Each year when Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary rolls around he is remembered and his teachings are recalled. Congress leaders are the loudest while doing this. After all, Gandhi was used as the brand image of the party to earn it global respect. But more than six decades after his death is it not time to seriously reflect on what the Mahatma really wanted and what the Congress party delivered? Particularly when the nation is reeling from corruption, governance is tottering and the system is collapsing? Let this year be different. Let us recall Mahatma Gandhi’s most relevant message which the Congress party has resolutely ignored since India became independent.
I am not a Gandhian. I consider the rituals of protest he left behind irrelevant in the present context. I have been critical of his inconsistency, some of his flawed political judgments and his little book which he considered to be his most significant writing. I refer of course to Hind Swaraj which Gandhi thought so important that he had it reprinted and circulated just a few years before his death. Gopal Krishna Gokhale rubbished the book. I found it at places illogical and inconsistent. But nevertheless, although history proved Gandhi to be a failed politician, I consider him to be perhaps the greatest human personality in public life during the whole of last century.
Although the Partition testified to Gandhi’s political failure in terms of achievement, his vision made him truly extraordinary. He prescribed policies that more than half a century after his death are proving to be imperatives if humankind is to survive. Beyond the moral justification of non-violence it has become in today’s world of nuclear weapons and terrorism a necessity for the very survival of the human race.
Gandhi’s obsession with the village and Panchayati Raj anticipated the federalism that is an imperative if the emerging new world order is to be democratic and not dictatorial. Gandhi’s penchant for transparency heralded an information technology which precludes secrecy. I believe that Gandhi was impelled more by instinct than reason which endowed him with his vision. He called his instinct his inner voice. He always acted by it. This is how he described his inner voice:
“The inner voice is something which cannot be described in words. But sometimes we have a positive feeling that something in us prompts us to do a certain thing. The time when I learnt to recognize this voice was, I may say, the time when I started praying regularly.”
This suggests that Gandhi’s unique personality owed more to spiritualism than to intellectual attributes. In spiritual affairs logic and reason take back seats. That is why often inconsistency inspired by spiritual impulse is beyond rebuttal by reason and logic. Gandhi himself was mindful about his inconsistency. That is why he wrote:
“I would like to say to the diligent reader of my writings and to others who are interested in them that I am not at all concerned with appearing to be consistent…What I am concerned with is my readiness to obey the call of truth, my God, from moment to moment, and therefore, when anybody finds any inconsistency between two writings of mine, if he still has faith in my sanity, he would do well to choose the later of the two on the same subject.”
Nothing can be more explicitly said.
In the light of the above advice should not Congress leaders heed the very last suggestion tendered to them by the Mahatma and follow it? What was Gandhi’s last advice to the Congress which might have contradicted anything he might have said earlier? On January 30, 1948 the day he was assassinated he released for publication in The Harijan weekly edited by him his advice to the Congress party. This was just a fortnight before Gandhi's completed departure plans, after obtaining permission from Mohammed Ali Jinnah, to march by foot along with fifty Punjabi refugee families and settle down in Lahore to end the emotional division created by the Partition. On his behalf Dr. Sushila Nayar had already visited Lahore and set up the camp where Gandhi and the refugee families were to reside. Gandhi’s assassination aborted this mission. The unanswered questions related to his assassination will not be dealt with here except to recall that Jayaprakash Narain accused the government of criminal negligence for allowing the tragedy to occur.
One week after Gandhi’s death his last advice to the Congress party was published in The Harijan. This is what he wrote:
“Though split into two, India having attained political independence through means devised by the Indian National Congress, the Congress in its present shape and form, i.e., as a propaganda vehicle and Parliamentary machine, has outlived its use. India has still to attain social, moral and economic independence in terms of its 700,000 villages as distinguished from its cities and towns…For these and other similar reasons, the AICC resolves to disband the existing Congress organization and flower into a Lok Sevak Sangh under the following rules with power to alter them as occasion may demand…”
This advice was in the form of a resolution. Was it planned to be introduced in the party forum? That had best be left to those who seek further probe and question the crucial timing of Gandhi’s assassination.
What concerns us here is whether Congress leaders who swear by Mahatma Gandhi are prepared to seriously consider his last and arguably his most relevant advice to the Congress party? The decline of the nation and of Congress party should induce serious reflection. Congress leaders need not follow Gandhi’s advice in full. They need not join the Lok Sewak Sangh. They may continue to function in electoral politics. But should the Congress continue to function as a political party? Or should its leaders summon the courage to discard a stale culture, get liberated from shibboleths of the past, and evolve a new India by creating a new party?