Heralding a National vision that little resembles the old

The egalitarianism of “Gandhi-Nehru thought” has made way for Manmohan Singh thought, and the Congress should not seek to hide the fact“Ever since the Congress decided to reduce the role of the state in the economy (while the state’s role was a crucial part of Nehru’s thinking) the very words socialist or socialistic seem to have passed out of its lexicon.”

The Associated Journals was promoted by many eminent members of the Congress party in 1937. Its purpose was to contribute to the freedom movement through the vehicle of the National Herald and other newspapers at a particularly sensitive time in our history. The promoters had no desire to gain any personal financial advantage from the enterprise.

It is impossible to believe that the present Congress leadership has restructured The Associated Journals and handed over control to another company, Young Indian, for personal profit. It would have been preferable, certainly proper, though, if the restructuring exercise was undertaken not behind a curtain but transparently and openly with the party itself issuing a public statement. Political parties are generally opaque in such matters and the Congress followed existing practice. It could have set an example if it had realised non-disclosure breeds suspicion of wrongdoing and puts the party on the back foot. It would also have been a far neater exercise if the revival of the National Herald and the setting up of Young Indian had been kept on separate tracks. Surely Young Indian would have received wide public support for the commendable objectives it wishes to pursue.

Subramanian Swamy, who first brought the issue to the public domain, will no doubt agitate the matter before the courts and the Congress will have to defend its action on the technical aspects of the restructuring. Dr. Swamy has claimed that the grant of loans by the party to Associated Journals cannot come within the ambit of political activity. The courts may, therefore, have to go into the question of what such activity constitutes.

The Congress has defended the grant of the loan as part of its political work. While addressing the media earlier this month, spokesman Janardan Dwivedi asserted that it was for the party to decide on “what will be our political work”. Mr. Dwivedi went on to clarify the nature of the political work involved in the party’s financial support to the company. He said, “To promote Gandhi-Nehru thought is political work and to encourage the people, organisations and instruments working for the cause. We have discharged our political dharma because Associated Journals worked to promote Gandhi-Nehru thought”.

It is one thing to claim that the party’s actions were part of its legitimate political activity but quite another to invoke the names of Gandhi and Nehru to defend the loan to the Associated Journals. Nehru’s name has been taken because he was the principal founder of the National Herald. But by laying stress on “Gandhi-Nehru thought”, the party has opened itself to examination over whether it has, in fact, followed the thoughts it desires to promote through a presumably resurrected National Herald.

Sidelined objectives

The common objectives of Gandhi and Nehru on which there was a national consensus are found in the chapter on the Directive Principles of State Policy in our Constitution which, taken collectively, emphasise that the State should work to transform India into an egalitarian polity. It is a part of the Constitution which is much neglected and out of public discourse largely because its provisions cannot be enforced by the courts but also because it is simply inconvenient for our political class to be reminded of it. It is of course referred to by the Bharatiya Janata Party, but only in the context of the Article on a common civil code. The fact that the Directive Principles cannot be enforced does not absolve those who hold political office from not following them, for they take an oath to follow the Constitution and not selective parts of it. In fact, Article 37 specifically states inter alia that the Directive Principles are “fundamental in the governance of the country and it shall be the duty of the state to apply these principles in making laws”.

The vision of an egalitarian social order was further emphasised by Nehru when the Congress in 1956 adopted the aim of ushering in a socialistic pattern of society with equitable distribution of wealth and income. In doing so it was only reiterating the instructions contained in Articles 38(2) and 39(c) of the Constitution. The former prescribes, “The State shall, in particular, strive to minimise the inequalities in income and endeavour to eliminate inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities not only amongst groups of people residing in different areas or engaged in different vocations”. The latter demands “that the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment”.

Ever since the Congress decided to reduce the role of the state in the economy (while the state’s role was a crucial part of Nehru’s thinking) the very words socialist or socialistic seem to have passed out of its lexicon. It also perhaps associates them with the license-quota-raj and the corruption which flourished under it. And it certainly does not want to send wrong signals to Western companies which are being wooed so vigorously. Thus, while outlining the objectives of the Congress in the wake of the Associated Journals controversy, Mr. Dwivedi, if newspaper accounts are correct, coined a new term “social state” instead of socialist state. This was a departure from the term inclusive growth, which has become the new mantra. It is being used extensively in official literature and by our present political leadership.

Inside inclusive growth

The policies within the rubric of inclusive growth are capitalist with a desire to improve the lot of the poor and the marginalised. They have inevitably led to an increasing concentration of wealth and vast and growing disparities in income. In the present situation, it is inconceivable that the government will even think of seeking to reverse these trends. The thinking is that growth is essential for the removal of poverty and can only be achieved through the present model. If in the process, the ideal of an egalitarian society is to be sacrificed then so be it. Regrettably, it also seems that the political class and a large section of our elite think a high degree of corruption has also to be accepted in the pursuit of high rates of growth.

Times change and so do ideas and language as well as objectives. New realities emerge, requiring new thinking and action. Thus, there would be nothing wrong for the Congress to claim that the steps taken by it in the Associated Journals matter are to pursue its current political activity.

However, it is untenable for it to say that these activities are in line with “Gandhi-Nehru thought”. It moved away from crucial components of their thinking a long time ago. It now pursues Manmohan Singh thought and should openly acknowledge so.

(Vivek Katju is a retired Indian Foreign Service officer and grandson of one of the promoters of the Associated Journals company.)

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Printable version | May 31, 2020 4:52:06 PM |

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