Nehru's Word: Congress stands for the service of the people

Seventy-one years ago, on 29 Jan 1951, Jawaharlal Nehru, in a speech to a session of AICC at Ahmedabad, spelt out what he thought the mission of a political party, in this case the Congress, should be

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of Independent India
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of Independent India
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Mridula Mukherjee

With five states going in for assembly elections within a few weeks, the popular gaze is turned towards the political parties. What do we expect from them, what should they be standing for? Seventy-one years ago, on 29 January 1951, Jawaharlal Nehru, in a speech to a session of AICC at Ahmedabad, spelt out what he thought the mission of a political party, in this case the Congress, should be. It should stand for the service of the people, it should stand on the plank of communal unity. It is not through mere increase in membership that organisations grow, he reminded us, but through selfless hard work, and a united organisation.

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"Members seem to have lost themselves completely in superficialities. By so doing they are doing no credit to the Congress organisation. In fact, they seem to ignore the basic ideals for which the Congress has always stood. The question of membership was never a basic pillar on which the Congress rested. The Congress all along represented certain ideals and even today it is the bounden duty of every Congressman to stand by and work for those ideals.

It is by your practical work, your determination and your courage that you can take the Congress forward and along with it the country. You cannot do so by wasting time debating whether the membership should be one anna, two annas or four annas. This shopkeepers’ mentality, I have never understood. It is unbecoming of Congressmen to talk like this. Do not degrade the high ideals of the Congress by indulging in this petty talk.

The narrow approach to Congress ideals made by certain speakers suggests that Congressmen seem to have forgotten what the Congress stands for. The Congress is not an exclusive preserve of any people. It is not a static organisation. It is not a house where Congressmen or their close friends alone can sit and gather. I will tell you what the Congress is.

The Congress is a weapon, it is a sword with a sharp blade with which we have fought and cut asunder all that bound us. It is very much a live thing, not something static. Congressmen today have to remember that it is with this Congress, this sword, that we have to fight other battles and take the country forward. So let not the blade of the sword be blunted.

Congressmen have forgotten some of the ordinary Congress principles. They have forgotten that the Congress stands for the service of the people. That is the mission of the Congress, its destiny and duty. How it fulfils it, is the basic question. If it fails to do so, it dies. It is our duty, therefore, to see that the Congress grows, its respect among the people increases and it achieves the stature necessary for solving the problems before us….

The Congress is sought to be reduced to mere symbols like the flag, the Gandhi cap, and the membership fee.

Congressmen have forgotten some of the ordinary Congress principles. They have forgotten that the Congress stands for the service of the people. That is the mission of the Congress, its destiny and duty. How it fulfils it, is the basic question. If it fails to do so, it dies. It is our duty, therefore, to see that the Congress grows, its respect among the people increases

I know the place of the Gandhi cap, which most of us have been wearing for the last thirty years, have respect for it, but do not make a fetish of it. What is more important is not the cap, but what is beneath it. I want not the cap, but brains…. I want brains; I want khadi cap-wearers to think.

Mr Shastri has also suggested that now there is no need to say that the active members of the Congress will have nothing to do with communalism. Mr Algurai Shastri, giving the analogy of a tadpole, has said that the tadpole in course of time loses its tail and becomes a frog. He wants to convince members thereby that the question of communalism is like the tadpole’s tail, which has fallen off now and has no longer any importance.

The Congress, therefore, according to Mr Shastri, should dispense with this talk of Congressmen being not communal. Now there is no need to say that the active members of the Congress would have nothing to do with communalism.

I was completely amazed by this suggestion of Mr Shastri. As far as I am concerned, I consider communal unity as the very plank on which the Congress stands. All my life I have cherished this principle of the Congress and if any Congressman dare say that it can be dispensed with, I will face him and fight it out. I declare here and now that if, even by a single hairbreadth, it is sought at any time to deviate from this principle of communal unity, it becomes my duty and yours to fight this tendency.

The Congress is not an institution which we want for its own sake. The Congress is a means of serving the people. The day it becomes an institution in itself, I will be the first person to say that the Congress should be wound up. In that case, the Congress should be wound up gracefully and not allowed to be degraded.

The country faces big problems which can only be solved when the right approach is made not only to them, but to the Congress organisation through which we are going to solve them. I am in favour of the membership being one rupee. Congressmen should search their hearts and find out whether the people who support the Congress cannot pay this sum.

People as a rule spend money on so many things, many of them wasteful. I will not say that in this poor country everybody is in a position to pay one rupee as subscription. If there is a little inconvenience, let it be there. It is all to the good. It will make a Congress supporter feel his responsibility towards his organisation.

The Congress is not an institution which we want for its own sake. The Congress is a means of serving the people. The day it becomes an institution in itself, I will be the first person to say that the Congress should be wound up. In that case, the Congress should be wound up gracefully and not allowed to be degraded.

Ultimately, more members do not matter. It is the measure of the zeal and enthusiasm of the members, their courage and selflessness which make an organisation weak or strong.

If members look at the subscriptions of any trade union they will know that a worker pays much more than one rupee. He does so to keep and maintain his organisation which fights for his rights. There is no magic in this four-anna membership.

Even if there was one, we dispensed with it two years ago. Some now feel the necessity of its being reintroduced. But let every Congressman remember that it is not through membership fees that organisations grow and live. It is through selfless hard work, through a united organisation.”

(Selected and edited by Mridula Mukherjee, former Professor of History at JNU and former Director of Nehru Memorial Museum & Library)

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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