Monday, May 28, 2018

Nehru on Repression

Nehru's letter to his chief ministers on 14th May 1949

The law and order problem was....discussed at length at [a recent Governor's] conference. It was clear the primary duty of the government was to maintain the law and order and to meet any challenge made to it. As the Communist Party of India has made that challenge, it had to be effectively met. Two points were, however, stressed. One was that we should try and keep apart the violence and sabotage of the Communist Party's program in India from their normal ideological approach. That is to say our action against Communist Party members is because they indulge in violence and sabotage and openly say so in their circulars etc., and not because they hold certain opinions. It is important this difference be made, as otherwise, some people might be misled into thinking that we are attacking a way of thinking and not violent activities against the State.

The second point that was mentioned was that while police and the like measures are essential to meet with any challenge to the State, it is even more necessary to have a positive policy to remove grievances and to keep in touch with the people. Unfortunately most of us have got so entangled with administrative or other duties that we tend to lose touch with the masses. This leaves them an easy prey for any kind of agitation Therefore, it is essential to develop full contacts with the masses, to explain to them our difficulties and seek their cooperation; also to have a definite and positive policy for their betterment.

It was further pointed out at our Governor's conference that there was a tendency among provincial governments to rely increasingly on the repressive aspect of the State in meeting difficult situations. While this was inevitable in certain circumstances, it was normally not the best or the safest way of dealing with any matter. It is seldom that any idea or any earnest person is crushed by repression as every Congressman knows by his own experience. We have thrived on repression. This has always to be kept in mind or else we shall get more and more entangled in a vicious circle.

There have recently been firings as a result of which women have died. Those women were actually behaving in the most violent manner and causing casualties on the side of the police. It becomes inevitable for the police to fire when they are themselves being attacked. Nevertheless, this business of women being shot at and killed, leaves a very bad taste in the minds of the people and credit of government does not go up in the eyes of people in India or abroad. We have, therefore, to strike a balance and keep vigilant that police or others do not forget the importance of dealing with situations as far as possible without adopting these violent measures.

Letters for a Nation
Edited by Madhav Khosla

Thank You Complicateur for the book. I dip into it every now and then and it makes for evocative reading every single time. The man exuded such genuine concern for the people and civilizational discourse of this country.

14th Nov 1889  to 27th May 1964
It is instructive to note, this was written before the country had completed two years of independence. The memories of repression fresh in mind; albeit with a clear understanding of the what the underpinnings of the regime change mean. However, he is awake to the tragedy and, more importantly the risk it poses in how institutions shall be viewed by the people.

For all the aspersions cast on him as a romantic, one only has to read his own writings to see the pragmatist shine through. He anticipated all the complications of violence, the role of the state when handling violence when one assumes government etc., in the chapter 'Conversion and Coercion' in his autobiography in the 1930s! I had read some excerpts from it here.

As evidenced in the letter above, twenty years later, the conceptual questions continue to be valid. The vexing ordeal of having to trundle through them practically, remained. 

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