Nehru's Word: Avoid sectarianism and narrow homogeneity

“I am convinced that the right course for the Congress is to avoid sectarianism and this narrow so-called homogeneity, for this would lead to the growth of conflict within the Congress”, Nehru wrote

Jawahar Lal Nehru
Jawahar Lal Nehru

NH Web Desk

Deeply troubled by the prospect of a split in the Congress, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote a series of eight articles titled ‘Where Are We’, published in the National Herald on 28 February and 1-6 March 1939. In this, the third instalment that we are bringing to you of extracts from these articles, Nehru argues that the differences are not primarily ideological, but are actuated by wanting to control the Congress organisation. His own position is that differences have to be accommodated within the organisation, as they were in the past when there were serious differences between no-changers and the Swarajists in the mid-1920s.

A great organisation has something impersonal about it, althoughit might be powerfully impressed by a dominant personality. It carries on, though persons may come or go. The Congress has demonstrated this impersonal aspect in a unique manner during past years, when repeatedly all its leaders and principal workers were in prison and the whole might of the law was directed against it...

And so the Committee, having no function to perform, dissolved and faded away. For the first time the Congress had not functioned impersonally. I had sided with my old colleagues of the Committee on the issue of the moment, for that was the only right course for me, but my parting was with them more than with others. In their letter of resignation they had stated that “the time has come when the country should have a clear-cut policy not based on compromise between incompatible groups of the Congress”. If that was to be their clear-cut policy, I had no place with them. If the Working Committee was to consist solely of people believing in a clear-cut policy, where did I come in? Of course, the Committee must be homogeneous and capable of functioning as a unit or else it would be ineffective. It must believe generally in one line of action. But if the homogeneity was to be interpreted in a sectarian sense, then a future Committee would be very different from the Committees that have functioned during the past twenty years. Where would Deshbandhu Das or my father or Maulana Mahomed Ali have been under the new interpretation? They would have found no place in the Working Committee. In the early days of the Swaraj Party, vital differences arose even as regards the policy to be pursued. There was an attempt to form a ‘homogeneous’ Committee but it failed soon afterwards, and the Congress reverted to a joint Committee consisting of representatives of the two principal groups in it. They functioned effectively for a number of years in spite of a difference of outlook...

I am convinced that the right course for the Congress is to avoid sectarianism and this narrow so-called homogeneity, for this would lead to the growth of conflict and the spirit of opposition within the Congress….One need not therefore take the present deadlock in the Congress too tragically, unfortunate as it is. It is a sign of the growth of our movement and it mirrors the ideological conflicts that are troubling the minds of large numbers of our people. But everybody knows that in any action that might have to be undertaken we hold together and a crisis will find us united.

What is unfortunate is the manner in which this deadlock has come about, for it represents no clear conflict of ideals or policy. It is the outcome of a desire to control the Congress organisation, whatever the policy. There has been a certain reaction against what was considered an authoritarian tendency in the Congress High Command, and yet curiously enough the new leadership is far more authoritarian than any during the recent history of the Congress. A radical policy for the Congress one can understand whether one approves of it or not. A line of action can be judged and accepted or rejected. But radical slogans allied to authoritarianism is a wrong and dangerous trend. It is wrong because it leads people to think that strong language and much shouting are substitutes for action. It is dangerous because radical slogans delude the people and under their cover authoritarianism creeps in and entrenches itself...

Yet we may not grow complacent, for recent years have brought strange happenings in Europe, and we have seen the proud edifice of democracy fall before our eyes. Regretfully we recognise how easy it is to wean away a muddle-headed and confused public and then to drive it towards wrong ends. It therefore becomes vitally necessary for us to be clear about our policy and our methods, to define with precision our attitude to national and international problems.”

(Selected & edited by Prof Mridula Mukherjee, former Director of Nehru Memorial Museum & Library)

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