ALL INDIA CONGRESS COMMITTEE
24, AKBAR ROAD, NEW DELHI - 110 011
When the Indian National Congress was founded in 1885 and held its first modest session later that year, no one could possibly have foretold its future. No one could have imagined that it would become the breaker of the greatest empire of the age, the changer and maker of India’s history, the champion of India’s freedom, and the guardian of its future.
Few political organisations can match the record of the Indian National Congress. It is the largest political party the democratic world has ever seen. It is also one of the most long-lived. Its record of service to our country, before and after independence, remains unrivalled. Over the decades, it has attracted an array of outstanding talent, combining inspirational vision, idealism, creativity, dedication, and organisational skills. In the roll call of India’s most illustrious men and women of the 20th century, the Congress figures crowd the landscape, towering over most others. There can be few political parties which have been so blessed for so long in their leadership,
or which have attracted such loyalty and sacrifice from so many millions of people. On the 125th anniversary of the party’s founding, there is therefore much to be thankful for, much to remember, and much to celebrate. This volume, with its rich archival pictures, is both a remembrance of things past and a commemoration of the long journey the party has travelled. It reminds us how closely the destinies of India and the Congress have been intertwined.
Beyond India, too, the Congress has had an enduring influence. As the standard bearer of emancipation in the world’s largest and most populous colony, it brought revolutionary new ideas into the political domain and demonstrated their effectiveness on an unprecedented scale. Countries elsewhere in the developing world took lessons from the Congress’s example and sought inspiration from its methods. The Mahatma’s philosophy of satyagraha, with its related techniques of non-violent resistance, civil disobedience, and economic boycott, caught the world’s imagination. These very methods have been adopted and used with success to empower the powerless in various struggles far beyond India’s borders. In this sense, the imprint of the Congress is to be found in many parts of the world.
Its imprint is strongest, of course, in India itself. Much has been written about the miracle of India’s post-independence survival as a stable democratic entity with an effective government.
Many factors contributed to this miracle. Prominent among them was the Congress’s ability to transform itself from the party of rebellion to the party of governance. Outside observers (and perhaps many within as well) thought that universal suffrage in a country as poor, diverse, and illiterate as India would be a daring leap of faith. Leap of faith it undoubtedly was, but the Congress contributed mightily to making it work. In this it was helped by its own inclusive character, with a membership from all classes, religions, regions, and shades of opinion. Its experience as a mass organisation with an effective presence in every part of the country, together with its highly developed skill in managing internal conflict, proved to be critical factors in the early decades of India’s democratic life. It is with pride that the Congress can justifiably claim Indian democracy as its own most enduring monument.
The Congress could hardly have nurtured our democracy without an important internal attribute: its tradition of argument. It has never been a monolith, but a capacious umbrella of different views, perspectives, and interests competing with one another. The Congress’s history is full of the contest of ideas and the clash of personalities, even sometimes resulting in splits. The first was in 1907. There have been others in our own lifetime. I believe these debates and differences have been a necessary part of the party’s process of renewal, preventing stagnation in its thinking and keeping it relevant and responsive to changing circumstances.
From its very early years in the nineteenth century until today, the Congress has rightly been pre-occupied with the economic problems facing our country. If the degrading poverty and exploitation of India’s millions was the dominant theme of the freedom movement, lifting them out of it has been the priority since independence. Our leaders shared a common vision for India: upholding our secular principles, ending poverty through the country’s economic and social modernisation, creating a just and equitable economic order, and making full use of science and technology in pursuit of these goals. We have come some distance, but still have a long way to go. Liberalisation and globalisation have introduced a new dynamic with added pulls, pressures, and opportunities, but the party’s commitment to marrying economic growth with social justice remains a core value from which it will not budge. Poverty and hunger still stalk our land. If the complete removal of poverty will take time, our endeavour is to protect the most vulnerable from its worst effects.
As is only to be expected, the Congress has had its ups and downs over its long history. It has experienced both glory and defeat. The rough and tumble of politics and the compromises inevitable in a democratic society have imposed their own limitations. Nevertheless, I believe that so long as the Congress remains true to its basic principles of secular democracy and economic and social transformation wedded to social equity,
it will continue to be a vital factor in India’s future. It must also remain the upholder and protagonist of pan-Indian consciousness. At this time of turmoil in our neighbourhood and political turbulence in our country, when narrower identities of caste, religion, and region are becoming more prominent, the Congress’s broader and inclusive vision is more relevant and necessary than ever to take the country forward.
I am deeply conscious of the Congress’s magnificent legacy. To be entrusted with its stewardship is a privilege, but also a deeply humbling experience. I draw strength and hope from the fact that the Congress’s vision of politics has always been rooted in ethics. To lose this would be to lose all.
On this, the 125th anniversary of our Party, let us remember and cherish this unique heritage. Let us celebrate it by rededicating ourselves to the service of the people.