Connecting Regions of Asia.

Revisiting Pandit Nehru’s 1962 Assam Speech

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Misinterpretation of historical facts is not uncommon. But when that misinterpretation is repeatedly placed as historical fact then it leads to intentional misinformation. A continued repetition of intentional misinformation by vested parties works on the public psyche so much that they start believing it to be true, which psychologists in recent times term as the ‘illusion of truth’ effect. In contemporary Indian history even a tall leader like the first Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who had the distinction of being revered in India and world over not only for his statesmanship and world diplomacy but also as a philosopher and litterateur, did not escape the scalpel of historical defamation through intentional misinterpretation and repeated misinformation.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru became a victim of  historical distortion early on in relation to his speech delivered with reference specially to the people of Assam during the Chinese aggression of 1962. Whenever there is some reference to the Chinese aggression of India in 1962 and its incursions into Bomdila in erstwhile NEFA (North East Frontier Agency) with the danger looming large at the doorstep of Tezpur in Assam, we inevitably come across scathing remarks of how ‘hurt’ and ‘betrayed’ people of Assam felt by the speech of Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru that was broadcast live over All India Radio on 20th November of the same year. Many historical books, biographies, newspaper articles on the Chinese aggression, Google searches on the subject will reveal quotes by rival politicians and some netizens alike who did not hesitate to attack Nehru’s statement that was quoted  as ‘my heart goes out to the people of Assam at this hour’ and was interpreted as having ‘ abandoned’ Assam to be at the mercy of the Chinese. Even after more than fifty years of the Chinese aggression this narrative of ‘abandonment’ is repeated by political opponents as a historical fact.

However this is far from the actual truth. Assuming that critics of the speech are well versed with the usage of the oft quoted phrase in the English language, it would not be wrong to say that the much narrated quote ‘my heart goes out to the people of Assam at this hour’ has been wilfully picked out of the larger context of Pandit Nehru’s speech to create mischief and discredit him. On the contrary a study of the speech reveals expression of grave concern, strong will to fight back and not give up under any circumstance. Despite initial setbacks on the Indian front Nehru ‘pledged’ to ‘have victory’ neither give up nor ‘tolerate’ such a foreign incursion. He said -” We are not going to tolerate this kind of invasion of India by any foreign country. This is the first war of independent India to maintain her independence and India is not going to lose this war however long it lasts and whatever harm it may do us meanwhile. Therefore on this day which has been a sad day for us bringing news of reverses and setbacks, I want to send my greeting to the people of Assam specially and to people of NEFA and to the rest of India and to tell them that we must not get worried about this, sad we must be necessarily but we must train ourselves and steel ourselves to meet all these reverses and to even make our determination still firmer to do all that we can to repel and throw out the invader from India . We shall not be content till that invader goes out of India or is pushed out. We shall not accept any terms that he may offer because he may think that we are a little frightened by some setbacks. I want to make that clear to all of you and more specially to our countrymen in Assam to whom our heart goes out at this moment”. It is obvious from these words what Nehru meant. These were words of a leader who had determination to fight back the sudden invader and compassion for those who had to face the sudden challenge.

Pandit Nehru was the Prime Minister of a young democratic country that had a long journey to reach its goal of becoming self- reliant. Understandably he wanted good relations with India’s neighbouring countries. Nehru had viewed China as a ‘friendly’ country. He had no reason to disbelieve China’s claim of being anti-imperialist. Hence he felt betrayed and indignant at this sudden incursion. He did not mince words at this uncalled for aggression by a neighbouring country and said –  ” We see the most aggressive form of imperialism functioning across our borders in India. China has said often enough that it is anti- imperialist, now we see this so called anti- imperialist country becoming itself an imperialist of the worst kind and committing aggression and invading a friendly country without rhyme or reason or excuse and justifying it by saying that they are being attacked. I must confess that I have seldom come across such a travesty of truth, have no decency of international behaviour, we must stand up for it and not only we but all decent minded persons and decent minded countries who value their freedom anywhere in Asia or Africa or Europe or America.”.

Nehru did not dither in seeking international support at this critical juncture and expressed his gratitude to those who reached out – “I should like to say that we are grateful for the speedy help that came to us from our friendly countries abroad more specially from the United States and the United Kingdom. We shall require more help and we have asked them for it and we shall certainly use all the help they can give us because this is a matter of survival for us. It is not a game that we are playing or if you like it is a game of life and death- the life and death of a nation and the life and death of millions in this country. And we are going ahead, whatever happens with firm conviction of the rightness of our cause and that success and victory would be ours. I want you to join in this conviction and not to be downhearted any time”.

He viewed the Chinese aggression as threat to not only India’s integrity but an attack on all independent nations. He thus ended his speech by saying that he would keep the people of India abreast with what’s happening on a frequent basis in order “to mobilise the nation to meet this grave menace for this menace is not only in Assam or Ladakh or India only, it is a menace for Asia and a menace for the entire world. And so let us all say today with real meaning and repeat our old cry- Jai Hind.”.

Nowhere in the speech of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru do we get even a whiff of an air of ‘surrender’ or ‘abandonment’ of Assam to the Chinese. Critics of the speech may find it interesting to note that far from from abandoning, the Prime Minister’s daughter Indira Gandhi who already had the experience of shouldering responsibility as President of All India Congress Committee between 1959-1960,  flew down to Tezpur in the month of November 1962 to take stock of the situation herself. Indira Gandhi reached Tezpur town with ration and supplies for the inhabitants from Indian Red Cross. Katherine Frank in her biography of Indira Gandhi mentions “Indira returned to Delhi for exactly eight hours, displaying ‘a flaming confidence because the tribal people had refused to leave Tezpur’. She made a brief radio broadcast, had the aircraft refilled with supplies and returned to Assam for another forty eight hours”. Almost immediately upon her arrival in Assam the Chinese ‘unexpectedly’ decided to announce a unilateral ceasefire and started to withdraw their troops.

Wilful misinterpretation of facts with repeated misinformation was used with glorious results as a tool for political propaganda by Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany of Adolf Hitler. Goebbels famous quote -“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it” said it all, long before the term ” illusion of truth” effect was coined. It is thereby up to us to accept at face value or check facts before believing all that is placed before us or we sway along with the repeat record and continue to discredit personalities like Nehru and his contemporaries whose monumental sacrifices built our nation and for whom our nation is still revered in the world.

( Source of Nehru’s Speech – Tapan Datta, All India Radio)

( Bobbeeta Sharma is General Secretary & Senior Spokesperson,
Assam Pradesh Congress Committee )

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