Congress Lacks Idealism, Energy: Party Should Perish for India to Flourish

Hindustan Times (New Delhi, India), November 21, 2016 | Go to article overview

Congress Lacks Idealism, Energy: Party Should Perish for India to Flourish


India, Nov. 21 -- On my last visit to a bookstore I picked up Nirala's autobiographical memoir A Life Misspent, newly translated into English by Satti Khanna. The book's hero is a man named Kulli Bhatt, who, meandering through life, found meaning in political activism. Inspired by Gandhi and Nehru, he became a Congress party activist in eastern UP in the 1930s.

On Nirala's earlier visits to his town, Kulli Bhatt had taken him for long sessions of aimless chatter. Now, however, all he could talk about was politics and social reform. So Kulli told Nirala that "we lack the presence of the Congress Party. We are a good-sized town, but people laugh here at the idea of an independent nation. We need to bring the Congress here".

Once he became a full-time activist, Kulli Bhatt "pushed himself running from village to village in the heat, signing up members of the Congress Party". A friend told Nirala that because of Kulli's efforts, "there isn't a village in the area now without [Congress] party members". Pursuing his party's cause, Kulli Bhatt "would go days without food. His health failed him. His lower limbs have rotted".

Kulli Bhatt fell seriously ill from these exertions on behalf of his party. Visiting him on his death-bed, Nirala "met some Congress Party social workers on his way who were also headed to see him. I saw a group of untouchable children and a few parents by his door. Their eyes were despairing".

Those who know the Congress in its present avatar will read these words with some bemusement. Where are the activists who work so tirelessly on its behalf? When a Congressman dies, does anyone except fellow party members mourn his passing? Kulli Bhatt's work was animated by idealism and energy, two qualities that are conspicuously lacking in the Congress of today.

And perhaps of yesterday as well. I was recently going through the web archive of the Economic and Political Weekly. In the course of my search, I came across a fascinating article published in the EPW on November 23, 1991, almost exactly 25 years ago. Entitled 'Indian National Congress: Its Place in Politics', it was written by Anil Nauriya, a lawyer-scholar whose ancestors had themselves striven, like Kulli Bhatt, to promote the Congress message in UP in the 1930s.

Writing in the early 1990s, Anil Nauriya found the Congress poorly equipped to meet or arrest the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party. He thought that "the real threat to the 'Congress Model' (and to its foundational principles) at the present stage is essentially not from challengers like the BJP but from within its own ranks". Indeed, "an inept Congress is a far more useful 'ally' to the BJP than a resourceful (and cantankerous) VHP".

Nauriya believed that the decline of the Congress was a product of a culture of cronyism. "The wonderland of coteries and caucuses," he remarked, "has distracted and distorted the politics of the Congress and even other parties long enough. …

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