Nehru's Word: Public sentiment is with the Congress party

Campaigning for the first elections in 1951-52, Nehru underscored that elections were about principles and policies, not personalities

Jawaharlal Nehru addresses the AMU convocation at Aligarh, 1948
Jawaharlal Nehru addresses the AMU convocation at Aligarh, 1948

Jawaharlal Nehru

As the curtains descend on what has arguably been the most fractious election in India’s history, following a campaign that will be remembered for blatant violations of the Model Code of Conduct, what might we have learned from the advice and example of the first prime minister of India?

Jawaharlal Nehru repeatedly underscored, in the course of his campaign for the first general elections in 1951-52, that elections should be an occasion for debates on principles and policies, not personalities; and that they should be conducted in a calm and reasoned manner. Extracts from speeches made in Delhi on 5 and 13 January 1952 elaborate on these issues.

The Congress is the only organised and most progressive force in the country today that can effectively tackle the pressing problems of the day.... The Congress represents the biggest progressive force in the country because of its organisation and the support it enjoys from the people.

The Congress alone as an organisation has the wherewithal to lead the people towards progress. It is for this reason that all forces opposed to progress are trying their level best to undermine the influence of the Congress. In whatever garb they may come or whatever they may say, the reactionary elements in India are aiming by every means to disrupt the Congress.

But I have seen during my recent tours of the country, during which I have addressed about two crores of people, that the people are still behind the Congress. The enthusiasm of the people for the Congress belied the claims of the detractors who said the Congress is withering away and had become a lifeless body waiting to be consigned to flames....

India is facing a test today and the whole world is watching how India emerges out of these elections. The test is how we fight the elections, in a strikingly peaceful way or not, and what political forces emerge.

It is very necessary that Parliament and the legislatures should have stable majorities to run stable governments. It is for this reason that I stress repeatedly that the Congress candidates should be returned, because the Congress alone can provide the stable majority in all legislatures and keep the country united.

None of the other parties has set up candidates in all constituencies as the Congress has done. There is now little point in their shouting that people should not vote for the Congress…


I have been touring all over India during the last two months and, during this time, I have covered vast distances and visited practically every comer of the country. India is a huge country and it is not possible to visit every single place.

But even so, I have gone to many places and met millions of people wherever I have gone. I have seen them, talked to them, listened to what they have to say. In this way, I have come into close contact with the people of India, and gradually a picture of the country began to form in my mind.

I returned to Delhi a couple of days ago and heard that the election fever is mounting. I have read reports and statements and newspapers, and formed an idea of what is going on in Delhi and elsewhere in the country. I have been able to form an idea of the kind of bargaining and horse-trading that is taking place between various parties.

As you know, there is no other example of general elections on such a vast scale as they are going to take place in India. It is a matter of courage to hold these elections, to make the necessary arrangements and let the people in their millions decide the fate of this country. It is a good thing that people have been forced to think about the problems which beset the country.

The party workers have shaken off their lethargy and come out to work. It is a good thing to educate public opinion on political issues. I feel that the country has undoubtedly been benefited by this on the one hand, but on the other, a suspicion rears its head when I hear all those speeches and statements of other political parties as to what connection they could have with educating public opinion when they are so often full of abuses.

I have seldom found any serious thinking about important national issues. Such extraordinary things are said that I am often amazed how any thinking individual who understands the circumstances or conditions in India could say them.

Then there is so much noise and commotion. Does it not show narrowness of mind? Elections no doubt generate some interest on national issues. But it is our duty to think about the country’s problems with calm minds, and ask ourselves if noise and falsehoods and rumours and slander help.

I would have liked our election meetings to take place in an atmosphere of calm and peace which would enable people to think about national and international issues. That is the only way to throw some light on these matters, not by indulging in slanging matches.

Therefore, on the one hand, elections are useful, but on the other, the atmosphere of heightened tensions and noise is harmful and prevents people from thinking. Even otherwise, most of us are engaged in our petty preoccupations of day-to-day living and it is seldom that larger issues trouble us.

Anyhow, it is not possible to think calmly about anything in the din of electioneering. I do not know if the real issues of the nation have come before you. We must not get carried away in a momentary passion or allow undue pressures to be exerted upon us by considerations of family, friendship, caste or community and forget the important national issues when voting.

I was reading some of the statements made by some people during the last few days. I have written down some of the points to read out to you. I was amazed at some of the things that have been said. I have always tried my best during my election tour to put issues calmly before the millions of people who have come to my meetings in the last two months, avoiding, as far as possible references to personalities.

I am concerned with principles and ideals and want others to do the same. Most of my speeches have been about the large national issues, aimed at making people understand the problems that beset India.

Selected and edited by Mridula Mukherjee, former professor of History at JNU and former director of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library