On the failure of the Second Round Table conference, Mahatma Gandhi started the civil disobedience movement and thousands of Indians were jailed. Among them were Jayaprakash Narayan, Minoo Masani, Achyut Patwardhan, Asok Mehta, N G Goray and others who were held in Nasik jail. It is in this jail that the idea of launching a socialist movement in the country was conceived.
This October 22, the India Socialist movement which began with the formation of the Congress Socialist Party in 1934 at a conference of socialists at the Readymoney Terrace in Mumbai under the presidentship of Dr Sampurnanand, completed 75 years. In its chequered journey, the movement had many ups and downs, many mergers and splits but also has many achievements to its credit.
It may surprise many that today India is treading the path shown by the socialists rather than Mahatma Gandhi. But this is a historical fact. In 1934, Minoo Masani had given to Mahatma Gandhi a programme adopted by the Mumbai socialists for his comments. Gandhi said while he welcomed the formation of the Congress Socialist Party, he did not agree with its programmes.
Gandhi opposed the idea of class struggle, abolition of princely states, the repudiation of India’s public debt, the idea of nationalisation of the means of production, exchange and distribution which the socialists demanded. He asked as to how people will become thrifty if they need not worry about old age, ill health and accidents. He asked, if it was the responsibility of the state to take care of the children, does it not absolve the parents of their responsibility?
He said he was against the abolition of zamindari, but wanted just relations between the landlords and tenants. But if one looks at the changes that have taken place, one would know, that India is treading the path shown by the socialists and not the one shown by Mahatma Gandhi.
The Congress Socialist Party, started as a Marxist party, soon realised the futility of violence as a means to achieve power and accepted democratic socialism as its creed. It tried to redefine socialism in the Indian context by emphasising the need for broadbasing democracy by decentralising power, the need for equality, in the social structure by giving special opportunities to the deprived, gender equality and cultural and linguistic equality.
Unfortunately the political wing of the movement went through many splits and mergers due to mostly the personality clashes of the leaders. While many of them joined the Congress party, some of them even joined the outfit led by the communalists. Today, the socialists have dispersed in several different political parties giving rise to a feeling that socialism in India has failed. But this can be the failure of the socialist leadership but not that of the movement.
Socialist movement has many reasons to be proud of. In the paper published to justify imposition of emergency, Indira Gandhi said that most of the 14 point programmes suggested by the socialists to Nehru in 1952 had been implemented. While the Congress which had begun as a forum to demand participation in the British administration of the country to the educated Indians, came to adopt the socialistic pattern of society as its goal.
The communists who believed in violence as a means to achieve power, accepted democracy and and are today functioning within the framework of the constitution. Even the BJP had at one time to say that it too believes in socialism but of the Gandhian variety. Credit for all this should legitimately go to the socialist movement.
In 1934, socialists demanded the linguistic reorganisation of states, planned economic growth, abolition of princely states and zamindari, redistribution of land, abolition of debts of farmers, nationalisation of banks, right to work, encouragement to co-operatives, secularism, gender equality, etc. After 75 years, we find Indian states reorganised on linguistic bases, five year plans, disappearance of princely states and zamindari, land reforms, nationalisation of banks, reservation to the deprived, panchayat raj system of sub-state governance and the right to work being realised through the employment guarantee schemes. Even the constitution was amended to include ‘socialist and secular’ to describe the nation in the preamble to the constitution. These are no mean achievements.
Socialists are celebrating the 75th anniversary of the movement this October 2009. The question is whether the movement will regain the steam it lost when it merged with the Janata Party in 1977 and suggest socialist solutions to the problems posed by the new developments in the country and the world.