Nehru strongly believed that there should be no compromise with communalism in any form. He believed secularism was essential both for democracy and the unity of the country. In 1951, Nehru said the activities of the communalists "amounted to their thrusting a dagger in the body politic of India". After Independence, he also categorically said communalists do not represent the interests of the communities they claim to protect: he clearly said that Hindu, Muslim and Sikh communalists actually ended up harming the interests of their communities. Most tellingly, Nehru repeatedly said that all kinds of communalism should be criticised and attacked simultaneously and one should not be soft on any particular communalism. All communalism should be critiqued.
Nehru said people should realise that minorities can have a fear complex and those concerns should be redressed. But this did not mean pandering to minority communalism. In 1938, when Subhas Chandra Bose was Congress president and Nehru the second-most important leader, the party passed a resolution saying that no member of the Hindu Mahasabha or Muslim League could become a Congress office-bearer. (This when anyone could enrol and become a Congress member by paying four annas.) And when Nehru and Bose started an organisation called the Independence of India League in 1927-28, they imposed a total ban on any member of any communal organisation from becoming its member.
There are enough recorded incidents to prove how Nehru stood firm against all forms of communalism. When he was going around Delhi in 1947, he found a communal clash breaking out near Connaught Place. He jumped out from his car, broke his security cordon, ran into the crowd, intervened and stopped the clash. When riots broke out in Noakhali and Bihar, Gandhi went to Noakhali; Nehru and Patel took charge of Bihar. Nehru, in fact, threatened to air-bomb the Hindu and Muslim rioters in Bihar when things began going out of control. That didn’t happen, and Nehru and Patel managed to control the rioting in three-four days. Nehru always felt very strongly against rioting and would do anything to put it down. In that sense, he was not very different from Gandhi who repeatedly said in 1946-47 that communalists disgrace their own religion. Or Sardar Patel, who in 1950 said, "Ours is a secular state. We cannot fashion our politics or shape our conduct in the way Pakistan does it. We must see that our secular ideals are actually realised in practice. Here every Muslim should feel that he is an Indian citizen and has equal rights as an Indian. If we cannot make him feel like this, we shall not be worthy of our heritage and of our country."
(As told to Soutik Biswas)