Nehru's Word: Communal problem can best be tackled with Gandhian approach

Despite the much-publicised genuflection to Mahatma Gandhi and vows to promote Khadi, there is a marked absence of the Gandhian spirit in public discourse. His martyrdom seems to have been forgotten

Jawaharlal Nehru
Jawaharlal Nehru
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Mridula Mukherjee

Despite the much-publicised genuflection to Mahatma Gandhi and vows to promote Khadi, there is a marked absence of the Gandhian spirit in public discourse. His martyrdom seems to have been forgotten. In the extracts that we bring to you this week from Nehru’s letter dated 1 April 1950 to the chief ministers, he constantly espouses Gandhian ideals of peace and negotiations, and repeats that he will not be deflected from them come what may.

I confess I find myself unable to say much about world affairs or even about many of our domestic affairs at the present moment. My mind is full of the major problem that confronts us today. It may be called the Bengal problem or the Indo-Pakistan problem. There is no doubt that this is the severest trial that we have had during the last two and a half years, ever since the Punjab tragedy….

You know that the Prime Minister of Pakistan is coming here on April 2nd for conversations on this subject. (Provisional agreement was reached in New Delhi on 20 March 1950). It is too optimistic to think that these conversations will result in a magical change of the situation. At the same time, there is no need to think that they must fail completely. The pressure of events is such that there is little room left for normal diplomatic talk.

If one reads the newspapers, or some of them, one would imagine that there are few people in the country who really seek peace… We used to blame Pakistan for its morbid mental state. We have little to choose now, so far as this state of mind is concerned, between India and Pakistan…

People talk vaguely but excitedly of firm action, meaning thereby, presumably, war. Well, if war unhappily comes, we shall face it and we should be prepared for it. But hardly anyone realises what war is and what it may mean to our country and to the world… I have no doubt in my mind that war would be a tremendous catastrophe for all concerned and that we should try to avoid it to the best of our ability. Having said this, I have also to say that in the circumstances of today, we have to be perfectly ready for it. We have, therefore, made certain fresh dispositions of our armed forces to meet any contingency that might arise…

Newspapers in Pakistan write hysterically and give a completely one-sided and distorted picture. I regret to say that many newspapers in India are equally hysterical and also give a completely one-sided picture. And so it becomes difficult for the readers of these newspapers even to know the facts and consequently they cannot judge properly… Many evil deeds have been done in East Pakistan, as you well know, and vast numbers of people are moving from there to West Bengal and Assam. But we have to remember also that terrible deeds have been performed in West Bengal and Assam and vast numbers of Muslims are moving from West Bengal and Assam to East Pakistan. There is a considerable flow of Muslims from north and north-western UP also to Pakistan.

What does this show? Quite apart from the murder and arson and abductions, and forcible conversions and lootings, that have taken place in East Pakistan, and the murder and arson and looting that have taken place in West Bengal and some other parts of India, the major fact stands out that the Hindus of East Pakistan feel that it is not possible for them to stay there. They have no sense of security, much, less of living their normal lives with opportunity to go ahead.

The other major fact is that Muslims in West Bengal and, to some extent, in the northern and north-western parts of UP have also lost all sense of security. Pakistan, because of its basic policy, must be held to blame for much that has happened. But are we free from blame and can we excuse everything on the plea of inevitable reactions and repercussions? I cannot accept that argument. We have failed to preserve law and order and we have failed to give protection and a sense of security to large numbers of our Muslim nationals. Our failure may be explained, but, nonetheless, it is a failure which brings no credit to us…

I am convinced that in the last analysis, it is the Gandhian approach to the communal problem that can solve it. That approach may be varied according to circumstances, but its basic principles have to be adhered to…But if we are swept away by what Pakistan does or by what some of our own people feel in the heat of the moment, then we prove ourselves little men whom the course of events will, no doubt, sweep away…


There are at present a number of organisations and some newspapers which are carrying on a deliberate policy of creating trouble so as to force the hands of government into declaring war… In any event, nothing could be more cowardly on our part than to submit to the clamour of some people and fashion our policy accordingly…The matter is too serious for prevarication.

We cannot tolerate the activities of some of these organisations, notably the Hindu Mahasabha and the like organisations, which are deliberately bent on mischief. They have thrown out a challenge to us and we have no alternative but to accept it with all that this implies. For my part, my mind is clear in this matter and, so long as I am Prime Minister, I shall not allow communalism to shape our policy, nor am I prepared to tolerate barbarous and uncivilised behaviour….

I think it would be a good thing if this was explained to officials of all grades. If any of them are not prepared to follow this policy honestly and effectively, then it is open to them to leave the service.

We have stood out as champions of peace in the world, and now, today, we feel humiliated. How can we champion peace and freedom elsewhere, if we cannot maintain them in our own country? How can we condemn communalism elsewhere, if we tolerate it in India?”

(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.)

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