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An ideologue at the Congress's service

He is the Congress party's answer to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).For almost three decades, he has been relegated to the dark recesses ofmemory, a sepia-tinted photograph gathering dust in the party archives. Inthe politically charged 60s, 70s and 80s though, the Congress Seva Dal wasan important signpost on the horizon, and few thought it politic to forgetthe role played by Dr N S Hardikar, the outfit's founder-organiser.

Dr Hardikar was last heard of in 1989, when the party celebrated his birthcentenary. But this is the new millennium, when the Congress is looking forideas and leaders to recharge its fortunes. The party is now busy dustingoff the cobwebs and is repackaging Dr Hardikar's memory as an answer to theRSS and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Born in Ratnagiri district in 1889, Dr Hardikar, a surgeon by profession,completed his medical education in Calcutta and went to the United States ofAmerica for higher studies in 1913. During his eight-year stay there, he gotacquaintained with Lala Lajpat Rai, and was sufficiently inspired to plungeinto the freedom struggle.

During the Jhanda Satyagraha at Nagpur in 1923, scores were jailed for theirparticipation. Unable to face the rigours of prison, they purchased theirfreedom by handing in a written apology and pledging not to participate inactivities which were against the interests of the British. But members ofthe Hubli Seva Mandal, led by Hardikar, held their ground. The incident lefta lasting impression on party bigwigs like Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azadand Sarojini Naidu, who were in Nagpur at the time to participate in thesatyagraha. And the idea of grooming a band of committed volunteers tocombat the British took root.

A national convention of volunteers was convened at Kakinada in Decemberthat year, and a 13-member board was formed for this purpose. Dr Hardikarwas made the general secretary of the board, a post he retained till hisdeath on August 26, 1965. Hardikar was also a Rajya Sabha member between1954 and 1960.

Following meetings held on December 24 and 26 in 1923 and January 1, 1924,the Hindustani Seva Mandal took birth later rechristened the Seva Dal.According to the resolution passed at the meeting, it was to work under thesupervision of the Congress party's working committee. Before Independenceand in the subsequent years, the outfit was engaged in imparting physicaltraining and motivating youngsters to work towards communal harmony. In morerecent years, the Seva Dal is best remembered for its proactive role in thewake of Indira Gandhi's arrest by the Charan Singh government.

Under Rajiv Gandhi, the outfit along with the Youth Congress acted asstormtroopers, giving the party feedback about the ground level situation,socio-economic problems at the district-level as well as the role played byCongress office-bearers in districts. Rajiv Gandhi also wanted Seva Dalco-ordinators to keep an eye on developmental activities being carried outby elected representatives in their respective areas. They were alsorequired to act as peace-makers between warring factions at the districtlevel. But the proactive role expected of the Seva Dal faced considerableopposition from local Congress leaders, and the party leadership gave theidea a quiet burial.

A Seva Dal veteran stated, ``The outfit went into a state of decline afterTariq Anwar became Seva Dal chief in 1986. Since then, it has ceased tofunction as an organisation dedicated to social causes.''

In the interim, the RSS has been leaping from strength to strength. Now, therevival package includes a slew of programmes planned to commemorate theSeva Dal's founder-organiser Dr Hardikar's birth anniversary. On May 7, theSeva Dal held conferences of its activists in several states. And on May 21,a national convention has been planned at Talkatora Stadium.

``In keeping with the Panchmarhi decisions and the A K Antony report, SoniaGandhi wants the Seva Dal to be a cadre-based body,'' said Krishna KumarPandey, president of the Maharashtra unit of the Seva Dal, explaining thesudden spurt in activity. Commented another AICC office-bearer, the Seva Dalwould `spare no efforts' to expose the RSS and its designs.

Gev Awari, an AICC member, concurred that ``Of late, the Seva Dal has beenshowing dynamism. I am happy if any frontal organisation takes up programmesto propagate the works of the party and strengthen the organisation.''

The Congress considers the RSS a communal organisation which preaches thatone religion and certain communities are superior to others, added anotherparty functionary. Tough words, but with the party's prospects dwindling bythe day, clearly the time for soft options is out.

Admitted another party activist, ``We know it is a stupendous task. Many ofthe grassroots activists are not even aware of the Seva Dal's contribution,or even who Dr Hardikar is.'' Obviously, the party would have to do a lotmore groundwork than that if it has to break the back of the RSS.

Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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