PATEL, PRASAD AND RAJAJI : Myth of the Indian Right
book1.png"" alt=""book1.png"" />There is a fallacy of nomenclature in the very use of the terms 'Right' and 'Left' abstracted as they are from the western context and applied to the Indian historical realities. This, however, does not mean the absence of ideological groups with 'Right' and 'Left' leanings in the political realm of this country. Leaders in the Indian National Congress like Sardar Patel, C Rajagopachari and Rajendra Prasad among others were the followers of the 'Right', while Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, members of the Congress Socialist party preferred Left ideology.
Making these observations in her book -- PATEL, PRASAD AND RAJAJI : Myth of the Indian Right -- author and historian Neerja Singh observes the three of them being mass leaders in their own independent capacity, not only influenced the thinking of a large number of people but were also at the helm of affairs of the Congress during that period. She takes a relook at the categorisation of 'Right' and 'Left' and emphasises history is not to be studied through the prism of politics.
The Left intending to take over the reigns of the Congress found them a formidable force to contend with in the pursuit of their objectives. They, therefore, used the nomenclature 'Right' to discredit and dislodge them from the position of power and influence. They held that the 'Right' concept of social, political and economic regeneration was more metaphysical than material and progressive. This was a ploy that the 'Left' used to make the senior leaders accept that the days of their kind of politics were over. The underlying motive was to make them defensive so that they took a rear seat and cleared the way for the new young leadership who were apparently more radical and revolutionary.
In a letter to Nehru on first July 1936, Prasad wrote about the Left's attempts to control the Congress. ""Apart from all personal considerations we have strongly felt the ideals and policies for which we have stood all these sixteen or seventeen years and which we believe to be the only right one for the country are being assiduously undermined.""
Patel complained to Mahatma Gandhi that the Left leaders were only paying lip service to his advice and looked upon them as worn out leaders who should be listened but not followed. The Left decried in public that their way had proved its inefficacy and impracticability. The term 'Right' has a specific connotation. It has its specific European lineage. It appeared as a negative force advocating conservatism, encouraging reactionary forces and delimiting progress, freedom and individualism. It was synonymous with anti-people, anti-democracy, anti-intellectualism and anti- socialism.
The Left leaders never engaged themselves in serious analysis of the policies and programmes of Sardar Patel, Rajagopalachari and Rajendra Prasad before branding them as 'Right'. In the tradition of Dadabhai Naoroji, Phirozeshah Mehta, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and others, Patel, Rajaji and Prasad believed in a liberal democratic welfare state, anti-colonialism, class adjustment with a pro-poor orientation in the scheme of national building. Like the moderate leaders they also believed in cultural pluralism, religious tolerance and coexistence. They insisted on secular citizenship and placed it above religion, ethnic, caste and class identities.
The Left never called the moderate leaders of the Congress as 'Right', despite the fact that they too respected property and never advocated socialism. The ambition of the Left to control the organisation along with their conceptual rigidity and doctrinaire orientation, made them indulge in semantic militancy articulating high sounding programme. Being in a minority within the Congress with hardly any mass base, the strategy the Left adopted was to have the full protection of the Congress, the advantage of its prestige, and yet to attack and criticise it from outside.
The Left hoped that by projecting them as anti-people, anti-kisan, anti-youth and anti-labour they would be able to cut the social base of these leaders and thus they would be in a position to take over control of the Congress, the only mass party. Yet the Left's attempts in this regard remained one sided. The sole concern of the Left was to turn Congress into a socialist organisation.
Patel, Rajaji and Prasad understood the situation and knew that to make the struggle successful against British imperialism, unity of all views was essential. Socialists like Narendra Dev were aware of this fact. He observed ""the Congress today wields enormous influence both at home and abroad and though we may differ from official policies and acts, it would be the height of a folly to think of breaking it up."" He also warned the more militant Leftists both within and outside Congress that ""reactionary forces are trying to form a powerful combination in alliance with British imperialism to crush the forces of progress and freedom. They are making the Congress and the national leadership their target. It is foolish to imagine that they are only opposed to the present high command and would gladly join the Congress under a new dispensation. These factors impose a special obligation on us to see that nothing is done that may tend to weaken or disintegrate the Congress.""
The author draws pointed attention to Patel alluding to his views being different than that of Nehru on some vital matters. He detested imperialism and admitted existence of destructive inequality between the capitalist class and the famishing poor but the answer to it is not in the annihilation of one class for the progress of another. Elaborating Patel said that it was possible to purge capitalism of its hideousness. The three Gandhian leaders were actively engaged in steering the anti-imperialist struggle against the foreign domination.
The Congress emerged as a magic mosaic of diverse views and hues. The democratic character of the Congress witnessed prolonged argumentations among different views and groups at times dictated by the supremacy within the Congress fold. This became much more pronounced with the advent of Left and Left Wing politics in the 1930s. The demarcation of nationalist leadership in terms of 'Left' and 'Right' was primarily the product of this specific contextual setting. Therefore, historians have to be extra vigilant against the easy proclivity to speak in the language of the ""actors"", cautions Neera Singh.
The Editors of the Sage series in Modern Indian History -- Bipin Chandra, Mridula Mukherjee and Aditya Mukherjee -- stressed in their preface they are acutely aware that one swallow does not make a summer. Scholars face problems of going from library to library and city to city and yet not being able to find many of the necessary books. There is paucity of research funding organisations. This has made it difficult to initiate and sustain efforts at publishing a series along the lines of the Cambridge history series or some of the best US and European Universities.
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(T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and commentator.)