What Nehru Flagged as ‘Most Dangerous’ Modi Now Invokes for Votes

Nehru also flagged Syama Prasad’s statements that communalism and separatism were not the real problems of India as much as poverty and unemployment were.
Jawaharlal Nehru and Narendra Modi. In the background is a blurred image of a Mumbai slum. Photos: Wikipedia, official X account, and Adam Cohn/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED).

The  18th general elections are underway with  five phases of voting already over and  the sixth and seventh phase of voting scheduled to take place on May 25 and June 1, 2024 respectively.  The  vicious communal narratives spun by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his campaign speeches in violation of the model code of conduct and the law enacted by the Parliament and the silence of the Election Commission of India (EC) to deal with such blatant breaches has outraged the whole nation.

Nehru campaigned against communalism during first general elections

Modi targeting Muslim community of our country in his campaign speeches have no parallel in the electoral history of independent India. Those deplorable articulations of Modi reminds one of the warnings of the first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru, who just before the conduct of the first general elections, had flagged that the appeal of parties by employing communal rhetoric for votes would put unity and integrity of the people and country into peril.

“This activity,” he stated,  “seldom concerns itself with any positive proposals and  asserted that “It was  largely a denunciation of Government and more especially of what is called the ‘appeasement’ policy of Government towards Muslims.” Nehru noted with sadness that “this kind of thing, adorned with an abundance of vulgar abuse, sometimes goes down with the crowd.”

Those prescient observations of Nehru uttered a few months before the first general elections are now playing out and the vulgarity associated with the communal phrases and idioms being employed by Modi and many other leaders of the BJP while campaigning during the 18th general elections make the country mindful of the dangers of such an approach  to our unity.

Nehru while taking note of the dangers of this vulgar and foolish approach and the inherent poison of communalism, expressed satisfaction that  people he  addressed with full  facts responded by rejecting that toxicity.  For instance in his election speech delivered in Ludhiana on September 30, 1951 he addressed a  gathering of about one lakh people and gave a call for an”all-out war” on communalism.

Nehru’s warning on Hindu State

Nehru in the aforementioned letter observed  that “Behind these communal bodies are the forces of every kind of social reaction”. He proceeded to add that “Some of the old ruling princes, deprived of their powers but having enough money, the jagirdars, the big zamindars, and some of the big capitalists, support these communal bodies and talk loudly of a Hindu State or a Sikh State and of ancient Hindu culture”.

“Behind this garb of ancient culture,” Nehru sharply remarked, “they hide the narrowest acquisitiveness and reaction”.

He stated, “Essentially, these communal bodies are fascist in ideology and technique. They indulge in violence and disturbance and try to terrorize people or appeal to their lowest instincts. This has seemed to me, therefore, the major evil today and I have consequently laid great stress upon it.”

Nehru’s observation in 1951 that “the big zamindars, and some of the big capitalists, support these communal bodies and talk loudly of a Hindu State or a Sikh State and of ancient Hindu culture” bear special significance in the context of the huge corporates and crony capitalists supporting and funding BJP, and Prime Minister Modi  relentlessly using highly inflammable communal narratives with an intention to polarise the electorates.

Warning on casteism  

In another letter to chief ministers on November 1, 1951 Nehru while stating that several aspects of  electioneering was most depressing as he wondered sometimes “if this particular form of democracy cannot be improved upon”. With anguish he noted that electioneering brought about  the “undesirable features in a man’s nature, his desire for power and position, his acquisitiveness and wish for self-advancement even at the cost of others, his losing all perspective of the larger issues and judging everything by some petty and personal electoral victory”. He observed with pain that caste groups were likely to play a very negative role in the elections. Noting that the Congress party took into account those worrisome developments and, therefore, in one of its sessions  passed a special resolution about anti-social tendencies and expressed the resolve of the party to  stoutly face the problem without compromising with them.

Communalism most dangerous development

Nehru, however, observed in the same letter that the most dangerous development of that time was that of communalism and separatism. He referred to the remark of Syama Prasad Mookerjee who dismissed the existence of communalism in India except the Congress policy of Muslim appeasement and described him as someone functioned in communal organisations and played  an exceedingly narrow-minded and communal role. He charged that people like Syama Prasad  saw communalism in some other group, and not their own.

Communalism flourished in the name of nationalism

Nehru observed that the partition and its consequences largely  pushed out Muslim communalism to Pakistan, where it flourished exceedingly and  resulted in encouraging Hindu and Sikh communalism in India and many other separatist tendencies. “These flourished,” he remarked,  “in the name of nationalism and culture” and   proceeded to state that those who demanded strong action including war against Pakistan, criticised his government’s  policy as one of appeasement of Pakistan,  had little role in the struggle for India’s freedom and ostensibly claimed that they were true champions of nationalism. It is quite striking that he was saying so during election campaign.

Defeat of  communalism and dealing with economic problems

Nehru also flagged Syama Prasad’s statements that communalism and separatism were not the real problems of India as much as  poverty and unemployment were. While agreeing with the point that the primary problem of India was economic in nature and everything else was secondary, Nehru stressed that to  tackle that problem effectively, there should be some unity of conception and effort.

Stating that persistence of  separatism and sectarianism would make it difficult to tackle the primary economic  problem, he wrote, “Therefore, it is of primary importance to scotch and try to put an end to these communal and separatist tendencies in order to go ahead with the primary problem of India’s economic ills”.

“But if we allow the communal spirit to grow,” he warned “…. inevitably social reaction will also grow and prevent economic progress.”

“I would like to repeat…,” he emphatically noted, “it is better to lose elections than to give up something which has been the basis of our national movement and that is the foundation of all progress in India.”

Those words of the first prime minister of India, uttered during the first general elections,  are of seminal importance when Prime Minister Modi is negating the idea of India by his visceral communal articulations and imperilling the very foundation of our country just for winning election and getting access to power.

S N Sahu served as Officer on Special Duty to President of India K R Narayanan

Courtesy: The Wire



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