Nehru’s Word: It's the future that counts for the young

“I do not like intrusion of this communal spirit anywhere...I do not like this university (AMU) being called Muslim University just as I do not like Banaras University to be called Hindu University"

Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister, addresses the AMU Convocation at Aligarh, 24 January 1948.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister, addresses the AMU Convocation at Aligarh, 24 January 1948.
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Mridula Mukherjee

Six days after Gandhiji’s last fast, and six days before his assassination, Jawaharlal Nehru visited the Aligarh Muslim University to deliver the Convocation Address, the first part of which we brought to you last week. In this second and concluding part, he reassured his audience that “so far as India is concerned, I can speak with some certainty that we shall proceed on secular and national lines in keeping with the powerful trends towards internationalism.”

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“Political changes produce certain results, but the essential changes are in the spirit and outlook of a nation. What has troubled me very greatly during these past months and years is not the political changes, but rather the creeping sense of a change of spirit which created enormous barriers between us.

The attempt to change the spirit of India was a reversal of the historic process through which we had been passing for long ages past; and it is because we tried to reverse the current of history that disaster overwhelmed us.

We cannot easily play about with geography or with the powerful trends which make history, and it is infinitely worse if we make hatred and violence the springs of action.

Pakistan has come into being, rather unnaturally, I think. Nevertheless, it represents the urges of a large number of persons. I believe that this development has been a throwback, but we accepted it in good faith.

We have been charged with desiring to strangle and crush Pakistan and to force it into a reunion with India. That charge, as many others, is based on fear and a complete misunderstanding of our attitude. I believe that, for a variety of reasons, it is inevitable that India and Pakistan should draw closer to each other or else they will come into conflict. There is no middle way, for we have known each other too long to be indifferent neighbours.

I believe, indeed, that in the present context of the world India must develop a closer union with many other neighbouring countries. But all this does not mean any desire to strangle or coerce Pakistan.

Compulsion there can never be and an attempt to disrupt Pakistan will recoil to India's disadvantage…Any closer association must come out of a normal process and in a friendly way which does not end Pakistan as a state, but makes it an equal part of a larger union in which several countries might be associated.

I have spoken of Pakistan because this subject must be in your minds and you would like to know what our attitude towards it is. Your minds are probably in a fluid state at present, not knowing which way to look and what to do.

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All of us have to be clear about our basic allegiance to certain ideas. Do we believe in a national state which includes people of all religions and shades of opinion and is essentially secular as a state, or do we believe in the religious, theocratic conception of a state which considers people of other faiths as something beyond the pale? That is an odd question to ask, for the idea of a religious or theocratic state was given up by the world some centuries ago and it has no place in the mind of a modern man.


And yet the question has to be put in India today, for many of us have tried to jump back to a past age. I have no doubt that, whatever our individual answers might be, it is not possible for us to go back to a conception that the world has outlived and that is completely out of tune with modern conceptions.

So far as India is concerned, I can speak with some certainty that we shall proceed on secular and national lines in keeping with the powerful trends towards internationalism. Whatever confusion the present may contain, in the future India will be a land, as in the past, of many faiths equally honoured and respected, but of one national outlook, not, I hope, a narrow nationalism living in its own shell, but rather the tolerant, creative nationalism which, believing in itself and the genius of its people, takes full part in the establishment of an international order.

We must cultivate this broad outlook and not be led away by the narrowness of others into becoming narrow in spirit and outlook ourselves. We have had enough of what has been called communalism in this country and we have tasted of its bitter and poisonous fruit. It is time that we put an end to it.

For my part, I do not like the intrusion of this communal spirit anywhere, and least of all in educational institutions. Education is meant to free the spirit of a man and not to imprison it in set frames.

I do not like this university being called the Muslim University just as I do not like the Banaras University to be called the Hindu University. That does not mean that a university should not specialise in particular cultural subjects and studies. I think it is right that this university should lay special stress on certain aspects of Islamic thought and culture.

I want you to think about these problems and come to your own conclusions. These conclusions cannot be forced upon you except to some extent, of course, by the compulsion of events which none of us can ignore.

I invite you as free citizens of free India to play your role in the building up of this great country and to be sharers, in common with others, in the triumphs and setbacks alike that may come our way. The present with all its unhappiness and misery will pass. It is the future that counts, more specially for the young, and it is that future that beckons to you. How will you answer that call?”

[Extracts from the Convocation address at the Aligarh Muslim University, 24 January 1948. From The Hindustan Times, 25 January 1948]

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

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