Did Mahatma Gandhi Really Want a ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’?

The so called last wish of Mahatma Gandhi is often misquoted and actually based on a draft he had written.

Updated10 May 2018, 06:49 AM IST
India
6 min read

“We are determined to fulfill the dream of Mahatma Gandhi of creating a Congress mukt Bharat (Congress-free India).” This is a common refrain we often hear from BJP leaders across ranks. The same statement is being repeated in the Karnataka election campaign as well. This claim has been repeated with such regularity in last few years that people inadvertently believe it to be true. But truth is sometimes very different from what we believe, especially in present-day politics.

In reality, instead of willing to wind up the Indian National Congress, what Mahatma Gandhi dreamt of was to make it stronger and better prepared to play a greater role in nation building, especially in the face of emerging challenges before a newly independent India.

The so called last wish of Mahatma Gandhi often (mis)quoted in support of the political slogan of "Congress mukt Bharat" is actually based on a note written by Gandhi ji. This note was published after his assassination on 15 February 1948 in Harijan magazine under the heading "His Last Will And Testament."

Before getting into the contents of this write up, it’s imperative to note that the heading “His Last Will And Testament” was given by Mahatma Gandhi’s close associates saddened by the sudden and brutal murder of their beloved Bapu. This heading is also somewhat responsible for the wrong connotation and misquotes generated out of this note. In Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, the same document is available under the heading of “Draft of Congress Constitution,” which is more apt and relevant to its contents.

Now coming to the contents of this draft, here are the often misquoted lines Gandhi had actually written:

India having attained political independence through means devised by the Indian National Congress, the Congress in its present shape and form, ie, a propaganda vehicle and parliamentary machine, has outlived its use. India has still to attain social, moral and economic independence.... The struggle for the ascendancy of civil over military power is bound to take place in India’s progress towards its democratic goal. It must be kept out of unhealthy competition with political parties and communal bodies. For these and other similar reasons, the AICC resolves to disband the existing Congress organisation and flower into a Lok Sevak Sangh.
Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi ji had prepared this draft during the night of 29 January 1948 and the very next evening he was brutally killed. It's very much possible under these circumstances, that it might be the last document written by Mahatma Gandhi. But when it's called "His Last Will And Testament" it indicates a level of finality, which is not justified. A person’s last will is generally a very private and final document, which cannot be changed after the demise of the person who has signed it. Whereas this note written by Mahatma Gandhi was a draft of constitutional amendments, being proposed for a political party and open for further discussion.

Actually, immediately after India’s independence, a need to change the Congress Constitution was being felt within the organisation. On 16 November 1947, the All India Congress Committee (AICC) also passed a resolution in this regard, which said:

As the goal of complete independence from foreign domination has been achieved, and in view of the new role the Congress organisation will have to play under the changed circumstances, the AICC appoints the following Committee to revise the present Congress Constitution, including the objective as contained in Article I and to submit the revised draft Constitution prepared by it to a special session of the All India Congress Committee, to be convened for the purpose... and pending the final approval of such a Constitution by the AICC to postpone all Congress elections under the present Constitution.
The AICC resolution 

In pursuance of this resolution, a process of deliberations on the possible constitutional amendments was going on within the Congress, at various levels. Gandhi's draft was also a part of this constitutional amendment process.

Gandhi ji's private secretary Pyarelal has given a very interesting account of how and under what circumstances this draft was prepared by Bapu on 29 January 1948:

The whole of the 29th had been so cram-full with work that at the end of the day Gandhi ji felt utterly fagged out. “My head is reeling. And yet I must finish this,” he remarked to Abha, pointing to the draft constitution for the Congress which he had undertaken to prepare, and then, “I am afraid I shall have to keep late hours.”
Pyarelal, Mahatma Gandhi’s secretary 

The next morning Gandhi ji revised the draft and gave it to Pyarelal to "go through it carefully." He added: "Fill in any gaps in thought that there might be. I wrote it under a heavy strain."

This draft was then released for press by the then AICC General Secretary Acharya Jugal Kishore on 7 February 1948, with this note:

"As something has already appeared in the press... regarding the proposals which Mahatma ji had made concerning changes in the Congress Constitution, I am releasing the full draft as was handed to me on the fateful forenoon of 30th January"

It is quite obvious that Mahatma Gandhi had given this draft to the existing AICC General Secretary in order to make it available for further deliberations as part of the already under way organisational process for the proposed constitutional amendment. This makes it again amply clear that this was only a draft which was required to be presented in the special session and AICC for final decision. This was not a last wish which Gandhi ji wanted to be implemented at any cost and in all eventualities.

More importantly, Gandhi never wanted to wipe out Congress from India. On the contrary, he was interested in further expansion and strengthening of the organisation, even if under a new name and structure. Consider these words once more to get to the essence of his idea:

“AICC resolves to disband the existing Congress organisation and flower into a Lok Sevak Sangh...”

No doubt Gandhi talks about disbanding of the “existing Congress organisation,” but in the same breath he also wants it to “flower into” another organisation, which in his opinion should be more potent and all pervasive. Gandhi advocates this metamorphosis of the existing Congress organisation in order to make it more able in fulfilling its duty towards ‘social, moral and economic independence’ of the masses.

It was a time when Gandhi was fully immersed in dousing the fire of communal violence all over the country and he also saw the changes he proposed for Congress organisation as an effort to keep congress "out of unhealthy competition with political parties and communal bodies". Perhaps he felt that an organisation not involved in party politics would be in a better position to fight the spread of communal hatred and could be more effective among the common masses.

Mahatma Gandhi's views on the relevance and importance of Congress party in national life are also reflected in a column which he wrote on 27 January 1948, merely three days before his assassination. This column was published in the 2 February 1948 issue of Harijan, where in Gandhi wrote:

Indian National Congress, which is the oldest national political organisation and which has, after many battles, fought her non-violent way to freedom, cannot be allowed to die. It can only die with the nation.

He further explained his views on the future role of the Congress:

Congress has won political freedom, but it has yet to win economic freedom, social and moral freedom. These freedoms are harder than the political, if only because they are constructive, less exciting and not spectacular.

Now, what was his recipe for achieving this economic, social and moral independence? Raising the Congress organisation to a completely new level:

The Congress must do away with its special register of members, at no time exceeding one crore... Its register should now be co-extensive with all the men and women on the voters’ rolls in the country.

He also enlists his expectations from every Congress worker in this regard; whom he calls a servant of the people.

These servants will be expected to operate upon and serve the voters registered according to law... Many persons and parties will woo them. The very best will win. Thus and in no other way can the Congress regain its fast-ebbing unique position in the country.... If I have the time and health, I hope to discuss in these columns what the servants of the nation can do to raise themselves in the estimation of their masters, the whole of the adult population, male and female,” Gandhi wrote.

It is really important to note here, that just two days before 29 January, when he suggested to "disband the existing Congress organisation and flower into a Lok Sevak Sangh",  Gandhi was looking for ways to expand and strengthen the Congress. Perhaps, the draft prepared for amendments in the Congress Constitution was also a part of this search.

Had he not been killed by a communal fanatic on 30 January 1948, neither would this draft have attained the status of being "His Last Will And Testament"  nor his ideological opponents this dubious opportunity to use it for their own narrow political ends.

(The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Published: 08 May 2018, 09:07 AM IST
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