The Congress in Gujarat (1917–1969): Conservative Face of a Progressive Party

Published date01 December 2017
Date01 December 2017
Subject MatterSpecial Section: Conservatism
The Congress in Gujarat
(1917–1969): Conservative
Face of a Progressive Party
Christophe Jaffrelot1
The political culture of the Gujarat Congress has been traditionally characterized by a conservative
overtone that contrasted with the progressive ethos of party units of other provinces. This specificity
comes not only from the Gujarati asmita, but also from the attitude of Mahatma Gandhi who did not
fully support progressive elements, such as Indulal Yagnik, against more conservative leaders, including
Vallabhbhai Patel, K.M. Munshi, G. Nanda and M. Desai. These leaders, who—all of them—eventually
exerted power in New Delhi, had affinities with the Sangh parivar, a phenomenon suggesting a unique,
regional porosity between the Congress and the Hindutva forces.
Gujarat, Congress, social conservatism, Hindu traditionalism
Most studies dealing with the Congress party in an historical perspective have adopted a top-down
approach, scrutinizing the way its leaders—primarily Mahatma Gandhi—have transformed it into a
mass party (Kochanek, 1968; Low, 1988; Sisson & Wolpert, 1988) with progressive views. When they
have analysed it at the state level, they have focused on the social profile of the party2 or its political
strategies3 or both.4
Few attempts have been made to compare the ideological specificities of the different state units of
the Congress. Certainly, these differences have something to do with the social background of the
congressmen, but regions are ecosystems where ideas often play an independent role. In a previous
work, I have shown that the Congress of Uttar Pradesh was more conservative and Hindu traditionalist
than the Congress of Bihar, whose progressive leanings harked back to the creation of the Congress
Socialist Party (Jaffrelot, 2003). In this article, I would like to broaden the scope of the comparison by
bringing the Congress of Gujarat in the picture.
1 Senior Research Fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS, France.
2 See the seminal book by Myron Weiner (1967) and the very comprehensive volumes edited by Frankel and Rao (1989, 1990).
3 This is one of the strengths that were displayed by Rajni Kothari in his study of the ‘Congress system’ (Kothari, 1970).
4 See, for instance, two excellent monographs: Pandey (1978) and Baker (1979).
Corresponding author:
Christophe Jaffrelot, CERI, 56 rue Jacob, 75006 Paris, France.
Studies in Indian Politics
5(2) 248–261
© 2017 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2321023017727982

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