Small men, narrow minds, petty principles: Nehru in 1951 on communalism

In this speech selected by historian Mridula Mukherjee, the first Prime Minister addressed the question of communalism, which, he felt, overshadowed every other problem before the new nation

Small men, narrow minds, petty principles: Nehru in 1951 on communalism
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Mridula Mukherjee

At Allahabad, December 12, 1951

(Original in Hindi)

Nowadays as you know I often refer to the problem of communalism, etc. People often complain - among them are some old friends and colleagues -that by talking of communalism, Jawaharlal wishes to hide his weaknesses and failures and tries to sweep the real problem, the economic problem of the country, under the carpet.

I would like to point out very respectfully that it is a totally unjustified criticism because …this is the only important problem before which everything else becomes rather insignificant. So, therefore, when I refer to communalism, it is because it creates obstacles in the way of solving the basic problem of removal of poverty ...

The individual who is communal-minded is a small man with a narrow mind who cannot undertake anything big; and nations based on petty principles also become small. We had become great intellectually because Mahatma Gandhi came and raised the stature of our country and widened our horizon. But there are others who come and talk of communalism whether the word 'communal' is used or not, the result is that we immediately shrink in size and our country also shrinks.

How can you hope to solve any problem, when the communal-minded cannot understand the problem itself? Everyone is prepared to give an answer without knowing what the question is. Therefore, I lay stress on this.

I am amazed when I see in certain newspapers statements and speeches specially from our communalist organisations like the Hindu Mahasabha, Ram Rajya Parishad, Jan Sangh and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. They hotly deny that they are communal organisations. Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee denies very forcibly that the RSS and the Jan Sangh are communal.

What can I say in reply for it has not been put down on paper nor will anyone be foolish enough to shout from the roof tops that he is communal. But people are recognised by their activities and traditions. If there is a communal organisation in India today, it is the Jan Sangh, which is not only communal, but is utterly reactionary in every way. I am saying this from my personal knowledge.

It is no secret that the most reactionary people in India today are the princes and jagirdars and others, who, I think, should be labelled 'backward classes' and all of them are behind the Jan Sangh. They throw money lavishly.

You may wonder why I am mentioning money. The Congress is a very big organisation but, as far as I could make out, other parties are spending ten times as much as we are in these elections. They are spending enormous sums because the coffers of the capitalists are open to them.

So, communalism opens up an old wound and keeps it festering and therefore, it is very dangerous. We must remedy that by changing our social fabric so that this malaise may be removed as also the factors which increase it and put India in a terrible situation.

This is not a Hindu-Muslim question, or it is only partly so. Pakistan was created because of the communalism of the Muslim League and, as a result, there were terrible riots in August-September in 1947. Please remember that the moment you open the doors to it, it spreads very fast as it has among the Sikhs and the Hindus in the Punjab, among the Brahmins and non-Brahmins in the south, etc.

There are all sorts of castes, Lingayats in Karnataka. Bhumihars and Kayasthas in Bihar and there is constant fighting among them. It is a strange situation and you must realise how dangerous it is. If we do not suppress it and fight against it or give it any scope whatsoever, it will pull India from her roots. I am convinced of that. We must understand where its roots are and strike at them.

Political communalism is a superficial thing ....The communal organisations are doing a great deal of damage by constantly spreading ill-feeling. This is not open to argument. If my argument is right, then they are causing harm not only to the entire national cause but also to their own narrow cause because the Hindus cannot hope to make progress through the Jan Sangh or the Hindu Mahasabha and want the others in India to be left behind. It is a childish thought because not only the others, but the Hindus will also be left behind. Similarly, the Sikhs are a brave people and have shown great courage wherever they have gone, and are very capable and hardworking. But I am amazed at the way some of their leaders work almost as if they are prepared to take on the rest of India as their enemy. What is all this?

If I lay stress on the dangers of communalism, what is wrong in that? It is a fundamental question. If we follow a narrow, petty path in every matter, how can India progress? The moment you become a little lax, the disease would spread everywhere. Now that the elections are round the comer, you hear of the big parties but behind every one of them, there are considerations of caste and sub-caste till the whole thing becomes a maze. Is this a nation? I cannot understand it.

Until we bring this under control, how can we become a nation? This is why I lay stress on this. But apart from this, the way communalism is growing, especially the demand of its votaries that Pakistan should be attacked and their accusations that I try to appease Pakistan and I show weakness and there should be a confrontation on the Kashmir issue, etc. is extremely dangerous.

What can I say in my defence? The word 'appease' has become a sort of an abuse in India and elsewhere too and perhaps people feel I am prepared at all times to appease. I am neither ashamed nor scared of this word. I say it openly and shall say it ten times. I agree that if something which is against the honour and national interest of India, is done, it is absolutely wrong. But keeping in mind India's honour and her national interest, we must at all times try to appease every country in the world. I say it quite openly. And do they mean it when they wish us to hurl these childish threats of military attacks, etc.?

As a matter of fact, it has become a habit with these people to start abusing when they make speeches and they think they are showing their strength.... I had said, and I shall repeat this, that the conspiracy to kill Mahatma Gandhi had been hatched in Gwalior and that the Hindu Mahasabha had a big hand in it. There is one thing more. Since then the Hindu Mahasabha has repeatedly mentioned Godse's name and praised him, and passed resolutions congratulating him. How can the Hindu Mahasabha think that under such circumstances I can respect their party even a little?

I can tell you quite honestly that I consider them as traitors ....

Therefore, taking all this into account I came to the conclusion that the Congress has to go on, in spite of the weaknesses and defects which creep into an organisation that has tasted success. I do not see any other organisation capable of carrying on the process of consolidation and undertaking the economic tasks successfully. Having realised this fact I threw myself heart and soul into the task of reorganising the Congress. But the elections intervened and they have to be seen through.

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