What our editors should know is that some reporters do not attend meetings but get their information from someone who did; such reporters should be sharply pulled up. They are not doing their job, for which they are paid.
TWO issues stand out in the matter of the Shashi Tharoor case which need to be addressed. One is of being misquoted by the media. That is a serious enough charge, and needs to be immediately looked into. How can one possibly misquote a speaker if one is an attentive listener? In his presidential summing-up Tharoor was quoting Lord Bhiku Parekh who, apparently, was critical of both Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. The media ignored what Lord Bhiku Parekh said, which is bad enough. Then Shashi Tharoor was charged with criticising the Mahatma and Nehru when he was merely quoting Lord Parekh. That is worse. What our editors should know is that some reporters do not attend meetings but get their information from someone who did; such reporters should be sharply pulled up. They are not doing their job, for which they are paid. That is only one aspect of the problem.
A more serious one is the right of a politician to criticise his predecessors in the party. Mahatma Gandhi does not need anyone to defend him. In his time he was the unquestioned leader not just of the Congress, but of the country at large. In that sense, so was Nehru. Both made certain grievous mistakes. Nehru, for instance, should not have taken the Kashmir issue to the UN Security Council. In retrospect many have questioned Gandhi’s demand that the British should Quit India in 1942.
Happily, the media has risen to the occasion. The DNA (January 12) conceded that the media has erred in its reportage. But then it also pointed out: “The Congress Party is so steeped in its culture of worship, especially of the Nehru legacy, and to a lesser extent of Mahatma Gandhi, that it cannot countenance any criticism of its greats.” The paper pointed out that even when both Gandhi and Nehru were alive they had come in for regular criticism in the public domain, and even from within the party itself. Said DNA: “The (Congress) Party could just as well take a mature stance on what its members say about historical figures. It might help most Indian political parties if they encourage a little internal debate and discussion in the merits of democracy rather than take immediate umbrage. Party discipline need not be taken to Stalinists heights or depths as the case may be.” DNA did not say so, but the Congress is suffering from a major inferiority complex and for its behaviour deserves condemnation.
The Asian Age (January 12) said that the Congress (represented by its spokesmen) seems to go into an overdrive and it is “time someone reined them in”. “The whole affair is disgraceful,” said the paper, adding: “The country’s oldest party can surely do better.” Importantly, it asked: “Since when has there been a ban in the Congress on making a critical appraisal of Nehru or his foreign policy? If so, Jawaharlal would be mortified, were he alive…. His was a life that naturally lends itself to penetrating analysis by scholars, statesmen and admirers… If Gandhi, Marx and Mao can be criticised, why not Nehru unless we choose to subscribe to unending hypocrisy and shaming sycophancy?” The paper pointed out that Tharoor is a Nehru scholar and that “ a great many things Nehru did and thought are no longer a part of the Congress’ make-up today”. It asked: “Will the party’s spokesmen arraign their leadership for this? Or do they prefer to emulate their counterparts in Beijing who say praise-be to Mao Zedong even as they run down in practice everything the great revolutionary leader stood for?”
The Asian Age didn’t say this, but who are Sonia Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh to defend the Congress when they were nowhere near the party from 1929 to 1949? How spineless can the Congress be? The Telegraph (January 12) pointed out that “dissent is going to be stifled within the Congress” and “there seems to be a tendency to make the Congress into a replica of a communist party with a ‘line’ on everything and on all subjects”. “If that were to happen,” said the paper, “the Congress would become a monolithic and a doctrinaire party”. Noting that “the Congress has always had an umbrella character and under that umbrella many have been called” and that the Congress has never been known to have a ‘line’ the paper said that “it cannot be anybody’s argument that Gandhi and Nehru—or for that matter any other major and charismatic Congress leader—are above criticism and historical re-evaluation”.
In conclusion, it said: “Every generation looks at past historical figures in its own terms. This is one of the unchanging principles of democratic discussion. The Congress, ever since its inception, has been part of such discussions and has always upheld debates in the best democratic tradition. The past must be open to interpretation; history cannot be frozen. Unfortunately, some elements within the Congress in a bid to display their loyalty are trying to overturn democratic traditions and turn the Congress into a party to which many are called and one voice is heard. It is necessary to nip those totalitarian tendencies in the bud. Otherwise the Congress will catch a tartar.”
This columnist who in his time has covered practically every AICC meeting from 1946 to 1955 and was present at the party meeting in 1942 when the Quit India resolution was passed, feels ashamed of the current Congress leadership to which they rose either by sheer accident or by planned design and not because of any sacrifice they made in the fight for freedom. Tharoor was defended in full by Arvind Adiga, author of the Booker Prize-winning book The White Tiger in another paper by claiming that Shashi Tharoor has written glowingly about Nehru’s contribution in creating a secular democracy and for giving India a role in international affairs that far exceeded military or economic strength. The truth is that today’s Congress leaders, whoever they are, do not deserve to be Congresswallahs. The Mahatma had realised it much before he was assassinated and had asked for its dissolution, which the party leadership declined to do. Perhaps the time has come now for the party to take some other name. It has no respect for past Congress tradition. Their leaders are all johnnies-come-lately attempting to cash in on the party’s great historic past. For them not democracy but power is all that matters. The Tharoor case has shown that in all nakedness. The best name for the party would be: Indian Sycophants Party—and that will reflect the truth.