated 5 January 1948).

Nehru admits (letter dated 17 January 1948) that the partition riots had created bitterness and a desire for retaliation in the minds of people which was understandable, but nonetheless it was extremely dangerous. He says that any person with a vision could see that Gandhiji’s approach was not only morally correct, but it was essentially practical. It was the only possible approach if we thought of the nation’s good. He indicates that the main purpose of Gandhiji’s fast being undertaken then was to make the majority community search its heart and purge itself of hatred and desire to retaliate.

Nehru is disturbed by the communal riots in Khulna in East Pakistan, their retaliation in Calcutta and a more violent retaliation of the Calcutta riots in Dhaka. It only showed a tit for tat reaction, was no answer to communal strife and was counter–productive (letter dated 16 February 1950).

Nehru decries the tendency of Muslim baiting and questioning their loyalty to the nation. It is worthwhile to quote his exact words from his letter dated 1 March 1950: “There is a tendency among some of us to demand loyalty from the Muslims in India and to condemn tendencies amongst them which may be pro-Pakistani. Such tendencies, of course, are wrong and have to be condemned. But I think it is wrong to lay stress always on the loyalty on behalf of the Muslims of India. Loyalty is not produced to order or by fear. It comes as a natural growth from circumstances which make loyalty not only a sentiment which appeals to one but also profitable in the long run.”

It is no good, he says, preaching homilies to the minorities. It is by the behavior of the majority community and not by sermons, he says, that it will be judged, and ultimately, the test is the reaction to that behavior in the minority community.

Nehru decries the tendency of Muslim baiting and questioning their loyalty to the nation. It is worthwhile to quote his exact words from his letter dated 1 March 1950: “There is a tendency among some of us to demand loyalty from the Muslims in India and to condemn tendencies amongst them which may be pro-Pakistani. Such tendencies, of course, are wrong and have to be condemned. But I think it is wrong to lay stress always on the loyalty on behalf of the Muslims of India. Loyalty is not produced to order or by fear. It comes as a natural growth from circumstances which make loyalty not only a sentiment which appeals to one but also profitable in the long run.”

It is no good, he says, preaching homilies to the minorities. It is by the behavior of the majority community and not by sermons, he says, that it will be judged, and ultimately, the test is the reaction to that behavior in the minority community.

Alas, how farther away we have travelled from the advice of this great man, when a prominent national leader, now an elected chief minister of the biggest state of our country goes on record exhorting Hindus to abduct a hundred Muslim girls if one Hindu girl is abducted and to kill hundred Muslims if one Hindu is killed!

For all the latest India News, Follow India Section.

next