Nehru's Word: The dangers of communal hatred

Jawaharlal Nehru converted his first election campaign into a virtual referendum on the demand for a Hindu Rashtra

Jawaharlal Nehru warning India of the dangers of communalism in 1951
Jawaharlal Nehru warning India of the dangers of communalism in 1951

Jawaharlal Nehru

The ongoing Lok Sabha election campaign has been marked by blatant communal dog-whistling by the topmost leaders of the party in power, though reportedly with rapidly diminishing returns. But 73 years ago, then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru converted his first election campaign into a virtual referendum on the demand for a Hindu Rashtra, and delivered a resounding defeat to its proponents, with the rivals winning only 10 seats and six per cent of the vote!

We bring you this week extracts from a speech he gave in Amritsar on 22 December 1951, which demonstrates this.

For thousands of years now, there have been different religions in India and yet we are all Indians. The majority of us are Hindus, and Muslims are in great numbers, as also are Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and many others. This has been going on for thousands of years. All these religions have made India their home. India does not belong to any one of them alone. There has never been a question of one religion trying to suppress the others. If anyone tries to do it now, he will be very foolish and will cause great damage to the country.

India can progress in only one way and that is when all Indians, irrespective of their professions, province or religion, live in harmony with one another and march together. They may hold different views and opinions, but they must not live in compartments politically or otherwise.

You have gathered here in great numbers and perhaps most of you live in Amritsar. Almost all of you must be Punjabis. But you are not merely the citizens of Amritsar or of the Punjab — you are first and foremost the citizens of India. And as the citizens of India, you have certain rights, and at the same time some responsibilities too because there can be no rights without responsibilities…

The first step towards fulfilling our responsibilities is to learn the lesson of unity… Why is it that in spite of all our bitter experience of the past, these communal organisations raise their heads in our country and create problems and tension?

What is the matter? It is something for us to consider. I can understand difference of opinion amongst us, on political or economic matters. I understand and accept the difference in ideologies of the various parties like the communist or socialist parties. There can be different ways of looking at the problems of a country. But I simply cannot understand communalism in politics and it simply shows that we are forgetting all our past experiences in India and in the Punjab.

Communalism has done incalculable harm in the past. The Muslim League, an intensely communal party, spread a bitter poison throughout the country and did great damage. But somehow it was removed from here and it is no longer powerful at least in India. We thought we were at last rid of this terrible disease. But it is our misfortune that the disease is spreading once again in a different form, among the new communal organisations of the Hindus and the Sikhs. It is strange that we have not been able to learn a lesson even now.

Can any intelligent man in Punjab think that there can be progress made here if there is constant tension between the Hindus and the Sikhs? You must think about this. Both will bring ruin upon themselves. And I cannot understand what there is to quarrel about.

All their problems can be very easily solved. But the fundamental thing is that the Punjab can progress only if all the citizens of the Punjab whether they are Hindus, Sikhs or Christians learn to live together in harmony and do not isolate themselves into separate compartments.

This is a broad fact and it applies to the whole of India. India cannot achieve progress if there is no unity among her people…So we have to change our mental attitudes somewhat and get rid of these communal notions. It has ruined us in the past and lowered us in the eyes of the world. What is the sense in getting into the same old rut once again at a time when we have just won freedom and got an opportunity to progress? What is this foolishness?

So, I am laying stress on this repeatedly because we have to put an end to it.

Everyone in India, whether he is a Muslim or a Hindu or Sikh or Christian, has the right to follow his own religion and traditions peacefully. All religions are worthy of respect and there should be no obstacles in the way of anyone. But if you try to bring religion into politics and try to create barriers, then you are following an extremely dangerous path. Religion is a sacred subject and if you try to drag it into the mire, you will be degrading both religion and politics…

Let us work together to create a new India and a new Punjab. Remember that when individuals or nations are engaged in big tasks, they too grow in stature. I am by no means a big man. I am an ordinary Indian, with an ordinary education and some intelligence. What sacrifice have I made which has not been made over and again by innumerable people in the Punjab and all over the country? Then how did I or the others grow?

We grew because of two or three factors. First, we came under the shadow of a great man like Mahatma Gandhi and some of his greatness rubbed off on us. Second, we were engaged in a mighty task and that also added to our stature. Those who hold their heads high and gaze at the stars naturally grow taller. This is the case with nations too. You will find that periods of greatness in the history of any country always coincide with their being engaged in some mighty effort and not when they were busy in petty squabbles.

So we grew, and now once again we have an opportunity to grow. To try to make the condition of 35 crore people better is a mighty task. We can do it if all of us work together and each one of us stands on his own feet and does his duty. It will take time and means hard work, great toil and sweat and tears. But it is not impossible. So, I put all these thoughts of mine and make an effort to see that everyone marches in step. Ultimately, the best of governments cannot do anything unless the people are willing to cooperate.

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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