Nehru’s Word: AMU convocation-Playing with geography and history

“I invite you as free citizens of free India to play your role in building up of this great country and to be sharers, in common with others, in the triumphs and setbacks alike that may come our way”

PM Jawaharlal Nehru addresses AMU's convocation in Aligarh, January 1948
PM Jawaharlal Nehru addresses AMU's convocation in Aligarh, January 1948
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Mridula Mukherjee

Six days after the ending of Gandhiji’s last fast, and six days before his assassination, Jawaharlal Nehru visited the Aligarh Muslim University where he had been invited to deliver the Convocation Address, the first part of which we bring to you this week.

“I have come back to Aligarh and to this university after a long interval. We have been separated not only by this distance of time but also by a distance of spirit and outlook. I do not quite know where you, or for the matter of that most of us, stand today, for we have gone through convulsions and heartbreaks which have no doubt created in many of us doubts and disillusionment. While the present is full of uncertainty, the future is even more shrouded and difficult to pierce.

Nevertheless, we have to face the present and try to mould the future. We have to see, each one of us, where we stand and what we stand for. Without a stout anchor of faith in the future we will drift in the present and life itself will have no objective worth striving for.

I accepted the invitation of your Vice-Chancellor with pleasure, for I wanted to meet all of you and to probe somewhat into your minds and let you have a glimpse of my own mind. We have to understand each other, and if we cannot agree about everything, we must at least agree to differ, and know where we agree and where we differ.

For every sensitive human being in India the last six months have brought pain and sorrow and, what is worst of all, a humiliation of the spirit. It has been bad enough for those who are old in years and experience, but I often wonder how the young feel who, at the threshold of their lives, have seen and experienced catastrophes and disasters. They will, no doubt, survive it, for youth is resilient; but it may well be that they will carry the mark of it for the rest of their lives. Perhaps, if we are wise and strong enough to think and act rightly even now, we may succeed in erasing that mark.

For my part I wish to say that, in spite of everything, I have a firm faith in India's future. Indeed, if I did not have it, it would not be possible for me to function effectively. Although many of my old dreams have been shattered by recent events, yet the basic objective still holds and I have seen no reason to change it.

That objective is to build up a free India of high ideals and noble endeavours, where there is equality of opportunity for all and where many variegated streams of thought and culture meet together to form a mighty river of progress and advancement for her people.

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I am proud of India not only because of her ancient, magnificent heritage, but also because of her remarkable capacity to add to it by keeping the doors and windows of her mind and spirit open to fresh and invigorating winds from distant lands.

India's strength has been twofold; her own innate culture which flowered through the ages, and her capacity to draw from other sources and thus add this to her own. She was far too strong to be submerged by outside streams, and she was too wise to isolate herself from them, and so there is a continuing synthesis in India's real history, and the many political changes which have taken place have had little effect on the growth of this variegated and yet essentially unified culture.

I have said that I am proud of our inheritance and our ancestors who gave an intellectual and cultural pre-eminence to India. How do you feel about this past? Do you feel that you are also sharers in it and inheritors of it and, therefore, proud of something that belongs to you as much as to me? Or do you feel alien to it and pass it by without understanding it or feeling that strange thrill which comes from the realisation that we are the trustees and inheritors of this vast treasure?

I ask you these questions, because in recent years many forces have been at play diverting people's minds into wrong channels and trying to pervert the course of history. You are Muslims and I am a Hindu. We may adhere to any religious faith or even to none; but that does not take away from that cultural inheritance that is yours as well as mine. The past holds us together; why should the present or the future divide us in spirit?

Political changes produce certain results, but the essential changes are in the spirit and outlook of a nation. What has troubled me very greatly during these past months and years is not the political changes, but rather the creeping sense of a change of spirit which created enormous barriers between us. The attempt to change the spirit of India was a reversal of the historic process through which we had been passing for long ages past and it is because we tried to reverse the current of history that disaster overwhelmed us.

We cannot easily play about with geography or with the powerful trends which make history, and it is infinitely worse if we make hatred and violence the springs of action.”

(Selected and edited by Mridula Mukherjee, former Professor of History at JNU and former Director of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library)

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