The Indian Way of Life: Nehru's TV and radio address to the US

Jawaharlal Nehru's television and radio address, Washington, U.S.A., December 18, 1956


I am emboldened to address you in this intimate fashion because of the friendship and hospitality which you, the citizens of the United States, have showered upon me. I have come to your great country on a brief visit, at the gracious invitation of your President, whose humanity and whose distinguished and devoted services to the cause of peace have won for him a unique place among the statesmen of the world. I am happy to be here, and my only regret is that I can only stay a few days and have no opportunity of meeting many of you personally.

Five years ago, a professor of an American university visited me in Delhi, and gave me a gift which I have treasured greatly. That was a mould in brass of Abraham Lincoln’s right hand. It is a beautiful hand, strong and firm, and yet gentle. It has been kept ever since on my study table, and I look at it every day and it gives me strength. This may perhaps give you some idea of our thinking and our urges in India. For, above all, we believe in liberty, equality, the dignity of the individual and the freedom of the human spirit. Because of this, we are firmly wedded to the democratic way of life, and in our loyalty to this cause we will not falter.

Nearly seven years ago, we constituted our country into a Republic, and gave to ourselves a Constitution based on these principles, and guaranteeing the fundamental human rights of freedom of the individual, equality of man and the rule of law. Five years ago we had general elections in our country for our Central Parliament as well as for our State Assemblies. These elections were organized on a vast scale by an authority free of government control so as to ensure that they were free and impartial. Early next year we are again going to have general elections in which two hundred million voters are entitled to participate. You will realize the vastness of these elections when I tell you that there will be one million two hundred thousand polling booths, so that no voter will need to go far to cast his vote. As you know, India is a big country with a population of 370 million, one-seventh of the total population of the world. It is a country steeped in history and tradition, with a civilization nearly as old as recorded time and a culture nourished on its own soil and blended happily with those of other peoples and of other lands.

This year we celebrated in India and in many other countries the 2,500th anniversary of a very great son of India, the Buddha, who gave us the message of peace and compassion. Through the centuries India has preached and practised toleration and understanding, and has enriched human thought, art and literature, philosophy and religion. Her sons journeyed far and wide braving the perils of land and sea, not with thoughts of conquest or domination, but as messengers of peace or engaged in the commerce of ideas as well as of her beautiful products. During these millennia of history India has experienced both good and ill. But throughout her chequered history she has remembered the message of peace and tolerance. In our own time, this message was proclaimed by our great leader and master, Mahatma Gandhi, who led us to freedom by peaceful and yet effective action on a mass scale. Nine years ago, we won our independence through a bloodless revolution in conditions of honour and dignity both to ourselves and to the erstwhile rulers of our country. We in India today are children of this revolution and have been conditioned by it. Although your revolution in America took place long ago, and the conditions were different here, you will appreciate the revolutionary spirit which we have inherited and which still governs our activities. Having attained political freedom, we are earnestly desirous of removing the many ills that our country suffers from, of eliminating poverty and raising the standards of our people and giving them full and equal opportunities of growth and advancement.

India is supposed to be given to contemplation, and the American people have shown by their history that they possess great energy, dynamism and the passion to march ahead. Something of that contemplative spirit still remains in India. At the same time the new India of today has also developed a certain dynamism and a passionate desire to raise the standards of her people. But with that desire is blended the wish to adhere to the moral and spiritual aspects of life. We are now engaged in a gigantic and exciting task of achieving rapid and large-scale economic development of our country. Such development in an ancient and under-developed country, such as India, is only possible with purposive planning. True to our democratic principles and traditions we seek in free discussion and consultation as well as in implementation the enthusiasm and the willing and active co-operation of our people. We completed our First Five-Year Plan eight months ago, and now we have begun on a more ambitious scale our Second Five-Year Plan, which seeks a balanced development in agriculture and industry, town and country, and between factory and small-scale and cottage production.

I speak of India, because it is my country and I have some right to speak for her. But many other countries in Asia tell the same story, for Asia today is resurgent and these countries which long lay under foreign yoke have won back their independence and are fired by a new spirit and strive towards new ideals. To them as to us independence is as vital as the breath they take to sustain life, and colonialism in any form or anywhere is abhorrent. The vast strides that technology has made have brought a new age of which the United States of America is the leader. Today the whole world is our neighbour and the old divisions of continents and countries matter less and less. Peace and freedom have become indivisible and the world cannot continue for long partly free and partly subject. In this Atomic Age, peace has also become a test of human survival.

Recently, we have witnessed two tragedies which have powerfully affected men and women all over the world. These are the tragedies in Egypt and Hungary. Our deeply felt sympathies must go out to those who have suffered or are suffering, and all of us must do our utmost to help them and to assist in solving these problems in a peaceful and constructive way. But even these tragedies have one hopeful aspect, for they have demonstrated that the most powerful countries cannot revert to old colonial methods or impose their domination over weak countries. World opinion has shown that it can organize itself to resist such outrages. Perhaps, as an outcome of these tragedies, freedom will be enlarged and we will have a more assured basis for it.

The preservation of peace forms the central aim of India’s policy. It is in the pursuit of this policy that we have chosen the path of non-alignment in any military or like pact or alliance. Non-alignment does not mean passivity of mind or action, lack of faith or conviction. It does not mean submission to what we consider evil. It is a positive and dynamic approach to such problems as confront us. We believe that each country has the right not only to freedom but also to decide its own policy and way of life. Only thus can true freedom flourish and a people grow according to their own genius. We believe therefore in non-aggression and non-interference by one country in the affairs of another and the growth of tolerance between them and the capacity for peaceful coexistence. We think that by the free exchange of ideas and trade and other contacts between nations, each will learn from the other and trust will prevail. We, therefore, endeavour to maintain friendly relations with all countries even though we may disagree with them in their policies or structure of government. We think that by this approach we can serve not only our country but also the larger cause of peace and good fellowship in the world. Between the United States and India there had existed friendly and cordial relations even before India gained her independence. No Indian can forget that in the days of our struggle for freedom, we received from your country a full measure of sympathy and support. 

Our two Republics share a common faith in democratic institutions and the democratic way of life, and are dedicated to the cause of peace and freedom. We admire the many qualities that have made this country great and more especially the humanity and dynamism of its people and the great principles to which the fathers of the American Revolution gave utterance. We wish to learn from you and we plead for your friendship and your co-operation and sympathy in the great task that we have undertaken in our own country. I have had the great privilege of having long talks with the President and we have discussed many problems which confront the world. I can tell you that I have greatly profited by these talks. I shall treasure their memory and they will help me in many ways in my thinking. I sincerely hope that an opportunity may be given to us before long to welcome the President in our own country and to demonstrate to him the high respect and esteem in which we hold him.

We have recently witnessed grievous transgressions of the moral standards freely accepted by the nations of the world. During this period of anxiety and distress the United States has added greatly to its prestige by upholding the principles of the Charter of the United Nations. The danger of war is not past, and the future may hold fresh trials and tribulations for humanity. Yet the forces of peace are strong and the mind of humanity is awake. I believe that peace will triumph. We are celebrating in this season the festival of peace and goodwill, and soon the New Year will come to us. May I wish you all a happy New Year and express the hope that this year will see the triumph for peace and freedom all over the world.

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