02-08-201202-08-2012 00:00:00 IST
2012-08-02T00:00:00.000Z02-08-2012 2012-08-02T00:00:00.000Z - - 20-03-2019
My maternal grandfather was the president of our Town Congress Committee continuously for about three decades. He relinquished the responsibility three or four years before his death. Most of the Congressmen (and women) did not want him to go even then. He was affectionately called Satyam, a shortened form for Satyanarayana.
Once Neelam Sanjiva Reddy visited our home town. He was Chief Minister of the State. A huge meeting was organized. Reddy went on to the dais and sat. He did not find my grandfather, who was the town congress president, anywhere around. The Chief Minister made enquiries. He was told that the town congress president personally supervised all the arrangements but stayed away from the programme. He was informed that the congress leader was upset because there was no official communication to the party about Chief Minister’s visit.
Sanjiva Reddy climbed down from the dais.
The programme came to a halt.
The Chief Minister drove to my grandfather’s house, apologized to him for the mistake and brought him to the meeting venue along with him. They then resumed the schedule.
The mighty deferred to the lowly. The Chief Minister went to a small town congress president, apologized for the oversight.
The mighty was magnanimous. The small was upright. They both knew that the source of their strength was their rectitude.
During his long stint as the president of the town party, my grandfather faced a challenge only once. That was in the early fifties. Those days Congress had genuine internal elections. It sounds strange now. But even Congress did such strange things.
Somebody filed his nomination and a contest looked inevitable between him and my grandfather. The district congress committee sent an observer to conduct the election. He was called ‘returning officer’.
At the stage of scrutiny of the nominations, an objection was raised against the candidature of the other person. It was pointed out that the challenger was not a wearer of khadi. That he was not a Khaddar dhari, and therefore, it was contended that he was not eligible to hold the office of town congress president.
The ‘returning officer’ summoned the person whose credentials were questioned. In front of the Electoral College he was examined. The ‘returning officer’ did not find any reason to doubt that he was a khaddar dhari. He wore spotless white khadi kurta and a khadi dhoti with zari border. There was, apparently, no ground to disqualify him or reject his nomination.
Then got up some delegates and asked the ‘returning officer’ to examine the vest of the person.
“His kurta was of khadi, his dhoti was of khadi, alright. But what about his vest?” they asked. Then he was asked to lift his kurta and show his vest. That vest was made of mill cloth and not of khadi.
The person was disqualified.
It was not a trick by the followers of my grandfather to get the challenger disqualified.
Wearing khadi was, indeed, taken seriously by Congress.
Every office bearer and every ‘active’ member, if not the ordinary member, was expected to strictly adhere to the code of conduct printed on the other side of the membership form.
Wearing khadi was one of them.
The other, equally important, was abstinence from consumption of alcohol. It was mandated that each Congressman should propagate the ills of alcohol. And in order to hold positions in the organization, they were to show that they regularly took part in what Mahatma Gandhi called ‘constructive activity’.
The same code of conduct in small print is there even today on the other side of the membership form.
Those days Congressmen did strange things.
Now they don’t do strange things. They do things strangely.