Book: Letters for a Nation From Jawaharlal Nehru to His Chief Ministers 1947 – 1963
Edited: Madhav Khosla
Price: Rs 599
Letters Jawaharlal Nehru wrote to his chief ministers on the death of Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel reveal
how important both were to his worldview.
Dated 5 February, 1948
When I wrote to you last, Gandhiji was in the middle of his fast. A little more than two weeks have elapsed since then, and yet it seems as if it was distant ages ago, for so much has happened and all of us have experienced shock and unutterable pain. The suddenness and magnitude of what has happened benumbed us for a while, and yet we felt immediately that we have to take action and swift action [Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on 30 January 1948].
You are already aware of some action that we have taken. You must have seen the resolution issued by the Government of India on this tragedy and know that we have banned the Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh organisation. Investigations are proceeding. But enough has come to light already to show that this assassination was not the act of just an individual or even a small group. It is clear that behind him lay a fairly widespread organisation and deliberate propaganda of hate and violence carried on for a long time. It is significant that for the first time after a long period we should have political assassination in India and that too on the highest level. Even apart from Gandhiji’s death by such assassination, the fact that there are people in this country who have adopted this method to gain political ends is of the gravest import. Perhaps we have been too lenient in dealing with these various elements in the country. We have suffered for that. But it is time that we gripped the problem fully and dealt with it adequately. There can be no half measures.
It would appear that a deliberate coup d’etat was planned involving the killing of several persons and the promotion of general disorder to enable the particular group concerned to seize power. The conspiracy appears to have been a fairly widespread one, spreading to some of the states. It is not proper for me now to say much more about this except to warn you if its widespread ramifications.
I am and have been a believer in civil liberty and the democratic processes, but it is absurd to talk of democracy when the very basis of it is challenged by terroristic (sic) activities; it is equally absurd for civil liberty to be granted to those who wish to seize power by murder and violence. Therefore, we are compelled to take action to restrict certain liberties of groups and individuals in order that the people generally should not be deprived of all liberty. I will suggest to you, therefore, to take every possible step to meet this grave situation and to root out the evil that confronts us. We must remember that the people opposed to us are thoroughly unscrupulous. They will say one thing and do another. I have had messages of condolence from some persons of note who are believed to be associated in this conspiracy. I cannot, therefore, just take any person’s word for granted. It is fairly well-known that attempts have been made, and these have met with some success in having cells of these conspirators in all manner of governmental places, services, etc. We shall have to purge these and purify our administration and services.
Dated 18 December 1950
Three days ago, when I should have normally written to you this letter, a heavy blow fell upon all of us and upon India [Vallabhbhai Patel died on 15 December 1950]. We shall take a long time to recover from it and, even so, there will always be a sense of emptiness for those who had the privilege of knowing and working with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. The great ones pass, the warriors who led us in our struggle depart, and we all feel somewhat lonely and desolate. On those who remain, the burden and responsibility grow heavier.
Sardar Patel was a strange mixture of single-mindedness in the pursuit of his objectives and many-sided activities. On all these activities, he has left his powerful impress, and both the Central Government and every State Government have felt, during these three or four years, the mark of a strong and guiding hand. So, in your work, you will miss him as we will miss him from day to day in our work at the Centre. You will have to do without him, for there is no one to take his place.
Sorrow and calamity may bear down upon us or encompass us. But we have to carry on, to the best of our ability, the work with which we are charged. Indeed, every calamity is a challenge to our manhood and our nationhood, and an individual or a nation is judged ultimately by the way this challenge is accepted. The entire world today is a huge question mark and a challenge… Perhaps it is true that a nation can only truly advance if it has to go through the fire from time to time. It is through this process that we ultimately attained our freedom, and it is perhaps because that process stopped that we grew soft and indolent.
Excerpted with permission