Sunday, May 23, 2004

A political Acharya’s pen pricks
R. L. Singal

My Times: An Autobiography
by Acharya J. B. Kripalani.
Rupa & Co., New Delhi. Pages 986. Rs 995.

MY Times by veteran Gandhian Acharya J. B. Kriplanai is an important political document that has been published 22 years after the author’s death in 1982, the year when he also completed the manuscript of this book, but could not get time to revise and systematically rearrange the contents. Kripalani was the first dedicated political worker who came into Mahatma Gandhi’s contact after the latter’s return from South Africa. Since then for 32 years till 1947, he remained in the thick of the freedom movement and devoted all his time and energies to the service of his motherland.

Kripalani, who after Independence became almost an untouchable and an eyesore to the Congress bosses because of his frank and fearless criticism of their policies, was one of the leading lights of this once-great organisation, remaining its General Secretary for 12 long years (from 1934 to 1946) and later its President at the time of Partition, actively participating along with Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel in negotiations with Lord Mountbatten and the Muslim League leaders for the transfer of power.

The book is thus a history of the Indian National Congress and a record of the Independence Movement. It also presents to us a picture of free India, her triumphs and failures. It is valuable also because it contains fascinating pen portraits of the author's colleagues in the Freedom Movement—all stalwarts of that era, such as Nehru, Maulana Azad, Patel, Rajendra Prasad and C. Rajagopalachari.

The author emerges as a penetrating observer of men and matters. There is a whole chapter on Krishna Menon whose arrogance and egotism caused irreparable damage to India and its security. One who did not agree with him was, as Kripalani puts it, either a fool or a knave.

The flamboyance and callousness with which he neglected India’s defence has been graphically described on page 867: "Once he organised an exhibition in Delhi of defence production. In addition to the junk he had brought, he exhibited a pressure-cooker and a coffee percolator, which had been manufactured in our ordnance factories. This was at a time when the Chinese aggression was at its peak on our Himalayan borders. Exasperated by his undue interference in his duties, the Chief of the Army Staff, a veteran of World War II, General Thimayya, resigned. At this stage Jawaharlal intervened and induced Thimayya to withdraw his resignation, which he did.

"It was only after the Chinese aggression and India's unprecedented humiliation that Jawaharlal Nehru relented and dropped Menon from his Cabinet and that too under his own party's tremendous pressure."

Kripalani has narrated the entire story of Menon's sordid deeds, starting from his shameless corruption (the notorious jeep scandal when he was India's High Commissioner in London and entered into a contract with a British firm with a measly capital of `A3 100 for the supply of jeeps for the Indian Army). His overbearing and arrogant dealings with Army Generals and neglect of India's defence culminating in the country's unforgettable defeat in 1962.

Born in Hyderabad (Sind) in 1888 and educated at Fergusson College, Pune, and Wilson College, Bombay, Kriplani was, to begin with, a Professor of History at Government College, Muzaffarpur, in Bihar. From 1920 to 1927, he served as the Principal of Gujarat Vidyapeeth founded by Mahatma Gandhi, where he earned the title of Acharya.

Eminent Gandhian, liberal socialist, veteran parliamentarian, prolific writer and a fearless fighter, his life is a brilliant saga of adventure and achievement. The author tries his best to remain humble when talking of the role that he played in shaping events, yet his indisputable greatness and dignity peep out of the narrative.

The only flaw in the book is that the narrative is not continuous and chronological. It is, at places, conspicuously disjointed. It would have been appropriate if the editors had taken pains to chronologically rearrange the material and make it more cogent.