Nehru's Word: There can be no fence-sitting on the question of a secular state

Rahul Gandhi’s assertion that we will not accept an India that is not compassionate, caring and non-violent, reminds one of Jawaharlal Nehru’s words in a letter written to the CMs on May 2, 1950

Jawaharlal Nehru
Jawaharlal Nehru

Mridula Mukherjee

More than two weeks into its journey, the hundreds of thousands that it has attracted to itself, has persuaded even the sceptics that the Baharat Jodo Yatra has brought a breath of much needed fresh air into the stale atmosphere of hatred-driven politics. The people who are flocking to it are bringing their own issues and understanding into the mainstream and pushing out contrived agendas of divide and rule.

Rahul Gandhi’s assertion that we will not accept an India that is not compassionate, caring and non-violent, based on brotherhood and harmony among communities, reminds one of Jawaharlal Nehru’s words in a letter written to the chief ministers on 02 May 1950 in the context of the Nehru- Liaquat Pact of 1950. Excerpts from the letter are reproduced below:

"The dominating feature of the past fortnight, as of the fortnight before it, was what might be called the Bengal situation. Everywhere people watched, with varying degrees of hope and apprehension, the results that flowed from the Agreement of 8th April…. There is no doubt that the Agreement and what has followed it have changed the whole atmosphere of India and Pakistan. It has brought immediate relief to millions and a certain glimmering hope for the future. It is also true that governments on both sides are trying their utmost to implement the Agreement...

All this is to the good and is a basic gain which no one can take away. The change in atmosphere was indeed so sudden that it appeared almost miraculous in some places. Newspapers, which had been breathing hatred and violence, became full of the milk of human kindness. Whatever the future may show, even the gains achieved in the present are remarkable and cannot be washed away...

People who have given any thought to this matter realise the importance of the Agreement and the fact that there was no alternative to it except something which led to catastrophe and disaster….

The Education Ministry has suggested that the Inspectorates of Education in the states should be utilised to promote communal understanding in educational institutions. I think this is an excellent suggestion. I think also that our senior students, during their holidays, might well devote themselves to this highly important task.

Whatever our views may be about political or economic problems, any man or woman with any sense will realise that no progress can be made unless we have this communal understanding. This is a challenge to us, and if we fail in this challenge, we dub ourselves as backward and little-minded people lacking the culture that makes a nation grow and prosper.

The challenge is there, not so much from Pakistan, but from those of our own people who can only think and act on the strictly communal plane. It is extraordinary how soon many of us have forgotten one of the basic principles and planks of the Congress— inter-communal unity—for which we laboured ever since Gandhiji came on the political scene more than thirty years ago. The issue is a clear one, though attempts are made to befog it.

We have talked about a secular State. Often enough, those who talked most about it have understood it least and belied it by their own words and actions. We have to decide firmly and precisely what we stand for in this important matter. There can be no half-way house and no sitting on the fence.

Nor can we adopt a high philosophical attitude and allow matters to take their course. That is not the way of free men and women or of people who want to mould their destiny and not be mere playthings of forces they cannot control.

Therefore, for all of us in India, and more especially Congressmen and Congress-women, this issue of communal unity and a secular State must be made perfectly clear. We have played about with this idea sufficiently long and have moved away from it far enough.

We must go back and go back not secretly or apologetically, but openly and rather aggressively, though with all courtesy. The Working Committee of the Congress has, of course, supported the Agreement and reiterated its old policy.

But something more is necessary and that is for all Congress Committees to take this up as a question having first priority and as something which has been the very basis and foundation of our struggle for freedom. There can be no compromise on this issue, for any compromise can only mean a surrender of our principles and a betrayal of the cause of India’s freedom.

It must be remembered that once we surrender, even in part, on this issue, then disruptive forces come into play and carry this process further and further. Our society has for long ages past been very loosely knit with all kinds of inner divisions. Gandhiji and the great Congress movement broke down many of these inner walls and built up a widespread structure which symbolised the unity of India on every plane, though it had not interfered with the rich diversity of our country….

Whatever the consequences of the Agreement of April 8th, there can be no doubt that it has enhanced our prestige all over the world. It has also given us confidence in ourselves, because we solved the problem with our own unaided efforts and not relying upon a third party.

It is very seldom that two countries, inflamed with passion, going to the brink of war, pull themselves up and deliberately walk in a different direction. The real thing that counts ultimately for a people is their inner strength. The processes that were going on before the Agreement were snapping that strength and making us, as they made Pakistan, full of fear and hatred. The mere stopping of those processes is gain enough and strengthens us for further advance in future."

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

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines