Nehru’s Dream of Socialism
Jawaharlal Nehru was, in the truest sense, the builder of modern India. He saw the naked poverty and hunger of the Indian people and registered his protest through his lectures in meetings throughout the country, and through his writings against the British Government. He was a true national leader.
“Nationalism of the modern type,” as Jawaharlal pointed out, “was yet to come. India had still to go through much sorrow and travail before she learnt the lesson which would give her real freedom.” He knew that the real India existed in her villages and, without alleviation of poverty of the rural poor, India could not prosper. Also, at the same time, without proper industrialisation India would not be able to advance into the modern age. So, in the First Five-Year Plan, agriculture was given priority so that the country could be self-sufficient in food. And, in the Second Five-Year Plan, stress shifted to industrialisation.
Jawaharlal Nehru, as a Congressman and also as the Prime Minister, never forgot India’s millions especially the people from the villages. He was painfully aware of their cry of misery, poverty and misfortune. He knew well the causes of agrarian distress. India was in a chronic state of famine due to the continuous drain of wealth, year after year, in the form of payments that the country was obliged to make annually to England for the discharge of obligations, most of which had their origin in the political relations between the two countries.
He fought against the British and India remained his true love. He remained a true humanist to the core, with reverence for certain values. He wrote:
We have definitely accepted the democratic process. Why have we accepted it? Well, for a variety of reasons. Because we think that, in the final analysis, it promotes the growth of human beings and of society; because, as we had said in our Constitution, we attach great value to individual freedom, because we want the creative and adventurous spirit of man to grow, it is not enough for us merely to produce the material goods of the world.
We do want high standards of living but, not at the cost of man’s creative spirit, his creative energy, his spirit of adventure, not at the cost of all those fine things of life which have ennobled man throughout the ages. Democracy is not merely a question of elections. The question before us is how to combine democracy with socialism through peaceful and legitimate methods.
We know that he wanted to combine democracy with socialism. Truly Nehru was a socialist in thought, but he wanted socialism to come through peaceful means. And, during the process, he wanted the people of India to be free from oppression and poverty. As he said,
I must frankly confess that I am a socialist and a republican and am no believer in kings or princes or in the order which produces the modern kings of industry, who have greater power over the lives and fortunes of man than 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 the National Congress, 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.
This line of thinking was revealed in the Avadi resolution of the Congress. Nehru’s plan of an economy on a socialistic pattern of society, was passed in the Congress on August 14/15, 1957. The idea of “Wipe every tear from every eye”, is the main message of the Avadi Congress. Liberty, Equality and Fraternity and the dignity of the individual was the base of building national unity, the philosophy of humanism which promoted the emergence of a new India, a modern India. And it is Jawaharlal Nehru who tried to build a modern India free from feudalism, to a socialistic pattern of society. But not from feudalism, to capitalism. Because,
Capitalism necessarily leads to exploitation of one man by another, one group by another, and one country by another. If, therefore, we are opposed to this imperialism and exploitation we must also be opposed to capitalism.
The only alternative that is offered to us, Nehru wrote, “is some form of socialism”. What more could he have said? But his dream was of a socialistic pattern of society, which still remains a dream, and very much a dream of Nehru. n
The author is a distinguished Bengali novelist and human rights activist.