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Nehru and linguistic States

A. G. NOORANI

Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Second Series, Vol. 30 (September 1-November 17, 1955) edited by H.Y. Sharada Prasad and A.K. Damodaran, Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, distributed by Oxford University Press, pages 582, Rs.500.

AS each volume of his invaluable Selected Works rolls out of the press, extremely well produced and inexpensively priced, one is struck, again and again, by the rich complexities of Jawaharlal Nehru.

This volume covers the period when he received the Report of the States Reorganisation Commission. In any other democracy, the papers of that momentous phase in India's history, the redrawing of State boundaries on linguistic lines, would have been thrown open to the public after, say, 30 years. In India, even after nearly half a century, we must be content with driblets that came from works such as this.

Left to himself, Nehru would have preserved the erstwhile State of Bombay (comprising Maharashtra and Gujarat) as one and retained the State of Hyderabad. He saw more clearly than most the dangers of linguistic chauvinism as he did the menace of communalism. Given the Congress' endorsement of the idea over 30 years ago, Nehru and Patel fought a rearguard action to stave off the inevitable. Nehru did not prepare himself and his colleagues for the conditions which he was then in a position to impose on the agitators. One was that all sides would accept fully the verdict of a boundary tribunal to be set up by the very law which carved out the new States. The States Reorganisation Act, 1956 contained no such provision.

He could well have relied on the weighty opinion of an advocate of the Maharashtra State, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. In an article in The Times of India on April 23, 1953, he asked: "In a linguistic State what would remain for the smaller communities to look to? Can they hope to be elected to the Legislature? Can they hope to maintain a place in the State Service?" Citing the facts about the castes and linguistic minorities, he opined: "This does not mean that there is no case for linguistic provinces. What it means is that there must be definite checks and balances to see that a communal majority does not abuse its power under the garb (sic.) of a linguistic State." In his memorandum to the Linguistic Provinces Commission, set up by the Congress in 1948, he urged, while supporting Maharashtra's case, "the Constitution should provide that the official language of every province should be the same as the official language of the Central government. It is only on that footing that I am prepared to accept the demand for Linguistic Provinces."

This Volume lays bare Nehru's fears. His confidant V.K. Krishna Menon's views are set out by the editors: "Asserting that the agitation for a Malayalam-speaking State was a recent and artificial one and backed only by parties seeking 'conquest of power', Krishna Menon alleged that the anticipated recommendation of the States Reorganisation Commission pertaining to the creation of separate Kerala and Tamil States was inspired by the personal views of one of the members of the Commission (the reference being to K. M. Panikkar), and said that the recommendation was inadvisable for economic, political, administrative, strategic and national security reasons. As a sectarian sub-nationalism of fascist orientation was developing in the Tamil country, he argued, a separate Tamil province would be very anti-national, while the Kerala State would doubtless go Communist after the next general elections with disastrous domestic and international consequences. Krishna Menon added: 'We will Balkanise India if we further dismember the State instead of creating larger units'."

In his note to Nehru of September 28, 1955, Krishna Menon suggested the creation of "a Southern State, a Dakshin Pradesh, as a corollary to Uttar Pradesh, which could include the present Tamil Nadu, Travancore, Cochin, Malabar and possibly Kanara up to Kasaragode."

Nehru circulated among Cabinet colleagues this "rather emotionally worded" note. To Menon he wrote: "Nobody here likes the proposal for a Kerala State as suggested. We do not think that the Communists will get a majority there. That is possible, but I think not likely. Anyway, if they get it, we have to face the risk. But, this apart, I am sure that it will be bad for Kerala and for its neighbouring States. But what are we to do? No other neighbouring State agrees to have Kerala; Kamaraj Nadar and the Madras Cabinet absolutely refuse to have anything to do with it. So do the Karnataka people." Later, he was constrained to tell Menon: "I am afraid you do not quite appreciate the kind of forces we have to contend against in India at the present moment. When you suggest that States should become merely administrative divisions and far greater power should be concentrated in the Centre, you say something which is utterly beyond anyone's capacity to do at the present moment."

It speaks a lot for Nehru's abiding relevance that each Volume has material of contemporary relevance. On November 13, 1955 he told a correspondent: "Muslims can certainly look to Arabia as the country which was the fountain-head of their religion. That is natural. But politically the citizens of each country look to that country and not to another. Christians, no doubt, look to Jerusalem as a city connected with the founder of their religion, but politically and culturally they look to their own countries. There is no conflict between these two approaches."

That is the fundamental divide between Nehru's secularism and the fraudulent one of Advani and Vajpayee. In his book Hindutva, V.D. Savarkar demanded of the minorities that they "worship" India.

There is much material on nuclear policy, on arms from the Soviet Union, on the role of the Public Accounts Committee and on much else. In a delightful letter of October 30, 1955 to Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed, Nehru wrote: "I meet large numbers of people who go to Kashmir as tourists and in other capacity. Practically all of them bring good reports of your work and the conditions in Kashmir. But many say that there is considerable dissatisfaction at the fact that your brothers appear to get all the contracts and agencies and rather exploit their relationship with you. Your brothers might be acting without any evil intent in the ordinary course of business...."

By then the name of Bakshi Brothers Corporation stank to high heavens. This was the farthest Nehru would go. He needed Bakshi to govern Kashmir with Sheikh Abdulla behind bars.


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