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Socialists and the Congress

SELECTED WORKS OF ACHARYA NARENDRA DEVA (Volume Three - 1948- 1952): Issued under the auspices of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi; Radiant Publishers, E-155, State Bank of India building, Kalkaji, New Delhi-100019. Rs. 500.

PRESIDING OVER the All-India Congress Socialist Conference at Patna on May 11, 1934, Acharya Narendra Deva (1889-1956) formed the Congress Socialist Party to spearhead the socialist group within the Indian National Congress. A scholar, educationist and moralist among socialists, he had been the Principal of Khasi Vidhyapith and after Independence he became the Vice-Chancellor of Lucknow and Banaras Hindu Universities. At one stage in 1946, at the Congress Working Committee which met to elect the new President following Jawaharlal Nehru's resignation, Nehru himself suggested the name of Acharya and Gandhiji was reported to have endorsed it to appease the socialists, but eventually Acharya J. B. Kripalani was made the Congress President for 1946-47.

Soon thereafter, certain developments within the Congress led the Socialists to quit the party in 1948. Narendra Deva was elected chairman of the Socialist Party in 1949. J. B. Kripalani resigned from the presidentship of the Congress in November 1947 and founded the Krishak Mazdoor Praja Party (KMPP) in 1948.

After the First General Elections in 1952, the KMPP merged with the Socialist Party to form the Praja Socialist Party. When Kripalani resigned in 1954, Acharya Narendra Deva was elected chairman of this party. The book under review, the third volume in the series, begins with the Acharya's election campaign in the bye-election to the U. P. Legislative Assembly in 1948, the seventh conference of the Socialist Party at Patna in 1949, and the First General Elections in 1952.

In speech after speech in 1948, Narendra Deva explains the circumstances which made the Socialists to leave the Congress. At the Kanpur session held early in 1947 the Socialists decided to delete the word ``Congress'' from their party's name and agreed to admit even non- Congressmen into its fold with the specific understanding that the change would still make it possible for them to continue within the Congress fold.

The Congress leaders not only disregarded the understanding but were in a hurry to expel the Socialists within three weeks of Mahatma Gandhi's assassination. The AICC meeting, held in the third week of 1948 under the presidentship of Dr. Rajendra Prasad, declared that no other party should function within the Congress. The Socialists, therefore, were left with no other option except to come out of it to evolve a healthy opposition for the successful working of democracy and to build a new order of ``a democratic socialist society in India.''

To Narendra Deva, ``Gandhian socialism is a misnomer'' as Gandhiji's programmes never took the form of any scientific or economic theory. However, certain principles of Gandhiji such as eschewing violence, decentralisation of industries and development of cottage industries certainly found favour with the Socialist Party.

The volume, despite meticulous editing, makes dull reading as it turns out to be a select compilation of mostly monotonous indirect political speeches of Narendra Deva, that too summaries culled from English press reports.

Only very rarely the reader comes across the scholar's observation on general topics like Hinduism (which ``breathes the spirit of pantheism of Vedanta, succeeding in establishing cultural unity in India''), Muslim invasion (their initial policy of extermination of Hindus giving way to conversion and reconciliation), national language (Hindustani in Devanagari script, abolishing all other regional language scripts), the Ramayana (Rama Rajya not suited under present conditions), the Bhagavad Gita (``more useful at the present time since it was written in the period of crisis, a like of which the world was passing today'') and education (``should be need-based and not bookish'').

The series perhaps is a ritualistic exercise of routine archival value.

La. Su. Rengarajan

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