(26) – MODERN INDIAN PERCEPTIONS OF INDIA AND THE WEST (38): (xxxx) SOCIAL REFORM: UNDERLYING ASSUMPTIONS: Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru
I would talk of Nehru as two not one!
He earned the distinction of being part of my Dharma tweets because he had a role in the events leading to the partition of India.
It had been as controversial as has been the direction that he gave to the Indian nation as its first Prime Minister from 1947 to 1964. He died in 1964.
We are concerned here not with his politics but with the assumptions, the intellectual foundations.
These foundations on which he based his understanding of Indian society and its future.
From these foundations followed the policies of the Government of post-partition India.
There were two Nehrus: the Jawaharlal of 1933, who wrote Whither India?
It was published as a series of articles in the Indian press on 9 11 October of that year.
Jawaharlal of 1958, who wrote The Basic Approach, published in the A.I.C.C. Economic Review of August 15 was different.
Intellectually and emotionally, the later Nehru was as different from the earlier man, although not quite as radically so.
It was like the Manabendra Nath Roy of India in Transition had been from the Roy of India: Her Past, Present and Future.
The interesting thing is that the later Jawaharlal, of 1958, had beliefs more akin to the earlier Roy, of 1918.
It was a belief that Indian society can best be raised on that inner unity of all life, the divine impulse, or life force, that pervades the universe, as seen in the Vedanta.
But the earlier Jawaharlal, of 1933, had very nearly the same assumptions which the later Roy of the Marxist phase had.
That Hindu nationalism is the force of reaction, employed to keep the masses ignorant and oppressed, that India’s struggle to obtain freedom from British rule is part of the great struggle which is going on all over the world it was for the emancipation of peasants and workers and that socialism is the only future for India, as it is for the world.
In the same year in which Nehru wrote Whither India, 1933, soon after his release from prison he had written a series of letters, while he was in prison from October 1930 to August 1933, to his young daughter Indira.
He wrote to educate her in the history of India and the world, and in the philosophy of the Indian nationalist movement of course.
They were published in 1934 as Glimpses of World History, with a ‘Preface’ by him.
In his letter of 14 May 1933 he tells her how there were three different varieties of nationalism at work in India, the first two being Hindu nationalism and the second is the nationalism of the Muslims.
Of these, Nehru says, Muslim nationalism was not ‘true nationalism’, because it had at the same time religious international loyalties.
It was difficult to draw a sharp line between Hindu nationalism and true nationalism, for ‘The two overlapped, as India is the only home of the Hindus and they form a majority there.
It was thus easier for the Hindus to appear as full blooded nationalists than for the Muslims, although each stood’ for his own particular brand of nationalism’.
Nehru characterised, them, dismissively, as ‘religious and communal’.
He did so without examining what possible meaning could there be in his attaching the word communal’ to them as their main attribute.
This introduced into Indian perceptions much confusion.
For now the assumption was that any agenda that was Hindu, or Muslim, was communal and, to Jawaharlal, what was communal, the word itself had a bad smell.
He further assumed that what was ‘communal’ was always ‘religious’, and would thereafter use the two words together, ‘religious and communal’.
He would see in them the main problem of Indian society, and would separate them from ‘true nationalism’.
But he never really defined what ‘true nationalism, or what he also called ‘real or Indian nationalism” was.
He simply put that undefined entity in opposition to Hindu nationalism and Muslim nationalism.
Since these two were ‘religious and communal’, Indian nationalism ‘strictly speaking, was the only form which could be called nationalism in the modern sense of the word” Nehru argued.
In that case, his argument ought to have been, not that they were religious and communal, but that they were no nationalism at all, and he should have then proceeded to show how the assumptions on which they were based were false, and that ‘real’, or ‘true’, nationalism in India was Indian nationalism, to which he ought to have given not just a name but substance.
Nehru mentioned also ‘a third type of sectional nationalism’ Sikh nationalism.
He says that although ‘In the past the dividing line between the Sikhs and the Hindus had been rather vague’, one effect of the national awakening was that it ‘also shook up the virile Sikhs, and they began to work for a more distinct and separate existence.
Nehru’s theory is that ‘The bulk of them were peasant proprietors in the Punjab, and they felt themselves menaced by the town bankers and other city interests.
This was the real motive behind their desire for a separate group recognition.’
He says that in the beginning it took the form of agitating for ‘the possession of property belonging to shrines’, and ‘came into conflict with the Government over this’, but later they ‘turned to the political field and rivalled the other communal groups in making extreme demands for themselves.’
Nehru now talked of ‘Hindu and Muslim and Sikh nationalisms’.
Besides calling them ‘religious and communal’, he characterised them, in a muddle of political vocabulary, ‘group nationalism”.
By “Group Nationalism” he implied that the Hindus, the Muslims and the Sikhs were not even communities but ‘groups’.
In his view ‘Non co-operation had stiffed up India thoroughly, and the first results of this shaking up were these group awakenings’.
This is even chronologically not correct. For Hindu nationalism was being advocated by Tilak and the earlier Aurobindo for at least two decades earlier.
Its philosophical and emotional foundations had already been laid by very many people by the end of the nineteenth century.
Muslim nationalism was to grow from what Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan was telling the Indian Muslims soon after the events of 1857; and its premises were clear in the birth of the Muslim League in 1906 at Dacca.
Nehru spoke also of ‘many other smaller groups which gained self¬consciousness’, and mentioned the so called ‘Depressed Classes’.
‘These people’, he said, ‘long suppressed by the upper class Hindus, were chiefly the landless labourers in the fields.
It was natural that when they gained self consciousness a desire to get rid of their many disabilities should possess them and a bitter anger against those Hindus who had for centuries oppressed them.’
Just around that time Bhimrao Ambedkar was arguing, as we saw earlier, that the Depressed Classes were not a small group but constituted the largest part of Indian society, a part that produced also the most substantial portion of national wealth but were treated inhumanly.
Nehru concluded that ‘Each awakened group looked at nationalism and patriotism in the light of its own interests’:
‘The demands of the Muslim communal leaders were such as to knock the bottom out of all hope of true national unity in India.
To combat them on their own communal lines, Hindu communal organizations grew into prominence.
Posing as true nationalists, they were as sectarian and narrow as others’: ‘and, inevitably, there was conflict.’
‘As inter-communal bitterness increased, the more extreme communal leaders of each group came to the front’:
‘The conflict was aggravated in a variety of ways by the Government, especially by their encouraging the more extreme communal leaders, ‘So the poison went on spreading, and we seemed to be in a vicious circle from which there was no obvious way out.’
M.N. Roy had complained, as we saw, that the most outstanding feature of the Indian national movement has been its lack of theoretical foundation.
Some twelve years later, Nehru found the same lack.
‘It is worthwhile therefore to clear our minds of all the tangled webs that may have grown there’, he pleaded ‘and go back a little to basic facts and principles’; for ‘Right action cannot come out of nothing; it must be preceded by thought.’
The principles which the earlier Nehru invoked, and the concerns which determined his view of future India, were not of nationalism but of socialism.
With the foregoing assumptions firmly embedded in his mind, Jawaharlal asked: ‘What exactly do we want? And why do we want it, the same two questions which Roy had asked, in 1922, in his What Do We Want. ‘Whither India?’, the earlier Nehru asked.
´Surely to the great human goal of social and economic equality, to the ending of all exploitation of nation by nation and class by class, to national freedom within the framework of an international cooperative socialist world federation.’
To this he added, in the course of the debate that followed the publication of his article Whither India?, the following proposals.
‘I want to increase the wealth of India and the standards of living of the Indian people and it seems to me that this can only be done by the application of science to industry resulting in large scale industrialization’; ‘I believe in industrialization and the big machine.’
He proposed that the caste system is only a petrified form of class division and must be done away with.
So far as religion is concerned, he proposed that it should be a personal affair and must not interfere in political or economic questions.
The earlier Nehru had completely rejected the premises on which, in his Hind Swaraj, 1909, Gandhi had based his vision of future India.
Gandhi maintained till the last day of his life that India must not follow the ways of Western civilization.
‘That is because, he argued, modern Western civilization is based on industrialism, which by its very nature is raised on violence to the individual, and whatever is raised on violence can produce only evil.
Instead, Gandhi talked of Rama¬Rajya as an ideal system of social relationships.
In his letter of 11 January 1928 Jawaharlal was telling Gandhi: ‘You misjudge greatly, I think, the civilization of the West’;
‘I certainly disagree with this viewpoint and I neither think that the so-called Ram Raj was very good in the past, nor do I want it back.
I think that Western or rather industrial civilization is bound to conquer India, maybe with many changes and adaptations, but none the less, in the main, based on industrialism.’
A week later, on 17 January, Gandhi replied to Nehru, saying: ‘The differences between you and me appear to me to be so vast and radical that there seems to be no meeting ground between us’;
‘I see quite clearly that you must carry on open warfare against me and my views.’
But, Gandhi added, ‘I suggest a dignified way of unfurling your banner. Write to me a letter for publication showing your differences. I will print it in Young India and write a brief reply.’ Nehru did not do that.
And the socialists within the Congress party continued to attack Gandhi.
In 1918 M. N. Roy had advocated the Vedanta as the highest philosophy of life.
‘This concept of the unity of the universe, the realization of the identity of the individual with cosmic existence, is India’s contribution to the progress of humanity’, he had then believed.
All this would soon be superseded by his passion for Marxism and communism.
By 1946 he would abandon that passion and develop his philosophy of Radical Humanism.
It was Roy, more than India, who was in transition.
His biographer, and also an intimate colleague during the later part of his life, Sibnarayan Ray, tells us: ‘the misgivings about the ruthless pursuit of power and suppression of intellectual freedom which had arisen in his mind in consequence of his personal experience in the late 1920s, and the subsequent revelations of the ugly features of the Bolshevik regime during the 1930s and early 1940s gradually undermined his faith in the moral and the intellectual soundness of communism as an ideology’.
Roy now believed that ‘Freedom for the common man had become even more remote under the dictatorship of the Party than in the bourgeois democracies’.
Sibnarayan says: ‘Rejecting then nationalism, bourgeois democracy and communism, Roy now searched for a new body of principles which would both explain historic processes and provide guidelines for a restructuring of society towards freedom and justice in an increasing manner in the lives of the common people.’
Jawaharlal was on a similar path by 1958.
In The Basic Approach he had abandoned every one of the main theses he had propounded in Whither India?.
The chief elements of Gandhi’s vision of future India were now also what constituted Nehru’s profoundly changed perceptions.
The second Nehru now believed, with Gandhi, that Western economics has little bearing on India’s present day problems.
We have to do ‘our own thinking’, to find a path suited ‘to our own conditions’.
Communism has allied itself to the approach of violence: its language is of violence; its thought is violent.
Violence cannot possibly lead to a solution of any major problem.
Wrong means will not lead to right results; and this is no longer merely an ethical doctrine but a practical proposition.
There has got to be a moral and spiritual approach to human problems; materialistic considerations alone will not do.
The law of life should not be competition, nor acquisitiveness, but cooperation, the good of each contributing to the good of all.
In such a society, the emphasis will be on duties, not on rights; the rights will follow the performance of the duties.
It is the quality of human being that ultimately counts.
The touchstone should be how far any political or social theory enables the individual to rise above his petty self and thus think in terms of the good of all.
We have to give a new direction to education and evolve a new type of humanity.
This leads us to the Vedantic conception that everything finds a place in the organic whole; everything has a spark of the divine impulse.
This might help us to get rid of our narrowness of race, caste or class and make us more tolerant and understanding.
These are Nehru’s own words.
But these were the very propositions, all in the framework of Hindu nationalism of course, which were being advanced by Madhav Golwalkar as well.
Earlier having seen Nehru as a communalist, because he was talking of India as a Hindu nation, and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh as a communal organisation, because it was working to restore to Hindu society its disturbed unity, the later Nehru should have clearly acknowledged that he was now of the same mind as Golwalkar as regards the basic principles for which he had little use earlier.
Nehru did not quite do that. Nor did he acknowledge his debt to the Mahatma.
This failure had a crucial bearing on the policies which, with Nehru as Prime Minister, were being followed by the Government.
For those were mostly based on the theses he had advanced in 1933, but had now abandoned, but without replacing their intellectual premises with those he came to profess in 1958.
This meant that those policies continued, with assumptions he no longer believed in, and what he now believed in was of little consequence for official India.
Neither did the later Nehru break the mold of political debate which he had himself created, and which was always profoundly misleading.
Not the least part of that language is the assumed conflict between communalism and secularism, perceived also as a central issue in modern India.
In this there has been a confusion of terms, from which has arisen the confusion of perceptions.
Properly speaking, the conflict can be between communalism and nationalism, between the limited interests of a community and the larger interests of the nation, and not between communalism and secularism, for it is not to community that secularism is opposed but to organised religion.
It is entirely conceivable that, in being communal, a viewpoint may still be quite secular.
But the political debate in India has centred on communalism v/s secularism.
At no point of time was any serious effort made to examine what precisely did these words connote in the Indian context.
It was assumed, by Jawaharlal Nehru most of all, that there existed, corresponding to the words ‘communalism’ and ‘secularism’, a state of mind and a social situation in India.
This assumption, on which many State policies were based, was not only wrong but also dangerous.
It did not describe a situation, but created it.
With the publication of Basic Approach, the debate ought to have shifted from the controversy of communalism vs secularism to asking the question: what, indeed, is the swa, or ‘one’s own’, of Indian civilization, its distinctive nature, in the light of which must India build its future?
And it is about this that there have been huge misconceptions, in which lie the roots of Indian violence.