Nehru's Word: Of no-confidence debates and parliamentary conduct

"You cannot advance and industrialise this country without an industrial base. And an industrial base means basic industries and mother industries, heavy industries and the like"

India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru
India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru

Jawaharlal Nehru

The monsoon session of Parliament featured a debate on a no-confidence motion. It was brought in by the Opposition as a last recourse to make the prime minister speak up on the unending violence in Manipur. Prime Minister Modi showed up on the last day, offered some cursory assurances on Manipur, sidestepped the larger issues, and focused his entire speech on attacking the Opposition. Sixty years ago, in August 1963, the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru too had faced a no-confidence motion. He sat through the debate for four days and decorously answered all the questions. Extracts (part II) from his reply on 22 August 1963; the concluding part will appear next week.


So, I have found in this debate, I am sorry to say, a singular lack of reference to this larger vision that we are supposed to have. Looking at things in perspective, I would say even looking at things in the economic aspect, the social aspect, the planning aspect, the perspective planning aspect—to look at things in some perspective—is the very essence of planning, where we are going and how do we go?

Shri Masani gave expression to his views about economic affairs, and I am astounded that any intelligent person should talk in the way he did. There is no sense in it, no understanding of the modem world of economics as it is understood today. He said, “Why have a steel plant?”. A more astonishing remark it has not been my bad fortune to listen to. What does he expect? We should not have that? We should have small industries [only]?

I am all for small industries. We should have what is called no capital-intensive works and therefore, we should advance like this? Where do machines come from for the small industries? We can get them from Germany, Japan, Russia, wherever you like, and pay heavily for them, go on paying for them. Is this anyone’s conception of the industrialisation of this country? No country has been industrialised in that way.

It is essential if you want industrialisation, as we want it, to have a base, an industrial base. Apart from pure industrialisation, it is essential for our strength, for our military strength, defence strength, to have an industrial base. That is the trouble we have today.

We do not lack stout men, brave men in this country, but all the stout men in this country are precious little good ultimately when it comes to the use of modern weapons, modern industry, and all that.

Therefore, I say you cannot even remain free in India without an industrial base. You cannot advance and industrialise this country without an industrial base. And an industrial base means basic industries and mother industries, heavy industries and the like.

As soon as that is established, smaller industries flow from them, and the rate of progress is fast. If you do not establish that, well, you remain tied up—not only not advancing fast, but you are tied up to other countries who are economically dominant over you, who can prevent your growth, who can lower the rate of progress. You are not economically free completely. That is not a prospect which I look forward to, and I imagine that is not the prospect which this House will welcome.

We want real freedom. Real freedom is not merely political freedom; it is economic freedom in two senses. One, in the sense that you do not have to rely on other countries. You are friends with them, you cooperate with them, you take their help, but you are not dependent upon them to carry on, either for defence or anything else.

And the second economic freedom I mean is economic freedom for the vast masses of our country, that is, their having higher standards of living, leading a good life—not only physically and materially, but culturally and otherwise—and putting an end, as far as possible, in stages if you like, to these gross differences that exist in India, which are not good for any country from any point of view.

It is difficult to remove them suddenly. Remember that we in India have had a background which is not a good background in spite of all our great thoughts and all that.

The social background we have had to deal with in India has been a bad background, with caste and tremendous differences, and that has soaked down to millions and millions of our people. That is why one of the big things that we have to do is to uproot that background, change the way of thinking, change the way of living.

It is no good thinking that the magnificent books we have—the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and all that—can cover up the evils of a bad background of thinking and action.

We are backward— in our thinking, in our lives, in the way we live and backward in the way we treat others. All this caste system, and Harijans and this and that, it is a bad thing. That comes in the way even of bringing in material things.

All that is changing, I know, and will change. But we must have some idea of the demons that we have to fight against. The problems here are much more intricate and deeper than possibly countries only fighting one demon of poverty might have.

In our domestic field, at least 30 years ago, this Congress organisation—and many of the members sitting opposite were members of the Congress organisation—took a step which national organisations seldom do, took a step towards the formulation of some ideal of social justice, took a step about land reform. It formulated a policy of land reform and social justice, and some steps towards the formulation of a public sector. This was the Karachi Congress, more than 30 years ago.

Of course, the whole concept of Gandhiji, although he did not talk perhaps in modern language, was not only one of social justice but of social reform and land reform. All that was his. It was inevitable that the Congress should begin to think that way so that we become a party of the masses, even though we were not exactly proletarians or peasants and all that.

We were influenced by the mass of the people who became members of the Congress and so we were forced to think of agrarian reforms especially and other things too.

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

More of Nehru's thoughts and writings can be found in our archives here.

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