Nehru’s Word: The Congress approach to communal matters is the most effective

We have to choose between two approaches: one may be Congress viewpoint in regard to communal matters, and the other is the communal approach which is ideologically represented by the Hindu Mahasabha

Jawaharlal Nehru
Jawaharlal Nehru

Mridula Mukherjee

We bring to you this week extracts from two of Jawaharlal Nehru’s letters to the chief ministers in the summer of 1950, when the communal situation had worsened in East and West Bengal and Nehru had put in herculean efforts to prevent the escalation into a war by inviting his Pakistani counterpart Liaquat Ali to talks and concluding an agreement. He differentiates the Congress approach from that of the Hindu Mahasabha and other communal organisations, and urges Congressmen to stick to the Gandhian approach and not be swayed by communal pressures. Much like what Rahul Gandhi keeps emphasising in his speeches during the ongoing Bharat Jodo Yatra.


It may be said, therefore, that, on the whole, we are progressing in the right direction, though the pace is rather slow and many hurdles remain….Nevertheless, our main approach to this problem must remain the same. We have to choose between two basic approaches: one may be called the general Congress approach representing the Congress viewpoint in regard to communal matters during the last thirty years or more, and the other is the communal approach which is ideologically represented by the Hindu Mahasabha and like organisations.

There are variations and gradations in between the two. But the choice is ultimately between these two. Because of the fact that Pakistan, from its very inception, has functioned in a communal way, we have naturally been affected by it and I regret to say that large numbers of our people, including Congressmen, have become rather communal-minded.

That reaction is understandable, but it is not a right reaction if we judge it from the Congress point of view. To function along the old Congress lines does not mean weakness or appeasement; the old Congress was neither weak nor compromising where fundamental issues were concerned. But it did approach its problems, whether they were communal or Indo-British, in a particular way which Gandhiji had taught us. That way was not only ideologically correct, but, as events have shown, practically good and yielded results.

During the last two and a half years or more, we have gradually drifted, because of the pressure of circumstances, towards a communal reaction to the communal problem. That way lay no solution, but only a continuous and mutual deterioration. We have pulled ourselves up and we have seen how popular sentiment, both in India and Pakistan, has reacted favourably to this change. This shows the way people’s minds work and how they welcome any opportunity for co-operation and peace.

Where principles are concerned, we have to be firm and unyielding, but in so far as the approach is concerned, if we have to follow what Gandhiji told us and what the Congress attempted to practise, we have to be friendly, co- operative, and even generous. Friendliness and generosity do not mean giving up anything which is vital, but represent a state of the mind which inevitably produces like results.

There is no doubt that the Indo-Pakistan Agreement and its immediate consequences produced marked results all over the world and increased our stature as it increased also the stature of Pakistan. The contrary approach, which may be said to be represented by the Hindu Mahasabha and like organisations, is not only completely negative but is essentially based on vague ideas of violence, hatred and conflict, in the hope that out of all this something good might possibly come.

That is neither sensible nor logical nor good morals nor good policy. It is an adolescent way of thinking and action, giving way to an urge of the moment without thinking where it might lead to.”

As I wrote to you in a previous letter, the issue before us is a very clear one. It is not primarily whether the Indo-Pakistan Agreement is fully implemented or not, or whether it succeeds fully or not, although we want that to happen. The issue is whether we as a country, as a government, and as a party, are going to adhere to old Congress principles in regard to communalism or whether we are going to drift away from them.

It seems that some Congressmen and some newspapers which are normally considered Congress newspapers, have drifted far in the other direction. They have forgotten everything that we have stood for and have reacted to what has happened in Pakistan by behaving in the same manner.

That way lies danger for India and we must resist it with all our strength. I am convinced of this more than of anything else that if we are to prosper and progress in India, we must adhere to the old Congress policy and prevent the spread of the communal spirit in India.

Generally speaking, it may be accepted that the majority communities in India or Pakistan are ultimately responsible. It is no good blaming the Hindu in Pakistan or the Muslim in India for being communal. He reacts to the living conditions he finds and if those conditions become top hard and unbearable, he migrates. That very migration means that the majority community and the government of that country have failed to that extent.

I do not understand the mentality of those who are continually talking in a defeatist strain and prophesying failure of the Indo-Pakistan Agreement. Indeed, they seem to look forward to this and work for it. What result they aim at I cannot imagine, because any result will then be bad for us and bad for others. It is time that all of us pulled ourselves together and thought a little clearly of the present and of the future.

It is time we stood up four-square against every attempt to promote the spread of the poison of communalism in this country. There can be no half-way house in the choice of these policies and our attitude must be clear and definite.”

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

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

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