Rediff Navigator News


Capital Buzz

The Rediff Interview


The Rediff Poll


Crystal Ball

Click Here

The Rediff Special



Commentary/Janardan Thakur

Can the Congress be saved by its new leaders?

Reading about the property and wealth amassed by some of the country's present day leaders and the way they live, I am reminded of an anecdote narrated by the late Pandit Kamalapati Tripathi. I had caught him sitting alone on the verandah of his residence, 9 Janpath, in a sad and pensive mood.

Those days he was in the thick of his troubles with then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, to whom he had been sending painful missives on the swift decline of the Congress. Suddenly Tripathi had pointed to the house across the road: No. 10 Janpath. That was where Prime Minister Shastri used to live. Tripathi had come from Lucknow for a few days and Shastriji had told him they must meet. It was the day before Lal Bahadur Shastri was to leave for Tashkent, and he had been so busy that it was only around midnight the Tripathi was able to see him.

"We had talked standing right there on the pathway outside the portico," Tripathi reminisced. "I had told him it would be terribly cold in Tashkent and he must get a pair of woollen trousers made before he left. Lal Bahadurji had laughed and said his woollen socks would do. No, I had insisted, you must take a pair of woolen trousers, but Lal Bahadurji had said. 'Panditji, where will I get the money for that? I am not a rich man like you.' And look at what is happening now... Look at how politicians live nowadays." Tripathi's eyes had moistened.

Most of what Tripathi had to say came wrapped in anecdotes. I had asked him what he thought had gone wrong at the higher echelons of power and the narrated another story. In the early years of Independence, Tripathi had come to Delhi for a few days and in the corridors of Parliament House he had run into Jawaharlal Nehru.

Jawaharlal had stopped, put his arm round Panditji's shoulder and said, "Kamala, I have to ask you something. Ek masla hai (there is a problem)." Nehru was very taken up with the question of reservations for the Muslims and the Harijans and he wanted Tripathi to suggest the names of some people from Uttar Pradesh with whom he could discuss the question.

Tripathi had immediately suggested the name of Lal Bahadur Shastri, but Nehru said, "Oh, not Lal Bahadur, he will say Yes to whatever I say. I want the names of people who would say No to what I say."

And that, said Panditji, was one of the things that had gone wrong with the leadership. "Only men who would say yes are wanted now, not people who would say no. The coterie of sycophants around the leader would not allow anything sensible to happen."

Long years ago, when he was barely 15 Pandit Tripathi had responded to the call of Gandhiji and quit his studies to join the movement. He had gone to seek the blessings of Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya. "Listen, Kamala," Malaviya had told him, "you too have been trapped by that Gandhi..." And before he had parted, Malaviya said, "Remember two things, my boy. The path of politics is strewn with struggles. And remember, if you want to be in politics never let your self-interests get the better of you."

Many people wondered, Tripathi said, why he had gone up to a point in criticising the trends in the party and then stopped short. "Many have said it is because of my self-interest, because of the interests of my kith and kin. Believe me, that is not true. Believe me when I tell you that have striven all my life not to let my self-interest get the better of me."

Emotions had got the better of him as he spoke of the humiliation he had to suffer in his "last days." Being described as the 'working president who never worked' was the least of them. On the morning that the Congress Working Committee was to discuss his letter to Rajiv Gandhi, Panditji had received a telephone call from the prime minister. "Please come over to my place," Rajiv told him.

Panditji was reluctant. He said he had to go to the CWC meeting later and they would meet then, but Rajiv Gandhi insisted. He said, "You always came over when Mummy was there..." Panditji relented, and went over to the PM's house. He told Rajiv that he must take whatever action he thought fit, and there was no need for him to go to the CWC meeting. But Rajiv Gandhi insisted. He said nothing would be done or said that would be against Panditji's dignity, that he must attend the meeting.

An hour later the CWC met at that very place, and Rajiv Gandhi sat there without saying a word as member after member hurled their barbs at Tripathi.

All the same, didn't Panditji have a sort corner for Rajiv? I had put the question to Tripathi and he had answered with a smile, "Motilalji had been like a father to me, and Jawaharlal had so much affection for me. And Indiraji always said I was like a father-figure to her, she never called me by my name, always called me Panditji."

Tripathi recalled how as a young boy he had gone to Anand Bhavan to meet Gandhiji and there he had seen Babu walking down the pathway with a little girl in a frock holding his little finger. He had basked someone who the girl was and told that it was "Indue," daughter.

Was there some way, I had basked , of saving the Congress? He had grown thoughtful and said, "No, it is too late for that now." The Congress, he said, had never been just an organisation, it was always a movement and it had grown and developed as it went along. It look on new programmes and policies, but without losing sight of the essential goals: 'to wipe the tears from every eye,' as Gandhiji used to say.'

The party had come to a point where it needed a new breakthrough: It could either rise to the occasion, meet the new challenges facing the country, or it would go to seed.

But then if the Congress had lost its moorings why was he so concerned about its survival, I had asked. His reply was: "I genuinely believe that if the Congress is finished the country will break up. It is the only force that can protect the unity of the country... secularism... democracy. I see all these in danger..."

The danger is still very real, and the question still remains: Can the Congress be saved by its new leaders?

Janardan Thakur

Home | News | Business | Sport | Movies | Chat
Travel | Planet X | Freedom | Computers

Copyright 1996 Rediff On The Net
All rights reserved