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The revenge of Sukhi Lala: Congress revival hope lives on

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in New Delhi
Published : Aug 28, 2019, 1:21 am IST
Updated : Aug 28, 2019, 1:21 am IST

In a monsoon-fed agricultural economy, both symbols represented the productive and political power of the peasant.

Jawaharlal Nehru
 Jawaharlal Nehru

The flag of Jammu & Kashmir, which was taken down from the Srinagar Secretariat over the weekend, carried the symbol of a plough. The Congress party’s election symbol in 1952 under Jawaharlal Nehru was two bullocks in harness — do baelon ki jodi.

In a monsoon-fed agricultural economy, both symbols represented the productive and political power of the peasant. In a 1958 TV interview with American journalist Arnold Michaelis, Nehru spoke of differences between the Muslim League and the Congress over land reforms, which the latter was committed to in independent India.

When Nehru became president of the All India States Peoples Conference (AISPC) at Udaipur in January 1946, he got Sheikh Abdullah elected vice-president. They were both committed to land reforms, and AISPC, which was a Congress-backed body that worked to nudge princely states to become part of the future India, was equally determined to uproot feudalism after independence.

This was a quandary Jammu & Kashmir ruler Hari Singh faced. He resented Nehru and Abdullah as socialists, but may not have seen a great future for himself in Muslim Pakistan either. Moreover, the disputed Instrument of Accession he signed described him as “Jammu Kashmir Naresh ani Tibet Desh Adhipaty” (Jammu & Kashmir ruler and sovereign of Tibet nation).

It got Sheikh Abdullah into trouble when he met Chinese premier Zhou Enlai in Algiers in 1965, an alleged indiscretion that prompted his arrest upon return. It is a Hindutva canard that Sardar Patel muscled 560 plus princely states into joining India. Pressure mounted on the monarchs when Nehru declared in his 1946 presidential address at the AISPC that those princely states that refuse to merge with India and join the Constituent Assembly would be considered hostile states. This was the background in which Sukhi Lala had to earn his keep in a new India. Who was Sukhi Lala?

Sukhi Lala generically was the moneylender-land grabber in the 1950s movie Mother India. He also appears as the land shark-zamindar in Bimal Roy’s Do Beegha Zameen, and as decadent Hari Babu in Ganga Jamuna. Sukhi Lala played the stock markets in Raj Kapoor’s Shri 420, and sold adulterated medicines in Nutan’s Anari. In Zia Sarhadi’s Footpath, Dilip Kumar underscored the evil of stock markets, derisively called satta bazaar in Nehru’s India. Indian peasants suffered Sukhi Lala’s greed and occasionally revolted violently against the excesses. Dilip Kumar’s Ganga and Sunil Dutt’s Birju would be jailed or killed in India today as Maoists.

Manmohan Singh called Maoists his biggest security threat, but offered no comment about why the peasants were committing suicide in thousands following his pro-Sukhi Lala economic policies in 1991. India’s finance minister recently flaunted the bahi-khata cover, the moneylender’s cash register, perhaps signalling who rules India today.

Gandhiji had many Sukhi Lalas as friends who financed the Congress. He saw in them the future trustees of India. Nehru who was a better student of history took a different view of the business class his political guru was enamoured of. His election symbol of do baelon ki jodi captured an affinity with the peasants, Sukhi Lala’s prey from time immemorial.

Ironically, it was Gandhi who had dispatched Nehru to cut his political teeth among the rural masses of Uttar Pradesh. It was in Rae Bareli from across the Sai river that the future prime minister watched police shooting at unarmed peasants at the behest of the local Sukhi Lala.

Rahul Gandhi’s sharp criticism of Narendra Modi’s wily games in Kashmir deserves an assessment of his politics, which may not be unrelated to his much-discussed Nehru-Gandhi lineage. The lineage in a nutshell is a challenge to Sukhi Lala. Nehru jailed the tallest of the business tycoons. Indira Gandhi nationalised their banks. Rajiv Gandhi directed them to lay off the backs of the Congress workers. Rahul may have a cleaner slate to work with after leading Lala acolytes in the Congress jumped the ship over Kashmir.

Look at it this way. Modi is sworn to make India a Congress-free country for a reason. But the developments of recent days have shown, like it or not, that there is no Congress party without the leadership of the Gandhi family. Now consider a vengeful possibility. A parliamentary act protects the family of the assassinated former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi with the highest grade of security of the Special Protection Group. Given the hatred whipped up against them by India’s new rulers in league with a conniving media, it would not be difficult to immobilise them (from a Srinagar visit, for example) by stripping them of their security in the name of economic prudence.

On the other hand, such a move could spur the newly cleansed party to come into its own. The waters are being tested on both sides. Sukhi Lala is drooling.

By arrangement with Dawn

Tags: jawaharlal nehru, aispc