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 statement of seven members of the working committee

It is an extremely painful task for me to engage in a public controversy with some of my distinguished colleagues on the Working Committee but, as matters stand, I have no option in the matter. The first statement which I issued on the 21st instant was my enforced reaction to the statement of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Sahib and what I am saying now is my enforced reply to the challenging statement of Sardar Patel and other leaders. The responsibility for starting this public controversy does not rest with me but with my distinguished colleagues. In an election contest between two members of the Working Committee, one would not expect the other members to take sides in an organised manner, because that would obviously not be fair. Sardar Patel and other leaders have issued the statement as members of the All-India Congress Working Committee and not as individual Congressmen. I ask if this is fair either when the Working Committee never discussed this question. In the statement we are told for the first time that the decision to advocate Dr Pattabhi's election was taken with much deliberation. Neither I, nor some of my colleagues on the Working Committee, had any knowledge or idea of either the deliberation or the decision. I wish the signatories had issued the statement not as members of the Working Committee but as individual Congressmen.

If the Presidential election is to be an election worth the name, there should be freedom of voting without any moral coercion, but does not a statement of this sort tantamount to moral coercion? If the President is to be elected by the delegates and not be nominated by influential members of the Working Committee, will Sardar Patel and other leaders withdraw their whip and leave it to the delegates to vote as they like? If the delegates are given the freedom to vote as they like, there would not be the slightest doubt as to the issue of the election contest. Otherwise why not end the elective system and have the President nominated by the Working Committee.

It is news to me that there is a rule that the same person should not be reelected President except under exceptional circumstances. If one traces the history of the Congress one will find that in several cases the same person has been elected more than once. I am also surprised at the remark that Presidential elections have hitherto been unanimous. I remember to have voted for one candidate in preference to another on several occasions. It is only in recent years that the election has been unanimous.

Since the adoption of the new constitution of the Congress in 1934, the Working Committee is being nominated, theoretically at least, by the President. Since that year the position of the Congress President has been raised to a higher level. It is, therefore, but natural that new conventions should now grow up around the Congress President and his election. The position of the President today is no longer analogous to that of the Chairman of a meeting. The President is like the Prime Minister or the President of the United States of America who nominates his own Cabinet. It is altogether wrong to liken the Congress President to a constitutional monarch. I may add that the questions of policy and programme are not irrelevant and they would have been raised long ago in connection with the election of the Congress President had it not been for the fact that after the Congress of 1934, a leftist has been elected as President every time with the support of both the right- and left-wings. The departure from this practice this year and the attempt to set up a rightist candidate for the office of President is not without significance. It is widely believed that there is a prospect of a compromise on the Federal scheme between the Right wing of the Congress and the British Government during the coming year. Consequently the right-wing do not want a leftist President who may be a thorn in the way of a compromise and may put obstacles in the path of negotiations. One has only to move about among the public and enter into a discussion with them in order to realise how widespread this belief is. It is imperative, in the circumstances, to have a President who will be an anti-federationist to the core of his heart.

It is really a regret to me that my name has been proposed as a candidate for presidentship. I had suggested to numerous friends that a new candidate from the left should be put up this year, but unfortunately that could not be done and my name was proposed from several provinces. Even at this late hour I am prepared to withdraw from the contest if a genuine anti-federationist, like Acharya Narendra Deo for instance, be accepted as the President for the coming year. I feel strongly that we should have, during this momentous year, a genuine anti-federationist in the Presidential chair. If the right-wing really want national unity and solidarity they would be well-advised to accept a leftist as President. They have created considerable misapprehension by their insistence on a rightist candidate at any cost and by the unseemly manner in which they have set up such a candidate who was retiring and who had been surprised that his name had been suggested for the presidentship.

In the exceptional circumstances which prevail just at this moment in our country, the presidential election is part of our fight against the federal scheme and as such we cannot afford to be indifferent to it. The real issue before the country is the federal scheme. All those who believe in fighting Federation and in maintaining our national solidarity in this crisis; should not endeavour to split the Congress by insisting on a candidate who was voluntarily retiring.

The presidential election is wholly an affair of the delegates and should be left to them. Let the right-wing who are in. a decided majority in the Congress make a gesture to the left-wing by accepting a leftist candidate even at this late hour. I hope that my appeal will not be in vain.