The Congress And The Unmaking Of The Indian Nation
Coinciding with its 126th anniversary the Indian National Congress released a book, The Congress and the Making of the Indian Nation. The book contains essays by various authors outlining the party’s history and impact on the Indian nation. The book is edited by senior Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee. Judging by media reports the book departs from the usually blind Congress sycophancy. The essays contain the mild charges generally leveled by outside critics. According to media reports there are not any startling distortions in the book. Although to describe the JP Movement as “extra-constitutional and undemocratic” is the height of perversion. JP led a peaceful protest against corruption. He was in the process of uniting opposition forces into a national alternative to the Congress, when Indira Gandhi to avoid removal from high office due to an adverse court judgment imposed the Emergency on fraudulent grounds. What was undemocratic about the JP movement? Nevertheless it is welcome that Congress leaders are reappraising the past to better chart their future. However, for a fuller appreciation it would do them good to heed the views of even trenchant critics of their party. That is why this article is being written.
I shall start with my conclusion and then offer my reasons for reaching it. I think that the Indian National Congress should be buried. It has outlived its utility. It is a negative force for achieving India’s future goals dictated by current developments. Undoubtedly, Congress contains more talent than does any other party in India. Therefore, Congressmen should reinvent their party. They should convert it into the Indian Federal Congress. A Federal Congress would facilitate absorbing existing regional parties. I briefly outline below my reasons for reaching this conclusion.
I shall refrain from dwelling on the Congress betrayal of its own pledged objectives before Independence by accepting the Partition. Enough has been written on that already. Although it does continue to mystify me how even Mahatma Gandhi could have silently allowed the shameful betrayal of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan who stood steadfast for an undivided India to the very end. Gandhi redeemed himself somewhat by acknowledging his mistake later. The very Partition which he silently accepted in principle when there was minimal unrest and rioting, he sought to undo after a million had been slaughtered and ten million rendered homeless. He had finalized plans for settling down in Lahore to undo the spirit of Partition when assassination aborted that a fortnight before he could depart. On the last day of his life Gandhi wrote his final will and testament. He recommended that the Congress party should be disbanded. More than sixty years after his death has not the time come to heed his advice?
The freedom struggle was a federal movement cutting across parties. It was equally supported by the Congress, Muslim League and the Akali Dal. Pandit Nehru’s propensity for centralized rule led to the rejection of the Cabinet Mission Plan which would have granted independence to a united federal India. Nehru too, like Gandhi, realized his error at the end. After the 1962 hostilities with China had abated he sought to undo the spirit of the Partition by sending Sheikh Abdullah to Pakistan to explore the chances of creating an Indo-Pak confederation with Kashmir as the bridge uniting them. His plan too was aborted by his death while the Sheikh was in Pakistan.
After Independence the Congress got converted from a movement to a party. Akali candidates were not allowed to contest the election under their party banner. They all had to become Congress members. The early leading Congress leaders of Punjab like Pratap Singh Kairon had all been Akalis. Nehru’s liking for centralized rule did not mar democratic norms in a federal society. That was because Nehru’s inner Brahminical core was heavily coated with British values acquired from his schooling days at Harrow. He was a brown Englishman. It goes to his credit that though his popularity after Independence could have easily allowed him to become a dictator, his democratic impulse restrained him. But after Nehru’s departure the Congress further changed. From a movement it had become a political party. Under Indira Gandhi it became from a party to a dynasty. In fairness to Nehru’s daughter the seeds of the dynasty had been laid much earlier. It attracted less notice because these were only seeds, not the fruits of dynasty. Motilal Nehru had begged Gandhi to make Jawaharlal the Congress president overlooking Sardar Patel who was more deserving at that time. Nehru foisted Indira Gandhi as the Congress president by ignoring the muted protest of Govind Vallabh Pant and other members of the Congress Working Committee. The creation of a full fledged dynasty was foregone.
The dynasty has made a mockery of democratic functioning. It has killed within the Congress all impulse for inquiry, debate and dissent. The first blow against the making of India was struck by Nehru himself. As a blind Anglophile he distorted India’s Constitution by imposing his will over a compliant legal community to ape the British. He overrode the entirely correct interpretation of our written Constitution by President Rajendra Prasad to render the President into a titular head like the British sovereign. That opened the door to abandoning other core directives of our Constitution such as the establishment of genuine Panchayati Raj and federalism implicit in the Inter State Council which was never allowed to materialize. The attempt to set up the Westminster model based on unwritten British conventions in a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious continental nation like India has wrecked our system. Much of the rampant corruption, criminalization, communalism and casteism can be traced to the distortions of our political system wrought by the flawed interpretation of our explicitly written Constitution.
Now India stands on the threshold of major developments in its neighbourhood. To get back on track the spirit of the Partition has to be undone and our political system revived by reinterpreting the Constitution. The Indian National Congress which along with the Muslim League was a British instrument to achieve Partition is an inappropriate instrument to undo its spirit. India needs domestic reform by ushering in a genuine federal polity. That will give India credibility to influence neighbouring nations. Federal India requires a fit instrument to create a confederal South Asia. That is why the Indian National Congress should be buried. That is why the Indian Federal Congress should be encouraged to rise like a phoenix. In conclusion one cannot blame Congress. Its errors were accepted or endorsed by the public. One blames India.
By Rajinder Puri