This book is not only a short history of the Indian National Congress but to a considerable extent the history of the Indian people over the last 125 years. The Congress, since its inception in 1885, was not just a political party but a platform on which all shades of nationalist opinion were reflected. During the freedom struggle the Moderates, Extremists, Socialists, Communists, Liberals and Capitalists were all attracted to the Congress which led the anti-imperialist national movement in India. This was so because in the struggle against British colonialism the Congress represented the interests of the Indian people as a whole and not that of any particular class, caste, linguistic group or religious community. While the colonial rulers tried to divide the country into myriad fragments, the Congress spearheaded what one of the early nationalists, Surendranath Banerjea, termed the process of the Indian ‘nation in the making’.
Even after Independence, although the common fight of the entire Indian people against colonial rule had ended, the Congress still retained this inclusive all India national character. People from diverse economic and social backgrounds, belonging to different castes, regions and linguistic groups rallied behind the Congress not only at points of crisis such as an external threat or a war but over a sustained period of time. This was critical especially in the early years after independence in keeping the country together and fighting fissiparous tendencies which had been created and nurtured by the colonial rulers.
This was particularly so because the casteist and communal parties which were promoted by colonial administrators and had emerged as the chief prop of British rule in later years did not die out after the colonialism was overthrown but continued to pose a threat to the unity and integrity of the country.
The all-inclusive, open-ended character of the Congress was also critical in successfully taking on the challenge of building democracy and creating and nurturing democratic institutions in a poor, backward and extremely diverse country. As Jawaharlal Nehru often pointed out, this was an unique experiment in history. And the Congress rose gloriously to this challenge. A democracy could be built only by an inclusive and open party and not by a party which represented narrow interests and suppressed any other political forces which contended for power. The Congress in fact provided space within itself for representatives of diverse interests to function.
This open-endedness of the Congress party also meant that it was a dynamic party, always open to change. In fact, the Congress continuously evolved over time, reflecting the changes in the internal situation, as the deepening of democracy gave voice to more and more sections of Indian society. It also remained fleet-footed in responding to the rapidly changing global economic and political situation and evolved suitable strategies and tactics to deal with it. For example, while the Congress created and led the economic strategy of the 1950s and 60s, referred to as the Nehruvian consensus.
It was again the leader in creating a consensus for Economic Reforms in the 1980s and 90s. It must be remembered, however, that while being always open to change, the Congress never abandoned the four basic values bequeathed to it by the freedom struggle, i.e., maintaining India’s political and economic sovereignty, democracy, secularism and a pro-poor orientation.
In the history of the evolution of the modern Indian nation, apart from the Congress, no other party has so far been successful in representing and indeed celebrating the rich diversity of this country while simultaneously weaving together this diversity into the unity of the Indian nation. Most other parties have tried to grow by trying to mobilise a particular caste, class or religious community, often leading to intolerable violence against other sections. This poses a serious threat to the unity and integrity of the country and its survival as an inclusive, multicultural democracy. The Congress is the only party capable of continuing to take on the task of keeping the country together and democratically taking its people forward, particularly the poor and the disadvantaged.
This book gives us a glimpse of how the Congress, over the past 125 years, traversed the path of Indian nation-building through extremely difficult challenges, both external and internal. This glorious history should serve as a guide and an anchor in helping the country negotiate future challenges