Select Speeches and Writings of Nehru



I have come to you not so much in my capacity as Prime Minister of a greet country or n politician but rather as a humble seeker after truth and as one who has continuously struggled to find the way, not always with success, to fit action to the objectives and ideals that he has held. The process is always difficult but it becomes increasingly so in this world of conflict and passion. Politicians have to deal with day to day problems and they seek immediate remedies, Philosophers think of ultimate objectives and are apt to lose touch with the day to day world and its problems. Neither approach appears to be adequate by itself. Is it possible to combine those two approaches and function after the manner of Plato’s philosopher kings? You, Sir, who have had the experience of the role of a great man of action and also that of a philosopher as head of this university, should be able to help us to answer this question.

In this world of incessant and feverish activity, men have little time to think, much less to consider ideals and objectives. Yet, how are we to act, even in the present, unless we know which way we are going and what our objectives are? It is only in the peaceful atmosphere of a university that these basic problems can be adequately considered. It is only when the young men and women, who are in the university today me on whom the burden of life’s problems will fall tomorrow, learn to have clear objectives and standards of values that there is hope for the next generation. The past generation produced some great men but as a generation it led the world repeatedly to disaster. Two world wars are the price that has been paid for the lack of wisdom on man's pert in this generation. It is a terrible price and the tragedy of it is that, even after the price has been paid, we have not purchased real peace or a cessation of conflict and an even deeper tragedy is that mankind does not profit by its experience and continues to go the same way that led previously to disaster.

We have had wars and we have had victory and we have celebrated that victory; yet, what is victory and how do we measure it ? A war is fought presumably to gain certain objectives. The defeat of the enemy is not by itself an objective but rather the removal of an obstruction towards the attainment of the objective. lf that objective is not attained, then that victory over the enemy brings only negative relief and indeed is not a real victory. We have seen, however, that the aim in wars is almost entirely to defeat the enemy and the other and real objective is often forgotten. The result has been that the victory attained by defeating the enemy has only been a very partial one and has not solved the real problem; if it has solved the immediate problem, it has, at the same time, given rise to many other and sometimes worse problems. Therefore, it becomes necessary to have the real objective clear in our minds at all times whether in war or in peace and always to aim at achieving the objective.

I think also that there is always a close and intimate relationship between the end we aim at and the means adopted to attain it. Even if the end is right but the means are wrong, it will vitiate the end or divert us in a wrong direction. Means and ends are thus intimately and inextricably connected and cannot be separated. That, indeed, has been the lesson of old taught us by many great men in the past but unfortunately it is seldom remembered.

I am venturing to place some of these ideas before you, not because they are novel but because they have impressed themselves upon me in the course of my life which has been spent in alternating periods of incessant activity and conflict and enforced leisure. The great leader of my country, Mahatma Gandhi, under whose inspiration and sheltering care l grew up, always laid stress on moral values and washed us never to subordinate means to ends. We were not worthy of him and yet, to the best of our ability, we tried to follow his teaching. Even the limited extent to which we could follow his teaching yielded rich results. After a generation of intense struggle with a great and powerful nation, we achieved success and, perhaps, the most significant part of it, for which credit is due to both parties, was the manner of its achievement. History hardly affords a parallel to the solution of such a conflict in a peaceful way, followed by friendly and co-operative relations. It is astonishing how rapidly bitterness and ill will between the two nations have faded away, giving place to co-operation. And we in India have- decided of our own free will to continue this co-operation as an independent nation.

I would not presume to offer advice to other and more experienced nations in any way. But may I suggest for your consideration that there is some lesson in India’s peaceful revolution which might be applied to the larger problems before the world today? That revolution demonstrated to us that physical force need not necessarily be the arbiter of man’s destiny and that the method of waging a struggle and the way of its termination are of paramount importance. Past history shows us the important part that physical force has played. But it also shows us that no such force can ultimately ignore the moral forces of the world; and if it attempts to do so, it does so at its peril. Today, this problem faces us in all its intensity, because the weapons that physical force has at its disposal are terrible to contemplate. Must the twentieth century differ from primitive barbarism only in the destructive efficacy of the weapons that man’s ingenuity has invented for man’s destruction? I do believe, in accordance with my master’s teaching, that there is another way to meet this situation and solve the problem that faces us.

I realise that a statesman or a man who has to deal with public affairs cannot ignore realities and cannot act in terms of abstract truth. His activity is always limited by the degree of receptivity of the truth by his fellow-men. Nevertheless, the basic truth remains truth and is always to be kept in view and, as far as possible, it should guide our actions. Otherwise we get caught up in a vicious circle of evil when one evil action leads to another.

India is a very old country with a great past. But she is a new country also with new urges and desires. Since August she has been in a position to pursue a foreign policy of her own. She was limited by the realities of the situation which we could not ignore or overcome. But even so, she could not forget the lesson of her great leader. She has tried to adapt, however imperfectly, theory to reality in so far as she could. In the family of nations she was a newcomer and could not in influence them greatly to begin with. But she had a certain advantage. She had great potential resources that could, no doubt, increase her power and influence. A greater advantage lay in the fact that she was not fettered by the past, by old enmities or old ties, by historic claims or traditional rivalries. Even against her former rulers there was no bitterness left. Thus, India came into the family of nations with no prejudices or enmities, ready to welcome and be welcomed. inevitably, she had to consider her foreign policy in terms of enlightened self-interest but at the same time she brought to it a touch of her idealism. Thus, she has tried to combine idealism with national interest. The main objectives of that policy are: the pursuit of peace, not through alignment with any major power or group of powers but through an independent approach to each controversial or disputed issues, the liberation of subject peoples, the maintenance of freedom, both national and individual, the elimination of racial discrimination and the elimination of want, disease and ignorance which afflict the greater part of the world's population. I am asked frequently why India does not align herself with a particular nation or a group of nations and told that because we have refrain from doing so we are sitting on the fence. The question and the comment are easily understood, because in times of crisis it is not unnatural for those who are involved in it deeply to regard calm objectivity in others as irrational, short-sighted, negative, unreal or even unmanly. But I should like to make it clear that the policy India has sought to pursue is not a negative and neutral policy. lt is a positive and a vital policy that flows from our struggle for freedom and from the teaching of Mahatma Gandhi. Peace is not only an absolute necessity for us in India in order to progress and develop but is also of paramount importance to the world. How can that peace be preserved? Not by surrendering to aggression, not by compromising with evil or injustice but also not by talking and preparing for war! Aggression has to be met, for it endangers peace. At the same time, the lesson of the last two wars has to be remembered and it seems to me astonishing that, in spite of that lesson, we go the same way. The very process of marshaling the world into two hostile camps precipitates the conflict which it has sought to avoid. It produces a sense of terrible fear, and that fear darkens men's minds and leads them into wrong courses. There is perhaps nothing so bad and so dangerous in life as fear. As a great President of the United States said, there is nothing really to fear except fear itself.

Our problem, therefore, becomes one of lessening and ultimately putting an end to this fear. That will not happen if all the world takes sides and talks of war. War becomes almost certain then.

We are a member of the family of nations and we have no wish to shirk any of the obligations and burdens of that membership. We have accepted fully the obligations of membership in the United Nations and intend to abide by them. We wish to make our full contribution to the common store and to render our full measure of service. But that can only be done effectively in our own way and of our own choice. We believe passionately in the democratic method and we seek to enlarge the bounds of democracy both on the political and the economic plane, for no democracy can exist for long in the midst of want and poverty and inequality. Our immediate needs are economic betterment and raising the standards of our people. The more we succeed in this, the more we can serve the cause of peace in the world. We are fully aware of our weaknesses and failings and claim no superior virtue; but we do not wish to forfeit the advantage that our present detachment gives us. We believe that the maintenance of that detachment is not only in our interest but also in the interest of world peace and freedom. That detachment is neither isolationism nor indifference nor neutrality when peace or freedom is threatened. When man’s liberty or peace is in danger we cannot and shall not be neutral; neutrality then would be a betrayal of what we have fought for and stand for.

If we seek to ensure peace we must attack the root causes of war and not merely the symptoms. What are the underlying causes of war in the modern world?

One of the basic causes is the domination of one country by another or an attempt to dominate. Large parts of Asia were ruled till recently by foreign and chiefly European Powers. We ourselves were part of the British Empire, as were also Pakistan, Ceylon and Burma. France, Holland and Portugal still have territories over which they rule. But the rising tide of nationalism and the love of independence have submerged most of the Western Empires in Asia. In Indonesia, I hope that there will soon be an independent Sovereign State. We hope also that French Indo-China will achieve freedom and peace before long under a government of its own choice. Much of Africa, however, is subject to foreign Powers, some of whom still attempt to enlarge their dominions. It is clear that all remaining vestiges of imperialism and colonialism will have to disappear.

Secondly, there is the problem of racial relations. The progress of some races in knowledge or in invention, their success in war and conquest, has tempted them to believe that they are racially superior and has led them to treat other nations with contempt. A recent example of this was the horrible attempt, so largely successful, to exterminate the Jews. In Asia and Africa, racial superiority has been most widely and most insolently exhibited. It is forgotten that nearly all the great religions of mankind arose in the East and that wonderful civilisations grew up there when Europe and America were still unknown to history. The West has too often despised the Asian and the African and still, in many places, denies them not only equality of rights but even common humanity and kindliness. This is one of the great danger points of our modern world; and now that Asia and Africa are shaking off their torpor and arousing themselves, out of this evil may come a conflagration of which no man can see the range of consequences. One of your greatest men said that this country cannot exist half slave and half free. The world cannot long maintain peace if half of it is enslaved and despised. The problem is not always simple nor can it be solved by a resolution or decree. Unless there is a firm and sincere determination to solve it, there will be no peace.

The third reason for war and revolution is the misery and want of millions of people in many countries and, in particular, in Asia and Africa. In the West, though the war has brought much misery and many difficulties, the common man generally lives in some measure of comfort - he has food, clothing and shelter to some extent. The basic problem of the East, therefore, is to obtain these necessaries of life. If they are lacking, then there is the apathy of despair or the destructive rage of the revolutionary. Political subjection, racial inequality, economic inequality and misery—these are the evils that we have to remove if we would ensure peace. If we can offer no remedy, then other cries and slogans will make an appeal to the minds of the people.

Many of the countries of Asia have entered the family of nations; others we hope will soon find a place in this circle. We have the same hopes for the countries of Africa. This process should proceed rapidly and America and Europe should use their great influence and power to facilitate it. We see before us vast changes taking place, not only in the political and economic spheres but even more so in the minds of men. Asia is becoming dynamic again and is passionately eager to progress and raise the economic standards of her vast masses. This awakening of a giant continent is of the greatest importance to the future of mankind and requires imaginative statesmanship of a high order. The problems of this awakening will not be solved by looking at it with fear or in a spirit of isolationism by any of us. It requires a friendly and understanding approach, clear objectives and a common effort to realise them. The colossal expenditure of energy and resources on armaments is an outstanding feature of many national budgets today but that does not solve the problem of world peace. Perhaps, even a fraction of that outlay, utilised in other ways and for other purposes, will provide a more enduring basis for peace and happiness.

That is India’s view, offered in all friendliness to all thinking men and women, to all persons of goodwill in the name of our common humanity. That view is not based on wishful thinking but on a deep consideration of the problems that afflict us all, and on its merits I venture to place it before you.

I should like to add a few words, Sir. I have been deeply moved by what you have said, by what was said about me in the previous citation and I have felt very humble as listened to these remarks.

The scene that I see here under your distinguished presidentship will long remain in my mind. Indeed, I do not think that I shall ever forget it. I shall remember the scene and above all I shall remember the great courtesy, kindliness and generosity with which you have received me here and made me one of yourselves.

I shall prize the honour of being a fellow member with you of this great University, above the other honours that have come my way. I shall prize it, not only in my individual capacity as I believe that this honour was, perhaps, meant for more than an individual and that, for the moment, you have treated me not as an individual but also as a symbol for and representative of India. And here, Sir, forgetting myself for a moment, I thank you on behalf of my country and my people.

Address on the Occasion of the conferment of the degree of Doctor of Laws at Columbia University, New York, October 17, 1949