38. CONGRESS INITIATION
I must regard my participation
in Congress proceedings at Amritsar as my real entrance into the Congress
politics. My attendance at the previous Congress was nothing more perhaps
than an annual renewal of allegiance to the Congress. I never felt on these
occasions that I had any other work cut out for me except that of a mere
private, nor did I desire more.
My experience of Amritsar had
shown that there were one or two things for which perhaps I had some aptitude
and which could be useful to the Congress. I could already see that the
late Lokamanya, the Deshabandhu, Pandit Motilalji, and other leaders were
pleased with my work in connection with the Punjab inquiry. They used to
invite me to their informal gatherings where, as I found, resolutions for
the Subjects Committee were conceived. At these gatherings only those persons
were invited who enjoyed the special confidence of the leaders and whose
services were needed by them. Interlopers also sometimes found their way
to these meetings.
There were, for the coming year,
two things which interested me, as I had some aptitude for them. One of
these was the memorial of the Jalianwala Bagh Massacre. The Congress had
passed a resolution for it amid great enthusiasm. A fund of about five
lakhs had to be collected for it. I was appointed one of the trustees.
Pandit Malaviyaji enjoyed the reputation of being the prince among beggars
for the public cause. But I knew that I was not far behind him in that
respect. It was whilst I was in South Africa that I discovered my capacity
in this direction. I had not the unrivalled magic of Malaviyaji for commanding
princely donations from the potentates of India. But I knew that there
was no question of approaching the Rajas and Maharajas for donations for
the Jalianwala Bagh memorial. The main responsibility for the collection
thus fell, as I had expected, on my shoulders. The generous citizens of
Bombay subscribed most liberally, and the memorial trust has at present
a handsome credit balance in the bank. But the problem that faces the country
today is what kind of memorial to erect on the ground, to sanctify which,
Hindus, Musalmans, and Sikhs mingled their blood. The three communities,
instead of being bound in a bond of amity and love, are to all appearance,
at war with one another, and the nation is at a loss as to how to utilize
the memorial fund.
My other aptitude which Congress
could utilize was as a draftsman. The Congress leaders had found that I
had a faculty for condensed expression, which I had acquired by long practice.
The then existing constitution of the Congress was Gokhale's legacy. He
had framed a few rules which served as a basis for running the Congress
machinery. The interesting history of the framing of these rules I had
learnt from Gokhale's own lips. But everybody had now come to feel that
these rules were no longer adequate for the ever-increasing business of
the Congress. The question had been coming up year after year. The Congress
at that time had practically no machinery functioning during the interval
between session and session, or for dealing with fresh contingencies that
might arise in the course of the year. The existing rules provided for
three secretaries, but as a matter of fact only one of them was a functioning
secretary, and even he was not a whole-timer. How was he, single-handed,
to run the Congress office, to think of the future, or to discharge during
the current year the obligations contracted by the Congress in the past?
During that year, therefore, everybody felt that this question would assume
all the more importance. The Congress was too unwieldy a body for the discussion
of public affairs. There was no limit set to the number of delegates in
the Congress or to the number of delegates that each province could return.
Some improvement upon the existing chaotic condition was thus felt by everybody
to be an imperative necessity. I undertook the responsibility of framing
a constitution on one condition. I saw that there were two leaders, viz.,
the Lokamanya and the Deshabandhu, who had the greatest hold on the public.
I requested that they, as the representatives of the people, should be
associated with me on the Committee for framing the constitution. But since
it was obvious that they would not have the time personally to participate
in the constitution-making work, I suggested that two persons enjoying
their confidence should be appointed along with me on the Constitution
Committee, and that the number of its personnel should be limited to three.
This suggestion was accepted by the late Lokamanya and the late Deshabandhu,
who suggested the names of Sjts. Kelkar and I. B. Sen respectively as their
proxies. The Constitution Committee could not even once come together,
but we were able to consult with each other by correspondence, and in the
end presented a unanimous report. I regarded this constitution with a certain
measure of pride. I hold that, if we could fully work out this constitution,
the mere fact of working it out would bring us Swaraj. With the assumption
of this responsibility I may be said to have made my real entrance into
the Congress politics.