Nehru’s Word: Elections are time to educate public opinion on political issues
We bring to you examples from Nehru's speeches in the first general elections in which he sets out the role of poll campaigns as a means of educating the people about national & international issues
The abysmally low level of much of the election campaign we have witnessed in the last few weeks in the country makes us wonder if elections were always like this. Were election campaigns meant to be occasions for personal attacks and communal propaganda? With these questions in mind, we bring to you this week examples from the first Prime Minister’s speeches in the first general elections in which he sets out the role of election campaigns as a means of educating the people about national and international issues. He explains how he avoids referring to individual personalities and focuses on explaining the problems faced by the country and the issues at stake in the elections.
“I have been touring all over India during the last two months and, during this time, I have covered vast distances and visited practically every comer of the country. India is a huge country and it is not possible to visit every single place. But even so, I have gone to many places and met millions of people wherever I have gone. I have seen them, talked to them, listened to what they have to say. In this way, I have come into close contact with the people of India, and gradually a picture of the country began to form in my mind. I returned to Delhi a couple of days ago and heard that the election fever is mounting. I have read the reports and statements and newspapers and formed an idea of what is going on in Delhi and elsewhere in the country. I have been able to form an idea of the kind of bargaining and horse-trading that is taking place between various parties.
As you know, there is no other example of general elections on such a vast scale as they are going to take place in India. It is a matter of courage to hold these elections, to make the necessary arrangements and let the people in their millions decide the fate of this country.
It is a good thing that people have been forced to think about the problems which beset the country. The party workers have shaken off their lethargy and come out to work. It is a good thing to educate public opinion on political issues. I feel that the country has undoubtedly been benefited by this on the one hand, but on the other a suspicion rears its head when I hear all those speeches and statements of other political parties as to what connection they could have with educating public opinion when they are so often full of abuses.
I have seldom found any serious thinking about important national issues. Such extraordinary things are said that I am often amazed how any thinking individual who understands the circumstances or conditions in India could say them.
Then there is so much noise and commotion. Does it not show narrowness of mind? Elections no doubt generate some interest on national issues. But it is our duty to think about the country's problems with calm minds, and ask ourselves whether noise and falsehoods and rumours and slander help?
I would have liked our election meetings to take place in an atmosphere of calm and peace which would enable people to think about the national and international issues. That is the only way to throw some light on these matters, not by indulging in slanging matches. Therefore, on the one hand, elections are useful, but on the other, the atmosphere of heightened tensions and noise is harmful and prevents people from thinking. Even otherwise, most of us are engaged in our petty preoccupations of day-to-day living and it is seldom that larger issues trouble us.
Anyhow, it is not possible to think calmly about anything in the din of electioneering. I do not know if the real issues of the nation have come before you. We must not get carried away in a momentary passion or allow undue pressures to be exerted upon us by considerations of family, friendship, caste or community, when voting, and forget the important national issues…
I do refer to other parties but only on questions of principle. I do not look at them from the point of view of personalities. The trend among the leaders of other parties has, however been different. Most of them have more complaints against the Congress and the Government than anything concrete to say about policies or India's problems. Their habit is to curse the Congress and say that it has led India to ruin. I am also frequently the target of their attack and rightly so, for it is obvious that I am responsible for whatever the Government and to a large extent the Congress does….
I do not want to shirk my responsibility. It is obvious that I do not do everything myself and there are thousands of cogs in the wheel-but the ultimate responsibility is mine. When you put me in a position of great responsibility, how can I hide behind a curtain and deny it? I am prepared to take on the responsibility for everything, good or bad, that the Government has done in India or the Congress of which I am the President, has done…
The fact is that the Congress is the only party which can lead the country towards progress. If you feel that the pace is not fast enough it is up to you to change that. After all, it is not the private domain of mine or someone else. The Congress has been moulded by millions of human beings in India over the last sixty to seventy years through incessant effort and blood, sweat and tears.
Some weaknesses have crept into it and must be removed. But how can we give it up in favour of splinter groups and parties which have no principles or platform and constantly have one foot in the other camp. How can a nation function like this?”
(Selected and edited by Mridula Mukherjee, former Professor of History at JNU and former Director of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library).