Nehru’s Word: Our foreign policy aimed at preserving world peace, freedoms

"We do not seek any material advantage in exchange for any part of our hard-won freedom," Nehru told the US parliament in 1949 while explaining India's foreign policy of non-alignment

PM Jawaharlal Nehru replies to President Truman’s words of welcome on his arrival in the US, October 1949. (Photo courtesy: Truman Library Institute)
PM Jawaharlal Nehru replies to President Truman’s words of welcome on his arrival in the US, October 1949. (Photo courtesy: Truman Library Institute)

Jawaharlal Nehru

During his month-long state visit to the US in 1949, Jawaharlal Nehru addressed both Houses of the American parliament on 13 October 1949. Following is the second and concluding part of his address wherein Nehru explained the nuances of India’s foreign policy of non-alignment saying that non-alignment did not always mean neutrality. “Where freedom is menaced or justice threatened or where aggression takes place, we cannot be and shall not be neutral.”


We have achieved political freedom but our revolution is not yet complete and is still in progress, for political freedom without the assurance of the right to live and to pursue happiness, which economic progress alone can bring, can never satisfy a people.

Therefore, our immediate task is to raise the living standards of our people, to remove all that comes in the way of the economic growth of the nation. We have tackled the major problem of India, as it is today the major problem of Asia, the agrarian problem. Much that was feudal in our system of land tenure is being changed so that the fruits of cultivation should go to the tiller of the soil and that he may be secure in the possession of the land he cultivates.

In a country of which agriculture is still the principal industry, this reform is essential not only for the well-being and contentment of the individual but also for the stability of society.

One of the main causes of social instability in many parts of the world, more especially in Asia, is agrarian discontent due to the continuance of systems of land tenure which are completely out of place in the modem world. Another and one which is also true of the greater part of Asia and Africa, is the low standard of living of the masses.

India is industrially more developed than many less fortunate countries and is reckoned as the seventh or eighth among the world’s industrial nations. But this arithmetical distinction cannot conceal the poverty of the great majority of our people. To remove this poverty by greater production, more equitable distribution, better education and better health, is the paramount need and the most pressing task before us and we are determined to accomplish this task.

We realise that self-help is the first condition of success for a nation, no less than for an individual. We are conscious that ours must be the primary effort and we shall seek succour from none to escape from any part of our own responsibility. But though our economic potential is great, its conversion into finished wealth will need much mechanical and technological aid. We shall, therefore, gladly welcome such aid and cooperation on terms that are of mutual benefit.

We believe that this may well help in the solution of the larger problems that confront the world. But we do not seek any material advantage in exchange for any part of our hard-won freedom.

The objectives of our foreign policy are the preservation of world peace and enlargement of human freedom. Two tragic Wars have demonstrated the futility of warfare. Victory without the will to peace achieves no lasting result and victor and vanquished alike suffer from deep and grievous wounds and a common fear of the future.

May I venture to say that this is not an incorrect description of the world of today? It is not flattering either to man’s reason or to our common humanity. Must this unhappy state persist and the power of science and wealth continue to be harnessed to the service of destruction? Every nation, great or small, has to answer this question and the greater a nation, the greater is its responsibility to find and to work for the right answer.

India may be new to world politics and her military strength insignificant in comparison with that of the giants of our epoch. But India is old in thought and experience and has travelled through trackless centuries in the adventure of life.

Throughout her long history she has stood for peace, and every prayer that an Indian raises ends with an invocation to peace. It was out of this ancient and yet young India that Mahatma Gandhi arose and he taught us a technique of action that was peaceful; yet it was effective and yielded results that led us not only to freedom but to friendship with those with whom we were, till yesterday, in conflict.

How far can that principle be applied to wider spheres of action? I do not know, for circumstances differ and the means to prevent evil have to be shaped and set to the nature of the evil. Yet I have no doubt that the basic approach which lay behind that technique of action was the right approach in human affairs and the only approach that ultimately solves a problem satisfactorily.

We have to achieve freedom and defend it. We have to meet aggression and to resist it and the force employed must be adequate to the purpose. But even when preparing to resist aggression, the ultimate objective, the objective of peace and reconciliation, must never be lost sight of and heart and mind must be attuned to this supreme aim and not swayed or clouded by hatred or fear.

This is the basis and the goal of our foreign policy. We are neither blind to reality nor do we propose to acquiesce in any challenge to man’s freedom from whatever quarter it may come. Where freedom is menaced or justice threatened or where aggression takes place, we cannot be and shall not be neutral.

What we plead for and endeavour to practise in our own imperfect way is a binding faith in peace and an unfailing endeavour of thought and action to ensure it. The great democracy of the United States of America will, I feel sure, understand and appreciate our approach to life’s problems because it could not have any other aim or a different ideal.

Friendship and cooperation between our two countries are, therefore, natural. I stand here to offer both in the pursuit of justice, liberty and peace.

(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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