Nehru’s Word: Six months of ‘Free’ India

Writing to CMs three weeks after Gandhiji fell to the assassin’s bullets, Jawaharlal Nehru tells them that the country has survived the crisis because of ‘the innate good sense of our people’

India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru
India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru

NH Web Desk

Writing to the Chief Ministers seventy-three years ago, on February 20, 1948, three weeks after Gandhiji fell to the assassin’s bullets, Jawaharlal Nehru tells them that the country has survived the crisis because of ‘the innate good sense of our people’ and ‘the vigorous action that has been taken by the various governments in India’

We have completed six months of our existence as an independent nation. What a period it has been of crisis following on crisis and all the trials and tribulations we went through during that period culminating in the supreme disaster of the assassination of Gandhiji! There were many in this country and quite a number outside who thought that we could not survive the shock of this tragedy and that we would be engulfed by chaos out of which a wholly reactionary group, based on hatred and violence, would rise to power.

That this has not happened is due both to the innate good sense of our people and to the vigorous action that has been taken by the various governments in India. We are not wholly out of the wood yet; and I know of at least one province in which the forces of communal reaction are still adopting an attitude of some bellicosity. {In East Punjab the R.S.S. had defied the banning by the government.} But by and large, I think, we may say we have successfully weathered the storm. The army has stood by us like a rock; the police have functioned well; and the civil services have carried out their tasks with loyalty.

Investigations are being vigorously carried on to disclose the conspiracy which lay behind Gandhiji’s assassination. There is no doubt that this was a well-thought-out plan and many persons were involved. A number of them have probably gone underground. Provincial governments will, I hope, be very vigilant, not only in regard to this investigation but also in the suppression of communal organisations. Nothing can be more foolish than to grow complacent.

Remarkable changes in our political structure have taken place in the six months that have gone. The Hindu Mahasabha, as a political organisation, has liquidated itself. {On 15 February 1948, the Hindu Mahasabha decided to suspend its political activities and work for the organisation of the Hindu community.} The R.S.S. has been banned and the reaction to this throughout the country has been good.

The U.P. Muslim League has also liquidated itself and I think we may look forward to the gradual disintegration of the Muslim League in India as a political organisation without any external pressure from government. {On 15 February 1948, the U.P. Muslim League Legislative Party, the main opposition party since 1937, decided to dissolve itself as in a secular democratic State “it is neither possible nor desirable to have a communal parliamentary party.”}

These events have, of course, been precipitated by the assassination of Gandhiji, but they indicate a wholly healthy development in our political life. They are necessary steps to the creation of what we have been ceaselessly trying to achieve, viz., a democratic secular State in India.

If one looks at the developments both in India and in Pakistan during the last six months, one can see them as manifestations of a clash between the forces of communal reaction and progress in the two Dominions.

I think we can say that in India the forces of progress are winning. These forces were subject to terrific strain during the time of the disturbances but thanks to the remarkable genius of Gandhiji and the courage and idealism with which he sustained us, reaction never succeeded in getting the upper hand. If only we are not complacent and do not relax, I am sure we can achieve the objective which Gandhiji set before us.

In Pakistan, on the other hand, all indications at the moment are that the forces of reaction are winning. Mr. Jinnah has been talking more and more of an Islamic State based on the laws of the Shariat; and narrow provincial jealousies seem to have become so aggravated in Pakistan that he has had to issue a stern warning. How long it will take for the forces of progress in Pakistan to reach a stage when they can dominate the government, it is impossible to forecast, but it looks as if it will be some considerable time.

But whatever happens in Pakistan, our task in India is clear; we must pursue with even greater determination than in the past our efforts at forming a secular State in which men of all communities can walk with their

heads high.”

(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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