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

"One of my disappointments in this debate, otherwise helpful in many ways, has been the absence of a larger vision, to which we were looking forward, and to which we as a govt have failed to come up"

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

Jawaharlal Nehru

The recently concluded 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. PM 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 from his reply on 22 August 1963.


Mr Speaker, sir, for four days we have had this debate, and I believe 40 members have spoken; I am the 41st. I have tried my best, respectfully and with patience, to follow the speeches to listen to them myself and follow them. Sometimes it has been a little hard but, on the whole, I believe I have succeeded.

It has been a strange experience to see this varied assembly of the Opposition speak in different terms. Only just now we heard a representative of the Muslim League, a little before, of the Hindu Mahasabha, and a little earlier—yesterday, I think—of the DMK of Madras, all in serried ranks behind Acharya Kripalani and his fellow generals. In fact, they are all generals; there are no privates in the army.

A no-confidence motion, of course, aims at or should aim at removing the government and taking its place. Now it is clear that in the present instance, there was no such expectation or hope. And so, the debate, although it was interesting in many ways, and profitable, I think, was a little unreal. Personally, I have welcomed this motion and this debate, and I have almost felt that it would be a good thing if we have periodical examinations of this kind….

I must confess, and I say so with all respect, that the members, leaders of the Opposition including, of course, the honourable member who proposed this motion, have not done justice to this motion or to themselves. I have been rather disappointed at the charges they made. I do not mean to say that all the charges they made had no substance. You might divide their attack into four heads, namely domestic policy, foreign policy, defence and general corruption, etc.

I am not prepared to say, and nobody can, that corruption is not a serious matter to be inquired into, to be eradicated and to be crushed out. There is no difference of opinion about that. There may be a difference of opinion as to the extent of it, and possibly, sometimes, it is exaggerated, and thereby, perhaps, an atmosphere is created which instead of putting an end to corruption gives it a certain licence. However, these are the four main subjects dealt with.

I should have thought that most of the debate would deal with high matters of State policy. But generally, the debate has proceeded on rather personal grounds, personal likes and dislikes, personal criticisms and attacks, which have taken away much of the force of it.

But this was an important moment in the history of Parliament. And as a parliamentarian, apart from being a prime minister, I had hoped that we would rise to that occasion on both sides of the House and deal with the great matters that confront our country and also incidentally deal with the unfortunate government that is in charge of many of these matters; but, to concentrate rather on the failings of individuals seems to bring the debate down to a lower level.

The three honourable members, the three newcomers, whose speeches I listened to with great interest and care, Acharya Kripalani, Shri M.R. Masani and Dr Lohia, perhaps, were a little excited still with their victories in the bye­-elections and seemed to think that they could make a frontal attack on this government and all who are part of it...

We were dealing with the future of India, not of Jawaharlal Nehru or Morarji Desai or somebody else who happens to be for the time being in posts in the government. We will go, of course, even if we do not go because of this vote of no-confidence, otherwise too; in course of time, we will go; others will take our place.

When we are talking about what really means the future of the country, the freedom of the country, the prosperity of the country and all that, to bring it down to this low level of personal criticism and abuse is not good.

So, one of my disappointments in this debate which otherwise has been helpful in many ways has been the absence of a larger vision, to which we were looking forward, and to which we as a government have failed to come up. That would have been something which would have raised the debate and raised people’s thinking. There was hardly any reference to any large vision.

When many years ago most of us here, not only on our side but on the other side of the House too, were participating in the struggle for freedom, under the leadership of Gandhiji, we had that larger vision, not only of freedom or of attaining independence, but something more all the time. There was a social objective, there was a vision of the future which we were going to build, and that gave us a certain vitality, a certain measure of a crusading spirit.

Now, perhaps it is true that most of us are lost, are rather tied up in humdrum politics and petty matters of the day…. And yet, if India is to go ahead, as we all want to, India will have to have a vision of the future, always to think of it, and always to judge our present conduct by seeing how far it comes up anywhere near that vision, because a country that has no vision gradually goes down….

I do not think India is going to perish. It has not perished for 5,000 years or more, it is not going to perish, but there is something in between, that is existing.

I do want India to exist, I want it to live a full life. I want it to advance, I want the people of India to flourish in every way, not only in the physical, material sense, but in other senses, cultural, intellectual, moral and other senses.

It has much to learn from the world and also to give something to the world, because I have been convinced, I am convinced, that India does possess something which it can give to the rest of the world, although it has to learn much from the rest of the world also.

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.

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

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