Nehru's Word: How AICC adopted the party’s first election manifesto in 1951

The upcoming plenary session of the Congress in Raipur from 24-26 February 2023, following upon the election of the Congress president a few months ago, has aroused much anticipation and excitement

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Mridula Mukherjee

My dear chief minister, this is a belated letter. As you know, I was away in Bangalore for the meetings of the Congress Working Committee and the All India Congress Committee. Much has happened during the last two weeks. At Bangalore, after prolonged discussion, the Congress election manifesto was adopted. (The election manifesto, adopted on 14 July 1951, stressed the need for following Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings to tone up the moral and ethical basis of the national life; dwelt on the issues of labour, transport, public health, education, foreign policy and Kashmir; advocated a mixed economy: and made a plea for national unity.)

This is an important document not only for Congressmen, who are intimately interested in it, but for all others. It is important what the leading organisation in India, which largely controls the central and provincial governments, should say on the subject of our future policies and programmes.

This election manifesto is not a vague string of hopes and aspirations but, as far as possible, a realistic approach to the problem of what we want to do and what we can do in the next few years.

This manifesto should serve the purpose of helping people to think on constructive and realistic lines. It may be that some people think that it does not go far enough and others that it goes too far in certain directions. This kind of reaction is not only natural, but, if I may say so, desirable. These varied approaches help in educating the people and making them think of the pros and cons of the programmes put forward. That is the essence of democracy. (In the debate on 14 July 1951, while some Congressmen felt that the Congress would find it difficult to fight the Communist ideology for lack of ideological content in the manifesto, absence in it of provisions for social justice, ceilings on land holdings and redistribution, and a half-hearted attitude towards controls, others opposed mention of the rights, privileges and duties of the minorities as they were already stated in the Constitution.)

The real difficulty we have to face often enough is that the personal element and personal criticism overshadows an objective consideration of policies and programmes. If, however, the personal element is left out and even the party element is for the moment forgotten, the actual proposals can be considered on their merits….

All this signifies, of course, that we are thinking more of the country’s progress than of party advantage in elections. Unfortunately, the general elections are nearing and this fact alone rather queers the pitch, preventing an objective consideration of any problem. All kinds of odd groups grow up in the hope of winning some seats at election time. Many of these groups have really no programmes or policies, except some sentimental slogans which may, to some extent, attract the people. With such groups there is not much room for argument, because they are not used to thinking in terms of economic or like policies. But with other and more serious-minded groups, there should be a good deal of room for common thinking and common action, provided only that we can get over the great barrier created by personal or party antagonisms.

The Planning Commission’s preliminary report came out just before the meeting of the AICC There was no time to consider it or even to read it. This consideration therefore will have to take place later. But some of the main principles underlying that report were naturally considered independently by the AICC and, on the whole, the Congress election manifesto adopted the same line. (The draft outline of the first Five Year Plan involving an outlay of Rs 1,493 crore, was signed on 7 July 1951. It recommended close coordination between public and private sectors under central direction and a policy to prevent a further rise in prices until they were brought down by increased production.)

The Planning Commission’s report, I might add, is not a party document, but the appraisal and recommendations of a competent body of men who have given careful thought to this matter for over a year and consulted not only all the State governments, but many representatives of various groups and parties. Their approach therefore has been strictly non-party and has been conditioned by their desire to get the largest measure of agreement for the plan they might propose. The plan is necessarily limited by our resources and therefore, a careful analysis of our actual and potential resources during the next five years has been made….

The Planning Commission is firmly of opinion that any really big effort towards the achievement of the objectives they have set down, must involve widespread public cooperation. The plan should be in effect a national plan and something more than a mere party plan, however big the party….Some people or groups may wish to go further and they are at perfect liberty to work to that end.

The Planning Commission has drawn up what they call a preliminary outline of a Five Year Plan. They have invited criticisms from government and non-official organisations. After receiving these, they hope to finalise their programme…It is clear that the Planning Commission is not something which ceases to be, after submitting the plan. It has to continue as it is, or in some slightly different form.

Selected and edited by MRIDULA MUKHERJEE, former professor of history at JNU and former Director of Nehru Memorial Museum & Library

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