Recollections and reflections

Reminiscences, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai

I first came in contact with Subhas Bose in 1923 at Delhi when the Congress was divided into two groups over the question of what was known as 'Council Entry.'...Subhas Babu, as the favourite lieutenant of Deshabandhu, was playing a prominent part in the controversy. more>>

Speech at Hazra Park, Calcutta

The voting at the last Presidential election was unexpected in many quarters. It indicated how the mind of the general public and of Congressmen in particular was working at the time. In my election appeal, I had stressed two principles to uphold which I would strive my utmost, viz., democracy within the Congress and resistance to the Federal Scheme. There was no reflection at all either against Mahatma Gandhi or his principles or policy in any of my statements. Nevertheless, after the result was declared. Mahatmaji issued a statement declaring that the defeat of Dr Pattabhi was his own defeat. This came as an utter surprise to everybody. Those Congressmen who had faith in Mahatmaji personally, but not in the High Command, were affected by this statement and withdrew their support from me. There is no doubt that a large majority of the Congressmen who disliked the High Command did not want to give up Mahatma Gandhi.

When I met Mahatma Gandhi at Wardha on February 15, he suggested that I should form a new Working Committee, without the old members who followed the High Command. We had a long discussion on the question of a homogeneous vs. a composite cabinet. Towards the end of our conversation I said that I would try my best to persuade Sardar Patel and others to remain on the Working Committee. Mahatmaji said that he had no objection if I could persuade them to do so.

My unfortunate illness intervened and I could not meet the members of the Working Committee when they met at Wardha for the meeting on February 22. On that day they sent in their resignation. What happened thereafter at Tripuri is too fresh in everybody's mind to need re-narrating.

After the Tripuri Congress, I was too ill to meet Mahatma Gandhi. He wanted me to go to Delhi and stay there, but my doctors thought that was not possible. They sent a long telegram to Mahatmaji explaining my condition and suggested that we should try correspondence instead. About a fortnight later when I was somewhat better and I round that our correspondence was not leading to a settlement, I became eager for a personal discussion with him. I was so frantic in my desire to meet him that I was prepared to defy the doctors and go to Delhi for a couple of days. Unfortunately, Mahatmaji had to leave for Rajkot suddenly and we could not meet. Then came our meeting in Calcutta on April 27. Mahatmaji's position was virtually the same as at Wardha on February 15, and as he had consistently adopted in his letters to me in March and April. He wanted me to appoint a new Working Committee leaving out the members who had resigned. For reasons which I detailed in my letters to him and in my statements before the All-India Congress Committee on April 29, I could not accept his advice. Such a Committee would not have commanded Mahatmaji's confidence and would have, therefore, militated against the requirements of Pandit Pant's resolution. Moreover, it would have been contrary to my own views, because I believed in the principle of a composite cabinet as being in the best interest of the country. Consequently, I repeatedly requested Mahatmaji in my letters and my talks in Calcutta to undertake the responsibility vested in him by the Tripuri Congress and announce the personnel of the Working Committee.

Any decision of his would have been binding on me. When in Calcutta he finally declined to undertake this task we arrived at a deadlock. There appeared no other alternative but to place the matter before the All India Congress Committee. At this juncture it was suggested that I should discuss the matter with Dr Rajendra Prasad and other members of the old Congress Working Committee and endeavour to arrive at an arrangement as to the personnel of the new Committee. I told Gandhiji that I would gladly do so. If this attempt had succeeded I would have placed our informal agreement before the AICC for formal ratification. But unfortunately we could not arrive at a settlement.  The question now is: who is responsible for it?

Negotiations commenced first with Dr Rajendra Prasad. I suggested that four new members should be taken on the Committee and I suggested four names. My proposal assured a majority in the Working Committee to the members who had resigned, but provided at the same time for fresh blood. After some discussion at Sodepur we moved to Maulana Abul Kalam Azad's residence for a further talk. There I was told that the names I had suggested were not acceptable. Some other names were proposed instead and Pandit Jawaharial Nehru's name was suggested for the office of the General Secretary. I warmly welcomed the idea and pressed Panditji to accept it. Before we could arrive at a definite conclusion, we again adjourned for a discussion with Mahatmaji.

When we resumed the thread of our discussion at Sodepur we were faced with an entirely new proposal, viz., that the old Working Committee should be reappointed en bloc. I had gathered from our earlier talks that there was no serious objection to the principle of having four new members and that the disagreement was about the names only. I was naturally staggered when this new suggestion was mooted and was supported by Gandhiji. I was told that sometime later two vacancies would occur and two new members could be taken in their places. On further enquiry I was told that that was the maximum number of new members I could have. I wanted to know if these two new members could be appointed right at the beginning, but the reply was in the negative. To clarify the position further, I enquired if in the two vacancies which would occur later on my nominees would be acceptable to them, and I suggested two names in this connection. Both these names were turned down. Then I inquired if out of the two new members, I could have a second Secretary of my choice who could be stationed in Calcutta. I told them that formerly there used to be three Secretaries and I proposed to have two this year — one to be stationed at Allahabad and the other at Calcutta. This was absolutely necessary in order to help me in my work.  Once again my proposal was turned down.

When we reached this stage in our negotiations I told Mahatmaji that it was quite clear that in no single detail was my proposal acceptable to the others. In the total absence of the spirit of accommodation on the other side, I did not see how we could work together in future. I had no desire to remain a dummy President, or to hang on to office at any cost. I would, therefore, place my resignation in the hands of the All India Congress Committee and thereby enable them to take steps to elect a new President and a new Working Committee. I have no doubt in my mind that in submitting my resignation I adopted the right course.

It was not possible for me to appoint a purely Leftist cabinet not only because that was against my conviction, but also because; it would have been in contravention of the Pant resolution which I had previously declared I would implement. I should add in this connection that I had explicitly asked Mahatmaji if he would empower me to announce before the AICC that a Leftist cabinet of my choice commanded his implicit confidence — in case I accepted his advice regarding a homogeneous Leftist cabinet and gave effect to that advice. Mahatmaji could not empower me to do so; consequently the appointment of a homogeneous Leftist cabinet would have amounted to an open defiance of the Tripuri Congress resolution.

As I have repeatedly declared, my resignation was decided upon in an entirely helpful spirit and. in my view, will prove to be in the best interest of the country. Self-respect, honour and duty toward* my country demanded that I should resign, after having made all possible attempts to reach an honourable compromise and to avert a crisis within the Congress.