Nehru's Word: ‘Nationalism’ is a cover for Hindu communalism

Covid, rising prices, unemployment, poverty, decreasing democracy has led to desperate attempts at polarization on communal lines. An article written by Nehru in 1933 has an uncanny contemporary ring

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru

Mridula Mukherjee

The disastrous impact of the pandemic, rising prices, burgeoning unemployment, increasing poverty, decreasing democracy, has led to desperate attempts at polarization of the electorate on communal lines. In this context, we bring to you the second part of an article written by Jawaharlal Nehru in ‘The Tribune’ in November 1933, which has an uncanny contemporary ring:

It must be remembered that the communalism of a majority community must of necessity bear a closer resemblance to nationalism than the communalism of a minority group. One of the best tests of its true nature is what relation it bears to the national struggle. If it is politically reactionary or lays stress on communal problems rather than national ones then it is obviously anti-national.

The Simon Commission, as is well known, met with a widespread and almost unanimous boycott in India. Bhai Parmanandji, in his recent presidential address at Ajmer, says that this boycott was unfortunate for the Hindus, and he approvingly mentions that the Punjab Hindus (probably under his guidance) cooperated with the Commission. Thus, Bhaiji is of opinion that, whatever the national aspect of the question might have been, it was desirable for the Hindus to co-operate with the British Government in order to gain some communal advantages. This is obviously an anti-national attitude….

Bhaiji’s argument, repeatedly stated, is that the British Government is so strongly entrenched in India that it cannot be shaken by any popular movement and therefore it is folly to try to do so. The only alternative is to seek its favours. That is an argument which I can only characterise, with all respect to him, as wholly unworthy of any people however fallen they might be.

Bhaiji’s view is that the cry of Hindu-Muslim unity is a false cry and a wrong ideal to aim at because the power of gift is in the hands of the government. Granting this power of gift, every cry other than one of seeking the government’s favours is futile. And if the possibility of Hindu-Muslim cooperation and collaboration is ruled out, nationalism is also ruled out in the countrywide sense of the word. The inevitable consequence, and Bhaiji accepts this, is what he calls ‘Hindu nationalism’, which is but another name for Hindu communalism...

This attitude of trying to combine with the ruling power against another community or group is the natural and only policy which communalism can adopt. It fits in of course entirely with the wishes of the ruling power which can then play off one group against another. It was the policy which was adopted by the Muslim communalists with some apparent temporary advantages to themselves. It is the policy which the Hindu Mahasabha partly favoured from its earliest days but could not adopt whole-heartedly because of the pressure of nationalist Hindus, and which its leaders now seem to have definitely adopted.

Dr. Moonje, presiding over the C.P. Hindu Conference on May 17, 1933 made it clear that ‘the Mahasabha never had any faith in the kind of non-cooperation which Mahatma Gandhi has been preaching and practising. It believes in the eternal Sanatan Law of stimulus and response, namely, responsive cooperation. The Mahasabha holds that whatever may be the constitution of the legislatures, they should never be boycotted.’ Dr. Moonje is an authority on Sanatan Law, but I hope it does not lay down that the response to a kick should be grovelling at the feet of him who kicks. This speech was made when a widespread national struggle was going on and there was unprecedented repression under the ordinance regime….

Dr. Moonje himself went to the Round Table Conference in 1930, at the height of the civil disobedience movement, though in justice to him it must be stated that he had declared that he went in his individual capacity. Subsequently of course the Mahasabha took full part in the London conferences and committees...

Another organisation, of which I know nothing, the Punjab Hindu Youth League of Lahore, stated as follows in a public statement dated May 29, 1933: ‘We feel that the time has now come for unity not so much between Moslems and Hindus as between the British and Indians ... Hindu leaders … should insist on having safeguards for the Hindu minority in the constitutions and cabinets.’

I cannot hold the Mahasabha responsible for these statements but as a matter of fact they fit in with, and are only a slight elaboration of the Mahasabha attitude. And they bear out that many Hindu communalists are definitely thinking on the lines of cooperation with British imperialism in the hope of getting favours. It requires little argument to show that this attitude is not only narrowly communal but also anti-national and intensely reactionary….

Nor is it enough to blame Muslim communalists. It is easy enough to do so, for Indian Muslims as a whole are unhappily very backward and compare unfavourably with Muslims in all other countries. The point is that a special responsibility does attach to the Hindus in India both because they are the majority community and because economically and educationally they are more advanced. The Mahasabha, instead of discharging that responsibility has acted in a manner which has undoubtedly increased the communalism of the Muslims and made them distrust the Hindus all the more. The only way it has tried to meet their communalism is by its own variety of communalism. One communalism does not end the other; each feeds on the other and both fatten.”

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

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

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