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  • Presidential Address at the Lahore Congress Session

Select Speeches and Writings of Nehru

For four-and-forty years this National Congress has labored for the freedom of India. During this period it has somewhat slowly but surely awakened national consciousness from its long stupor and built up the national movement. If today we are gathered here at a crisis of our destiny, conscious of our strength as well as of our weakness, and looking with hope and apprehension to the future, it is well that we give first thought to those who spent their lives with little hope of reward so that those that follow them may have the joy of achievement. Many of the giants of old are not with us and we of a later day, standing on an eminence of their creation, may often decry their efforts. That is the way of the world. But none of you can forget them or the great work they did in laying the foundations of a free India. And none of us can ever forget that glorious band of men and women who, without reckoning the consequences, have laid down their young lives or spent their bright youth in suffering and torment in utter protest against a foreign domination. Many of their names even are not known to us. They labored and suffered in silence without any expectation of public applause, and by their heart’s blood they nursed the tender plant of India’s freedom. While many of us temporised and compromised, they stood up and proclaimed a people’s right to freedom and declared to the world that India, even in her degradation, had the spark of life in her, because she refused to submit to tyranny and serfdom. Brick by brick has our national movement been built up, and often on the prostrate bodies of her martyred sons has India advanced. The giants of old may not be with us, but the courage of old is with us still, and India can yet produce martyrs like Jatin Das and Wizaya…..

…..this is the glorious legacy that we have inherited, and you wish to put me in charge of it. I have known well that I occupy this honoured place by chance more than by your deliberate design. Your desire was to choose another – one who towers above all others in this present day world of ours – and there could have been no wiser choice. But fate and he conspired together and thrust me against your will and mine into this terrible seat of responsibility. Should I express my gratitude to you for having placed me in this dilemma? But I am grateful indeed for your confidence in one who strangely lacks it himself…..

….You will discuss many vital national problems that face us today, and your decisions may change the course of Indian history. But you are not the only people that are faced with problems. The whole world today is one vast question mark, and every country and every people is in the melting pot. The age of faith, with the comfort and stability it brings, is past, and there is questioning about everything, however permanent or sacred it might have appeared to our forefathers. Everywhere there is doubt and restlessness, and the foundations of the state and society are in process of transformation.

Old established ideas of liberty, justice, property and even the family are being attacked, and the outcome hangs in the balance. We appear to be in a dissolving period of history, when the world is in labour and, out of her travail, will give birth to a new order….

…..When everything is changing it is well to remember the long course of Indian history. Few things in history are more amazing than the wonderful stability of the social structure in India which withstood the impact of numerous alien influences and thousands of years of change and conflict. It withstood them because it always sought to absorb them and tolerate them. Its aim was not to exterminate but to establish an equilibrium between different cultures. Aryans and non – Aryans settled down together recognising each other’s right to their culture, and outsiders who came, like the Parsis, found a welcome and a place in the social order. With the coming of the Muslims the equilibrium was disturbed, but India sought to restore it, and largely succeeded. Unhappily for us, before we could adjust our differences, the political structure broke down, the British came and we fell….

….Great as was the success of India in evolving a stable society, she failed in a vital particular, and because she failed in this, she fell and remains fallen. No solution was found for the problem of equality. India deliberately ignored this and build up her social structure on inequality, and we have the tragic consequences of this policy – millions of our people who till yesterday were suppressed and had little opportunity for growth….

….When Europe fought her wars of religion and Christians massacred each other in the name of their Saviour, India was tolerant, although, alas, there is little of this toleration today. Having attained some measure of religious liberty, Europe sought after political liberty and political and legal equality. Having attained these also, she finds that they mean very little without economic liberty and equality. And so today politics have ceased to have much meaning, and the most vital question is that of social and economic equality….

…..India also will have to find a solution to this problem, and until she does so, her political and social structure cannot have stability. That solution need not necessarily follow the example of any other country. It must, if it has to endure, be based on the genius of her people and be an outcome of her thought and culture. And when it is found, the unhappy difference between various communities, which trouble us today and keep back our freedom, will automatically disappear….

….Indeed the real differences have already largely gone, but fear of each other and distrust and suspicion remain and sow seeds of discord. The problem before us is not one of removing differences. They can well remain side by side and enrich our many-sided culture. The problem is how to remove fear and suspicion, and, being intangible, their logic and cold reason are poor weapons to fight fear and distrust. Only faith and generosity can overcome them. I can only hope that the leaders of the various communities will have this faith and generosity in ample measure…..

….. I have no love for bigotry and dogmatism in religion and I am glad that they are weakening. Nor do I love communalism in any shape or form. I find it difficult to appreciate why political or economic rights should depend on the membership of a religious group or community….

….there is talk of world peace and pacts have been signed by the nations of the World. But despite pacts armaments grow and beautiful language is the only homage that is paid to the goddess of peace. Peace can only come when the cause of war is removed. So long as there is the domination of one country over another, or the exploitation of one class by another, there will always be attempts to subvert the existing order, and no stable equilibrium can endure. Out of imperialism and capitalism peace can never come. And it is because the British empire stands for these, and bases itself on the exploitation of the masses, that we can find no willing place in it. No gain that may come to us is worth anything unless it helps in removing the grievous burdens on our masses. The weight of a great empire is heavy to carry, and long our people have endured it. Their backs are bent and down and their spirit has almost broken. How will they share in the commonwealth partnership if the burden of exploitation continues? Many of the problems we have to face are the problems of vested interests, mostly created or encouraged by the British Government. The interests of rulers of Indian states, of British officials and British capital and Indian capital and of the owners of big zamindaris are ever thrust before us, and they clamour for protection. The unhappy millions who really need protection are almost voiceless, and have few advocates. So long as the British empire continues in India, in whatever shape it may do so, it will strengthen these vested interests and create more. And each one of them will be a fresh obstacle in our way. Of necessity the government has to rely on oppression, and the symbol of its rule is the secret service with its despicable and contemptible train of agents provocateur, informers and approvers…..

…..We stand, therefore, today for the fullest freedom of India. This Congress has not acknowledged and will not acknowledge the right of the British Parliament to dictate to us in any way. To it we make no appeal. But we do appeal to the Parliament and conscience of the world, and to them we shall declare, I hope, that India submits no longer to any foreign domination. Today or tomorrow we may not be strong enough to assert our will. We are very conscious of our weakness, and there is no boasting in us or pride of strength. But let no one, least of all England, mistake or underrate the meaning or strength of our resolve. Solemnly, with full knowledge of consequences, I hope, we shall take it and there will be no turning back. A great nation cannot be thwarted for long when once its mind is clear and resolved. If today we fail and tomorrow brings no success, the day after will follow and bring achievement……

…..Yet we cannot ignore the problems that beset us and that make or mar our struggle and our future constitution. We have to aim at social adjustment and equilibrium, and to overcome the forces of disruption that have been the bane of India…..

…..I must frankly confess that I am a socialist and a republican, and am no believer in kings and princes, or in the order which produces the modern kings of industry, who have greater power over the lives and fortunes of men then even the kings of old, and whose methods are as predatory as those of the old feudal aristocracy. I recognise, however, that it may not be possible for a body constituted as is this National Congress and in the present circumstance of the country, to adopt a full socialistic programme. But we must realise that the philosophy of socialism has gradually permeated the entire structure of society the world over, and almost the only points in dispute are the pace and the methods of advance to its full realisation. India will have to go that way, too, if she seeks to end her poverty and inequality, though she may evolve her own methods and may adapt the ideal to the genius of her race….

…..We have three major problems - the minorities, the Indian states, and labour and peasantry. I have dealt already with the question of minorities. I shall only repeat that we must give the fullest assurance by our words and deeds that their culture and traditions will be safe….

….Our third major problem is the biggest of all. For India means the peasantry and labour, and to the extent that we raise them and satisfy their wants, will we succeed in our task. And the measure f the strength of our national movement will be the measure of their adherence to it. We can only gain them to our side by espousing their cause, which is really the country’s cause. The Congress has often expressed its good will toward them, but beyond that it has not gone. The Congress, it is said, must hold the balance fairly between capital and labour and zamindar and tenant. But the balance has been and is terribly weighted on one side, and to maintain the status quo is to maintain injustice and exploitation. The only way to right it is to do away with the domination of any one class over another. That All India Congress Committee accepted this ideal of social and economic change in a resolution it passed some months ago in Bombay. I hope the Congress will also set its seal on it, and will further draw up a programme of such changes as can be immediately put in operation…..

….In this programme perhaps the Congress as a whole cannot go very far today. But it must keep the ultimate deal in view and work for it. The question is not one merely of wages and charity doled out by an employer or landlord. Paternalism in industry or in the land is but a form of charity with all its sting and its utter incapacity to root out the evil. The new theory of trusteeship, with some advocate, is equally barren. For trusteeship means that the power for good or evil remains with the self-appointed trustee, and he may exercise it as he will. The sole trusteeship that can be fair is the trusteeship of the nation and not of one individual or a group. Many Englishmen honestly consider themselves the trustees for India , and yet to what a condition have they reduced our country!....

….We have to decide for whose benefit industry must be run and the land produce food. Today the abundance that the land produces is not for the peasant or the labourer who work on it, and industry’s chief function is supposed to be to produce millionaires. However golden the harvest and heavy the dividends, the mud huts and hovels and nakedness of our people testify to the glory of the British empire and of our present social system….

….Our economic programme must, therefore, be based on a human outlook and must not sacrifice man to money. If an industry cannot be run without starving its workers, then the industry must close down. If the workers on the land have not enough to eat, then the intermediaries who deprive them of their full share must go. The least that every worker in field or factory is entitled to is a minimum wage which will enable him to live in moderate comfort and humane hours of labour which do not break his strength and spirit. The All Parties Committee accepted the principle and included it in their recommendations. I hope the Congress will also do so, and will in addition be prepared to accept its natural consequences. Further, that it will adopt the well-known demands of labour for a better life, and will give every assistance to it to organise itself and prepare itself for the day when it can control industry on a cooperative basis…..

…..But industrial labour is only a small part of India, although it is rapidly becoming a force that cannot be ignored. It is the peasantry that cry loudly and piteously for relief, and our programme must deal with their present condition. Real relief can only come by a great change in the land laws and the basis of the present system of land tenure. We have among us many big landowners, and we welcome them. But they must realise that the ownership of large estates by individuals, which is the outcome of a state resembling the old feudalism of Europe, is a rapidly disappearing phenomenon all over the world. Even in countries which are the strongholds of capitalism the large estates are being split up and given to the peasantry who work on them. In India also we have large areas where the system of peasant proprietorship prevails, and we shall have to extend this all over the country. I hope that in doing so we may have the cooperation of women at least of the big landowners…

….it is not possible for this Congress at its annual session to draw up any detailed economic programme. It can only lay down some general principles and call upon the All India Congress Committee to fill in the details of cooperation with the representatives of the Trade Union Congress and other organisations which are vitally interested in this matter. Indeed I hope that the cooperation between this Congress and the Trade Union Congress will grow, and the two organisations will fight side by side in future struggles….

…..all these are pious hopes till we gain power, and the real problem, therefore, before us is the conquest of power. We shall not do so by subtle reasoning or argument or lawyer’s quibbles, but by the forging of sanctions to enforce the nation’s will. To that end this Congress must address itself….

….the past year has been one of preparation for us, and we have made every effort to recognise and strengthen the Congress organisation. The results have been considerable, and our organisation is in a better state today than at any time since the reaction which followed the non-cooperation movement. But our weaknesses are many and are apparent enough. Mutual strife, even within Congress committees is unhappily too common and election squabbles drain all our strength and energy. How can we fight a great fight if we cannot get over this ancient weakness of ours and rise above our petty selves? I earnestly hope that with a strong programme of action before the country our perspective will improve and we will not tolerate this barren and demoralising strife…..

….. I have not referred so far to the Indian overseas and I do not propose to say much about them. This is not from any want of fellow feeling with our breathren in East Africa or South Africe or Fiji or elsewhere, who are bravely struggling against great odds. But their fate will be decided in the plains of India, and the struggle we are launching into is as much for them as for ourselves….

….For this struggle we want efficient machinery. Our Congress constitution and organisation have become too archaic and slow-moving, and are ill-suited to times of crisis. The time of great demonstrations is past. We want quiet and irresistible action now, and this can only be brought about by the strictest discipline in our ranks. Our resolutions must be passed in order to be acted upon. The Congress will gain in strength, however small its actual membership may become, if it acts in a disciplined way. Small determined minorities have changed the fate of nations. Mobs and crowds can do little. Freedom itself involves restraint and discipline, and each one of us will have to subordinate himself to the larger good……

…..the Congress represents no small minority in the country, and though many may be too weak to join it or to work for it, they look to it with hope and longing to bring them deliverance. Ever since the Calcutta resolution the country has waited with anxious expectation for this great day when this Congress meets. None of us can say what and when we can achieve. We cannot command success. But success often comes to those who dare and act, it seldom goes to the timid who are ever afraid of the consequences. We play for high stakes, and if we seek to achieve great things, it can only be through great dangers. Whether we succeed soon or late, none but ourselves can stop us from high endeavor and from writing a noble page in our country’s long and splendid history……

….We have conspiracy cases going on in various parts of the country. They are ever with us. But the time has gone for secret conspiracy. We have now an open conspiracy to free this country from foreign rule and you, comrades, and all our countrymen and countrywomen are named to join it. But the rewards that are in store for you are suffering and, it may be, death. But you shall also have the satisfaction that you have done your little bit for India, the ancient but every young, and have helped a little in the liberation of humanity from its present bondage…..

…..the declaration of independence as your creed has already resounded all over the world wherever Indians are living. They can hold their heads high and they are full of hope , but remember today you have merely set your foot on the right path. The way to be traversed is full of difficulties, but it is a great thing that you have adopted the right course. This Congress has attracted attention all over the country. Some have liked and some disliked our decision. Some threaten to defy us. That would be a matter of pain, but the fact remains that the Congress has now taken a step which will enable you to differentiate between those who stand for mere reform and the present order, and those who stand for a radical change in our previous creed, a creed which enabled all sorts of men to remain in our ranks, and pull us in all directions, thereby delaying our onward progress. I am not worried by the statements that the Congress will, as a result of secession, lose its strength. If there is one lesson the world’s history teaches us, it is that strength does not come of sheep-like behavior, but through a band of disciplined, organised men, pledged to action…..