Thoughts on economics and liberty

Retreat from Gandhism: Rajaji’s essay February 1958 chastising Nehru for socialist coercion


Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru is averse to revise the steps he has adumbrated as leading to what he calls socialism. He feels compelled to take these particular steps which he thinks he has pledged his party to.

The fundamental and fatal error in these ideas is a reliance on compulsion, a reliance on the coercion of new laws rather than on the people themselves. When the object is to produce a new way of life, it is necessary to bring about a change of heart and of culture among the people. If we desire the great mass of humankind who have lived and grown in India to adopt an altogether new way of life, we must have faith in the people. The means adopted for any end decide the quality of what we achieve. What is imposed by law cannot result in what is to be brought about by persuasion. A little alteration even in the arrangements of the elements that go to compose a substance makes nectar into poison. The policy of coercion now contemplated will make what can be life-giving nectar into poison.

Those who see the error, and wish it to be avoided, have not the courage even to say it aloud, much less to do anything to bring about a change of policy. Their affection for the leader that is guiding the policies of Government and their calculations as to personal losses and gains make them prefer to remain silent. The Prime Minister’s persistence, the irritation he shows at any opposition, overawes them into inaction. He sees their external submission and thinks he has persuaded them all to see that he is right, and is confirmed in his opinions and the correctness of the steps he is proposing. His advisers, even when they have grave doubts, are satisfied whispering privately to friends about them, but feel it safest to raise no adverse voice in council and to drift and await consequences.

We are offering tributes to the memory of the Father of our Freedom on the platform whereon his body was consigned to the flames, but allow his two main teachings to be forgotten and discarded. He preached all his life against coercion and compulsion. He preached against any kind of untruth. Yet the way in which certain fundamental Articles of the Constitution relating to property and occupation and compensation are administered is glaring untruth and make-believe. Compulsion and expropriation have become the warp and woof of the socialism we are weaving. This was not what Gandhiji was dreaming for the emancipated people of India. Policy has taken on the form of persistence of pride before which reason retreats.

The compulsion of Government has to be exercised on criminals and morally disturbing elements but it is not a way to bring about a change in the people’s way of life. What can be achieved only by a heart-change in the people cannot be brought about by coercion. If we do not know how to bring about a heart-change, it will not do to give way to impatience and resort to coercion. We shall that way fill the land with crime and evasion and be led into more and more coercion, for one fault leads to another and yet another.

The situation is grave. Those who believe in a Power above have to resign themselves and pray for light and courage to descend by a miracle. May be, Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru himself may see light. Not only will a change of approach not lead to a ‘ betrayal of the nation’ but a fresh flood of loyalty and affection will be the reward.

February 9, 1959

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Sanjeev Sabhlok

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