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 civic reception in South Calcutta after resignation

After my release from internment in March 1937, the first meeting of the All India Congress Committee which I attended was at Calcutta in October that year. The next AICC meeting that I attended was at Haripura in February 1938. I noticed at Haripura that the Leftists, instead of gaining in strength since the previous year, had lost ground. In my discussions with Leftists of different shades of opinion after the Haripura Congress, I pointed out that this setback had occurred probably because there was something wanting in the policy and the line of action hitherto pursued by them.

Analysing the composition of the Congress at that time, one could distinguish the following main parties or groups. There was, firstly, the official bloc led by Sardar Patel, Babu Rajendra Prasad, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and others. On the Left, there were three well-defined parties or groups, differing in their numerical strength — the Congress Socialists, the ultra-leftists and the Royists. In between these parties or groups, there were unorganised radical anti-imperialist elements who had a large numerical strength. These elements could not belong to the official bloc and, on the other hand, for reasons of their own did not like to join any of the existing Leftist parties or groups. It appeared to me that until and unless these radical anti-imperialist elements were organised on a definite platform, the Leftist movement was not likely to gamer further accession of strength to an appreciable degree.

It was suggested, therefore, that a new bloc should be organised within the Congress on the basis of a minimum programme, and that it should preferably be called the Left Bloc. The existing Leftist parties would be free to join it and unorganised radical anti-imperialist elements would be also invited to come in. This idea appealed strongly at first to most of the Leftist parties and it looked as if they would sponsor the proposed new move.

A step forward was taken at the time of the All-India Congress Committee meeting at Delhi in September 1938 when a draft manifesto was prepared by an ultra-leftist leader. This manifesto was amended by a Congress Socialist leader. It was then sent out to a limited number of Congressmen holding radical views for ascertaining their opinion.

Later on, opinion in Socialist circles began to change, and some prominent Congress Socialist leaders openly declared themselves against the idea of forming a Left bloc. In view of their altered attitude; the proposed move could not be launched by an existing Leftist group or groups.

The idea of a Left bloc persisted, however, and several prominent Congressmen continued their efforts in this behalf. After the Presidential election on January 29, 1939, an informal gathering of radicals and Leftist Congressmen was held in Calcutta in the first week of February. The question of a Left bloc was discussed afresh, but it was discouraged by some prominent Socialist leaders. It was then felt that there was no hope of a Left bloc being sponsored and started by any of the existing Leftist groups.

The enthusiasts persisted and another informal conference was held at Tripura in March 1939 to discuss the question. Some of the prominent Socialist leaders having dropped out it was suggested that a new name should be substituted for the Left Bloc. A draft programme was formulated and adopted provisionally. It was then decided to take the final decision when the next meeting of the All-India Congress Committee was held.

From the very beginning I was in favour of this move, but I felt that I could best serve the public cause by keeping out of it, while maintaining a friendly attitude, as in the case of the Congress Socialist Party. The promoters of the Left Bloc, including both Socialists and non-Socialists, agreed with me.

At the informal conference held in Calcutta a few days ago, it was unanimously decided that there should be no further delay in forming a bloc within the Congress for rallying all radical anti-imperialist and progressive elements on the basis of a minimum programme which would represent the greatest common measure of agreement among radicals of all shades of opinion. It was also decided to adopt a new name, namely the 'Forward Bloc', in place of the original proposal of the Left Bloc. The Forward Bloc will not be a party as ordinarily understood, but a platform for rallying all those who accept the programme of the Bloc. Besides the unorganised radical elements in the Congress, members of the existing Leftist parties will be free to join the Forward Bloc. In fact, they will be warmly welcomed. It is hoped that, with the progress of time, the Forward Bloc will draw into its fold all radical and Socialist elements and parties in the Congress.

For the last twelve months or more, I have been pondering deeply over the problem of Left consolidation. After mature deliberation, I have come to the conclusion that the cause of Left consolidation can be furthered only by a move like the present one. If the Socialist leaders decline to sponsor this venture, it is for others who believe in the idea to come forward and do so.

The official bloc in the Congress has, as its organisational basis, the Gandhi Seva Sangh. What is the organisational basis of the non-official elements in the Congress? So far there is none. It is hoped that the Forward Bloc, when it is fully developed, will serve as the organisational basis of all the non-official radical and Socialist elements. Only then will the Left in the Congress come to its own.

It may be argued by our critics that the formation of a Forward Bloc will cause a split in the Congress and destroy national unity. Did the formation of the Gandhi Seva Sangh create a split and destroy national unity? If it did not, then why should the formation of the Forward Bloc do so? Left consolidation will, in my view, be a stepping-stone towards real national unity, which is unity of action and not unity of inaction. Without Left consolidation I do not see how we can arrive at real national unity.

Since the birth of the Congress Socialist Party in 1934, Socialist ideas have been widely propagated throughout the country. As a result of it large masses of our people have been permeated with ideas of anti-imperialism, democracy and Socialism. But organisational effort has not kept pace with agitational endeavour. That is one of the reasons why, though we had a majority at the Presidential election, we failed to have a majority in the All-India Congress Committee.

The Forward Bloc will function as an integral part of the Congress. It will accept the present constitution of the Congress — its creed, policy and programme. It will cherish the highest respect and regard for Mahatma Gandhi's personality and complete faith in his political doctrine of non-violent non-cooperation. But that will not mean that the Forward Bloc will necessarily have confidence in the present High Command of the Congress.

The question may also be asked as to why we are creating an internal crisis within the Congress at this juncture by starting the Forward Bloc. Personally, I am of the opinion that an internal crisis, today or tomorrow, is inevitable in view of the uncompromising attitude of the present High Command and their failure to move with the times. We can avert the internal crisis today only by surrendering completely to them. But what shall we gain by postponing the crisis through a surrender? Why put off the evil day? We are fast approaching an external crisis. It will be disastrous to have an internal crisis when the external crisis overtakes us. It would be much more desirable to face the internal crisis now, go through it and emerge out of it before file external crisis seizes us.

It would be a fatal mistake to think that a split, even when it is temporary, is an unmixed evil. On the contrary, it may be urged that a temporary split is sometimes necessary for the sake of political advancement. The secession of the moderates in 1918 and of the anti-non-cooperationists in 1920 was not an unmixed evil. It was necessary and inevitable for the sake of India's progress. To take an example from abroad, the emergence and growth of the Bolshevik Party would never have been possible but for the split in the Russian Social Democrat Party in 1902. I would, therefore, beg of my countrymen not to think: lightly or loosely of the so-called split that the Forward Bloc may be responsible for.

The revolt of the Swarajists at the Gaya Congress in 1922 led to misunderstanding, friction and even recrimination between Congressman and Congressman for some time; but ultimately the Congress adjusted itself to the new situation by accepting the policy and programme of the Swarajists. The same will happen in the present case. It should not be forgotten that the Left within the Congress believes in national unity more than the Right. That is why the Left stands for a composite cabinet, while the Right stands for a homogeneous one. Consequently, the Left within the Congress will always work with the object of establishing real national unity. The present move in the matter of forming the Forward Bloc at this juncture has been forced by unavoidable circumstances and by the uncompromising attitudes of the High Command.

It remains for me to say what my attitude towards the Forward Bloc will be. Till recently, I was of the opinion that I should keep out of the proposed Left Bloc and help in the task of Left consolidation from, outside. The recent informal conference in Calcutta decided otherwise. It unanimously resolved to request me to join the Forward Bloc and help in the task of organising and building it up. After deeply pondering over the matter I have decided to join it.

I shall now appeal to my countrymen to help us in the task that lies ahead of us, and particularly in the work of building up the Forward Bloc.