Lessons from the history of Congress

Tags: Op-ed
Lessons from the history of Congress
AFP
STANDING TALL: This handout image received from the Gujarat Information Bureau depicts the proposed ‘Statue of Unity’ of India’s first home minister, Sardar Patel, to be built near the Narmada Dam site, some 190 km from Ahmedabad
Whenever I am asked about Bapu’s political legacy, I am always asked to answer why Bapu picked Jawaharlal Nehru over Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. And when Bapu had asked that the Congress should be dissolved after Independence, why has the present Congress, which claims to be a party of the father of the nation, not obeyed his wish? Whenever elections are around the corner, Opposition parties, especially politicians of the Sangh Parivar taunt the Congress about it not obeying its leader’s wishes. Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi does not miss an opportunity to criticise the Congress about disregarding the wishes of Bapu. Now that they have adopted Sardar Patel as their leader, they also play up the injustice done to him by Bapu and harp on the price India has had to pay for Bapu’s follies.

There was always a cloud over Patel’s leanings and Nehru loyalists in Congress as well as the socialist group always targeting him and insinuating that he was communal and anti-Muslim. This is the reason that the Sanghis now attempt to adopt Patel as their iconic leader. If one looks at the correspondence and conversations between Patel and Bapu post 1945, one will see that Bapu always expressed his anxiety about Patel’s deteriorating health, expressing concern and even admonishing Patel for being careless about his health. In 1946, Bapu forced Patel to leave everything else aside and checked them both into the nature cure hospital of Dinsha Mehta in Pune. For one month, he made Patel undergo nature therapy and personally took care of his health. When the time came to choose a leader for independent India, the knowledge of Patel’s deteriorating health must have influenced Bapu’s decision.

As a fledgling nation, Bapu realised that India would need a comparatively young leader who would be able to stay at the helm of affairs for a long time, acting as a steadying and guiding light to the nation. And it was Pandit Nehru who had the youthful vitality required for this job.

Sardar Patel suffered his first stroke merely six months after Independence, although he continued working admirably. But his health kept deteriorating and on December 15, 1950, barely two years and three months after Independence, he breathed his last. Bapu was cruelly murdered barely six months after India became a free nation and till today we are suffering the consequence of losing the father of our nation soon after we achieved freedom. We have not achieved true harmony and unity amongst our populace, we have not achieved equality amongst our castes and genders and our claims about development is a big joke; claims about the development in Gujarat under Modi are also exaggerated.

Pandit Nehru was at the helm of independent India for the first 17 odd years. Barring a few hiccups, it nurtured our nation making it capable of standing up on its feet and being able to sustain its sovereignty and dignity. His influence allowed the baby to strengthen itself so that in its youth, it could be able to take giant strides on its own strength and will.

As far as the question about dissolving the Congress is concerned, one must admit that the present-day Congress is not the Congress of Bapu’s times; not even that of its founding father Allan Octavian Hume. This is a political party created by Indira Gandhi, carved out from the party she had inherited from her father Pandit Nehru and refined by her to serve her requirements after many purges and culls. The reason Bapu had suggested that the Congress be dissolved was because he knew that the party, which had helmed the freedom movement, was a conglomeration of people of divergent, mutually conflicting and contradictory ideologies who would never be able to work together as a united political entity. Look at how many parties of diverse and opposite ideologies emerged out of the entity that fought for India’s freedom — socialists, moderates, right wingers, communal leaders, conservatives, liberals, regional chauvinists — including people of all sorts and all beliefs, an appreciably large group of village workers and social reformers who wanted to continue the work of service and had no interest or inclination towards politics. Bapu had realised that this diverse conglomeration would never survive and so he recommended that, ‘that’ Congress be dissolved and it did, in a very natural manner. But Bapu had not suggested that none of the Congress leaders could be active politicians and not take part in electoral politics as individuals or as parties, an important and necessary aspect of a democracy.

If Bapu did not want the Congress to exist, he would not have written a constitution for the party and submitted it to the party leadership on the morning of his murder.

I hope that we get over our fixation about perceived errors in history and stop committing errors today that jeopardise our tomorrow. The history is the past and should help us to refrain from making the same mistakes in the present. It should not make us keep trying to correct or avenge the mistakes of our past in our present and make us ignore the oncoming future.

(The writer is founder president, Mahatma Gandhi Foundation)

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