Nehru's Word: Communal organisations represent the rich and the upper classes...
This is the third part of an essay by Nehru which explains how communalism is pro-imperialist, reactionary, offers nothing to the masses, and how it functions at the behest of the upper class
The Supreme Court’s positive response to the PIL asking for action against the organisers of the notorious ‘Dharm Sansad’ at Haridwar last month, where calls for genocide of Muslims were given openly, has rekindled hope in the secular destiny of India, which was an article of faith with Jawaharlal Nehru and all his partners in the freedom movement. We bring to you this week the third and final part of a seminal essay by him which explains how communalism is pro-imperialist, reactionary, offers nothing to the masses, and how it functions at the behest of the upper class.
The point is that a special responsibility does attach to the Hindus in India both because they are the majority community and because economically and educationally they are more advanced. The [Hindu] Mahasabha, instead of discharging that responsibility has acted in a manner which has undoubtedly increased the communalism of the Muslims and made them distrust the Hindus all the more. The only way it has tried to meet their communalism is by its own variety of communalism. One communalism does not end the other; each feeds on the other and both fatten.
The Mahasabha at Ajmer has passed a long resolution on the Communal Award pointing out its obvious faults and inconsistencies. But it has not, so far as I am aware, said a word in criticism of the White Paper scheme…. But from the Mahasabha’s point of view to ignore it was to demonstrate that it cared little, if at all, about the political aspect of Indian freedom.
It thought only in terms of what the Hindus got or did not get. It has been reported that a resolution on independence was brought forward but this was apparently suppressed. Not only that, no resolution on the political or economic objective was considered. If the Mahasabha claims to represent the Hindus of India, must it be said that the Hindus are not interested in the freedom of India?
Ordinarily this would be remarkable enough. But in present-day conditions and with the background of the past few years of heroic struggle and sacrifice, such a lapse can have only one meaning— that the Mahasabha has ceased to think even in terms of nationalism and is engrossed in communal squabbles. Or it may be that the policy is a deliberate one so as to avoid irritating the government with which the Mahasabha wishes to cooperate.
This view is strengthened by the fact that no reference is made in the resolutions or in the presidential address to the ordinance rule and the extraordinary measures of repression which the government has indulged in and is still indulging in. The Mahasabha seems to live in a world of its own unconnected with the struggles and desires and sufferings of the Indian people.
I cannot say what following the Hindu or Muslim communal organisations have. It is possible that in a moment of communal excitement each side may command the allegiance of considerable numbers. But I do submit that on both sides these organisations represent the rich upper-class groups and the struggle for communal advantages is really an attempt of these groups to take as big a share of power and privilege for themselves as possible. At the most it means jobs for a few of our unemployed intellectuals.
How do these communal demands meet the needs of the masses? What is the programme of the Hindu Mahasabha or the Muslim League for the workers, the peasants, and the lower middle classes, which form the great bulk of the nation? They have no programme except a negative one, as the Mahasabha hinted at Ajmer, of not disturbing the present social order…The Muslim communalists tell us a great deal about the democracy of Islam but are afraid of democracy in practice; the Hindu communalists talk of nationalism and think in terms of a ‘Hindu nationalism’.
Personally, I am convinced that nationalism can only come out of the ideological fusion of Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and other groups in India. That does not and need not mean the extinction of any real culture of any group, but it does mean a common national outlook, to which other matters are subordinated. I do not think that Hindu-Muslim or other unity will come merely by reciting it like a mantra. That it will come, I have no doubt, but it will come from below, not above, for many of those above are too much interested in English domination, and hope to preserve their special privileges through it.
I have been warned by friends, whose opinion I value, that my attitude towards communal organisations will result in antagonizing many people against me. That is indeed probable. I have no desire to antagonize any countryman of mine for we are in the midst of a mighty struggle against a powerful opponent. But that very struggle demands that we must check harmful tendencies and always keep the goal before us.
I would be false to myself, to my friends and comrades, so many of whom have sacrificed their all at the altar of freedom, and even to those who disapprove of what I say, if I remained a silent witness to an attempt to weaken and check our great struggle for freedom. Those who, in my opinion, are helping in this attempt, may be perfectly honest in the beliefs they hold. I do not challenge their bona fides. But nonetheless, the beliefs may be wrong, anti-national and reactionary.
I must say frankly what I have in my mind. That is not perhaps the way of politicians for in politics people are very careful of what they say and do not say lest they offend some group or individual and lose support. But I am not a politician by choice; forces stronger than me have driven me to this f ield and, it may be, that I have yet to learn the ways of politicians.”
(Selected and edited by Mridula Mukherjee, former Professor of History at JNU and former Director of Nehru Memorial Museum & Library)
(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)