Jivatram Bhagwandas Kripalani, popularly known as Acharya Kripalani, was an Indian politician, noted particularly for holding the presidency of the Indian National Congress during the transfer of power in 1947 and the husband of Sucheta Kripalani.
Kripalani was a Gandhian socialist, environmentalist, mystic and independence activist.
He grew close to Gandhi and at one point, he was one of Gandhi’s most ardent disciples.
Kripalani was a familiar figure to generations of dissenters, from the Non-Cooperation Movements of the 1920s to the Emergency of the 1970s.
Kripalani was born in Hyderabad in Sindh on 11 November 1888.
Following his education at Fergusson College in Pune, he worked as a schoolteacher before joining the freedom movement in the wake of Gandhi’s return from South Africa.
From 1912 to 1917 Kripalani worked as a lecturer of English and history in L.S. College (then known as Grier BB College), Muzaffarpur, Bihar. Kripalani was involved in the Non-Cooperation Movement of the early 1920s.
He worked in Gandhi’s ashrams in Gujarat and Maharashtra on tasks of social reform and education, and later left for Bihar and the United Provinces in northern India to teach and organise new ashrams. He was court arrested on numerous occasions during the Civil Disobedience movements and smaller occasions of organising protests and publishing seditious material against the British raj.
Kripalani joined the All India Congress Committee, and became its general secretary in 1928–29.
Kripalani was prominently involved over a decade in top Congress party affairs, and in the organisation of the Salt Satyagraha and the Quit India Movement.
Kripalani served in the interim government of India (1946–1947) and the Constituent Assembly of India.
During this time he rejected the proposal of United Bengal from Abul Hashim and Sarat Bose and called for the division of Bengal and the Punjab
He had served as the General Secretary of the INC for almost a decade. He had experience working in the field of education and was made the president to rebuild the INC.
Disputes between the party and the Government over procedural matters affected his relationship with the colleagues in the Government.
In spite of being ideologically at odds with both Vallabhbhai Patel and the left-wing Jawaharlal Nehru – he was elected Congress President for the crucial years around Indian independence in 1947.
Nehru supported Kripalani in the election of the Congress President in 1950. Kripalani, supported by Nehru, was defeated by Patel’s candidate Purushottam Das Tandon.
Bruised by his defeat, and disillusioned by what he viewed as the abandonment of the Gandhian ideal of a countless village republics, Kripalani left the Congress and became one of the founders of the Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party.
This party subsequently merged with the Socialist Party of India to form the Praja Socialist Party.
In October 1961, Kripalani contested the Lok Sabha seat of V.K. Krishna Menon, then serving as Minister of Defence, in a race that would come to attract extraordinary amounts of attention. The Sunday Standard observed of it that “no political campaign in India has ever been so bitter or so remarkable for the nuances it produced”. Kripalani, who had previously endorsed Menon’s foreign policy, devoted himself to attacking his vituperative opponent’s personality, but ultimately lost the race, with Menon winning in a landslide.
Kripalani remained in opposition for the rest of his life and was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1952, 1957, 1963 and 1967 as a member of Praja Socialist Party.
His wife since 1938, Sucheta Kripalani, remained in Congress and went from strength to strength in the Congress Party, with several Central ministries; she was also the first female Chief Minister, in Uttar Pradesh.
The Kripalanis were frequently at loggerheads in Parliament.
One matter they agreed on was the undesirability of vast parts of the Hindu Marriage Act, particularly the controversial ‘Restitution of Conjugal Rights’ clause. By this clause a partner who had survived an unsuccessful filing for divorce could move the courts to return to the status quo ante in terms of conjugal interaction. Kripalani, horrified, made one of his most memorable speeches, saying “this provision is physically undesirable, morally unwanted and aesthetically disgusting.”
Kripalani moved the first-ever No confidence motion on the floor of the Lok Sabha in August 1963, immediately after the disastrous India-China War.
Kripalani remained a critic of Nehru’s policies and administration, while working for social and environmental causes.
In 1972-3, he agitated against the increasingly authoritarian rule of Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister of India.
When the Emergency was declared as a result of the vocal dissent he helped stir up, the octogenarian Kripalani was among the first of the Opposition leaders to be arrested on the night of 26 June 1975.
He lived long enough to survive the Emergency and see the first non-Congress government since Independence following the Janata Party victory in the 1977 polls.
He died on 19 March 1982 at the Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad, at the age of 93.
His autobiography My Times was released 22 years after his death by Rupa publishers in 2004. In the book, he accused his fellow members of Congress (except Ram Manohar Lohia, Mahatma Gandhi and Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan) of “moral cowardice” for accepting or submitting to plan to partition India.
A stamp was issued on 11 November 1989 by the Indian Postal Department to commemorate the 101st anniversary of his birth.
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