“We want no Caesars”: President recalls Jawaharlal Nehru’s words

At the India Today conclave in Mumbai on Friday, President Pranab Mukherjee paid handsome tributes to the country’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Excerpts from his speech



Photo by Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

NH Web Desk

Nehru was a politician, statesman, institution builder and a nationalist committed to the plurality that makes India exceptional. He was deeply committed to building a multicultural, multi-ethnic, secular and democratic nation. Accommodation as well as inclusion of all sections of political and intellectual opinion was the key hallmark of his politics. Nehru’s thinking was of course deeply influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings.

A concrete example of the above was the approach adopted by the Congress Party under Gandhiji and Nehru to the elections held to the Constituent Assembly in July-August 1946. The Congress nominated 30 persons from outside the Party to ensure that the Assembly was truly representative. Liberal representation was given to minorities, Scheduled Castes and Tribes.

Sixteen eminent persons, including people like Sir Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyar, Sir N Gopalaswami Ayyangar (a former civil servant), HC Mookherjee (an educationist), Dr S Radhakrishnan (philosopher and educationist) and HN Kunzru (President of the Servants of India Society) were elected on the Congress ticket to broad base the Constituent Assembly and enhance participation in the making of the Constitution. All of them went on to play an important role in the debates and made significant contribution to the final formulations which were adopted as part of the Constitution.

Nehru advocated active participation of the people in the governance of the country. He was a firm believer in freedom of thought and expression. For Nehru, democracy and civil liberties were not only a means for bringing about economic and social development, but absolute values and ends in themselves. In Nehru’s thinking, only a democratic structure which gave space to various cultural, political and socio-economic voices could hold India together.

“Nehru also strongly discouraged all forms of hero worship. He said “India is too large a country with too many legitimate diversities to permit any so-called ‘strong man’ to trample over people and their ideas.” In fact, as early as in November 1937, he had penned an article titled ‘Rashtrapati’ under the pseudonym Chanakya in the ‘Modern Review’ of Calcutta edited by Ramananda Chattopadhyay. In the article, Nehru accused himself of having all the makings of a dictator and concluded—“We want no Caesars.””
President Pranab Mukherjee

Nehru was unhappy with the banning of the Communist Party in 1948 by Dr BC Roy, then Chief Minister of West Bengal, even though he was against its policies. His view was that the Communist Party should be countered through the established legal processes.

Nehru also strongly discouraged all forms of hero worship. He said "India is too large a country with too many legitimate diversities to permit any so-called ‘strong man’ to trample over people and their ideas.” In fact, as early as in November 1937, he had penned an article titled ‘Rashtrapati’ under the pseudonym Chanakya in the `Modern Review’ of Calcutta edited by Ramananda Chattopadhyay. In the article, Nehru accused himself of having all the makings of a dictator and concluded – "We want no Caesars.”

Let me add here that I believe former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was a leader in the Nehruvian mould. He was an able politician who added a personal touch to his interaction with all opposition leaders. He successfully led an NDA coalition comprising different parties with leaders holding divergent views as Prime Minister for over 6 years. He had many sterling human qualities and always combined courtesy with political sagacity.

I recall how he came across to the Opposition Bench where I was seated one day before commencement of the House. I was startled and told him – "Prime Minister, you could have sent word to me. I would have come to you.” Atalji responded – "This is a small matter. We are all colleagues.”

He then made a special request. "Do not be aggressive in your criticism of George Fernandes. He appears strong but is suffering from some serious health issues. Aggressive criticism may worsen his situation.” Touched by this personal gesture and out of concern for the welfare of George, I immediately stopped my attacks on the floor of the House.

“Let me add here that I believe former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was a leader in the Nehruvian mould. He was an able politician who added a personal touch to his interaction with all opposition leaders. He successfully led an NDA coalition comprising different parties with leaders holding divergent views as Prime Minister for over 6 years. He had many sterling human qualities and always combined courtesy with political sagacity.”
President Pranab Mukherjee

Friends,

I joined active politics in 1966, two years after Nehru had passed away. I had, therefore, no occasion to meet him in person. However, my subsequent entry into Parliament in 1969 spurred me to study and understand Nehru further as well as adopt him as an icon, especially with regard to Parliamentary matters.

Nehru was at core an institution builder. Respectful of the apex institution of India’s new democracy, he spoke frequently in Parliament and used it as a forum to disseminate his views to the public. Despite the majority enjoyed by the Congress Party, he ensured that the Parliament always reflected the will of the entire people. He was often seen sitting patiently through long and sometimes boring debates—and was an example to his colleagues and young Parliamentarians. Even during the last few months of his life—when he was ill—he did not miss a single session and would insist on rising to his feet whenever he had to speak, to maintain the decorum of the House.

“On the eve of our first general election, The Manchester Guardian wrote—“If ever a country took a leap in the dark towards democracy it was India.” If from that situation, India is today admired across the world as the largest functioning democracy, it is because of the strong leadership and liberal values provided by Nehru which enabled democracy take deep root in our country. It is to Nehru that credit goes for making the Indian Parliament a vibrant, powerful institution; establishing healthy traditions in Parliamentary practice and for the building of institutions essential to support our democratic structure such as an independent judiciary, free press, autonomous Election Commission and a Comptroller and Auditor General for independent scrutiny of Government expenditure.”
President Pranab Mukherjee

Nehru believed that all programmes and policies of the Government had to be properly debated, understood, evaluated and then accepted. He sought to create a consensus on major issues so that people felt motivated and involved in the task of building the nation as well as safeguarding its freedom and democratic institutions. He believed that the Parliament was the primary forum for the holding of such debates and the evolution of a consensus.

Friends,

On the eve of our first general election, The Manchester Guardian wrote—"If ever a country took a leap in the dark towards democracy it was India.” If from that situation, India is today admired across the world as the largest functioning democracy, it is because of the strong leadership and liberal values provided by Nehru which enabled democracy take deep root in our country. It is to Nehru that credit goes for making the Indian Parliament a vibrant, powerful institution; establishing healthy traditions in Parliamentary practice and for the building of institutions essential to support our democratic structure such as an independent judiciary, free press, autonomous Election Commission and a Comptroller and Auditor General for independent scrutiny of Government expenditure.

This is an edited excerpt from the President’s speech delivered at the India Today conclave at Mumbai on Friday, March 17.

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Published: 17 Mar 2017, 8:05 PM