17th December 2018
The story of Swatantra Party from Masani’s perspective (in the words of SV Raju)
I’ve OCRd the two relevant chapters from this book which I’m posting here and will revert and study in detail when I find time.
Word doc here which I’ll fix when I find time. The raw text below.
THE EMERGENCE OF THE SWATANTRA PARTY
Masani skipped the 1952 General Elections. Though disenchanted with the economic and foreign policies of the Congress Party, he did not formally resign but ceased to be its member by not renewing his membership.
Ram Manohar Lohia had correctly predicted in his letter to Masani way back in 1939 when Masani resigned from the CSP that “no job can be suitable for you unless it gives you free scope for political activity”. But what Lohia did not expect when he wrote that letter was that the company he worked for would not object to his engaging himself in political activity provided it did not affect his work and did not involve opposition politics. He had already served in Tatas for 16 years with brief breaks. The first when he quit to participate in the Quit India movement of 1942 and courted imprisonment; and the second when he was appointed India’s ambassador in Brazil In both cases—when he was released from jail and when he resigned his ambassadorship—thanks to J.R.D. Tata’s generosity and Masani’s own managerial competence, he returned to his job in Tatas. He remained a Tata executive right throughout his tenure as a member of the Provisional Parl i a rn en t /Constituent Assembly.
By 1956, already disturbed by the sharp turn to the ‘Left’ that the country was taking as a result of the Second Five Year Plan with its emphasis on the State occupying the ‘commanding heights of the economy’ and the increasing influence of the communists in the governance of the country, Masani’s political instincts convinced him that “the time had come for a new political initiative by which the monopoly enjoyed by the various socialist and communist parties could be broken”. What he had in mind was a liberal party with policies and programmes distinct iron the other political parties, which were merely “various versions of the collectivist paradise, which had been presented to the Indian people since Independence”. Always a man who rarely allowed too much time to lapse between thought and `action, he realised that with General Elections due in 1957 round the corner there wasn’t enough time to organise such a new party. He consulted a number of friends including Col. Leslie Sawhny, a colleague in Tatas. Col. Sawhny, who had taken premature retirement from the Army soon after independence, agreed with Masani’s analysis of the situation. The two also agreed that with the second General Elections round the corner it was too late to found a political party but that if they could persuade some senior citizens, not necessarily politicians, to contest the elections as independents and if they succeeded it would serve a dual purpose. There would be in parliament some members who would speak up against the statist policies then being followed and champion the cause of a free economy. In addition to Masani himself they were able to persuade some of their friends to contest as independent candidates in the 1957 elections to the Lok Sabha. They were: Homi Mody, a member of the Constituent Assembly, a banker and an adviser to the House of Tatas; S. Goyal, a businessman; R.V. Murthy, a journalist and editor of Commerce; H.R. Pardivala, a lawyer; and Eric D’Costa, a journalist and editor of the Eastern Economist. Masani was the only one to win.
J.R.D. Tata welcomed Masani’s attempt to return to parliamentary politics as being in the public interest. But he cautioned him that should he get elected as an independent, which meant sitting in the opposition to the Congress government, he would have to resign his position as an executive in the Tata organisation. Masani realised that J.R.D. Tata was doing so “in the interests of the shareholders of the Tata group of companies”. Masani did not wait for the result of the election but submitted his resignation before leaving for Ranchi in Bihar to file his nomination as an independent candidate.
As a Member of Parliament, Masani was entitled to a salary, allowances and perks which in those days was much less generous than what they are today. So while the ‘earning a living’ problem was not so acute as in his socialist years, he prepared himself to get into business should he get elected. Sixteen years in Tatas had exposed him to a variety of disciplines ranging from industrial relations to public relations, including personnel and corporate management. He decided to take up the profession of management consultancy and set up his own firm which he named ‘Personnel & Productivity Services’. PPS specialised in personnel management and industrial relations, productivity, organisation and methods, management training and development, and public relations. With a staff of eight, including two or three senior consultants who were experienced persons from industry, Masani managed to get a reasonable income that enabled him to indulge in what he enjoyed most—politics. Profession and politics proved to be a good mix, though he never allowed the one to interfere with the other.
Now that he was back in parliament he joined a grouping of independent MPs which went under the name of the Independent Parliamentary Group. The Steering Committee of this group consisted of Jaipal Singh, leader of the Jharkhand Party who had sponsored Masani’s candidature as an independent and lent him his party’s symbol; Frank Anthony, the nominated member representing the Anglo-Indian community; analMal Maharaja Karni Singh of Bikaner. Masani was elected a member of
this committee. Almost simultaneously he sel in mot ion efforts to form a liberal democratic party. As already mentioned this was among the primary reasons lor his wanting to get back to parliament. Among the very I irst persons he turned to were his former colleagues in the erstwhile Congress Socialist Party.
Here a digression is called for. The socialists in the Congress were opposed to the partition of India. JP was unable to persuade Gandhiji to speak against it when it came up for decision at the AICC meeting in June 1947. Gandhiji told JP that while he opposed partition he would not speak against it and appealed to JP not to divide the Congress Party. The CSP moved a resolution opposing partition. It was defeated by 157 votes to 29. The AICC adopted the resolution to the partition of India.
Members belonging to the CSP did not participate in the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly. They accused the Congress of “selling out to British imperialism by participating in a bogus Constituent Assembly”. The CSP held an All India Socialist Conference in Kanpur to which they invited Masani as a fraternal delegate. Masani attended the conference but failed to persuade JP and the socialists not to boycott the Constituent Assembly. In 1948 the Socialist Party left the ‘Congress’ and became an independent political party.
The Socialist Party contested the first General Elections in a big way and was a major contender for power. They were beaten badly.’ Not long thereafter the Socialist Party split in two—the Praja Socialist Party (PSP) and the Samyukta Socialist Party (SSP). The first acknowledged the leadership of Jayaprakash Narayan while Ram Manohar Lohia led the other. Those who followed him came to he known as Lohia socialists.
Now to get back to Masani’s efforts to form a new I i bera 1 party. He got in touch with Ganga Saran Singh or Ganga Babu who was then chairman of the PSP. In a carefully worded letter Masani confided that he was working towards the emergence of “a new party of a liberal colour” and assured him that “there was a great deal of common ground” between liberals like him and the social democratic leaders of the PSP that Ganga Babu represented “insofar as our basic approach to democracy and the threat of totalitarianism were concerned”. Masani even offered that if the PSP would drop the Socialist label Masani “would be prepared to go a long way in accepting social justice and the objectives of socialism in the programme of the new Party”. After consulting his colleagues Ganga Babu turned down the offer. He said that a majority of his colleagues were not in favour because the rank and file of the PSP were so dedicated to socialism that “they would defeat such an effort if it was made” by the leadership of the PSP. Commenting on the failure of his effort to convince his socialist friends from the past, he wrote:
I thought then, as I do now, that this was nothing short of a major tragedy. Indian socialists, it appeared to me, were still living in the past when the main threat to freedom and social justice came from capitalism. The new threat to these values from the direction of the state with its totalitarian character did not seem to bother them very much. They remained wedded to doctrinaire slogans of ‘nationalisation’ and ‘equality’ which Twentieth Century socialists of the West like Hugh Gaitskell and the Socialist Union in Britain and the German Social Democratic Party had left far behind. Who knows what could have happened if liberals and democratic socialists in India had joined hands at that time to form a progressive national democratic party? The whole history of India might have been different and happier. Certainly, the miserable failure to produce an alternative government for the country in 1970 might have been averted. I have always felt that the conservatism of the ‘Left’ is as pernicious as the conservatism of the ‘Right’. The inability of good men to turn their guns from old enemies to new ones has led to many a tragedy, and this was one of them.
This rebuff did not deter Masani from going ahead with his plans. He got in touch with C. Rajagopalachari and Jayaprakash Narayan. Masani was in search of a leader for the proposed party. And it is in this context that one gets an insight into Masani’s awareness of his shortcomings. He had no illusions about his inadequacies as a political leader even as he was clear about his competencies. The following evaluation of himself, very unusual for a politician, speaks for the man:
I never had any illusion about the fact that I personally lacked the political appeal of the kind that a country like India needed for the purpose. I had always conceived my role in Indian politics as an effective Number 2 man, who could run the machine efficiently provided there was a leader who had the necessary charisma. Such was the role I was able to play along with JP in the 1930s and with Rajaji in the 1960s.
And what was, in Masani’s view the kind of leader that India needed?
My definition of an acceptable leader in India was a home-spun ancl earthy personality with deep roots in the Indian tradition which I unfortunately lacked. This of course would also be reflected in one’s way of life, one’s dress and a certain austerity and abstinence from allegedly Western ‘evils’ such as drink and ballroom dancing.
Rajaji pleaded ill health and old age to be able to lead tile i iew party and Jayaprakash Narayan asked to be excused as he no longer believed in the party system but favoured a pa rtyless democracy and was engaged in the Sarvodaya movement.
The progress towards a new party made little or no progress through 1957 and 1958. And then in 1959 came the opportunity that Masani was waiting for. At its meeting in January 1959 the AICC adopted what came to be known as the Nagpur resolution on joint cooperative farming. This resolution was viewed by many, even within the Congress, as an assault on peasant proprietorship. The opposition to the resolution was led by Choudhary Charan Singh who was then Revenue Minister in the Congress-led government of Uttar Pradesh, himself a farmer and a peasant proprietor and a strong opponent of collective farming. Though the AICC adopted the resolution by a big majority, the fact remained that a large number of key Congressmen were extremely unhappy with the direction in which the Congress under Nehru’s leadership was taking the country–which was towards a form of socialism more akin to the Soviet pattern than to the Western European model of democratic socialism.
In the course of the debate on the President’s address in parliament Nehru referred to cooperative farming and agrarian reforms. Since the President’s address lays out the ruling party’s policy, its adoption by parliament is considered as endorsement of such policy. Masani moved two amendments on behalf of the Independent Parliamentary Group. The amendments hoped that the references to cooperative farming and agrarian reforms in the President’s address did not refer to the proposals for joint cooperative farming and for ceilings adopted by the ruling party.
Drawing attention to the brutal manner in which the Soviet Union had collectivised agriculture, Masani said in his speech during the debate:
It seems to me that there are two alternatives with which we are faced. One is that an attempt will seriously be made to implement this programme of destroying peasant proprietorship after three years and to bring in collective farming. I hope such an attempt will not be made. But, if it is made, it can only be by threats, by coercion, and I do not hesitate to say that, if such an attempt is made, it will unfortunately lead to civil war and bloodshed and the death of thousands of people in this country. I think anyone who thinks he can persuade the peasants of India to give up their lands and become serfs again for a super-zamindari in Delhi or the State capital; is living in a fool’s paradise.
Replying to the debate, Prime Minister Nehru clarified that while he was for joint cooperative farming, he did not agree with collective farming. Accepting that the peasants of India were conservative, he asserted that no Act of Parliament was going to be passed and that if the farmers of India decided on joint farming, they should not be prevented from doing so. With a majority of Congress Party members evidently not in support of the move, the Nagpur Resolution was never implemented.
Meanwhile outside parliament, addressing an agricultural convention in Madras, Rajaji said that the ‘threats’ coming from the Prime Minister to make the politicians and the people submit to his plans, with remarks like “if you do not agree with us, you get out of the party”, smack of ‘Hitlerism’. The Farmers Federation of India organised protest demonstrations. Prof. N.G. Ranga, a Congress MP and like Charan Singh a strong votary of peasant proprietorship, resigned from the Congress and crossed over to the opposition benches. He went on to form the Krishikar Lok Party.
The Nagpur resolution and the debate in parliament that followed have been discussed here in some detail because it is this resolution that was the ‘tipping point’ leading to the emergence of the pro-farmer, pro-market economy Swatantra Party. Rajaji who had earlier declined to participate in the formation of a new party giving his old age the reason (he was 80) changed his mind and, in fact, not only announced the formation of the party but christened it the Swatantra Party at a public meeting in Chennai on 7 June 1959. A closed door meeting which included Rajaji, N.G. Ranga and V.P. Menon that preceded the public meeting adopted a set of 21 principles which Rajaji had drafted, and a press statement announcing the names of the office bearers of the new party with Prof. N.G. Ranga as President. Rajaji offered the presidentship of the new party to Jayaprakash Narayan, who happened to be in Madras at that time. JP once again declined the offer on the ground that he had given up party politics.
The Preparatory Convention of the Swatantra Party to inaugurate the party and adopt a statement of principles was held in Bombay on 1 and 2 August 1959. As Chairman of the Organising Committee, Masani spoke first and spelt out the need for a clear-cut alternative to the ruling Indian National Congress and how the Swatantra Party could fulfil that role. This speech, more than the many others he delivered in the next decade, sets out the new party’s character as a middle-of-the road party that tries to marry the social justice thrust of the Socialists of the CSP variety, with liberal emphasis on individual freedom, his right to dignity, and the right to property.
Those of you who read this and are now in your thirties or even forties, will be able to better understand the nature and state of politics and economy that had developed in India a decade after independence and which was established policy till almost 1989, from a perusal of the highlights from this speech.
The coming into existence of t he Swa tan t ra Party marks, in a way, the end of the post-Independence era into which had overflowed the agitational politics of the struggle for Independence…lt marks the beginning of the functioning of normal parliamentary democracy in a country whose freedom has been well a rid truly ton nded on the rock of a democratic Constitution. The emergence of the Swatantra Party is a sign of the growing political maturity of our country.
He then went on to list some of the adverse consequences of the then ruling party’s policies since independence.
- The policy of joint farming, land ceiling and State monopoly in the foodgrains trade which would seriously injure food production and the harmony of rural life.
- Interference by political bosses in the administration of the country and the pressure brought to bear on officials in the issue of licences. This was already leading to destroying public confidence in the system.
- Excessively high taxation that had hurt not only the tax payer but the consumers as well already being hurt by creeping inflation
- The expansion of our (Five Year) Plans and the shrinking of our resources making simultaneous progress.
“Intolerance does not simply occur;” said Masani, “it is being elevated into a principle. In the result, the main features of our economic life today are fear, hesitancy and uncertainty as to what the government will do next. For the first time, a political party has come forward to say openly these things which were already in people’s minds.” “At last” said Masani, “there is a broadbased political party in India which provides a clear alternative to the policies of the ruling party, by putting the individual right in the centre of the picture and rejecting lock, stock and barrel the methodology, as opposed to the ideals, of socialism, which is more accurately described as State capitalism.”
To set at rest any doubts about the Swatantra Party’s leadership and basic philosophy Masani affirmed “Under Rajaji’s inspiring leadership, the Swatantra Party will seek to adhere to the eternal verities. We shall seek to guide the country back from Nehru to Gandhi. We draw inspiration from our own country’s great cultural heritage and her spiritual traditions”.
THE RISE AND FALL OF THE SWATANTRA PARTY
Soon after the establishment of the Swatantra Party on 7 June 1959, Rajaji lOSt no time in setting up the Central Office in Madras. He nominated S.Y. Krishnaswamy, a retired ICS officer, as General Secretary and put him in charge of the office. Why did Rajaji choose S.Y. Krishnaswamy and not Masani as General Secretary? Masani gives a very mundane reason why he remained a member of the ad hoc Central Organising Committee while Professor N.G. Ranga was nominated president at the 7 June meeting. He missed the 7 June meeting because of a delayed Indian Airlines flight from Calcutta where he was on professional work.
In a rather rueful narration in his memoirs Masani recalls how a delayed flight prevented him from participating in a 7 June 1959 closed door meeting in Madras convened by Rajaji. Masani was in Calcutta on 7 June and had booked himself on an early morning flight to Madras in good time for the meeting. But the flight was delayed and he spent the larger part of the day waiting in the VIP room at Dum Dum Airport, in the interesting company of Sir A. Ramaswamy Mudaliar. He finally arrived in Madras at 5 p.m. and rushed to Woodlands Hotel only to find that the proceedings had’already concluded. Rajaji, Ranga, V.P. Menon and a score of others were waiting for him to arrive to sign the press statement which embodied the results of their meet that day.
The communique to be released to the press was in two parts, the first was a set of 21 principles which Rajaji had drafted, Masani found these unexceptionable and had no hesitation in endorsing them. The other contained the names of the office bearers of the proposed organisation. Masani was disappointed because most of them were from the South, their average age was much too high and youth was conspicuous by its absence. He felt they “were getting off on the wrong foot”. He was equally disappointed with the choice of the president of the Swatantra Party but with everyone eagerly waiting for him to sign he “simply did not have the nerve to challenge this and seek to reopen the entire matter”.
The next morning, Masani met Rajaji and while telling him how much he liked not only the name of the party but also the 21 principles, he was not, at the same time, very impressed with the names of office bearers of the organising committee. To remedy the situation Masani suggested that the Madras meeting be treated as the conception of the baby and its birth could take place at a formal function a few months later when people from various parts of India could attend, and the list of office-bearers and the committee revised. Rajaji agreed. Consequently the Swatantra Party was formally inaugurated by Rajaji at a Preparatory Convention held in Bombay on 1 and 2 August to which reference has been made in the previous chapter.
Between June and October of 1959 the new party’s organisational development was rather slow. Rajaji was convinced that if the party he had founded was to become strong organisationally, acquire a national character and make its impact on India’s politics, it had to be driven by a dynamic and nationally known person. Masani filled the bill. He was not only a founding member of the party but also the moving spirit behind its coming into being. He was also national I y known more as the author~ of the best-seller
Our India than as a politician, itself an advantage.
So that October Rajaji wrote to Masani inviting him to be the G?neral Secretary. In his reply Masa Ili raised two problems. The first was organisational. Masani wanted “clearly demarcated lines of authority and functions”. The second was of course the perennial problem of ‘earning a living’, a problem that had been with him from the t ime he entered the freedom struggle and which was among the reasons for quitting politics in 1939.
Rajaji’s response was typical of the candour with which he dealt with issues—big or small. Dealing with the two problems he wrote back:
As for the personal problems that arise from it, we must face them somehow as we did in 1920. The present crisis is as big as what we then had to face. Your powers and responsibilities as General Secretary will cover the entire field of the party administration until our Constitution is passed. It will only be limited by your own discretion as to whether you should take others into consultation—me and Ranga of course you will try to satisfy! How can we convert the potentiality of our party into fact unless you throw yourself into this responsibility with all the courage and tact you command?
As for the office I would prefer Bombay to Delhi (and Calcutta to either if it were possible). I think we should think of Delhi only when we are 10 lakh strong in membership. Wherever the work can be efficiently done from should be our place. It is easy to mistake expense for efficiency. Whether it be Bombay or Delhi, I shall be far from the office, but this does not matter. The balance of consideration must be your convenience and efficient control.
Masani accepted Rajaji’s offer and was elected General Secretary of the Swatantra Party by the General Council at its meeting in Hyderabad on 9 December 1959.
On a personal note, while this was going on between Masani and Rajaji, I was being interviewed by Masani for a position in the Central Office of the Swatantra Party. The moment he decided to accept office as General Secretary, I received a telegram from him from Hyderabad informing me that he was appointing me Office Secretary of the Central Office and asking me to report for work on 16 December 1959. Our office would be in a building exactly opposite the building where he had his management consultancy firm.
Thus, before getting into the nitty gritty of party administration, he first got the basic infrastructure right to do justice to his new assignment, an assignment however not entirely new, if we recall that over twenty years earlier he was Joint Secretary of the Congress Socialist Party, second in command to Jayaprakash Narayan who was then the CSP’s General Secretary. This time he was second in command to C. Rajagopalachari, who, though not holding any office in the Swatantra Party, was the real power behind the throne, though, true to his word, he did not interfere in Masani’s work as General Secretary unless there were compelling reasons. There was also a tacit understanding between the two that Rajaji would take care of the affairs of the Tamil Nadu unit of the party and would ask for Masani’s help when needed.
Rajaji was the architect of the Swatantra Party and Masani was its builder. This does not mean that his contribution to the ideological formulations of the party were negligible. As already mentioned elsewhere, he was that rare combination of intellectual and organisation man. The secret of the close working relationship between the two that stretched for over a decade was a trait they shared—clear thinking, a logical mind bereft of emotions. This was of great value when taking hard decisions. It was, therefore, not surprising that the two worked with very few differences on fundamentals even if on details of execution differences cropped up on rare occasions. And when a fundamental difference did arise between them 12 years later, it led to the break-up of the party they had created. We shall come to this later; but in between was a story of success that neither could have imagined was possible though publicly both Rajaji and Masani stated that they were not fully satisfied with the party’s organisational growth and performance in two general elections.
As General Secretary Masani brought to his new assignment his experience as a party organiser (CSP: 1933¬1939) and as a corporate executive (Tatas: 1941-1957). He had been a member of Indian Legislative Assembly, the Provisional Parliament and the Constituent Assembly for 6 years (1945-51) and, at the time of his election as General Secretary, he was a Member of Parliament having been elected to the Lok Sabha in the General Elections of 1957. He was eminently qualified and Rajaji had chosen correctly.
Those were the days of single party dominance. The Congress had a steamroller majority in parliament and was in power in most of the state assemblies. The real power and authority lay in Delhi. Masani’s organisational strategy was built on emphasising the need for a strong presence of the party in the Lok Sabha. Towards this end, he concentrated on building the party into a strong organisation. “This involved both good housekeeping and efficient field organisation.”
Almost from the time he began his tenure as General Secretary it became clear that a majority of the party’s leadership in the states was not very pleased with this Delhi-centric policy. But Masani was convinced that he was right. For instance, if a state unit, for example Bombay, printed its letterhead as ‘Bombay Regional Swatantra Party ‘ or Bihar as ‘Bihar Rajya Swatantra Party’, he would at once point out to the state chief concerned that the letterhead was
defective and should read ‘Swatantra Party, Bombay’ or ‘Swatantra Party, Bihar’. He would emphasise that there was only one Swatantra Party and that was the Swatantra Party, with its head office in Bombay and the party functioning in the various states were its branches. He was clear in his mind that while India was a federation of states and state governments should enjoy considerable autonomy, the Swatantra Party was a unitary party. Essentially this arose from his distrust of politicians based on experience going back to his socialist days when he found that during his organisation tours, party members would nod their heads indicating agreement with what he was saying but the moment his back was turned, often do exactly the opposite! “Slovenliness, sloppiness and almost always saying ‘yes° without meaning it are traits that are only too common amongst our politicians.” He realised that this was not making him popular or liked. But he did not mind it. , He would often say: “I was elected to be ‘effective’ not ‘popular’.” And he practised what he preached. He did not spare himself or the central office where disciplined functioning was concerned. His first instructions to me were clear. He told me, and the words still ring in my ears: “Remember this is the Central Office of the Swatantra Party. I am in charge and I will not permit this office to be used as a caravanserai by anyone, even if he claims to be an active worker of the party. It will function like any commercial office and observe regular hours. If I find that you are unable to carry out these instructions you will have to go”.
During his tenure as General Secretary, Masani organised as many as five national conventions at Bombay, Patna, Agra, Bangalore and Delhi. Every one of these were models of efficient organisation. The opulence and tamasha that mark conventions of political parties in India were absent. He organised and led the party in the General Elections of 1962, 1967 and 1971. The party’s performance
in the first two was truly remarkable. In the 1962 General Elections the party, which was barely three years old, contested 170 seats to the Lok Sabha and 1038 seats to the various State Assemblies. Of these 25 were returned to the Lok Sabha and 207 to the state assemblies (Bihar 50, Rajasthan 36, Gujarat 26, Andhra 19 and 1.11) 15). Arising from these results the party was recognised by the Election Commission as a national party with its own symbol —the star. Masani himself did not contest the 1962 General Elections so that he could concentrate on organising and directing the party’s election campaign. He returned to parliament a year later in 1963 through a hard fought by-election from the Rajkot parliamentary constituency in Gujarat.
In the 1967 elections the party contested 175 seats to the Lok Sabha and 973 to the various State Assemblies. Of these 44 were returned to the Lok Sabha and 256 to the State Assemblies (Andhra 29, Gujarat 66, Madras 20, M yso re 16, Orissa 49, Rajasthan 48 and UP 12).
With 44 members in the Lok Sabha it emerged as the single largest party in the opposition. In the state assemblies it was able to form a principled coalition government in Orissa, was the official opposition in the Rajasthan and Gujarat legislative assemblies and had significant representation in the Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu legislative assemblies.
This impressive performance in the general elections of 1962 and 1967 was a reflection not only of the wise leadership of Rajaji and Masani’s organising abilities but also of the high morale and popularity of its leaders at the state level. They reflected a strong sense of purpose. Its objectives were clear and had been encapsulated in the 21 principles Rajaji had drafted and adopted at the Preparatory Convention. This was followed a year later in March 1960 when the first National Convention held in Patna adopted Statement of Policy under the title “To Prosperity Through Freedom”, a document that clearly set it apart from other political parties. The Swatantra Party adopted a Constitution that was remarkable for its brevity and clarity. Those who participated in the Patna Convention were a veritable who’s who of well-known figures, some already famous and some others well on the road to fame.
Masani’s first General Secretary’s Report (he had been in office for less than three months) spelt out what ought to be the tasks of the Swatantra Party and how to achieve them. It was obvious that one of his objectives appeared to be no less than making India the largest democracy not only quantitatively but qualitatively as well!
‘What is the task facing the Party and its organisers?’ he asked in his Report and answered, ‘It is primarily that of educating Indian public opinion to the validity and soundness of the Party’s aims, principles and policies. It is that of harnessing and mobilising the potential sympathy and support into a mass movement. It is of providing the Indian people with an alternative government. Finally it is that of providing the country with a new government when the people call it to that high responsibility. To state the task is to show its immensity, its almost frightening proportions… How is this tremendous challenge to be met? What are the elements out of the fusion of which this weapon may be forged?’
Masani listed the requirements. His blueprint for the kind of party organisation he had in mind.
- Leadership: He said, had been provided by Rajaji “in a way that has extorted admiration from even the Party’s staunchest opponents”.
- The Message: What is the message that the Party is seeking to convey? This had been provided in the form of the 21 principles adopted at the Preparatory Convention in Bombay seven months earlier and which was elaborated at the First National Convention when it adopted its Statement of Policy: ‘To Prosperity Through Freedom’.
- Its Delivery: The organisational channels through which this message can reach the country. “In countries with a long record of democratic functioning, it has been recognised that a political party’s success, like that of a business concern, depends on an observance of sound principles of organisation and management. In our political life, the importance of ‘good house-keeping’ is, however, only too often obscured by a passion for ideology or the stress of prejudice. While sacrifice and sincerity are held in high esteem, indiscipline, the failure to perform an obligation undertaken, to -turn up at a meeting in time or at all, or neglect in answering a letter or a Party circular is taken lightly. Not enough attention is paid to the establishment of a sound organisational structure, the division of functions between different limbs and office-bearers and the establishment of clear lines of responsibility.”
Party Cadres: The former Marxist and socialist that Masani was almost three decades earlier, he had not forgotten that political parties need trained cadres. “One of the Swatantra Party’s immediate tasks,” he said, “is that of finding, training and throwing into the field of action a large number of men and women carrying the Party’s message and spreading it to the most distant villages and towns”.
- Training the Cadres: “The placing of the right man in the right position of influence within the organisation… Our eagerness to see the Party grow should not lead us to welcome people in our fold without due discrimination. In the pursuit of importance and number, the weightage that needs to be given to quality should not be overlooked. People are tired of the old faces and the old voices. They look for new thinking. It will be a
good policy for us to attach more value to new and unknown people, preferably the young. It is essential but not quite enough that a party worker should be devoted and sincere, and capable of mixing with people of all classes. It is also necessary that he should have a firm grasp of party policies and be competent enough to popularise them, as against the superficialities of socialist slogans. The need arises for the training of party workers. Study circles and training camps need to be organised throughout the country in order to equip them for their important task.”
- Party Members: “The Swatantra Party is a mass party and its doors are wide open to every man or woman who accepts its principles and policies.” While enrolment of members on a large scale was important, Masani already aware of the post-independence evil of bogus membership that had surfaced in the Congress warned against a similar development in the Swatantra Party. “Whatever may happen, we must guard against following the Congress Party’s practice of enrolling ‘bogus’ members to make easy passage to office in local committees.” For this purpose he said the Party would institute machinery for strict inspection and scrutiny of membership registers and account books of State parties in order to ensure that no malpractices are allowed to creep in.
- Party Literature: The preparation and distribution of literature embodying the “Party’s thought and policies in all the principal languages. These will include the party’s principles and statement of policies plus talking points for speakers that will be available to party organisers and speakers”.
- Choosing Candidates Early: The early nomination of prospective party candidates to parliament and state assemblies and to nurse constituencies. Masani’s rationale for this innovation was: “In India it is the general practice to nominate candidates only a few days or weeks before nomination day. May I suggest that the
Swatantra Party break away from this practice and decide not to nominate its candidates through a Parliamentary Board sitting like a Railway Book office issuing ‘tickets’ to aspirants. I can anticipate certain objections that may be raised but I believe that on balance, the adoption of this democratic practice will yield very valuable results when the time comes.”
Funds: “Money is the last but by no means the least of the elements that go into the development of a political organisation” said Masani in his Report, adding: “In case there are any persons in the Party who at its inception, thought, along with the Congress leaders, that the Party could rely on the rich men of this country, I hope they are by now cured of this delusion”.
Having marked the direction and manner in which he, as General Secretary, intended to pilot the Swatantra Party, Masani ended his report with a clear political statement:
The fact is that the Congress Party is now on its way out. The question is who shall replace it: a democratic party such as the Swatantra Party or a communist dictatorship? Whatever else it may or may not be able to achieve, it will be a service that the Swatantra Party renders to the country that it seeks to divert into democratic channels the natural discontent with the government of the day which otherwise might have led India to ‘go the China Way’ after Chiang Kai-shek. As I said at the Bombay Convention, communism is the Swatantra Party’s Enemy Number One. While any discussion of whether or not our Party should consider cooperation with other democratic Parties during elections is premature, one thing is certain—that in no circumstances should any such cooperation with the Communist Party of India be considered by us. On this point there can be no room for ambiguity or equivocation in our ranks.
While Masani called for considerable organisational discipline he was equally insistent that in matters of personal beliefs members will be free to hold their opinions. The following passage from the Statement of Policy clearly endorsed Masani’s vision of a party that assured considerable internal democracy to its members:
The Swatantra Party is a Party with a difference. It believes that the present trend followed in India and elsewhere by which political parties dominate more and more the thoughts, activities and lives of their members is one that needs to be reversed. The Party holds that democracy is best served if every political party allows freedom of expression to its members on all matters falling outside the fundamental principles of the Party. The Swatantra Party therefore gives its members, whether in Parliament, legislatures or elsewhere, the fullest liberty on all questions not falling within the scope of its Principles and Statement of Policy. In particular, members of the Party will, in contrast to the way in which dissenting members of certain other parties are treated, be given opportunity to express themselves in regard to the formulation of the Party’s policies.*
The roadmap he had drawn up for the Swatantra Party was unambiguous and a departure from the beaten track.
The 1971 General Elections which were called a year before they were due when Indira Gandhi split the Indian National Congress. There were now Congress parties—The Congress (I) or the Indira Congress and the Congress (0) or Congress Organisation led by K. Kamaraj and men like Morarji Desai referred to as ‘the Syndicate’. The Congress (0), the Jan Sangh, the Socialist Parties and the Swatantra Party formed a coalition which came to be known as the ‘Grand Alliance’ and started working on a common
minimum programme. Suddenly the socialist component led by George Fernandes and Ma dhu Limaye said that what was required was a slogan that would unite the parties and countries against the Indira Congress and that slogan was ‘Indira Hatao’. Masani and N. Dandeker, the Swatantra Party’s president and General Secretary respectively, who were the party’s representative in the coalition working out a common programme and allotment of seats, protested and appealed to Rajaji to insist on the necessity of a common programme and not a mere negative slogan.
The National Executive met in Madras on 8 and 9 January 1971. Masani and Dandeker sought to get their resolution not to become part of the alliance but seek only seat adjustments, adopted. This was vehemantly opposed. The attack was spearheaded by Professor Ranga and supported by Rajaji. Masani for the first time was not able to carry through a resolution.
Rajaji ordered Masani to go back to the negotiating table with the coalition partners and work out the allocation of seats and not to insist on a common programme. Masani asked to be excused and Rajaji asked Dandeker to take over the negotiations on behalf of the party. The Swatantra Party which had in the previous two General Elections put up over 170 candidates was allotted a measly 59 constituencies. Of these only 8 were elected. Though Masani had warned of disaster if the alliance was to contest on a negative slogan and not on the basis of an agreed programme, he took responsibility for the party’s poor performance and resigned his presidentship. Also he announced his retirement from party politics.
For the first time Rajaji and Masani differed on a fundamental issue. This led to the party’s break up three years later. Rajaji did not live to see this. But Masani did. In April 1973 (in the absence of Rajaji who had passed away on 25 December 1972) Masani was invited to deliver the inaugural address at the party’s Sixth National Convention in Madras on 14 April 1973. The party was in a demoralised state. And so, in his inaugural address he tried to bring a message of hope and cheer that all was not lost and the party could beckon success once again provided it returned to its moorings as “a party with a difference”. This did not happen because the then party leadership led by Piloo Mody had other ideas.
This became clear when Swatantra Party met in a Convention for the seventh and last time in Delhi in August 1974. Despite his retirement from politics he made an appearance at this convention to play a role that he was most at hoine—leading the opposition to the then leadership’s proposal to dissolve the party. Most of those who had spoken at the Preparatory Convention on 1 and 2 August 1959 including Rajaji were no longer alive. The few that were still there could be found on the dais supporting the move to kill the party. Masani advised that the party wait for a call from Jayaprakash who had launched a struggle against misgovernment and dictatorship instead of dissolving itself.
The then leadership moved a motion empowering Piloo Mody to decide if the Swatantra Party should dissolve and ask its members to join a new party being floated by Charan Singh and Raj Narain, whose own party the Bharatiya Kranti Dal was in the doldrums and had, like the Swatantra Party fared very badly in the 1971 General Elections. Masani’s argument that zero plus zero was equal to zero and de facto merger of a national party like the Swatantra Party with a regional party like the BKD was not advisable fell on deaf ears. The first was that the leadership sitting on the platform, were not prepared to listen as most of them wanted to give up their responsibility of running the party in the various states, and the second reason was that the convention was rigged as a majority of the delegates had been brought in buses from the neighbouring states of Haryana and UP Masani’s motion to keep the party alive was lost by 50 votes. The party that Rajaji and he had founded with so much hope and enthusiasm was no more.