Nehru’s Word: Indiscipline, disruptive tendencies weaken struggle

“The Congress has been and is a fighting unit. It must remain so if it is to fulfil its historic purpose. Platforms cannot fight...nor can debating societies carry on effective struggles.”

Pt Jawaharlal Nehru
Pt Jawaharlal Nehru

Mridula Mukherjee

Last week we brought to you in this column the first part of extracts from the series of eight articles written by Jawaharlal Nehru 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.


“Every line of thought leads to the conclusion that this united working of the Congress is essential. Is this impossible? Or are the elements composing it incompatible, as has been said? In answering this question, we must not think in terms of individuals but rather of broad policies. The past has shown that this unity of working can be achieved, though there are undoubted difficulties in the way.

"I have no doubt whatever that there is an overwhelming desire in the rank and file of the Congress to have such cooperation and a united front. The difficulties that arose in the past, though real, were not fundamental. I venture to think that the fault lay on both sides.

“United fronts are vague words which have been somewhat abused. Examples of such fronts in Europe have not flourished and have left a bad taste in the mouth. But we must remember that the differences there were far more vital. In China, on the other hand, we see full­blooded cooperation between groups that were bitterly hostile to each other. (To forge a united resistance against the Japanese aggression, the People's Political Council, including the Kuomintang, the communists and others, was formed in China in 1938.) The national peril compelled them to combine. Are we less sensible of the crises and perils that await us?

“The Congress cannot obviously be treated as a sectarian group. It represents the nation and its doors are open to all who believe in its objective and its methods. At the same time, it cannot possibly be treated as a kind of federation of groups, a common platform where conflicting opinions and methods are pressed forward for acceptance and attempts are made to arrive at a compromise which enthuses nobody. The Congress has been and is a fighting unit. It must remain so if it is to fulfil its historic purpose. Platforms cannot fight, howsoever joint they might be, nor can debating societies carry on effective struggles.

“There has been a tendency in the Congress leadership in the past to become sectarian, narrow-minded, and exclusive. That is undesirable and creates barriers between it and large numbers of people in the Congress and the country. There has also been a marked tendency among these other groups to play the role of an aggressive opposition, to adopt methods not in line with Congress policy, to encourage indiscipline and irresponsibility, to weaken the homogeneity of the Congress, even while they talked of unity and united fronts. That way lies peril and disaster.

“A time may perhaps come when the real conscious leftists are strong enough to take charge of the Congress and run it according to their policy. Today they are not in a position to do so. They have neither the national backing nor the discipline for the job. There are numerous groups amongst them, each pulling its own way, with little love for each other, and united only for the moment by a common opposition, a link that will break soon enough. The left today can destroy; it cannot build. They still live in a world of agitation, not fully realising that the Congress and the national movement have grown in stature and speak with authority and responsibility now.

“Those among the leftists who are socialists must look at our movement in historic perspective and realise what the present stage of development requires. To overreach the mark now might mean reaction tomorrow. If they are conscious of their historic role, they must prepare themselves for it and gain the confidence of the Congress and the country. Above all, they have to strive their utmost to check indiscipline and the forces of chaos, for out of these neither independence nor socialism will emerge.

“Any executive must be homogeneous, in the broad sense of the word, or else it will be ineffective. The executive of a fighting organisation, like the Congress, must inevitably be homogeneous in this sense. But I see no reason why this homogeneity should be interpreted in a narrow sectarian sense. At the same time, every member of the executive must be loyal to it and must not sit there just as a representative of another group which commands his primary loyalty.

In the past we had members of the Congress Socialist Party in the Working Committee. They continued to remain members of the executive of the Congress Socialist Party and often they spoke in different voices. This seems to me to be undesirable, and a member of the Working Committee should not continue to belong to the executive of a party or group which may have occasion to criticise it. This does not mean a break with the other party but the observance of a rule which will help us to function together, and which will give greater dignity to the Working Committee and its members.

“Such were my thoughts when I returned from Europe last November and reviewed the situation. I saw a crisis developing in the states and Gandhiji taking the lead, federation and other issues hung in the air, our provincial governments seemed to be exhausting the possibilities open to them, and the future seemed dynamic. The international situation seemed as bad as it could well be. I thought in terms of approaching crisis in India.

“I felt that every effort should be made for the two main groups of the Congress to cooperate together (and these groups, as I have said above, were not leftists or rightists). This cooperation should be based, broadly speaking, on the existing programme and methods of the Congress, and especially on an adherence to the policy of non-violence. The present leadership should not be markedly disturbed, but fresh blood should be brought in representing the so-called modernist viewpoint.

“This was not meant to disturb the homogeneity of the Working Committee, but to spread out the responsibility of shouldering the burden of work and guiding the movement. Gandhiji's leadership and guidance were essential, and I believed that he would willingly give it on these conditions. Above all, we should all continue to put an end to the indiscipline and disruptive tendencies in the Congress. This was the essential preliminary to preparation for the struggle that was to come.”

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

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