The duplicity of Nehru
Nehru’s historic folly in failing to protect Bengali Hindu refugees is being reflected once again in the Congress’s thoughtless opposition to CAA
Pandit Lakshmi Kanta Maitra, legendary leader of the Congress from Bengal, member of the Constituent Assembly, later member of Parliament from Nabadwip in the first Lok Sabha and more importantly for us, a close elder friend of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee — who stood by him in his herculean efforts to stand by the beleaguered minorities of East Bengal — forcefully spoke in Parliament during a discussing on March 17, 1950. In January of that year, the Pakistan establishment began a systematic pogrom against its minorities and Bengali Hindus were uprooted in droves and began moving towards West Bengal and Assam. The discussion veered around that deeply unsettling issue. For us today, one needs to specifically look at this phase, mainly because this was, in a sense, a second starting point for that exodus which has brought us today to the enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Act.
Nehru, speaking on those left behind in East Bengal, told the House that, "first of all the minorities in East Bengal [later East Pakistan] are certainly our concern to the extent that they have security and if they do not have security, measures will have to be devised to give them security." As he had always done, especially when it came to addressing the effects of partition on the eastern front, Nehru soon forgot about this promise.
This was a few weeks before the Nehru-Liaquat Pact was inked. Nehru was convinced that he was about to come up with an ingenious framework and told the House with a flourish that he intended to issue a joint statement with the Pakistan prime minister "guaranteeing protection to minorities." Leaders from West Bengal, with Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee in the lead, had already expressed their deep misgivings on the move. Dr Mookerjee, a minister in the Union cabinet then, had expressed grave apprehensions that the pact or joint statement would be a non-starter. He would eventually resign over it.
But the world-statesman in Nehru refused to consider these arguments. In fact, Nehru possessed little understanding of or interest in the fate of the beleaguered Hindus coming in from East Bengal. Pandit Maitra spoke with great emotion and among other things, asked a very pertinent question. He had, like Dr Mookerjee, anticipated the failure of this proposed joint statement and was among those leaders who were rooted to the soil and who never forsook their sense of the grassroots for vague postures of internationalism. It is, therefore, important to know the positions of these great minds and public personalities from Bengal, since the anti-CAA chorus is loudest in that state and certain political parties are at forefront of trying to deceive people and side-track from the real issue. One also needs to recall Maitra's words, primarily because he was a pragmatic, rooted and farsighted Congressman, a breed which is now completely absent in the current Congress dispensation.
On Nehru's proposed joint statement with Liaquat Ali Khan, Maitra retorted, "I do not know what he really means. Does he really believe that any agreement, any undertaking or any covenant with India, that may be entered into with Pakistan, would be respected by it? Day after day, questions have been raised on the floor of the House about the innumerable violations committed by Pakistan, of agreements signed with India. It is absolutely clear that every single pact that Pakistan makes with India will be more honoured by it in the breach than in the observance. Whatever the Prime Minister of India proposed to Pakistan has been turned down. I ask, how does he honestly feel that this joint declaration or statement will be implemented by Pakistan? This will only give it an opportunity to wriggle out of the present difficult position. I have not the least doubt that by doing this, the Prime Minister instead of doing a service to my province, service to the afflicted people, would be doing a positive disservice."
Maitra further pointed out how he had repeatedly warned the House in the last two odd years that "Pakistan is a professedly theocratic Islamic State" and therefore, "How on earth could one rely on their sense of justice to protect the non-Muslim minorities?" If such an undertaking for protection of minorities was given by either side, Maitra argued, "we will carry it out alright and we will do it with a vengeance. But I know very well and any honest man in this House, in his heart of hearts knows that whatever undertaking is given by Pakistan Government will not be implemented by it." An agreement at this stage, Maitra observed, will be a kind of back-step and will in fact further debilitate the sentiments and state of mind of the afflicted minorities, it will be akin to a "saline water douche" on the "lacerated hearts" of the beleaguered minorities who are being compelled to come away. Most, therefore, except Nehru, saw the futility of such a pact.
Nehru answered Maitra in a typical way, dismissing his apprehensions. It would be of interest to sample his reply, "…I pointed out", Nehru said, "that in recent months there has been a certain flow of refugees. I referred to a certain declaration, whether it will be made or not, I do not know. It depends upon other factors. The other party has been repeating what we have been saying, whether they put it to practice or not is another matter…that is my point. What Mr Lakshmi Kanta Maitra said was perfectly true and yet what I said was perfectly true as well. That is to say, all those things have happened but for the present, things are not happening. Whether they will happen tomorrow or not is another matter…" This was Nehru's convoluted answer to Maitra's pointed question on whether he actually believed that Pakistan could be relied upon to look after the minorities who stayed back there.
Nehru's answer to K Hanumanthaiya, one of the tallest leaders of Karnataka, was utterly crass and dismissive. Hanumanthaiya had argued for a strong and forceful intervention during the discussion, that there ought to be a complete exchange of population on the eastern front, much in the line that Dr Mookerjee had asserted. To conclusively address this issue, "exchange of population" Hanumanthaiya said, "is taking place of its own accord. Therefore, we have to take it upon an official level and frame our policy accordingly." He suggested a "peaceful transfer of population." Nehru's reply to this was rude, he called it an "approach completely lacking in intelligent thought. I was amazed that anyone should talk such utter nonsense as he did, in this matter…" When he pressed for a complete exchange of population in Punjab, Nehru did not find the proposition "utter nonsense" because it originated from himself. But when it came to Bengali Hindus of East Bengal, he put a brake to any such proposal.
The Congress's opposition to the CAA today is similar to its use of a "saline water douche" on the wounded and bleeding hearts of these hapless minorities whose status the Act aims to redress permanently. Meanwhile, in West Bengal, the anti-CAA brigade led by TMC, the communists and the Islamists led by the PFI and Siddiqullah Chowdhury's outfit, continue to resort to a dangerously divisive politics. They obfuscate the historic reason for which Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee and some of the leading lights of that period had exerted themselves to save a portion of Bengal. By opposing CAA, they are not only negating that reality but are also opposing the Bengali Hindu refugees' legitimate right to treat West Bengal as their home.
As for the Congress, its present leaders have no use for or no memory of the likes of Pandit Maitra, K. Hanumanthaiya or Dr B C Roy. For them, serfdom to a family is the summit of their ambition, the vision of India as a civilisational homeland and motherland can, therefore, be jettisoned!
Dr Anirban Ganguly is Director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation. Views expressed are strictly personal