Opinion: Congress symbol of the idea of India

Venkat Parsa

As the Congress celebrates the 137th Foundation Day function on December 28, 2021, what is indeed significant is its capacity to strike a chord with the teeming masses of India.

The Congress derives its sustenance from the popular endorsement of its Idea of India. The Congress has crafted the Idea of India, which is in consonance with the Spirit of India. That is why it enjoys the widest possible popular acceptance. That way, the party has to shoulder the onerous responsibility of quickly extinguishing the fires engulfing society and saving India.

In the long list of illustrious Congress Presidents comes Sonia Gandhi, who has earned the distinction of being the longest-serving Congress President. Sonia Gandhi is the third Congress President among women of foreign origins, after Annie Besant and Nellie Sengupta. She is the fifth woman Congress President after Annie Besant, Nellie Sengupta, Sarojini Naidu and Indira Gandhi.

MS Education Academy

The birth of the Congress on December 28, 1885, was a significant landmark. In fact, the Congress triggered the first Nationalist Movement in the British Empire; going on to spur the movement for decolonization in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Soul of India, long suppressed under the Colonial yoke, found her utterance. India finally got her political voice through the Congress, which became a visible symbol of political unity.

Starting as a people’s movement, Congress was instrumental in winning freedom for the country. After the Indian Independence, the Congress built a modern, vibrant republic, rooted in its core cultural and civilizational ethos.

As winds of hate are blowing across India, the Congress emerges as the focal point of the social, cultural and civilizational ethos of the nation. Since the times of Gautam Buddha, through Ashoka, Mughal Emperor Akbar and, in our own times, of Mahatma Gandhi, it is the way of love, which can rescue the world from the storm of hate that threatens to tear apart the social fabric.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi once said, “We will have to unite to save the pride and honour of the tricolour, under which we achieved our nation’s freedom. We have to win over the hearts of people. We should take a pledge on the Congress’s Foundation Day to fight to protect the country’s democracy, Constitution and the countrymen for whom we will fight till our last breath.”

Gandhiji Arrives

The Congress under Gandhiji became a Pan Indian party, spreading to the nooks and corners of the country. It was so identified with the people that it became a natural political platform for the teeming masses.

With the arrival of Mahatma Gandhi on the political scene in a big way in 1919, when he became the architect of Hindu-Muslim Unity through the Congress support for the Khilafat Movement, the Congress was converted into a mass organization.

Gandhiji, on his return from South Africa on January 9, 1915, demonstrated his mettle with the Champaran agrarian movement in 1917; but he had really made it big on the national political scene only with the Congress extending the support to the Khilafat Movement in 1919. That single move transformed the Congress, from a party of prayers and petitions, into a mass-based organization. Countdown started then onwards for the end of the British Empire.

That was the moment that struck terror in the hearts of the British rulers, who tried to queer the political pitch for the Congress, by pitchforking Muslim and Hindu communalists. The Muslim League was launched in 1906, the Hindu Mahasabha in 1915 and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1925.

But, the Congress dominance across the political landscape was unmatched. The political discourse was also greatly influenced by the Congress Idea of India.

Shaping Modern India

Another significant aspect is that the Congress, ever since its inception, has not only been at the forefront of the Freedom Struggle but also in the vanguard of national social and economic development.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, its preeminent leader, went on to become the First Prime Minister and the architect of modern India. Nehru laid the foundation for the transformation of an ancient civilization into a modern nation.

In political institutions, in Economy, in Science & Technology, in Space Research, Nuclear Energy for Peaceful Uses, in Education, Healthcare, Arts, Literature and Culture, besides in Agriculture and Irrigation, Heavy Industry and Infrastructure development, the Congress managed to put India ahead.

The successive Congress Governments worked to create jobs, uplift the poor, empower women and create educational opportunities for the youth.

The Congress continues to be the principal Opposition party that holds a powerful, majority government to account. Congress commands 20 per cent vote share, with a sizable presence across the country.

The continued relevance of the Congress stems from the fact that the liberal, tolerant ethos embodied by Indira Gandhi are being rejected and repudiated.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi stepped into the political arena when the Idea of India, espoused by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, came under challenge. Leading the Congress at a crucial juncture from 1998, Sonia Gandhi brought the party back to power in 2004. Once again, Sonia Gandhi faces a similar challenge to safeguard the Idea of India.

Sonia Gandhi, at a recent party meeting, warned that harmony is yielding place to discord, tolerance to provocation and relative calm to growing confrontation, tension and fear. Besides, economic potential is making way for stagnation, rich diversity is making way for brazen campaigns to straitjacket the whole country into a regressive and narrow-minded world-view.

As surmised by Sonia Gandhi, the Congress faces yet another serious challenge to its Idea of India. The Congress looks to Sonia Gandhi yet again to turn the tide of challenge into an opportunity.

Venkat Parsa is a senior journalist and writer based in New Delhi.

Views expressed are personal

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