When it comes to claiming the sacrifices made for Independence, the Congress Party leaves no stone unturned to appropriate all the leaders and the sacrifices they made during the freedom struggle. Even for the establishment of Democracy in India, Congress’ narrative remains the same. But how much of it is true? Even today when it is in shambles, the Congress is not looking beyond the Nehru-Gandhi family for leadership. The recent trends in appointment of its President clearly shows that despite having so many educated and celebrated leaders who can hold the post more efficiently, the Congress at the end goes back to the family. While this might today be a public knowledge as the real face of despotic and nepotistic Congress has been unveiled in recent past, yet there are various historical events which the people of this country deserve to know in order to judge the stand of the Party and its leaders when it comes to democracy. This article refers to five historical instances where democracy and rule of law meant nothing for the party and the ways in which it threatened our Constitutional principles.
First incident was when Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was elected as the President of Indian National Congress for second time. Reports state that it was due to the ideological differences between Gandhi and Netaji because of which Netaji resigned from Congress in 1939. Patel too joined along with Gandhi to project Pattabhi Sitarammayya as the candidate for presidency during 1939 elections. He went on to claim that even if Netaji is re elected his policies would be vetted and if required vetoed by the working committee. Most people don’t know for a fact that this rivalry was not merely because of ideological differences between Gandhi and Patel on one side and Netaji on the other, but because of a dispute pertaining to property between Patel and Netaji on will of Patel’s elder brother Vithalbhai who died in 1933. One of the most celebrated historians of India, Ramachandra Guha remarks, “Bose had nursed Vithalbhai during his last illness. In his will, the elder Patel left three-fourths of his estate to Bose, to be used ‘preferably for publicity work on behalf of India’s cause in other countries’. Vallabhbhai now cast aspersions on the authenticity of the will. A long legal battle ensued, which ended in a triumph for Vallabhbhai, with Vithalbhai’s next of kin getting the money instead of Subhas.” Had the party been so democratic, would it have been possible to seek resignation of one of the most loved heroes of India who despite resigning from the party fought for national cause showing the world that Congress was not the only reason behind India’s independence.
Second incident came into picture when the fight for Presidency was between Nehru and Patel. It has been repeatedly said that Jawaharlal Nehru was unanimously elected as the first Prime Minister of India and was the darling of the country. However, the real story is different. During the 1946 elections, it became clear that freedom from British rule was inevitable. At that time only the Pradesh Congress Committees could nominate and elect the Congress President and thereby the first Prime Minister of India. A perusal of the Congress Party documents show that despite Gandhiji having made his choice known (Nehru), 12 out of 15 Pradesh Congress Committees nominated Sardar Patel. The remaining three abstained from nomination process. Thus, no Pradesh Congress Committee, the only legitimate body to nominate and elect the President, nominated Jawaharlal Nehru. Yet it is public knowledge that following those elections, Nehru was declared as the unanimous choice for the first Prime Minister of India. This narrative was carried forward by our history books and the lies spread became the truth for the future generations. Had Gandhi and Nehru been democratic, it should have been Patel as the first Prime Minister of India.
Third incident was post-independence, during the tenure of Indira Gandhi. While we all know about the emergency and all other undemocratic decisions taken by Indira Gandhi, this one is particularly less known. This pertains to the Privy Purse provision under the constitution of India. During Independence, under the Indian Independence Act, 1947, each ruler had the option of either acceding to the dominion of India or Pakistan or continuing as an independent sovereign state. Menon and Patel found a way out in form of privy purse. In return for surrendering their powers, Articles 291 and 362 guaranteed the princely states a tax-free privy purse which was approximately one-fourth of what they had earlier earned. Indira Gandhi following her socialist agenda abolished the Privy Purse. The abolishing of the privy purses is often termed as constitutional betrayal and is considered to be one of the most shameful episodes of our constitutional history. If revocation of Privy Purses was constitutional as it was based on a bill passed by Parliament, which essentially meant going back on the promise made to the princely states, then what is wrong in revocation of Article 370? Why such double standards are being portrayed by the Congress Party?
Fourth incident pertains to leaving no stone unturned to limit the powers of our independent judiciary. Although nearly all the amendments that were made during Indira’s time were unconstitutional and undemocratic be it the 39th Amendment (elections of the president, vice-president, prime minister and speaker could not be questioned in any court of law), 41st Amendment (prohibited any civil or criminal proceedings against the president, vice-president, prime minister and all governors) or 42nd Amendment (this amendment was to severely restricted the Supreme Court and the high courts in their powers to strike down any legislation which was ultra vires the Constitution), yet the best example of abuse of power relates to the appointment of Justice Ajit Nath Ray as the Chief Justice of Supreme Court. The appointment was made on April 25, 1973, a day after the SC’s judgement in the Kesavananda Bharati case, where a 13-judge constitution bench, by a 7-6 verdict, had outlined the ‘basic structure’ doctrine of the Constitution.
While the outcome of this judgement remains one of the most celebrated decisions in India, yet the three senior-most judges who were part of majority verdict did not find place in Indira’s list of being eligible to be appointed as CJI. Ajit Nath Ray who gave dissenting opinion superseded three senior judges to become the Chief Justice of India. The idea of democracy is not merely limited to creating democratic institutions but also to respect their independence. Indira Gandhi’s move shows that she never respected any of the democratic institutions of the country and followed a nepotistic approach in all major appointments. Had Congress been democratic, would AN Ray ever have become the CJI superseding three senior judges? As remarked by Nani Palkhivala in his book, Our Constitution: Defaced and Defiled, Indira Gandhi’s tenure surely did harm the basic principles on which this nation was created.
Fifth incident pertains to conferring of Bharat Ratna to MG Ramachandran (actor and CM of Tamil Nadu) posthumously in 1988 by the then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi. Many believe it was done in a bid to influence voters prior to the Tamil Nadu assembly elections in 1989. The decision was criticised for awarding Ramachandran and rightly so, as it was not yet awarded to chief architect of our Constitution Ambedkar and the man behind India’s integration Sardar Patel, who were bestowed the honour later in 1990 and 1991 respectively. A party that stooped so low for retaining power once, today questions the proposal to award Bharat Ratna for Veer Savarkar, in whose bravery and valour made Indira Gandhi issued commemorative stamps.
These glaring examples show how democratic Congress has been historically. The influence of Marxism and Socialism on its leaders has sowed seeds for autocracy in its leadership. Probably Rajni Kothari was right in his analysis that during the first fifty years of independence, India’s system was one party system similar to what we have today in China, North Korea and Cuba. It was not that opposition never emerged and voiced its concerns but every time leaders opposed, autocrats like Indira Gandhi supressed their voice by putting them behind bars. It is not at all shocking that today the party cannot look beyond “the family” for leadership. The seeds of nepotism which were sowed during the freedom struggle have grown into full-fledged trees resulting in ever growing control of the family over the party.