Three Hundred and Sixty Million Problems

By Jawaharlal Nehru 

From a speech at the inaugural meeting of the Co-ordination Board of Ministers for River Valley Projects, New Delhi, October 13, 1954

Once I was asked, “What is your principal problem? How many problems have you got?” I said, “We have got 360 million problems in India.” Now that answer amused people, but it has an essential truth in it: that all our problems have to be viewed from the point of view of the 360 million individuals, not some statistical mass which you see drawn in curves and graphs on paper. Graphs are very useful to understand, but we must think in terms of individuals, individual happiness and individual misery.

We are starting planning for the 360 million human beings in India. We may sit down and argue about the theoretical approaches. We may argue about, let us say, whether we should have a socialistic approach or a private enterprise approach or a communistic approach or a Gandhian approach. We maY go on listing any number ofapproaches; and it is interesting to argue and to clarify our minds, because thinking is helped by the sharp exchange of ideas. But, unfortunately, all these words which at one time had some precise meaning have gradually tended to become debased and to lose their meaning by association with hosts of new ideas, new conflicts, new passions.

Words are tricky things always. In the final analysis the word is the biggest thing in the world. All the knowledge we have, everything we possess, is a collection of words which represent ideas of course. A simple word like table or chair, if it is simply that, the matter ends there; but as soon as we get out of that category of tables and chairs and get to concepts which have emotional significance attached to them, they become very tricky. When we think of such words we get roused up; a certain emotion fills us. An emotion may fill us with enthusiasm but we cease to think straight. And when two persons meet whose emotions have been roused up in different ways by the same word, then it becomes quite impossible for them to have any reasonable discussion. In the international sphere today, there is so much emotion, passion and anger roused by words, and what the words are supposed to connote, that it is becoming very difficult to have consistent or reasonable discussion. Words are thrown at each other just as a bomb might be thrown at a person. Therefore I say: Beware of words, great as they are. What do we want? Not words, even though words may signify much.

What do the 360 million people want? It is fairly easy to begin making a list—later there may be differences of opinion—but it is obvious enough that they want food; it is obvious enough that they want clothing, that they want shelter, that they want health. They want such things, regardless of the social or economic policies we may have in mind. I suggest that the only policy that we should have in mind is that we have to work for the 360 million people; not for a few, not for a group but the whole lot, and to bring them up on an equal basis.

We are now at a stage when we can go forward in our journey with greater assurance. We have to utilize the experience we have gained, pool our resources and prevent wastage. We cannot allow the nation’s resources to be wasted. Democracy has many virtues, but one of its concomitants is wastage of time and energy. Nevertheless, for many reasons, we prefer democracy to other methods of government. That does not mean that we cannot avoid waste. We cannot afford waste, because the basic thing is that we should go ahead. The devil is at our heels, or as they say, Shaitan peechhe ata hai to bhagte hain. I should like you to have this kind of feeling. To hell with the man who cannot walk fast. It serves him right if he gets out of the ranks and falls out. We want no sluggards.

We want no slow people who always complain about their service conditions and their transfers and so on. I am fed up with such complaints. Service conditions and salary and status may be important. But I want work and work and work. I want achievement. I want men who work as crusaders. I want men who are going to fight for what they think is right and not submit humbly to wrong. I want you to do big things. I want you to build up India. Can you conceive of a bigger thing than to build up this immense country of ours? That is the spirit in which you have to undertake this job. And let the weak and the slow and lazy go to the wall. There should be no pity for them.

We have many critics. It is essential that we should have critics, because otherwise we tend to grow complacent and lazy in our thinking and in our action. But it is not fair or helpful for critics not to see things as a whole. Let them do so and then point out the many failings we suffer from. Let them see what we do, and feel with conviction what we do. What we are doing in India is something very worthwhile, something to be proud of, something worthy to be compared with the work in any other part of the world, given of course comparable conditions. You cannot certainly compare something happening in India with anything happening in the United States of America in the course of a year. They can get their steel production up to any number of million tons, if they want to, while we struggle and struggle because the conditions here are different. We have, first of all, to see this picture, the objective, the big tasks that we have undertaken and feel a sense of achievement. Shall I say that by the bigness of the task that we have undertaken we become big ourselves? A person grows by his thoughts, by his actions, by his objectives. We are, as the Buddhist Dharmapada has said, just a collection, a layer upon layer, of our thoughts. So, if we think in a big way and act in a big way, we tend to become big ourselves, as individuals and as a nation.

I wish you all success in the work you are beginning, and I hope particularly that you will look upon it as what it is, an amazing adventure in doing big things. Thereby you can, to some extents change the face of India and go a few steps towards the realization of our goal, which is the welfare and advancement of India’s three hundred and sixty millions.

Opinions, reviews, essays, feedbacks etc. are invited.

If you wish to get your work published on The Nehru Blog, then send your submissions at

Previous Post Next Post