Nehru's Word: Pact with Pakistan eased situation for millions of migrating people

We bring to you this week extracts from a letter he wrote to the chief ministers on 15 April 1950 explaining the rationale and spirit of the the Nehru-Liaquat Pact, signed in New Delhi on 8 April 1950

Jawaharlal Nehru
Jawaharlal Nehru

Mridula Mukherjee

Recently we were witness to the inauguration of a new mass campaign, the Bharat Jodo Yatra led by the Congress party, but backed by all those worried about the direction in which the country was heading, with the evocative slogan of ‘Nafrat Chhodo, Bharat Jodo (Give up Hate, Unite India). This effort to counter the divisive forces through the language of love, hope, peace and unity is reminiscent of the days of the freedom struggle and the years following independence.

For example, when faced with a grave political situation less than three years after Independence, with communal violence breaking out in East and West Bengal, Jawaharlal Nehru made Herculean efforts to calm the situation by entering into what was known as the Nehru-Liaquat Pact, signed in New Delhi on 8 April 1950.

We bring to you this week extracts from a letter he wrote to the chief ministers on 15 April 1950 explaining the rationale and spirit of the Pact.

It is clear that we have to implement this Agreement to the fullest in letter and spirit…. Whatever view one might take of the Agreement, one thing seems perfectly clear to me. Sardar Patel, in a very moving speech addressed to the Congress Party last evening, laid great stress on this aspect. (Patel exhorted the party members to strengthen the hands of Nehru and work for unity in the party and in the country so that a fair trial was given to the Agreement).

This is the fact that having arrived at this Agreement, both our honour and self-interest demand that we should implement it to the full… The main thing is the spirit underlying it and the effort to translate that spirit into action. If the spirit is absent, either on our side or that of Pakistan, then the Agreement fails…

This may sound strange to some people, for memories are short, and we have forgotten already many of the lessons that Gandhiji taught us. In those days, which seem so far off now, we measured our action by our own faith and strength and not by what the opponent did.

The lesson we learnt was that right action always strengthens, even though it might not produce the full result we desire. That right action, in order to produce results, must be based on faith in it and confidence in ourselves.

I cannot say what our future will be, for our path is full of difficulties and pitfalls. The passions of masses of people have been roused and we have seen behaviour which shames and degrades. We seem to be in the grip of elemental forces and long-suppressed emotions which suddenly erupt in volcanic outbursts. The difficulties are obvious.

Nevertheless, even if this Agreement does not solve any problem to our satisfaction, it must necessarily help somewhat in its solution, provided we act correctly and as men and women of faith and determination.

There is no alternative to this course of action now. Was there an alternative before the Agreement was signed? I do not think so. The real alternative was only war. Some people talked about an exchange of populations. Any such exchange would have upset the whole fabric of our State in theory and in practice. It could not have been confined to any particular area. It would have spread gradually or suddenly to the whole of East and West Bengal and then to the rest of India.

At the same time, if some kind of automatic exchange becomes inevitable to some extent, the door is left open. We cannot force events by acting unrealistically and not recognising the urge that is at present compelling masses of people to move. This urge will not suddenly stop, though it may ultimately lessen, because of the Agreement.

Tens of thousands are already on the move and have uprooted themselves from their homes. They will not go back, at any rate, for the present. They will continue their unfortunate journey. Because of this, we have made this process as safe and as easy as possible in the circumstances.

People can travel without danger and with their moveable property and jewellery and some cash. The rest of their property which they leave behind is protected or an attempt is made to protect it. The door is left open for them to go back and regain their old property or to sell it or exchange it. Thus, immediate fear and the loss of all they possessed is largely removed. That obviously is a considerable gain.

The migrations may continue in spite of this, though I think they will lessen and ultimately dry up, if we play our part properly. Even if they do not dry up, it cannot be said that the Agreement has failed, because it has eased the situation as between India and Pakistan and, more especially, eased it for these millions of people.

We get a chance to breathe and work for a change for the better. Surely that is not a small gain, and it applies not only to the two Bengals and Assam, but also to states like the U.P. which had been gravely shaken by recent occurrences.

Before the Agreement was signed, the only real alternative was war. However much we may be opposed to war, unfortunately we cannot, in the present state of the world, rule it out…But let us be clear about the consequences of such a war. Most people, who have talked about it, have probably not realised at all what these consequences are. These consequences are terrible to contemplate...

So, if any alternative offered itself, we had to seize it. That alternative may not promise us the kind of success that we want, that is a solution of our present-day problems. But even if it takes us some way, it is worthwhile, and there is always the possibility of further advance towards a solution.”

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

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