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>>

Municipal Socialism, Address to the Bombay Corporation

Mr Mayor, Members of the Corporation and Friends,

I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the great honour you have done me this afternoon. I am not so presumptuous as to think that I am in any way worthy of this great honour. On the contrary, I feel I am before you here this afternoon, in spite of my own shortcomings and limitations, as a symbol. I am here as a servant of the Indian National Congress and of the Indian public at large.

The very kind words which have fallen from your lips, Mr Mayor, are a token of your generosity and the largeness of your heart. I take it that this generosity and largeness of heart show your real feelings towards the movement for Indian emancipation and towards all those who stand for that movement. We are living today in the midst of momentous times. You have referred also to international affairs. The day is gone when India was a country isolated from the rest of the world. Today, thanks to scientific achievement and to our own development, intellectual and moral, the whole world is one entity. What happens in one remote corner of the present world has far-reaching repercussions all over the globe. What we achieve in one city in India has, therefore, an importance not merely for that city, not merely for that country but, if I may say so, for the whole of humanity. This is true not only of political affairs but of civic affairs as well. I remember that during the few years that I had the occasion to spend in Europe, one of the most striking things which came to my notice was the achievement of the Socialist Municipality of Vienna. I believe nobody, no matter to what nationality he belonged, nobody who had occasion to see some of the achievements of that Municipality went back without a conviction that here was an achievement of much importance and significance to all those human beings who were interested in civic welfare. The Vienna Municipality, in the course of twelve years, provided housing accommodation for at least 200,000 persons and this arrangement for housing 200,000 persons was made without any additional taxation and without any loans. The entire charge was met from revenue and that revenue was collected by taxing amusements. We know that amusements are taxed in this country also but unfortunately the cities do not have the benefit of that taxation. What impressed me most, therefore, was the fact that so much could be achieved in one city without any additional taxation and without loans. That is why I was stressing the point that if you could achieve something in one city, that would have significance and importance for the whole world.

It is exceedingly gratifying to note that in Bombay you have done away with limited franchise, that you are going to have adult franchise and that you have done away with nominations. Once again I will say that this has significance not only for the city of Bombay but for the whole of India and probably for other countries circumstanced like India. I think we should offer our congratulations to the present Government of Bombay for this change. We all wish that other cities, particularly the premier cities in India, would take a leaf out of Bombay's history in this respect, introduce adult franchise and abolish the system of nominations.

Now, Sir, the city of Bombay has a splendid situation surrounded by the sea. It is situated in the midst of fine natural scenery and the streets and buildings of Bombay - at least the better and richer parts of Bombay - can compare favourably with any city in this world; but that is only one side of the picture. We cannot forget the poverty which we have in this city and the slums in which our poorer countrymen have to live. We have, therefore, to address ourselves to the task of looking after the poorer and less fortunate sections of our countrymen. One of the greatest sons of India, Deshabandhu CR Das, once said that the ideal of civic bodies should be to make them poor men's corporations and in his first speech as the Mayor of Calcutta he laid down a programme of service to the poor. That programme was in many ways an ideal programme and has afforded an inspiration to the corporation of Calcutta and indirectly to other civic bodies as well. I think we have yet to travel a long way before we can honestly claim thatour civic bodies are in reality poor men's corporations. There is a great deal of work to be done but what is needed most is inspiration, zeal and passion to serve the poor. It is that zeal, that passion which is the motive power that will enable us to travel along the path of service and to convert our cities into poor men's corporations. Sir, here in Bombay you have achieved much, specially, in the field of primary education. Your achievements in the sphere of education as also in other spheres have been of immense benefit to the citizens of Bombay and afforded an inspiration to others who have been entrusted with civic government elsewhere. I do hope that you will not rest content with what you have already done but that you will move with the times and travel fast in the direction of making your Municipal Corporation an ideal one.

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Civic progress all over the world is moving in the direction of what may be called Municipal Socialism. 'Socialism' is a word which is sometimes a bogey to many, but I believe if we analyse and try to understand what Socialism really stands for, and particularly what Municipal Socialism stands for, we shall have no reason to fight shy of it. Consciously or unconsciously we have been moving in the direction of Municipal Socialism. Today every modern municipality has taken upon its shoulders immense duties which were unthinkable twenty or thirty years ago. The sphere of these social duties and responsibilities is, we may well say, fast expanding from day to day. Today a modern municipality has to furnish not merely pure drinking water, roads, lighting, etc., but it has to provide primary education and it has to look after the health of the population and to tackle problems of infant mortality, maternity, drainage and the like problems which the municipalities did not think of a few years ago. It is difficult to say where you are going to draw a line in future. You have in the case of the Birmingham Municipality a Municipal Bank and there are other municipalities in the West which have taken upon their shoulders duties and responsibilities which were unheard of and unthinkable a few decades ago. That is why I say that we have been moving consciously or unconsciously in the direction of Municipal Socialism. Municipal Socialism is nothing else but a collective effort for the service of the entire community. With this ideal before us, if we address ourselves to the task that awaits us and fulfil our duties in the most satisfactory manner, we shall be serving not merely the cause of our cities but the cause of humanity as well. We, who are interested in civic affairs, must take lessons not merely from the achievements of our own municipalities but we travel abroad, in Europe and America and also in the Far East, read literature and collect information about municipal problems there, so that we may work more efficiently and satisfactorily in our own cities. That is why I have stressed the point that your achievements here in Bombay are not only for your own fellowcitizens but have a much wider significance.

Apart from the opportunities which we get by joining civic bodies; opportunities of civic service; there is another positive gain which we can derive out of our association with them and that is this: our work in connection with these bodies equips us for the larger duties in public life. I think it was Bryce, one of the foremost political thinkers of England, who said that the real school of democracy is local self-government. Professor Laski and others have sung in the same tune. Today it is realised by all political thinkers and students of civic affairs that the real school of democracy is local self-government. Therefore, there is a double advantage which we derive from our association with local bodies. One word more and I have done. We are frequently told by foreigners that municipal development, like other attempts at social progress in this country, have been the result of our contact with the West and that before we came into intimate touch with Europe in the  18th and 19th centuries, very little had been achieved in the direction of civic progress. Sir, I should like to take this opportunity of giving the lie direct to this charge. In the sphere of municipal progress we are not creating something out of nothing, but we are building on ancient foundations. As in the sphere of village self-government we are building on very ancient foundations, so also in the sphere of local self-government we are doing the same. One has only to turn to the ancient relics of Mohenjodaro to realise what a high degree of civic achievement our forefathers in this ancient land could boast of. And after the age of Mohenjodaro if you come to the Mauryan empire and studythe records and descriptions of the capital of the empire, viz., Pataliputra, you.will find that the city of Pataliputra was not only highly developed city but the municipal government of that city had varied functions, functions which can compare very favourably with those of any modern municipality. For words like Mayor and other modern municipal terms you will find synonyms in our ancient language which were then in vogue. Then came what may be called the Dark Age in Indian history. During this Dark Age there was a setback not only in municipal progress but in other departments of national life as well. But because of the Dark Age one should not conclude that prior to that, we had not achieved any progress in civic affairs. It is necessary to remind our countrymen about this, because unfortunately as a result of our age-long servitude we have to a large extent forgotten our own past. It is only on account of the researches, past and present, made by our own scholars and historians that have unravelled to us our own forgotten past, that we can now realise what progress our forefathers had once made in the domain of civic affairs. Therefore, we can claim that in the matter of civic progress we are building on ancient foundations. That I think will give us inspiration in addressing ourselves to the problems of the present and of thefuture.

Sir, I am afraid my reply which was meant to be a short one has developed into something like a sermon. I had no intention of sermonising. I had got up with the intention of primarily thanking you from the bottom of my heart for the very great honour you have done me; honour, which I take it, is meant for the Indian National Congress of which I am a humble servant. Let me express a fervent hope that your city will make progress from day to day in the domain of civic affairs and will set an example to other civic bodies in this country and abroad. I wish you, Sir, and the corporation all success in the arduous task that awaits you at present and in the future. Once again I thank you from the bottom of my heart.