Nehru's Word: Gandhi taught us that generosity and decency are not weaknesses
We learnt long ago in the school of Gandhi that there can be firmness with decency, and even conflict with the hand of friendship never withdrawn
This week we reproduce the part of the letter written to the chief ministers by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on 15 April 1950 explaining the context and rationale of the Nehru-Liaquat Agreement of 8 April 1950 which sought to cool down the communal temperature in East and West Bengal. His words resonate loudly today in the Bharat Jodo Yatra which is doing precisely that: repeating old truths which never go old: ‘nafrat chhodo’ (give up hatred), spread love instead of hate, ‘Bharat Jodo, Unite India’.
For my part, my mind is perfectly clear that we took the right step, both negatively and positively, and that any other step would have been harmful in the extreme. I have repeatedly spoken about this Agreement and the circumstances that surround it.
Whatever I have said has not been, just as politicians say, to try to cover up our errors and find some excuses for our action. It has been the expression of my deeply felt thoughts. All of us had given earnest thought to this difficult situation that we had to face during these few months. Those of us who had the responsibility for decision on these vital issues at a moment of crisis in our history, bore a heavier burden and had to give their full mind and heart to this matter.
I firmly believe that we did the right thing and I am equally firm in my belief that we must pursue this to the utmost limit. If it so happens that we fail in our endeavours, that will be our misfortune…. To stand still is folly. We have, therefore, to go ahead and do so with all our strength. We have to save ourselves not only from what Pakistan might do or not do, but also from ourselves...
A criticism is made that we have deserted the minority in East Bengal by saying in the Agreement (Clause A) that the allegiance and loyalty of the minorities is to the State of which they are citizens. This was a truism and we have said it often enough before. But this does not and cannot get rid of the facts of the situation and of the intimate relationship that exists between many people in India and many people in Pakistan.
In South Africa, we stood up as champions for people of Indian descent who are nationals of South Africa and who had been deprived of certain rights which we consider as inalienable human rights. How much more must we feel about those who are far more intimately connected with us, but who, by a turn of fate, became nationals of another country. We can neither ignore them nor forget them nor leave them to suffer by themselves.
We have been accused of appeasement of Pakistan. The word has a bad odour and a bad history. I do not myself see where appeasement comes in, either on the side of the government or the people. If anything that is not war is appeasement, then perhaps we have appeased. It would be equally true to say that Pakistan has tried to appease us.
If an attempt to prevent a reversion to barbarism is appeasement, then perhaps the charge is true. But we learnt long ago in the school of Gandhi that there can be firmness with decency, and even conflict with the hand of friendship never withdrawn. That is not weakness, for if it is so, then Gandhi might be termed weak. And yet we all know that he was the bravest man that we have known and that he would never give in where high principle was concerned.
How far we have moved from those days, when a handful of us could challenge an empire, and challenge it with a smile on our faces and with little of ill will in our hearts! The strength lay in us then, not outside, and so nobody could ultimately defeat us.
So, at this moment of crisis, we cannot and must not falter. We must show the discipline of a united nation and the confidence of a people, sure of their cause. If we do so, no harm can come to us and we shall be able to serve not only the nation as a whole but those unfortunate and suffering friends of ours who live beyond the frontiers of present-day India.
If this is the choice we have made, and there is no other, then the work has to be undertaken with right goodwill… Even a small number of brave men and women can change the fate of a nation. But we are many. So why should any of us be down-hearted and pessimistic? We must go out to the people and repeat to them the old truths, which never grow old, and carry the torch which lightened not only their burden but other burdens also. Let us tell the people the truth and pull them back from wrong thoughts and wrong action. But before we do so to others, we have to do this to ourselves. Only then can we influence others.
We talk of the implementation of the Agreement and we can do so literally by carrying out the provisions laid down in its various clauses. But that is not enough, for we are struggling to capture something that is in the minds and hearts of our people as well as the people of Pakistan. And so our actions must not be confined to the mere clauses of the Agreement, but to interpret the spirit that underlies it. When we deal with human beings, whether individually or en masse, the way of approach should not be that of the pettifogging lawyer or attorney.
We have to be careful, of course, as responsible persons, not to sacrifice any national interest. But, at the same time, our approach has to be generous in order to draw out generosity and goodwill from others. Therefore, our words and writing and actions should be attuned to this end.
A grave responsibility rests with the press. It would be unfair of me to criticise the press generally, for most newspapers have been very helpful. But there are some exceptions and it has amazed me to read with what bitterness of spirit and narrowness of vision they deal with matters of the gravest import.”
(Selected and edited by Mridula Mukherjee, former professor of history at JNU and former Director of Nehru Memorial Museum & Library)
This piece first appeared in NH Sept 18 issue