Monday, February 23, 2015

The Congress Party in urgent need of getting reacquainted with its roots

(Randeep Wadehra's speech at the Taj, Chandigarh, on the occasion of the release function of Law, Lawyers & Lawmakers on 22 February, 2015)
Hon’ble Chief Guest, Mr. Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Mr. Pawan Bansal, Mr. Harbhagwan Singh and friends, it is a pleasure to have your audience on the occasion of the release of Mr. Harbhagwan Singh’s autobiography, the Law, Lawyers & Lawmakers. Today also happens to be Mr. Harbhagwan Singh’s birthday. Greetings to you sir.

While editing this manuscript I was presented with a wealth of information regarding Mr. Harbhagwan Singh’s personal, professional and public lives. I hope I have succeeded in my task of structuring the three strands into a reader-friendly narrative. There are some very interesting facts in this book that should attract a discerning reader’s attention. These facts were either not presented before, or were not given due currency. For example, many of us are not aware of the exact place of birth of Maharaja Ranjit Singh; you will not find this in any standard history book either. We all have read about him, often cite and celebrate him in one context or the other, but seldom pause to ask about his place of birth. Probably for the first time, this book provides this information. Among the more recent facts is the one related to an incident, which underscores the deep-rooted democratic ethos of the Indian National Congress that allowed even a grassroots leader, which Chaudhry Charan Singh was at that time, to give a piece of his mind to the party seniors, including Pt Nehru, without being interrupted even once. In fact, the Chaudhry’s criticism of Nehru’s land reform policies was heard in pin drop silence. Remarkably, this was a normal practice in those times to allow party members, whatever their status in the party pecking order, to have their say on the national as well as party issues.

The Law, Lawyers & Lawmakers provides us with dramatic glimpses of the days of India’s freedom struggle when idealism and patriotic zeal pervaded the subcontinent. Mr. Harbhagwan Singh’s account of his student days, including his arrest and subsequent confrontation with the daroga, vividly recreates that atmosphere. So inspired were the freedom fighters by Gandhiji that they vied with each other to sacrifice their all for the cause of India’s freedom. Indeed, today, we find it difficult to believe that there was a sparsely clad man walking through the length and breadth of India and wielding no clout, other than sheer moral force, with the singular mission of freeing India. Unlike today, Gandhiji did not have to go to Delhi to stage protests. Wherever he decided to launch his Satyagraha, such place became the country’s, nay the world’s, focal point. Even if he went on a fast in some remote corner of the country, alarm bells would start ringing right from the Viceroy’s palace in New Delhi to the Whitehall and the Buckingham Palace in London. Such was Gandhiji’s persona that the mightiest power of its time dared not treat him lightly. It is no wonder that Mahatma Gandhi inspired millions of Indians. One among such patriots was Mr. Harbhagwan Singh’s father, who made several sacrifices for India’s freedom and betterment of fellow Indians. Yet, when India attained freedom, he quit politics, because he felt that his job was done. He did not hanker after rewards and lucrative political posts. He just quietly stepped back. Such idealism is rare by any standards, and an excellent example of giving practical shape to the Gandhian values; only a true follower of Mahatma Gandhi could have done this. This book is an excellent historical record as it gives several accounts of events and incidents during post-independence India, which provide insights into the working of judiciary and other organs of our great democracy, especially in the region comprising the present day Haryana, Punjab, HP and Chandigarh. We get invaluable information regarding several interstate disputes, the days of emergency, the Punjab terrorism, the Sehejdhari conundrum and much else in which Mr. Harbhagwan Singh was either professionally involved or was a witness thereof. Moreover, the discerning reader will be able to note the signs of rot – in the form of parochialism, petty politics and much else that is undesirable – that had begun to affect the party adversely. Mr. Harbhagwan Singh has provided a ringside view of the happenings within the party that had direct impact upon the party’s political fortunes over a period of time. Therefore, this book is of special relevance for the Indian National Congress today. 

The party was the most potent political movement during India’s freedom struggle. It was an epitome of idealism, patriotism and such values as mutual respect and tolerance, uprightness and honesty as well as inclusiveness. Indeed, the evolution of the Indian National Congress presented a mirror image of the evolving India. The Congress party was able to fashion a secular, socialist and democratic polity that became a role model for other newly independent countries the world over, especially the Third World. This ethos helped the country overcome various daunting challenges, even to its very existence as a united democratic India. Indeed, the Congress party was like a banyan tree, which was home to a unique eco-system, which accommodated conflicting viewpoints and ideologies. Where people might disagree with each other and yet unite in the face of threats to India from outside and within – be these wars, insurgencies, or natural catastrophes. It will be a tragedy if this banyan tree is reduced to a bonsai showpiece. The Congress Party owes it to the nation to reinvent itself, reconfigure its policies and reclaim its premier position on India’s political stage. For this, they must reacquaint themselves with the party’s history. Because, if they were aware, they wouldn’t have let the 56-inch chest challenge go uncontested. Contrast today’s chest-thumping politicians with Gandhiji, who converted an elitist club into an all encompassing and powerful people’s movement. A movement that remains unequalled in its size and success. Gandhiji humbled the mightiest colonial power on earth without having to thump his chest, or resort to boast and bombast. Inspired by him, the Congress party’s stalwarts willingly bore bullet and lathi wounds on their chest during the freedom struggle. And how did the pseudo-patriots express their gratitude? The father of our nation was shot in his chest by Nathuram Godse, in whose name temples are being planned now. The party owes it to the nation to push back the lunatic fringe. Obviously, there is an urgent need for revisiting the Indian National Congress’s roots and core values. 

This book can be of great help.

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