Delving beyond the surface
One of the observations that BJP President Amit Shah made last week while addressing intellectuals and eminent citizens during his tour of Chattisgarh, was that the Congress was a special purpose vehicle (SPV) for seeing freedom through and that it had no single binding ideological thread. Shah had also observed that Gandhi wanted the Congress dissolved soon after Independence, its principal objective having been achieved he wanted to restructure the organisation along the lines of constructive social service. Shah could not have been nearer to the truth.
A number of high-priests of Indian historiography, self-styled historians, and narrative manipulators took umbrage to the remark, especially because a prominent leader from the creases of their intellectual and political adversaries made such an observation. However unpalatable for them, Amit Shah's observation had merit.
Let us briefly examine the issues. In his opus, 'History of the Freedom Movement in India' R.C.Majumdar, discussing the formation of the Congress, observes, that A.O.Hume 'could not possibly be, and was certainly not, inspired by the same national sentiment and patriotic yearning for freedom of Indian which characterised the advanced political thinkers of Bengal and other parts of India. The reasons which induced him to conceive the idea of a political organisation like the Indian National Congress were of an entirely different character. He was deeply impressed [read disturbed] by the general discontent in India threatening imminent danger to the Government. From well-wishers in different parts of the country he received warnings of the danger to the Government, and to the future welfare of India, from the economic sufferings of the masses, and the alienation of the intellectuals.'
Majumdar, notes, that the 'evidence which convinced Hume of the "imminent danger of a terrible outbreak was contained in seven large volumes which were shown to him. These contained a vast number of communications from over thirty thousand different reporters from different parts of India...' Hume, himself admitted rather candidly, that 'a safety-valve for the escape of great and growing forces generated by our own action, was urgently needed, and no more efficacious safety-valve than our Congress movement could possibly be devised.'
In course of time, the Congress evolved into a veritable vehicle for spearheading the struggle for freedom. After its initial split in Surat in 1907, due to intransigence of the moderates, the original unity of the body was further strengthened and it was realised that the best way to actuate and further the cause of India's freedom was to allow the existence of many ideological groups within the Congress body and confer them with the freedom to propagate.
Thus, one saw the phenomenon of socialists, leftists, rightists, centrist, all congregate within the Congress fold, one saw the Swarajists, the Home Rule leaguers, Tilakites, the Constitutionalists, the revolutionary nationalists all under one umbrella. It was a unique phenomenon that while the external battle for Swaraj continued, the Congress witnessed, internally, a continuous tête-a-tête, a sublimated struggle for control by various strands of political views, each trying to stamp itself on the organisation and the movement.
In that sense the Congress had no single binding ideology, its sole binding thread being the overweening desire for India's freedom. As Deendayal Upadhyaya observed, 'All agreed, however, that the foremost task was to gain Independence.' Where else would one see Madan Mohan Malviya preside over the special sessions of the Hindu Mahasabha and also hold office as Congress President? It is in that sense that Shah had observed that the Congress was a SPV for the attainment of freedom and had no single ideological thread.
On Gandhi's desire to dissolve the Congress, conversations, letters, documents assert that one of the last obsessions of Gandhi was the dissolution of the Congress. The SPV had achieved its prime objective, and the Mahatma saw it fit to be dissolved, as Durga Das, legendary chronicler of modern India writes, Gandhi, 'was also concerned with the rot that was setting into the Congress Party. He had received information that some Congress legislators were taking money from businessmen to get licenses, that they were indulging in black marketing and subverting the judiciary and intimidating top officials to secure transfers and promotions for their protégés in the administration. Gandhi thought of a remedy for this alarming state of affairs...the Congress must dissolve and a Lok Sevak Sangh take its place. He drew up a constitution for the Sangh and decided to place it before the Congress overlords.' This was a few days before his assassination.
Gandhi's close confidant Pyarelal, for example, was categorical in this respect when he observed that 'Bapu devised the Lok Seva Sangh concept with the Congress specifically in mind. He was afraid that the way Congress was going about its work, it would end up as a mere shadow of the original Congress. The Congress is enervating itself in the power struggles of the day. He saw this and wanted to transform the Congress in a way that would transform politics, the politics of power. The source of Congress's strength was its moral weight. It is because of this that Bapu wanted to distance the Congress from the politics of power and convert it into an organisation that would generate moral strength. This was the objective of the Lok Seva Sangh...'
Congress dynasts and its first family acolytes – both political and intellectual, have put a lid on this episode and debate for their own convenience. Foremost among them is cricket historian Ramchandra Guha. The difference between Guha's moral universe – if there is one – and that of Amit Shah's is indeed a vast one. While the former lives in an intellectual vacuum and utopia of his own making, disjointed from the actual currents of India's political evolution, the latter has lived through it, emerged through its various phases and struggles, participated in them and today largely shapes its trajectory.
Who in the Congress and among Guha's coterie would know, for example, that Sardar's daughter, Manibehn Patel and Acharya Kripalani, had both chosen a very young Shah's home and had taken his services in electioneering when they had fought the last elections of their lives in 1977 – Manibehn as a candidate from Mehsana and Kripalani as a campaigner against Congress's imposition of Emergency.
While Guha is a pretender who writes history, Shah lives, actualises and activates history.