How the Post-Independence Congress Stifled Freedom of Expression Within its Own Party

How the Post-Independence Congress Stifled Freedom of Expression Within its Own Party

In this episode, DVG gives us a firsthand account of the tyrannical growth of the Congress High Command culture almost immediately after independence.

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How the Post-Independence Congress Stifled Freedom of Expression Within its Own Party

— III — 

THERE ARE SMALL MISCELLANEOUS NON-CONGRESS GROUPS in the legislatures. But they are not taken with any degree of seriousness by the Ministries which have behind them overwhelming party majorities. There is thus no effective criticism of governmental measures. As though to make a show of criticism and scrutiny, the fellow- partymen of the Ministers themselves sometimes exercise their voices; but they must be wary. 

No less a Congressman than an ex-President of the Congress had to bow before a jobation at the party meeting for the things he had said the previous week (5 March, 1949) in the Central Assembly in the debate on the budget. Acharya Kripalani had only said what thousands have felt and said in the freedom of friendly conversation. The Congress Party executive is said to have framed stringent rules as to what Congress-members of the legislature may be permitted to say and how they should say it and what would be penal for them to say. Of course party discipline is important. But party is also the means to power and opportunity, and must be protected at all costs.  

But the non-party public cannot help noting that in the process of party-aggrandisement, the country is deprived of even that little advantage which it might look for from even such haphazard criticisms of Government. 

The voice of criticism is thus choked off in the houses of legislature.

— IV — 

The other kind of resistance too, is non-existent for a similar reason. The Congress High Command rules the Cabinets in the Provinces and the States; and that High Command is itself under the leadership of some of the Ministers at the Centre. Party dharma can thus be enforced on all from Delhi. And it is. 

To say that there must be harmony between the Centre and the Units (States) is of course reasonable. But harmony may result as well from a frank discussion and fair adjustment of differences. It can also result from the subservience or the suppression of one of the parties. The latter is a spurious and harmful kind of harmony. It is really submission and acquiescence miscalled harmony.

Barring two or three exceptions, is there a Minister in any Province or State who can stand up to the great men of Delhi to-day? Not that the men of Delhi are not deserving of deference. The point is not what giants we have at the Centre, but what dwarfs we have at so many other key-points

The all-inclusiveness of the Congress has made unavailable to the country the benefit of that correctness and efficiency in the administration which should have resulted from the unbiassed and free operation of checks and balances between the Centre and the Provinces.

— V — 

The position of the Ministries in the Provinces is anomalous in the extreme. To whose control should they submit themselves? To their legislature's or to the Congress High Command's? 

The issue has risen in an acute form in Eastern Punjab and in Madras. The Congress majority in the legislature in each Province has split into two or more groups, and each of these groups or sub-groups wants places in the Cabinet What should the Premier (Chief Minister) do?

Normally, it is for the Premier to choose his Cabinet colleagues and so long as he confines his choice to his political party, he should be free to invite any one whom he thinks he can best get on with. Success or failure is primarily the Premier's responsibility; and others enter the Ministry on that understanding.  A necessary correlative of this responsibility is the freedom of choice allowed to him. But if groups or sub-groups opposed to him press for accommodation and the Congress High Command suggests a composite Cabinet as the way out of the difficulty, he must either defy the High Command and lose his place in the party and therefore his Premiership. Or he must obey the High Command and disclaim his responsibility to the country. 

Constitutional expedients are put out of court at present by the existence of the party High Command which interposes itself between the Premier and the legislature, between the Premier and the Governor and between the Premier and the country. 

The present pressure-group appeasement policy of the Congress High Command is conducive neither to the growth of sound parliamentarism nor to the establishment of harmonious and efficient ministries. 

Great undoubtedly is the Congress; but the country is greater. Congress was great because till now, it recognised the country as greater. The further greatness of the Congress will be in its subordinating its interests as a political party to the far larger interests of the new and urgent cause of forming sound conventions and traditions of parliamentary democracy.

— VI — 

THE WORST OF THE OVERGROWTH OF THE CONGRESS is the cessation of all open-minded study and discussion of public questions in the country. There have been no public meetings in the country other than those organized by the Congress. Like the jealous mistress, the Congress will let no other organism thrive anywhere in its neighbourhood.

The public voices now heard are the megaphonic reproductions of just two or three leaders on any subject. Is such intellectual sterilisation good for the country? A patriotic party will take care not to seek strength for itself at the cost of that health of the country.

To be continued 

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