How Nehru and Congress alienated Gandhi

The Mahatma was greatly troubled by the corruption within the party and wanted it to be disbanded.

 |  6-minute read |   30-09-2016
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When Rahul Gandhi accuses Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) of having killed Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, he conveniently glosses over the not-so-great role of his own great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru’s government in protecting the father of the Indian nation - and the Congress party in adding to the isolation of the apostle of peace and non-violence.

It is a proven fact that the Mahatma had given up on the Congress in his twilight years and, as a consequence, became a lonely man within the party. He was greatly troubled by the increasing corruption in the Congress and wanted the party to be disbanded. Moreover, he felt that Congress leaders wanted him to get out of their way.

He said, “I know that today I irritate everyone. How can I believe that I alone am right and all others are wrong? What irks me is that people deceive me. They should tell me frankly that I have become old, that I am no longer of any use and that I should not be in their way. If they thus openly repudiate me I shall not be pained in the least. And I shall also then cultivate the indomitable strength needed to serve Daridranarayana (poorest of the poor)” (CWMG, Vol.98)[i].

gaandhi_093016054307.jpg He felt Congress leaders wanted him to get out of their way. Photo credit: Reuters

Mahatma Gandhi called for the disbanding of the Congress in his last will, penned a day before his assassination on January 30, 1948. For the fulfillment of his will, he drafted a resolution for the party, which said that it would be converted into a Lok Sevak Sangh.

“Though split into two, India having attained political independence through means devised by the Indian National Congress, the Congress in its present shape and form, that is, as a propaganda vehicle and parliamentary machine, has outlived its use. India has still to attain social, moral and economic independence in terms of its seven hundred thousand villages as distinguished from its cities and towns. The struggle for the ascendancy of civil over military power is bound to take place in India's progress towards its democratic goal. It must be kept out of unhealthy competition with political parties and communal bodies. For these and other similar reasons, the AICC resolves to disband the existing Congress organisation and flower into a Lok Sevak Sangh...” (Harijan, 1948)[ii].

Gandhi gave the call for disbanding the Congress after feeling for several years that the party was riddled with corruption. “All that is wanted is the will to clear the Congress of Augean stables. But if the heads of Congress committees are indifferent or supine, the corruption cannot be dealt with. If the salt loses its savour, wherewith shall it be salted?” (Harijan, Oct 22, 1938)[iii]

Gandhi also rejected the request of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the then Congress president, for an immediate all-India movement for "Purna Swaraj" against the British government on the ground that first, the political body should come clean on corruption and violence. He wrote to Bose on April 1, 1939 from Birla House: “We seem to differ as to the amount of corruption in the Congress. My impression is that it is on the increase. I have been pleading for the past many months for a thorough scrutiny.” 

The Congress’ constitution drafted by the Mahatma, says writer Makarand R Paranjape in his book The Death and Afterlife of Mahatma Gandhi, enjoined the party workers to "fan out in countryside and become a vast volunteer corps which would, in effect, serve as a comprehensive peoples’ self-help network, almost an alternative government. Surely, Gandhi’s attempt to snatch away the rewards of power and pelf from Congressmen, just when they had started relishing such benefits, would have dismayed if not angered most Congressmen." 

Gandhi visualised Congress workers’ fetish for power when he wrote in Harijan on June 1, 1947 (p176), “…With the advent of power, Congressmen have begun to think that everything belongs to them. In a way, it is true. But this does not imply that all sense of discipline should be thrown to the winds.” 

The Mahatma also wrote in a letter from Birla House on November 14, 1947: “My suggestion is that, in so far as the Congress was intended solely to achieve swaraj and that purpose has been gained — personally, I do not think that what we have gained is swaraj but at least it is so in name this organisation should be wound up and we should put to use all the energies of the country. In this way, we shall be able to do a great deal.” (Dilhiman Gandhiji-I, p 278).  

Paranjape cites in his book from the report of Justice Jeevan Lal Kapoor Inquiry Commission (set up to probe conspiracy angle in Gandhi’s assassination) and Manohar Malgonkar’s book The Man Who Killed Gandhi to conclude that the Union government led by Nehru, home minister Vallabhbhai Patel and the Congress government in Maharashtra was also "responsible for being unable to prevent the Mahatma’s murder". 

Referring to the investigation into a bomb blast at Birla House on January 20, 1948 (an attempt on Gandhi’s life; there were at least half a dozen attempts on his life between 1934 and January 30, 1948), Paranjape claims that Madanlal Pahwa, a refugee from Pakistan, not only led the investigators to Marina Hotel in Connaught Circus where Godse had stayed, but also warned them that he would be back, with the ominous prediction: "Phir ayega."

Paranjape terms the story between Pahwa’s capture and the actual murder of the Mahatma committed by the very same group a few days later "an incompetent and messed-up police investigation". 

Malgonkar and Paranjape believe that a section of the public - particularly the Hindu migrants from Pakistan who bore the brunt of Muslim fury - was very angry with Mahatma Gandhi. So were many Congressmen and government functionaries over Gandhi’s alleged [Chunibhai Vaidya believes Gandhi never voiced the demand during his fast for Hindu-Muslim unity in Delhi from January 12, 1948 onwards and it was an outcome of rumour mongering against the Mahatma (Vaidya, 1948)] demand for repatriation of Rs 55 crore to Pakistan as the latter’s share of the exchequer.

They would have preferred to use the demand as a handle to check Pakistani aggression in Jammu & Kashmir. The Congress Working Committee (CWC) had already bypassed Gandhi in agreeing to the Partition of India. Though the Mahatma participated in talks between the Congress leadership, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Lord Mountbatten on the issue, he was clear from the very beginning that he had no say.

He told the press: “I am not approaching the forthcoming interview in any representative capacity. I have purposely divested myself of any such. If there are to be any formal negotiations, they will be between the President of the Congress and President of the Muslim League. I go as a lifelong worker in the cause of Hindu-Muslim unity.” (CWMG, Vol.67, p.37)[iv].

So pained was Gandhi with the Partition that when India began its "tryst with destiny" at midnight hour on August 15, 1947 with Jawaharlal Nehru, his absence was conspicuous. Paranjape writes, “Gandhi, old and feeble though he may have been, was surely a thorn in the side of the Congress establishment." Earlier on September 5, 1934, Gandhi wrote to Vallabhbhai Patel, the then president of the Congress, that he was retiring from the party.


[i] The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol.98 (Covers the period from May 25, 1947 to July 31, 1947), p.72

[ii] Harijan, February 15, 1948

[iii] Harijan, October 22, 1938, p.299

[iv] Covers the period from 01-Apr-1938 to 14-Oct-1938


Narendra Kaushik Narendra Kaushik @akhinikhi

The writer is a journalist based in Delhi and contributor for Bangkok Post.

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