What is the meaning of Nationalism? (Jawaharlal Nehru)

Below is the portion of speech delivered by Jawaharlal Nehru at a public meeting in Bhopal on June 01, 1954. To Nehru, Nationalism was to unite the country and contribute in unison to its progress.

History points out two things, the first, as I said, is our internal feuds, and the second, our overweening pride and feeling of superiority, which has prevented us from learning anything new. We often closed our minds to the advance being made in the world and so slipped back in every way. Take a small thing, for instance, the printing press. Everyone reads books nowadays and yet printing was unknown in this country till the British came and introduced it, whereas it had been known in Europe for centuries before that. Printed books had started coming into India as early as the times of Emperor Akbar but there was not the slightest desire in anyone to print them here. Is it not indeed strange? Just imagine the strength of the printed word for educating the masses and spreading a message.

Each individual is welcome to practise his own religion, whatever it may be. But we must not fragment Indian nationalism by bringing religion into it. Religion has its own place and all religions, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and others must flourish together. But if we bring religion into our national issues, we shall be lowering the standard of religion as well as politics. If religion enters politics, then it is obvious that politics will become the preserve of one religious group; other religious groups would be left out. And the country will gets divided into numerous compartments.

What is the meaning of nationalism? Nationalism means that all the citizens of a country are welded into one nation. Their views on religion and other things may be different but they belong to one nation and are bound by a common bond of nationalism. There are many things which bind us but the main bond is that we are Indians, citizens of the Republic of India. If you wish to go abroad you have to carry a passport and irrespective of your religion and caste, you will be held in respect because you are citizens of the Republic of India. You will not be known by your religion or the fact that you live in Bhopal or Delhi or Bombay or Calcutta. The only thing that is recognised in the world is the fact that you are citizens of India. If, however, we put up religious barriers then there can be no nationalism. It is true that the majority of Indians are Hindus. But please remember that there are millions of Muslims and Christians as well. Besides Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis and others have also lived in this country for hundreds or thousands of years. Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism are indigenous religions. Christianity in India exists in two forms. One is the form which has existed in South India, mostly in places like Travancore, Cochin and Madras, almost from the birth of Christianity, that is, tor the last eighteen or nineteen hundred years. It has become part of our soil. Christianity came to India even before it reached the shores of Europe and has settled down and become fully Indianised. The millions of Christians who live in the South are fully Indian. The second time it came with the Portuguese and the British and had political backing. When it came into India the first time, it was under its own steam and spread gradually over hundreds of years. The second time it was backed up by political power, which was wrong. It was not faith, but the power of the State.

All these communal organisations in the country are completely useless. They understand neither history and politics nor the modem world. This very thing has ruined India time and again in the past. I do not understand how anyone in India can fall into these misconceptions.

In short, all these religions have flourished in this country for thousands of years. Christianity came thousands of years ago, then Islam came and so did others. The followers of all the religions are citizens of this country and under our Constitution, everyone enjoys equal rights, with the proviso that nobody should interfere with or oppose other religions and people must follow their own religion peacefully. Otherwise there is a conflict. Our Constitution guarantees complete liberty and equal rights to all citizens irrespective of their religion and caste. If you deviate even slightly from this principle then there can be no unity in India, internal feuds will weaken our solidarity and our entire attention will be absorbed in controlling the situation. How can we hope to make any progress? We shall remain poor, as people in the other Asian countries.

All these communal organisations in the country are completely useless. They understand neither history and politics nor the modem world. This very thing has ruined India time and again in the past. I do not understand how anyone in India can fall into these misconceptions. Perhaps it is inevitable when we have such a large population. We must understand how improper this matter is at all times but especially now, when we are at a critical moment in the history of the world. It will once again put us in compartments, increase our narrow-mindedness and prevent us from making progress. We have to move ahead as rapidly as possible. If we slacken even a little, the rest of the world will go ahead and we shall be left behind and be absolutely crushed. When I say we, l do not mean Bhopal, Uttar Pradesh or Madhya Bharat alone but the entire country because all of us are in the same boat and can only go ahead together. It cannot be that one province of India can go ahead or be free while the rest remain backward. That is impossible.

I should like to repeat something which I have mentioned earlier too. I get reports from all over India of the progress in the work going on in the rural areas, building of schools and roads, the National Extension Service and Community Projects. From these reports, I am able to form a mental picture of the situation in India. In all this, Bhopal gets a very high place. It is obvious that the State Government has a responsibility in all this and whatever I say is automatically in praise of the Government too. But I want to express my appreciation especially of the people of Bhopal, more so of the youth and the people who live in rural areas who are doing everything. I was happy to have visited one of the camps this morning where college students and villagers were building a school and had already made a road. This is how we must work together in mutual cooperation. Shramdan or voluntary labour may not solve all of India’s problems, but it is an extremely important thing because it shows the determination and courage of a nation. When there is courage in a nation, it can achieve anything. Therefore shramdan is a good thing. I see a new wave of enthusiasm in Bhopal and all over the country.

I can give you a long list of our weaknesses. What are the weaknesses in Bhopal or Uttar Pradesh or anywhere else? What are the things that remain to be tackled? It will be a long list of the good as well as the bad and of omissions and commissions. But ultimately we have to try and judge whither the nation is headed, by balancing both sides. The important thing to be seen is whether a nation has some life in it or not. I feel that our country is definitely showing signs of an awakening and once crores of people shake themselves up, other things follow automatically. We must of course plan for it. .We had drawn up a Five Year Plan of which nearly three years have gone by. We are drawing up the Second Plan.

If you like I can give you a long list of the big things that are happening in the country. Just six weeks ago the huge dam in Bhakra-Nangal in the Punjab was completed. The waters will reach over thousands of miles to the deserts of Rajasthan all the way to Bikaner and irrigate wasteland. This is no small matter. Bhakra-Nangal is among the special achievements, not only of India, but of the world. Work on such a large scale has happened in very few places, and to have taken up this task was in itself an act of great courage. Then there is the Damodar Valley and Hirakud, and many others in the South and elsewhere. Look at the size of these schemes and it will become obvious that they take years to complete. Enormous sums of money have to be spent before they start showing results. They show results years later but then they will benefit us for generations to come. Thus they become a foundation of the nation’s progress. We have taken up these gigantic tasks which are gradually being completed. We have put up a fertiliser plant in Sindri. You may perhaps think that a factory means putting together a few machines and building a chimney. If you go to Sindri, you will see what is meant by a factory in the modern world. It is an enormous hive of industry. There are a number of huge buildings of steel and concrete and one feels as if one is in the middle of an Arabian Nights tale. Go to Bangalore where aeroplanes and trains are being built. Railway engines are being made in Chittaranjan and ships in Vishakhapatnam and innumerable other projects are under way.

So there is an all-round effort to go ahead. We make mistakes and sometimes stumble and fall. Money is occasionally wasted. I accept all this. But the nation is progressing and the main thing is that the world realizes it. You must keep this picture before you when you feel agitated about small things. You must certainly point out small errors and complain about things which are wrong. I shall not stop you. It is not the tradition in our country to stifle all criticism of the Government as in some other countries where people who do so stand in danger of their very lives. But criticisms must be constructive and based on knowledge of the complete picture and understanding of the modem world.

I have drawn your attention to a number of things. The fundamental need is to realise that the burden and responsibilities of freedom have to be borne by every individual in the country. I cannot do it all by myself without your cooperation. So you must understand the responsibilities that freedom brings. Freedom does not confer rights alone but involves responsibilities too, and this must be properly understood. It means fostering unity in the country and removing all artificial barriers. We must not indulge in the foolish habit of fighting among ourselves in the name of religion and caste. Everyone has the right to practise his own religion without interference from others.

Contributed by: Mr. Naved Ashrafi, doctoral fellow at department of political science at AMU.

Jawaharlal Nehru

Jawaharlal Nehru

Jawaharlal Nehru was first Prime Minister of the Republic of India.