We publish this week an exclusive interview with Pandit Nehru.
Pandit Nehru, who is second only to Mahatma Gandhi in influence, and is without rival in India as a politician, received our representative in Delhi on the eve of the opening of the Simla talks. In the course of the interview he said' " Indian Christians need have no qualms."
From Our Own COrrespOndent DELHI
Second only to Mahatma Gandhi in influence among leaders of the powerful Congress Party, regarded as the moderating factor in the present constitutional wrangling between Muslims and Hindus, and tipped by wiseacres as Independent India's first Foreign Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru last week received me at his home here and gave his own views on the future of Christianity in this country once British control has been withdrawn.
Throughout the 40-minute interview the Indian leader impressed me as much by his dispassionate grasp of principle as by the degree of his sympathy. His final assurance that " dian Christians need have no qualms' had about it the ring of a personal guarantee. Said Pandit Nehru:
" Although our ultimate aim is a secular Susie not to be identified with any particular religion. freedom of conscience and the recognition cf the religious rights of all citizens must be the starting point. Indian Chri.stians are part and parcel of the Indian people. Their traditions go back 1,500 years and more. and they form one of the many enriching elements in the country's cultural and spiritual life."
Pandit Nehru recalled that once on a visit to South India he was invited to the palace of a Nestorian Bishop. "I had forgotten for the moment that such people existed in India," he said, " and yet they have flourished here from Roman times."
"'What is your vino of the Indian Christian representatives' proposal to the Cabinet Mission that they should be free not merely to practise but also to propagate their religion? " I asked.
"It stands to reason," replied Nehru, "that any faith whose roots are strong and healthy ehould spread; and to interfere with that right to spread seems to me to be a blow at the roots themselves.
" In a country with so many creeds as India we must learn to be tolerant. For the sake of harmony we shall have to respect the religious convictions of all, Prrespective of numbers and influence. Unless a given faith proves a menace to public order, or its teachers attempt to thrust it down the unwilling throats of men owning other persuasions, there can be no justification for measures which deprive any community of its rights."
" Catholics in Travancore and elsewhere are seriously perturbed by the recent enactments of the State Govern
ment in the spbete of education,'" I said. "These are judged as a threat to Catholic freedom, and some have suggested that the policy may be symptomatic of what could happen all over an Independent India."
Pandit Nehru answered almost Impatiently: "That, of course, is nonsense. The Travancore schools' question is a purely localised affair between the authorities and Catholics. There is obviously no relation between the Slates attitude and the attitude of a future Indian Government, dor is there any sign of a more widespread movement against Catholic interests.
"It is well known that in Travancore Christians in general were first in the field of education, and that the bulk of the schools were built and staffed by Catholics," continued Pandit Nehru, "and other denominations with a certain amount of State aid. Now that the Government has decided to substitute its own educational machinery and to force its will if necessary on all citizens, it is not surprising that Catholics object. In some directions the Dewan hi Travancore is an enlightened statesman, but be is also something of an autocrat."
"Will Christian schools be allowed to continue and play their own part. in the formation of Indian Youth," was my third question..
"Yes, I think they will continue. Educational institutions of various kinds will survive. It is possible to classify the many schools and colleges set up and maintained by Christians with such institutio'ns."
Pandit Nehru at this point digressed to pay tribute to the " selflessness and detachment " of innumerable missionaries in India. Of the Catholic) missionaries in particular he said, with a certain nationalist inflection: " Few of them at least appear to have been appendages of the ruling power with a kind of vested interest in its survival."
THE ANGLO-INDIANS Turning finally to the peculiar circumstances of the half-million strong Anglo-Indian community, largely Christian, in an independent India, Pandit Nehru admitted that their' problem was in part a psychological one. " Many will find it difficult to adapt themselves to conditions, and the law defining who is, and who is not, an Anglo-Indian has made matters worse than they might have been. A child born of a European 'father and an Indian mother is not counted as an Anglo-Indian, while a child with an Indian father and a European mother is at law an Anglo-Indian. The result has been confusion. and a weakening of the spirit of the community.
" But their main problem will be economic. rn keeping with a deliberate policy. Anglo-Indians have been pushed into positions of relative tesponsibility in the past. Perhaps more than the members of other communities they have benefited by the system of weightage ' under which jobs are given on a percentage basis without date regard to competence. Anglo-Indians. however, should remain and take their place in the life of the country. As Christians their rights will be safeguarded."