Had Randeep Singh Surjewala been in the Congress of 1950s or 1960s, he would have faced disciplinary action for describing the Congress as a party "in whose blood there is Brahmin Samaj’s DNA".
Senior Congress leader Shriman Narayan, a Gandhian AICC office-bearer and former governor of Gujarat, was so much against caste affiliation in politics that throughout his political life, he chose to drop his surname, Agarwal (since surnames often become a caste identifier in India).
Article 1 of the constitution of the Indian National Congress reads, “The object of the Indian National Congress is the well-being and advancement of the people of India, by the peaceful and constitutional means, of a socialist state based on parliamentary democracy in which there is equality of opportunity and of political, economic and social rights and which aims at world peace and fellowship.”
If Surjewala had bothered to glance through the history of the Congress, he would have spotted AICC chief N Dhebar’s words spoken at the Avadi session of the AICC in 1955. Spoken in the presence of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and others, Dhebar had cautioned, “We should go on hammering this fact that there is no half-way house between loyalty to India and sectarian loyalty to casteism or communalism. Caste binds together people by misconceived, religious-cum-cultural-cum-social notions and, in the process, prevents all the three. Caste generates a loyalty apart from religion, apart from culture and apart from principles of social equality. At the individual level, it breeds arrogance; at the social level rivalry; and at the national level divisions. No Indian should want to allow his social system to operate as a halter around the neck of free India, or as fetters around her feet. Everyone of us feels that political and social democracy should march hand in hand.”
In 1994, when the PV Narasimha Rao-led Congress government implemented the Mandal Commission recommendations, giving caste-based reservation to backward classes, the AICC resolution passed on June 10, 1994, read, "AICC calls upon every Congress worker to remain vigilant against ...poisonous and pernicious casteism, just as vehemently it is opposed to the politics of communalism. AICC congratulates the government [Rao government] for the peaceful manner in which it has implemented the recommendations of Mandal the Mandal Commission on the basis of the judgment of the Supreme Court. But AICC firmly rejects the politics of hate that is sought to be propagated by certain political parties and leaders."
If Surjewala cares to read these words even now, he would realise these are strong, clear words.
From its inception, the Congress functioned as an amorphous organisation. Describing the Congress at the Avadi session, Dhebar had described the Congress in rather flowery language, saying, "What is Congress? It is a tear, fallen from the sufferings and agonised heart of humanity in bondage, coming to life."
According to Nehru, the Congress was always something more than a party and capable of drawing allegiance from millions who were not formally with the party. Speaking in New Delhi at the 1951 AICC session, Nehru had said, "We have to retain something of that wider aspect of the Congress, but this should not lead to floppiness and loose thinking and an accommodation of all kinds of contrary opinions within its fold. In regard to principles — social, economic and political — this must be clear. There should be no room for reactionaries in the Congress fold. Nor should there be any room in it for those who seek, through its medium, personal advancement and profit at the cost of the public good. We have to pull ourselves up from the narrow grooves of thought and action, from factions, from mutual recrimination, from tolerance of evil in public life and in our social structure, and become again fighters for a cause and upholders of high principles."
Nehru was supportive of reservations for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs), but instinctively, he was against the quota system. In a letter to the chief ministers of the Congress-ruled states on June 27, 1960, Nehru had observed, “I react strongly against anything, which leads to inefficiency and second-rate standards. I want my country to be a first-class country in everything. The moment we encourage the second-rate, we are lost. The only way to help a backward group is to give opportunities for good education,” Nehru had written without realising that 58 years later, his own party would be suggesting 10 per job reservation for Brahmins and setting up of Brahmin Kalyan Boards.
After Nehru era, Indira Gandhi had inherited many of these powerful factions that continuously put pressure on her to make adjustments and accommodate them. She deftly dealt with the old guard represented by Moraji Desai, YB Chavan, SK Patil and Nijalingappa on the one hand, and the "young Turks" or the "verandah boys" (young socialist leaders such as Chandra Shekhar, Mohan Dharia, Krishna Kant, C Subramaniam, Chandrajeet Yadav and others) on the other. The young Turks inspired the entire new generation of that era when they successfully blocked the entry of Raja Kamakhya Narain Singh of Ramgarh in the Bihar cabinet through the offices of the then chief minister, Hari Har Singh, in violation of an earlier decision that feudal lords, who were not part of the Congress, should not be inducted in party-ruled states as ministers.
C Subramaniam, who was then Tamil Nadu Congress chief, resigned from the CWC. On May 14, 1969, the CWC asked Subramaniam to withdraw his resignation and the Bihar government to remove Raja Kamakhya from the Bihar ministry.
It may be argued that caste and caste considerations have always been part of the Congress selection of party candidates — from panchayat to Parliament. It is true, but at the same time, the Congress has not taken a formal position to advance caste as an all-important factor in politics and society.
Clearly, in the present-day Congress, there are no Subramanians but Surjewalas.