Indian Socialists and Anti-Congressism

Ever since Indian socialists parted company with the parent organization, the Indian National Congress (hereafter the Congress), and constituted themselves into a separate entity, a large segment of them has been afflicted with the virus of anti-Congressism. To a large extent Dr. Rammanohar Lohia, trained in Germany when Nazism was on the rise, introduced this. This virus more often compels those in its grip to combine with all sorts of Hindu fundamentalists (widely known in India as communalists) and casteist forces against the Congress. It needs to be noted that in the recently held election for President of the Republic, socialists from George Fernandes to Mulayam Singh and Janeshwar Mishra (aka Chhota Lohia) were openly or covertly behind the “independent” candidate of the BJP, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.

Undoubtedly, Dr. Rammanohar Lohia was the first candid exponent of anti-Congressism. It is interesting to know how he arrived at anti-Congressism, which he had resisted till the first half of the 1940s. In fact, he had been a faithful follower of Gandhi and Nehru and a very devoted activist of the Congress. To begin with, he was initially reluctant to part company with the Congress when in 1948, the Congress Socialist Party decided to sever its links with the parent organisation and constitute itself as a separate entity.

These leaders thought that they, given the tremendous popularity enjoyed by them for their role in the Quit India movement, would be able to build the Socialist Party, to quote Madhu Limaye, “as an alternative to the Congress. In no case would they ally with the Congress, the Communist or the communalists.” But they soon came for great disappointment when the first general elections gave them a big jolt. Their hope of coming to power in a number of states did not materialize, nor could they emerge as the main opposition in the Lok Sabha. The Communist Party of India (CPI) emerged as the main opposition group with 16 seats in the Lok Sabha and secured 162 seats in Vidhan Sabhas. Even in Bihar, the Socialist Party failed to become the main opposition group in the Vidhan Sabha. The pressure for returning to the parent organisation, the Congress, started building. At the special convention of the Socialist Party at Panchmarhi the protagonists of returning to the Congress, led by Asoka Mehta, rejected anti-Congressism as the main plank for future policies and activities of his party. Launching a frontal attack on Lohia’s position of having no truck with the Congress but forging an alliance with smaller parties of regional character, championing sectional interests, such as Jharkhand Party, Scheduled Castes’ Federation, etc. Mehta stressed: “The Congress cannot be countered by banding together all the forces – irrespective of their social origin and outlook that are ranged against the Congress because it is in power.”

The party rejected Mehta’s plea and decided to keep its separate identity, clearly demarcating itself from the Congress as well as the CPI. Lohia was more forthright. He wanted the party to be uncompromisingly anti-Congress. It should not show any soft corner for the Congress, even if it were engaged in a battle of life and death against reactionaries and communal forces. In other words, Lohia was heading towards the position that the Congress must be destroyed lock, stock and barrel.

This tilt towards uncompromising anti-Congressism and the frustration, leading to bitter infighting led some under JP’s leadership to say good by to active politics and opt for Vinoba’s Bhoodan movement while others, individually or in groups, went over to the Congress. The party could not retain its vitality and its experiment of uniting with Acharya Kriplani to form Praja Socialist Party (PSP) proved disastrous. It began its long journey of joining hands with disparate anti-Congress forces and then splitting began and this continues to this date. In this process it lost the goodwill earned during the freedom struggle and also the clarity of vision. It survives as a regional party in UP and consists of old Lohiaites, racketeers, local gangsters and power brokers besides glamour girls from the Bollywood. The attempts to bring in tycoons from Sanjay Dalmia to Anil Ambani and Ashok Chaturvedi have made it a laughing stock. 

Both the Lohiaites and the remnant of the PSP believed that the country was going to face an unprecedented disaster under the Congress rule and they would turn to them because the Communists were neo-imperialists and pseudo-progressive while the Jan Sangh symbolized spurious religionism. These Socialists, however, were utterly disappointed when the masses did not desert the Congress and turn to them because, despite shortcomings, a definite stride was made towards creating an independent, self-reliant, modern industrialised economy. Consequently, the country could successfully withstand challenges to its territorial integrity, foreign machinations and subversive activities aimed at creating internal instability. It followed an independent foreign policy, based on non-alignment and concern for world peace.

The 1962 Chinese invasion of India and the domestic economic difficulties alienated the masses, to an extent, from the Congress. Lohia grabbed this opportunity and began his mission of uniting all varieties of anti-Congress forces in order to destroy the Congress once for all. It began with his sharing platform with the former President, Rajendra Prasad, where Nehru was declared responsible for the humiliation of the country by the Chinese. It was the same Lohia that had leveled charges of personal corruption against Prasad in his book The Guilty Men of India’s Partition and criticized him strongly for washing the feet of pandits at Varanasi while he was President. Thus, Lohia and his followers tried to unite all non-Congress forces, irrespective of ideological and political differences, in order to end the Congress rule forever. They were unmindful of the consequences if they could succeed in their mission. Riding over the anti-Congress wave, Lohia entered the Lok Sabha in 1963 with Jan Sangh’s active support.  Elaborating his new line, Lohia told the seventh conference of the Socialist Party in December 1963 that the support base of the Congress was fast shrinking and, if the non-Congress parties could come together, they would end the Congress rule. What was needed was to put up, in each constituency, only one agreed candidate against the Congress so that splintering of non-Congress votes could be avoided. One must not be afraid of any instability resulting from this because it would be preferable to the kind of stability provided by the Congress rule.

On July 4, 1964, Lohia declared at a meeting of his followers at Jullundar that revolutionary changes could come only after the Congress stranglehold over the country was ended forever. And this could be possible only when non-Congress parties came together to sink their political and ideological differences and put up an agreed candidate in each constituency. In a detailed exposition, he made a number of formulations.

First, no single party was in a position to oust the Congress from power. Second, all opposition parties worked for the overthrow of the Congress from power but in their own separate ways. Third, ideological and political lines dividing different non-congress parties were much less real. Fourth, in fact, both the Communists and communalists were less dangerous than the Congress. Fifth, the efforts to frame a time-bound minimum common programme by non-Congress parties as the basis for forging unity before ousting the Congress was an exercise in futility. Last, what was urgently needed was the unity of all non-Congress parties without allowing ideological and political differences to hinder mission of the ouster of the Congress.

Most non-Congress parties accepted Lohia’s prescription in 1967 and got SVD governments formed in a number of states. This experiment, however, could not succeed and none of them could earn public goodwill and last full term. In this process Socialists lost their distinct identity, which they have not been able to regain till now. One may look around and see their pathetic plight. George Fernandes, once a fiery labour leader, is now the most obedient servant of the BJP. One must recall his stand on the Gujarat carnage and the brutal murder of the Australian Christian missionary and his son in Orissa. Another stalwart of the Lohia Socialist tribe Mulayam Singh’s secularism stands exposed. His proximity to the Sangh Parivar is no longer a secret. He did not get the requisite legal formalities completed to prosecute the BJP leaders involved in the Babri mosque demolition nor did he do anything to bring the people involved in the stampede leading to the death of poor women during the sari distribution by the BJP in Lucknow. His third front or the policy of equidistance from both the Congress and the BJP is nothing but sham. In fact, he wants to help communal elements by not treating them as enemies.

Looking back, one finds that all the experiments in non-Congressism, from SVD governments to NDA government via Janata Party and Janata Dal governments have helped only the communalists by bringing them more prestige and helping them acquire strength. They have been resurrected from the garbage of history. Not only the forces that murdered Gandhi have been made respectable but also Gandhi’s cardinal principle of the purity of means to achieve a laudable aim has been thrown out. In this process, however, the Socialists have discredited themselves and they are now regarded as a pack of opportunists and time-servers.

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