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When Gandhi said Congress can 'only die with the nation'; warned of its weedy growth

By Rajiv Shah
I don’t recall when, why and how, but I have been under the impression for decades that Mahatma Gandhi wanted the Congress dissolved after India attained Independence. However, a few days ago, I was pleasantly surprised on seeing a Facebook post by Hari Desai, a well-known Gujarati journalist and a Sardar Patel expert, putting on record and claiming that this, indeed, was never the case.
Desai released the photograph of “Harijan”, edited by Gandhi himself, dated February 1, 1948, which carried an article by Gandhi written on January 27, 1948, three days before he was murdered, clearly stating that the “Indian National Congress ... cannot be allowed to die”, and that it can “only die with the nation.”
I was a little bemused, tried to look up the Gandhi Heritage Portal, set up by a top Gandhi expert, Tridip Suhrud, former director, Gandhi Ashram, to see a copy of “Harijan” dated February 1, 1948. I was surprised: The top portal, which claims to carry impressions of nearly all the Gandhi and Gandhi-related works, has only very few digitized impressions “Harijan”, all of them of 1930s! An extremely user-friendly portal, which I used for the first time though it was set up a few years ago, thankfully, carries the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi; Its Volume 90 does carry the article, which is titled “Congress Position” on pages 497-98.
Indeed, more recently, RSS and BJP leaders been been declaring that the Mahatma did indeed want the Congress dissolved after Independence – a view that was pushed by none other than Narendra Modi during the 2014 elections through his powerful political slogan “Congress mukt Bharat.” However, the Congress, which has been quietly allowing Modi to appropriate Gandhi and his legacy, wedded to its unprecedented sycophantic culture since Indira Gandhi days, does not appear to have has appropriately defended the Mahatma on this issue. I wonder if it ever said that Gandhi never wanted Congress dissolved, quoting from an article which has been in public domain.
Of course, there have been some comments on the issue. One of then was in The Hindustan Times by historian Sucheta Mahajan, who says that what is actually a draft constitution penned by Gandhi is taken as the ‘last will and testament’ of Gandhi, adding, “Gandhi’s comments were made in the context of a continuing debate on the future role of the party in the post-Independence period and the associated reorganisation of the Congress.”
Pointing out that it was part of a debate initiated by the party leadership in 1946 about what role should Congress have once India attained independence, Mahajan recalls, over the months, Jayaprakash Narayan, Raghukul Tilak, JB Kripalani and Rammanohar Lohia gave their view. Tilak, for instance, “was apprehensive about the vacuum, which would be created by dissolving the Congress, which communal parties would rush to fill.” Kripalani suggested a “reorientation of the Congress now that the struggle against the British was over.” Lohia wanted the Congress to “adopt the socialist creed”.
As for Gandhi, he “spoke of dissolving the party not in the limited context of being disillusioned with power politics, which dominated it, but as part of the transformation of the party to make it a fit instrument for the new situation”, asserts Mahajan, adding, “Gandhi had been engaged in these discussions on the future role of the party since he was in Noakhali and had continued them in Delhi in late 1947 and early 1948.” She criticizes what she calls “(mis)appropriation” of Gandhi’s view on Congress “by national leaders of BJP.”
Not just BJP, even political scientists, Lloyd and Susan Rudolph said: “Twenty four hours before his death on 30 January 1948 at the hands of Nathu Godse, Gandhi proposed in his ‘last will and testament’ that the Indian National Congress be dissolved and be replaced by a Lok Sevak Sangh, a people’s service organisation.” However, the so-called last testament should be “read along with another statement, carried in “Harijan” dated February 1, 1948, saying: “Indian National Congress which is the oldest national political organization and which has after many battles fought her non-violent way to freedom cannot be allowed to die. It can only die with the nation.”
I suspect, one reason why today’s Congress may be shy of quoting Gandhi is something that the Mahatma said in his article dated January 27, 1948. Perhaps it epitomises what the Congress come to become after so many decades, especially after Indira Gandhi took over, even as showing ways how to overcome the difficulties it may face. Gandhi started by stating in his article that the “Indian National Congress which is the oldest national political organization and which has after many battles fought her non-violent way to freedom cannot be allowed to die.”
Even as pointing out that the Congress “can only die with the nation”, Gandhi insists, “The Congress has won political freedom, but it has yet to win economic freedom, social and moral freedom. These freedoms are harder than the political, if only because they are constructive, less exciting and not spectacular. All-embracing constructive work evokes the energy of all the units of the millions.”
Noting that “the Congress has got the preliminary and necessary part of her freedom”, Gandhi underlined, and this is important, something the present genre of Congressmen and women should hark: “The hardest has yet to come. In its difficult ascent to democracy, it has inevitably created rotten boroughs leading to corruption and creation of institutions popular and democratic only in name.” He calls it a “weedy and unwieldy growth”, suggesting ways to overcome this.
According to Gandhi, “Yesterday the Congress was unwittingly the servant of the nation, it was khudai khidmatgar -- God's servant. Let it now proclaim to itself and the world that it is only God's servant – nothing more, nothing less. If it engages in the ungainly skirmish for power, it will find one fine morning that it is no more.”
***
I reproduce the full article here:
CONGRESS POSITION
(By M.K. Gandhi)
Indian National Congress which is the oldest national political organization and which has after many battles fought her non-violent way to freedom cannot be allowed to die. It can only die with the nation. A living organism ever grows or it dies. The Congress has won political freedom, but it has yet to win economic freedom, social and moral freedom. These freedoms are harder than the political, if only because they are constructive, less exciting and not spectacular. All-embracing constructive work evokes the energy of all the units of the millions.
The Congress has got the preliminary and necessary part of her freedom. The hardest has yet to come. In its difficult ascent to democracy, it has inevitably created rotten boroughs leading to corruption and creation of institutions popular and democratic only in name. How to get out of the weedy and unwieldy growth?
The Congress must do away with its special register of members, at no time exceeding one crore, not even then easily identifiable. It had an unknown register of millions who could never be wanted. Its register should now be co-extensive with all the men and women on the voters' rolls in the country. The Congress business should be to see that no faked name gets in and no legitimate name is left out. On its own register it will have a body of servants of the nation who would be workers doing the work allotted to them from time to time.
Unfortunately for the country they will be drawn chiefly for the time being from the city-dwellers, most of whom would be required to work for and in the villages of India. The ranks must be filled in increasing numbers from the villagers.
These servants will be expected to operate upon and serve the voters registered according to law, in their own surroundings. Many persons and parties will woo them. The very best will win. Thus and in no other way can the Congress regain its fast-ebbing unique position in the country. But yesterday the Congress was unwittingly the servant of the nation, it was khudai khidmatgar -- God's servant. Let it now proclaim to itself and the world that it is only God's servant -- nothing more, nothing less. If it engages in the ungainly skirmish for power, it will find one fine morning that it is no more. Thank God, it is now no longer in sole possession of the field.
I have only opened to view the distant scene. If I have the time and health, I hope to discuss in these columns what the servants of the nation can do to raise themselves in the estimation of their masters, the whole of the adult population, male and female.
(NEW DELHI, January 27, 1948 Harijan, 1-2-1948)

Comments

Dipak Dholakia said…
Some one will dig out that Gandhiji said the "Congress should be converted into Lok Sevak Sangh and the 'public service organisation' RSS be handed over the power"! Anything is possible these days.

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