Nehru’s Word: Communalism an obstacle in the path of progress

"Generally, you will find that those who talk loudly of Indian culture have really nothing to do with any culture in the world"

Jawaharlal Nehru
Jawaharlal Nehru

Jawaharlal Nehru

With the level of public discourse hitting a new low every day, led by the pradhan sewak himself, it is becoming more and more difficult to believe that there was a time our first prime minister set a very different example in the first general elections, 73 years ago. This week we marked sixty years since Nehru left us on 27 May 1964, but his words still resonate to remind us of his deep bond with the people of India and his repeated warnings about the dangers of communalism. Extracts from a speech that he delivered in Hyderabad on 15 December 1951 during the election campaign.


“… Now whether there is ability in me or not, I have at least come very close to the millions of people of India and not merely by right but I have received their love and confidence in great abundance and a very close relationship has been established between us.

So my mind is constantly searching for ways to repay their abundant love and confidence and to fulfil my duty towards them. There may be numerous defects in me and I may make mistakes, but I do not want to make the mistake of betraying the confidence of the people.

There is a special bond between the people and me which I cannot describe or write about. My mind and heart are influenced by their thinking and feelings and I understand them a little more and draw strength from them because when I speak, it is not as Jawaharlal, I speak in the voice of the millions of Indians.

I am once again engaged in my wanderings, trying to refresh myself and draw fresh strength from the people. I do not say that my mind is absolutely clear, but it is certainly clearer than before ....

The task of consolidating India, politically and economically, has been accomplished. But ultimately what is very essential is the integration of minds and hearts. Moreover, the history of India is full of examples of bravery, intellect and greatness and yet, in spite of all these qualities, we have had this habit of fighting among ourselves.

The greatest weakness among Indians is their strange capacity to fight among themselves and create dissensions, forgetting the more important things, forgetting even their country. The result is that time and again, enemies have taken advantage of this weakness and conquered us. We must put an end to that and learn a lesson from history.

Secondly, we thought that with the coming of freedom, the poison of communalism which had resulted in the creation of Pakistan, would have been removed. But unfortunately, it is still here. Most of the Muslim communalists have gone to Pakistan and some who are left pose no danger. But communalism is now spreading rapidly among the Hindus as well as among the Sikhs which is very strange.

In our view we had made a great sacrifice in accepting the partition. We did so thinking that it would put an end to the virus of communalism in the country and we could live in unity and perhaps even come to an agreement with Pakistan later. Instead, we are achieving just the opposite result and communalism is sprouting new shoots ....

Many people complain that I am trying to deceive the people and relegating real problems to the background by harping constantly upon communalism. That is absolutely wrong. Communalism is not an issue, the important issue in India is her poverty.

India’s poverty and unemployment or, in short, her economic problems, are the main questions before us since Independence. We must make plans to solve these problems. Communalism and disunity are not problems but obstacles and brakes in the path of progress. Therefore, we must think about them and understand that such things that come in the way of the nation’s consolidation and create narrowmindedness must be removed.

Ours is a great country and we have had hopes and dreams that we will go very far. But a country can become great only if her people have a great vision. It cannot be done by narrowminded people who are constantly engrossed in petty quarrels.

Therefore, when these communal parties started spreading the poison of bitterness and hatred once again, I felt it was my duty to raise my voice against them and to warn the people. I am warning you because it has no recognisable form.

I do not know if it has a branch here, but a new party called the Bharatiya Jan Sangh has been established. When I said that it was a communal organisation, its President objected violently and said that we should look at its constitution.

No one puts down these things in their constitution. But I have seen enough of their members and president and followers, as well as their methods of working, and I can say with complete confidence and clarity that the Bharatiya Jana Sangh is a staunchly communal organisation and hence extremely harmful for the country. I cannot tolerate it when I see our young boys and girls being led astray by such parties in the name of religion and Indian culture.

Generally, you will find that those who talk loudly of Indian culture have really nothing to do with any culture in the world, Indian or otherwise. Those who talk of Indian civilisation are in fact completely uncivilised. It is absurd to shout from the roof-tops about culture and civilisation. They are quite different. Indian culture has been so glorious in the past because it has not followed such communal methods.

Anyhow, we have to consolidate and strengthen India, and in that process, whatever acts as obstacles, like communalism, must be removed. There are two things which act as brakes.

One is provincialism, that is, people of different provinces thinking of themselves in separate compartments and harbouring bitterness and hatred against the others. This is to be found in most parts of the country and is extremely dangerous. We have to combat this and remember that ours is a vast country.

You are welcome to take pride in your being citizens of Hyderabad or Bengal. I have no objection to that, but ultimately you must remember that you are citizens not merely of Hyderabad or Bengal or Calcutta. All of us are the citizens of India, of the Republic of India, and therefore we must look at everything from that point of view.

If we think only of our own province and city and district and regard the others as outsiders, we can never make India great, nor can we grow in stature. Provincialism is a bad thing and we must suppress it if we wish to go far.

The second thing, as I mentioned, is casteism which leads people to incite others in the name of religion and caste. This is a weakness which has come down from ancient times and has always kept India in compartments….”

(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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