Mahatma spoke of reimagining Cong, not disbanding it

Prime Minister Narendra Modi near the statue of Mahatma Gandhi at newly opened National Museum of Indian Cinema in Mumbai on Jan 19, 2019. (PTI)

In a blog written to commemorate the 89th anniversary of the Dandi salt satyagraha on March 13, 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote that Mahatma Gandhi wanted the Indian National Congress “disbanded” in post-Independent India.

Modi and his party, the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), have been highlighting this idea since the 2014 polls and connecting their slogan of ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’ with Gandhi's words. But did Gandhi really call for disbanding the Congress in the way the BJP portrays it? Reading his words closely, it becomes evident that the Mahatma believed the Congress to be indispensable to the development of the new Indian nation. In fact, he wrote that the Congress “cannot be allowed to die” and instead called for reimagining the party as an organization focussed on the social, moral and economic freedoms of citizens, especially the rural poor and the underprivileged.

Call to reimagine not disband

First let us look at what Gandhi said when he spoke of disbanding the Congress:

“Though split into two, India having attained political independence through means devised by the Indian National Congress, the Congress in its present shape and form, i.e. as a propaganda vehicle and parliamentary machine, has outlived its use. India has still to attain social, moral and economic independence in terms of its seven hundred thousand villages as distinguished from its cities and towns. The struggle for the ascendency of civil over military power is bound to take place in India’s progress towards its democratic goal. It must be kept out of unhealthy competition with political parties and communal bodies. For these and other similar reasons, the A.I.C.C resolves to disband the existing Congress organization and flower into a Lok Sevak Sangh under the following rules with power to alter them as occasion may demand."

This is from the collected works of Mahatma Gandhi and was written on January 29, 1948, a day before his assassination. In the write-up titled, ‘Draft Constitution of Congress', Gandhi does propose to disband the Congress organisation, but he wants a new Congress in the place of the old -- a Congress that would respond to the needs of a newly independent nation and embrace a new culture that would help it take the essence of freedom to all strata of society.

On another occasion as well, Gandhi expressed a similar view. On November 14, 1947, he told a yet-to-be-elected Congress President, Rajendra Prasad: “Either this institution [Congress] has to be disbanded or if it has to be kept alive we will need a man of dynamic personality." Prasad resigned as the minister for food and agriculture in the interim government to become the president of the Indian National Congress on December 22, 1947.

Recommendations to AICC

As evident from his writings, Gandhi expressed the desire for the Congress to "flower into" a separate entity called the Lok Sevak Sangh. He proposed a new and detailed culture for Congress workers that would create a core of village-level activists who would work with the people.

Gandhi’s note was in the nature of recommendations made to an AICC committee constituted to revise the existing party constitution. The write up was released by Acharya Jugal Kishore, general secretary, AICC, on February 7, 1948. In his note, Kishore said: "As something has already appeared in the Press... regarding the proposals which Mahatmaji had made concerning changes in the Congress Constitution I am releasing the full draft as was handed to me on the fateful forenoon of 30th January..." This was later published in Harijan on February 15, 1948 under the headline, 'His Last Will and Testament'. These were not Gandhi’s own words, but those of his associates.

Gandhi, in fact, spoke of the Congress existing in India till the nation dies. Three days before his demise, in his article in Harijan titled, 'Congress Position', Gandhi wrote: "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."

Congress and Mahatma

While Gandhi did not want the Congress to become extinct as claimed by the BJP and its cohorts, his desire for creating a future-ready Congress has much contemporary relevance. He wrote in Harijan: "If it (Congress) engages in the ungainly skirmish for power, it will find one fine morning that it is no more."

Having touched a historic low of 44 seats during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress has to rise up from the ashes once again. Gandhi's recommendations could be the back-to-the drawing-board call that the party needs. If only, the Congress paid as much attention to the Mahatma's words as the BJP does!

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Mahatma spoke of reimagining Cong, not disbanding it

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