Nehru’s Word: Poison of communal hatred can destroy whole body politic

"We must give them security and rights of citizens in a democratic State. If we fail to do so, we shall have a festering sore which will eventually poison whole body politic and probably destroy it"

Jawaharlal Nehru
Jawaharlal Nehru

Mridula Mukherjee

Immediately after Independence, one of the major concerns was to ensure that minorities, and particularly Muslims, were treated as equal citizens and did not suffer from any feeling of insecurity as, in the aftermath of Partition, they were the primary targets of communal profiling and attacks. Jawaharlal Nehru, in his letters to the chief ministers between 1947-49 constantly exhorted the state governments to remain vigilant on this score. In contemporary times, while there is enough evidence of a similar feeling of insecurity and even fear among minorities, what is missing is the concern on the part of the governmental authorities to reverse the tide and implement constitutional principles.

There are some aspects of the present situation to which I would draw your attention….I know there is a certain amount of feeling in the country—how strong it is in your province you can judge better than I can —that the central government has somehow or other been weak and following a policy of appeasement towards Muslims. This, of course, is complete nonsense. There is no question of weakness or appeasement. We have a Muslim minority who are so large in numbers that they cannot, even if they want to, go anywhere else. They have got to live in India. That is a basic fact about which there can be no argument. Whatever the provocation from Pakistan and whatever the indignities and horrors inflicted on non-Muslims there, we have got to deal with this minority in a civilised manner. We must give them security and the rights of citizens in a democratic State. If we fail to do so, we shall have a festering sore which will eventually poison the whole body politic and probably destroy it. Moreover, we are now on a severe trial in the international forum. I have it on the authority of our delegates to the UNO that the friendliness towards India which existed before the recent tragedy has changed and we are looked upon with distrust and almost with a certain degree of contempt. We cannot afford to ignore this feeling. We are dependent for many things on international goodwill—increasingly so since Partition. And pure self-interest, apart from moral considerations, demands that world opinion should be on our side in this matter of treatment of minorities.

The other important question to which I would draw your attention is the paramount importance of preserving the public services from the virus of communal politics. There is a great deal of evidence that the services in Pakistan have got out of hand and are not amenable to the control of their government. You will have noticed that Mr. Jinnah himself referred, in a recent address in Karachi, to the indiscipline that has set in in the services…. Fortunately for us, taking an overall picture, we have been fortunate in this respect and we have been able, generally speaking, to preserve the integrity of the services against the communal virus. But there have been lapses in East Punjab specially in the police; and unless we are vigilant the disease may spread. We would then be faced with a situation of the utmost gravity, viz., of having a government in office which could not get its decrees executed by its own servants….

I would ask you, therefore, to allow no laxity in the loyal execution of government’s policy by its servants, particularly in the matter of just and fair treatment to minorities. If we condone lapses in this respect, we shall be storing up serious trouble.” (15 October, 1947).

What has happened in Hyderabad has produced a very remarkable change in the communal atmosphere of India. Where there was fear previously, there is a sense of security and cooperation now. I received a very large number of telegrams of congratulations from all over India on the termination of the Hyderabad operations. Quite half of these were from Muslim organisations and individuals.

This is indeed a development which is not only most welcome but is also of the highest significance….Ever since the Partition and the horrible things that followed, Muslims in India have been very hard hit, psychologically even more so than otherwise. They have not felt sure of their position in this country.

Gradually things have been improving, and Hyderabad has helped this process very greatly. It is for us now to take full advantage of this new atmosphere and produce the sense of absolute security in the minds of the Muslims and other minorities. The majority always owes a duty of this kind to minorities. We must not think in terms of copying what Pakistan does or think of retaliation. Both Hindu and Muslim, as well as Sikh or Christian or Parsi, must believe that they are as good citizens of India as anyone else. Therefore, I suggest to you that, while we should exercise vigilance, we should act generously and shed fear.” (4 October,1948).

During the last two or three weeks, I have received a large number of complaints about the working of the evacuee property ordinance…. No question arises about this property which is admitted to be evacuee. Questions, however, arise in doubtful cases where a person has not left India but may intend to leave India and makes remittances in preparation for this. It is right that we should prevent this subterfuge, but in doing so, we have to be very careful that no injustice is done to any of our nationals.

Cases of injustice have come up before me and they have distressed me greatly. This was so not only because there was injustice to an individual but even more so because it gave a bad name to our country, and people said that our talk of a secular State had no reality in fact….The benefit of the doubt must always be given to the party concerned.

We must avoid creating an atmosphere of uncertainty and lack of security in the minds of large numbers of our Muslim fellow-countrymen. This has far-reaching consequences not only in India but also in Kashmir. It affects our reputation abroad. A few houses or shops attached or taken possession of do not make very much difference. But, if wrongly done, they do affect our reputation and thus injure us... We cannot copy the methods or the ideals of Pakistan. We have to live up to our ideals and declarations. More especially on this day, Gandhi Jayanti, it is for us to remember what Gandhiji taught us and what he died for.” (2 October, 1949).

(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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