In June 2019, JP Nadda was named working president of the BJP. His appointment came in the aftermath of a BJP landslide in last year’s Lok Sabha election that saw its president Amit Shah become home minister in the new government. A fortnight later, Rahul Gandhi resigned as Congress president following its catastrophic performance in the same election. In mid-August, the party got a new interim president in the person of Sonia Gandhi, his predecessor and its longest serving president (1998-2017). This sequence can be read as a symbol not only of the change in the fortunes of the two parties but of their respective leadership formations: smoothly flowing in one, stagnant, looking back in the other. To say that it was not always thus would be a gross understatement. It is in this context that it might be worth looking at a working president’s stint from the Congress of the 1980s in the task of tracing a political party’s decline (Rai and Kumar 2017).
A year before her assassination, Indira Gandhi appointed Kamalapati Tripathi (1905-1990) as working president of her party. Tripathi was a veteran Congressman from Varanasi, going back to the Constituent Assembly in 1947. Journalist and writer, who edited Aaj (1932-1946) and Sansar (1946-52) and was jailed in all three Gandhian mass movements of non-cooperation (1921), civil disobedience (1930-32) and Quit India (1940-42), he had been elected to the legislative assembly in his state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) since 1937 and given charge of irrigation and information under the Congress ministry of Govind Ballabh Pant in 1952. Subsequently, he became the state’s home and education minister (1957-60), finance minister (1962-64) and deputy chief minister (1969-70), before emerging as its chief minister (1971-73). He then moved to New Delhi, serving in the central government as minister for shipping & transport (1973-75) and railways (1975-77, 1980). He would be made the working president of Congress (Indira) in 1983.
This period can now be looked at as the slow end of one era and the beginning of another. Tripathi stood well for this time of transition. His demise in 1990 represented an emptying of the extraordinary miscellany of people who had participated in the political turnover of the INC from a movement to a government and who rose through factions and splits to play a continuous role in party and state-building, since before independence and after the “Congress system”.
In that transitional time, which now has a terminal feel to it, this consummate insider’s correspondence from the 1980s, held among the Kamalapati Tripathi Papers at the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, New Delhi, provides a remarkable vantage from which to look into the problems, personalities and policies of a party mathematically at its electoral zenith but starting its halting slide towards its now political nadir. As its working president, Tripathi had a privileged bird’s eye-view of this slow decline that would characterise his party from this time. His reflective response to it provides an interesting retrospective, given what we now know of India since 1989.
Tripathi’s appointment had seen some presidential authority delegated to him to not only dispose of day-to-day organisational work, but so that the party rank-and-file could approach him, instead of the hard-pressed Prime Minister. With the advent of Rajiv Gandhi in 1984, Tripathi found himself sidelined. In January 1986, Arjun Singh was appointed vice-president by Gandhi and several new general secretaries were announced and by April that year, Tripathi felt embarrassingly functus officio in an ornamental post.
The party itself exuded strength that would prove superficial. In the December 1984 general election, its success rate had been a staggering 80 per cent. By December 1985, its performance had come down to 20 seats in the Assam state election. In parliamentary by-elections held that year, the result was similarly chequered. In March 1985, 11 seats had gone to poll and the party lost in Sikkim, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka and narrowly escaped losing in Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Its numbers were reduced in Uttar Pradesh, just held in Bihar and were improved upon only in Orissa, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. Coming as these reverses did, just two months after the unprecedented win in 1984, they struck Tripathi in contrast to 1980, when six months after the general election, the party had improved its position in state elections everywhere except Tamil Nadu. A Congressman in the sixth decade of his party life, Tripathi was conscious of the ground shake beneath the party’s feet of clay and, as the following goes on to show, articulated it clearly and combatively to Rajiv Gandhi:
Nobody in the party raised any question about the decision of the leaders to vest in you—the heir of Indiraji and the Nehru family—all the powers and authority of both the government and the organisation…But, unfortunately, the same state of affairs does not prevail any longer. Not only the common Congressmen and women are puzzled and bewildered at the rapid disintegration of the party, at all levels, but they are shocked at the casual, adhoc and inept handling of party matters by you and your so-called operators.
To his marginalised mind, the reasons for these reverses could not be clearer, namely, “the unhealthy role played by so-called advisers,” to the denial of state and district leaderships and the detriment of their prospects. These prime ministerial aides produced “image” reports by drawing upon intelligence assessments, which influenced the selection of candidates, sometimes changing them, after announcements. This top-down, second-hand treatment demoralised local organisation, as well as “posed a serious doubt among the electorate” about the “party’s supreme authority” and his judgement.
A survivor of many intra- and inter-party conflicts, Tripathi’s was not a high-minded moral take, where the struggle was for its own sake and elections for democracy. He knew that more often than not it was low political skulduggery that ensured victory and so the then-floated thesis, in the aftermath of Operation Bluestar, Indira Gandhi’s assassination and Delhi riots that though “Congress was defeated in Punjab, but democracy won” was not palatable to him. In its centenary year, it was the literal reverse of this thesis—victory of Congress means negation of democracy—that preoccupied the thoughts of this party man, who termed it “preposterous.”
Warming up, Tripathi brought up the famous presidential remarks of Rajiv Gandhi at the Bombay centenary session of December 29, 1985. There, in a much-quoted passage announcing new-age political advisors, he had memorably condemned the organisation being taken over by “power brokers,” who had converted a party of “social revolution into a feudal oligarchy”.
Acknowledging the powerful rhetoric, Tripathi sought to bring up its aftermath. Whom did Gandhi mean by “power brokers” and what was done to them, since the speech? After all, party rank-and-file had been enthused by his promise to remove such people. But in the subsequent four months only two persons were removed from the Congress Working Committee: Pranab Mukherjee and R. Gundu Rao. Tripathi wondered what these two, who had a long-standing record of work for the organisation and its governments, had done to deserve the sobriquet and summary removal. They were among those who had stood by Indira Gandhi in her darkest hour. A third, A. P. Sharma, an elected member of Working Committee and Parliamentary Board and minister for shipping and transport in her last government, was also discarded from the reconstituted set-up.
Taking direct aim at Rajiv Gandhi’s “personal likes and dislikes,” Tripathi pointedly raised questions about the constitutional and organisational bona fides of the latest office appointments. For instance, when Arjun Singh was made vice-president of the party, it was done without him being elected or nominated to the All-India Congress Committee (AICC). Similarly, when he became governor of Punjab in March 1985, he did not resign his AICC membership. Such procedural lapses abounded with respect to general secretaries and, while in themselves they amounted to formal, even minor details, to Tripathi they stood for Gandhi’s thought process. It was not so much an assumption of power as its arbitrary, unilateral, frequent and fickle exercise that threatened to become the style of Congress in the Rajiv Gandhi era.
Between November 12, 1984 and January 19, 1986, nine general secretaries had been appointed, only to be removed. This was again not so much “injustice” to individuals as it was akin to “injecting uncertainties in the whole system”.
Moving on to the burning matters on hand, namely, Punjab and Assam, Tripathi brought up Gandhi’s “ad hoc impatience” behind his accord politics, which according to him had served to aggravate these issues, at least initially. Giving voice to a section of the party’s mood, he began by arguing against the “great hurry” in attempting these accords, without thinking through “the implications in greater detail”. Asserting, as it would turn out somewhat correctly, that the accord signed with late Harchand Singh Longowal, “publicised with great fanfare,” would not function as anticipated, he felt Punjab was back to “worse than square one…Golden Temple is under the control of the extremists; violence is going on unabated, migration of minorities to and from Punjab is taking place silently...mere change of Governor and…mere signing of an accord is not enough.”
In Assam, on the other hand, the accord—coming after the Nellie massacre—had contributed to the Congress’ “virtual liquidation” as an electoral outfit. But, setback to the party apart, the accord contributed to dangerous, continuing conflations around the categories of aliens/foreigners with residing/voting rights and citizens without (Baruah 1999); issues alive and well today. Finally, in both these matters, the party was presented with an official fait accompli and its support was “taken for granted.” Its endorsement had followed their announcement. Any discussions had succeeded the decisions.
Turning to the economy, Tripathi sought to challenge the impression given then, and gained since, that Rajiv Gandhi’s government put the economy on the path to the 21st century. His moot point, worth remembering today—20 years into the 21st century—was whether the government “would take the whole country or only a chosen few.” Steeped in the pro-poor stance of Indira Gandhi and in Nehruvian socialism, Tripathi could see these were “the story of the past,” notwithstanding the party’s theoretical commitment to them.
Five years before the watershed budget of 1991, he was convinced that the Congress government was becoming “primarily concerned with the welfare of the well-to-do sections of society”, given the already serious balance-of-payments situation and rising prices. This was, above all, a product of yet another coterie culture on the make, especially galling to Tripathi, for it comprised those who had not only deserted Indira Gandhi between 1975 and 1980 but “tried to persuade [him] in leaving her company.”
Coming to the crux of his complaints, in words that resonate today, Tripathi reminded Gandhi that the strength of any party lay in its mass support across fields and factories and “this support never comes from the drawing rooms of the elites”. Congress had been a mass organisation since the 1920s, when Tripathi had entered it in his state of UP. Now, the UPPCC had bags of money, “bogus members,” five PCC presidents in quick succession and frequently reconstituted district Congress committees, without organisational elections.
Such ad hoc appointments from the top served to strengthen the perception that by now organisational elections in the party were a “meaningless ritual.” All this led to the emerging writing on the wall, as contended by Tripathi: “Congress is rapidly losing its contact with the masses and you are surrounded by a number of sycophants.”
With the working president of the party reduced to defending his writing by invoking the organisation as his “second religion” and identifying his relation to the family as his first loyalty, this elderly Congressman was making the young prime minister aware of the coming pitfalls in the party’s hollowing professions of democracy, socialism and secularism and emptying coffers of men and material.
Eight months later, he was writing again. This time he was enumerating ideas to stem the slide: “internal democracy in party organisation, pro-poor economic policies, one person-one post, re-look at ‘accord’ politics, Congress reorganisation at district and state levels” and crucially “unified Congress to be aimed for” by the “return of Ramakrishna Hegde [Karnataka], Chandra Shekhar [U.P.], H. N. Bahuguna [U.P.], Biju Patnaik [Orissa] and Mir Qasim [Jammu & Kashmir].”
This last point assumed critical proportion in the summer of 1987, when Vishwanath Pratap (V. P.) Singh (finance minister till January and defence minister till April) broke away from the government, as the Bofors issue started to take centre-stage in national politics. Chimanbhai Mehta, formerly of the Communist Party of India (CPI) and then Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) from the Congress, sought to summarise the various pros and cons regarding the party’s dismissive attitude towards V. P. Singh. In a perceptive and, in light of later events, ironic letter to Tripathi, Mehta began and ended with a clutch of questions:
Whether it is productive or counterproductive to attack V. P. Singh or Allahabad City Congress Committee suspending [him] for six years? What is lesser evil or right course—keep Singh inside the Congress (I) or throw him out of it? What is the motive of those who attack Singh? Are they strengthening Congress or pretend to do so and intensify inner-party struggle with a view to make themselves felt?
It was difficult for men like Mehta and Tripathi to forget party history as they had helped make some of it, especially of the out-of-office period of 1977-80. After all, the latter had been “the only cabinet minister” of Indira Gandhi’s pre-1977 as well as post-1980 governments, in between being the leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha. Cautioning Tripathi that he had been informed that The Indian Express’ proprietor Ramnath Goenka and his friends were “working overtime to see that V.P. Singh gets expelled or suspended from the party so that they can mould him as the ‘alternative leader’” against Rajiv Gandhi, Mehta warned against falling deep into this trap.
A knee-jerk response to public pressure tactics, he argued, would not strengthen the party. Trial by newspapers was neither helping gathering corruption probes nor burgeoning party fracas, wherein by now Gandhi had spoken about Singh’s treachery a la “Mir Jafar and Jai Chand,” while the crusading Singh was being projected in the print media led by The Indian Express as a “hero” against corruption. With an upcoming state election in Haryana, Mehta was worried that “wild attacks, without assessing its potential for acceptance by masses, on Singh may have adverse effect.”
To pre-empt some of this Mehta, along with two other parliamentarians, had requested V. P. Singh to reaffirm his as-yet continuing membership of the Congress and loyalty to its leadership and refrain from allowing himself to become a cat’s paw. Singh did muddy the waters by claiming that his “hit back” talk and stance was more a case of mis-reporting than one of conviction but noted that he was being dubbed a “CIA agent” by the party. Mehta, having toured Ahmedabad, Bombay and Calcutta in the last fortnight, urged Tripathi “to smoothen the situation,” considering:
Would it help Congress…the press projections that Singh is being pressed to the wall and has no alternative left? Cross-sections of people [including] a section of Congressmen have begun to stomach the stuff…aggressive pressure [that] a tiny fringe of our party is mounting against Singh…one of [its] under-current is group-ism although they proclaim their loyalty…What course should we adopt? Fall in the trap, allow [Singh] to slip in opposition camp, neutralise him or win him over?
By July 1987, the cat was sufficiently among the pigeons for other voices to be raised in favour of “restructuring” the party and stemming the rot. Vasant Sathe (1925-2011), the popular I&B minister during the 1982 Asiad, who then held the energy portfolio, sent a long note to Tripathi, making his suggestions. It is another window into the 1980s Congress. Sathe began by highlighting the binary between the party, its policies and programmes on one hand and the government’s administrative machinery charged with implementation on the other. He felt this rigid bifurcation had been detrimental to party prospects. While the administration was, arguably, not interfered with, “the party worker was kept away from the implementation of programmes [that he] was expected to propagate and canvass for.” This reduced the party to being “mainly an electioneering machine and most Congress workers, left without any political definition, became active only during elections. Few that got elective posts could use them to bring political influence, both positive and negative, in administering various programmes and policies by the Government.”
Signalling at the nearby People’s Republic of China and the farther afield then-Soviet Union and its eastern European fraternal republics, Sathe made a bold pitch for a greater integration of party into government. Positing that the Congress’ adopted objective of a socialist society required the political party to emerge as the “main instrument of implementation through its workers right to the grass-root level,” he pointed to “every socialist system all over the world, irrespective of their shades”. To him, this was the “main lacuna” in politics in India, one that had been plugged thus far by the “great fund of goodwill” earned by the Congress during the freedom movement, harnessed by the “stalwart leadership” from the same time. But time does not remain still and this trust of mass confidence was already “getting eroded”. In its lieu had emerged purely “benefit” politics and power positions that helped effect mass control–by capital, communal and caste utilisations. This rush of “bad blood” had allowed the Congress to emerge as “the largest political party” albeit of “bogus membership.” These words have fascinating contemporary echoes in the BJP’s similar aims/claims today.
Sathe cautioned that this reliance on “the money bags, the feudal lords and the power brokers” had bottomed-out the mass membership of the party and any attempt to bring back inner-party democracy, eroded since at least 1972, would “knock the very bottom” out of the credibility of Congress. His alternative suggestion was old-school: “a fresh membership of the Congress for active members ( ₹5) and ordinary members ( ₹1); with the former, selected after scrutiny by [eminent] area committee, [to] get a membership card [and] be entitled to elect and be elected” to party offices (Arora 1987). Sathe’s next suggestion therefore was for the Congress “to establish its own election commission” so as to get “fresh credibility.”
So far so good, but then Sathe returned to his theme of blurring the lines between party and government. Conflating the two as “effective instruments of nation-building,” he reemphasised that “the active members of the Congress should be directly involved in the actual implementation of party programme [at] the grass-root level.” In effect, it meant changing India’s much-vaunted colonial steel frame and in fact, Sathe was not shying away from suggesting its “restructuring,” simultaneous to that of the party organisation. He wanted to shift the focus from British-era districts to block-level administration, with an elected body for a fixed term of five years, including the Congress’ active members. This variation on the theme of a powerful, resourceful, responsible and accountable panchayati raj was part of a larger stop-start narrative since the mid-1950s towards its constitutional foundation, reaching some kind of fruition in the early-1990s.
Sathe was good enough to answer in the affirmative the easily anticipated question as to when the wheel of electoral fortune changes and the Congress vacated its place of pre-eminence for other political parties, would he agree to them exercising similar privileges and preferences, as the elected representative of the people. He could bring himself to go beyond the party domain and hold forth about the entire democratic arena thus: “if we want democracy to grow and give results, we must have the same values for all”.
But the further logic of his suggestions would have gladdened the hearts of many an apparatchik, namely, that “in all industries whose major finance comes from public institutions it should be compulsory by law to have people’s representatives nominated by the party in the concerned state as well as the centre on the managing board.” Democracy & development, nation & state, party & government, workers & officials—all fused together in these functions. For Sathe, parliamentary democracy was “essentially party democracy” and it was a “serious lacuna [that] ‘political party[s] as such ha[d] no recognition in nation’s constitution”.
How to guarantee dedication, efficiency and ensuing prestige without representation and remuneration for party work among state apparatus? “If necessary…by law.” It was no time for “soft” options for a party that had nowhere to go but down and so for men like Sathe, brought up in mass politics, all roads led to and from a “solid, lengthy and effective party base.”
Tripathi incorporated the gist of much of this in his own notes to Rajiv Gandhi, in the coming year: “greater inter-connectivity, dependence and communication between AICC, CWC and CPB, elections at every level from block to parliamentary board, [return] of Shyama Charan Shukla [MP], Pranab Mukherjee [WB], Gundu Rao [Karnataka], HN Bahuguna [UP], Mir Qasim [J&K] and [Nityananda] Mahapatra [Orissa]…Congress must ‘re-connect’ with public.”
This process began with re-connecting with former travellers and fellow travellers and Tripathi urged Gandhi, well before the 1989 general election, to “align with the Left Parties to form a National Progressive Front” partly in response to the opposition’s National Front, helmed by V.P. Singh. Gandhi’s reply to this suggestion took four months to come and when it did, reading it was like watching a car crash in slow motion. The undue time lapse had seen Tripathi release his letter to the press and the Prime Minister began with that, telling Tripathi that he had, in doing so, “killed the possibilities of an arrangement.” On the substantive point, Gandhi insisted that “Congress usually has stood on its own,” albeit with an “understanding and cooperation with the Left.” He concluded with words that would not stand the test of even twelve months, with his Left friends opting to support the National Front after the 1989 general elections:
We are confident that people of India will not allow themselves to be deceived by the so-called ‘National front’ produced by the coming together of unprincipled groups and parties. To consider ‘National Front’ an equal opponent…would provide the right-wing reactionary forces – for whom the ‘National Front’ stands – with encouragement.
It was the result of the Tamil Nadu election in January 1989, which shook many an old Congress hand. Chimanbhai Mehta drew up a document titled “Lessons of Tamil Nadu elections,” which began thus: “Till this day it was accepted that widespread discontent against Congress exists, but it was argued that there is no alternative to Congress. The series of election results and the last one from Tamil Nadu have exploded this argument.”
Congress had gone into the election with late M.G. Ramachandran’s All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and against M. Karunanidhi’s Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). As the latter rode to power, Congress lost two-thirds of its assembly seats. Even if this was to be wished away as “victory of regionalism,” how could one explain the series of defeats since 1985 especially in the Hindi-speaking areas, where the party had reigned supreme but for the twin blips in 1967 and 1977. It was estimated that in the latest parliamentary by-elections, Congress had lost more than 15 per cent votes; an unparalleled depreciation in its electoral history.
Mehta’s document was damning in its indictment of “the deliberate cultivation of feudal culture of loyalty to the leadership and foisting of individual loyalties,” as the principal reason for these defeats and the decline in Congress popularity. It bluntly claimed that the “majority of the Congress (I) members of the various legislatures including the Parliament are displeased with the leadership...they are in search of an alternative. It is only a question of time when they would pick up the courage to tell the truth.”
Calling it an “illusion [that] people have forgotten Bofors,” Mehta took aim at those “sycophants [who] propagated that corruption is widespread and people are acclimatised to it.” This “hollow self-cheating…under-estimation of popular consciousness” could not be compensated by individual resignations of ministers and advisers but needed a normative response.
Corruption in Congress was “widespread–from top to bottom [and] people, critical and angry, [were] turning against” the party. It was merely a matter of emergence of “good alternatives,” which would bring not just defeat but may jeopardise “the very existence of the organisation,” unless the party created “an alternative within the Congress.”
To walk these strong words, on one hand, “action against individuals involved in various kinds of scandals including Bofors” was required, while on the other it was necessary to “quash the disciplinary actions taken against prominent leaders” during last two years. Shooting the messenger had proved counter-productive and shaken the “party’s bona fides among rank and file as the public.” Otherwise, Mehta predicted a re-run of the post-emergency scenario, when Congress won 153 parliamentary seats in 1977. In the event, Congress ended with 193 seats in 1989.
Afterwards, the octogenarian Tripathi, “the grand old man from Varanasi” a year away from his death, sent a last constructive, if critical missive to Rajiv Gandhi. His 17-points list began with the banal, “to mean what one says, to say what one means,” but ended with a bombshell: “resist lateral entry in Congress organisation at higher levels like those by Romesh Bhandari [IAS], Mani Shankar Aiyar [IFS] and Natwar Singh [IFS]—all capable men—as it is unfair, unjust and humiliating to obey these men who have not shared Congress culture.” Such advisors, their “many ‘cells’ and ‘committees’ mushroomed within Congress,” for Tripathi, created “confusion as to the real voice/face of the party;” claims prescient down to the last Congress-led governments of 2004-14.
In between, his suggestions covered the entire gamut from political, economic, social policy to being “ethically and morally correct”. Among concrete entries were “one person-one post principle” and regular elections for internal party democracy. There was the fond hope that state leaders/chief ministers should be “elected” by members of their legislative assemblies and not “selected” by the high command and the futile expectation that “networkers-fixers-power brokers-middlemen [be] eliminated…root and branch.” Tripathi got one suggestion spot-on, though it would take twists of fate for it to materialise, when he asked for the party organisation to be “re-invigorated with men of integrity and character, for example, PV Narasimha Rao”.
Tripathi, a Pandit identified with the prominent tikka on his forehead and renowned anecdotally for the elaborate puja of his daily routine, then insisted on “no compromise, whatsoever, on secularism,” in the wake of Gandhi’s vacillations on this count (Mehta 1994). To his mind, Congress had “always been a centre-left party and should attempt a working arrangement with the Left parties;” another prophetic sentiment given the United Progressive Alliance-I government of 2004-09. But, Tripathi would be overtaken by time on the “socialism” question, as his call for “no encouragement to multi-national corporations or liberalisation” with an accompanying “focus on ‘self-reliance’, stress on rural/household/cottage industries, agricultural problems [and] labour/working class issues” would be overlooked by the Congress government of 1991-96.
While most of Tripathi’s suggestions were ignored, they represented a sober reality and a call for party restructuring, which went unheeded. He was “treated with due respect” by Rajiv Gandhi and his “right to communicate as working president was acknowledged,” as was his “importance for the Congress (I) in UP”, but not much more in the social turmoil, economic transformation and political turn in India of the late-1980s. When he passed away, V.P. Singh was prime minister and Rajiv Gandhi leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha. A year later, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, and the Congress elected its first non-Nehru/Gandhi prime minister after withdrawing support from a short-lived Chandra Shekhar government—itself in office due to the precipitous fall of Singh—leading to a second general election inside two years.
His observations aside, through Tripathi’s, Sathe’s and Mehta’s letters on the Congress, one can see the slow ebbing of its old world and indeed the country’s. Its public manifestations in electoral politics and government formation/function have been rather well-commented but such personal vignettes of its old soldiers remain relatively less explored. Tripathi’s correspondences mix the personal and the political and their narration mirrors the wider transition. Through them, we see the party embark on a fall and while its hopes, plans and fears would go through many turns, the state and society that it had forged until then was starting to fragment, forever.
It might be historiographically reductive to speak in a historical continuum from the last days of Tripathi, working president of a Congress in decline, to these past months of Nadda, working president of a BJP on the rise. But it would not be reductive to draw comparisons from the past vicissitudes of one, for the future vagaries of the other. The logic of mass, majoritarian, electoral democracy of the Indian experience since 1952 remains ineluctable as it locates pressure points and fault lines in people’s expectations, within a complex milieu.
The advent of technology in our time has aggravated the dynamism of political communication in the public sphere, but the act of listening to and gathering many remains the end-all of the right of political representation in India. The multi-sited nature of this para-political contest is, at once, ideological, interest-based, individual-oriented that is total democracy. Tripathi’s years as working president of Congress (I) serve as a prism to see the fluctuating vital signs of the old party in this new-old world of the 2000s. Through his letters, one glimpses the rope to today on which the affairs of the Congress party began sliding then.