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Nehru’s words to UN in 1948 still ring true: ‘Forget politics, focus on economic troubles’

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In his first speech to the UN 70 years ago, Jawaharlal Nehru had stressed on the need for peace, saying hatred & violence wouldn’t solve the world’s problems.

On 3 November 1948, Jawaharlal Nehru took the dais at the United Nations General Assembly for the first time as the prime minister of independent India.

Addressing a wide range of subjects at the third UNGA in Paris — from the emergence of Asia and the struggle against colonialism to advising the UN to focus on economic problems instead of only political ones — Nehru shaped the future discourse in the international organisation.

In today’s day and age, while the influence and relevance of the United Nations is constantly being questioned, Nehru’s speech is worth keeping in mind. Excerpts:

Also read: During 1962 war, Nehru was ‘quieter than usual, often in a reverie and sometimes trembling’

The right approach

I have often wondered whether, in dealing with those problems, the approach that is normally made to them is the right one.

The Charter of the United Nations has laid down in noble language the principles and purposes of this great organisation. I do not think it would be possible to improve upon that language. The objectives are clear; our aim is clear; and yet, in looking at that aim, we lose ourselves often, if I may venture to say so, in smaller matters and forget the main objective that we were looking at.

Sometimes it seems that the objective itself gets a little clouded. I come from a country which, after a long struggle, though that struggle was a peaceful struggle, attained her freedom and her independence.

In these long years of struggle we were taught by our great leader (Mahatma Gandhi) never to forget not only the objective we had, but also the methods whereby we should achieve those objectives. Always he laid stress on this, that it was not good enough to have a good objective, that it was equally important that the means of attaining those objectives were good; means were always as important as ends.

It becomes necessary for us always to remember the principles and the purposes for which this great Assembly was formed.

Hatred and Violence

This Assembly took shape after two mighty wars and as a consequence of those wars. What has been the lesson of those wars? Surely the lesson of those wars has been that out of hatred and violence you will not build peace. It is a contradiction in terms.

The lesson of history, the long course of history, and more especially the lesson of the last two great wars which have devastated humanity, has been that out of hatred and violence only hatred and violence will come.

We have got into a cycle of hatred and violence, and not the most brilliant debate will get you out of it, unless you look some other way and find some other means. It is obvious that if you continue in this cycle and have wars which this Assembly was especially meant to avoid and prevent, the result will not only be tremendous devastation all over the world, but non-achievement by any individual Power or group of its objective.

How, then, are we to proceed?

It may be that it is difficult to get this hatred and prejudice and fear out of our minds. Nevertheless, unless we try to proceed in this way, to cast out this fear, we shall never succeed. Of that I am quite convinced.

The psychology of fear

If we proceed to this problem, and discuss in peace the psychology of fear, if we realise the consequences of what is happening, it is possible that this atmosphere of fear may be dissipated. Why should there be this fear of war? Let us prepare ourselves against any possible aggression, but let no one think that any nation, any community, can misbehave. The United Nations is here to prevent any fear or hurt, but at the same time let us banish all thought of an aggressive attitude, whether by word or deed.

Also read: 2 persistent myths about 1962 China war are intelligence failure & Nehru’s meddling

I have no doubt that this Assembly is going to solve our problems. I am not afraid of the future. I have no fear in my mind, and I have no fear, even though India, from a military point of view, is of no great consequence. I am not afraid of the bigness of great Powers, and their armies, their fleets and their atom bombs. That is the lesson which my Master taught me. We stood as an unarmed people against a great country and a powerful empire. We were supported and strengthened because throughout all this period we decided not to submit to evil, and I think that is the lesson which I have before me and which is before us today.

Urgent Economic Problems

It is a strange thing that when the world lacks so many things, food and other necessities in many parts of the world and people are dying from hunger, the attention of this Assembly of nations is concentrated only on a number of political problems. There are economic problems also. I wonder if it would be possible for this Assembly to take a holiday for a while from some of the acute political problems which face it, and allow men’s minds to settle down and look at the vital exempt from blame.

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