Nehru's Word: The War to Save Democracy
Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification from Parliament has led to an outcry from all quarters of Opposition, who see this as an unveiled attack on democracy
In Asia and Europe and Africa, and over the vast stretches of the Pacific and Atlantic and Indian Oceans, war has raged in all its dreadful aspects. Nearly seven years of war in China, over four and a half years of war in Europe and Africa, and two years and four months of World War. War against fascism and Nazism and attempts to gain world dominion. Of these years of war, I have so far spent nearly three years in prison, here and elsewhere in India.
I remember how I reacted to fascism and Nazism in their early days, and not I only, but many in India. How Japanese aggression in China had moved India deeply and revived the age-old friendship for China; how Italy’s rape of Abyssinia had sickened us; how the betrayal of Czechoslovakia had hurt and embittered us; how the fall of republican Spain, after a struggle full of heroic endurance, had been a tragedy and a personal sorrow for me and others.
It was not merely the physical acts of aggression in which fascism and Nazism indulged, not only the vulgarity and brutality that accompanied them, terrible as they were, that affected us, but the principles on which they stood and which they proclaimed so loudly and blatantly, the theories of life on which they tried to fashion themselves; for these went counter to what we believed in the present, and what we had held from ages past.
And even if our racial memory had forsaken us and we had lost our moorings, our own experiences, even though they came to us in different garb, and somewhat disguised for the sake of decency, were enough to teach us to what these Nazi principles and theories of life and the State ultimately led. For our people had been the victims for long of those very principles and methods of government. So we reacted immediately and intensely against fascism and Nazism.
I remember how I refused a pressing invitation from Signor Mussolini to see him in the early days of March 1936. Many of Britain’s leading statesmen—who spoke harshly of the fascist Duce in later years when Italy became belligerent—had referred to him tenderly and admiringly in those days, and praised his regime and methods.
Two years later, in the summer before Munich, I was invited on behalf of the Nazi government to visit Germany, an invitation to which was added the remark that they knew my opposition to Nazism and yet they wanted me to see Germany for myself. I could go as their guest or privately, in my own name or incognito, as I desired, and I would have perfect freedom to go where I liked. Again I declined with thanks.
Before Munich, I met some of the members of the British cabinet and other prominent politicians of England, and ventured to express my anti-fascist and anti-Nazi views before them. I found that my views were not welcomed and I was told that there were many other considerations to be borne in mind.
During the Czechoslovak crisis, what I saw of Franco-British statesmanship in Prague and in the Sudetenland, in London and Paris, and in Geneva where the League Assembly was then sitting, amazed and disgusted me. Appeasement seemed to be a feeble word for it. There was behind it not only a fear of Hitler, but a sneaking admiration for him.
And now, it is a curious turn of fate’s wheel that I, and people like me, should spend our days in prison while war against fascism and Nazism is raging, and many of those who used to bow to Hitler and Mussolini, and approve of Japanese aggression in China, should hold aloft the banner of democracy and anti-fascism.
In India the change is equally remarkable. There are those here, as elsewhere, ‘governmentarians’, who hover round the skirts of government and echo the views which they think will be approved by those whose favour they continually seek.
There was a time, not so long ago, when they praised Hitler and Mussolini, and held them up as models, and when they cursed the Soviet Union with bell, book and candle. Not so now, for the weather has changed... I often wonder what they would have done if events had taken a different turn, and yet there is little reason for conjecture, for they would welcome with garlands and addresses of welcome whoever happened to wield authority.
For long years before the war, my mind was full of the war that was coming. I thought of it, and spoke of it, and wrote about it, and prepared myself mentally for it. I wanted India to take an active part in the mighty conflict, for I felt that high principles would be at stake, and out of this conflict would come great and revolutionary changes in India and the world.
At that time, I did not envisage an immediate threat to India: any probability of actual invasion. Yet I wanted India to take her full share. But I was convinced that only as a free country and an equal could she function in this way.
That was the attitude of the Congress, the one great organisation in India which consistently for all these years had been anti-fascist and anti-Nazi, as it had been anti-imperialist. It had stood for Republican Spain, for Czechoslovakia, and throughout for China.
And now for nearly two years the Congress has been declared illegal— outlawed and prevented from functioning in any way. The Congress is in prison. Its elected members of the provincial parliaments, its speakers of these parliaments, its ex-ministers, its mayors and presidents of municipal corporations, are in prison.
Meanwhile the war goes on for democracy and the Atlantic Charter and the Four Freedoms