Nehru’s Word: Keep religion away from politics

“Everyone in India has the right to follow his own religion & traditions peacefully. But if you try to bring religion into politics & try to create barriers, then you are following a dangerous path.”

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru

Mridula Mukherjee

Last week we observed two painful anniversaries of communal violence: 20 years of the carnage in Gujarat in 2002 and two years of the same in North-east Delhi. These cause us to reflect on the differences between the situation in the period following Partition and the accompanying communalization of society and the one prevailing now. The national leadership at that time went all out to counter communal polarisation and restate the ideals of the freedom struggle whereas now we witness the opposite. Jawaharlal Nehru, on whose shoulders the task fell especially after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and the death of Sardar Patel, converted the first general elections into a virtual referendum on the issue of secularism vs communalism and delivered a resounding defeat to the communal forces. We bring to you this week extracts from one of his many speeches during the election campaign in which he criss-crossed the country.


“... For thousands of years now, there have been different religions in India and yet we are all Indians. The majority of us are Hindus, and Muslims are in great numbers, as also are Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and many others. This has been going on for thousands of years. All these religions have made India their home. India does not belong to any one of them alone. There has never been a question of one religion trying to suppress the others. If anyone tries to do it now, he will be very foolish and will cause great damage to the country.

India can progress in only one way and that is when all Indians, irrespective of their professions, province or religion, live in harmony with one another and march together. They may hold different views and opinions, but they must not live in compartments politically or otherwise.

You have gathered here in great numbers and perhaps most of you live in Amritsar. Almost all of you must be Punjabis. But you are not merely the citizens of Amristar or of the Punjab-- you are first and foremost the citizens of India….

The most important responsibility is to defend and protect our freedom, to maintain unity and ensure that the country makes progress. All these burdens are upon us. The first step towards fulfilling our responsibilities is to learn the lesson of unity….

Why is it that in spite of all our bitter experience of the past, these communal organisations raise their heads in our country and create problems and tension? What is the matter? It is something for us to consider. I can understand difference of opinion amongst us, on political or economic matters. I understand and accept the difference in ideologies of the various parties like the Communist or Socialist Party.

There can be different ways of looking at the problems of a country. But I simply cannot understand communalism in politics and it simply shows that we are forgetting all our past experiences in India and in the Punjab. Communalism has done incalculable harm in the past.

The Muslim League, an intensely communal party, spread a bitter poison throughout the country and did great damage. But somehow it was removed from here and it is no longer powerful at least in India. We thought that we were at last rid of this terrible disease. But it is our misfortune that the disease is spreading once again in a different form, among the new communal organisations of the Hindus and the Sikhs. It is strange that we have not been able to learn a lesson even now.

Can any intelligent man in Punjab think that there can be progress made here if there is constant tension between the Hindus and the Sikhs? You must think about this. Both will bring ruin upon themselves. And I cannot understand what there is to quarrel about? All their problems can be very easily solved.

But the fundamental thing is that the Punjab can progress only if all the citizens of the Punjab whether they are Hindus, Sikhs or Christians learn to live together in harmony and do not isolate themselves into separate compartments. This is a broad fact and it applies to the whole of India. India cannot achieve progress if there is no unity among her people….

So we have to change our mental attitudes somewhat and get rid of these communal notions. It has ruined us in the past and lowered us in the eyes of the world. What is the sense in getting into the same old rut once again at a time when we have just won freedom and got an opportunity to progress . What is this foolishness? So I am laying stress on this repeatedly because we have to put an end to it.

Everyone in India--whether he is a Muslim or a Hindu or Sikh or Christian--has the right to follow his own religion and traditions peacefully. All religions are worthy of respect and there should be no obstacles in the way of anyone. But if you try to bring religion into politics and try to create barriers, then you are following an extremely dangerous path. Religion is a sacred subject and if you try to drag it into the mire, you will be degrading both religion and politics....

We dreamt many dreams and some of them have come true, but others remain dreams still. Let us work together to create a new India and a new Punjab. Remember that when individuals or nations are engaged in big tasks, they too grow in stature.

I am by no means a big man. I am an ordinary Indian, with an ordinary education and some intelligence. What sacrifice have I made which has not been made over and again by innumerable people in the Punjab and all over the country? Then how did I or the others grow? We grew because of two or three factors.

Firstly, we came under the shadow of a great man like Mahatma Gandhi and some of his greatness got rubbed on us. Secondly, we were engaged in a mighty task and that also added to our stature. Those who hold their heads high and gaze at the stars naturally grow taller.

This is the case with nations too. You will find that periods of greatness in the history of any country always coincide with their being engaged in some mighty effort and not when they were busy in petty squabbles."

(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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