Testament for a new movement

By Inder Jit
(Released on 7 January 1986)

One era has ended and another has begun. The Congress Centenary Celebrations rung down the curtain on the first hundred years of the Indian National Congress and set new goals for the next hundred years. It was a privilege, indeed, to be present in Bombay’s Brabourne Stadium on December 28 even if the historic occasion left much to be desired and a good few bruised and battered. A great opportunity for a national reconciliation and renewal was sadly lost. The Congress was a national mass movement at the time of independence, not just a political party. Yet, the celebrations were organized as a Congress-I affair and became a mere, if extravagant, plenary session of the party. The presence of Badshah Khan on the dais seated next to Mr. Rajiv Gandhi and spanning three generations deeply touched all. The Congressmen of yester years were missed. One was, nevertheless, happy to see Mr. Rajiv Gandhi as Congress President seize the unrivalled opportunity to put before the country, with refereshingcandour, his own beliefs and policies — his personal testament.
Mahatma Gandhi gave the Indian National Congress a truly national character and involved our entire people in the struggle for freedom. Truth, swadeshi and non-violence became the masthead of the Congress. But a rot started setting in the Congress once freedom was achieved. The Mahatma was gravely concerned as he received information that some Congress legislators were taking money from businessmen to get licences, and that they were indulging in blackmarketing, subverting the judiciary and intimidating top officials to secure transfers and promotions for their protégés in the administration. He decided to remedy this alarming state of affairs and called a meeting of such autonomous organizations as the All-India Spinners Association, the Harijan Sevak Sangh, the Village industries Association, the Goseva Sangh and the NaiTalim Sangh, all of which he had either founded or with which he was closely connected. Among those who attended were Dr. Zakir Hussain, who rose to be India’s third President and Acharya Kripalani.
The Mahatma proposed a co-coordinating committee of all these bodies to screen candidates for election to Parliament and State legislatures and certify their integrity and selfless spirit of service to the community. This, he said, would guide voters in their choice of suitable persons to speak on their behalf in the nation’s political forums. The members of these organizations, engaged in constructive and social work, were to keep out of politics themselves. But the proposal did not appeal to the conference. Most of the participants thought they should remain politically inactive. Some felt they should put themselves up for election. The Mahatma was even more isolated from the men who claimed to follow him and practice his precepts. He then hit on a revolutionary plan: the Congress must dissolve and a Lok Seva Sangh should take its place. He even drew up a constitution for the Sangh and decided to place it before the Congress leaders. But the assassin’s bullet ended Bapu’s life, leaving the new task unfinished.
Gandhiji’s martyrdom left a vacuum that nothing could fill. He was the High Command, the soul force on which the party had built and sustained its hold on the masses. His idea of dissolving the Congress was considered, but dropped. Nehru, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad and Rajen Babu felt that the Congress must continue in view of the grave challenges facing the nation —— Pakistan’s aggression in Kashmir and the refugee influx. (Gandhiji, it appears, wanted India to have a healthy party system based on the clear-cut ideology — one to the left of the Centre, presumably led by Nehru, and the other to the right of the Centre, headed by Patel.) There was no scope for creating another vacuum. However, Nehru and Patel soon clashed and it looked that the Congress might even split. But Patel, who controlled the party organization, rose to the occasion, publicly accepted Nehru as his leader and underlined the need to keep the Congress united and strong. Alas, the party started losing its national character before very long. Matters worsened after Nehru and the party split — first in 1969 and then in 1978.
Indira Gandhi chose to call her party Congress-I and was voted back to power in 1980. The Congress-I was acknowledged as the Indian National Congress by the Chief Election Commissioner and the Supreme Court. Mr. Rajiv Gandhi succeeded his mother as the Congress-I President following the latter’s assassination and won an unprecedented victory in the general election to the Lok Sabha. Nevertheless, the Congress-I had come a long way from the days of the Mahatma and subsequently those of Nehru, Patel and Azad. Many like me, therefore, hoped that Mr. Rajiv Gandhi would take the earliest opportunity to use the occasion of the CentenaryCelebrations to rebuild the Congress into a national movement. The country had won swaraja in 1947. However, a lot remained to be done. Purnaswaraja or economic independence had still to be achieved. But there was no sign of any move towards a national renewal. The Centenary Celebrations, inaugurated on May 6 in New Delhi, became an extension of the AICC-I session held earlier on May 4 and 5.
Regrettably, the mistakes made in May in New Delhi were repeated in Bombay. Required effort was not made to secure the presence of former Congress Presidents, who are happily still with us — neither of Mr. Sanjiva Reddy and Mr. Nijalingappa of the undisputed Indian National Congress nor of Mr. C. Subramaniam, Mr. Jagjivan Ram and Mr. D.K. Barooah of Indira Gandhi’s post-split Congress (S). Nor were adequate courtesies extended to seek the attendance of erstwhile but eminent Congressmen such as Mr. Morarji Desai and Mr. Charan Singh, who are former Prime Ministers, or Mr. E.M.S. Namboodripad, Mr. Chandra Sekhar and Mr. Sharad Pawar, who head other parties. Personally, I would have also liked to see Assam’s young Chief Minister, Mr. Prafulla Mahanta, and his close colleague, Mr. BhriguPhukan, invited. Not many know that they are followers of the Mahatma. At AASU’s first meeting with the Prime Minister in 1980, Indira Gandhi asked: “Who is your leader?” Young Prafulla humbly pointed to the Mahatma’s portrait behind Mrs. Gandhi and said: “He is our leader.”
Most of us expected to see at least Mr. Jagjivan Ram at the celebrations since his daughter, Mrs. Meera Kumar, recently joined the Congress-I with his full blessings and now represents the party in the Lok Sabha from Bijnore. But he was not there. The reason? He received an invitation a few days earlier only from Mrs. Sheila Kaul, Convener of the Celebrations Committee. Likewise, invitations from Mrs. Kaul were also received by Mr. Morarji Desai, who stays three blocks away from Brabourne Stadium, and others, including Mr. H.N. Bahuguna, who grew up politically in Anand Bhawan, and Mr. Mir Qasim. Appropriately and graciously, the invitations should have gone to them from the Congress President himself, followed up by personal telephone calls. Some people talk of protocol and argue that it would not have been proper for the Prime Minister to do so. But they forget the true Congress tradition and culture. Gandhiji described the Prime Minister as the first servant of the people. Ironically, Mrs. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit was present in Bombay at the time. However, she did not reportedly receive an invitation!
Welcome initiative was, no doubt, taken in inviting and arranging the visit of Lord Fenner Brockway, who turned up in his prized Gandhi cap and received a special cheer. (Lord Brockway wore a Gandhi cap in the House of Commons in 1929 to demand India’s freedom.) However, nowhere to be seen was the oldest Congressman of rare dedication, Prof. P.R. Chakraverti, 83, and several Congress members of the Constituent Assembly. Dada, as Prof Chakraverti is affectionately called, was the permanent Secretary of the AICC during the Nehru era from 1947 to 1964 and lived throughout in a small room in the office premises. Everyone at the session spoke of offering a shradhanjalito the mahapurush who had built the Congress with their blood, sweat and tears. But an excellent opportunity to recall them visually was thrown away. The white khadi backdrop of the vast dais, spanning a segment of the huge stadium, was long and high enough to carry the portraits of almost all the past Presidents. Yet, it carried only four cut outs — those of the Mahatma, Nehru and Indira Gandhi on one side and of Mr. Rajiv Gandhi on the other.
One could go on and on with much that was wrong and chaotic with the celebrations — and not in keeping with the Congress culture and tradition. The resolution entitled “The Centenary Resolve” leaves a great deal to be desired. Incredibly enough, there is no reference in it to the great role played by the nationalist Press for independence. (As Mr. Kamalapati Tripathi, Congress-I Working President knows it only too well, Gandhiji and most other titans of the freedom struggle, including Tilak and C.R. Dass, were practicing journalists.) Again, para eleven of the Resolve records with manifest satisfaction that “the political unification of the country was accomplished in record time by the integration of the princely States.” But, incredibly enough, there is no mention in it of Sardar Patel, described by Nehru himself as the “architect of unity”. Ultimately, the big question is: What of tomorrow? Will Rajiv’s Congress continue to carry the suffix “I” and functiononly as the Congress-I. Or, will it endeavour to become the Indian National Congress both in letter and in spirit?
Fortunately, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi’s inaugural speech at the Celebrations holds out hope and promise. He has honestly analysed the present national scene and the many ills that bedevil it and the ruling Congress-I, proving once again that Indians have a great genius for diagnosis. Mr. Rajiv Gandhi has articulated the views of countless millions, especially in speaking about ‘the brokers of power and influence’ within the Congress-I itself, feudal oligarchy, vulgar conspicuous consumption and the distressing fact that “the fence has started eating the crop”. But the big question remains: What about the remedy? Importantly, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi has spoken of the need to “once more generate a mass movement” — Build India Movement —— and reorganize and revitalize the Congress for the purpose. The challenge is staggering but not impossible to achieve, given the right approach and a commitment to truth, basic values and principles as shown by the Mahatma. Let us hope Mr. Rajiv Gandhi will be able to involve all sections and all communities and that his testament will lead to a new movement. All eyes are on him. — INFA