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Democracy means the government of the people, for the people, and by the people and one of its primary aims is the respect of individuals and idolising of none. For the effective function of democracy, the existence of political parties is inevitable since such parties are the representatives of the political aspirations of the people and as such all political parties should also fall in line with the basic principle of democracy of which inner-party democracy is an integral part. The involvement of people in the government of the nation and that of the political party are complimentary to each other and this makes the basic distinction between democracy and authoritarian rule or dictatorship.

A close and minute perusal of Indian history reveals certain aberrations in the way the democracy is functioning in India particularly inner-party democracy before independence and since its inception as a Parliamentary Democracy with multiple parties flourishing in Indian democracy. The supreme issues involved in a democracy are the encroachment upon the rights of many by the powerful few and the legitimization of the lust for power which corrupts absolutely. Experience constantly shows that everyone who has power is impelled to abuse it and greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse which gradually erodes from the mind every human and gentle virtue.

However coming to the point of inner-party democracy among the Indian political parties, most of them are regional parties dynastically controlled or parties controlled by powerful regional leaders with tacit support of coterie of sycophants, confining mostly to specific states. All political parties, national and regional, profess that they are very democratic and they believe in participatory democracy. What they mean by participatory inner-party democracy? The one convenient rule they use is “election by consensus”.

What is the meaning of consensus? The dictionary meaning of consensus is “a generally accepted opinion or decision among a group of people” and “general agreement: UNANIMITY” That explains why the parties clamour for consensus. To understand the real motive and impact of such election (is it not selection?) by consensus, the following quotes of seasoned politicians will solve the mystery behind the call for consensus.

“A consensus means that everyone agrees to say collectively what no one believes individually.” (Abba Eban, Israeli politician)

“To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies. So it is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects.” (Margaret Thatcher)

An observation made by Michael Crichton, the American Author is also worth quoting. “Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled”.

When the call was made for election of a new non-Gandhi family president of the oldest heritage party of Indian National Congress, it was decided, under pressure, to announce the norms for the election of a non-dynastic new president of the congress. There was a great euphoria raised that the only political party to conduct a democratic election to elect their new non-Gandhi parivar president and the public was eagerly awaiting the announcement as to the norms for filing nomination. It was officially announced by the “HIGH COMMAND” that Mr Ashok Gahlot, the Chief Minister of Rajasthan would contest the election for the top post of the party. Congratulations poured in facilitating him. But what happened afterwards are in the public domain. Somehow a split in the congress was avoided perhaps for the time being with the simmering discontentment still persisting.

In the meanwhile Shashi Tharoor, the sitting M. P from Kerala filed his nomination at the very start of proceedings. When Ashok Gahlot withdrew his candidature for the President ship of the Congress, as per the high command’s suggestion Mallikarjun Kharge, the octogenarian parliamentarian and the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha filed his nomination being the “official candidate” of the congress. Most of the legislatures of the congress party particularly the older generation support the candidature of Kharge and it is presumed that he would win because of the approval of the “High Command” for Mr Kharge. After filing the nomination of Kharge for the top post of Congress President, there were constant and consistent and strong pressure on Shashi Tharoor to withdraw his nomination and to arrive at the consensus candidature of Kharge. But Shashi Tharoor steadfastly stood for a friendly fight to uphold the prime principle of democracy being democratic election.

The approval of Kharge as the official candidate by the “HIGH COMMAND” opened up a Pandora Box of how a fair and free “ELECTION” can be ensured when the main contender is approved by the “HIGH COMMAND”? Now efforts are made to put out the fire but the smoke is still not stopped. Actions are already going on to convince the people that the “High Command” is neutral and the fight is based on democratic principle of fair and free election without interference from any quarts. That is as far as election is concerned but after that what happens is a question mark.

Bravery and determination are the manifestations of confidence, courage, conviction and strength of character of a person. Leadership quality demands intellectual honesty and also the ability to see and understand the realities of the present and not the illusion that the leadership wish to see. The courage of conviction is yet another quality of leadership which precede great actions. It is in this connection that one should appreciate the courage of conviction and the exemplary qualities of leadership exhibited by Shashi Tharoor till now against all odds and knowing fully the consequences of defying the leadership of the “HIGH COMMAND” and still he has taken the greatest risk of his political career and has stood his ground. That is a laudable.

Can Congress history be repeated? Shashi Tharoor knows Congress History in its entirety. However, it will be useful to him if he refreshes the past history of the Congress Party to recollect how some of the stalwarts of the onetime great party treated them. As a loyal congressman owing allegiance to the Congress “HIGH COMMAND” leadership, he may find self-convincing reasons to justify the actions of then “HIGH COMMAND” leadership of the Indian National Congress Party especially when it pertains to Gandhi and Nehru. The following are some of the epoch and impact making happenings in the Congress history over the bygone years.

1. THE ELECTION (or was it selection or nomination) of the FIRST PRIME MINISTER OF INDIA. The details are in the public domain and it is for the public to judge.

2. Bal Gangadhar Tilak (23.07.1856 to 01.08.1920)

The then fire brand front leader of the Congress Party who gave the clarion call “SWARAJ IS MY BIRTH RIGHT AND I SHALL HAVE IT” much before M.K. Gandhi and who was against soft pedal attitude of the Congress Party towards British Regime clashed with the moderates during the party’s session at Surat in 1907, and was unceremoniously thrown out of the party. “Taking advantage of the division in the nationalist forces, the government (British) again prosecuted Tilak on a charge of sedition and inciting terrorism and deported him to Mandalay, Burma (Myanmar), to serve a six-year prison sentence”.

3. Lala Lajpat Rai, (28.01.1865-17.11.1928)

Indian writer and politician, outspoken in his advocacy of a militant anti-British nationalism in the Indian National Congress (Congress Party) and as a leader of the Hindu supremacy movement he helped to establish the nationalistic Dayananda Anglo-Vedic School. After joining the Congress Party, he took part in political agitation in the Punjab. Lajpat Rai was deported to Mandalay, Burma (now Myanmar), without trial on charges of subversion in May 1907. In November, however, he was allowed to return to India on finding no evidence for his deportation. Lajpat Rai’s supporters attempted to secure his election to the presidency of the party session at Surat in December 1907, but elements favouring cooperation with the British refused to accept him, and the party split over the issues and he was expelled from the party.

4. Bipin Chandra Pal (07.11.1858-20.05.1932)

“Pal is known as the Father of Revolutionary Thoughts in India of India. Pal became a major leader of the Indian National Congress. Along with Lala Lajpat Rai and Bal Gangadhar Tilak, he belonged to the Lal-Bal-Pal trio that was associated with revolutionary activity. Sri Aurobindo Ghosh and Pal were recognised as the chief exponents of a new national movement revolving around the ideals of Purna Swaraj, Swadeshi, boycott and national education. He had no faith in mild protests in the form of non-cooperation with the British colonial government. On that one issue, the assertive nationalist leader had nothing in common with M. K. Gandhi”. He also could not survive under the then political leadership.

5. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. {23.01.1897-18.08.1945 (?)}

“Bose had been elected as the president in Haripura session of Congress in 1938. Bose had been advocating opposition to British government’s federal scheme as per Government of India Act 1935. He had been proposing a mass movement for ‘Purna Swaraj’, unlike other elements within the party which were in favour of accepting the new concessions from the British. However, the old guard, including Mahatma Gandhi, refused to heed to his words. Therefore he contested for re-election to the presidency of the next annual Congress session that was to be held in Tripuri. Subhash Chandra Bose won against Gandhi’s candidate Pattabhi Sitarammayya (1,575 to 1,376 votes). In response, the entire CWC (Congress working committee) resigned. Thereafter, he was shunted out of the Congress party because he had the charisma and ability to win an election against the wishes of Mahatma Gandhi”.

6. Purushottam Das Tandon (01.08.1882-01.07.1962)

“In 1950, the Congress was to elect its new party president. Nehru was very keen to block the bid of Purushottam Das Tandon, a veteran freedom fighter. Tandon was known for his clear stand on issues related to Hindus not succumbing to the pressure created by Nehru on his fellow leaders to follow his policy of Muslim appeasement”. “Nehru took the inner struggle of the party to the streets as he went public on this issue. He threatened to resign from the government if Tandon got elected as Congress president. He categorically said that he would not be a part of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) under Tandon’s leadership. To counter Tandon, Nehru asked JB Kripalani to contest the polls. But Tandon was also not faint-hearted. He was backed by several party stalwarts such as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Govind Ballabh Pant.”

“Nehru refused to accept this defeat and came up regularly with new ways and means to target Tandon and all those who backed him. Tandon defeated Kripalani quite convincingly and became the party president despite Nehru’s all-out effort to block him. Nehru refused to accept this defeat and came up regularly with new ways and means to target Tandon and all those who backed him. His vendetta was quite visible. In August 1951, Nehru triggered a major crisis by resigning from the CWC. This was followed by a meeting of the Congress Parliamentary Party that led to the Nehru camp compelling all the CWC members to resign. This made Tandon’s position untenable. The first general elections were a few months away. Tandon, as a true Congressman, was concerned about the impact of all these developments on Congress’ electoral fortunes in forthcoming polls. Thus, to salvage the party’s image, Tandon resigned in September 1951. This is what Nehru had always wanted. Now, Nehru took over as Congress president. And since then the party has been run as a family fiefdom”.

Politics is nothing but acquiring political power. Power is never given voluntarily. It is always usurped either seemingly democratic way or by rank force. The gap between democracy by consensus and dictatorship is very thin and only circumstance has to squeeze in either to make a democratic dictatorship or a totalitarian dictatorship. In this connection what Leon Trotsky who was the arch rival of the then USSR Dictator Joseph Stalin and who was mercilessly killed by Stalin, is worth recalling. “In inner-party politics, these methods lead, as we shall yet see, to this: the party organization substitutes itself for the party, the central committee substitutes itself for the organization, and, finally, a dictator substitutes himself for the central committee”.


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