Nehru's Word: Fight the good fight

"I do not get excited about elections in the slightest, and whether I win or lose does not concern me in the least. What I like about elections or anything else is a good fight..."

Not only did Nehru welcome opposition in the first general election of 1951-52, but used it to educate people on larger issues
Not only did Nehru welcome opposition in the first general election of 1951-52, but used it to educate people on larger issues

Jawaharlal Nehru

With the elections unfolding and each successive round denting the belief of those who think they are God’s gift to democracy, the levels of political rhetoric have hit an all-time low. Nasty references to alleged food preferences of communities, allegations that leaders of opposition parties are in cahoots with neighbouring (read enemy) countries are adding new toxicity to old hate speech.
In such times, it is difficult to imagine that in the first general elections of 1951-1952, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru not only welcomed opposition, but used the occasion to educate people on the larger issues and objectives before the nation and the Congress party. The difference between election speeches then and now is instructive as the extracts below reveal.

I do feel that somehow, these elections in India, as perhaps elections elsewhere in the world, have a strange, benumbing effect on people. Benumbing in many ways and their normal standards somehow do not function then. This applies, let us be clear about it, as much to the Congress as to others.

Fortunately, if I may with all humility say so, they do not have that effect on me. I do not get excited about elections in the slightest, and whether I win or lose does not concern me in the least. What I like about elections or anything else is a good fight, and I give a good fight. But for the rest, it does not very much matter to me. I have bigger fights in view. Why should I exhaust my mind and the rest of me in thinking about an election?

Anyhow, my point is that the coming of these elections have agitated people all over India, so much that while we talk about high principles and policies, in effect the only dominant urge left is how to win. For a party, the dominant urge is how should a party win. For the individual, his urge is how shall he win. And so, we see large numbers, multitudes of persons all wanting to stand for elections, an astonishing number everywhere. Everybody is convinced that the nation can only be properly served by his being returned to the legislature…

The Congress can change its policy. Let us think about it and change it, if necessary… I can understand all that, let us do it. But whatever is done and whatever plan is made, must be based on a realistic survey of our resources and what we can do with the material we have got.

It is just no good at all talking about communism and socialism… Some leader of the Socialist Party says that the Congress has become a conservative party, and Jawaharlal Nehru is its Winston Churchill. It is quite possible that compared to the leaders of the Socialist Party, I may be called conservative. I do not know, one cannot judge oneself.

It is equally possible, I think, that a certain turn of events may make me more radical than them, because I think I still have some sparks of the old fire left in me. In spite of four or five years of taming process in the secretariat of Delhi, I can sometimes feel as I felt 10 or 20 years ago.

And during the last four or five days, I have been progressively feeling like that more and more, and therefore, I have been rather forgetting the elections in the elation of feeling that I have been experiencing of late. Because I have felt that, after all, India’s problems are not going to be solved merely by this election or that.

There are big problems and we have to get moving in a big way. If we have to move in a big way, I think we must have organisational backing.

I welcome other organisations, Socialist Party and other parties, provided they function peacefully and in a constitutional way… I do not mind expression of any ideas, whatever they are, however radical, however revolutionary they are, provided the approach is peaceful. But I will not tolerate, and no government can tolerate, a violent approach. So, I do not mind propagation of ideas as I want people to think.

Anyhow, if we have to achieve big things in this country, then as far as I can see, these will have to be initiated and pushed forward by the Congress. The major problem that I have had in my mind in recent days as I sat in that Election Committee selecting candidates, looking at the lists of Congress candidates from various states, I got some insight into the Congress organisation in the country which I did not possess because I have been cut off from it for some time.

Now, I am convinced that we have to take up the business of the reorganisation of the Congress from the bottom, not just superficially here and there. l had that in mind, of course, at the last session of the Congress also, and you will remember that we passed a resolution authorising the All India Congress Committee to even change the Congress Constitution...


The pace of progress has been slow, I agree with the socialists if they criticise me that the pace has been slow. It has been slow. The reason for that partly is what I told you at the beginning, the initial troubles usual in the first year or two, and partly I think due to the lack of enough people to take responsibility to work out the details of administration.

Mind you, our record can compare favourably with any government’s record anywhere. During the past four of five years, we have, of course, made mistakes and we are going to make more mistakes. That is a different matter, but taking everything into account, and the circumstances, our achievements are solid.

And they are such on which we can build, perhaps, much more speedily in the future. Anyhow, we have got to build in the future, and build fast, and for that I am quite convinced that even the best government in the world cannot do much unless it has public cooperation on a big scale and has an organisational support to do it effectively.

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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