Nehru's Word: Advocating a peaceful world order, full disarmament

"Our problems are vast. We have to move from many mediaeval customs and practices to the modern age. Economic and social growth is essential for our survival as an independent and progressive nation"

India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru
India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru
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Jawaharlal Nehru

On the eve of PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Paris earlier this month, reputed French newspaper Le Monde carried an op-ed on 13 July that was very critical of the current state of democracy and human rights in India under his leadership. There was a time, however, when Le Monde asked the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru to write a piece for a special supplement it was bringing out to coincide with Nehru’s visit to Paris from 20 to 22 September 1962. Nehru’s article, reproduced below, explained how India was trying to build a secular State based on socialistic principles to raise the standards of living of the vast masses of its people.

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I am glad to know that Le Monde is issuing a special supplement devoted to India. Le Monde is a journal which we appreciate highly in India for its balanced views and I am sure that will help many people to have an insight into our problems and our efforts to solve them.

We are particularly anxious that there should be mutual understanding between France and India. We have not always agreed with what has happened in France, but we have a sentimental attachment to that great country for the part it has played in the enlargement to liberty and then the furtherance of culture.

Now that the question of Pondicherry has been finally resolved, there are no direct problems between India and France, and I earnestly hope that Pondicherry will continue as a link between the two countries and a centre of the French language and culture.

We in India naturally take great interest in world problems because all of us are affected by them. In particular, we earnestly hope that peace will be preserved and put on a stable basis by an agreement of full disarmament.

It seems to us clear that peace can only be preserved by tolerance and by recognition that each country should be free to follow its own internal course without interference from others. At the same time, the world is too closely knit together today for any country to lead an isolated existence. Inevitably, we move towards some kind of a world order that will fit in with modern scientific development.

While we take deep interest in international problems, it is natural for us to concentrate our attention on the progress of India. We feel that that progress, comprising as it does over 440 million people, is of deep interest to the rest of the world.

Our problems are vast. Apart from the numbers involved, we have to move from many mediaeval customs and practices to the modern age. Economic and social growth is therefore essential even for our survival as an independent and progressive nation.

Behind that, however, is the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, which we cherish and which conditions our thinking. We may not agree to all that Gandhiji said because the world changes and conditions are different in a changing world, but his basic philosophy still governs our thinking.

Economic and social changes, important as they are, must have some spiritual basis and we should move out of our narrow grooves and not only tolerate, but welcome the great variety of the world.


France should particularly welcome our ideal of a secular State. We do not pretend to have solved all the difficulties that come in the way, but that ideal is firmly established in our minds. Many of our problems will be understood better if we keep that in view.

We dare not and will not accept anything which adds to our religious, communal or other disruptive tendencies. We hope to build a nation, strong in its past inheritance, but looking to the future, with a firm unity in the midst of our manifold variety.

We feel that in India, as she is circumstanced today, a socialistic approach is essential for our progress as well as for our unity. There are too many disparities in India and our social system in the past has encouraged these.

Therefore, we aim at a removal or lessening of these disparities and a far greater measure of equality. We must put an end to the distressing poverty that prevails in India and give equal opportunities to all. That is a vast undertaking, but I believe that we are moving towards that and will ultimately achieve it.

We lay stress on big industries and small. But at the back of our minds, the first problem is that of agriculture which employs the great majority of our population. The recent changes we have introduced in giving a large measure of authority and resources to our villages and their councils, are meant not only to improve agriculture and modernise it, but essentially to improve the qualityof the human beings and take them out of the ruts in which they have lived. We want to make them self-reliant.

Our Five-Year Plans attempt to cover various aspects of our life and economy. Behind the Five-Year Plans is a longer perspective of 15 or 20 years. We are grateful for the help we are receiving from foreign countries for the fulfilment of these Plans.

We realise, however, that far the greatest burden will necessarily have to fall on our own people. It is faith in these people that moves us and gives us confidence for the future inspite of the great difficulties that face us. What we require, even more than material aid, are understanding and sympathy from others.

We have no permanent enemies, and even those countries like Pakistan and China with whom our relations are not good today, we seek to convert. It must be remembered that there are too many close bonds—historical, geographical, cultural and linguistic, between India and Pakistan for us to remain hostile to each other for long.

Where aggression takes place or is threatened, we have naturally to defend ourselves, but even this is not caused by any basic hostility or enmity and we seek the friendship of all nations. Our internal problems are so great and absorb our attention so much that we cannot think of quarrelling with others.

In this rapidly changing world, we are convinced that the methods of Cold War are very harmful. We have all to adapt ourselves to these changes in a spirit of mutual friendship. Gandhiji told us to look at the world with clear and friendly eyes and not with eyes that are bloodshot. We may not always succeed because we have many failings. But that is the message which we always bear in mind.

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

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