Searching for Glimpses of Nehru in a Parochial, Post-Nehruvian India [May 27 is the death anniversay of Jawaharlal Nehru. This
Letter to Editor
(In my musings below, I have referred to Madhu Limaye as Bhai, Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia Doctorkaka and George Fernandes as Georgekaka, which is what I called them.)
In my opinion sharing this article now is quite opportune. However, I’m not sure how many people who have been misled into believing the ‘myth’ of the greatness of RSS, its societal contribution and its so-called sacrifice, selflessness and patriotism, will recognise and accept the truth. The fascist and divisive nature of RSS and its offspring are no longer visible and perceptible to those who have been brainwashed by the incessant propaganda. Worse, some have become admirers of it.
First of all I want to comment on the post-independence disservice that Smt. Indira Gandhi has done to the Indian National Congress and India by promoting dynastic politics and virtually destroying all inner party democratic processes and institutions, promoting endless sycophancy and humiliating, sidelining, destroying capable leaders, who were her peers and juniors. All these destructive practices (destructive of the Indian political ethos) have not only undermined the Congress, but have had a much wider negative impact. These pernicious practices have been readily adopted by virtually every other political party and political leaders at all levels. Consequently, merit, calibre, character, dedicated hard work, sacrifice, contribution, etc., have been made irrelevant and without any value or significance in Indian politics.
The Congress leaders as well as its rank and file members/workers have, over these decades, displayed spinelessness and endless hero worship, such that only a Nehru–Gandhi family member is projected and accepted as the supreme party leader in the Congress. The party, which during its pre-independence days and immediate post-independence existence had such a large number of very capable and some truly great leaders, now can hardly boast of any.
Having said this, I would also like to state what I see as another truth, a bitter pill that is likely to upset many, who cannot stomach any criticism of Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia’s policies. I think that unless a person, a team, an organisation or even a movement acknowledges, assesses and learns from their failures and mistakes as much as from their successes and achievements, there is no progress or change possible.
I’m referring to the disastrous and irreversible blunder, made out of impatience, pique, anger and frustration—rather than his usual insightful brilliance—by none other than Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia (Doctorkaka). And that was introducing the “lethal virus of non-Congressism in the body politic of India”, after the disastrous and humiliating defeat of India in the India–China border war.
When Doctorkaka sought to introduce this fatal policy, Bhai (Madhu Limaye) did not attend the National Committee Meeting of the Socialist Party held in Calcutta (now Kolkata). He resigned from his membership of the National Committee and sent a detailed letter of resignation to Doctorkaka protesting against this policy .
Immediately after this inconclusive meeting (if I remember right it was inconclusive as without Bhai’s full support Doctorkaka did not want to push this policy), Doctorkaka came to Mumbai and stayed at our little house as he did always did. For 3–4 days, he argued and pleaded with Bhai trying to convince him and get him to agree to endorse and wholeheartedly support his new strategy of non-Congressism. He also wanted Bhai to withdraw his resignation from the National Committee.
I distinctly remember this trip of Doctorkaka because I also participated in that discussion and asked Doctorkaka a question to this effect. These may not have been my exact words then, but what I asked would have been pretty close to these words. Despite my young age (I was not even 9 years old), I could ask this question because such questions were being discussed in our house for nearly a month before Doctorkaka came from Calcutta: “How would we be able to implement our Socialist policies and ideology if we were going to join hands with every party, from Communists on one side to Jan Sangh on the other to defeat the Congress?”
Bhai, of course, had other concerns as well, which I mention below. To his greatness, Doctorkaka was never dismissive or disrespectful towards any person on account of that person’s age of stature. He didn’t ask me to shut up. He patiently told me to listen to their discussion in which he would answer this question.
Bhai had several other concerns. The first was that this strategy or policy would make the Socialist Party as well as other parties totally opportunistic. This strategy would dilute the character, fortitude and patience of leaders and activists in all parties, particularly in the Socialist Party, as this policy would be seen as a shortcut to power.
And this policy would shift everybody’s attention and focus on to only electoral mathematics and to electoral and summit politics, rendering Doctorkaka’s own formulation or prescription (as well as Mahatma Gandhi’s similar approach) of jail (agitation), phaavdaa (constructive work of building institutions, infrastructure, people, etc.) and vote (elections) to a single formula and focus—Vote!
There were other points as well. Doctorkaka really had no convincing answers. It was the first time I had witnessed this. He had just two points.
One was that after the disastrous defeat at the hands of China, continuance of the Congress in power would hurt India immeasurably. And the only quick way to oust the Congress from power, which was now the overarching priority in Doctorkaka’s mind, was Non-Congressism—combining the opposition strength and votes to defeat the Congress. Doctorkaka’s other argument was that this policy or strategy would be only a “short-term expedient”.
Bhai readily accepted that the Congress rule was progressively hurting India and its people, but he rightly thought that Doctorkaka’s “remedy was worse than the disease”. Bhai was prepared to build, agitate, work and wait. The second objection that Bhai had was that the terrible consequences of this so-called short-term strategy would be irreversible. Almost all parties would never be able to return to principled, ideological politics. The lure of power would be irresistible.
Finally, unable to convince Bhai on the basis of logic, Doctorkaka resorted to emotional blackmail. He used Bhai’s great regard, admiration and affection for him as well as Bhai’s sense of gratitude for Doctorkaka’s unwavering support to him during the split within PSP in 1955 to get Bhai to agree to give this strategy or policy a try, at least for a short period.
Finally, Bhai succumbed and agreed. This policy led to some immediate successes. If I remember right, Acharya J.B. Kripalani and Doctorkaka himself won by-elections to the Lok Sabha. More resounding success of this policy was seen in the 1967 general elections to the Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies, although the Congress could retain its majority in the Lok Sabha.
But my question and Bhai’s concerns/fears have turned out to be prophetic. Doctorkaka, in his remaining days, was severely agonised, nay traumatised, by the early evidence of rank opportunism that was unleashed in 1967. I have witnessed this in the summer vacation of 1967, when I was a regular visitor at Doctorkaka’s Delhi residence, which was then 7 Gurudwara Rakabganj Road (now I think it is No. 24).
Unfortunately, on October 12, 1967, Doctorkaka passed away. He neither had the time nor the opportunity to reverse non-Congressism and the huge wreck it has left behind. Subsequently, Bhai too could not present an acceptable alternative to non-Congressism to anyone since all had tasted some success of the formula.
My apprehension and all of Bhai’s concerns have come to haunt India. I don’t know for how long India will continue to suffer the ill effects of non-Congressism. Even now non-BJPism hasn’t fully succeeded—that is not to praise the Congress!!
To my mind, the other immense damage that the strategy or policy of non-Congressism unwittingly did was to give Jan Sangh / Sangh Parivar legitimacy, votes and seats in 1967 (as a part of the SVD alliance), and thereafter in 1977, as a part of the combined fight that led to Indira Gandhi’s / Congress’s ouster from the centre and the formation of the Janata Party Government. The Sangh Parivar used its few years in power to influence and pack the bureaucracy, media and what not, with its supporters and adherents to the extent possible.
In the first three general elections (that is up to 1962), the vote share and the number of seats that Jan Sangh got compared either with Socialists or Communists was a fraction. Under the banner of non-Congressism, in 1967 they emerged as a force. They suffered, like most others, in 1984. But after Mandal and Ram Mandir/Ratha Yatra, they have continued to gain strength using their corrosive and divisive rhetoric.
No doubt, in the last 3–4 decades, the leftist ideology has lost ground the world over. But, in my opinion, in India it has suffered greatly and ceded the centre-stage to the rightist BJP / Sangh Parivar more severely as the result of non-Congressism.
Doctorkaka’s non-Congressism let out this dangerous genie from the bottle, which will be almost impossible to contain. To use the old proverb or the words of Goethe’s Faust, “No one can win by having a truck with the evil, with the Devil.” Of all people, Doctorkaka, who had witnessed for some years the rise of Hitler and Nazism while he was in Germany, should have, more than anyone else, known better!
To this day, it is my ‘undying regret’ that Bhai agreed to support this policy. Maybe he could have changed Doctorkaka’s mind. Maybe Doctorkaka and Bhai would have broken off permanently. Maybe Bhai would not have got the opportunity to become one of India’s most effective parliamentarians. Maybe he would have gone into political wilderness. Temperamentally, Bhai was not a mass leader with charisma. He was not a rabble-rousing speaker or orator. He did not possess immense personal ambition either. He knew he couldn’t have, on his own, built a new political party or organisation.
Once Bhai agreed to support the strategy of non-Congressism, he never turned back from pursuing this policy right up to the formation of the Janata Party. Many leaders, even during the Emergency, were not ready to go as far as forming a federal party, let alone forming a single party. Many even wanted to boycott the 1977 elections, fearing that Indira Gandhi would rig and win the elections to provide her the legitimacy she sought and craved for. I think the ‘myth and mystery of the invisible Russian ink’ haunted many leaders from 1971.
I would like to pay my respects and homage to Bhai, Doctorkaka and to Georgekaka who were / are definitely among my heroes. But I don’t believe nor have I any compelling need that any of my heroes must be perfect in all respects, forever and more. All of them are human beings and bound to suffer from human follies, just as I do. And therefore, I don’t need to defend them needlessly or feel offended if fact based, valid criticism is leveled against any of them.
Georgekaka in his latter phase, particularly since he became the convener of NDA, has been a “great disappointment and immense heart ache” to me. I will not go into any further details, excepting that most of what he did in those years was quite the opposite to what he stood for, without any real justification in my eyes, other than pursuing his personal ambition and to somehow remain significant. And it all ended in humiliation.
I am afraid Georgekaka is not the first or the last one to regress. In my opinion, from Savarkar to Sir Syed Ahmed, Jinnah and Iqbal, all turned against what they avowedly stood for earlier. Who can forget Saare Jahaan se Acchhaa Hindostan Hamaaraa by Iqbal? Not me.
Having said that, Georgekaka will remain a hero in my eyes for his immense courage, his energy and ability to organise and galvanise people, his simplicity, his undaunting spirit and struggles, his contribution in getting the Konkan Railway built, and so on. As a child I shared a very close relationship with Georgekaka and have spent weekend holidays with him all by myself. I shared a similar, very close, relationship with Doctorkaka. We’ve listened to music, played games, even played ‘cricket’ that I liked and Doctorkaka loathed! But that doesn’t stop me from critiquing his monumental error in inaugurating non-Congressism.
While non-Congressism is not the only factor in giving the right-wing Jan Sangh / BJP initial legitimacy and helping them in crafting their first electoral breakthrough, it certainly has been a ‘very important factor’, just as it has been a very important factor in burying ideological and principled politics in India.
Of course, other factors have played their part. But anyone who thinks that non-Congressism has not been a very critical factor and an initial prime mover in these disastrous developments is, in my opinion, denying it out of immense respect and admiration for Doctorkaka.
I also want to end these musings by reminding all of us that the greatest of human beings and leaders also suffer from human failings, and therefore, it is best to assess and admire everyone critically and on merit and not become blind hero worshippers and followers. We Indians are most prone to doing just that.
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