Nehru’s Word: A call for unity within the Congress party
"There are, as there must be in a vital organisation, numerous sets of opinions shading off into one another, and yet bound together by a common link. Real disunity creeps in from the communal side..”
In a writing spell unusually even for him, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote a series of eight articles titled ‘Where Are We’, published in National Herald on 28 February and 1-6 March 1939, just before the Tripuri session of the Congress, at which there was the final showdown between Subhas Bose and Mahatma Gandhi and other major leaders. Obviously disturbed by the prospect of disunity in the Congress, he had tried hard to reconcile conflicting views, as is evident from these articles in which he traces the developments since 1936. It is also very instructive to witness how, in the true democratic tradition practised by then Congress, he could write frankly in the press about internal party issues, expressing his reservations about both the groups, whom he classifies as Gandhiites and Modernists, and not left and right.
“A great organisation has something impersonal about it, although it might be powerfully impressed by a dominant personality. It carries on though persons may come or go. The Congress has demonstrated this impersonal aspect in a unique manner during past years, when repeatedly all its leaders and principal workers were in prison and the whole might of the law was directed against it. Yet it carried on and showed that sure sign of inner strength which is not daunted by adversity or crisis.
“We discuss our differences and sometimes over-emphasize them. Yet it is well to remember that our political movement for freedom has a fundamental unity, and all our differences of outlook and approach do not lessen this unity. That unity comes out most strikingly in times of struggle, but even at other times that unity is apparent. Our debates and arguments do not attack that unity; they are, in fact, based on that unity. This is natural enough, for under the circumstances the independence of India and anti-imperialism are the common urges which move vast numbers of our people.
“Real disunity creeps in from the communal side and we must recognise that there is an ideology, fostered by the principal communal organisations, which cuts at the root of national unity. Yet I do not think that this ideology has affected to any large extent even the members of the communal organisations. As soon as there is an improvement in the communal atmosphere this way of thinking will probably fade out.
“So far as the Congress is concerned there is no such difficulty. The real difficulty is not so much in what we do or even in the resolutions we pass, but in our approach and interpretation. There are, as there must be in a vital organisation, numerous sets of opinions shading off into one another, and yet bound together by a common link.
“Broadly speaking, there are two divisions (and this has practically nothing to do with right or left): those who might be called the Gandhiites and those who consider themselves modernists. These words are not happy or precise, for they indicate that Gandhism is something ancient and out of date, while as a matter of fact it is very modern and perhaps to some extent in advance of our age.
"But it is different from the modernism of the West, and a certain religious or metaphysical tinge about it does not fit in with the spirit of science which represents the best of European thought today. There is little stress on the mind in it or on the processes of the mind, and too much on an intuitive and authoritarian interpretation. And yet there is no reason why the Gandhian technique should not be considered from a purely scientific point of view and made to fit in with this spirit of science.
“The so-called modernists are a motley group: socialists of various kinds and odd individuals who talk vaguely of science and modern progress. Many of these are relics of an out-of-date nationalism and have little to do with modernism or science.
“These two broad divisions must not be confused with right and left. There are rightists and leftists in both groups, and there is no doubt that some of our best fighting elements are in the Gandhian group. If the Congress is looked upon from the right and left point of view, it might be said that there is a small rightist fringe, a left minority, and a huge intermediate group or groups which approximate to left-centre.
"The Gandhian group would be considered to belong to this intermediate left-centre group. Politically the Congress is overwhelmingly left; socially it has leftist leanings, but is predominantly centre. In matters affecting the peasantry it is pro-peasant.
“In trying to analyse the various elements in the Congress, the dominating position of Gandhiji must always be remembered. He dominates to some extent the Congress, but far more so he dominates the masses. He does not easily fall in any group and is much bigger than the so-called Gandhian group. Sometimes he is the single-minded revolutionary going like the arrow to his goal and shaking up millions in the process. At other times he is static, or seemingly so, counselling others to prudence…
“It makes little difference whether he is formally connected with the Congress or not. The Congress of today is of his making, and he is essentially of it. In any event, the commanding position he has in the country has nothing to do with any office, and he will retain that dominating place in the hearts of the people so long as he lives, and afterwards. ln any policy that might be framed he cannot be ignored. In any national struggle his full association and guidance are essential. India cannot do without him.
“That is one of the basic factors of the situation. The conscious and thinking leftists in the country recognise it and, whatever their ideological or temperamental differences with him, have tried to avoid anything approaching a split. Their attempt has been to leave the Congress under its present leadership, which means under Gandhiji's guidance, and at the same time to push it as far as they could more to the left, to radicalize it, and to spread their own ideology.
“If this is so during more or less normal periods, still more is Gandhiji's guidance necessary when crisis approaches. A split, or anything like it, at such a critical period when all our united strength is necessary would disable us and make us ineffective.
"While Gandhiji and the old leaders of his group are essential for our national work and our struggle, it is becoming increasingly evident that without the active cooperation of other vital elements in the Congress and the country, they will be hampered and their work will be ineffective or, at any rate, less effective….
“Every line of thought leads to the conclusion that this united working of the Congress is essential.”
(Selected and edited by Mridula Mukherjee, former Professor of History at JNU and former Director of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library)