Above: Five years after Independence, in 1951, Nehru was faced with the same dilemma as Rahul Gandhi about whether it was the end of the road for the Congress
By Inderjit Badhwar
Every time the Grand Old Party of India suffers a political setback through a split in its ranks, the break-away of a ginger group, or an electoral drubbing, its leaders wring their hands in agony, retreat into a studied, churlish silence and the nation reverberates with a familiar debate: Has the Congress party lost its historical relevance? Is the party, once guided by Bapu, the father of the nation, and led by intrepid stalwarts like Nehru, Patel, Bose and Rajendra Prasad, dead?
Last week, as Narendra Modi and his second cabinet in a row were sworn in to govern India following a spectacular triumph in the 2019 elections, the Congress with its 50-odd MPs was left licking its wounds, and the same age-old existential question was doing the rounds across the country: Is it the end of the road for the party which delivered India its independence from colonial rule?
Believe it or not, about five years following Independence, just before the general election, this very same question came to haunt the mighty Congress. And its leader and prime minister devoted an entire speech to addressing the subject in Madras way back in November 1951!
Historian Mridula Mukherjee has collected and reproduced many of Nehru’s rare speeches, notes, and comments. The Congress, as it stares today into a vacuous future, would benefit from his perspicacity, as would people in all other parties.
Here are excerpts which are as relevant today as they were in 1951 when the party strode across India like a colossus:
- The idea came into my head because some people often write in their newspapers and periodicals that the Congress is dead or dying and I just laughed. But when I saw those mighty crowds coming to me, I wondered who all these people were, who talked about the Congress being dead or dying? I wondered if they had any touch with the Indian people, if they knew anything about the people they dare to speak about.
- The Congress is not an electioneering device, the Congress is not a mushroom party to run for an election. Elections will come and elections will go, but the Congress will go on because the Congress has its roots in generations of work and service, and trouble and travail—because the Congress has its roots in the hearts of millions of people. I therefore came to the conclusion after long and painful thought that the Congress has a further mission, and even though the Congress may have fallen into wrong ways here and there, even though, in many local places, it was in the hands of cliques and groups, even though factions had grown in the Congress which had weakened it, even though many Congressmen had become lazy and were not doing much and expected favours, yet, in spite of all this, I feel that the Congress still had a historical mission to fulfil.
- Therefore, I give my time and energy to it. I do so because of two reasons, one is the positive reason that I feel, as I said, that the Congress has that mission to fulfil, and the other is a negative reason, that there is nobody else but the Congress which could fulfil that mission.
- Now, I have no grievance against most of the other parties in India. I just do not see why other parties should not exist. Certainly, they are welcome. It is dangerous for the Congress or for any organisation to have it all its way.
- There must be opposition, there must be struggle, life is struggle, life is not ease. Any organisation, not only an individual, that has an easy time, is corrupted by it. Therefore, I like opposition, I like parties to grow up to oppose the Congress. Therefore, it is not in any spirit that I want it all in my own way. I just do not see today any group, any party in India capable of shouldering the heavy burdens of India, except the Congress.
- So far as I am concerned the struggle is not over with the coming of political independence, that was only one stage, one journey ended, but the real journey never ends for a nation and even for us the journey is not ended because there is so much in this country which has got to be changed, and uprooted.
- Nowadays as you know I often refer to the problem of communalism, etc. People often complain—among them are some old friends and colleagues—that by talking of communalism, Jawaharlal wishes to hide his weaknesses and failures and tries to sweep the real problem, the economic problem of the country, under the carpet.
- I would like to point out very respectfully that it is a totally unjustified criticism because…this is the only important problem before which everything else becomes rather insignificant. So, therefore, when I refer to communalism, it is because it creates obstacles in the way of solving the basic problem of removal of poverty.
- The individual who is communal-minded is a small man with a narrow mind who cannot undertake anything big; and nations based on petty principles also become small. We had become great intellectually because Mahatma Gandhi came and raised the stature of our country and widened our horizon. But there are others who come and talk of communalism whether the word ‘communal’ is used or not, the result is that we immediately shrink in size and our country also shrinks.
- Therefore, taking all this into account I came to the conclusion that the Congress has to go on, in spite of the weaknesses and defects which creep into an organisation that has tasted success. I do not see any other organisation capable of carrying on the process of consolidation and undertaking the economic tasks successfully. Having realised this fact I threw myself heart and soul into the task of reorganising the Congress.
That last paragraph was probably what Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi paid special heed to when they began the Herculean task of putting their hearts and souls into reviving their party after the 1984-85 general election, when the BJP was reduced to two members in the Lok Sabha while the Congress had 426 members.
Is the Congress listening to Nehru?
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