Nehru’s Word: Good to have a vigorous Opposition in Parliament

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s reply to debate on President’s Address in first session of first Parliament after first General elections in Independent India

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru

Mridula Mukherjee

The acrimonious Parliament session which ended prematurely this week on 22nd December 2021 was reflective of the polarised times we live in. The government of the day did not appear to care that the Opposition was virtually absent from the proceedings of the house. Contrast this with the respect with which the Opposition was treated by Prime Minister Nehru who won the first General elections with a far bigger majority than the current regime. As an example, we bring to you this week extracts from Jawaharlal Nehru’s reply to the debate on the President’s Address in the first session of the first Parliament after first General Elections in Independent India.


“I have listened with care and, I hope, earnestness to this debate which has lasted nearly four days; sometimes with a measure of astonishment also at the things that have been said. I am perhaps at a certain disadvantage compared to honourable Members on the other side of the House, and more specially those on the opposing benches, because I have to try, at any rate, to speak with a certain restraint, because I cannot refer to great countries or small casually, either condemning them or praising them up to the skies….

There are many things. For instance, an honourable Member from Manipur, I think, talked about the tribal people, about the Nagas in particular. Well, so far as I am concerned, I attach the greatest importance to the tribal people of India, and I hope that this House also will consider this matter at the proper time more fully, not only because there are a large number of tribal folk in the country but because they occupy a very special position and have a very special culture which, I think, should be protected and helped to advance on the lines of its own genius.

I do not want the tribal culture to be overwhelmed or exploited by others among our people, because they happen to be simple folk. So in this way there are many other matters….

First of all, I should like to say a few words about something that fell from Dr (Syama Prasad) Mookerjee and perhaps one or two other Members opposite. (S.P. Mookerjee called for resolution of differences and accommodation of diverse viewpoints honestly expressed in the House for a successful working of a democratic government.)

They asked for some measure of cooperation from Government with the Opposition in regard to various policies that we adopt or are likely to pursue. I want to say that so far as we on the Government side are concerned, we would welcome every kind of cooperation from every Member of this House, whether he sits on this side of the House or the other.

It may be that in certain vital matters there may be differences of opinion, basic differences, but I feel quite sure that there is a large field over which there can be cooperation, and even in matters where there might be difference of opinion. It is always a good thing to see and hear the other opinion and then form your own. Naturally the Government cannot give up its responsibility for coming to its own decisions but in doing so it certainly wishes to consult and to have the views of other Members of the House, whoever they might be.

Having said that, I would like to point out that it is not a particularly easy matter to pursue that course always. Stress has been laid by some honourable Members on the fact that the majority party in this House according to some arithmetical and mathematical calculation represents 47 decimal something percentage of the electorate. I take that figure to be correct. I have no personal means of judging it, but then, of course, the question arises as to what mathematical percentage honourable Members on the other side represent.

“We welcome the coming to this House of the Members of the Opposition. Whoever they may be, and however much we might differ from them in many matters, we welcome them, because, undoubtedly, they represent a certain section of Indian opinion”

It will interest the House to know that the Members of the Communist Party plus the People’s Democratic Front of Hyderabad, etc., represent 4.45 per cent. The Socialist Party represents the most and from this point of view it represents 10.5 per cent. The KMP Party represents 5.8 per cent, the Jan Sangh 3 per cent, the Scheduled Castes Federation 2.3 per cent, the Independents 15 per cent, and so on till we get into infinitesimal fractions.

Now, we have in these Members who sit in the Opposition every variety of opinion — I say so with all respect — and if it is represented in colours, from scarlet, various hues of red, pink and yellow to deep blue. If you represented in the normal language of the West, you have every variety in the Opposition, from the extreme left to the extreme right.

They hold together, I suppose, because of the stress of circumstances and sometimes there are marriages of convenience, sometimes followed by rapid divorces, and on the whole, we find these strange bedfellows consorting together because of a certain spirit of opposition to the majority group.

I do not criticise that. I am merely pointing out the fact that where you have this motley array, it is not exceedingly easy to deal with it in the matter of consultation, etc. But I do wish to make it clear that we are desirous of having that consultation and cooperation wherever it is possible.

We welcome the coming to this House of the Members of the Opposition. Whoever they may be, and however much we might differ from them in many matters, we welcome them, because, undoubtedly, they represent a certain section of Indian opinion, and because it is good in a House of this kind to have a vigorous Opposition so that whether it is Government or the majority party, they do not become complacent.

It would be easy for me, or perhaps not so difficult, to address my friends in a spirit of argument, of bandying words and making debating points as other honourable Members have rightly done. But I do feel the importance of this occasion because the matters that we are considering are of grave import.

An honourable Member told me that I had lost my place in history because of the attraction of some tinsel, something or other. (Referring to reports about the distressed conditions of the famine-stricken people, especially those coming from the Sunderbans, H.N. Mukherjee said on 22 May that the Sunderbans could prosper immensely if only the government followed a “really fundamental agrarian policy” which Nehru used to champion once. He regretted that Nehru had lost his place in history for the lure of a tinsel portfolio).

Well, it is a matter of little consequence what happens to me in history. It is a matter of little consequence ultimately what happens to any individual present here in history. But it is a matter of very large consequence what happens to India and her millions of people. Therefore, forgetting the personal aspect, I should like to direct your attention to certain basic facts of the situation.”

(Selected and edited by Mridula Mukherjee, former Professor of History at JNU and former Director of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library)

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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