Nehru's Word: ‘Any organisation that has an easy time is corrupted by it’

"Elections will come and go, but the Congress will go on because the Congress has its roots in generations of work and service… the Congress has its roots in the hearts of millions of people"

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

Jawaharlal Nehru

The election campaign for Lok Sabha 2024 has marked a new low in the country’s political discourse. We’ve seen the use of provocative language that bordered on being openly abusive of sections of our people, and we’ve seen the peddling of falsehoods for political gain. In sharp contrast to this, when the first general elections were held in India 73 years ago, Prime Minister Nehru set the bar for political debate on social issues. Sample these extracts from his speeches during the campaign:

So while people imagine that I am frightfully concerned with elections and in my talks I speak of elections, nevertheless in my mind, I think of the young children who must be the first priority as they constitute the wealth of the nation and of the 350 million people of India and how their burdens can be eased and how opportunities can be provided for them to improve their standards of life.

Though I do not wish for a soft life for the people, because a soft life always results in deterioration, I want to provide the necessities of life and sufficient opportunities for those who have the capacity to grow.

It was a well-known fact that people progress only to the extent of their capacity to progress and all the programmes and policies in the world will not take them further if they are not prepared to look after themselves and are ready to stand on their own feet and do things with their own hands ....

The fact of the matter is that no problem, no national problem just repeats itself. What we had in the 17th, 18th and 19th century England is an important phase to study, to learn from. Historically what happened in the French Revolution is important for us today. What happened in the Russian Revolution is essential for us to understand the fresh set of forces we have to face.

But to think we will repeat the England of the 17th, 18th and 19th century or the French Revolution or the Russian Revolution in India, right now, is nothing but to pursue the wrong track. We have to learn a great deal from them, but we have to find a solution to our problems in common.

But there is a great deal of difference too in the whole background between the different countries, scientifically, historically, culturally, intellectually and so on and so forth. Therefore, we have to solve our problems ourselves. In solving them we can learn a great deal from other people….

So far as I am concerned, the struggle is not over with the coming of political independence—that was only one stage, one journey ended, but the real journey never ends for a nation and even for us the journey is not ended because there is so much in this country which has got to be changed, and uprooted… There is no rest for me and there is no rest for any person feeling that way, till the final rest comes and we can work no more.

There is no journey's end to a nation's pilgrimage, there is a journey 's end for you and me, but till that time comes, till we have not fulfilled the pledges we have taken, there should be no resting for us.

So I went as a Congress worker, as a Congress volunteer, in search of those faces that I knew of old and in search for new faces that perhaps could look me straight in the eyes, and feel the way I was feeling. The idea came into my head because some people, often write in their newspapers and periodicals that the Congress is dead or dying and I just laughed.

But when I saw those mighty crowds coming to me, I wondered who all these people were, who talked about the Congress being dead or dying? I wondered if they had any touch with the Indian people, if they knew anything about the people they dare to speak about. For the Congress is not an electioneering device, the Congress is not a mushroom party to run for an election.

Elections will come and elections will go, but the Congress will go on because the Congress has its roots in generations of work and service, and trouble and travail—because the Congress has its roots in the hearts of millions of people ....

I therefore came to the conclusion after long and painful thought that the Congress has a further mission, and even though the Congress may have fallen into wrong ways here and there, even though, in many local places, it was in the hands of cliques and groups, even though factions had grown in the Congress which had weakened it, even though many Congressmen had become lazy and were not doing much and expected favours, yet, in spite of all this, I feel that the Congress still had a historical mission to fulfil.

Therefore, I give my time and energy to it. I do so because of two reasons, one is the positive reason that I feel, as I said, that the Congress has that mission to fulfil, and the other is a negative reason, that there is nobody else but the Congress which could fulfil that mission.

Now, I have no grievance against most of the other parties in India. I just do not see why other parties should not exist. Certainly, they are welcome. It is dangerous for the Congress or for any organisation to have it all its way. There must be opposition, there must be struggle, life is struggle, life is not ease.

Any organisation, not only an individual, that has an easy time is corrupted by it. Therefore, I like opposition, I like parties to grow up to oppose the Congress. Therefore, it is not in any spirit that I want it all in my own way. I just do not see today any group, any party in India capable of shouldering the heavy burdens of India, except the Congress.

(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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