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