By : Vishwa Nath Tripathi : Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was essentially a humanist. What is the meaning and significance of the expression humanist? It signifies a person who talks of human beings, his difficulties, problems, worries and anxieties above all the trappings of society and civilization. When he thinks of the masses, he does not think of an amorphous whole, but of the individuals that constitute the whole. Nehru was a democrat not for any ideological reasons but because democracy essentially gives to the individual his self-respect and a realisation of his value as a separate personality and makes him feel that he is equal with the highest in the land. He was also a rationalist, because he realized that men rely on the supernatural to solve their problems when these should be solved by their own effort and free will. And finally Nehru believed in the human spirit as being capable of transcending all obstacles that stand in the way of man’s supremacy over his environment, the materialism and the sense of inevitability that makes him become a conformist to the powerful forces that dominate the world.
Fresh from Cambridge where Nehru had seen the might of the British Empire and realised that London was the hub of the universe and having tasted the luxury and refinement and intellectual fervour of a famous university, he came face to face in his own country with the crushing poverty and fatalistic resignation of his own people.
Nehru really discovered India, at least India of the peasants, who always remained in his thought, in the summer of 1920 when he visited the country side of Partapgarh district and first met the kisans. There is a movingly evocative note in his description of that first encounter in his Autobiography: “Looking at them and their misery and overflowing gratitude, I was filled with shame and sorrow, shame at my own easy-going and comfortable life and our petty politics of the city which ignored this vast multitude of semi-naked sons and daughters of India, sorrow at the degradation and overwhelming poverty in India. A new picture of India seemed to rise before me, naked, starving, crushed and utterly miserable. And their faith in us, casual visitors from the distant city, embarrassed me and filled me with a new responsibility that frightened me”.
When India became free Nehru initiated several measures to improve the lot of Indian farmers. The Zamindari System was abolished and land reforms were effected. For all round development of the country economic planning was started in 1951 and Community Development Programmes in 1952.
Nehru looked at religion as a rationalist. In his article “Religion, Philosophy and Science” Nehru says “Religion, though it has undoubtedly brought comfort to innumerable human beings and stabilized society by its values, has checked the tendency to change and progress inherent in human society”.
As a democrat Nehru was mainly instrumental in introducing adult-suffrage and thereby creating the largest electorate in the world. He was always receptive to the opposition and imparted dignity and prestige to Parliament. He had full faith in the independent judiciary. He realized that as a humanist he had to respect the rule of law which is the basis of every civilized society and which gives to the individual citizen the sense of security and pride resulting from equality before the law and the equal application of law to the highest as well as the lowest. Nehru was champion of freedom of the press. He firmly believed that free press is sine qua non of the democratic set-up of the country.
Nehru as a humanist, believed that there was no dispute which could not be solved at a conference table. He realized the misery and untold sufferings which war brings in its trail.
As a nationalist – Nehru saw India as a whole and its people, with all their differences as sharing a common heritage and tradition inherited down the centuries.
Nehru will live in history not only as a great Prime Minister, as a great fighter for the cause of freedom and human dignity but also as a man who never wielded power, as the humanist in him always prevailed.