Select Speeches and Writings of Nehru



I read yesterday that my friend and old colleague, Jayaprakash Narayan, has said recently* that I should help – I forget his words – in establishing or in developing a strong opposition to the Congress. This is a very strange request. I believe completely in any government, whatever it might be, having stout critics, having an opposition to face. Without criticism people and governments become complacent. The whole parliamentary system of government is based on such criticism. The free Press is also based on criticism. It would be a bad thing for us if the Press was not free to criticise, if people were not allowed to speak and criticise government fully and in the open. It would not be parliamentary government. It would not be proper democracy. I welcome criticism in Parliament. In fact, we welcome criticism from our own party members. The amount of room we have in our own party for criticism of Government's policy is great. But when Jayaprakashji says that I should build up an opposition, does he want me to build up a bogus thing to oppose the Congress? What value or what virtue will that have?

He gives the example, I think, of the great Turkish leader, Kemal Ataturk. With all respect to Jayaprakashji, the example is not a good one. There was no democracy in Turkey, real or even unreal. It was a dictatorship. Does he want that kind of thing to happen in India? The point is that the opposition should have the freest opportunity to express its opinion in the Press and on the platform and to fight elections. I cannot canvass for the P.S.P. or the Communist Party. They have the freest opportunity to do so. The Election Commission is independent of Government. It is open to you, to any of you, to vote as you like. You know that there is no question of pressure or coercion. I do submit that we in India have a greater degree of freedom in elections – and in things other than elections – than almost any other country in the world. There may be a few countries which have the same freedom as we have. But a far greater number of countries in the world have no such freedom. We have it and I am proud of it and I am sure it will continue. I want every type of oppositionist to go and apply to the people. If the people are not going to vote for him am I to coerce them to vote for him?

Jayaprakashji says it would be good for the Congress to be defeated, but surely the question is not for us, but for the people. The issue is what is good for the country, not what is good for the Congress. Our friends like Jayaprakashji have got so entangled in their dislike of the Congress that they have forgotten such a thing as India and the good of India. It is my belief that if by any mischance the Congress was defeated it would be very bad for India. I do not say that Congressmen are better people than others. There are good men in other organisations. There are partriots in other organisations. It is not a question of personal friendship; it is question of the national good. Suppose in Parliament, instead of the strong Congress Party, we had a dozen or twenty small groups with nobody in a majority. What would happen? There would be no stable government, and each little group would intrigue with the other. There would be offers to ministerships for people who gave up a party to join another. That is what inevitably happened when there are all kinds of parties with none having a majority. I can give you instances where countries are failing because of the failure to get a stable government. At a time when we talk of the Second Five-Year Plan, when the energy of the nation should be put into development, when we have Pakistan shouting itself hoarse about jehad and war, are we to experiment with numerous odd group? It surprises me and amazes me that a person of good sense should suggest something which totally ignores the facts of life in India today. The facts of life are these, that we have to fight a tremendous opposition in India, not any political party, but our own failings, our own liability to go wrong, our disruptive tendencies, our communalism, our provincialism, our casteism, our readiness even to break into violence, and so many other things. Our history shows that we are very prone to disruptive, fissiparous tendencies. And if British rule in India did a good thing, it was to make us united in our fight. But really the first effective mass-scale attempt to build up this unity was by Gandhiji under and within the Congress. It brought results, and yet you see how soon such unity goes to pieces. Take the question of States' recognisation. Whether the decision was right or wrong, is it not fantastic for people to commit murder, arson and violence on that account? Does it not show our inherent weakness? I may be, of course, that this was done for political reasons, because of the approach of elections. I put it to Jayaprakashji because his own party – the P.S.P. – took a considerable part in this agitation. I am not for a moment criticising their view of the matter or their taking part in agitations with regard to boundaries. But I do submit that by doing it in the way they have, they encouraged the most dangerous things in India, that is, the tendency to disruption.

From a speech at Island Ground, Madras, January 31, 1957 *Speaking at Begusarai, Bihar, on January 28, 1957, Shri Jaya Prakash Narayan, the Praja Socialist leader, had said that Prime Minister Nehru should help the growth of a strong opposition party in the country.