Jawaharlal Nehru’s address as Congress President (29 December 1929)

Introduction: Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) was elected Congress President for the annual session of 1929 at the suggestion of Mahatma Gandhi who wanted to attract the younger generation who had lost interest in this national organization as it was perceived to be a forum of senior people. Nehru was sceptical and feared that he would be „thrown to the wolves“, as many of the older generation dislike his leftist views. He accepted the office nevertheless and delivered a remarkable speech in which he highlighted the problems of Indian society.
(see also AHOI, Ch. 7, section: The return to the constitutional arena)

The whole world today is one vast question-mark and every country and every people is in the melting pot. The age of faith, with the comfort and stability which it brings, is passed... Everywhere there is doubt and restlessness and the foundations of the state and of society are in a process of transformation. ... We appear to be in a dissolving period of history when the world is in labour and out of her travail will give birth to a new order.
When everything is changing it is well to remember the long course of Indian history. Few things in history are more amazing than the wonderful stability of the social structure in India which withstood the impact of numerous alien influences and thousands of years of change and conflict. It withstood them because it always sought to absorb them and tolerate them. Its aim was not to exterminate, but to establish an equilibrium between different cultures. Aryans and non-Aryans settled down together recognising each other’s right to their culture, and outsiders who came like the Parsis, found a welcome and a place in the social order. With the coming of the Moslems, the equilibrium was disturbed, but India sought to restore it and largely succeeded. Unhappily before we could adjust our difference, the political structure broke down, the British came and we fell.
Great as was the success of India in evolving a stable society she failed in a vital particular, and because she failed in this, she fell and remains fallen. No solution was found for the problem of equality. India deliberately ignored this and built her social structure on inequality and we have the tragic consequences of this policy in the millions of our people who till yesterday were suppressed and had little opportunity for growth.
........ I was born a Hindu, but I do not know how far I am justified calling myself one or in speaking on behalf of Hindus. But births still count in this country, and by right of birth I shall venture to submit to the leaders of the Hindus that it should be their privilege to take the lead in generosity. Generosity is not only good morals, but it is often good politics and good expediency. And it is inconceivable to me that in a free India, the Hindus can ever be powerless. I would gladly ask our Muslim and Sikh friends to take what they will without protest or argument from me. I know that the time is coming soon when these labels and appellations will have little meaning and when our struggle will be on an economic basis.
I must frankly confess that I am a socialist and a republican, and am no believer in kings and princes, or in the order which produces the modern kings of industry, who have greater power over the lives and fortunes of men 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 this National Congress, and in the present circumstances of the country, 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…
Our economic programme must, therefore, be based on a human outlook and must not sacrifice man to money. If an industry cannot be run without starving its workers, then the industry must close down. If the workers on the land have not enough to eat, then the intermediaries who deprive them of their full share must go. The least that every worker in field or factory is entitled to is a minimum wage which will enable him to live in moderate comfort and humane hours of labour which do not break his strength and spirit….
But industrial labour is only a small part of India, although it is rapidly becoming a force that cannot be ignored. It is the peasantry that cry loudly and piteously for relief, and our programme must deal with their present condition. Real relief can only come by a great change in the land laws and the basis of the present system of land tenure. We have among us many big landowners, and we welcome them. But they must realise that the ownership of large estates by individuals, which is the outcome of a state resembling the old feudalism of Europe, is a rapidly disappearing phenomenon all over the world. Even in countries which are the strongholds of capitalism the large estates are being split up and given to the peasantry who work on them. In India also we have large areas where the system of peasant proprietorship prevails, and we shall have to extend this all over the country.

(G.A.Natesan, Congress Presidential Addresses, 1911- 1934 (Madras 1934), p.884 f.)


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