Nehru's Word: The elections have shown that our electorate has intelligence

"One good thing that has emerged from these elections is our straight fight and success against communalism. That success is significant and heartening but it is, by no means, a complete success"

India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru
India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru

Jawaharlal Nehru

The 18th general elections were a resounding rejection by the people of India of attempts to weaken democracy and its institutions, exploit religious sentiments for political gain, tamper with constitutional safeguards, and build up the rich at the expense of the poor. Those who won the battle of ideas must consolidate their gains adeptly, and function as an effective Opposition. In February 1952, after winning the first general election hands down, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote a letter to each candidate who had contested on the Congress ticket, sharing his assessment, pointing out weaknesses, and providing guidance on how to move forward. Extracts from the letter dated 11 February 1952:


Dear comrade,

I am addressing this letter to you as one of the candidates for election on behalf of the Congress in the recent general elections that have taken place in the country. I am sending this to every candidate for election, whether he met with success or not. We look naturally for success, but more important than success or failure is the work we do. Equally important are the lessons we learn provided we profit by them and fashion our future work accordingly.

These elections have been a great experience not only for all of us, who were directly concerned with them, but, if I may say so, for the hundreds of millions of our people. In addition to the actual election work, I had the unique experience of touring extensively throughout India and seeing vast multitudes of our countrymen and countrywomen wherever I went.

This meeting with our people has been a tremendous emotional experience for me. It has exhilarated me and put new heart into me. At the same time, it has made me terribly conscious of the burdens we carry and what the people expect us to do.

My tour was necessarily a hurried one and I sped from place to place without stopping too long anywhere. Nevertheless, I gathered innumerable impressions of the state of the country and of the Congress organisation.

What good my touring did to others, I cannot measure. But for me it had a very great educational value and I am grateful for the opportunity that came to me to see our country and people again.

The results of the elections are full of lessons for us and it is necessary that we should make an objective and correct appraisal. We must not worry too much as to what others have done or not done.

But it is essential that we should see our own faults and shortcomings and try to remove them. I do not propose to write at length about these here, because we shall deal with this matter in many ways in the coming months. I shall only indicate some aspects of the problems that face us and our immediate duty.

The elections have shown to us, if there was any doubt about it previously, that, as a whole, our electorate has intelligence and discrimination. They have functioned with remarkable discipline and shown, often enough, a broad understanding of issues, wherever these were properly placed before them. Indeed, the so-called illiterate voter has probably taken this election more seriously than many of the literates.

My respect for him has gone up and whatever doubts I might have had about adult suffrage in India, have been removed completely. These elections have fully justified adult suffrage and the faith we put in our people. I do not mean to say that I have liked all the results of the elections. I am rather taking an overall view, apart from results, of the manner in which our people functioned.

It became clear to me, as I proceeded on my tour, that the Congress organisation was not functioning properly. This became clearer as a result of the elections. Our central headquarters, the AICC office, functioned, I think, more or less effectively.

Some, not all, of the Pradesh Congress Committees did fairly well, though they might have done better. Very few of the District Committees functioned properly. Because of this weakness of the Congress organisation, in many places ad hoc organisations for election purposes grew up.

These ad hoc organisations often had persons unconnected with the local Congress committee. These persons did very good work indeed. Sometimes the main burden of work fell on them rather than on what might be called the official Congress members of the District.

Sometimes our choice of candidates was not very good. Often there was a complete lack of coordination between Congress candidates. Indeed, I have been informed of instances when Congress candidates even worked against each other.

At the same time, I must say that a great deal of good and hard work was put in by our workers. Indeed, but for this hard work, we would not have succeeded in the measure we have done. The electorate generally sympathised with the Congress, but they were not prepared to accept anyone who was set up. This makes it important that we should take care to choose the right candidates. What is even more important is coordination and discipline.

We have to function as a compact political party with a well-defined economic programme. We can no longer carry on in a loose and inchoate way, accepting anybody and everybody as a Congress member or candidate. Let us have, by all means, a broad enough basis, but a Congressman must believe and act upon certain principles and policies. In a democracy, quantity counts; but in a democracy, as in everything else, it is quality that tells in the end.

One good thing that has emerged from these elections is our straight fight and success against communalism. That success is significant and heartening but it is, by no means, a complete success and we have to be on our guard against it.

There was a tendency in the past for some Congressmen to compromise with it or try to ignore it for fear of consequences. There should be no such compromise in future. Where we fight it in a straight and honest way, we win. Where we compromise with it, we lose.

While we have met the challenge of straightforward communalism with success, we have unfortunately seen the growth of casteism with all its narrow-minded and painful consequences.

This has to be fought against, because it is the very negation of what the Congress has stood for and what the Constitution of India demands. I think that we should find some way to debar from Congress office any person who obviously encourages the growth of casteism or relies upon it.

We have to function now as a close-knit fellowship with intimate contacts with our people. Among the lessons we have learnt during these past months, some stand out:

(1) the need for discipline;

(2) the need for continuous personal contacts with the people;

(3) the need for hard work among and with the people;

(4) the need to make our people understand our problems and policies

and our difficulties; and

(5) the need to attract fresh blood and vital people to the Congress.”

(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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