Free India in a Free World

Jawaharlal Nehru's speech at a reception at India House, London, organised by the Indian Association Institute on 5 December 1946.

Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I arrived in England only day before yesterday and now a few hours later the gathering appears to me to be a farewell gathering for I am leaving after one more day. These two or three days I have been here have been very full, days occupied with all manner of interviews and talks and committees, but probably the most lasting impression that I will carry away will be that of many friends—my own countrymen and others—whom I have met.

When in far off countries, it cheers one up much more to know that, spread out in the various corners of the world, there are people who feel more or less the same way and who are helpers in the common cause. When there are difficulties, one is heartened and cheered by this thought. For this reason, if for no other, my very brief visit to England has been very much worthwhile. And I shall go back from here not only with very pleasant memories but greatly heartened to face the difficult tasks ahead of us in India.

These tasks are difficult of course and it would be folly to minimise these difficulties. At the same time it would be a greater folly to exaggerate them or to feel rather overwhelmed by them ; that, of course, does not help at any time. For my part, I can tell you quite honestly that I think that I have no sense of being overwhelmed by any difficulty in India.

Certainly, I have a sense of bearing heavy responsibility when the decisions we make can make a difference to large numbers of people. That is always a tremendous responsibility. That responsibility would, indeed, be impossible to bear if it was an individual responsibility. But when one shares it with others, not only those few who might be intimately associated in that responsibility but with vast numbers of other comrades who work for the same cause, then the burden is shared and spread out and does not become so heavy. On such occasions, it becomes impossible for all of us to remain as calm-eyed and cool-headed as possible. That, of course, is desirable on all occasions, the more so when apparently difficulty faces one. I find some people worried, and some of the questions they put to me appear to indicate a state of mind which does not denote any clear-headedness. One is apt to feel frightened by the particular difficulty of the moment.

Naturally, the moment counts and we have to face that moment then. If anything has been obvious in India for some time and today, it is this: that vast forces are at work. India, for a large number of years, had been more or less what I may call a static country. For some time it stopped growing. With an individual, so also with the nation, a static condition is not a healthy condition.

Whatever the reason may be, however, there is a change, and anybody with a good perspective, with eyes or ears to see and hear, can see that India today, with all its virtues and failings, is tremendously dynamic. That is, today India is full of life. Now, if a country is dynamic, that energy may go into the right channel or a wrong channel—that is a separate question. But the first requirement is that you should have that energy or life because something which is dead or approaching death is not much good. India is a living, throbbing, dynamic, vital nation today.

It is true that some of that energy and life sometimes flows into wrong channels. Today, we have to check that—divert that current. Nevertheless the fundamental thing is that it is the life that is there, that brought about a tremendous change in the Indian scene in the past few years. The change has not been sudden. It has been gradual, but it is there for you to see and, if you look at it from any point of view—political, social or economic—you will see these signs of a great force, restrained for so long, trying to burst its chains, spread out and go ahead. I have no doubt in my mind that, as soon as we get thoroughly going as an independent country, we shall go ahead at a very fast pace.

So we need not be frightened or overwhelmed by the problems or difficulties of today. At the same time we must tackle them, of course, not just in the spirit of anger, of spite and passion—that does not help—but by trying to understand them and by keeping to the principles and ideals we have had always in view. Obviously, all that life and dynamic energy would be frustrated and wasted if it were spent in mutual conflict. We can do nothing big if we spend our time and energy in these bickerings and conflicts. We have to deal with this matter and we have to realise that India can only be big and great if it views this problem in a large way, not in a narrow or sectarian way. 

It is impossible, I think, for India to be the country I would like it to be if any one group in India, whether religious or other, tries to dominate any other group. The conception of Indian freedom that we have always had and spoken about has been one of equal freedom and equal opportunity for every one of the 400 millions of India.

Indeed, it is an even larger conception because our nationalism, unlike many other nationalisms, is closely allied with internationalism. We have not thought in the past and we do not propose to think in future in terms of any kind of aggression on any other country. Although it may appear odd for me even to refer to aggression, when India herself is not a free country, the fact remains that India is powerful and dynamic enough to go in for aggression, if she chooses. Not today, of course, but when I say we have deliberately given up the idea of aggression, it is not a pious platitude I am uttering. We have come to the conclusion that that kind of aggression is neither good for India nor for any other country nor for the world. We, therefore, want to fit in our nationalism and national freedom with internationalism and international freedom.

Therefore, from now onwards we want to develop international relations with other countries on a friendly and cooperative basis, always keeping in view the ideals that have moved us in the past years.

Finally, I would like to mention that this gathering is at the instance of the Indian Association Institute, which has been recently formed into a body. I remember that when I was in England previously I had remarked to friends on the absence of such an institute or organisation in London. I think that where there are Indians, there should be some such institutes, especially in a great city like London.

When I heard some few months back in India of this institute being formed, I was delighted and did a thing which normally I do not do—I was weak enough to consent to become its president. I did not know that the organisation would grow or what shape it would take, but I knew the ideal was good and the foundations appeared well and truly laid. What the future will be depends ultimately, to some extent, on the organisers—those who started it—but much more depends on a large number of others such as compose the audience. This is not a thing which depends upon a few persons—its success depends upon the cooperation of many, and I hope that those present and others in India will cooperate to make it a success. In doing so, they will be doing not a noble act for others, but good to themselves. Therefore I have gladly associated myself with it.

Source: SWJN, S2, V1, pp. 416-18

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