Nehru's Letter to Albert Einstein

By Jawaharlal Nehru

New Delhi

11 July 1947

My dear Professor Einstein,

I received your letter of June 13th 1947 some little time back and I read it with the care and attention which it deserved. It is a privilege and an honour to be addressed by you and I was happy to receive your letter, though the subject of your letter is a sad one.

I appreciate very much what you say about the recent decision of India’s Constituent Assembly to abolish untouchability. This indeed has been our policy for many years past and it is a matter of deep satisfaction to us that what we have been trying to do in many ways will soon have the sanction of law, as embodied in the constitution, behind it. You say very rightly that the degradation of any group of human beings is a degradation of the civilisation that has produced it. Ever since Mahatma Gandhi began to play a role in Indian politics and social affairs, he has laid the greatest stress on the complete liquidation of untouchability and all that goes with it. He made it part of our freedom struggle and emphasised that it was folly to talk of political freedom when social freedom was denied or restricted for a large number of persons.

You know that in India there has been the deepest sympathy for the great sufferings of the Jewish people. We have rejected completely the racial doctrine which the Nazis and the fascists proclaimed. Unfortunately, however, that doctrine is still believed in and acted upon by other people. You are no doubt aware of the treatment accorded by the Union of South Africa to Indians there on racial grounds. We made this an issue in the United Nations General Assembly last year and achieved a measure of success there. In raising this question before the United Nations we did not emphasise the limited aspect of it, but stood on the broader plane of human rights for all in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

What has happened in recent years, more especially since the rise to power of Hitler in Germany, was followed by us with deep pain and anxiety. You arc quite right in thinking that India has mourned the horrors which resulted in the death of millions of Jews in the murder machines which were set up in Germany and elsewhere. That was terrible enough, but it was still more terrible to contemplate a civilisation which, in spite of its proud achievements, could produce this horror.

I, need not assure you, therefore, of our deepest sympathy for the Jews and for all they have undergone during these past years. If we can help them in any way I hope and trust that India will not merely stand by and look on. As you know, national policies are unfortunately essentially selfish policies. Each country thinks of its own interest first and then of other interests. If it so happens that some international policy fits in with the national policy of the country, then that nation uses brave language about international betterment. But as soon as that international policy seems to run counter to national interests or selfishness, then a host of reasons are found not to follow that international policy.

We in India, engrossed as we have been in our struggle for freedom and in our domestic difficulties, have been unable to play any effective part in world affairs. The coming months, and possibly years, will not free us from these grave problems of our own country; but I have no doubt that we shall play a progressively more important part in international affairs. What that part will be in future I can only guess. I earnestly hope that we shall continue to adhere to the idealism which has guided our struggle for freedom. But we have seen often enough idealism followed by something far less noble, and so it would be folly for me to prophesy what the future holds for us. All we can do is to try our utmost to keep up standards of moral conduct both in our domestic affairs and in the international sphere.

The problem of Palestine, you will no doubt agree with me, is extraordinarily difficult and intricate. Where rights come into conflict it is not an easy matter to decide. With all our sympathy for the Jews we must and do feel that the rights and future of the Arabs are involved in this question. You have yourself framed the question: “Can Jewish need, no matter how acute, be met without the infringement of the vital rights of others?” Your answer to this question is in the affirmative. Broadly put, many may agree with you in that answer, but when we come to the specific application of this answer, the matter is not at all simple.

But, legalities apart and even apart from the many other issues involved, we have to face a certain existing situation. I do not myself see how this problem can be resolved by violence and conflict on one side or the other. Even if such violence and conflict achieve certain ends for the moment, they must necessarily be temporary. I do earnestly hope that some kind of an agreement might be arrived at between the Arabs and the Jews. I do not think even an outside power can impose its will for long or enforce some new arrangement against the will of the parties concerned.

I confess that while I have a very great deal of sympathy for the Jews, I feel sympathy for the Arabs also in their predicament. In any event, the whole issue has become one of high emotion and deep passion on both sides. Unless men are big enough on either side to find a solution which is just and generally agreeable to the parties concerned, I see no effective solution for the present.

I have paid a good deal of attention to this problem of Palestine and have read books and pamphlets on the subject issued on either side; yet I cannot say that I know all about it, or that I am competent to pass a final opinion as to what should be done. I know that the Jews have done a wonderful piece of work in Palestine and have raised the standards of the people there, but one question troubles me. After all these remarkable achievements, why have they failed to gain the goodwill of the Arabs? Why do they want to compel the Arabs to submit against their will to certain demands? The way of approach has been one which does not lead to a settlement, but rather to the continuation of the conflict. I have no doubt that the fault is not confined to one party but that all have erred. I think also that the chief difficulty has been the continuation of British rule in Palestine. We know, to our cost, that when a third party dominates, it is exceedingly difficult for the others to settle their differences, even when that third party has good intentions, — and third parties seldom, have such intentions!

It is difficult for me to argue this question with you who knows so much more than I do. I have only indicated to you some of my own difficulties in the matter. But whatever those difficulties might be, I would assure you, with all earnestness, that I would like to do all in my power to help the Jewish people in their distress, in so far as I can do so, without injuring other people.

The world is in a sorry mess and the appetite for war and destruction has not been satisfied yet. Here in India we stand on the verge of independence for which we have struggled for so long, and yet there is no joy in this country at this turning point in our history and there will be no celebrations of this historic event next month, for we are full of sorrow for what has happened in our country during the past year and for the cutting away of a part from the parent country. This was not how we had envisaged our freedom. What is most distressing is the background of all these events, the bitterness, the hatred and violence that have disfigured the face of India in recent months. We have a terribly hard task before us, but we shall face it, of course, with the confidence that wc shall overcome these difficulties, as we have overcome others in the past.

I have shared your letter with Mahatma Gandhi and some other friends.

With regards.

Yours very sincerely,

Jawaharlal Nehru

Source: SWJN, S2, V3, pp. 393-94

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