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>>

Response to Nehru's Statement

I had thought that after the presidential election was over, the statements and counter-statements made in an atmosphere of heat would be forgotten and we would settle down to business. But unfortunately that was not to be. A section of the press kept up the controversy but even that would not have mattered much. The controversy has been raked up afresh since Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru issued his statement from Wardha on 22nd February. Certain allegations have been made against me to which I must need reply, for a statement from Panditji one cannot afford to ignore. I should have replied long ago had it not been for unfortunate state of my health. Even now when I can imagine to pull together some strength, my reply to Panditji's charge must take precedence over my presidential speech.

Prior to the presidential election, I issued three statements. The first was on 22nd February in reply to the statement of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad; the second was on the 25th February in reply to Sardar Patel's second statement; the third was in reply to the statement of Dr. Pattabhi which was in the nature of an election appeal.

It will be remembered that statements of Sardar Patel and others, appealing to the delegates to vote for Dr. Pattabhi were issued by them in their capacity as the members of the Working Committee. It appeared further from the statement of Sardar Patel that he and some other members of the Working Committee had held consultations at Bardoli and decided to put up Dr. Pattabhi, all this having been done behind the back of the President and without his knowledge. Not only that. He did not hesitate to use the name of Mahatma Gandhi in support of Dr. Pattabhi and against myself. To crown everything, Sardar Patel told the whole world that my election would be harmful to the cause of the country. It will be clear from the above that I had to go through the election contest against tremendous odds and with most of the eminent members of the Working Committee arrayed against myself.

Every fair minded man will agree with me that I was treated most shabbily by my eminent colleagues on the Working Committee and there can be no doubt that I am the aggrieved party. Nevertheless up till now I have never made any grievance on that score, for I believed that we should take the result of every contest in a truly sporting spirit and once for all bury the hatchet when the fight is over. As a matter of fact in the very first statement I said clearly that if a majority of the delegates happened to vote for Dr. Pattabhi I would loyally abide by their verdict.

Now I shall come to the allegations which have been made against me and have been repeated by Pandit Nehru to the effect that I questioned the bonafides of some eminent members of the Working Committee. Before passing any judgment I would like the public to go through my statements once again. On a careful perusal it will be found that nowhere have I made any allegation against any particular Congress leader, whether he be a member of the Working Committee or otherwise. In my statement on the 25th January I said that it was widely believed that there was prospect of a compromise on the federal scheme between the Congress and the British Government during the coming year. One had only to move about among the public and enter into a discussion with them in order to realise how widespread this belief was. In my next statement, I said: "Though the Congress resolution on federation is one of uncompromising hostility, the fact remains that some influential Congress leaders have been advocating conditional acceptance of the federal scheme in private and in public. Up till now, there has not been the slightest desire on the part of the Rightist leaders to condemn such activities. It is no use shutting your eyes to the realities of the situation. Can anybody challenge the fact that the belief is widely held that during the coming year a compromise will be effected between the British Government and the right-wing of the Congress? This impression may be entirely erroneous. But it is there all the same and nobody can deny its existence. Not only that. It is generally believed that prospective list of Ministers for the Federal Cabinet has been drawn up. In the circumstances it is natural that the Left or the radical bloc in the Congress should feel so strongly on the question of the federal scheme and desire to have an anti-federationist in presidential chair."

In my statement of the 28th January, I said: "If we are to maintain unity and solidarity in Congress and for the attainment of India's independence, it is essential that the President of the Congress should command the confidence of both the wings. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru fulfilled this role in a magnificent manner. And perhaps I may humbly claim that I did so, though in a much lesser degree. That is why along with a large body of Congressmen I insist that for the coming year we should have as President a person who will be an anti-federationist to the core of his heart, a person who would command the respect and the confidence of not merely the right-wing but also of the Left. I am a candidate by mere accident, simply because nobody else from the Left came forward to contest election and as I already stated more than once, it is still possible to avoid a contest if the right-wing accept as President somebody who will command the confidence of the Left.''

I have carefully scanned all the statements I made prior to the election. Nowhere do I find any allegation against any individual Congress leader, whether he be a member of the Congress Working Committee or not. All that I did was to give expression to what the public were thinking and saying in the country. Several factors contributed to deepen the doubt and suspicion in the public mind. For instance, Lord Lothian once stated at Poona that all Congress leaders did not agree with Pandit Nehru in their attitude towards the federal scheme. As public men we cannot afford to ignore what the public think or say even when they err. In giving expression to the public mind, I did not exaggerate. As a matter of fact, when I happened to speak against the federal scheme, I was twitted and taunted by people who told me to my face that I was living in a fool's paradise and that in due course office acceptance in provinces would be followed by the acceptance of the federal scheme, perhaps with some slight modifications. In the circumstances I felt, and believed rightly too that the doubt that existed in the public mind would be considerably cleared by having a President who would be an anti-federationist to the core of his heart and would conduct a nation-wide campaign against the federal scheme.

I shall now refer to some other allegations made by Panditji. He says that he was opposed to my re-election. I was told by some Bombay friends who had conferred with him on this point, that if I stood for election in the same manner in which I did last year, he would not approve of it but if I stood as a candidate from the Left, he saw no objection to my doing so. I do not know if this information is correct. Perhaps Panditji could enlighten us.

Panditji has alleged that it was highly improper for our Congress affairs at the very top to be conducted in an atmosphere of mutual suspicion and lack of faith. Till the 13th January, when the last meeting of the Working Committee terminated, no such atmosphere existed within my knowledge. As a matter of fact, my relations with the members of the Working Committee were, on the whole, perfectly cordial. None of us ever came-to the point of resignation, as happened sometimes during Panditji's term of office. I have heard that during his office as President, Panditji sometimes thought of resigning because of the atmosphere at the top. Panditji can easily enlighten us on this point.

It is surprising to be asked by Panditji as to meaning of the words Left and Right. Did he not submit his report to the All-India Congress Committee at Haripura in which he complained that the Left was being suppressed by the Right?

Equally surprising is his allegation that no meeting of the Working Committee was held at Wardha even to transact routine business in accordance with my desire. In no communication did I suggest that routine business should not be transacted. When Acharya Kriplani wrote to me about this, I replied at once to say that there was nothing to prevent the Working Committee from transacting routine business. Even with regard to my suggestion that the Working Committee should be postponed, I requested Sardar Patel in my telegram to consult other colleagues and wire their opinion. There was no finality about my suggestion. I am quoting below the two relevant telegrams which I sent to Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel on the 21st February:

"Mahatma Gandhi, Wardha — Seen today Doctor's telegram despatched last night. Have been fighting Doctor and disease in order to come to Wardha, but regretfully recognise now cannot undertake journey. Ordinary Working Committee meeting could have transacted business despite my absence but doubt if that could be done now. Consequently the only alternative is for the Working Committee to meet before Congress. Your presence at Tripuri indispensably necessary. Kindly inform me developments, if any, since I saw you. Please show telegram to Sardarji - Subhas."

"Sardar Patel, Wardha. Kindly send my telegram to Mahatmaji. Regretfully feel Working Committee must be postponed till Congress. Please consult colleagues and wire opinion."

Most astounding is Panditji's allegation that under my regime there is a tendency for local Congress disputes to be dealt with not in the usual routine way, but directly from the top. I believe this remark could be made with greater effect of Panditji's regime than of mine. I have before me a letter from him dated the 14th February in which he has complained that as President my attitude was entirely a passive one. He wrote for instance, "In effect you have functioned more as a speaker than as a directing President." I do not know what Panditji had in mind when he made this allegation. A friend suggested that he was thinking of the affairs of the Delhi Provincial Congress Committee. If that be true, I may tell Panditji that the grounds for such action I took were unassailable and if so required I am prepared to take the public into confidence on this point.

I rubbed and rubbed my eyes when I read the remark to the effect that in spite of his long association with the Congress, Panditji had never been closely associated with any particular group in it.

I doubt if such a phenomenon would be possible in any other country. Moreover, how a convinced socialist can also be an individualist of this sort, passes my comprehension. Are the radical elements to blame if they think of a party? Do not the others have a party of their own, under the name and style of the Gandhi Seva Sangh? Before I close this argument I desire to repeat the appeal which I made to Panditji at Santiniketan and again at Allahabad in the company of comrade Jayaprakash Narayan. Panditji has for long been the spearhead of the radical forces in our country. I appeal to him in this fateful hour of our history to shake off his present vacillation and give a bold and correct lead to all the radical and progressive forces in the country. I assure Panditji of my ardent and loyal support.

Before I close I cannot help referring to a mental confusion that has arisen in our midst. Attempt is being made to create the impression that we do not have faith in the ideology and technique of the Gandhian philosophy. What after all is the Gandhian philosophy, as applied to Congress politics? Its principle is that of truth and non-violence; its method is non-violent non-co-operation. Regarding our fundamental principle and method there can be no difference between one Congressman and another. Let us not, therefore, seek to create a false division on this issue. If, however, by Gandhian philosophy one is to include all the personal beliefs of Mahatmaji, as his diet, mode of living, dress, etc., I doubt how many of the so-called orthodox followers of Mahatmaji are real bejievers in the Gandhian philosophy. Let me repeat once again that the real respect for Mahatma Gandhi does not mean blind subservience to his will and thought. If I have understood him aright, I may say that Mahatmaji himself would not like anybody to act against his own convictions so long as he did not violate Gandhi's fundamental principles of truth and non-violence. My own attitude towards him is that while I respect my own convictions, I shall continue to work to win his confidence, for as I have often said, he is India's greatest man."