Posts Tagged ‘History’

A History of the Left in Pakistan – 14

January 28, 2017

By Ahmed Kamran

Chapter Three: The Rise and Fall of Indian Communists
(1933-1951) – (Continued)

Stalin’s Advice

In the party, however, a uniformity of ideas and a broad consensus on policy matters was still a far cry. Strong disagreements persisted along fractured lines in the party. The party organization in Bombay led by Ajoy Ghosh, S.V. Ghate and S.A. Dange opposed this new policy as a ‘mechanical application of the Chinese model’. Together, they issued a ‘Three P’s Letter’ (Prabodh, Purshotam, Prakash; pseudonyms of Dange, Ghate, and Ajoy Ghosh respectively) in the party advocating withdrawal of the armed struggle and forming a united front with Nehru against imperialism and feudal lords in its struggle for the international peace. P.C. Joshi also came out opposing the new radical line saying that conditions were not ripe for immediate armed revolution in India. Again, the central committee could not have functioned properly, leading to another organisational paralysis. Towards the end of 1950, CPGB also came out with a letter addressed to CPI rejecting the ‘Andhra Thesis’. A second Party Plenum was called in December 1950, restoring Ajoy Ghosh and S.A. Dange back into the central committee. But the stalemate continued and the party was on the verge of a formal split.

Finally, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) intervened and called two representatives each from both the Radical Left and the Right factions of the party to Moscow. Ajoy Kumar Ghosh and S.A. Dange of the ‘Right’, and Rajeswar Rao and M. Basavapunnaiah of the ‘Left’ reached Moscow for holding consultative meetings with the CPSU leadership in February-March 1951. Both cases were presented before an Inquiry Commission comprising of V.M. Molotov, Mikhail Suslov, Gregory Malenkov, and J.V. Stalin. Detailed accounts of what transpired in these crucial meetings have been recorded (with some differences) by Basavapunnaiah, (34) S.A. Dange, (35) P. Sundarayya, (36) and Mohit Sen, (37). The personal narratives of the first two who were personally present in the meetings and the other two who were close confidantes and comrades of the key participants do not differ with each other much, except in some details. The Russians have also now released the official minutes of the meeting.

According to the detailed personal accounts and the Russian minutes of the meetings, Stalin advised CPI leaders that the ‘expulsion of P.C. Joshi from the party in 1948, even if his line was incorrect, was a mistake’. ‘Instead’, he said, ‘an inner party discussion should have been pursued’. Referring to two contesting theses advocating the ‘China Path’ or the ‘Russian Path’, Stalin informed Indian communists that the talk of India being on the path to a socialist revolution with sole reliance on the insurrection of working classes in cities and general strikes [Ranadive’s Calcutta thesis of ‘Russian path’] ‘is very dangerous thesis’. He said, ‘the Indian conditions were similar to ‘China’s path’ in as much as India’s revolution is also primarily an ‘agrarian revolution’, which means liquidation of feudal property and its distribution among peasants. He said, ‘we do not think that India is on the threshold of a socialist revolution… India is approaching the first stage of ‘people’s democratic revolution’. At this stage, there is no doubt, the entire peasantry, including the kulaks, needed to be mobilized against the feudal lords. But, then, there are significant dis-similarities with China’s conditions as well. The Chinese carried out an ‘armed revolution’ signifying the existence of ‘partisan warfare’ together with the participation of a sizable trained liberation army to set up bases. They were surrounded, escaped encirclement, abandoned the old liberated areas, created new ones, tried to avoid battle, and then longer it lasted the more the Chinese communists were cut off from the workers and cities and railroads. Off course, Mao Tse-tung did not want to break off ties with the workers, but the path of partisan warfare led to losing touch with the cities. This was an unfortunate necessity. Finally, in order not to be surrounded and broken up, they were based in Yenan where they defended themselves for a long time. After Japanese army surrender to the Soviet army in the Japanese occupied Manchuria in the north-east of China and ensuing Chinese civil war, the Chinese communists swiftly moved from isolated Yenan into Manchuria to hold positions creating a safe rear area, near borderlands of a friendly country [Russia] for themselves. After this, Chiang Kai-shek lost the ability to encircle the Chinese peasants. The ‘conditions in China were much more favorable than in India. There was a trained People’s Liberation Army in China. You do not have a trained army. China does not have such a dense rail network as India… India is more developed than China industrially. You don’t have such a friendly neighboring country on which you could rely as a backbone… the Chinese way was good for China.’ According to Dange, during the meeting, Stalin pointing towards the very heart of India on the map asked with unconcealed contempt, “Is this your Yenan?”

About the struggle against bourgeoisie and Nehru government, Stalin said, ‘I cannot consider Nehru’s government to be a puppet. He has his own roots among the population nevertheless. The top level of national bourgeoisie is already in league with the imperialists but this is only a part, and moreover, not a large one. The bourgeoisie is mainly interested in supporting you in the struggle for the complete independence of India. The national bourgeoisie, the bourgeoisie of India, is the middle and big [bourgeoisie]; these are your own national exploiters. You need to say that you are not going against them, but against a foreign enemy, against the British imperialists. Many will be found among the national bourgeoisie who agree with you. I would not advise you to expropriate the big capitalists, even if they are in alliance with the American and British banking capitalists. If you have a demand to expropriate the big bourgeoisie in your platform, then it needs to be eliminated. You need to draw up a new platform or a program of action. It is very much to your advantage to neutralize the big bourgeoisie and split off nine-tenths of the entire national bourgeoisie from it. You don’t need to artificially create new enemies for yourself. You have many of them. The big capitalists’ turn will come, too… The problems of a revolution are decided in stages. All stages cannot be lumped together. Your people are copying our revolution. But these are different stages. You need to take the experience of the other fraternal parties critically and adapt this experience to the specific conditions of India. Don’t be afraid of being criticized from the left. Bukharin and Trotsky criticized Lenin from the left but they ended up ridiculous. Ranadive has criticized Mao Tse-tung from the left, but Mao Tse-tung is right – he is acting in accordance with the conditions of his own country.” Stalin asked CPI leaders to “pursue your own policy and pay no attention to leftist shouting.” He advised that the armed struggle being conducted in various areas, especially the Telengana region should be ended.’ According to Mohit Sen, Stalin said that it was ‘Comrade Rajeswar Rao who should travel to different camps and see that the arms were surrendered. This would be difficult but it was he alone who could do it.’

During his interview with H.D. Sharma, Basavapunnaiah observed in his reflections that the Russians and Stalin had said at the outset of the meetings in Moscow, “Our knowledge of the Indian conditions is very limited. With the available general knowledge that we have got about some dialectics and some Marxism and Leninism, we will try to help you”. At the end, the conclusions of the discussions were incorporated in a program that was seen by the Commission also. Stalin concluded by saying, “I gave you no instructions. This is just advice, which is not obligatory for you… Your party is sovereign. There is no more the Communist International. That is dissolved. From one centre we cannot run the international communist movement. That is why you are at liberty to follow your own independent line. Understand this, amend it, accept it, reject it, do anything you like. That is all for you to decide.” He, however, asked the leaders to “unite, work together, save the party and take it forward.”

After return of CPI leaders from Moscow, a new draft Party Program, Tactical Line and the Policy Statement were published by the Polit Bureau in April 1951.These were formally adopted by the All India Party Conference in Calcutta, in October 1951. The central committee was reorganized with Ajoy Kumar Ghosh taking over as the new Secretary General. On Telengana Question, the party stated, ‘With a view to establishing peaceful conditions in Telengana, the Central Committee as well as the Andhra Committee has decided to advise the Telengana peasantry and the fighting partisans to stop all partisan actions and to mobilize the entire people for an effective participation in the ensuing general election to rout the Congress at the polls” (38). CPI stalwarts of the Telengana movement, Rajeswar Rao and AK Gopalan helped CPI formally withdrawing the Telengana armed struggle. According to Mohit Sen, Rajeswar Rao later told him that ‘this was the most difficult task he had ever performed for the party’ (39).

Another failing of the CPI leaders at this stage, perhaps, was not acknowledging the communal excesses committed during Telengana movement in Hyderabad. As senior journalist Jaspal Singh Sidhu later observed, albeit from a Khalistani perspective, “it is astonishing that communist leaders are never heard of talking about and never they penned down the Hyderabad massacre of Muslims in 1949 as they are proudly referring to the Telangana armed revolt led by the communists during the same period and in the close vicinity of Nizam’s princely state capital—Hyderabad city. One wonders whether underground communist fighters did not take note of communal killings unleashed against the Muslim minority in Hyderabad after Army action there” (40).

Back in Moscow, it is reported that Stalin was not too pleased with the performance of Indian communists. He was polite to the visitors but, apparently, they did not win his respect. Stalin’s interpreter and diplomat Nikolai Adyrkahyev in his memoirs released on 118th birth anniversary of Joseph Stalin recounts that later that year in 1951 during a meeting with the Japanese Communist Party delegation on their party matters, Stalin observed: “In India they have wrecked the party and there is something similar with you”(41).

Joseph Stalin died on 5 March, 1953, leaving an enigmatic legacy and an indelible mark on the history of the international communist movement and of the world. Like other communist parties of the world, Stalin had inspired and greatly influenced the CPI and the communist movement of India from its inception. He had worked closely with M.N. Roy and other Indian communists and the last major impact he had on CPI’s strategic thinking was during his meetings with CPI leaders in Feb-Mar 1951. Although, already fallen from the grace of Stalin, M.N. Roy, while he was still in an Indian jail in Jan 1936, wrote about Stalin “…after all, I still remain a personal admirer of my ex-friend, who used to pride over our racial affinity, and called me ‘gold’. Now he won’t appreciate me even as copper! But I have the weakness of giving the devil his due. And in my account, his due is very considerable” (42). When Stalin died in 1953, Roy wrote in his journal Radical Humanist, that ‘Stalin was the most hated, feared, and maligned man of our time’. He added, ‘No great man has ever been an angel. Greatness is always purchased at the cost of goodness. Stalin did not do anything worse. He certainly deserves a place among the great men of history… He was the greatest military genius of our time… Stalin was undoubtedly the tallest personality of our time, and as such is bound to leave his mark on history’ (43).

After Stalin was roundly denounced by the CPSU leader Khrushchev three years after his death, Mao Tse-tung who was known to have sharp differences with Stalin on matters of policy and theory on many occasions, strongly defended Stalin saying, “The Communist Party of China has consistently held that Stalin did commit errors, which had their ideological as well as social and historical roots. It is necessary to criticize the errors Stalin actually committed, not those groundlessly attributed to him…Stalin … headed by Lenin …took part in the struggle to pave the way for the 1917 Revolution; after the October Revolution he fought to defend the fruits of the proletarian revolution. Stalin led the CPSU and the Soviet people, after Lenin’s death, in resolutely fighting both internal and external foes, and in safeguarding and consolidating the first socialist state in the world… Stalin led the CPSU, the Soviet people, and the Soviet army in an arduous and bitter struggle to the great victory of the anti-fascist war. Stalin defended and developed Marxism-Leninism in the fight against various kinds of opportunism, against the enemies of Leninism, the Trotskyites, Zinovievites, Bukharinites, and other bourgeois agents… Stalin made an indelible contribution to the international communist movement in a number of theoretical writings which are immortal Marxist-Leninist works… Stalin stood in the forefront of the tide of history guiding the struggle, and was an irreconcilable enemy of the imperialists and all reactionaries… Stalin’s life was that of a great Marxist-Leninist, a great proletarian revolutionary. Stalin, a great Marxist-Leninist and proletarian revolutionary, also made certain mistakes; some could have been avoided and some were scarcely avoidable at a time when the dictatorship of the proletariat had no precedent to go by… In the work led by Stalin of suppressing the counter-revolution, many counter-revolutionaries deserving punishment were duly punished, but at the same time there were innocent people who were wrongly convicted; and in 1937 and 1938 there occurred the error of enlarging the scope of the suppression of counter-revolutionaries. In handling relations with fraternal Parties and countries, he made some mistakes. He also gave some bad counsel in the international communist movement. These mistakes caused some losses to the Soviet Union and the international communist movement… on the whole, his merits outweighed his faults. He was primarily correct, and his faults were secondary” (44).

CPI’s Impact on Society

The ideas of socialism and communist ideology, which were first introduced in India in 1920s and gained wider circulation in 1930s, had a significantly powerful impact on Indian society, particularly among people from academia, art and literature during 1930s through 1960s. Perhaps, few countries had had such a wide and far reaching impact of Marxist and socialist ideas on its social and cultural consciousness as it was witnessed in Indian society at the time. A very large number of essayists, teachers, university professors, writers, playwrights, poets, film-makers, theater artists, lyricists, and musicians who had their hearts in the right place were powerfully attracted towards the liberating ideas of Marxism. Particularly, the powerful Indian film industry that took off in 1930s and bloomed initially in Tollygunj, Calcutta (Tollywood) and, later, in Bombay (Bollywood) had considerably large number of leading actors, directors, producers and musicians who were influenced by socialist ideas and several them worked as active members of the Communist Party of India.

The Progressive Writers Association (PWA) was first founded in London in 1935 by few young Indian writers. Meeting once or twice a month in Nanking Restaurant in London, they also drafted its initial manifesto. These included, Syed Sajjad Zaheer, Dr. Mulk Raj Anand, Parmod Sengupta, Dr. M.D. Taseer, Dr., Jyoti Ghosh, Dr. K.S. Bhat, and Dr. S. Sinha. As a backdrop of this initiative of these young energetic Indian students there was a larger international effort of organising writers and poets for the human rights in Europe. Fascism was now clearly on the rise in Italy, Germany, and Spain. Similar trends were evident in other countries. International PEN (renamed as PEN International in 1910) was already founded in London in 1921 as an NGO for promoting cooperation among writers (poets, essayists, novelists, hence P.E.N.). An Indian chapter of the International PEN was founded in London in 1934 by Sophia Camacho Wadia (American wife of an Indian trade unionist and theosophist B.P. Wadia), K.M. Munshi, and Kaka Sahib Kalelkar with support from Gandhi. A little earlier, the Left Review had announced that a writers’ ‘International Congress for the Defence of Culture’ was to be held in Paris on 21-26 June, 1935. The Congress was “called by a committee of French Writers who believed that the perils confronting cultural freedom in a number of countries today are such that measures should be taken for its defence”. The committee for this congress was comprised of some of the most distinguished names in French letters, some of whom also had direct connection with India or Indians. Andre Gide had translated Noble Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali in French; Henri Barbousse had assisted Evelyn Roy, wife of M.N. Roy, in agitating at highest levels against expulsion of Roy from France in 1925; Romaine Rolland, had worked with Tagore and wrote his book Mahatma Gandhi; Andre Malraux had written a novel concerning the Chinese civil war (45). The Congress’ call was forwarded to many writers and journals throughout the world for information and circulation. In India, an appeal from this committee was printed in the journal Savera (Dawn) of Karachi (46).

Soon, Sajjad Zaheer returned to India and the Association under the name of Anjuman Taraqi Pasand Musanifin Hind (All India Progressive Writers Association: IPWA) was founded in Lukhnow in April 1936 with full support from CPI. Almost all prominent Urdu writers, poets, essayists and critics of that time supported and joined this new literary movement. Although, as most of its early sponsors were from Urdu literature in North India and the first IPWA congress was a galaxy of mainly Urdu luminaries, however, some very eminent Hindi and Bengali writers also attended and extended their support (47). The senior Urdu writers and literary luminaries who extended their full support to the progressive literary movement in its formative years including, Munshi Prem Chand, who also presided over its first conference in Lukhnow, and Maulvi Abdul Haq and Josh Malihabadi, carried hugely respectable and influential positions in Urdu literary field (48). Arguably, the ‘progressive literature’ movement had an enormous impact on the Indian belles-letters for a long time. A significantly large number of young writers of Anjuman (PWA) rose to literary prominence, almost completely dominating the Urdu language literary horizon from 1930s till at least 1970s in both India and later in Pakistan (49).

CPI also sponsored an Indian Peoples Theatre Association (IPTA) in 1942. Its founding members included Pirthvi Raj Kapur, Balraj Sahini, and Khwaja Ahmed Abbas (50). Shailandra, a noted music composer had worked as a welder in Indian Railways and was a union leader. The advent of Indian cinema in a big way in 1930’s and its evolution during 1940’s and 1950’s in cosmopolitan Bombay was mostly dominated by progressive film makers and artists playing a significant role in influencing changing lifestyles and worldview of Indian people, particularly in its big cities and towns (51). Bombay and Lahore were two big circuits of Indian films industry. By 1933, Lahore alone had sixteen cinemas. There were several regional theater associations also in Maharashtra, Gujarat,Chhattisgarh, Punjab and Bengal. Khwaja Ahmed Abbas adapted a Bengali play by Jyotianand Mitra called ‘Nava Jibonar Gaan’ and made a film ‘Dharti Ke Laal’ in 1946.

A Progressive Artists’ Group was also formed in 1947 that included M.F. Hussain, S.H. Raza, Manishi Dey, and Francis Souza who later emerged as the most eminent and internationally acclaimed artists from India.


34. Interview with Dr. Hari Sharma, Oral History Project of the Nehru Memorial & Library (NMML), June 1978.
35. Interview with Dr. Hari Sharma, Oral History Project of the Nehru Memorial & Library (NMML); and his radio talk on ‘My Visit to Russia’ in weekly BBC Marathi programme ‘Radio Jhankar’.
36. Interview with Dr. Hari Sharma, Oral History Project of the Nehru Memorial & Library (NMML). Sep. 1974; and ‘Telengana People’s Struggle and Its Lessons’ by P. Sundarayya, CPI-M, Calcutta, 1972.
37. Interview with Dr. Hari Sharma, Oral History Project of the Nehru Memorial & Library (NMML); and his Memoirs: ‘A Traveller and the Road: The Journey of an Indian Communist’, by Mohit Sen, Rupa & Co., 2003.
38. K.N. Ramchandran, op cited, p. 29.
39. Interview with Dr. Hari Sharma, Oral History Project.
40. ‘Role of Left in Punjab’ by Jaspal Singh Sidhu in CounterCurrents, January, 2013:
41. ‘Of Quit India, Nehru & CPI Split’ by A.G. Noorani in Frontline, Dec 31, 2011 – Jan 13, 2012.
42. As quoted in Overstreet & Windmiller, op cited, p. 142.
43. ‘The Death of Stalin’ by M.N. Roy, Radical Humanist, XVII (March a5, 1953), pp. 121-132 as quoted in Overstreet & Windmiller, p. 143.
44. ‘On the Question of Stalin: Second Comment on the Open Letter of the Central Committee of the CPSU’, by Mao Tse-tung in People’s Daily and Red Flag, September 13, 1963.
45. Marxist Influences and South Asian Literature, Vol.1, Ed. Carlo Coppola, Asian Studies Centre, Michigan State University, Michigan, 1974, p. 13.
46. Khalilur Rehman Azmi, Urdu mein Taraqqi Pasand Adabi Tarikh, Anjuman Tarraqi-e Urdu (India), Aligarh, 1972, p.30 as quoted by Carlo Coppola cited above.
47. Among Hindi writers, prominent names included, Shivdan Singh Chohan, Narendra Sharma, Ramesh Chandar, Balraj Sahini, Om Parkash, Acharya Narendar Dev, Pandit Ram Naresh Tirpathi and Amrit Rai. Manik Benerji, Tara Shankar Benerji, Budhdev Bose, Primatma Chaudhry, and Sarojni Naidu were among Bengali supporters while Vallathol Narayan Menon was a well-known Malayalam writer.
48. Other prominent senior Urdu writers coming out in support of Progressive Writers Association included, Hasrat Mohani, Chaudhry Mohammad Ali Rudelvei, Rabindranath Tagore, Qazi Abdul Ghaffar, Sufi Tabasum, Maulana Salahuddin Ahmed, Abdul Majid Salik, and Dr. Abid Hussain.
49. These young writers emerging in the progressive writers movement and dominating Urdu literature for some time include, Ahmed Ali, Mulk Raj Anand, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Krishan Chandar, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Kaifi Azmi, Ali Sardar Jafri, Quratulain Hyder, Ismat Chughtai, Rajendra Singh Bedi, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Israrul Haq Majaz Lakhnavi, Sahir Ludhyanvi, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Syed Sibte Hassan, Amrita Pritam, Ahtisham Hussain, Saadat Hassan Manto, Majnun Gorakhpuri, Syed Mutalibi Faridabadi, Hamid Akhtar, Hajra Masroor, Khadija Mastoor, Saghar Nizami, Mumtaz Hussain, Ibadat Barailvi, and Ibrahim Jalis.
50. Others included, Bijon Bhattacharya, Ritwick Ghatak, Uptal Dutt, Salil Chaudhry, Jyotrindra Mitra, and Pandit Ravi Shankar.
51. Among prominent artists and writers in Bollywood who were powerfully moved by the Marxist ‘progressive’ movement included, Cheten Anand, elder brother of Dev Anand, Habib Tanvir, S.D. Burman, Ismat Chughtai, Kartar Singh Duggal, Vishwamitr Adil, David, Shayam, Kaifi Azmi, A.K. Hangal, Satay Jeet Ray, Bimol Roy, Sahir Ludhyanvi, Shabana Azmi, Jawed Akhtar, Akhtarul Iman, Shayam Benegal, Samita Patel, Amol Palekar, Nasiruddin Shah, Om Puri, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Punkaj Kapur, Deepti Nawal, and Grish Karnad.

Chapter 3… Concluded

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CPEC: Lessons from History

January 18, 2017

By Anjum Altaf

How does one get a grip on the proposed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and its associated investments without any hard information except for the hype? In the absence of any mechanism for credible evaluation I suggest we hold it up against a historical parallel and see what emerges by way of tentative conclusions. Some discussion grounded in real experience may be better than taking sides in the dark.

Around the turn of the twentieth century the British invested vast sums of money in the part of the subcontinent that now comprises Pakistan. Amongst these investments were the network of canals and barrages, the post and telegraph, and roads and railways. All included it would have likely added up in real terms to be bigger than the $56 billion associated with the CPEC.

What came of all that investment and what economic transformations did it sustain? At the macro level, Pakistan remains a desperately poor country with around a third of its population struggling to survive below the poverty line. Almost half the population is functionally illiterate without access to safe water and sanitation or adequate health care. Stunting, malnutrition, and infant and maternal mortality are at levels considered unacceptable in the rest of the world.

The sobering conclusion would be that even if the investments had huge economic payoffs, extremely venal governance ensured that while some people became phenomenally rich very few of the benefits trickled down to the majority in any meaningful sense.

Notwithstanding the issues of governance and distribution, which remain as critical now as then, the question remains: Did the investments have huge economic payoffs? Even to speculate intelligently on the question one would need to disaggregate the investments and consider them separately.

Take the canal colonies and the barrages. I believe most people would accept that the outcomes were positive and significant. One can assess the outcomes in terms of crop outputs, crop yields, employment created, or incomes generated for farming households.

Next, consider the railways where the comparisons become more interesting. The link between Karachi and Peshawar via Hyderabad, Sukkur, Multan, Lahore, and Rawalpindi can be considered the central artery of the Pakistani economy capable of transporting people and products efficiently and economically. Once again, I believe there would be agreement that the outcomes were positive and the payoffs significant.

Now consider some other investments in the railways that turned out differently. Among these were the links between Peshawar and Landikotal on the Afghanistan border, the link between Quetta and Chaman that was intended to have been extended to Kandahar in Afghanistan, and the Trans-Balochistan railroad from Quetta to Zahedan, inside Iran.

All these could be considered as economic corridors of their time. Even if they were not intended as such, they could have become so after the independence of Pakistan. The Trans-Balochistan railroad extended 455 miles with 38 stops linking very friendly countries between which much trade was possible. Indeed, under the Regional Cooperation for Development there was the possibility of extending the link to Turkey and thereby into Europe, an opening with immense economic potential. Today, the Peshawar-Landikotal link is inoperative, and the Quetta-Zahedan link operates on a nominal frequency of twice a month. None of these corridors had any transformative impact on the local or national economies.

Take roads as another example. The British upgraded and extended the Grand Trunk Road, an ancient trade route linking populated habitations, to great and sustained benefit. Contrast the limited economic impact of the more recent Lahore-Peshawar motorway. The equally recent Karakoram and Thar-Karachi highways have had virtually no significant transformative impacts on the local economies except to make it easier for local labor to migrate to more prosperous areas for employment.

Some tentative conclusions can be adduced. For investments to yield economic benefits, it seems a necessary, if not a sufficient, condition for them to either generate employment or to connect populated locations at relatively comparable levels of economic development. The historical evidence suggests that routing corridors through sparsely populated territory even with associated investments that create very few jobs is unlikely to be transformative. And linking disproportionately developed areas without prior complementary investments may just accelerate a drain of people and resources from the less developed regions.

It is indeed possible that investments in roads in some sparsely populated areas, e.g., in the Northern Areas or along the Mekran coast, would pay off economically if as a result a significant inflow of people is facilitated as would be the case with a major boost to tourism. But such prospects are scarce given Pakistan’s security conditions and increasing social conservatism.   

It will no doubt be argued that the unsuccessful rail corridors mentioned above were not made by the British for economic but for strategic military purposes and therefore comparisons with the CPEC are invalid. However, as mentioned before, there was nothing to prevent the conversion of the ready-made investments to economic purposes after 1947. There was significant trade potential both with Afghanistan and Iran and the latter was a very friendly country at the time. The shrivelling of the corridors should prompt serious questions inquiring what went wrong after all the investments were made.

At the same time it could be argued in turn that the CPEC is an equally strategic initiative of the Chinese presented as one with transformative economic payoff for Pakistan. The latter remains to be demonstrated independently and objectively. The historical evidence cautions that mere hand-waving is not enough.

One should also consider what might be the fate of the CPEC if relations with China turn sour in the future. This may seem a far-fetched concern at this time but the evolution of the relationship with Iran should provide a reality check. Pakistan’s abysmal relations with all its primary neighbors does not leave much room for complacency and demand a credible fall-back alternative.  

If the national objective is to further the development of the lagging provinces of Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, it might be better to think in terms of employment-generating investments in the regional economies much as the canal colonies created jobs in the Punjab in the twentieth century. It might make more sense for economic corridors to follow and not precede such investments.

Anjum Altaf is a Fellow at the Centre for Development Policy Research in Lahore. This opinion appeared in Dawn on January 17, 2016 and is reproduced here with permission of the author.

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A History of the Left in Pakistan – 13

January 13, 2017

By Ahmed Kamran

Chapter Three: The Rise and Fall of Indian Communists
(1933-1951) – (Continued)

The Second Congress of CPI

The last days of the British Raj was marked by a rise in militant radicalism. Greatly enthused by certain successive events of spontaneous rebellion and uprisings in various sections of people in India the party was greatly upbeat. The triumphant advance of Soviet Red Army in the Eastern Europe in the wake of the Second World War, impending victories of communists and the national liberation movements in China and the Far East, and finally the winning of the independence of India because of Great Britain losing its grip on the vast fractured Empire were too many powerful shots in the arms of CPI. The INA trial in the Red Fort, Delhi had greatly agitated the Indian people who took the INA soldiers as their ‘national heroes’. In February 1946, Indian Navy sailors and ratings rose in open rebellion by taking over command of their ships. The Union Jack was removed from the ships’ masts in Bombay, Karachi and Madras. The rebel naval ratings carried CPI red flags raising slogans of Inqilab Zindabad during their street demonstrations. CPI in Bombay led the support for uprising and joined in the protests. About 250 protesters were killed when the naval uprising was brutally suppressed by the panicked British Indian government. “The naval rising and popular struggle in the February days in Bombay”, said Ranadive, “revealed with inescapable clearness the alignment of forces in the explosive situation developing in India in the beginning of 1946”(28). At the same time, in 1946 a peasant armed struggle led by some local CPI leaders broke out in Punnapra-Vayalar region of Travancore, Mysore and a communists-led independent local government was formed. Also, a powerful armed uprising of peasants started building up in Telengana, Hyderabad. The Telengana rebellion spread rapidly. In Telengana, “during the course of the struggle, the peasantry in about 3,000 villages, covering roughly a population of 3 million in an area of about 16,000 square miles, mostly in three districts of Nalgonda, Warangal, and Khammam, had succeeded in setting up Gram Raj (Peasant’s rule), on the basis of fighting panchayats…For a period of 12 to 18 months the entire administration in these areas was conducted by the village peasant committees” (29). The traditional lands of feudal lords and Jagirdars were confiscated and freely distributed among landless peasants.

In the wake of massive peasant uprisings in Travancore and Telengana (now these regions are included in today’s Kerala and Andhra Pradesh provinces respectively) the membership rolls of CPI swelled to 80,000-90,000 strong. The party leadership was ecstatic when it went into the Second Party Congress in Calcutta in early 1948. For many in the CPI leadership, the ‘Great Revolution’ was just around the corner. No wonder, the Party Congress called for ‘combining the tasks of the democratic and the socialist revolutions to be completed by the armed overthrow of the Indian state’. A new party under the leadership of the new Secretary General, Balchandra Trimbak (B.T.) Ranadive, 44, took over control from the old guard. A new party policy document presented by Ranadive, ‘Strategy and Tactics of the Struggle for National Democratic Revolution in India’, known as the ‘Calcutta Thesis’ was adopted by the newly elected Polit Bureau. The new party line strongly criticized the ‘soft’ and ‘conciliatory’ policy of the ‘united front’ with comprador bourgeoisie pursued for over one decade. Rejecting the freedom of India as ‘false’, the new thesis stated that the so-called ‘transfer of power [in August 1947] was one of the biggest pieces of political and economic appeasement of the bourgeoisie…From the standpoint of the revolution all that it means is that henceforth the bourgeoisie will guard the colonial order.’ The document went on to say, ‘The leadership of the Indian National Congress, representing the interests of the Indian capitalist class, thus betrayed the revolutionary movement at a time when it was on the point of overthrowing the imperialist order.’

Dogma triumphed over reason and Ranadive won—at least for some time. With the change in party leadership, P.C. Joshi, previous Secretary General of the party was not only not included in the new Central Committee but was also, later, expelled from the basic party membership. For all previous political mistakes and failures of the party, Joshi was singularly targeted and held responsible. He was made to self-criticize and admit his mistakes of ‘collaboration with bourgeoisie’ and ‘cooperation with Nehru and Indian Congress’. His supporters in the party were subdued. Clearly, Ranadive firmly believed that the momentous time for the armed uprising against the tottering regime and snatching of political power from the weakened and frightened ruling class had arrived. Only a last push was required to achieve the long cherished revolutionary goal in India, more particularly in Pakistan, where a hastily formed government was supposed to be in complete disarray. Ranadive at once set about refashioning the party in his own image and virtually declared war on the Indian Government, of which now Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister. The Second Congress also formalized the decision to establish a separate Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP).

There was a sort of fierce ‘ideological debate’ taking place in the party over which path to be taken to the imminent revolution? The newly elected Polit Bureau of the CPI exhorted the party members for armed uprising and capturing political power, especially in the urban areas. It rejected the ‘Andhra Thesis’ originating from Telengana that was submitted to the party in May 1948. The ‘Andhra Thesis’ expounded the revolutionary theory on lines similar to the model that Chinese Communist Party under the leadership of Mao Tse-tung was pursuing at the time. It called for a ‘united front including the rich peasantry and the middle bourgeoisie as the allies in the People’s Democratic Revolution’. The new Polit Bureau termed the ‘Andhra Thesis’ and the ‘Chinese path’ as gross reformism and deviation from Marxism-Leninism. It called for the political general strikes and armed workers’ uprising in the cities to capture power on the model of ‘Great Russian Revolution’. The party organization, however, was not mobilized and educated for the new line to clearly filter through the lower levels of the party. Although, the Party Congress raised the slogan, ‘The Telengana Way is Our Way’, it could not stitch together the militant workers struggle in the cities with the peasant movements in Kerala, Andhra, Bengal and Maharashtra regions. Due to its aggressive insurrectionary policies, the CPI was soon again outlawed by the Nehru government, the second official ban on party activities. The aggressive sectarian adventurist posture of the new party leadership resulted in major disorientation and confusion among party members in adjusting to the policy swing at the top. Apparently, the central party organization was not ready for and equipped to maintain effective control over the massive armed struggles that had spread widely in Travancore and Telengana. Dizzy with its ‘high ideology’ the party top was almost paralyzed. The supporters of the previous ‘Joshi line’ were intimidated with threats of expulsion and were kept away from all party activities at the centre. The new Central Committee elected in the Second Congress did not meet once. The local CPI organizations in the rebellious regions, now swelling with thousands of militants joining in the ranks, had the sway over the armed uprising. The armed communists and militant peasants hardly had any meaningful military and political training to steer the struggle successfully and battle with the powerful trained army and the state machinery. Before and after independence, the state machinery with the assistance of military ruthlessly dealt with the radical red threat looming large in southern parts of India. The new Indian state had put its full might behind this task. Of about then 150,000 to 200,000 strong Indian army, about 50,000 personnel were deployed in the Telengana operation in September 1948 under the cover of ‘Hyderabad Police Action’ even at a critical time when a good part of the newly organized army was locked in Kashmir and other fronts. The Indian army under the command of General J.N. Chaudhry took hardly one week to demolish the Nizam of Hyderabad’s ill-prepared Razakar force (as a side show, the Nizam of Hyderabad had declared its independence as a sovereign state on 15 August 1947) and then turned towards communist bases in Telengana. In all, about 300 communist leaders and about 4,000 rank and file peasant militants were killed in action, more than 50,000 militant suspects were arrested, beaten and tortured, and over 10,000 were jailed, some for over 10 years.

In his letter to the State Governments, Jawaharlal Nehru who had earlier worked closely with communists like M.N. Roy, P.C. Joshi, Sajjad Zaheer, Z.A. Ahmed and K.M. Ashraf in the past, observed, ‘The Communists in India have even from the Communist point of view, adopted a very wrong course. They have gone in for terrorist activities and sabotage and raised a volume of feeling against them…Communism certainly attracts idealists as well as opportunists. But the way it functions is devoid completely of any moral standard or even any thought for India’s good” (30).

The party was now practically split into many shades of ‘left’ and ‘right’ groups. The cardinal question before the communists was whether the armed struggle is to be continued or is to be called off? If the armed revolution is to continue, whether its focus should be with peasant militias in the rural areas or with the militant workers in the cities? The party had reasons to be concerned, since membership had plummeted from about 90,000 in 1948 to 20,000 in 1950. The CPI found “its strength greatly diminished, most of its intellectuals expelled, several party units in open opposition, and party policy being criticized by the Cominform” (31). There were rumors among party members and reported in the national press, that CPI is being formally split and that another party is in the process of being formed under the leadership of P.C. Joshi. Joshi, in fact, had denied of any such move in his letter to the West Bengal provincial committee of CPI (where his basic membership of the party was registered) in August 1948. But his membership was, however, suspended and, later, he was expelled from the party. Joshi, who had practically withdrawn into hibernation, protested his expulsion and accusations of him being the ‘police agent’ and ‘informer of Nehru’, demanding a ‘Party Trial’ for him. He also raised his voice sharply criticizing the ultra-left adventurism. In a letter of protest to the central committee of the party addressing to the new party secretary general B.T. Ranadive, Joshi said, “But try however much, you will not succeed in provoking me to repeat the crime of your own youth, i.e. try to split the Party and start a rival racket. I have learnt my lesson much better. My loyalty to the party is greater than my holy Party anger against you and what you have done to the Party” (32). Joshi wrote several letters that he later published. Other than the letter to the central committee appealing against his expulsion, these letters included, ‘Letter to Foreign Comrades’ (January 1950, addressed to few communist parties abroad), ‘Letter to the Central Committee on Documents to P.B. and C.C. Covering Letter to Comrade Robi’ (February 1950), and ‘Letter to C.C. Communist Party of Pakistan’ February 1950). Joshi wrote to Sajjad Zaheer, now the Secretary General of CPP, “I have no doubt in my mind that our leadership is Titoite. It is no question of honest mistakes… our Party exist no more as an organization… Don’t misunderstand me. I do not seek self-justification of my past. I don’t claim my old line has been vindicated… Our common friend will tell you when and how I came to my present conclusions; appeal to brother parties was the last stage of my mental journey” (33).

The organizational crisis led the party to hold a Party Plenum in May 1950. The party plenum deposed Ranadive from the post of secretary general and he was removed from the Central Committee, which was reorganized with Rajeswar Rao of the Telengana movement as the new secretary. The Andhra Secretariat took over the party reins. The new central committee in its turn went on to expel Ranadive from the basic membership of the party and issued a Party Letter on 1st June, 1950. It rejected Ranadive thesis and came around the ‘Andhra Thesis’ advocating a united front in continuing its armed struggle in rural India. It said, ‘the conditions for the development of the armed struggle have matured’ and that ’the primary concentration of the party work should be in the rural areas’. It proposed a ‘Protracted People’s War’ on the lines of the newly victorious revolution in China.


28. B.T. Ranadive, op cited, p. 31.
29. P. Sundarayya, Telengana People’s Struggle and Its Lessons, CPI-M, Calcutta, 1972, p. 2.
30. Quoted in ‘Extremism then and now’ by Ramchandra Guha, Daily The Hindu, June 8, 2008.
31. Timothy E. Buchanan, Consequences, Eagle Mountain Press, 2010, p. 84.
32 P.C. Joshi letters: ‘Views Under the Red Banner’, Howrah, May 1950, p. 50.
33. Ibid, pp.  47-48.

Chapter 3 to be continued…

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A History of the Left in Pakistan – 12

December 30, 2016

By Ahmed Kamran

Chapter Three: The Rise and Fall of Indian Communists
(1933-1951) – (Continued)

Muslim Question & Pakistan

As the subject matter of this book is primarily an inquiry into the genesis and development of the communist movement in Pakistan it may not permit us to fully explore and discuss in equal detail the genesis and development of the Pakistan movement as well. But, as some of its cardinal aspects and contesting issues involved in the question were to have a direct impact and bearing on the course of future political developments in Pakistan and the positioning and the part initially played by the CPI and subsequently by the Communist Party of Pakistan in it, we will discuss some of its key aspects as we go along. At this stage, a brief backdrop of the Muslim question is warranted. More of it will be discussed in chapters Four and Five.

The idea of an independent homeland for the Indian Muslims separate from the rest of India evolved much later than what is usually presented in Pakistan’s history text books. The Muslim Question initially started as a fight of Muslim landlords and privileged aristocracy for protecting their unraveling privileges and economic interests against the rising influence of Hindu majority middle class intelligentsia and big business in local governments lately introduced by British in India, in government jobs, and commerce and industry. While an acute sense of their loss of empire and their dominant position in the Indian society after the failed mutiny of 1857 clearly existed among sections of Muslim landlords and Ashrafia—the privileged aristocracy, the Muslim Question first appeared as a political issue with the founding of All India Muslim League in Dec 1906 in Dacca. The immediate cause of this political action occurred in Bengal— it was the strong protest movement of Bengali Hindu landlords, middle classes and bourgeoisie against partition of Bengal in 1905. The partition had made the eastern Bengal and Assam a separate province, dethatching it from West Bengal. The united British Bengal province was a vast territory, which at that time also included today’s Indian provinces of Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, and a part of Chhattisgarh. It was the largest province in India with a total population of about 78.5 million (nearly as populous as then France and Great Britain combined) (23). Of its 25 million Muslim population, 18 million (72%) lived in East Bengal (today’s Bangladesh) whereas the West Bengal had a Hindu majority. The East Bengal was less developed compared to the western part. Hindu landlords, big business, and the middle classes dominated its economy and politics from Calcutta. The principal cash crop of East Bengal was jute whereas all Jute Mills processing their produce were in West Bengal in Calcutta and owned by non-Muslims. The Muslim East Bengal aspired to free itself from the economic and political domination of the West Bengal, which happened to be majority Hindu. That gave it yet another twist. But, conversely because of their overall Hindu majority, a united Bengal—and on the same lines, a powerful centrally controlled united India—best suited the economic interests of the rising Indian bourgeoisie while aiming for eventual independence from British rule. Therefore, the Indian National Congress, Hindu elite and their middle classes violently opposed making East Bengal with a Muslim majority a separate province. It was essentially a Muslim East Bengal’s fight for economic and political autonomy which manifested itself in the religious garb. On a cultural plane, Bengali Muslims had much in common with Hindu Bengalis than with the Muslims of UP, CP, Madras or Bombay. They loved Bengali language, literature, and cuisine as much as any Hindu Bengali and were perfectly at ease with them culturally. Nevertheless, it was the strong urge for taking their economic and political matters in their own hands that was propelling them in their fight for autonomy. Herein, lies the key driver of modern Indian politics around which political parties representing various ambitious classes and economic interest groups fiercely contested with each other leading up to partition of India into two separate states in 1947, and eventually into three independent states in 1971. The political undercurrent of this centrifugal force of Muslim majority peripheral regions (on the eastern and western borders of India) was at play in their contest with the opposite force of Congress’ uncompromising pull toward a strong centre in future independent India. Ironically, in its turn, the Muslim League also faced similar predicament in Pakistan after achieving independence in trying to hold control in a strong centre under Punjabi domination against independent aspirations of East Bengal and smaller provinces in the West Pakistan. The only difference was that this time around both sides of divide were Muslim. The continuity of the strand of this centrifugal force aspiring for autonomy of East Bengal and other smaller provinces against a strong centre in Punjab in post-independence Pakistan is a further testimony supporting the fact that the underlying current in the Muslim’s early demand for autonomy in a united India was essentially political and economic in nature taking religious identity.

Gaining a separate Muslim majority province of East Bengal & Assam with Dacca as its new capital providing some administrative autonomy from Hindu domination was a prized victory for relatively poorer sections of Muslim Bengal. But, because of the strong and violent movement of Hindu middle classes fully supported by Indian National Congress and financed by Hindu bourgeoisie against it, the partition of Bengal was annulled in 1911, depriving the Muslim landed aristocracy of a short-lived privilege. It left a strong sense of injustice among Muslim middle classes in other Hindu majority areas as well. Thereafter, for three decades seeking more autonomy and space for themselves in new businesses and jobs, the nascent Muslim bourgeoisie and the middle classes gradually woke up to the idea of creating a separate state that they could govern as an exclusive market for themselves. Initially, the idea emerged as envisaging autonomous Muslim states or provinces enjoying greater freedom within a united Indian union and not as completely independent sovereign states. But, in the face of constant and strong opposition to any move toward regional and communal autonomy the idea of separate sovereign ‘states’ gradually developed and took root among Muslims. The idea also suited to the ambitious Muslim members of the Civil Services and British Army who could see prospects of their swift rise after freeing from Hindu domination. However, initially the landed aristocracy from Muslim-majority areas who had much less to fear from Hindus because of their larger share in political set up in their respective provinces showed little interest toward Muslim minority rights movement.

The 1936-1937 provincial elections and the formation of Congress-led ‘provincial governments’ in eight provinces in 1937 had marked a decisive breach between the two major religious communities in India—Hindus and Muslims. It is quite evident that till the announcement of election results, Congress did not expect its majority or a significant victory in the elections. Hence, a general spirit of ‘cooperation’ and ‘tactical alliance’ between the two leading parties, the Congress and Muslim League before and during the elections was in order. They even accommodated each other on certain seats. But the election results turned the tables on both sides and only confirmed the significant breach between the two communities. The Congress emerged with 714 out of 1,585 seats in the provincial assemblies, mainly ‘general’ seats with predominantly Hindu population. It obtained absolute majority in Madras, C.P., U.P., Bihar, and Orissa, and a near majority in Bombay. But among Muslim electorates it was almost routed. It contested only 58 seats out of total 485 Muslim seats, leaving others for Muslim League and Muslim parties to walk over. Even on 58 contested seats, its performance was poor. It won, at best, 26 seats, of which about 17 were taken by Bacha (Abdul Ghaffar) Khan’s Red Shirt movement in NWFP who sided with Congress. In fact, Congress had won only 9 Muslim seats out of whole of India outside NWFP. It did not win a single Muslim seat in eight out of eleven provinces of India. But, on the other hand, Muslim League did not fare well either. It won only 108 Muslim seats, about 22% of the total Muslim seats. Remaining Muslim seats were taken by other Muslim groups. Because of its electoral success in eight Hindu-majority provinces, the Congress ministries took over the reins of provincial governments in July 1937 in Madras, U.P, Bihar, C.P, Orissa, and Bombay and as part of coalition in the NWFP, Sindh, and Assam. Emboldened by their major victory on ‘general’ seats, but, at the same time, totally ignoring their all-round defeat among Muslims, the Congress leadership spurned the ‘friendly & cooperative’ overtures from the Muslim League for forming coalitions and ‘sharing’ power in U.P and Bombay, the least that was expected of it by the Muslim League leadership for a ‘compromise’ between the two political forces before a run up to the independence of India.

At this point, another event marked a major turn in the course of Muslim politics in India. It was the by-election contest that was held in Jhansi-Hamirpur in C.P in June 1937 for a seat that was vacated because of a Muslim League member’s death. The Indian National Congress fielded a Muslim candidate Nisar Sherwani and backed him by a vigorous campaign to wrest the seat from an already beleaguered Muslim League. Syed Wazir Hassan, (father of the communist leader Sajjad Zaheer) and president of the last Muslim League session in April 1936, appealed to the Muslims for joining struggle led by the Congress. On the eve of by-election, two Vice Presidents of Jhansi Muslim League were made to cross over to Congress, resigning their posts and advising Muslims not to support Rafiuddin, the Muslim League’s candidate. Muslim League fought a last-ditch battle with its back on the wall. At this turning point, Maulana Shaukat Ali raised the famous cry of ‘Islam in danger’ for the first time in Indian politics. Muhammad Ali Jinnah issued his first openly communal statement, published on 30 June 1937 in Urdu paper Khilafat, appealing Muslims to ‘unite in the name of God and his prophet’ for saving the ‘Shariat Islami, special rights of Mussalmans and their culture and their language’. For the first time, a hitherto ‘secular’ Jinnah changed his logic of appeal from ‘political’ to ‘religious’ as a ‘counter-weight’ to Congress’ clear tilt towards effectively exclusively Hindu perspective. Though, Jinnah later denied the authorship of the statement but, he never condemned the clever exploitation of religious sentiments for political ends to keep the pressure on Congress. The Muslim League candidate Rafiuddin emerged victorious by a big margin. After about 16 years, M. A. Jinnah had come diametrically opposite to his old position. In early 1920s, Jinnah had passionately opposed Gandhi’s use of religious idiom in politics as a dangerous element in the independence movement. Disappointed and frustrated over Gandhi’s persistence, Jinnah, the ‘ambassador of unity’ among Hindus and Muslims, had resigned from politics and had withdrawn from active politics to live in hibernation in England for over a decade.

Rather arrogant and somewhat high-handed attitude of Congress ministries, particularly in U.P, Bihar, C.P, and Madras, toward the Muslim League, hurting the general sensibilities of Muslim minority interests gave the Muslim leaders, in a way, a foretaste of what was to be expected in future from the leaders of Hindu majority after independence of India. The breach further widened and the growing chasm between the two religious communities led the Muslim League to demand in Lahore in March 1940 ‘separate states’ for the Indian Muslims comprising of the Muslim-majority areas of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, and NWFP in the west, and of Muslim-majority Bengal in the east. The idea of independent Pakistan comprising of the majority Muslim areas for the Muslims of India gained rapid acceptance among Muslims. The political mood in the Muslim majority areas was undergoing a major shift from earlier ‘disinterest’ from protectionist politics of their co-religionists from minority Muslim areas to the whole-hearted support of the ‘Pakistan movement’.

On 19 September 1942, the Enlarged Plenum of the Central Committee of CPI decided to give support to the idea and the demand of Pakistan for the Muslims. Recognizing “Western Punjabis (dominantly Muslims) and Sikhs, besides the Muslims of East and North Bengal, as separate nationalities”, G. Adhikari said in his report to the Enlarged Plenum of the Central Committee, “The demand for Pakistan, if we look at its progressive essence, is in reality the demand for the self-determination and separation of the areas of Muslim Nationalities of the Punjab, Pathan, Sind, Balochistan and of eastern provinces of Bengal” (24). During this phase, the CPI, for a change, held the view that Muslim League was a freedom-loving, anti-imperialist organization. The Muslim communists were encouraged to join the Muslim League. Syed Sajjad Zaheer, by now a member of the central committee of CPI and destined to be soon appointed as the first General Secretary of the Communist Party of Pakistan, said, “It is a good and fine thing, a happy augury, for Indian Muslims and for India as a whole that the Muslim League continues to grow and gather around it millions of our freedom-loving people…in the increasing strength and capacity of the league to move the Muslim masses on the path of progress and democracy lies the salvation of millions of our Muslim countrymen and the possibility of Congress-League unity” (25). In 1945, CPI’s Election Manifesto said that ‘we will ceaselessly work for Congress-League unity as also for Congress-Communist unity and create the basis for Congress-League-Communist unity inside one joint front for Indian freedom” (26).

But, for a beleaguered CPI conflicting political pressures from all sides were not easy to handle. In the mammoth cauldron of Indian politics, too many political and economic interests laced with the poison and bitter tastes of history were colliding and coming at cross-purpose with each other. Perhaps, under pressure from Hindu and Sikh sentiments towards the end of 1945 when CPI drafted its election manifesto for the upcoming elections in 1946, the reference to ‘Muslim nationalities’ or to ‘Pakistan’ was quietly dropped. Instead, somewhat on the model of ‘Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics’, the CPI manifesto proposed ’17 sovereign National Constituent Assemblies based on the natural homelands of various Indian peoples.’ ‘These 17 constituent assemblies should elect delegates to the All India Constituent Assembly and should enjoy the unfettered right to negotiate, formulate and finally to decide their mutual relations within an Independent India, on the basis of complete equality.’ But, significantly, the Muslims of eastern Bengal were no longer regarded as a separate nation. Clearly, under pressure from its influential Bengal party organization, the manifesto explicitly said that CPI ‘stands for a United and Free Bengal in a free India. Bengal as the common homeland of the Bengali Muslims and Hindus should be free to exercise its right of self-determination through a sovereign Constituent Assembly based on adult franchise and to define its relation with the rest of India.’ It was hard to explain why the principle applied west to Punjab or Sindh was not equally applied to Bengal? The CPI, however, favored a voluntary Union of sovereign national states of India. By mid-1946, there was another shift and dilution in the policy. In its Memorandum submitted to the British Cabinet Mission in April 1946, CPI proposed that ‘All India Constituent Assembly should be directly elected (not by the delegates of 17 constituent assemblies) based on adult franchise, that ‘linguistically and culturally homogenous national units’ should be constituted after re-demarcating the boundaries of the provinces and dissolution of the native states’. CPI now stood for ‘a free, voluntary democratic Indian union of sovereign units’, essentially the identical policy that Indian National Congress leadership was promoting and, later, implemented in post-Independence India after 1947.

There was a short-lived ‘consensus’ among two major contesting parties and the British government on the Cabinet Mission Plan – an in-principle agreement on the framework for grant of independence with mutual assurances to minorities within a ‘United India’ in the summer of 1946. But, after Nehru’s abrupt announcement of Congress’ right to revisit and revise the plan in the future constituent assembly (with a Hindu majority) the possibility of a united India was closed for all practical purposes. On the announcement of ‘Mountbatten Plan’ of communal partition of India and transfer of power to two independent states of India and Pakistan, the CPI, together with CPGB leaders, welcomed the partition plan in its resolution in June 1947 declaring it as “an opening of new opportunities for national advance.’ But, meanwhile, a policy statement of the newly formed Cominform then based in Belgrade (27) issued in September 1947, strongly criticised Nehru, calling acceptance of the Mountbatten’s partition plan as the ‘greatest treachery’ of the Congress. The CPI also dutifully reversed its stand by December 1947, now terming the Mountbatten plan as “an abject surrender and a final capitulation on the part of the Indian bourgeoisie…” By the time CPI went into the Second Party Congress held in Calcutta during 28 Feb-6 Mar, 1948, it was poised for another major ultra-left swing presented in the ‘Calcutta Thesis’. CPI’s position was, in fact, what Ghalib had poetically described,

Chalta hooN thori door har ek Tezro ke saath
Pehchanta nahiN hooN abhi Rahbar ko maiN!


23. With the partition of Bengal in 1905, Bihar, Orissa, and Jharkhand regions remained part of West Bengal province. These were separated as independent province of Bihar & Orissa in Apr 1912. Orissa was separated from Bihar in 1963, and Jharkhand was further spun off and made a separate province in 2000.
24. ‘Pakistan and National Unity’, by G. Adhikari, People’s Publishing House, Bombay, p. 36. 25. As quoted by Suniti Kumar Ghosh, op cited, p. 74.
26. K.N. Ramachandran, op cited, p. 19.
27. The headquarter was moved to Bucharest in 1948 after the expulsion of Yugoslavia in June 1948.

Chapter 3 to be continued…

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A History of the Left in Pakistan – 11

December 17, 2016

By Ahmed Kamran

Chapter Three: The Rise and Fall of Indian Communists
(1933-1951) – (Continued)

INA and Hukoomat-e Azad Hind

While Indian National Congress was still undecided about its collective response to the imperialist war and the opportunity of undertaking a massive national liberation movement, Subhash Chandra Bose escaped from India disguised as a Muslim Pathan ‘Ziauddin’ to Kabul with the help of former Jihadi revolutionary, Mian Akbar Shah of Nowshehra. From Kabul, disguised as an Italian diplomat to avoid British spies in Afghanistan (20), he reached Germany in April, 1941 to seek support in forming an Indian National Army. Sardar Ajit Singh, the brother of famous Bhagat Singh, also reached Berlin from Italy where he was teaching oriental languages at Naples University. But, a sizable number of Indian war prisoners in Europe were not available in Germany to help form a meaningful Indian army. At the same time, Rash Bihari Bose of the erstwhile Ghadar Party, now living in Tokyo, was working to form an Indian National Army with the support of Japan. With the fall of Malaya and Singapore, many British Indian army troops were taken in as war prisoners. Malaya alone had 70,000 Indian troops, and Singapore another about 55,000. Rash Bihari Bose was facilitated by the Japanese officials to meet and work with Indian war prisoners Capt Mohan Singh, Capt Mohammad Akram, and Col. Niranjan Singh of Indian army in Tokyo in April 1942. He made an appeal to the Indian troops in Malaya, Thailand, Hong Kong, Indonesia, and Manchuria to join the Indian liberation army. The formation of Indian National Army (INA) and an Indian Independence League was formalized in July, 1942 in Bangkok. Capt Mohan Singh (promoted to the rank of General) was appointed the Commander-in-Chief of INA while Rash Bihari Bose took over as its Political Commissar. In September 1942, 20,000 Indian war prisoners joined the INA at Singapore. The INA troops were deployed in Assam and Bengal for fighting the British Indian army.

The INA leaders soon realized that they were only used as pawns to the dictates of the Japanese army officers. Indian soldiers were also made to wear Japanese army uniform, which the Indian troops resisted and refused. The army commanders including General Mohan Singh supported the Indian troop’s demand. The arrogant Japanese officers initially ignored the protests and later arrested the trouble makers. Mohan Singh and his colleagues were also arrested in December, 1942 for disobeying Japanese command. Rash Bihari Bose was also powerless. Finally, the Japanese army headquarter relented and agreed to the Indian demands. In February 1943, the Indian army was put under the command of Lt. Col. Mohammad Zaman Kiani. Other commanders were Lt. Col Bhonsle, Lt. Col. Shah Nawaz Khan, Major Prem Kumar Sehgal, Col Gurubaksh Dhillon, and Major Habibur Rahman. At Rash’s suggestion, at this stage Subhash Chandra Bose was invited from Germany to take over the command of INA, which he did in July 1943. Recruiting and training many educated Indian women from Malaya, Siam, and Burma, a women regiment of the INA headed by Capt Dr. Lakshmi Swaminathan was also raised. Before moving from Madras to Singapore in 1940, Dr. Lakshmi had been for some time under the influence of her mother’s family friend Suhashini Chattopadhyay, the first Indian woman member of CPI. The regiment was given the name of ‘Rani Jhansi Regiment’ after the famous Rani of Jhansi who fought bravely against the British during Mutiny of 1857. Probably, at the time it was the first women army regiment in the world outside Soviet Union’s Red Army. An Aarzi Hukoomat-e Azad Hind (The Provisional Government of Free India) in exile was formed headed by Subhash Chandra Bose as its Prime Minister, Defence Minister, and the Foreign Minister. Other cabinet members were Ms. Lakshmi Swaminathan, S.A. Ayer, Gulzara Singh, Aziz Ahmed, Ehsan Qadir, M.Z. Kiani, and Shahnawaz Khan. All Axis Powers and their allies recognized the Aarzi Hukoomat-e Azad Hind (the Provisional Government). It also printed its own postage stamps but could never issue them. Ironically, while most Indians were powerfully moved by the dream of ‘brave soldiers of the revolutionary INA’ triumphantly marching into India from the eastern Bengal front, the CPI was terming Subhash Bose and the INA soldiers as ‘anti-revolutionary’, ‘fascists’, and ‘fifth-columnists’.

The INA made rapid initial advances toward India from Burma and was knocking on the Indian door from its north-eastern border. Last battles were fought in the areas of Nagaland and Manipur states of today’s India. INA had reached in the outskirts of Dimapur, Kohima and Imphal when the Japanese army and the INA suffered conclusive defeat in July 1944 at the hands of the British army and the Japanese retreat began. By May 1945 Subhash Bose and his Provisional Government officers were evacuated from Burma to Saigon in Vietnam where the Japanese army was holed up. In the hope of taking refuge in the Soviet Union, Subhash Bose, together with his trusted assistant and friend Col Habibur Rehman, boarded a military plane heading for Manchuria, in the north east of China. The plane was, however, reportedly crashed after refueling in Formosa (now Taiwan) on 18 August, 1945. Bose couldn’t take his trusted colleagues S.A. Ayer, Col Pritam Singh, Devnath Das, Col Gulzara Singh, and Maj. Abid Hussain with him due to limited space in the plane. Only Col. Habibur Rehman accompanied him for the journey (21). Subhash Bose died in the crash, though, giving rise to many wishful tales and ‘rumours’ of him being alive and soon returning to India with a victorious army. There are also some ‘reports’ that he reached Soviet Union and died in Siberia after his arrest. After the fall of Rangoon, INA officers and Provisional government officials were taken prisoner and tried at the Red Fort, Delhi for treason in Nov 1945. Maj. General Shahnawaz Khan, Gurubaksh Singh Dhillon, and Col Prem Kumar Sehgal were sentenced to death by hanging but after a public outcry their sentence was changed to life imprisonment. Congress, CPI, and Muslim League came out on streets claiming credit for the INA nationalists, conveniently forgetting their earlier policies of mild opposition or ignoring the INA efforts during its advances in Burma or their active condemnation of INA as was the case with CPI. In the twilight of its rule in India and confronted with strong public pressure and Congress’ demand, the British government finally released the principal accused in Jan 1946 (22).

The shadows of CPI’s ‘People’s War’ policy’ and its opposition to ‘Quit India’ movement, however, were long. By the end of 1944 when the world war was entering its closing rounds, the British under pressure from Americans slowly relented their iron-hand grip on Indian political activities. Although, the Congress was still under a formal ban but its workers were now relatively free to re-organize themselves. As more and more Congress leaders started coming out of jails, infuriated with CPI’s opposition to the Quit India movement the Congress proceeded to set up its own Kisan Sabhas, trade union organizations and students associations, clearly demarcating themselves from the Communists. CPI tried to recover its position by vigorously participating in Congress Workers’ Councils being formed in the districts. CPI faced humiliation when communist workers, led by G. Adhikari, seeking to attend Congress’ National Kisan Conference in Ludhiana in March 1945 were refused entry by the angry Congress workers. CPI, however, supported Congress in the Assembly by-elections from Rohtak and Lahore in May and kept postponing their own plans for participating in 1945-1946 central and provincial assembly elections. But the breach was almost complete. With the transfer of power by the British to a united or divided India almost assured, the utility of Communists for the big Indian bourgeoisie and right-wing Congress leaders was finished. By its actions, CPI had provided an excellent opportunity for them to cut the communists off at the time when the fruits of independence were near. In October 1945, Congress suspended 14 Communist members of its provincial committee and allowed its other committees to take disciplinary action against all those who had defied Congress instructions during the movement and collaborated with British government. The CPI lost all seats contested by it in the central assembly elections held in December 1945, and won only eight seats in the provincial elections held in January 1946.


20. Sugata Bose, His Majesty’s Opponent: Subash Chandra Bose and India’s Struggle Against Empire, Harvard College, 2011,  pp. 191-198.
21. Joyce C. Lebra, The Indian National Army and Japan, Institute of South Asian Studies, Singapore, 2008, pp. 195-197.
22. All three principal accused joined Indian Congress after their release. Dr. Lakshmi went on to marry the co-accused Maj. Prem Kumar Sehgal in 1947 in Lahore shortly before Pakistan was established and joined CPI. She joined CPI-Marxist faction in party’s split in 1971 and from its platform was elected Lok Sabha member from Kanpur where she lived. She was a joint candidate of the left alliance in 2002 for Indian presidential election against APJ Abdul Kalam. Her daughter Subhashni is a central committee member of the CPI-Marxist and married film maker Muzaffar Ali. Shahnawaz Khan was elected to the parliament from Meerut and held many ministerial positions during 1952-77. Col M.Z. Kiani migrated to Pakistan and subsequently played important role in 1948 Kashmir War together with Gen Akbar Khan who was later involved in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case in 1951.

Chapter 3 to be continued…

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A History of the Left in Pakistan – 10

December 3, 2016

By Ahmed Kamran

Chapter Three: The Rise and Fall of Indian Communists

By 1933 when the Indian communist leaders were released early on account of their reduced jail terms in Meerut Conspiracy Case the CPI was in doldrums. Having left the Workers and Peasants Parties on the advice of Comintern, the CPI leaders turned towards internal re-organisation and re-assessment. G. Adhikari, P.C. Joshi, S.G. Patkar, Muzaffar Ahmed, and S.A. Dange reconstituted CPI in December 1933 in Calcutta as their main political platform. The CPI was formally affiliated to the Comintern and a provisional Central Committee was elected. An All-India Party convention was held in March 1934 and a ‘Draft Political Thesis’ was adopted. It reflected the changes that had started taking place in Soviet Union after the rise of Nazi fascism in Germany in 1933. Russia and the Comintern was moving towards a less ideological and more pragmatic approach to the Nazi threat. Georgi Dimitrov, the charismatic new secretary of the Comintern, quickly sensed the potential of a ‘united front’ and with Stalin’s concurrence developed a new Comintern strategy (1). In India, somewhat embarrassed by its isolation, the CPI regretted the mistakes committed during the Civil Disobedience movement of 1930-1931 when, in its own words, the communists had ‘objectively isolated themselves from the struggle of masses’. The party now resolved to correct its sectarian deviation by using the Congress platform as a ‘popular front’ and systematically combating the Congress reformism and its ‘Left varieties’. It gave a call for building the Anti-Imperialist League— ‘a united anti-imperialist front under Proletarian Leadership’. The ‘Manifesto of the Anti-Imperialist Conference of 1934’ analyzed the character of the Indian bourgeoisie having links with British capital as counter revolutionary, denouncing the Congress as “an organisation of the Indian bourgeoisie and working in alliance with princes, landlords and zamindars.”

Working together with other trade union groups, CPI broadened its trade union activities. In the wake of global economic depression in early 1930s, nascent Indian industry and business had suffered considerable contraction and the working classes were in greatly agitated mood. A series of strikes started in 1934 in Sholapur, Ahmadabad, Kanpur, Ajmer, Calcutta, Delhi, and Nagpur. By April, workers of most of the Bombay textile mills were on strike, which lasted till June. The communist party activities were expanded covering three main railway systems, almost the entire textile industry of Bombay, and parts of jute industry in Bengal and cotton industry in Kanpur. When the Indian left wing nationalists, led by Jai Parkash Narayan, Acharya Narender Dev, and Minoo Masani formed the Congress Socialist Party (CSP) in May 1934 as a caucus of socialists in the Indian National Congress, the CPI initially opposed it as ‘social fascists’. In July 1934, again a major crackdown on communist movement was undertaken by the government. The CPI and its allied communist organisations and about a dozen of CPI-controlled trade unions were declared illegal by the government. The Kirti Kisan Party of Punjab and its associated youth wing Naujawan Bharat Sabha were banned in September 1934. Most of the senior communist leaders were arrested. When Ghate was arrested, G. Adhikari took over as the party secretary. Mirajkar acted as secretary after Adhikari was put behind bars. This proved to be a severe blow on the party structure and the party was largely disintegrated and its members were scattered.

Working with Indian Congress

The Indian communist movement, however, survived this blow and re-emerged from it more strongly. After over a year of silence, communist workers re-grouped and met in Surat in late 1935 and P.C. Joshi, at a young age of 28 was elected as the new Secretary General of the party, which position he held till 1948. By now, Ajoy Kumar Ghosh had also joined CPI after his release from jail in Bhagat Singh case. He also rose rapidly in the party organization and was taken in as member of its new central committee. Ajoy Ghosh and R.D. Bhardwaj were also inducted in the Polit Bureau for assisting P.C. Joshi. By 1935, the Communist International had clearly shifted its policy towards supporting nationalist parties waging struggle for independence in colonies of the Western powers including the British Empire. In its Seventh and the last Congress, the Comintern advised the communist parties in colonies to form ‘Popular United Fronts’ with the nationalist parties and join in their struggle under Lenin’s doctrine that there could be circumstances when the priorities of national liberation took precedence over those of the class struggle. With the gathering storm of another world war or ‘inter-imperialist war’ looming large over Europe, the Comintern advised Communist Parties to intensify their campaigns against fascist forces and, if a war breaks out, to work for turning the inter-imperialist war into a civil war to capture the political power. The new line was presented in The Anti-Imperialist People’s Front in India, a joint-publication of Rajini Palme Dutt and Ben Bradley of the CPGB, known as ‘Dutt-Bradley Thesis’. It appeared in Inprecor on 29 February, 1936 followed by another article The United National Front co-authored by Harry Polit, the General Secretary of the CPGB, R. Palme Dutt, and Ben Bradley on behalf of the Central Committee of CPGB. ‘Dutt-Bradley Thesis’ asserted that the Indian National Congress, though “not yet the united front of the Indian people in the national struggle, can play a great part and a foremost part in the work of realizing the Anti-Imperialist People’s Front”. The second article instructed CPI “to make the Indian National Congress the pivot of the United National Front” (2). Taking the cue, firstly the CPI merged its radical trade union front, the Red Trade Union Congress, returning to the fold of the larger AIUTC, at Calcutta in April 1935. Secondly, CPI members joined Congress in 1936, mainly working in the Congress Socialist party (CSP), which, till recently, they had been branding as ‘Social Fascists’. In 1935, Congress leaders Swami Sahajanand, Jai Prakash Narain and N.G. Ranga formed All-India Kisan Sabha enlisting support among Kisan movements in Punjab and attracting large crowds.

Admittedly, P.C. Joshi proved himself an able organizer in successfully rebuilding the party organization. For the first time, proper provincial committees of the party were formed and its membership surged. During this period, the party was particularly successful in building its wide support among intellectuals, teachers, writers, poets, playwrights, and the powerful Indian film industry with its massive outreach. Well-known party organizations like All-India Progressive Writers’ Association (AIPWA), All India Students Federation, and Indian People’s Theater Association (IPTA) were formed during this period and greatly influenced the Indian society. CPI made effective penetration in All-India Kisan Sabha. In this unique phase of the left unity CPI workers, socialists of Congress Socialist Party, Roy’s followers, and the left-wing of the Congress represented by Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose were all working together in spite of their internal rivalries. This, once again, resulted in effective dominance of radical left on the working of Congress.

With the left’s combined support, Congress fared generally well in the 1936 provincial elections, winning majority in seven provinces and forming coalition governments in two other. Punjab was, however, an exception. By and large, the CPI’s influence had greatly increased. By 1937-1938, two communist party leaders, Zainal Abedine (Z.A.) Ahmed (U.P) and E.M.S. Namboodripad (Kerala) became All India Joint Secretaries of CSP while two other, Syed Sajjad Zaheer, the leader of the All India Progressive Writers Association (AIPWA), and Soli Batliwala were inducted in its Executive Committee. Dr. K.M. Ashraf of CPI was now a prominent leader and close lieutenant of Jawaharlal Nehru. The party commenced publication of its first legal weekly organ, The National Front from Bombay in February 1938 with P.C. Joshi as its editor. In February 1938, Subhash Chandra Bose was elected Congress president. Gandhi and the Congress-right, including Vallabhbhai Patel and Rajendra Parshad wanted to see the post of Congress president return to them at any cost. Gandhi had opposed the nomination of Bose as the second-term Congress President at its 1939 session at Tripura. Contesting against the express wish of Gandhi, Subhash Bose won the election. But the Congress’ rightists forced the issue and, threatening to split the party, resigned in protest. Gandhi publicly declared that it was his ‘personal defeat’. Clearly, Gandhi and the rightists had put the unity of the Indian Congress party at stake to regain President’s post. In this contest, the Socialist Congress Party and the CPI froze on their feet. Bose himself did not have the courage to let the Congress split, in spite of Roy urging him to go ahead. Roy told Bose, “The Congress must be given a new leadership, entirely free from the principles and pre-occupations of Gandhism which until now determined Congress policies. Gandhi’s principles cannot be reconciled with honest anti-imperialist politics” (3). The CPI and the Left buckled under an overwhelming pressure from Gandhi. Not getting enough decisive support, an exasperated Bose resigned from the post of Congress president on May 1, 1939. With this the left’s dominance over Congress came to an end. Roy formed a ‘League of Radical Congressmen’ in Calcutta but it proved short lived and he finally left the Congress in 1940. Isolated and humiliated, a frustrated Bose secretly crossed the Indian border into Afghanistan and then to Germany embarking on a military adventure, seeking help from Hitler’s Germany and subsequently from Imperial Japan against British Indian government. In an attempt to secure its position in the Congress, CPI encouraged its leaders holding dominant positions in CSP, particularly in Madras and Kerala, to incorporate CSP organisations in the CPI. According to S.V. Ghate, “in 1939, the signboard was changed [from CSP to CPI]” (4). The Congress’ rightist faction reacted strongly. The Congress Socialist Party in its Conference held at Ramgarh in 1940 expelled all communists from the party. CPI, now completely pushed to the side, however, remained in the fold of larger Indian National Congress. The grip of the rightists on Indian National Congress was complete.

The Second World War

After the Non-Aggression Pact being signed between Germany and Soviet Union in late August 1939 and the Second World War broking out in early September of 1939, the CPI initially termed it as an ‘imperialist war’— a war between rival imperialism for redistribution of the world markets among victors and laying the blame for it on the machinations of Anglo-French imperialists. Following the Comintern’s earlier advice, CPI issued a call for taking a proletarian path of mobilizing an armed revolutionary uprising taking advantage of the deflection of British attention towards the big war erupting in Europe. Indian National Congress also opposed the war and protested against British India’s unilateral decision to join the war, without taking Indian people into confidence. On October 2, 1939, within a few days of the declaration of war, communists organized an anti-war protest strike in Bombay in which more than 90,000 workers participated. They mobilized workers against financial burden of war being passed on to people disguised as the rising cost of food and other commodities. Under CPI leadership, 175,000 textile workers in Bombay went on strike demanding dearness allowance in March 1940 as part of a wave of strikes all over the country, including in Calcutta, Assam, Dhanbad, Kanpur, and Jamshedpur. Many communist workers were arrested in these anti-war demonstrations. By now CPI membership had expanded considerably. From a membership roll of less than 50 in early 1930’s, the party boasted a membership of about 17,000 full or ‘candidate’ members at the time it went into its first Congress in May-June 1943. A Home Department Political report of 1940 also conceded, ‘there is no question but that the communists have the whip in hand in Bengal, Andhra, Kerala and the Punjab where the Kisan movement is comparatively more developed’ (5).

But, in spite of its considerable gains, CPI had gone too far in its enthusiasm of working together in a ‘united front’ with Indian National Congress. It acted so subservient to the Congress leadership that it lost its own initiative and ability to take independent leadership positions. Ironically, in spite of it calling for a ‘Proletarian Path’ of ‘conquest of power by the Indian people’, CPI condemned Subhash Bose for launching a struggle without the sanction of the Congress leadership and accused him of disrupting ‘the very organ of struggle’, which was the National Congress. CPI’s Polit Bureau in its resolution of April 1940 stated, “We firmly believe that the National Congress represents the highest measure of unity our nation has so far achieved and our persistent effort would make nation-wide struggle through the Congress a reality” (6).

But, even more awkward and tight corners were in store in future for the CPI. After Hitler’s invasion of Russia in June 1941, the Comintern abruptly changed its policy towards the war. Now terming the new phase of war as the ‘peoples war’, it also decided to give full support to the allied war efforts against Germany. The CPI performed a volte-face in public. In line with the new policy shift, in April 1942 CPI started supporting the war efforts in India. In response, many of its leading members were released from jail and the ban on the Communist Party was lifted. Hinting at the shift in official attitudes towards communists, a Home Department report in 1942 says, ‘[d]espite the dubious antecedents of many members, the Party is nevertheless an admirably centralized, largely disciplined body and under its zealous and none too scrupulous leaders, is hardly likely to plunge headlong into any premature and ill-conceived revolutionary movement’ (7). According to veteran CPI leader S.S. Mirajkar, apart from the influence from Soviet Party, some of CPI’s own leaders were to be blamed for this abrupt change in policy. Defending the CPI’s policy shift as also home-grown, he asserted that CPI’s internal thinking was also developing in the same direction. In an interview with Dr. Hari Dev Sharma, as part of the Oral History Project of the Nehru Memorial & Library (NMML) in late 1960’s in New Delhi, S.S. Mirajkar told that the ‘People’s War’ thesis was CPI’s own thinking. Admitting in hindsight that it was a wrong policy, he informed that B.T. Ranadive was in discussion with Dange and others and had drafted the thesis in Ajmer jail (8). This is also confirmed by another CPI leader from Kerala, K. Damudaran during his interview with Tariq Ali of New Left Review, London, in May, 1975. Damudaran told Tariq Ali, “Immediately on the outbreak of war, and in the year that followed, communists had been arrested in large numbers. In prison, controversies started on whether or not our line [opposing the war as an imperialist war] was correct. Then the Soviet Union was invaded by the Nazi armies. Our controversies became ever more heated. Professor K.B. Krishna who was with us in jail wrote a set of Thesis developing the ‘People’s War’ line and advocating that now everything had changed and that communists should drop their anti-imperialist activities and their opposition to war… only a tiny minority was in favour of the ‘People’s War’ Thesis. Then some months later we heard that British party had changed its line and that Moscow was in favour of the change. Outside the jail, the party secretary P.C. Joshi, who was initially one of the strongest opponents of the ‘People’s War’ line, had to retract and start using his oratorical skills to convince party communists, and also the masses, of the importance of helping the war effort” (9).

Some sections of Congress, particularly in Punjab, were also divided over the policy towards war efforts. Reluctantly agreeing to the Congress’ directive to resign from municipal seats in its effort to oppose British war policy, the Gujranwala Congress protested against Congress policy. ‘Dr. Satyapal, one of the best known leaders of Punjab Congress and founder of Naujawan Bharat Sabha, refused to toe the party line… resigning as an MLA and giving up his Congress membership in July 1941’ (10).

The Indian communists in general were falling victim to what was coming their way through their seniors from the Soviet Union. As K. Damudaran had candidly admitted to Tariq Ali, “I must confess to you that I also believed that Bukharin, Zinoviev, Radek, and other victims of Stalinist purges were enemies of socialism… I think the main reason for this was that we identified ourselves completely with the Soviet Union… I feel that all this was a big tragedy, not just for us, but for the whole communist movement. We sincerely believed that in defending the Stalinism we were defending the Russian Revolution. In fact, we identified Stalinism with Marxism-Leninism” (11). The real problem of the Indian communists, however, was not the policy shifts taking place in the Soviet Union but their senseless swings to either far right or far left taking automatic cues from Soviet Union and mimicking those policies in India. Stalin and Soviet Union were leading their people and building a country and taking policy decisions in their own geo-political situation and military-strategic environment. Their decisions were good or bad in the context of protecting their own peoples’ achievements and defending their country in a hostile environment. If there were some suggestions or even directives from the Soviet Union or Comintern to follow a certain policy shift to complement their position, it was obligatory for CPI to make its own independent assessment of the domestic and international situation and taking actions in the given set of conditions in India. The Comintern was in any case, as Trotsky, to his credit, had rightly put it in 1933, was dead in its original intent and purpose. While seeking to remain part of a wider international movement, the independence of mind and action and maintaining a balance of proportion for the Communist Party of India was the real issue.

Following the new alliance between the Soviet Union and the Allied Powers, the CPI was legalized by the British Indian government in July 1942. As a gesture of goodwill from the Soviet Union, Comintern was also dissolved in order to demonstrate its willingness to dismantle the organization created as a central hub for the communist movements in other countries. Many known CPI workers and intellectuals of the left joined government and the British army for helping in war efforts. Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a noted Urdu poet, and later emerging as a prominent communist leader in Pakistan, joined the Army. Later, he was promoted as a Colonel in the Propaganda & Information Service. The Indian National Congress leadership had a different assessment of the situation. With U.S.A. directly entering into the war on the side of Allied Powers after ‘Pearl Harbor’ incident in December 1941 clear signs had already emerged that regardless of its final outcome, the war will only hasten the process of decline of the Great Britain as a world power and that the leadership of the Western world will pass on to the U.S.A., if not to Germany. ‘At best’, as Virgil Jordan of the National Industrial Conference Board of the U.S.A. had observed, ‘England will become a junior partner in a new Anglo-Saxon imperialism’. Making a dramatic entry into the war, Japan had also launched its massive ‘southern expansion’ rapidly advancing its armies. Within few months, most of the East Asian countries, including Thailand, Singapore, Guam, Hong Kong, Kuala Lampur, Philippines, Indonesia, and Burma had fallen to Japan and her army was menacingly advancing towards Assam in India. Sensing a gradual decline of Britain over the course of war, Congress decided to push for its independence and launched the ‘Quit India Movement’ in August 1942. CPI again found itself at odds with general mood of the masses. While thousands of political workers were courting arrests across India in defiance of British repression, CPI was making awkward attempts for supporting the British government in its war efforts, and labeling the Congress workers as ‘saboteurs’. It is estimated that about 50,000 to 60,000 people were arrested and sent to jail during this movement. CPI members, at times, had to even swallow the bitter pill of actually going out and opposing the workers’ agitation and labour strikes (12) in the name of preventing disruptions in ‘people’s war’ production efforts.

For communists in India, 1942 proved to be a major turning point. As Shalini Sharma observes, “The communists clashed openly and irreconcilably with Congress over the Quit India campaign, creating a breach which carried over to India after independence and explains why the communists were so generally vilified for so long by mainstream nationalists. By deciding to shun the Quit India movement, the communists were seen to acknowledge their fealty to a foreign power in damaging ways which trumped their commitment to the nationalist cause” (13).

A well-known CPI leader of Punjab, Karam Singh Mann recalled of 1942 days, “that there was so much sympathy for the Quit India Movement in the villages that people would even turn their faces away from Sohan Singh Josh [a popular CPI and Kirti Kisan Party leader of Punjab], who was so popular among the peasantry that earlier he would be paraded on a horse and garlanded etc. Even among pro-Communist workers in Amritsar, it was difficult at this time for Communists to hold a meeting without 50 lathi-weilding youths to guard them” (14).

According to B.T. Ranadive, the communists believed that “Obstacles in the conduct of war would now hinder the defeat of the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Powers.” Years later, in 1984, B.T. Ranadive, one of the local architects of the policy, explained how CPI visualized the end of the ‘People’s War’ marked by the Soviet forces marching in to liberate India. He said, “The communists also foresaw that now victory in the People’s War would unleash all the forces of Indian society and pit them in a final armed battle against the British; that at the end of the war the people of India would be marching in close alliance with the anti-imperialist forces of the world … that the imperialist Powers, who now had no option but to side with the USSR, would not be able to control the situation.” Even after about 32 years, Ranadive had the nerves to defend his Thesis saying, “[A]s subsequent events have shown, the Communist understanding was entirely correct” (15). Clearly, at least, some, if not all, of the top leaders of CPI lived in a different world!

The ‘People’s War’ thesis changed the alignment of domestic political forces in India. Jawaharlal Nehru was furious with communists and denounced them publicly while addressing the annual session of AITUC at Kanpur in February 1942. While Congress leadership was still essentially divided on the extent of leading masses in their enormous anti-colonial drive during the ‘Quit India’ movement, CPI failed to combine the task of leading in the national liberation struggle with the necessity of opposing the fascist forces. Most of the leaders of Indian Congress were in jail and the Congress was banned. Without a meaningful leadership on the streets to steer their struggle, the people, nevertheless, were pouring out their anger. By abstaining from the streets and clearly siding with the British government at this crucial juncture, CPI lost a unique opportunity to come to the leadership of the independence struggle. It allowed the Congress to emerge as the true liberator of the Indian ‘nation’.

Since its founding in India in 1925 and its re-organization in 1933, CPI couldn’t have held its full Party Congress due to incessant repression. Now enjoying the freedom of its newly found legal status, the CPI held its First Congress on 23 May-1 June, 1943. A new constitution of the party was adopted and a new Central Committee and the Polit Bureau were elected. P.C. Joshi, G. Adhikari, and B.T. Ranadive were members of the new Polit Bureau and Joshi continued as the Secretary General of the party. The Political resolution adopted by the First Congress boldly declared that “the supreme task before our people today is the defence of the motherland… the destiny of the nation is in our hands. The glorious red army under the leadership of Stalin and of the Bolshevik Communist Party of the Soviet Union is blasting the way to victory and freedom for us, for every people in the world” (16). In a classic case of self-delusion, the CPI went on to say, “We will unite the patriots to save the motherland shoulder to shoulder with the red army and the armies of the United Nations and win a free India in a FREE world” (17). It is reported that on either side of the 1st Congress dais…were hung two big portraits of Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohammad Ali Jinnah against the background of the [Indian] Congress and Muslim League’s flags’ (18). Blindly following the leads coming from the official analysts of the Soviet intellectual establishment, the communist parties of many countries in the western world also fell headlong into the trap. The American communist party leader was swept away in his euphoria of ‘united patriotic front’ with the U.S. government that it decided to even dissolve the Communist Party of U.S.A., declaring it was ‘no longer needed’! Indeed, it was class collaboration at its height in which Communist Party of India was not behind many others.


1. Russia’s Long Twentieth Century: Voices, Memories, Contested Perspectives, Ed. Choi Chatterjeee, Lisa A. Kirschenbaum, Deborah A. Field, Routledge, London, May 2016, p. 117. 2. Suniti Kumar Ghosh, India and the Raj: 1919-1947, Vol.II, p. 45.
3. Samaren Roy, M.N. Roy: A Political Biography, Orient Longman, New Delhi, 1997, p. 116-117.
4. ‘Making of a Thesis’ Interview of S.V. Ghate by A.G. Noorani in Frontline (The Hindu Magazine), Vol 29-Issue 8: Apr 21-May 04, 2012.
5. Quoted in Shalini Sharma, Radical Politics in Colonial Punjab: Governance and Sedition, Routledge, London, 2010, p. 93.
6. D.N. Gupta, Communism and Nationalism in Colonial India: 1939-1945, SAGE Publications, New Delhi, India, 2008, p. 127.
7. Shalini Sharma, op. cited., p. 93.
8. ‘Making of a Thesis’ Interview of S.S. Mirajkar by A.G. Noorani op cited.
9. ‘Memoirs of an Indian Communist Here’, by Tariq Ali, New Left Review, Sep-Oct, 1975. 10. Shalini Sharma, op. cited, p. 98.
11. ‘Making of a Thesis’ Interview of S.S. Mirajkar by A.G. Noorani op cited.
12. ‘Making of a Thesis’ Interview of S.S. Mirajkar by A.G. Noorani op cited.
13. Shalini Sharma, op. cited, p. 91.
14. Mirdula Mukherjee, Peasants in India’s Non-Violent Revolution: Practice and Theory, SAGE Publications India, New Delhi, 2004, p. 211.
15. ‘The Role Played by Communists in the Freedom Struggle of India’ by B.T. Ranadive in Social Scientist, Vol.12, No.9 (Sep 1984).
16. K.N. Ramachandran, From First to Ninth Party Congress: Nine Decades of the Communist Movement in India, Umakant, New Delhi, 2011, p. 18.
17. Ibid.
18. Ibid. p. 71.

Chapter 3 to be continued…

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A History of the Left in Pakistan – 9

November 12, 2016

By Ahmed Kamran

Chapter Two: The Communist Party of India – Its Genesis (1920 – 1932) – (Continued)

Meerut Conspiracy Case

With the CPI being underground, communist workers mostly engaged in political work from various Workers and Peasant parties. Worried about the growing radicalization of politics and the communists’ influence in trade unions, the British Indian government launched a major attack arresting communists and leaders of the workers and peasant parties and tried them under Meerut Conspiracy Case (67). Amir Haider managed to escape to Goa and from there he reached Moscow to report to Comintern the developments relating to recent large scale arrests in India. 25 years old B.T. Ranadive emerged in Bombay as the party leader in the field. Not all of the accused were formal members of the Communist Party but nonetheless they were charged for sedition. Dr. M.A. Ansari and Jawaharlal Nehru were in the Defence Committee set up for the accused. Gandhi visited the jail to offer support to the prisoners. Amir Haider returning to India after a few months was finally arrested in Madras in 1936.

The Sessions Court in January 1933 awarded Muzaffar Ahmed a sentence for life. S.A. Dange, Philip Spratt, S.V. Ghate, Joglekar, and Mirajkar were sentenced for 12 years each, while Shaukat Usmani received 10 years. On an appeal filed in the Allahabad High Court, Justice Sir Shah Suleman reduced the sentences of Muzaffar Ahmed, S.A. Dange, and Shaukat Usmani to three years each on the grounds that the accused have already spent a considerable time in jail while waiting for the judgement. The convictions of few others including Hutchinson, Desai, Mitra, Sehgal, Shankar were overturned. The Meerut Conspiracy Case trial continued for about four years during which the accused reportedly enjoyed reasonably good facilities and in a way ‘lived well’ (68). The high profile proceedings of the case again provided a good platform for the prominent communist leaders to make their political ideas publicized while some new leaders like S.V. Deshpande, R.D. Bhardwaj, and B.T. Ranadive came to the forefront in party organisation. During this period, another well-publicized trial (1929-1931) and subsequent hanging of Bhagat Singh in March, 1931 also had equally resounding impact on the Indian political life. Though, not a communist or a CPI member, Bhagat Singh was exposed to the communist ideology during his imprisonment. Ajoy Kumar Ghosh, later to appear as a prominent communist leader and the General Secretary of CPI was also a co-accused in Bhagat Singh trial. The CPI, however, claimed Bhagat Singh as a Party hero and published pamphlets on his life and ideas.

While the British Indian government was putting full steam on to contain communists’ activities in the country, Gandhi launched a Civil Disobedience movement by his Dandi March in Gujarat to the sea, violating the salt excise law during March-April, 1930 diverting the attention of India and the world on him. Gandhi’s arrest led to unleashing a political storm; between 40,000 and 60,000 nationalist demonstrators were arrested and imprisoned across India. There was a general mood of defiance and violence in the air. In April, 1930, martial law had to be imposed to suppress violence that erupted after Chittagong armoury was raided by Bengali revolutionaries. From CPI’s stand point things couldn’t have been better.

There were some external factors including severe economic shocks and the affected classes’ responses to these changes that were at play in creating the volatile political situation as it was developing in India. It is interesting to note that underlying this great political upheaval in India the dynamics of purely economic interests of the politically rising Indian bourgeoisie was at play and shaping the political responses. As Suniti Kumar Ghosh in his India and The Raj: 1919-1947 and Rikhil Bhavnani of the Department of Political Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Saumitra Jha of Graduate School of Business, Stanford University have argued in ‘Forging a Non-Violent Mass Movement: Economic Shocks and Organisational Innovations in India’s Struggle for Democracy’, August 2013, that a combination of factors was at play. Firstly, Great Britain’s return to gold standard at pre-war (and according to John Maynard Keynes, overvalued) parity in 1925, secondly, abandoning of the gold standard in September 1931, effectively devaluing the pound, while at the same time insisting that the rupee remain pegged to sterling at its existing high value, and thirdly, abandoning of free trade in 1931 by the ‘Ottawa Agreement’, resulting in contraction in India’s external trade. With rupee pegged to sterling, and Britain entering a recession, the result was a substantial reduction of India’s exports to Great Britain and the world. This contraction was compounded by the Global Depression, which started in 1929. This exchange rate manipulation allowed Britain to reflate its economy at the expense of India’s economy and a massive outflow of gold from the country to Britain followed. Speaking in the House of Commons on 29 February, 1932, Samuel Hoare, Secretary of State for India, said: “More gold has been exported since last September or rather gold has been exported from India since September at a higher rate than it has ever been exported from the gold fields of South Africa” (69).

These factors directly affected every sector of the Indian economy and as a consequence the dynamics of the independence movement as well. Apart from some unaffected groups of producers and exporters of commodities that continued to do well during post-war years and were mainly grown on British-owned plantations in India, the producers of other staples, such as wheat and rice, and of cash crops such as cotton, indigo and jute faced a precipitous fall in the demand and profit due to depression and Britain’s full control over exchange rate and the preferential trade policies. The fall in the prices of these commodities affected the bulk of the population and production suffered, leaving little surplus for big traders to trade and export. The farmers began to switch from growing for-export crops to subsistence farming of basic food crops for own consumption. At this time the new Congress leadership appears to have reached to this sizable rural constituency by promising them agrarian reforms and land distribution from the now redundant landlord class. Jawaharlal Nehru’s swing to the left speaking of land reforms in 1929 reflected this changing dynamics. The poor peasants and the agricultural labour provided the mass of the civil disobedience movement of 1930-1931. India’s ‘import substituters’—the owners of India’s infant industry always had strong incentives to wrest control of India’s economic policies from the British. It was they who provided the necessary ‘capital’ to fuel and sustain the independence movement. The mainstay of India’s independence movement was no longer the affluent English-speaking professionals, particularly lawyers and old-style businessmen in large cities. Now the new big businesses groups like G.D. Birla and Sir Purshotumdas were closely linked with right wing Congress leaders, notably Gandhi and Vallabhbhai Patel as financiers and advisors to counter balance any ultra-left swing. In fact, they successfully exploited the vigour of the left wing for their own ends. According to Suniti Kumar Ghosh, “A negative factor that sustained Gandhi’s charisma” in spite of his repeated betrayals of the masses favoring big business, “was the weakness of the working class and the Communist Party of India” (70). Interestingly, the Congress’ Declaration of Independence of 26 January, 1930 talks more of economic conditions, exchange rates, taxes and growth than the usual nationalist rhetoric. By extending the civil disobedience movement to the bulk of population, the Congress had aligned incentives of poor in both rural and urban sectors.

Political Somersaults

The best of the situation, however, could be turned into the worst of the scenarios. By the tenth plenum of the Executive Committee of the Comintern in July 1929, Stalin had consolidated his position within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and it was also reflected in the Comintern. All opposition to the ultra-left shift of the Comintern had been liquidated. Strongly influenced by the Chinese experience but totally oblivious to the ground realities in India, unequivocal instructions were issued to CPI to take a clear stand and action on the issue of liquidation of WPPs and the national bourgeoisie i.e. the Indian National Congress and Gandhi. At this time Roy was expelled from the Comintern. Log time confidante of Roy, Ghulam Anbia Lohani also changed sides and boarded the band wagon and recanted his previous position. Comintern’s official policy guidelines were published by Aug-Sep 1929 and by Jan 1930 the Indian communists had no doubt about what Comintern wants them to do going forward: it was to completely dissolve all remnants of the WPPs, sever its connections with all elements of bourgeoisie, and launch a full-scale attack on Gandhi, Nehru, and the Indian National Congress. The Comintern journal Inprecor in its July 1930 issue carried a message to the working classes of India from the All-China Labour Federation, “The Indian Nationalist Party under the direction of Gandhi is just like the Kuomintang of China. Both are the tools of imperialism. We must not have the slightest illusion towards Gandhi. On the contrary, we must oppose him in order to guarantee the victory of the revolution’ (71). In a joint ‘Open Letter to the Indian Communists’ in 1932, the Communist Parties of Britain, China and Germany said, “The Indian bourgeoisie is trying to preserve its influence over the masses…is continuing the policy of counter revolutionary compromise with British imperialism and betrayal of the revolutionary people”. Completely misreading the events and falling quite wide off the mark in its assessment of the situation on the ground, the letter naively claimed, “The events of the last few months show that process of drawing the Indian proletariat into the economic and political struggle, accompanied by its liberation from the influence of the National Congress, is growing…” (72) [Italics added by the author].

Accordingly, the communists pushed for radicalization of trade unions and gained marginal majority in AIUTC. At its Nagpur session in 1929 presided over by Jawaharlal Nehru, the communists forced through many radical decisions including rejecting the proposal for sending delegates to the ILO and instead opting for affiliation of AIUTC with Comintern sponsored League Against Imperialism. This overly aggressive posture by communists caused a split in AIUTC. The Rightists and moderate Congress trade union leaders like N.M. Joshi, Shiva Rao, V.V. Giri (future President of India), and Dewan Chamanlal left AIUTC and formed a parallel Indian Trade Union Federation (IUTF) with 95,639 members. AIUTC was left with 92,797 members and Subhash Chandar Bose became its President and CPI leader S.V. Deshpande became the General Secretary. By 1931, however, communists lost their hold on the AIUTC to Roy’s followers and after having failed in their attempt for opposing the resurgent Congress influence, communists left AIUTC to form their own radical Red Trade Union Congress (RTUC). Later, N.M. Joshi’s IUTF was converted into a new National Federation of Trade Unions (NFTU) in 1933 after uniting with some independent trade union groups, successfully expanding their membership to 135,000.

We do not have any record available of dissension or representation for review of this ultra-left isolationist policy from any of the CPI leaders. If there was any feeling of disquiet, it was not, perhaps, brought on record. The Indian communists seem to have quietly and loyally followed the instructions from high and above. After the liquidation of M.N. Roy, Viren Chattopadhya had emerged as the leading expert of Comintern’s new policy on India. Opposing the Congress and Gandhi in this highly charged political atmosphere in India was not an easy task for the communists. Gandhi had been able to build and sustain his enormous popularity with the masses and to oppose him was to risk the enmity of vast number of people who adored him and blindly followed his political actions. The CPI leadership, however, proceeded to commit a political suicide. Putting up a brave face, they embarked upon a path of ultra-leftist opposition to Congress’ Satyagraha movement, thereby, quickly isolating CPI into a narrow ‘communist sect’. The CPI formulated a key strategy document known as the Draft Platform of Action of the CP of India, which appeared in Comintern’s organ Inprecor (International Press Correspondence), in Dec 1930. About the National Congress’ movement, it said, with a strong ring of rhetoric replete with jargon, “Its present `opposition’ represents merely maneuvers with British imperialism, calculated to swindle the mass of the toilers and at the same time to secure the best possible terms of compromise with the British robbers. The assistance granted to British imperialism by the capitalist class and its political organization, the National Congress, takes the shape at the present time of a consistent policy of compromise with British imperialism at the expense of the people, it takes the form of the disorganization of the revolutionary struggle against the native States, the system of landlordism and the reinforced exploitation, jointly with the imperialists, of the mass of the people, of the working class in particular ” (73).

The theoretical correctness of their assessment of an element of duplicity inherent in Congress’s national bourgeois leadership notwithstanding, the Communists had unwittingly absented themselves from the ground where the real action was; they abstained from the mass agitation on the streets and small towns in India, leaving people in more firm grip of the Congress representing Indian bourgeoisie. Gradually, the communists lost their control and influence in the powerful trade unions like the Girni Kamgar Union and the Railways Union. They faced internal dissensions and factional rivalries. Bombay’s group broke up into two factions; one led by Deshpande and the other by Ranadive. Bengal group also divided into splinter factions. In 1931, Abdul Halim, Somnath Lahiri, and Ranen Sen formed a separate ‘Calcutta Committee of the Communist Party of India’. The communist leaders in jail were also quarrelling with each other. They expelled S.A. Dange from the party for his alleged anti-party activities. In 1931, Ranadive proceeded to form a separate party of his own—the Bolshevik Party.74 From their prison cells, where most of the Communist leaders were incarcerated, the outlook of the communist party of India did not look very bright. For a while, it seemed to have run aground.


67. The principal accused in Meerut Conspiracy Case were Muzaffar Ahmed, Shaukat Usmani, S.A. Dange, and 30 others, including Philip Spratt, Francis Bradley, Lester Hutchinson, S.V. Ghate, K.N. Sehgal, G. Adhikari, Goura Shankar, K.L. Ghosh, P.C. Joshi, M.G. Desai, K.R. Mitra, S. Benerjee, and Gopan Chakarvarti, etc.
68 Samaren Roy, op cited, p. 136-137.
69. Suniti Kumar Ghosh, India and the Raj:1919-1947, Vol.II, p. 5.
70. Ibid, p. 81.
71. Gene D. Overstreet & Marshall Windmiller, op cited, p. 145.
72. K.N. Ramachandran, From First to Ninth Party Congress: Nine Decades of the Communist Movement in India, Umakant, New Delhi, 2011, p. 11.
73. Suniti Kumar Ghosh, op cited, p. 41.
74. Ibid, p. 39.

Chapter 2 – Concluded

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A History of the Left in Pakistan – 8

November 7, 2016

By Ahmed Kamran

Chapter Two: The Communist Party of India – Its Genesis (1920 – 1932) – (Continued)

The First Communist Conference in India

During the proceedings of Kanpur Conspiracy case, strong protests were made in the British press and the parliament against trial of accused for being communists and having links with the Communist International while the communist parties were legally allowed to operate in the Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and many European countries. M.N. Roy, in his open letter addressed to Ramsay MacDonald, the newly inducted Labour Prime Minister of Great Britain, the Labour Government and the British Working Class on behalf of the workers and peasants of India, said, “Has socialist and communist propaganda – that is to say working-class propaganda – been declared illegal in Great Britain and the dominions? Then why should it be illegal in British India? Have socialist and communist parties, that is to say working–class parties, been denied the right to exist in any other part of the British Empire? Then why should Indians be denied that right? Does affiliation to the Third International constitute a crime on part of the Communist Party of Great Britain, of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa? Then why does such affiliation on the part of the Communist Party of India constitute ‘seditious conspiracy’? The toiling masses of India will record the verdict of the British labour government upon this chapter in the history of their struggle for emancipation”(42). Under pressure, the British Indian government issued clarification that the accused in Kanpur Conspiracy case were not tried for being communists but on the charges of ‘organising a conspiracy to overthrow the British Crown’.

Perhaps, taking a cue from the official pronouncement, a self-proclaimed communist journalist Satyabakht published a pamphlet on 1 September, 1924 openly announcing formation of a communist party in Kanpur. He named the party ‘The Indian Communist Party’ (ICP) and appointed himself as the Secretary of the party (43). Satyabakht also published another 4-page leaflet under the title ‘The Indian Communist Party (Bharatiya Samyawadi Dal)’, both in Hindi and English, with a membership form attached to it. It defined the aims and objects of the party. The leaflets were signed ‘Secretary, Indian Communist Party’, with Satyabakht, Socialist Bookshop, Kanpur as the printer & publisher. Although, the U.P. government banned and confiscated both the leaflets but in spite of an all-round suppression of communists in India in the aftermath of the Kanpur Conspiracy Case a year before, no police or administrative action was taken against the party or its leader. Satyabakht also announced holding of the first conference of all communist groups and workers in December, 1924 at Kanpur. Hasrat Mohani and others supported Satyabakht and joined his party (44). The ideas of the sponsors of this new communist party, ICP, were, at best, a theoretical hodge podge. Ideals of utopian socialism, Marxism, and liberal capitalism were freely mixed to produce an amalgam of a revolutionary theory. Hasrat Mohani, an otherwise remarkably selfless and dedicated freedom fighter, seemed to have added a liberal dash of Islamic religious precepts into it.

However, independent of Satyabakht’s move many Indian communist groups were already discussing among themselves plans for holding a communist conference even before the arrests of Kanpur Conspiracy Case took place. S.A. Dange in Bombay was particularly keen to see such a conference being organized in India. In spite of their initial reservations about the dubious credentials of some of the Satyabakht’s conference sponsors, the communist groups working in Bombay, Madras, U.P., Bengal, and Punjab agreed among themselves to participate in Satyabakht’s Kanpur conference. Under the cover of a public call from ICP for a communist conference and a meeting of the Indian National Congress at the same time at Kanpur, the communist groups decided to attend the event and, in the words of S.A. Dange, ‘establish a properly constituted party and a central committee inside the country’. M.N. Roy is also said to have lent support to the idea of attending the communist conference in Kanpur. On behalf of the British communists, Shapurji Saklatwala also sent a message of felicitation for the conference.

The communist conference was finally held on 26-28 December, 1925, coinciding with the Kanpur session of the Indian National Congress. Hasrat Mohani chaired the Reception Committee with K.N. Jogelekar and Janaki Parsad Bagerhatta as members of the committee. While many of the leading communist workers were still in prison, about 500 communist workers participated in the conference. Various communist groups including that of Muzaffar Ahmed in Bengal, S.A. Dange in Bombay, the Labour Kisan Party of Hindustan of Madras, and that of Shaukat Usmani in U.P. dissolved themselves to form a unified Communist Party of India. This was, in a sense, a renewed founding of the Communist Party inside India. At Kanpur conference, the attempts of the Satyabakht’s group to steer the proceedings towards their objectives were successfully foiled. Most of their proposed resolutions were defeated. The conference, was, so to speak, hijacked by the communist workers of groups coming from Bombay, Bengal, Madras, and other parts of UP. Satyabakht and his supporters strongly advocated naming the new party as the ‘Indian Communist Party’ instead of the Communist Party of India, to avoid the naming style of most communist parties in the world. Their insistence was to keep away and completely dissociate from the international communist movement and particularly the Comintern. Addressing the conference, Hasrat Mohani said with reference to the Comintern and the CPI leadership abroad, ‘We were only fellow-travelers on their path and not their subordinates’(45). The conference, however, approved the name of the Communist Party of India (CPI) as insisted by the communist workers coming from other cities now dominating the conference proceedings. The new party stressed upon the fraternity of the international communist movement. The Conference elected M. Singaravelu as president, Bagerhatta and S.V. Ghate as two Joint Secretaries and an Executive Committee of the CPI. The central executive committee was to consist of 30 members but only 16 were elected at the conference (including three representatives from the émigré CPI based in Russia), and 14 were to be co-opted later from the provinces. Satyabakht and few of his comrades were also elected as members of the executive committee. To take the control of the party away from Satyabakht, the Party headquarter was shifted from Kanpur to Bombay. The first constitution of the party was drafted and published in 1926. The newly formed body of the CPI did not, however, apply for affiliation with the Communist International (Comintern).

Few days after the conference ended, Satyabakht announced his dissociation from the CPI, resigning from its executive committee and, he together with his comrades, formed a new ‘National Communist Party’. The Satyabakht’s party had hardly any activity to its credit and was confined to Kanpur only. By 1927, it was, for all intents and purposes, defunct. By early 1927, Muzaffar Ahmed and other communist leaders began suspecting one of the Joint Secretary of the CPI, Janaki Parsad Bagerhatta to be a police informer. The arrest of Ashfaqullah Khan of Kakori case (whose hiding from the police was entrusted to him) had further raised the suspicions. Finally, Bagerhatta resigned from the party in May, 1927 on the grounds that he had lost the trust of his comrades. Later, it was established that Bagerhatta was regularly reporting to the secret police and the arrest of George Allison (a member of the CPGB sent to India) in January, 1927 was also the result of Bagerhatta’s betrayal. Ashfaqullah Khan was hanged to death and George Allison was sentenced for 18 months RI (46).

M.N. Roy later criticized the conference not only because it failed to take a clear cut view towards the Communist International, but also because it failed to adopt a ‘correct’ immediate programme of national liberation. Initially, the primary purpose of the communist groups’ participation in the conference was to prevent Satyabakht from using it to create a legal structure on a wrong basis, which would have been a great obstacle for the communists for a long time. But, in the end there were two positive outcomes of the conference: firstly, it prevented the ‘Indian Communist Party’ of Satyabakht to emerge in public as the representative communist party, and, secondly, for the first time, it provided the communist groups an opportunity to come together and forming a central all-India nucleus of the party that was crystallized in the form of the Central Executive Committee. In the middle of February 1926, Mohammad Ali ‘Sipassi’ (Khushi Mohammad of Lahore students’ Group) of the Foreign Bureau of Comintern wrote to the Joint Secretary of CPI that the newly formed party should be affiliated to the Comintern. Again, Roy wrote in March 1926, ‘The statements made repeatedly by Satyabakht as well as by Hasrat Mohani and Singaravelu at Kanpur made very bad impression here… I hope this question will be taken in the next meeting of the central committee and a resolution will be passed repudiating the previous statements. The same meeting would also resolve to affiliate the Communist Party of India with the CI and officially communicate the latter the resolution. The formal affiliation cannot be effected until the next world congress to which a delegation of the party must be sent’ (47).  The Vanguard issues in 1923 with M.N. Roy as the editor, however, continued writing on its mast ‘The organ of the CC of the Communist Party of India—section of the CI’.

A Battle Within

The formative years of the Indian communists’ organizational activities in India and abroad were not without internal dissensions and rivalries. In fact, some differences among Indian revolutionaries had emerged even before the founding of the Communist Party of India in Tashkent. These internal rivalries later projected in the organisation inside India. Members of the Berlin Committee, including Mahindra Partap, Barkat Bhopali, M.P.T. Acharya, and Abdul Rab were the first to arrive in the Soviet Union in about 1919 to organize revolutionary work for the Indian independence. Acharya and Abdul Rab went to Tashkent to work among Indians living in the Central Asian republics. By 1920, they were joined by many of the Muhajirs and Khilafat Jihadis. Barkatullah and Mahindra Partap met Lenin and gained his personal confidence. From Moscow, Barkatullah was sent with the Soviet delegation at the end of 1919 to Geneva for participating in the talks between Soviets and the Allies. He was instrumental in building strong working relationships with, and diplomatic support for, the Turkish delegation at the Peace Talks. These people were essentially radical nationalists. In due course of their struggle, they were exposed to the socialist ideas and few of them had converted or grew sympathetic to the new revolutionary ideology. Maulvi Barkatullah had said in one of his interview to Petrograd Pravda in 1919, ‘I am neither a socialist nor a communist. My political mission is to expel the British and other imperialists from Asia. I am strongly opposed to the European capitalism in Asia that is represented by the British. In this struggle I am a staunch ally of the communists and I consider them as necessary allies for achieving my political objectives. I think today without their practical support winning freedom from the imperialists is a pipe dream…I am not a communist, I am an anti-imperialist revolutionary. But I respect communist ideology from my heart. Communism or Bolshevism is a social and economic system that I, as a Muslim scholar, find much closer to Islam (48).

With the advent of M.N. Roy attaining rapid pre-eminence in the Communist International, his taking command of the Indian revolutionary work was naturally resented by some of those who were already working on this plan for some time. They wanted to quickly accelerate their efforts to revive the ‘Provisional Indian Government’ and mobilize an anti-imperialist united front consisting of Turkey, Afghanistan, China, Japan, and Russia. For them formation of an Indian communist party in Russia was also a part of this grand plan to obtain full support of the Soviet Communist Party. Roy, on the other hand, did not believe in the dead horse of the ‘Provisional Indian Government’. He did not think few of these ‘pseudo revolutionaries’, particularly Abdul Rab, were even really fit for becoming member of the communist party. With the leadership of the Indian revolutionaries in Soviet Union clearly passing to M.N. Roy who was then highly influential with the Soviet leadership and having his own definite ideas about the revolution, some of the ‘nationalists’, including Mahindra Partap, Barkatullah Bhopali, Viren Chattopadhya, Ghulam Nabi Anbia, and their Berlin colleagues returned to Germany by end of 1921. Others, like Abani Mukherji and Acharya, acquiesced for a while, albeit, grudgingly.

It was in this backdrop that M.N. Roy was trying to build a nucleus of communist party in India. Using Comintern’s European network, Roy was trying to build communication links with the Indian communists on the ground. He also had to depend on the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) channels for transporting men and material to India. While many of the trained communist workers were promptly arrested upon their return to India, Nalini Gupta was one of the main contacts between Roy and Indian communists. He had visited India twice in 1921 and 1922, second time with a Roy’s message to C.R. Das, the President of the Indian Congress. By now, Roy had become a nuisance for the British government. He was not only one of the members of the Comintern but one of its key leaders, an architect of its policies for the liberation of colonies. After disappearing from the radar of British police after sneaking out from New York to Mexico in 1917, Roy had staged an impressive reappearance in Russia. The British police hounded him and made all efforts to discredit him among Indian revolutionaries. With a view to develop their own direct contacts, one of the dissenting group’s members, Abani Mukherji came to India in 1922. The British were aware of the internal friction between Roy and few other Indians in Russia. Apparently, Abani Mukherji was given a free run for meeting people in India to cloud Roy’s image. In response to a British government’s communication to arrest all communist infiltrators, including Abani Mukherji, the British Indian government wrote a letter to the British Secretary of State for India that perhaps, it would not be advisable to arrest a man “sent by Roy’s enemies to India where he has been intriguing against Roy for some months”(49). It is interesting to note that except for Abani, in all, about 44 political workers were arrested, tried and convicted for the charges of having contacts with M.N. Roy and the Communist International. Also, in connection with Kanpur Conspiracy Case, no charge was ever registered against Abani in India. The other exception was Jatin Mitra who was never arrested. Mitra was the one who was sent to Europe in 1924 in response to Roy’s request for sending few people from India for Marxist political training. After reaching Europe, Roy found Jatin ‘stupid and useless’. He was sent back home in Nov 1925. The disgruntled Jatin Mitra, later, joined Satyabakht’s national communist party.

Roy wrote in his letter to Muzaffar Ahmed in Feb 1923, “Abani has returned to the country, be careful about him.” In another letter, he wrote, “The devil [Abani] has at last joined the Berlin crowd… He killed himself in the International by his own behavior. Be careful of him and put others on guard”. The Executive Committee of the Communist international (ECCI) had issued a circular saying, “ECCI is investigating the activities of Abani Mukherji”. The results of the investigation were never made public or shared with CPI, but Abani remained absent from major public appearances in subsequent Communist International events (50). CPI in Tashkent, however, continued in its efforts for establishing and maintaining communication links with some of the key leaders of these communist groups. It provided them with theoretical support.

Maintaining a regular correspondence with the Indian communist leaders for establishing a mass legal party as well as the nucleus of an illegal communist party, M.N. Roy wanted key Indian communists to visit Berlin to finalise arrangements under his supervision and suggested that the program has been discussed by the people of world experience (obvious reference to the Comintern leaders). Dange and Singaravelu, however, did not like the idea of holding a conference of Indian communists in Europe, thinking it as an impractical idea in the given circumstances. Dange wrote to Singaravelu in February 1923, “You perhaps know that Roy wants to hold a conference of Indian communists in Berlin. I think it is a mad venture for Indians to go hunting communism in European conferences. Whatever has to be done must be done in India” (51).

Slowly, but surely, a policy shift was taking place inside Comintern. The so-called ‘first period’ of the Comintern, characterized by policies driven by the euphoria of carrying through an ‘international revolution’ and the export of communism, were coming to an end. Successive failures of revolutionary uprisings in Europe and reversals in Hungary (1919), Germany (1921), and Estonia (1924) had played their role in changing the perspective and focus inside the Comintern by its Fifth Congress held in June-July, 1924. Lenin was nearly incapacitated due to a stroke since December, 1922 and had died in January, 1924. Joseph Stalin had already presented his thesis of ‘Socialism in one country’. The idea of Trotskyite ‘Permanent Revolution’ was dismissed and the focus was shifting towards the ‘New Economic Policy’. In the changing world scenario where Soviet Union was rebuilding its political and economic ties with European powers, Russian leadership wanted to encourage the Indian communists to depend upon their own resources, and not on Russian money. Its emphasis was changing to the formation of the party in India and its functioning from a base inside India itself. Collaboration and ‘united front’ with the local ‘national bourgeoisie’ was encouraged. The policy was designed to strengthen the Indian party to save the Soviet Union from a British accusation of Russian interference in India.

This policy shift had three outcomes: firstly, the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) gradually gained authority to take direct charge of the communist activities in India; secondly, Indian communists began to infiltrate into Indian National Congress seeking to capture leadership of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC); and, thirdly, not having his own base and his own ‘constituency’, M.N. Roy’s attempts to gain remote control of the Indian communism greatly diminished in value, resulting in his being, in a way, kicked upstairs. While Roy was gradually being eased out of his executive powers of directing the Indian movement, he was appointed to the editorial staff of the Communist International, the multi-language journal of the Comintern; in the Sixth Plenum meetings during Feb-Mar, 1926, he was elected to the Presidium and named Chairman of the Eastern Commission and member of the Executive Committee of Comintern; the Seventh Plenum in Nov-Dec, 1926 elected him to the Agrarian Commission, and the Chinese Commission. Thus, by the end of 1926, Roy was a member of all four official policy-making bodies of the Comintern: The Presidium, Political Secretariat, Executive Committee, and the World Congress (52). But, his executive powers on the ground to directly influence the course of events in India were significantly reduced; Stalin appointed Roy as head of the Comintern delegation to China in 1927 and sent him there to help develop agrarian revolution. He was in a way completely cut off from the field action in India.

During this period, Ghadar Party leaders including Raja Mahindra Partap Singh, Barkatullah, and the Party President Bhagwan Singh Giyani, attempted another completely thoughtless and botched adventure to cross over from Tibet into India via Nepal with an armed band (Jattha) of Ghadar soldiers. According to the reminiscences of Kartar Singh Dhillon, the younger brother of one of the Ghadar Party soldiers setting out from San Francisco, Badawa (Bud) Singh Dhillon, Raja Mahindra Partap visited Ghadar Party headquarter in San Francisco and recruited a group of Sikh volunteers and raised some funds for transporting them in ship stowaway to Japan. Japanese support and some outdated rifles were acquired for the group with the help of Rash Bihari Bose in Tokyo. The armed band reached Peking (Beijing) taking the route via Korea and Manchuria. From Peking they journeyed on foot along the Great Wall of China and the Gobi Desert to reach Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province, about 1,600 km in north-west China. This was the period when the ‘united front’ between Mao Tse-tung’s Red army and Chiang Kai Shek was still not broken and the Ghadar Party group’s passage through many of the communist controlled ‘liberated’ areas was facilitated. But, by the time this rag-tag army band of ‘volunteer revolutionaries’ reached Lanzhou they were almost breaking down due to fatigue, lack of proper planning, and the alleged complete neglect of their plight by Raja Mahindra Partap. Suffering from acute dysentery, Bud (Singh) Dhillon, together with two of his friends, Charan Singh and Bishan Singh, refused to go any further. The remaining ‘army’ continued its journey for another about 13-14 days before completely disintegrating in the wilderness, still far from reaching Tibet (53).

On the other hand, the Amsterdam Conference of representatives of the émigré anti-Imperialist freedom movements sponsored by Comintern in Sep 1926 ‘marked a stage in the transfer of authority from Roy to CPGB (54) as the recognized agent and intermediary of the Comintern in dealing with the Indian movement. One of the purposes of the conference was to link up and align the work done by CPGB with the working of Roy’s Foreign Bureau. This Foreign Bureau mainly comprised of M.N. Roy, Clemence Palme Dutt (elder brother of Rajani Palme Dutt (55)), and Mohammad Ali (56) (Sipassi). But after the Sixth Congress of the Comintern, Roy ceased to be in charge of India on behalf of the Comintern. The British communists who arrived in India, so to say, to take charge and assist the CPI in organizing and expanding its base in India were, among others, Philip Spratt, George Allison, Hugh Lester Hutchinson, and Benjamin (Ben) Bradley. Spratt arrived in India in December, 1926 and soon became the linkman of the CPI. He helped establish mass Workers and Peasants parties in 1927 in Bombay (February) and Calcutta (March). Ben Bradley arrived joining hands with Spratt in Sep 1927. Shapur Saklatwala from CPGB also visited India in 1927. In 1928, Hugh Hutchinson reached India. The British communists greatly contributed in the strategy formulation, introducing organisational framework, and honest conduct displaying exemplary courage. In 1939, Philip Spratt married Sita, a grand-niece of M. Singaravelu, the veteran communist trade union leader from Madras.

The failure of the China’s Shanghai uprising in 1927 and the brutal massacre of the Chinese communists by Chiang Kai Shek, abruptly breaking its ‘united front’ with the Chinese communists, was a major setback to the Comintern’s policies in China and by extension in India. This major reversal in the communist movement in China triggered another change of heart in the Comintern and the internal rivalries intensified. Upon his return from China, Roy also came under clouds. The CPI leadership inside India also distanced itself from, and, practically, replaced Roy and his émigré CPI.

Amir Haider Khan, a veteran of CPI (later, known as Dada Amir Haider in Pakistan’s communist movement) reminiscences in his Memoirs that in early 1929 in Bombay in a letter from Roy addressed to S.A. Dange and S.V. Ghate sent through an emissary, “Roy had asked the comrades in India whether his activities abroad on behalf of the country had been of any help to them. It was also brought to our attention that the recent [Sixth] Congress of the Communist International had left unfilled reserved seat for India in the Central Executive Committee. It would be best if a comrade from India could be sent to fill the reserved seat. In case this was not possible Roy wanted to find out if he himself would be an acceptable choice to fill the position”. According to Amir Haider, “the reply from Comrades Ghate and Dange indicated that while M.N. Roy’s activities might have helped theoretically, in practice his methods had harmed us in India. To the second point the response was that at the time we were not in a position to send a comrade to Moscow to represent us, nor were we willing to recommend him [Roy] to represent us from abroad” (57).

Trotsky and Zinoviev were expelled from the party and Comintern in Nov-Dec 1928 and finally Trotsky was exiled from Russia in Jan 1929. Zinoviev and Bukharin were humiliated and cut to size. Roy also fell from grace and escaped to Germany in May 1929 with the help of Bukharin to avoid Stalin’s wrath. Roy was, finally, expelled from Comintern in Dec 1929, almost simultaneously with Bukharin’s expulsion from the party and the Comintern.

Much later, in August 1959, the CPI leadership, perhaps, to permanently disconnect itself from M.N. Roy and his émigré CPI, adopted the First Kanpur Conference date of Dec 1925 as its official founding date. But the other faction of CPI (Marxist), which broke away from CPI at the time of Soviet-China split in the international communist movement, however, insists on continuing to recognize the 17 October 1920 in Tashkent as the original founding date of the CPI.

Reorganization of CPI

After their release from prison in Kanpur Conspiracy Cases, the Indian communists were slowly returning to pick up the broken threads. To supplement CPI’s depleted cadre, Comintern had been making efforts for recruiting potential activists for the training in communist ideology and organizational methods at its Communist University in Moscow. Owing to strict surveillance and monitoring of the British intelligence services of all movements to and from India, maintaining regular links with the Indian communists and recruitment of activists for training abroad was proving to be immensely difficult. A search was made for recruiting suitable candidates from overseas Indians in Europe and the U.S.A. Dada Amir Haider was one such recruit selected in Detroit, U.S.A., in Jan 1926 with the help of the Communist Party of the U.S.A. for training in Moscow. Amir Haider was working for the Packard Motor Company plant in Detroit and had come into contact with communist workers (58). While in New York, around Sep-Oct, 1920, the young Amir Haider had his first brush with political activists of the Ghadar Party and attended their agitations and conferences.

In New York, Dada Amir Haider met Agnes Smedley, an American revolutionary journalist and political activist who was deeply involved in supporting the Indian revolutionaries in the USA. Agnes worked with Lala Lajpat Rai and met M.N. Roy (then living in New York with his American wife), and Bhai Bhagwan Singh Giyani of Ghadar Party. She was the Secretary of the ‘Friends of Freedom for India’, with Professor Robert Morss Lovett as President. She inspired Amir Haider to join the movement. Agnes left New York in 1921 and moved to Berlin to work with Indian revolutionaries. There she met and lived with Viren Chattopadhya as her partner for many years and went with him to Moscow.

Amir Haider Khan received two years training in Moscow. Shamsul Huda of Bengal and Suhashini Chattopadhya, the younger sister of Viren Chattopadhya and Sarojni Naidu were also with him. He returned to India in Sep 1928 joining with CPI leaders S.A. Dange, V.S. Ghate, Ben Bradley, Hutcheson, and P.C. Joshi in Bombay. After a while, Suhashini Chattopadhya also returned to Bombay and worked for the CPI, living together with the British Comrade Hutcheson. Suhashini was probably the first Indian woman (Evelyn Trent Roy and Rosa Fitingov Mukherji before her were both of foreign origin), who formally joined Communist Party of India. Amir Haider was assigned the responsibility of establishing a regular channel of under-cover contacts with the Foreign Bureau and Comintern using his old links with Bombay seamen and Seamen Club in Hamburg and other shipping hubs. After being released from jail term in Kanpur Conspiracy Case, Nalini Gupta was also working with Seamen Club in Hamburg for keeping the contacts alive.

The 9th Plenum of the Executive Committee of Comintern, held in February, 1928, heralded a new era of policy shift. The bitter experience of ‘national bourgeoisie’ betraying the ‘popular united front’ in China was still fresh in memory and the wounds were bleeding when an ultra-left swing was decided to be played. With the world economy inflicted with deepening recession, the fresh assessment was that the world capitalist system was dying and its final collapse was imminent. The communist parties were exhorted to reject the ‘social democratic parties’ of Europe. In colonies, like India, declaring the bourgeois parties as ‘social fascists’, the communists set out to sharpen the class struggle between labour and capital and take aggressive leadership in trade unions and mass political parties. ‘It was inconceivable’, argued Bukharin, in the Sixth Congress of the Comintern, ‘that the bourgeoisie would play a revolutionary role for any length of time’. Otto Kuusinen, in his official report of the Comintern said, ‘But it is important to understand the political character of the Indian bourgeoisie, its national reformist policy… That the policy of the Indian bourgeoisie is not revolutionary is also quite clear.’ On the question of Workers and Peasants parties, the lines were now clearly drawn. ‘The Russians wanted to liquidate them; the British wanted to maintain them’ (59). Roy and CPGB wished to continue with the previous strategy of having two parties, a legal Workers and Peasants Party and an illegal Communist Party to steer the mass party from behind. The Sixth Congress of Comintern was held in Jul-Sep 1928, in Moscow. A delegation from India arrived via Iran for attending the congress. They were: Shaukat Usmani, Mohammad Shafiq, Masood Ali Shah, and Habib Ahmed Nasim. They came together with Saumydranath Tagore, a nephew of Rabindranath Tagore. Clemens Palme Dutt, and Ghulam Anbia Khan Lohani had also come. M.N. Roy was there but he was almost at the end of his career with Comintern. There was, however, a question over the status of Indian delegates as authorized representatives of the Communist Party of India (CPI). Upon inquiry from CPGB in London, the CPI leadership in India sent a telegram informing them that Usmani did not represent the party at all. Philip Spratt writes in his autobiography, Blowing Up India, “… Shaukat Usmani decided to attend it [the Sixth Congress], and went via Iran, taking three others with him. … The first I heard of their adventure was a cable from London asking whether Usmani represented the party. I replied no, which was true” (60). But according to S.V. Ghate in a later interview, “the wire never reached them because it was intercepted” (61). Saumyendranath Tagore was not a member of CPI, and officially represented the Workers and Peasant Party of Bengal. Beside him, the Comintern accepted Shaukat Usmani and Mohammad Shafiq as delegates to the Congress. The other two included as observers on behalf of the Young Communist International. Nevertheless, Usmani was, subsequently, elected to the Presidium of the Comintern, sitting third from Stalin, clearly displacing M.N. Roy.

Clemence Palme Dutt speaking on behalf of the CPGB delegation and Tagore representing Workers & Peasants Party of Bengal attempted to oppose the Kuusinen thesis. In contrast, Shaukat Usmani and his two colleagues Mohammad Shafiq and Habib Nasim fully supported the thesis in opposition to Roy, Tagore, and the CPGB delegation. Usmani said in his address to the Congress with an obvious reference to Roy, ‘Comrades who have been here for about ten years cannot properly deal with the situation’ (62). Finally, as Overstreet & Windmiller observe, ‘perhaps to avoid the appearance of siding with Roy, the British delegation accepted the Russian thesis’ (63). The Russian view finally prevailed, and Comintern’s support for the Workers and Peasant parties was officially withdrawn. From a long held policy of supporting Indian Congress, the Comintern’s directive to CPI after its Sixth Congress was now to oppose it. While Comintern had clearly swung to the left and was reluctantly followed by CPGB, Roy found himself on the right of the Comintern and CPGB. Based on his understanding of the then political conditions in India where Congress under the influence of Jawaharlal Nehru was showing signs of radical tendencies, he was now in favor of ‘working together’ with the Congress.

A large number of CPI workers had joined the Workers & Peasants Party (WPP) of Bengal, after it was re-organized in November 1925. In fact, most of their legal work was carried out through WPP. A WPP was also formed in Bombay in January, 1927 with D.R. Thengdi as its president and S.S. Mirajkar as the general secretary. Various WPPs were working inside the framework of the Indian National Congress. CPI members Thengdi, R.S. Nimbkar, and K.N. Joglekar from WPP Bombay and two other from WPP Bengal were elected to the All India Congress Committee (AICC). Working together with the young Jawaharlal Nehru who was making clear overtures for siding with International socialism, they had succeeded in making the Indian Congress an associate member of the Comintern’s sponsored League against Imperialism. At the annual session of Congress at Madras in 1927, K.N. Joglekar’s resolution, seconded by Jawaharlal Nehru, demanding for full independence of India was approved by the Congress for the first time. The first such proposal by Hasrat Mohani in 1921 at Ahmadabad was defeated by Gandhi’s strong opposition. The general political environment was taking a radical left swing. Working under the active guidance of CPI, the WPP Bombay was able to heighten and greatly radicalize the trade union movement. There was a phenomenal rise in workers’ strikes during 1928-1929, including a major strike of Bombay textile industry closing down over 50 mills, which lasted from 26 Apr to 6 Oct, 1928.

In a Communist workers meeting on 27-29 Dec, 1928, CPI was reconstituted and a new Central Executive was elected (64). Ghate was appointed general secretary and the CPI decided to formally apply for affiliation with Comintern. It seems the CPI was still divided, or rather confused, about the Comintern’s policy shift on WPP. In spite of having discussed the matter and in principle agreeing with the Comintern’s policy document, the CPI in practice deviated from Comintern’s directive about dissolution of WPPs. It continued to have an open, legal, mass party side by side with an illegal communist party. This was essentially Roy’s original recommendation. Interestingly, Shaukat Usmani also supported this view despite his different role at the Sixth Congress of Comintern. Perhaps, it was a reflection of his own subsequent fall from the grace of the Comintern in its continuing internal rivalries. But, simultaneously in a meeting on 17-19 Mar, 1929, the Executive Committee of CPI agreed to discuss the issue of ‘the danger of having WPP’ in its next meeting. The meeting was, however, never held as the next day, on 20 March, 1929 thirty-one communists and trade union workers were arrested by the government in the famous Meerut Conspiracy Case.

Disenchanted with the shifting policies of the Comintern and sensing his own future career in the international communist movement being dead, M.N. Roy started to look towards returning to India. Roy had developed good relations with Gangadhar (G) Adhikari, when the latter was a student in Berlin and had returned to India in Dec 1928 joining the CPI leadership in Bombay. In response to Roy’s letter to him in Bombay, shortly before his arrest in Meerut Conspiracy Case Adhikari replied Roy in Mar 1929 that Shaukat Usmani had “asked me to tell you that…he has nothing against you. Nobody here is making any propaganda against you” (65). Roy was also in contact with few Indian students converted to communism in Berlin, including, Tayab Shaikh, Sunder Kabadi, and Anadi Bhaduri. By July 1930, it was decided between Roy and these students that they will return to India and build a communist group to replace the large group of Indian communists who had been jailed in India. Roy returned to India in Dec 1930 and attended the Indian National Congress session at Karachi in Mar 1931 at Nehru’s personal invitation. Hiding from the British police (he was still wanted in Kanpur Conspiracy Case), he travelled in Maharashtra and U.P. to build his communist group to work within the Congress. He avoided Bengal as the risk of him being easily identified there was higher. Roy was, however, arrested in Jul 1931 and was jailed for 12 years. The sentence was later reduced to six years. He was released on 20 Nov 1936 and joined Indian National Congress on the same day in Dehra Dun and proceeded to meet Jawaharlal Nehru in Allahabad. At the Congress annual session at Faizpur, Nehru in his Presidential address welcomed “Comrade Roy” as “one of the bravest and ablest of India’s sons of the present generation” (66). At Faizpur session, Roy presented his thesis for converting National Congress into a ‘Constituent Assembly’ not only as an agitation and propaganda platform but also as model for practical politics, capturing power.


41. Mohammad Shafiq remained connected with CPI but in low key. He proceeded to Soviet Union together with Shaukat Usmani to attend Comintern’s Sixth Congress in 1928 but did not return. He disappeared after 1932.
42. ‘Open Letter from the Communist Party of India’ by Manabendra Nath Roy, Inprecor, Vol 4, No. 22, 27 March, 1924.
43. Satyabakht from Bharatpur had got involved in independence movement, participating in the Congress’ non-cooperation movement. After movement’s abrupt withdrawal in 1922, he claimed to have studied ‘communism’. In early 1923, he joined Radha Mohan Gokulji in Nagpur assisting him in editing the left wing journal Pranvir. Satyabakht returned Kanpur by October, 1924 and formed the communist party. The announcement of the formation of a communist party by Satyabakht appeared in Hindi daily Aaj, English daily Indian World of Kanpur and few other papers.
44. The others who supported and joined Satyabakht’s party included, Narayan Parsad Arora, Ram Shankar Aswanthi (editor Vartaman), Ram Parsad Sharma, Ram Gopal Vidyalankar (editor, Pranvir), Sureshchandra Bhattacharya (sub-editor, Vartaman), and Janaki Parsad Bagerhatta. Janaki Parsad was a classmate of Shaukat Usmani in Bikaner and a former secretary of the National Congress in Rewari, Gurgaon.
45. Chandrika Singh, “Communist and Socialist Movement in India: A Critical Account, Mittal Publications, 1987, p. 58.
46. Documents of CPI, op cited, Vol.II, p. 369-370.
47 Ibid, p. 626.
48. Daily Ishtrakyon (Socialists), 29 Mar 1919 quoted in Shaukat Siddiqi, Gumshuda Auraq (The Lost Pages), Riktab Publications, Karachi, 2011, p. 175.
49. Samaren Roy, M.N. Roy: A Political Biography, Orient Longman, New Delhi, 1997, p. 100.
50. Abani Mukherji returned to Moscow but remained on sidelines. He became an academician and an Indologist at the Oriental Institute of the Academy of Sciences of USSR. He also served as President of the All India Association of Orientalists. Mukherji eventually fell victim of the great purge in the Soviet Communist Party and was reportedly executed in October 1937.
51. Documents of CPI, op cited, Vol.II, p. 105.
52. Samaren Roy, op cited, p. 95.
53. ‘Bud Dillon’, by Kartar Dhillon in Tides Magazine, August 20, 2013, SAADA-South Asian American Digital Archive:
54. E.H. Carr, Socialism in One Country, as quoted in Documents of CPI, op cited, Vol.II, p. 563.
55. Clemence Palme Dutt and Rajani Palme Dutt were born in England of an Indian surgeon, Upendra Dutt and his Swedish wife, Anna Palme, a great-aunt of Olof Palme, the future Prime Minister of Sweden during 1969-76 and 1982-86. Both Dutt brothers were active founding members of the Communist Party of Great Britain. They both served, Rajani followed by Clemence, as the Editor of respectable Labour Monthly. Elder brother Clemence worked as a coordinator from CPGB with Comintern’s Eastern Bureau, M.N. Roy, and several communist parties of British colonies including CPI. Rajini Dutt was a member of the Executive Committee and chief theoretician of the CPGB. Rajani was the author of India Today, the first seminal Marxist history of India.
56. Khushi Muhammad (Mohammad Ali Sipasi) after his expulsion from Pondicherry relocated to Antwerp in Holland and also worked from Marseilles. He married a Rumanian woman and settled in Paris where he met a violent death during Hitler’s army occupation of Paris during World War Two.
57. Chains to Lose: Memoirs of Dada Amir Haider Khan, Ed. Hassan N. Gardezi, Vol-II, Pakistan Study Centre, University of Karachi, Karachi, Pakistan, 2007, p. 663 58 A young Amir Haider had escaped from a harsh life of poverty and deprivation in his village near Gujjar Khan near Rawalpindi in 1914. First, trying his luck in Calcutta, he arrived in Bombay seeking employment. He boarded a vessel sailing for Basra as a sailor and spent many years on the sea, sailing around the world. During the First World War, he had sailed with various military and general cargo ships to the ports around the world. Amir Haider finally deserted his ship in 1918 in New York, adopted U.S. citizenship, and lived, sailed, worked, and learnt flying in the U.S.A. for many years.
59. Gene D. Overstreet & Marshall Windmiller, Communism in India, University of California Press, 1959, p. 115-116.
60. Philip Spratt, Blowing Up India, Parachi Parakashan, 1935, p. 41 as quoted in Overstreet & Windmiller, op cited, p. 112.
61. ‘Making of a Thesis: Interview with S.V. Ghate’ by A.G. Noorani in Frontline, Vol.29, Issue 08: Apr 21-May 04, 2012.
62. Overstreet & Windmiller, op cited, p. 117.
63. Ibid, p. 118.
64. It comprised of S.S. Mirajkar, S.A. Dange, R.S. Nimbkar, K.N. Jogelkar, S.V. Ghate, Muzaffar Ahmed, Abdul Halim, Shamsul Huda, Abdul Majid, and Sohan Singh Josh.
65. Samaren Roy, op cited, p. 107.
66. Ibid, p. 111.

Chapter 2 to be continued...

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A History of the Left in Pakistan – 6

October 12, 2016

By Ahmed Kamran

Chapter Two: The Communist Party of India – Its Genesis (1920 – 1932)

The Indian revolutionaries and Muhajirs arriving in Russia in 1920 from different directions played a major role in forming the first Communist Party of India. They had different ideas and had taken different paths to reach to this point where by a quirk of history they met and converged together in Tashkent to acquire a new organisational structure. In all, there were about 200 of Indian Muhajirs-Mujahidin who had crossed over into Soviet Russia from the Afghan border in the autumn of 1920. A number of Indians, mostly from trading castes from Gujarat and Sindh, were already living in the Central Asia, having fairly old business relations and interests in the region. They were living in major Central Asian towns like Bukhara, Samarkand, and Baku. While Indian Muhajirs were still in Baku a report was published in local newspapers about Rehmat Ali Zakaria (one of the Lahore students camped at Jabalul Siraj) addressing the Third Congress of the Communist Party of Soviet Union at Tashkent. Zakaria was one of the first few who had reached the Soviet Union in Nov 1917. According to the newspapers, he had presented the case of India’s independence from the British rule to the Congress in Tashkent. Another Lahore student Khushi Mohammad had also reached Tashkent from Afghanistan in Jan 1920.

Life in Tashkent

The first group of Indian Muhajirs from Charjui reached Tashkent in Oct 1920. Abdul Rab of the former Berlin Committee who was already in Russia together with Acharya since about 1919 received them and arranged for their stay at the ‘India House’. The second group from Baku, including Fazal Elahi Qurban, arrived in Tashkent via Ashkabad and Samarkand. In Tashkent, Abdul Rab had formed an Indian Revolutionary Association (1). Abdul Rab was also bringing out a fortnightly paper under the name of Azad Hindustan. Most members of the association were Punjabi and Pathan soldiers who had deserted the British army after refusing to fire upon the Muslim Turkish army.

About 70 Muhajirs arriving in Tashkent had divided opinion. A few, exhausted and losing all hopes, wished to return home. About 26 decided to stay, joining the political and military training school in Tashkent for continuing their struggle for the independence of India with the help of new Soviet revolutionary government. Those who headed home reached Kabul by the summer of 1921 and returned to India in batches. The British secret police was keeping track of the gradual return of the Indian Muhajir groups. Most of them returned to Peshawar via Kabul. A few also arrived at Quetta via Kandahar. Barring a few, most of these returning Muhajirs were intercepted and interrogated at the border by Mr. S.M. Ewart, the officer-in-charge of the British Intelligence Bureau at Peshawar. The first batch of the returning Muhajirs arrived at Peshawar in June 1921 (2).

The Indian Muhajirs staying back in Russia joined with other Indian revolutionaries of the Ghadar Party and the Berlin Committee in Tashkent and Moscow. The convergence and fusion of these three independent streams of Indian nationalism – the Ghadar Party, the Berlin Committee, and the Hijrat Movement – produced a group of revolutionaries who became the founding fathers of the Communist Party of India. Coinciding with these developments in Tashkent, another Indian revolutionary M.N. Roy arrived in Moscow in May 1920 from Mexico via Berlin. He was personally invited by V.I. Lenin to attend the Second Congress of the Third Communist International (Comintern), held in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) (3). M.N. Roy had gained prominence as an international communist leader and a founding member of the Communist Party of Mexico (4). Roy was first introduced to Marxist ideology in New York and actively participated in revolutionary activities of the Indian, Irish, African-American, and Mexican revolutionary groups. For his revolutionary activities, Roy was briefly arrested in New York and was released after warning. Before the British intelligence could lay hands on Roy, he and his wife Evelyn fled to Mexico. Here also Roy was instrumental in founding of the Socialist Party of Mexico in December 1917. This party was later converted into the Communist Party of Mexico, gaining distinction of being the first communist party outside Russia.

While in Mexico, Roy had provided shelter and support to Mikhail Borodin, a senior Bolshevik leader in exile on the run from Czar’s secret police. After Borodin’s return to Russia where Bolshevik government had been established under Lenin, he reported about M.N. Roy’s crucial support and his great organisational activities for communism in the USA and Mexico. A grateful Moscow invited M.N. Roy to attend the Second Congress of the Third Communist International (Comintern) in Petrograd. The Comintern was formed in 1919 in difficult times for Russia while the newly formed Soviet republic was still fighting its battle for survival against the invading armies of seven allied powers.

The Second Congress of the Comintern held during 19 July-7 August, 1920 in Petrograd was, in a way, the first big event of the international communism to chart its way forward. Of the total 218 delegates, 150 had come from 35 different countries and regions of the world outside Russia. In the Congress, a special emphasis was given to the efforts of developing revolutionary struggles in the East. Briefed about his pioneering revolutionary activities in the US and Mexico and his impressive intellectual brilliance, V.I. Lenin warmly received Roy and inducted him into the Presidium of the Comintern, which he went on to serve for eight years. Roy worked with Lenin in preparing his well-known Preliminary Draft Thesis on the National and Colonial Questions. Lenin was particularly interested in building support for the peoples’ revolutionary struggle in the East, especially in India. A Special Congress of the Peoples of the East was held in September, 1920 in Baku to focus on this issue. Lenin entrusted this task to M.N. Roy under his direct supervision. On the advice of Lenin, Roy also established a political and military training school, Indusky Krus, in Tashkent to prepare the East, particularly India, for the revolution. An ‘India House’ had also been set up for lodging the Indian revolutionary trainees.

The Second Congress of the Comintern was also attended by M.P.T. Acharya of the Berlin Committee, and another Indian revolutionary Abani Mukherji as delegates from India (5). Abani attended the Second Congress of the Comintern meeting Acharya, Roy, Evelyn Trent, and other Indian revolutionaries. While Roy and Evelyn had attended as delegates of the Communist Party of Mexico, Roy was also listed as representing India on various forums and committees of the Congress. Abdul Rab and Mohammad Shafiq participated as observers.

Formation of the Communist Party of India

The first Communist Party of India was founded in Tashkent on 17 October 1920 by a group of Indian revolutionaries in a meeting held after a session of The Second Congress of the Communist International. Those who attended the founding meeting included, M.N. Roy, Evelyn Trent Roy, Abani Mukherji, Rosa Fitingov (Abani’s wife), Mohammad Ali, Muhammad Shafiq Siddiqi, Syed Rafiq Ahmed, and M.P.T. Acharya. Abani Mukherji acted as the chairman of the meeting and Mohammad Shafiq was elected as the first General Secretary of the party (6). Taking this date as the inception of the Communist Party of India, it has the distinction of being the first communist party in Asia that came into existence, even before the founding of the Communist Party of China that took place in Shanghai in July, 1921. Roy, Abani Mukherji and Evelyn Roy jointly wrote ‘The Indian Communist Manifesto’, which was published in The Socialist from Glasgow. Abdul Qadir Sehrai, Masood Ali Shah, Mian Akbar Shah, Gohar Rehman, Mir Abdul Majid, Firozuddin Mansoor, Fazal Elahi Qurban, Fida Ali Zahid, Sultan Mahmud, Abdullah Safdar and Rehmat Ali Zakaria of Indian Muhajir group coming via Afghanistan joined the Communist Party of India later. Abani stayed in Tashkent as in-charge of the Indian political and military school.

After the first Anglo-Soviet Trade Agreement was signed in March, 1921, the Indusky Krus School at Tashkent was closed down under pressure from the British representative protesting the alleged Soviet activities against India and Afghanistan from Russian Turkistan. Instead, a fully-fledged ‘Communist University for the Toilers of the East’ (KUTVa) was founded in Moscow (7). The Indian student/trainees transferred from Tashkent school to the newly established university in Moscow were among the first student batches of this university. Most of them later figured in the subsequent history of the Indian Communist movement in one way or the other (8). Among others, Iqbal Shaidai (9) played a role in the Indian independence movement while Abdul Rahim and Abdul Karim permanently settled in Russia, joined Soviet air force and both died in aircraft crashes.

Upon closure of Tashkent school, Mohammad Akbar Khan from Peshawar didn’t go to Moscow for joining the communist school. Instead, he returned home in Peshawar and established a printing press for disseminating revolutionary literature (10).

Indian Workers’ Movement

The first modern industrial unit – a cotton mill – in India was set up by the British probably in 1813 in Calcutta. Plantations and laying the railways heralded colonial capitalism in India. A British company, the Assam Tea Company, was established in 1839 to set up tea gardens in Assam. Coffee plantations were started in South India by 1840. A Scottish investor started the first Jute Mill in Calcutta in 1854. Later, after India was made part of the British Crown in 1858, industrial working class developed with laying the railway lines network, beginning of coal mining to feed the newly laid railways, and development of jute factories. Port cities like Bombay, Calcutta, Karachi, and Madras developed rapidly as the centers of modern commercial and industrial economy. Cotton and jute mills expanded to feed the needs of a large and growing British Empire. By 1914, there were 264 cotton mills in India employing 260,000 workers, 60 jute mills with 200,000 workers, railways with 600,000 workers, plantations with 700,000 workers, and mining had provided work to 150,000 workers.

The first labour action in India in its modern sense probably occurred in 1827 with the first ever recorded strike of the transport workers – the palanquin bearers – in Calcutta. Extremely harsh working conditions, extra-ordinary long working hours, and poverty and misery sinking deep among burgeoning industrial and plantation workers was bound to give rise to labour unrest and more active forms of protest expressed in individual and collective agitation against the assaults by mill- and plantation-owners. Although, the plantations and mines employed a much larger number of workers who were heavily exploited, their conditions did not come into public attention owing to them being away from the urban centers to come into the notice of early social reformers, journalists, political activists, and lawyers. The industrial workers in large towns, however, were in more public view. Early Indian social workers, mostly from professions of legal practice dealing with them were drawn to the workers’ cause, providing them better organizational work, effective press reporting and public support. First Labour Laws in British India were legislated in 1850s and 1860s. In fact, these legislations were carried out to effectively control and regulate the working class actions. Records of open workers’ resistance are available since 1870s in Bombay. In 1884, the Bombay Cotton Mill workers held a large meeting and raised their demands of reduced working hours to the government. Often, strikes were called. The first labour strike of modern industrial workers in the areas where Pakistan was later founded was recorded when Muslim and Sikh railway workers in Rawalpindi went on hartaal (strike) in May 1904 as part of the upsurge in Punjab. Apparently, the duration and frequency of labour protests and strikes had increased to a level that the Bombay Millowners’ Association was forced to refer to the existence of a ‘labour movement’ in the country in 1913 (11). Massive unemployment, famine and disease in the post First World War recession of economy caused widespread workers’ unrest and agitation, leading to frequent general strikes in 1919 and 1920.

In Bengal, Sasipada Banerjee founded a ‘Working Men’s Club’ in 1870 and published a monthly journal in Bengali Bharat Shramjibi in 1874. The Brahmo Samaj also formed the ‘Working Men’s Mission’ in Bengal in 1878. N.M. Lokhanday was involved in welfare and organizational work among cotton mill workers of Bombay in 1880s. He established ‘Bombay Millhands’ Association’ in 1890 and published a Marathi journal Dinbandhu in 1898. Bal Gangadhar Tilak formed ‘Bombay Millhands Defence Association’ in 1908 and the Kamgar Hitwardhak Sabha was formed in 1909. But these associations were primarily welfare bodies for the workers and did not participate in any of their organizational work for protest or collective action against the mill owners. Some of the modern trade union-like workers’ bodies e.g. the ‘Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants of India & Burma’ founded in 1897, or the ‘Printers’ Union’ in Calcutta and the ‘Postal Union’ in Bombay proved very short-lived and ceased to exist before they could make any impact. A Workers’ Welfare League was formed as a moderate left wing organisation in London in 1917 by radical labour and communist workers from India with the objective of promoting trade union activities in India. Shapurji Saklatwala, A.A. Mirza, and Dewan Chamanlal were among its founders (12). Other who joined it later included B.P. Wadia and Satyamurti from Madras, and B.C. Pal and Ghulam Anbia Khan Lohani (who had earlier worked for the Berlin Committee and Ghadar Party) form Bengal.

The first modern trade union in India, the Madras Labour Union, was formed by M. Singaravelu and B.P. Wadia in April 1918 in Madras. It mainly comprised of workers of Carnatic and Buckingham Mills in Madras but other workers from tramways and rickshaw-pullers also joined it. Soon many trade unions were formed in major cities like Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Ahmadabad, and Kanpur. These trade unions mostly represented workers from cotton textiles, jute, railways, shipping, iron & steel, and post & telegraph industries. Encouraged by the founding of International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 1919, an All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) was formed on 31 October, 1920, in Bombay, almost coinciding with the founding of the émigré Indian communist party in Tashkent. Lala Lajpat Rai, who had returned to India from the USA in 1919, was elected as its first President, and Joseph Baptista as the Vice-President. Other prominent leaders were Bal Gangadhar Tilak, N.M. Joshi, B.P. Wadia, and Dewan Chamanlal. About 107 trade unions from all over India were affiliated with AITUC, with the exception of only one, which stayed away from the trade union’s congress. It was the Ahmadabad Textile Labour Union under Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s influence that had refused to join AITUC (13).

The third session of the AITUC was held on 26-27 March, 1923 in Bradlaugh Hall in Lahore. The President was Chattaranjan (C.R.) Das and K.L. Guaba was the Chairman of the Reception Committee. Among the delegates were N.M. Joshi and Moreno of the Bengal Trade Union Federation, G.K. Barker of the B.N. Railway, Kharagpur, M.A. Malik of Rohilkhand Railway, and J.B. Miller, an Irish railway guard and organizer of N.W. Railway Union, Lahore. National leaders like Motilal Nehru and Sarojni Naidu were also present. Initially a humanist advocating a spirit of reconciliation, the ex-President of National Congress and now Chairman of the Swaraj Party, C.R. Das, was turning to the organisation of workers and peasants. He had solid backing of the rising revolutionary movement in Bengal.

In the post-World War One recession many Indian businesses and industries were badly hit. By 1922, the Bombay textile industry had ceased to expand (14). In Calcutta, the jute industry had to put up with sudden fall in demand of its products with supply in excess. There were increased trade union activities in railways and wool factories in Punjab while there was unrest in iron and steel industries in UP, Bihar, and CP. The first major industrial strike by the textile workers in Bombay began on 15 January 1924 against refusal of Textile Millowners’ Association to pay annual bonus for the year 1923 to the workers on account of reduction in profits. From a phenomenal about 200% profit during the boom period, the industry profits had reduced to 70% in 1921, 24% in 1922, and 40% in 1923 due to post-war recession. The workers’ wages were, however, only a pittance (Rs.35 per month for men, and Rs.17 per month for women for a 10-hour day). Denial of a regular payment under the head of annual bonus at the year-end was a significant financial blow to most workers. Unrest had spread fast and textile workers joined the strike in large numbers. Soon, 81 out of 83 mills were closed, involving over 150,000 workers, including 30,000 women and children (15). The strike continued in February, causing unbearable hunger and misery among striking workers deprived of their wages, the only source of income for them to meet their daily food and living expenses. Joseph Baptista and N.M. Joshi represented the workers. Labour welfare societies and some humanists tried to organize workers’ relief camps and collect donations for the starving workers’ families. Indian National Congress refused to lend any political or financial support to the striking workers who were still holding fast. At the end of February, the government appointed an Inquiry Committee to review workers’ complaints. The Inquiry Committee, however, gave its verdict against the workers in March, 1924, and the government forced the mills to open under the watch of military patrols. Police opened fire on starving workers who tried to put up resistance, killing five on the spot in front of a mill gate and many were arrested, 13 on the charge of looting the shops (16). This was by far the largest workers’ strike in India that lasted about two months before being crushed by brutal force.

In order to regulate the industrial labour relations, new labour laws were enacted, including, Amended Factories Act, 1922, the Workman’s Compensation Act, 1923, the Trade Unions Act, 1926, the Trade Dispute Act, 1928, and the Maternity Benefits Bill of 1929. Also, the Public Safety Bill of 1929 was designed specially to keep the foreign communists, including members of the British Communist Party, out of India. The ‘steel frame’ of the British administration in India was ruthlessly protecting the interests of the British capital. As the infamous Punjab Governor, Sir Michael O’Dwyer had aptly put it in one of his addresses, ‘our duty is to our imperial position, to our kinsfolk in India, and to a thousand millions of British capital invested in India’.


1. Fazal Qadir was the secretary and Mohammad Farigh was treasurer of this branch in Baku.
2. Documents of The History of The Communist Party of India, Vol. Two (1923-1925), Ed. G. Adhikari, People’s Publishing House, New Delhi, 1974, p.27-46.
3. The city’s original name was St. Petersburg but it was changed to Petrograd in 1914 and to Leningrad in 1924. Now it is again changed to St. Petersburg after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
4. M.N. Roy was born as Narendranath Bhattacharya in Bengal in 1887. He studied chemistry and engineering and joined early Bengali revolutionaries in 1907 fighting against the colonial rule. His leader and mentor was the well-known Bengali revolutionary Jatin Mukherjee. In 1915, Bhattacharya went to Java and Japan looking for arms supplies for the Indian revolutionary struggle. In Japan, he met with the Chinese nationalist revolutionary Dr. Sun Yat Sen, the founder of the Chinese Kuomintang Party and leader of the Chinese democratic revolution of 1905. Chased by the British secret police, Narendranath sneaked into Korea and from there he sailed to the U.S.A. in 1916. Arriving in San Francisco, he changed his name to Manabendra Nath (M.N.) Roy. At Palo Alto in California, Roy met Leonore Evelyn Trent, a young Stanford graduate who fell in love with him. The couple moved to New York in 1917 where Roy married Evelyn Trent.
5. Abinath (Abani) Mukherji from a Bengali family living in Jabalpur was employed as a professional weaver in a textile mill in Ahmadabad when he was sent for technical training in Japan and Germany. In Germany, he was first exposed to socialist revolutionary ideas. Upon his return, he joined the revolutionary movement in Bengal and was arrested in 1915 in Singapore while attempting to procure weapons for the Indian revolutionaries. Escaping from prison in Singapore, Mukherji reached Dutch Java and joined the communist party. He went to Amsterdam and finally arrived in Russia where he lived and married.
6. Rosa Fitingov, the wife of Abani Mukherji was Russian-Jewish and a member of the Russian Communist Party. She was an assistant to the Lenin’s private secretary, Lydia Fotieva.
7. Kommunistticheskii Universitet Truddiashchikshia Vostoka (KUTVa) or ‘The Communist University of the Toilers of the East’ of Moscow has some well-known international leaders and future heads of state among its alumni, including Nazim Hikmete (Turkey), Liu Shao-Chi and Deng Xiao Peng (China), Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam), Tan Malaka (Indonesia), Jomo Kenyata (Kenya), Sen Katayama (Japan), Khalid Bakhdash (Syria), and Harry Haywood (USA). In 1938, the University was disbanded and its students and faculty distributed among other institutions.
8. These included, Habib Ahmed Naseem, Shaukat Usmani, Rafiq Ahmed, Firozuddin Mansoor, Mir Abdul Majid, Fazal Elahi Qurban, Rehmat Ali Zakaria, Khushi Mohammad, Abdul Qadir Sehrai, Fida Ali Zahid, Mian Akbar Shah, Mohammad Shafiq Siddiqi, Mohammad Akbar Khan, Gohar Rehman and Zafar Hasan Aibak.
9. Iqbal Shaidai never joined the communist party but continued working with M.N. Roy for the Indian independence in Paris; married a French woman, was expelled from France in 1929, and moved to live in Rome and adopted Italian nationality. During World War Two he supported Mussolini and Axis Powers against the British and broadcast radio programs on Indian affairs. Shortly before Indian independence, in spite of invitations from Nehru and Abul Kalam Azad to return to India, Shaidai chose Pakistan as his home and arranged a ‘Pakistan Day’ in Cairo with Sheikh Hasanul Banna of Ikhwanul Muslimin and Grand Mufti Amin Al-Hussaini of Palestine as guests. He returned to Pakistan in October 1947 and met Muhamad Ali Jinnah. However, he couldn’t play any significant role in the changing dynamics of the new country and died frustrated in Lahore in 1974.
10. Shaukat Siddiqi, Gumshuda Auraq (The Lost Pages), Riktab Publications, Karachi, 2011, p. 333.
11. Jake Johnson, Workers Movement, 2011, p. 130.
12. Shapur Dorabji Saklatwala was a scion of wealthy Parsee family of Bombay. His mother was sister of Jamsetji Tata, the founder of Tata’s business empire. After briefly working for Tata’s business, Shapur Saklatwala went to England and became an active member and parliamentarian of the Communist Party of Great Britain. He was elected to British Parliament as a CPGB candidate in 1922, and 1924 elections.
13. Jake Johnson, Workers Movement, 2011, p. 132.
14. John Beams quoted in P. Woodruff, The Man Who Ruled India, the Guardians, (London: Cape, 1954), p. 48.
15. ‘Some Facts about the Bombay Strikes’ by Evelyn Roy, Inprecor, Vol 4., No.25, 17 April, 1924.
16. Ibid.

Chapter 2 to be continued...

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A History of the Left in Pakistan – 5

September 26, 2016

By Ahmed Kamran

Chapter One: The Roots of Revolution (Continued)

III. The Jihad Movement

Almost simultaneous to these events but, apparently independent of them, some other developments were taking place in India.

By early 1900s, the international situation in Europe and the Middle East was getting tense, especially for Indian Muslims. Their anxiety was increasing with the successive bad news coming from the borders of the then vast Muslim Turkish Empire. While the British Empire was in ascendancy in late 1800s and early 1900s, the Turkish Empire was disintegrating bit by bit. Much of its possessions in Eastern Europe and Central Asia had already been broken away or annexed by other empires in the previous century.

Italy had landed its army at Tripoli (in today’s Libya) in 1911, initiating the first War of Tripoli between Turkey and Italy. The Italian invasion of Tripoli was soon followed by the start of Balkan Wars in October 1912. Britain fully supported these European incursions into the areas of Turkish Empire. These invasions and gradual encirclement of the Turkey, the last bastion of the so-called Muslim Khilafat, caused great unrest in the Indian Muslims. Dr Mohammad Iqbal, Shibli Naumani, Abul Kalam Azad, and Maulana Zafar Ali Khan in Punjab wrote fiery articles and poems in support of the Turkish Muslims. Iqbal read his well-known poem Shikwa in a rally outside Mochi Darwaza in Lahore in 1913. Shibli Naumani read his Sheher-Aashoob-e-Islam at Qaisar Bagh in Lukhnow (20). Prominent newspapers like Comrade of Maulana Muhammad Ali, Al Hilal of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, and Zamindar of Maulana Zafar Ali Khan created among Indian Muslims a great fervor and a longing for going out and participating in the action in support of Turks against flagrant and unjust European invasions.

Apart from their religious affinities, the Indian Muslims also shared a particularly strong bond and heightened feelings of a common cause with Turks because of their own sense of deprivation of empire in 1857 and British occupation in India. To raise support for Turkey, Indian Muslim’s religious sentiments were whipped up. Weekly Friday sermons in the mosques in every town of India exhorted Muslims to help the Turks by every means, including generously contributing in Turkish Support Funds and physically going to the war front and participating in the holy war against aggressors. Indian Muslims contributed in the Balkan War Fund in a big way, women donating their entire jewellery and dowries.

A Medical Mission, under Dr Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari was sent to Turkey as a gesture of goodwill and for treating the wounded soldiers. The fervour for support of Turkey was so high that, according to Syed Suleman Nadvi’s account, Maulana Shibli Naumani, an eminent and highly respected Muslim scholar, was present at the Lukhnow Railway Station to personally see off the delegation. At the last moment, overwhelmed by his emotions, Shibli moved forward and with tears rolling down his cheeks he kissed the feet of Dr. Mukhtar Ansari that would tread the revered Turkish land. This evidently signifies the highly emotional state of mind of the Indian Muslims at that time.

By October 1914, Turkey declared joining the war against Britain as an ally of Germany and Austria. Turkish Sultan Muhammad V, in his exalted position of Khalifa (Caliph) of all Muslims, issued a religious edict (Fatwa) declaring it mandatory for all Muslims of the world to participate in the war against Britain and its allies. In India, a Jamat-e-Mujahidin was revived following the tradition of the failed Jihad of Syed Ahmed Barailvi in early 1830s, but this time the Jihad war was to be fought against a foreign power, the Great Britain. Many students left their education and homes to join the Turkish war. A common tarana of the Muslim youth of that time was:

Lutf marnay ka agar chahyay tau chal Balqan chal
Woh bhi kiya marna keh fitrat khud tujhay day day jawab

[Should you wish to die with some joy, let’s go to Balkan
Dying naturally in a slow death is not worth living]

A Pledge on Ravi

On a cold misty evening, when the night was falling in Lahore on 16 January 1915, a group of students from few modern colleges in Lahore secretly met to discuss an idea. They gathered on board in a boat on Ravi River, lest they could be overheard by police informers. This was the time when preparation of the second Ghadar was secretly underway in Punjab. These young men decided and each took an oath to perform the sacred act of Hijrat (migration) to Turkey via Afghanistan for taking part in Jihad. These students included Khushi Muhammad, Rehmat Ali Zakaria, Abdul Majeed, and Shujaullah from the King Edward Medical College, Muhammad Hassan Yaqub from Islamia College, Abdul Bary, Sheikh Abdul Qadir, Abdul Majeed Khan, Sheikh Abdul Rashid, Zafar Hassan Aibak, and Allah Nawaz Khan from the Government College, and Abdul Khaliq from the Aitchison College of Lahore (21). The travel and crossing of the Afghan border arrangements were made in secret with the help of Maulvi Fazal Ilahi and Maulvi Bashir of the Jamat-e-Mujahidin. The first batch of these students under the leadership of Khushi Muhammad left Lahore on 5 February, 1915 for Haripur as their first stop. To keep their movements inconspicuous, the other group followed the next day. At Haripur, they stayed overnight with Abdul Rahim, the railway Station Master, changed their attire to common Pukhtun dress and Peshawari Chappals. The students left British territory by crossing the Indus River from a then small princely state of Amb, in the Hazara district, south of Swat valley in present day Pakistan, to enter the independent tribal area between British India and Afghanistan. Staying at some rag tag isolated camps of Jamat Mujahidin at Asmas and Chamarkand in the Pukhtun Tribal Area, these students, swinging in the spirit of Jihad, entered Afghanistan arriving in Jalalabad on 29 March 1915. Here they met with their first rude shock when they were swiftly detained under the orders of a senior Afghan official visiting Jalalabad from Kabul.

They detained students were taken to Kabul after over two weeks in confinement with little food and no facilities. One of the students, Abdul Majeed Khan had fallen sick, running high fever. But, the students were put on mules with their hands tied and were carried to Kabul. Arriving in Kabul around 13 April they were again put into confinement. The health of Abdul Majeed Khan deteriorated and he died in confinement on the night of 19 April in Kabul. Abdul Majeed was the only son of his young widowed mother in Lahore, who that night must be still waiting for his son who had one day quietly disappeared never to return home. Zafar Hassan Aibak, the other detainee from the Government College, says in his autobiography that the detainees were shifted to another ‘house’ in Kabul with scant facilities in June 1915 and there was no hope for their release. Apparently, no one in Kabul was bothered about these ill-fated young men from Lahore.

Jihad in the Making

At that time another effort to raise an army and organize a ‘Jihad’ to liberate India from the British colonial rule was underway elsewhere. Following in the footsteps of the first ‘Jihad’ undertaken by Syed Ahmed Barailvi in 1830s, some of his radical successors in the Darul Uloom at Deoband, near Saharanpur, U.P. planned to raise a Muslim army with the help of Muslim rulers of Turkey and Afghanistan. This army was to carry out a Jihad for both defending the embattled Turkey and liberating India against the British Empire. Maulana Mahmudul Hassan, the principal of Darul Uloom together with Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi and few of his deciples left for Hijaz, still a Turkish province, and reached Kabul in October 1915 (22). Obaidullah Sindhi, originally born in Sialkot, was a convert from Sikh religion, graduated from Darul Uloom, Deoband, and an energetic student of Maulana Mahmudul Hassan. He went to live in Sukkur and established a religious school at Amrot, and later at Pir Jhanda, in Sindh (hence later known as ‘Sindhi’). He and Maulana Mahmudul Hassan were quietly working for the cause of independence (23).

In Kabul they met with Afghan leaders and religious Ulema, many of whom had been students in Deoband. Presenting them the plan for building a volunteer army in Kabul and invading India to liberate it and set up an Islamic government with an Afghan prince on the throne, the Indian Ulema won support of some key members of the royal family, including Sardar Nasrullah Khan, the Amir’s brother and Prince Inayatullah and Prince Amanullah, the two sons of Amir Habibullah Khan (24). Maulana Mahmudul Hassan proceeded to Hijaz for enlisting support of the Turkish government and the Sharif of Mecca. Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi stayed back in Kabul to ensure further cementing the support from Habibullah Khan, the Amir of Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the joint delegation of Berlin Committee-Ghadar Party also arrived in Kabul from Istanbul and joined hands with Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi. The Turkish diplomat Kazim Bey and German diplomats Dr Von Hanting and Oskar von Niedermayer in Kabul lent their support to the delegation. Getting to know about the plight of imprisoned Indian students from Lahore, the Indian ledaers had them released after about eight months of confinement.

Finally, with the support of the Amir of Afghanistan, a ‘Provisional Government of India’ was established in Kabul on 18 December 1915. Raja Mahindra Partap Singh was appointed as the President and Maulvi Barkatullah as the Prime Minister, Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi as Interior Minister, Maulvi Bashir of Jamat Mujahidin as War Minister, C.R. Pillai as Foreign Minister. Khushi Mohammad, Rehmat Zakaria, Allah Nawaz Khan, Zafar Hassan Aibak, and Abdul Bari from the Lahore students group were also given official responsibilities in the provisional government. Turkish and German government officials acted as advisors to the newly formed ‘Provisional Government of India’ (25).

Ghalib Nama, Golden Letter, and Reshmi Rumal

In Hijaz, Mahmudul Hassan had succeeded in obtaining personal letters of support from Ghalib Pasha, the Turkish Governor of Hijaz province that was then included, together with other territory of present day Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iraq as part of Turkish empire. It was also proposed that a Muslims’ army will be raised by Maulana Mahmudul Hassan under his command from Arabia and Turkey, with headquarter at Medina. The Turkish Fatwas and Ghalib Pasha letters called for a general Jihad against the British and exhorted all Muslims to join the war efforts. Copies of Ghalib Pasha Letters were sent by Mahmudul Hassan by hand with Mohammad Mian Ansari to Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi in Kabul for further building upon it. Copies of these Jihad letters, later more commonly known as ‘Ghalib Nama’, were distributed secretly in Muslim lands.

After establishing the Provisional Government and armed with the supporting measures from Germany and Turkey, it was decided to send diplomatic missions to Russia, Iran, and Japan approaching them for support on the assumption that they would be inclined to support an Indian liberation effort against Britain. The Germans, who were abetting the Indian Provisional Government against Britain, did not think it was opportune time for approaching Russia for the support, however, Raja Mahindra Partap did not agree with the German ambassador and expecting Russian support he relied mainly on the age old rivalry between Russia and Britain in their ‘Great Game’ for expanding into Asia and controlling India.

The Provisional Govt delegation to Russia included Mahindra Partap, Maulvi Barkatullah, Dr Mathra Singh, and the Lahore student Khushi Mohammed. The delegation carried a letter addressed to Czar written on a ‘Golden Plate’. But the Indian delegation was stopped at Tashkent and was prevented from going further. The Czarist governor received the ‘Golden Letter’ with a promise to send it to the Czar in Moscow. The delegation was made to cool their heels at Tashkent for the reply. Weeks passed by but no reply was forthcoming. Eventually the failed mission was sent back to Kabul in Feb 1916.

Obaidullah Sindhi prepared a detailed report written on a large piece of Reshmi Rumal (silk cloth) in his own hand and it was secretly sent to Sheikh Abdul Rahim in Hyderabad, Sindh for arranging to send, or personally carry it, to Maulana Mahmudul Hassan in Hijaz under the cover of Hajj pilgrimage. The courier selected for the job of carrying the Silk Letter from Kabul to Hyderabad was Abdul Haq, a trusted man of the Lahore student Allah Nawaz. Abdul Haq, later suspected to be on the roll of British secret police, instead of going to Hyderabad, went to Allah Nawaz’s father, Khan Bahadur Rab Nawaz Khan in Multan, who happened to be a loyal subject of the British government. In spite of his own son being involved, Rab Nawaz promptly informed the British police and the famous Reshmi Rumal eventually reached in the hands of Michael O’Dwyer, the British Governor in Punjab.

The Indian Provisional Govt’s second Mission headed towards Japan via Russia included Dr Mathra Singh and a Lahore student Abdul Qadir. Armed with prior information of their movement leaked from Kabul, Russians arrested and handed them over to the British who transported them back to India. Dr Mathra Singh who was already sentenced to death in a Ghadar Party trial in Lahore was immediately hanged. Abdul Qadir was placed in confinement, where he soon died, probably succumbing to excessive torture. The third delegation comprising of two students Abdul Bary and Shujaullah heading for Iran also met the same fate. They were arrested at Mashhad in Iran, tortured, and sent back to India to face long terms in jail. The arrests of these delegation members and the hanging of Dr Mathra were, however, kept secret to keep the provisional government in Kabul in the dark and to keep tracking their movements (26). Amir Habibullah was playing a double game and was waiting to see which side was winning in the First World War. He kept promising the Indian provisional government that he would declare war on India as soon as the German and Turkish forces reach near Afghanistan in their march to victory, but on the other hand, he was busy negotiating with the British officials for additional favours, using the Indian revolutionaries under his control as the bargaining chip.

Initially, Germany was scoring quick victories on the western front and did not expect a major threat from a weakened Russia from the east. Turkish army was also scoring initial successes against Britain greatly raising hopes for its final victory in the war. But Russia, in alliance with France, quickly built up its massive army and attacked Germany opening the eastern front. Meanwhile, Amir Habibullah Khan had quietly informed the British agents about the Indian delegation to Russia. This was meant to put increased pressure on the British Indian government in his negotiations for more favours and higher ‘subsidies’. Ironically, on the other hand the Russian Czar was also playing similar double game. Using the Golden Letter as a bargaining chip, he provided its copy to the British ambassador.

British Counter Moves

Greatly alarmed at the disturbing intelligence reports arriving from Moscow, Berlin, Kabul, and Hijaz, the British government took several counter measures to block the anti-British revolutionary activities. In Hijaz, it lured Sharif of Mecca and his sons to rise in rebellion against Turkey and snub the Indian Muslim leaders’ delegation under Maulana Mahmudul Hassan. Sharif Hussain of Mecca helped arresting Maulana Mahmudul Hassan and Maulana Hussain Ahmed Madani, in Mecca and handed them over to the British police. Maulana Mahmudul Hassan and others were confined, initially at Cairo, and later, at Malta, earning him the title of Aseer-e-Malta (the Prisoner of Malta), in addition to him being declared by his Muslim followers in India the Sheikhul Hind (Leader of India). In Kabul, the British Govt promptly increased Afghan budget ‘subsidies’. The British Indian government was providing Rs.1.8 million ‘subsidy’ to the Afghan government, most of which was spent on Amir’s extravagance and personal harem of over 100 women. Some spoils were distributed among other members of royal family and key tribal leaders. The Afghan people were living in utter poverty, in mud houses, without any civic amenities, roads, schools or hospitals.

Taking the French Govt into confidence, the British government immediately sent a high powered joint delegation to Moscow and entered into the well-known agreement with Russia in May 1916 that is known as Sykes-Picot Agreement. In return for its full support, the agreement promised Russia attractive terms and some adjoining Turkish lands as part of a larger deal for distribution of Turkish Empire among Britain, France and Russia after the defeat of Turkey in the Great War.

After having successfully neutralized Amir of Afghanistan by bribing him and blocking the potential support of the Russian Czar for the Indian provisional government, the British Indian administration came down heavily on the revolutionaries in India and abroad. Widespread arrests were made. The Reshmi Rumal Conspiracy together with the ‘Golden Letter’, and the Ghalib Nama was brought to public in Aug 1916.

The Indian provisional government sent several wireless messages to the Berlin Committee and the German and Turkish governments vainly hoping for them to advance their forces via Afghanistan but Germans were too bogged down in Europe to pay attention to these out of tune desperate messages from a few ‘stirred up’ Indian revolutionaries in Kabul. Because of the conspiracy cases based on Ghalib Nama, Golden Letter, and the Reshmi Rumal instituted in India being given wide publicity, Obaidullah Sindhi faced a difficult situation. Together with the Lahore students, he was also confined in Kabul and, later, shifted to a camp at Jabalul Siraj, about 75 Km north of Kabul. Two Indian teachers employed with Habibia School (established for the children of Afghan elite) in Kabul, Maulvi Mohammad Ali Qasuri (a Cambridge University graduate and elder brother of Mian Mahmud Ali Qasuri, a well-known NAP leader during 1960s and 1970s and former law minister during Bhutto, and an uncle of Khurshid Ali Qasuri, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan (2002-2007) during General Pervez Musharraf’s reign), and Sheikh Mohammad Ibrahim who were sympathetic to the cause of Indian independence and were popular among Mujahidin, were also expelled from Kabul in June 1916 (27). Both went to the Jamat-e Mujahidin base camp at Chamarkand in Bajaur Tribal Area between Afghanistan and British India. Maulvi Bashir of Jamat-e Mujahidin and the War Minister of the provisional government also returned to the base camp. Sheikh Abdul Rashid of Lahore Government College and Mohammad Hassan Yaqub of Islamia College and few other students also moved with Maulvi Bashir to the Mujahidin base camp.

Sheikh Ibrahim, together with two Lahore students, went to Russian Turkistan via Badakhshan but all of them were reportedly killed by the British agents on their way and no trace of them was ever found. After spending few more years in trying to organize Mujahidin activities in the Tribal Area, Maulvi Mohammad Ali Qasuri managed to return to India in July 1918 and was pardoned due to influential contacts he and his family had with Sir Sahibzada Abdul Qayum and Sir George Roos-Keppel, the Chief Commissioner of NWFP (28). Maulvi Mohammad Ali Qasuri, having married and settled down, entered into business and continued to provide financial support to the Mujahidin. He died in Lahore in 1956 (29).

At the Tribal Area base camp, the Amir of Jamat-e Mujahidin was Maulvi Naimatullah who was a highly eccentric, morally and financially corrupt, and autocratic person, ruling as Amirul Momineen over his personal fiefdom at the Mujahidin base camp (30). It later transpired that the the Amir of Jamat-e Mujahidin, Maulvi Naimatullah had, in fact, enetered into a secret deal with the British in exchange of a piece of land and a small pension but Amir could not openly follow his pro-Bitish course in the wake of unrest in India (31). One day, probably after getting frustrated with his own impossible situation and intolerable idiosyncrasies of Maulvi Naimatullah, Sheikh Abdul Rashid of Lahore, in a fit of anger, spontaneously killed the Maulvi. The personal guards of slain Maulvi Naimatullah instantly killed Abdul Rashid in vengeance by throwing him alive in a burning oven (32). Mohammad Hassan Yaqub, however, continued to stay with the remaining Mujahidin at the Chamarkand camp, which was now under Maulvi Fazal Ilahi from Wazirabad. Yaqub Hassan never returned to Lahore and probably died somewhere in or around the Chamarkand camp.

In Kabul, Raja Mahindra Partap and Maulvi Barkatullah were, however, not arrested as their continued presence there was a useful bargaining chip for Amir Habibullah Khan. But, by now realizing its extremely difficult position, owing to the duplicity of Amir Habibullah, the provisional government had considerably scaled down its activities. Obaidullah Sindhi was finally released from confinement after about a year with the help of Afghan General Nadir Khan (he later overthrew the next Amir Amanullah Khan and occupied the Afghan throne as King Nadir Shah) (33). Nadir Khan held Obaidullah Sindhi in high regard. But the release order from Amir Habibullah was obtained only after detainees filing a mercy petition and admission of their mistakes.

By now, totally frustrated with the false hopes of support from the Amir of Afghanistan, the Indian revolutionaries in Kabul started making attempts to approach Russia where Soviet Revolution under V.I. Lenin had already shaken the world. Lenin had publically rescinded all secret treaties and pacts signed by Czarist Russia with the imperialist powers and made public all secret agreements, including Sykes-Picot Agreement, that the Imperialist powers together with Russia had signed to share the spoils of war. He had declared full support to the national liberation efforts and the wars of independence of all colonial people in the East. Soviet Russia was the first to recognize the national government of Mustafa Kamal in Turkey that was battling against the invading Imperialist armies in their attempt to dismember and divide parts of Turkey among themselves. Rehmat Ali Zakaria and one another Lahore student were the first to escape from Jabalul Siraj camp in Nov 1917. Crossing over Russian border, they reached Tashkent in early 1918. Raja Mahindra Partap Singh visited Russia in March 1918 on his way to Berlin and had a meeting with Trotsky. But he couldn’t get some meaningful support (34) as Bolsheviks were then engaged in a bitter struggle for survival against invasion of an international coalition of forces trying to uproot the first socialist revolution in Russia.

By 1917, the tide in the First World War had started clearly turning against Germany and its allies. No meaningful diplomatic or material support was coming to the Indian Provisional Government in Kabul any longer. In the face of imminent defeat of an exhausted Germany, the Berlin Committee members were looking for support towards socialist leaders of some neutral European countries like Switzerland and Sweden. Berlin Committee members arrived in Stockholm, practically relocating the activities of the Committee. Chattopadhya, Har Dayal and others attended the International Socialist Conference held in Stockholm in May 1917, raising the issue of the Indian independence at the conference. Here they met Russian Bolshevik leader Torinvsky.

With the increasingly adverse reports for Turkey and Germany coming from war fronts and of victories of the British and allied forces, the support of the Afghan government to the ‘provisional government’ also cooled off till it was completely withdrawn in 1919. The Berlin Committee was formally dissolved in November 1918 after the defeat of Germany in the First World War, with all its active members having been moved to Stockholm. After Turkey signed the armistice, the Khairi brothers also left for Moscow via Berlin. They were probably the first among Indians arriving in Soviet Union on 16 November, 1918. They were accorded a warm welcome as representatives of the Indian freedom fighters by the Soviet authorities and were met by V.I. Lenin on 23 November. They also addressed many public meetings and international forums. After the Berlin Committee’s formal liquidation, its members contacted Torinvsky and other Russian revolutionaries they had met at Stockholm. Eventually, Viren Chattopadhya, together with 12 of his colleagues including, Agnes Smedley, Bhupendra Nath Dutta, Ghulam Nabi Anbia Lohani, C.R. Pillai, Nalini Gupta, and Shafiq Ahmed reached Petrograd, sometime in March, 1921. These Indian revolutionaries initially worked with the Russian Propaganda and Publication Centre in Petrograd. Later, they moved to Tashkent meeting M.N. Roy to work for the Military & Political training school established by the Communist International. The Berlin Committee revolutionaries were essentially Indian nationalists and were not keen on joining the communist party, which was formed on Roy’s initiative without consultation and taking any of the Berlin Committee revolutionaries in confidence. They were particularly irked by M.N. Roy’s style of work and his handling of the issues relating to Indian revolutionary struggle. For a while, the Russians tried to intervene and bridge the differences between Roy and the Berlin Committee group but the gulf widened. Eventually, a disappointed Viren Chattopadya and his colleagues left for Germany towards the end of September, 1921.

Lala Har Dayal stayed back in Sweden and lived there for about 10 years. After all his years with secular and progressive Ghadar Party and the Berlin Committee group, Har Dayal seems to have gone on a tangent during his stay in Sweden. He was soaked into a kind of fundamentalist Hindu religious political philosophy. He wrote many articles against Muslims in India, reflecting the extremist aggressive Hinduvta ideology of Savarkar’s Hindu Mahasabha. He died in Philadelphia, U.S.A. in 1939.

Amir Habibullah Khan was assassinated in Feb 1919, near Jalalabad and his son Amanullah Khan took over after some resistance from his uncle Sardar Nasrullah Khan. For a while, situation again turned favorable for the Indian revolutionaries. Obaidullah Sindhi was restored and he became a close advisor to the new Amir Amanullah Khan. Other office holders of the Indian Provisional Government including Mahindra Partap, Maulvi Barkatullah, M.P.T. Acharya, and Abdul Rab were also given due respect by the new Amir. Amanullah Khan sent Maulvi Barkatullah as his special envoy to Moscow for negotiating a friendship treaty on behalf of the Afghan government. The visit proved very successful and the relations between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan considerably warmed up. Maulvi Barkatullah left Kabul in March 1919 for Tashkent and proceeded to Moscow in May 1919. Mahindra Partap Singh, M.P.T. Acharya, Abdul Rab and others also reached Moscow but they never returned to Kabul.

With the departure of Raja Mahindra Partap and Maulvi Barkatullah and others from Kabul, the Provisional Government of India was now almost solely entrusted to Obaidullah Sindhi and some of the Lahore students, including Zafar Hassan Aibak, Allah Nawaz Khan, and Mohammad Ali. They tried to infuse a new life in this all but dead government. However, under severe pressure from Britain, the Provisional Government was made totally restricted after conclusion of the Third Anglo-Afghan War in August 1919.

Hijrat Movement Begins

Ironically, at this time when Indian nationalist revolutionaries in Kabul were being expelled or leaving in disgust, and the Turks, now led by Mustafa Kamal, were taking measures to wrest all political and secular powers from the institution of Caliphate in Turkey, the Indian Muslim Ulema, quite senselessly, were working to develop a highly emotional and explosive situation for Muslims in India.

As part of the general unrest during Khilafat Movement enthusiastically joined by the Congress’ Civil Disobedience Movement led by Gandhi, the Muslim Urdu press created a sensational and emotionally charged atmosphere among Indian Muslims for performing Hijrat (migration) from British India. While some of the leading Muslim Ulema were clearly against it, many other prominent Ulema of mainly Deobandi school together with a large number of low level prayer leaders in the mosques declared India as Darul Harb (an abode of war; a place where Muslims must either wage a war or migrate from) and encouraged Muslims to leave India for a Darul Islam (an abode of peace; an independent Islamic country) in Afghanistan and fight for the restoration of old glory of the Muslim Caliphate. Newly installed King Amanullah Khan in Afghanistan also gave this frenzy a great impetus by issuing a Royal Firman (edict) that the Indian Muhajirs will be welcomed in Afghanistan and will be provided with full support including land and re-settlement loans. Amanullah was clearly indulging in his dream of a greater Afghan empire comprising of Central Asia and parts of British India, including fertile lands up to the river Indus (the NWFP and parts of northern Punjab provinces of the British India). Amanullah Khan had also envisaged to enlist a regular army from young Muhajirs of good families (Khanzadas) after their military training at camps in Jabalul Siraj and Katghan. The Indian Muhajir army was, however, supposed to be a volunteer corps not entitled for pay.

Many prominent Muslim Ulema and religious leaders supported the call for Hijrat (migration) and Jihad (holy war) (35). Maulana Abul Kalam Azad had also given his full support to the call for Hijrat (36). On the other hand, some equally prominent Ulema had clearly opposed the idea of Hijrat and Jihad (37). Even, Maulana Mahmudul Hassan, who had already returned from his confinement in Malta, opposed the idea of Hijrat to Afghanistan but the emotional appeal of the fiery clerics and calmour of Urdu press proved too potent. The most prominent Muslim cleric of the time, Abdul Bari of Farangi Mahal, Lukhnow, was also personally opposed to the declaration of India as Darul Harb, but his rather academic response to a question from Maulana Aziz Amritsari explaining permissible conditions for performing Hijrat and Jihad was conveniently used to construe his support for the cause (38). Although, Maulana Abdul Bari subsequently issued clarification and denied supporting the Hijrat and Jihad but it was too late and the clarification and denial couldn’t reverse the tide. It’s, indeed, a moot point whether those Ulema and nationalist leaders who supported the call for Jihad did all this deliberately to mislead people, knowing full well the implications of the situation abroad, or they did it, albeit foolishly, but in good faith? Probably, it was more of the latter than the former.

Apparently, not having a clue of the real international situation and the alignment of forces and their respective strengths, some pious and well-meaning sentimental Muslims, unwittingly, had fallen prey to the deceptive situation. They started undertaking migration to neighboring Afghanistan. Initially, a slow trickle of Muslims migrating to Afghanistan, it gained strength and, soon, turned into a significant movement.

Muslims sold or gave away their houses, shops, chattels, and personal belongings and undertook en-mass Hijrat (migration) to Afghanistan and Turkish lands. Barrister Jan Mohammad Junejo organized a special train of Muhajirs from Sindh to Peshawar. This was the second major Hijrat movement of Indian Muslims after Syed Ahmed Barailvi’s first Hijrat movement in early 1830’s. Starting in May 1920, enthusiastic Indian Muslims left for Afghanistan without even bothering to find out how and where they would be staying in their adopted country. As if in a trance, they believed in a hazy dream of an ideal Muslim state that was supposed to be waiting, with open arms, to welcome them. Young and old, people from NWFP, Punjab, Sindh, UP, and Bihar together with their women and children were heading for the Afghan border in the NWFP, in droves by trains, oxen carts, Tongas (horse-driven carts), and on foot. But most (about 85%) of the Muhajirs were Pathan tribesmen from Peshawar valley and the adjoining areas.

The migration started with only a few. Initially, a few scores arrived in Peshawar, it being the first camp on their way. Then it soon grew into a sizable movement. Amir Amanullah Khan also, perhaps unwittingly, lent impetus to the movement by issuing a thoughtless statement that ‘the whole country of Afghanistan would welcome Indian Muhajirs’. Probably, it was, for him, intended more to score a few rosy points in his vain attempt at projecting himself as a ‘leader of the Muslim world’ than to expect a real migration in significant numbers. Certainly, he had underestimated the zeal of some pious Indian Muslims. As Gail Miault remarked, “[s]oon the Khyber Pass was clogged with caravans of bullock carts, camels, and people afoot, carrying their few worldly belongings toward the promised land” (39).

Although, the Hijrat Movement started under the influence of religious leaders of Deoband, it grew rapidly without a central leadership or guidance. It was a spontaneous movement. Thousands of people left their homes and hearths and reached Peshawar to cross the border. In all, from 20,000 to 50,000 Indian Muslims, as per varying estimates by British Government agencies operating in NWFP at the time, crossed over the Afghan border during May-Sep 1920 (40), and about 300 of them eventually crossed into Turkistan to reach Turkey for Jihad (41). Notables of Peshawar made camping arrangements for Muhajirs in the Namak Mandi of Peshawar. Volunteers of ‘Hijrat Committee’ distributed free food and water among Muhajirs. The British government didn’t stop anyone from crossing the border but officials kept a close eye on the movement of people.

A Dream Turns Sour

Initially, the Muhajirs were temporarily provided with some shelter by the Afghan Government but, soon, their number arriving in every week was beyond the limited capacity of the Afghan government. A panicked Amir Amanullah Khan tried to stem the tide and urged Obaidullah Sindhi and the Ulema in India to stop people undertaking Hijrat in such large numbers. The limited Afghan border forces even tried to stop ingress by poiting bayonets towards the onslaught of faithfuls but the momentum was too great for them to resist in any meaningful way. The movement was without a central leadership. It was no longer possible to put a lid on it. Intoxicated with a dream of Pan-Islamism and living in a free Muslim country and holy Jihad, the Indian Muhajirs were entering into Afghanistan in droves with calls of Allah-o-Akbar on their lips. But, a somewhat different reality slowly dawned upon them. Travelling and walking across highly rugged terrain of Afghanistan with little modern built infrastructure, the environment was particularly harsh and inhospitable, especially for those non-Pukhtun Muhajirs who had never seen this part of the world. Few Afghans they met on their way were visibly poor and illiterate, living in most primitive and savage conditions. Most of the Muhajirs camped in open fields near Jalalabad under open sky. The spirits were still running high but following nights unfolded a new bitter reality for many. The hapless Indian Muhajirs camped in open fields on occasions proved to be sitting ducks before birds of prey. At places, armed bands of local tribesmen started robbing the bewildered Muhajirs, and abducting their young women. ‘Tribesmen fell upon the stream of migrants, looting their possessions and rustling their livestock. Others were felled by hunger, thirst, and heat’ (42). While situation was rapidly deteriorating in the Muhajirs’ camps, more groups of enthusiastic Muhajirs were joining in. The initial shock and a sense of shame and humiliation prevented many of these Muhajirs to quickly retrace their steps and return to their homeland.

Unfamiliar with the rough terrain, many Muhajirs took flight to whichever direction they could find an escape from this calamity. Many perished in their endeavors for finding a safe way back home. ‘A large number of returning Muhajirin perished through exhaustion or disese. The road from the Frontier to Kabul was dotted with Muhajirin graves… According to eye-witnesses, the Khaiber Pass was littered with corpses.’ (43). Those who managed to reach Kabul were put under restrictions in special camps in Jabalul Siraj. It took a few months before the news of the plight of the Muhajirs in Afghanistan started reaching back home and the flow of the new groups slowed down, eventually stopping it in large measure by Sep 1920. The Hijrat Movement grew rapidly like a balloon and was deflated as quickly in a few months.

Its weaknesses and total lack of planning notwithstanding, it was an enormous human tragedy, which, usually, does not even find a brief mention in our history books. The religious leaders, surely, had no clue of the implications of what they were exhorting to equally uninformed people, to undertake. It was not a forced Hijrat undertaken under some compulsion. It was, on the contrary, a deliberate and voluntary action undertaken without any homework and prior thought process. But as Gail Minault observed, ‘[t]he eruption of this movement showed the strength of religious feeling among rural Muslims and the energy that could be released by tapping it.’ (44). This movement, in a strange way, however, played an important role for the future course of events. Many of the more ambitious and determined people from these Muhajirs persisted in their efforts and moved forward in spite of the difficulties.

But this great human tragedy was used by the Afghan Government as a bargaining chip in its rounds of negotiations with the British Government at Missouri and Kabul, following the Third Afghan War. Sardar Mohammad Tarzi, the Afghan foreign minister and father-in-law of Amir Amanullah Khan managed to obtain from Obaidullah Sindhi a few confidential letters addressed to notable Muslim leaders of India, including Mohammad Ali Jauhar, and Dr M.A. Ansari asking them to incite Muslims to rise in revolt against the British Indian government. Sardar Tarzi made Obaidullah Sindhi believe that these letters will only be used in the event the British government did not agree to meet Afghanistan’s just demand for acknowledging it as a truly independent sovereign country and agreeing to a home rule in India. Sardar Mohammad Tarzi, however, without even raising the issue of home rule in India, showed Maulana Sindhi’s letters to his British counterparts, with a view to push them for obtaining maximum concessions for himself and Amanullah Khan. The British conceded many Afghan demands but, in return, upon information provided by the Afghan delegation, widespread arrests of the Indian revolutionaries were made, multiple conspiracy cases were instituted, and many revolutionary workers were executed and jailed.

By now Obaidullah Sindhi had also seen through the duplicity of Afghan leaders and started looking for help towards the newly established Soviet Union for the independence of India. He allowed Lahore student Khushi Mohammad to leave for Tashkent for seeking help. Khushi Mohammad reached Tashkent in mid 1920 and met M. N. Roy and others. Eventually, the Indian Provisional Government was formally disbanded in 1922 under instructions of the Afghan Government. Obaidullah Sindhi and his colleagues quietly left for Tashkent. They reached Termez in Soviet Union in Oct 1922.

Jihadi Revolutionaries

Among those who crossed the border for Hijrat there were many young people who were highly enthused with the idea of waging a war against British colonialists for the liberation of India and the Muslims as a whole, with Turkey as its centre. These included Syed Rafiq Ahmed (Bhopal), Shaukat Usmani (Bikaner), Fazal Elahi Qurban and Sheikh Firozuddin Mansoor (Punjab) (45). The real name of Shaukat Usmani from Bikaner in Rajputana was Maula Bux, a college student. In his love for Usmani (Ottoman) Government of Turkey, he had changed his name to Shaukat Usmani (Glory of Ottomans). Soon, a few more young men arriving in Kabul included Mohammad Akbar Khan, Gohar Rehman and Sultan Mahmud Tarin from Rihana, Haripur, Hazara, Akbar Shah Miankhel from Nowshehra, and Mohammad Shafiq Siddiqi from Akora Khatak who had quit his job with the Irrigation Department in British India in protest of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. These young revolutionaries joined hands with Obaidullah Sindhi and Abdul Rab of former Berlin Committee, and the group of Lahore students who were already there for few years.

With the Afghan-British negotiations already underway, Amanullah Khan’s support for the Indian revolutionaries had started cooling off. The Muhajirs were again shifted to Jabalul Siraj camp. There were now about 180 Muhajirs placed at the camp who still wished to move ahead and join the Turkish army in their war against Britain. But, they were, for all practical purposes, put in confinement and forgotten by the Afghan government. The Muhajirs had no other choice but to either return to India in humiliation or to wait for opportunity to move towards Turkistan. They split themselves into two groups. One was led by Mohammad Akbar Khan of Hazara, and the other was led by Mohammad Akbar Jan of Peshawar. The first group proceeded around July 1920 to Mazar Sharif for crossing Jaihun River (Oxus or Amu Darya) to enter into Russian Turkistan from the point where present day Hairatan dry port is located. They reached Termez, across the border in present day Uzbekistan, on their way to Anatolia in Turkey via Turkmenistan. At Termez, these Muhajirs were welcomed by a small contingent of soviet army. The local governor of Termez tried to persuade the Muhajirs to abandon their journey to Turkey informing them of the rapidly changing situation on the war front but the would-be Jihadis were too excited with the idea of joining the Turkish army in defense of Muslims to fully appreciate the war situation.

From Termez, Amu River runs as a border between Afghanistan’s Balkh province and present day Uzbekistan for about 100 Km before it enters into Turkmenistan. Acting against the Soviet military officers’ advice for waiting for a steamer boat for undertaking upward journey from Termez, the Mujahidin boarded country sail boats for their next destination at Kirki in Turkmenistan via Amu River. After this it is a horrible and tragic story of these Jihadis’ long ordeal. The untold stories of these adventures have been well recorded in many memoirs and autobiographies of those people who survived the calamities and returned home after years of wandering (46).

Soon after leaving Termez on sail boats shortly before reaching Kirki, the Jihadis were captured by savage Turkmen Basmachis. The word is derived from Uzbek word Basmak, which means armed robber and highwayman. The Turkmens robbed Muhajirs, cruelly beating them and depriving them of their money and last material possessions. Riding on horses and lashes in their hands, they made the Indian Muhajirs run bare foot on the rugged terrain under a hot summer sun. Muhajirs’ pleadings and appeals for the Muslim brotherhood, with repeated recitation of Quranic verses and Kalma-e-Shahadat (an avowed declaration of being Muslim) fell on deaf ears. These Turkmens were the soldiers of former Amir of Bukhara, banded together, financed, and supplied with weapons by the British agents to rise in revolt against the newly established Soviet government. The legends of these savage armed brigands’ exaggerated piety, bravery, and heroic fight against communist Bolsheviks was widely propagated during those days by the British and European journals among unsuspecting Muslim population of India and the Middle East. The Amir of Bukhara, Syed Salimuddin, had been defeated only weeks before and a Soviet Peoples’ Republic was founded with Usman Khwaja as its first President. Bukhara had long been degenerated into a centre of decadent and stagnant reactionary interpretation of Islam. According to 1911 census, there were 1,440 religious schools and 1,320 Madarsas where about 200,000 religious students were enrolled. In the religious schools of Bukhara, the teaching of not only natural and social sciences but even Islamic history was prohibited, lest the young students get misguided.

The Turkmen soldiers and religious leaders declared the captive Indian Muhajirs as Jadeedis (The Modernists) and ordered their killing by a firing squad. Moments before the execution was to be carried out, a Red army contingent arrived at the spot and attacked the Turkmen positions. After a pitched battle for few days, the Turkmen militants dispersed in haste. Exhausted and impoverished due to extreme hardship and hunger during about two weeks of captivity, the Indian Muhajirs were finally rescued by the Bolsheviks.

It was quite ironic that one set of ‘soldiers of Islam’ fighting a Jihad against the Godless Bolsheviks were committing atrocities against another set of ‘soldiers of Islam’ coming from afar to fight a Jihad against the British! It was an identical story, a déjà vu that was to be witnessed about seventy years later in Afghanistan when the Islamic Mujahidin were to fight a Jihad financed and managed by the American CIA and Pakistan’s ISI against Russian army in 1990’s and the fierce battles to be fought between Taliban Jihadi groups turning against Pakistan’s army in 2000s. Even today, the misguided fervour of Jihad among many educated Muslim young men in Pakistan and the western countries to join forces with Pakistani and Afghan Taliban and ISIS in Iraq in their fight against US and NATO forces has striking parallels with the Jihadi fervour of Indian Muslim students during 1915-1920 for fighting alongside Turks and against the British.

The Indian Muhajirs finally reached Kirki after losing communication with the outside world for some time received news of Turkey and other countries at Kirki after a long time. The Muhajirs were utterly confused when they learnt that the Turks under Mustafa Kamal have declared establishment of a Republic at Smyrna and have dissociated from the Ottoman Caliph and that the Turks no longer recognize the Khalifa as their spiritual or temporal leader. The Soviet Union was the first to recognize the new Turkish republic. The Turkish army was now fighting for survival of its country against occupation armies of the West. Clearly, Turkey was in no position to help India win its freedom nor was it interested in maintaining the relic of a decadent Khilafa, so dearly cherished by the Indian Muhajirs. But still many of these Muhajirs were in a state of disbelief and wished to move ahead on their journey. But this time they did not take the risk of again falling into the hands of Basmachis. The Muhajirs proceeded from Kirki to Charjui, about 137 Km southwest of Bukhara in Uzbekistan by a Russian steamer. They were given a warm send off with a military band by the Soviet army.

New Horizons

After reaching Charjui, a large railway and river transport staging station on Amu Darya the group was again split into two opposing groups. One group wished to proceed to Turkey to join the war while the other group by now had a change of heart and wished to turn to Tashkent and seek help from the Soviet forces. Shaukat Usmani (47), who had been a staunch supporter of Haji Shahabuddin and thus far had been solely guided by his Islamic religious motivation, had seen through the harsh reality of the situation. He parted way from his group. The group that finally left for Tashkent via Bukhara by train was led by Mohammad Akbar Khan (Hazara) and included Firozuddin Mansoor (Sheikhupura) (48), Mir Abdul Majid (Lahore), Sultan Mahmud & Gohar Rehman (Hazara) (49), Shaukat Usmani (Bekanir), Rafiq Ahmed (Bhopal), Abdul Rahim (UP), Abdul Hamid (Ludhiana), Mohammad Shafiq (Akora Khatak), Mian Mohammad Akbar Shah (Noshehra), Masood Ali Shah, Abdul Qadir Sehrai, Fida Ali Zahid, Abdulah Safdar and Ghulam Mohammad (all from Peshawar). The youngest among the group was Firozuddin Mansoor, 17, and the oldest was Abdul Hamid, 28 years old. The group reached Bukhara by end Sep 1920.

The other group under the leadership of Haji Shahabuddin included Fazal Elahi Qurban (50), reached Baku at a time when an intense battle between Turks and the Greeks was being fought at Smyrna (now Izmir). Baku was an important military station from where regular materials and weapon supplies were being dispatched in support of Turkish army. The Mujahidin arrived in Baku to join the Turkish war at Smyrna. But Turkish military officers at Baku were in no mood to let these Indian Mujahidin join in. The Indian volunteers were seen with great suspicion to be the British agents. Unfortunately, the news of the arrest of a British Muslim agent Mustafa Saghir (from Muradabad in U.P., India) in Anatolia had just reached Baku. Arriving from India in the guise of a Muslim volunteer on his mission to assassinate Mustafa Kamal, Mustafa Saghir was arrested by the Turkish army. The British secret police had hired Mustafa Saghir to assassinate Mustafa Kamal to demolish Turkish war efforts against Greeks. Captured with ample documentary evidence of his mission, Mustafa Saghir was tried in a military court and was executed. With the breaking of this news, the fate of the newly arrived contingent of enthusiastic Indian Mujahidin was completely sealed. On the contrary, now they were viewed as highly suspect in Baku.

Frustrated with the denial of access to Turkish war and after interaction with the members of the Baku branch of the Indian revolutionaries, these Indian Muhajirs again split into two groups: a few realizing the folly of their misdirected mission wished to join their former colleagues in Tashkent while others, by now, thoroughly frustrated, wanted to return homes. The group led by Haji Shahabuddin that set out for returning to India, unfortunately, met with more disasters. Most of them perished on their way or were brutally killed by Turkmen Basmachis. Those who were killed by Turkmens included the group leader Haji Shahabuddin. Only a few managed to reach their homes and tell their tragic stories.


20. Ibid, Op Cited, Pg. 195.
21. Ibid, Pg. 193.
22. Raees Ahmed Jafri Nadvi, Karwan-e-Gum Gashta (The Lost Caravan).
23. Zubair Ahmed Firdausi, Reshmi Rumal Tehreek, Nigarshat Publishers, Lahore, 1988, Pg. 43.
24. Mohammad Anwer Hussain, Ulema’s Freedom Struggle & Concept of Pakistan, Pg. 78. 25. Shaukat Siddiqi, Op Cit, Pg. 218.
26. Shaukat Siddiqi, Op Cit, Pg. 227.
27. Abdullah Malik, Dastan-e Khanwada-e Mian Mahmud Ali Qasuri, Jang Publishers, Lahore, 1995, Pg. 78.
28. Muhammad Ali Qasuri, Mushahidat-e-Kabul-o-Yaghistan, Anjuman Taraqi-e-Urdu, Karachi, 1955, Pg. 143-146.
29. Abdullah Malik, op cit, Pg. 80-81.
30. Muhammad Ali Qasuri, op cit, Pg. 108-110.
31. Ghulam Mohammad Jaffar, Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society, Baitul Hikmat, Vol. 41 (1993), Islamabad, Pg. 60 as quoted by Dietrich Reetz, The Flight of the Faithful: A Britsih file on the exodus of Muslim Peasants from North India to Afghanistan in 1920, Verlag Das Arabische Buch, Berlin, 1995, Pg. 31
32. Shaukat Siddiqi, op cit, Pg. 249>
33. Zahir Shah, the last king of Afghanistan, was the son of General Nadir Khan.
34. Mahendra Partap, My Life Story of Fifty-five Years, Delhi, 1947, Pg. 57-58 quoted by Arun Coomer Bose in The Indian Revolutionaries and the Bolsheviks – Their Early Contacts, 1918-1922, Asian Studies.
35. These prominent Ulema included, Ataullah Shah, Daud Ghaznavi, and Ghulam Mohammad Aziz of Amritsar, Ahmed Saeed of Delhi, Azad Subhani of Kanpur, Abdul Razzak of Malihabad, Taj Mahmud Amroti, Pir Mahbub Shah of Hyderabad, Sindh, Abdul Qadir and his son Mohyiuddin Ahmed of Qasur (father and brother of Mahmud Ali Qasuri respectively), Ahmed Ali of Lahore, and Abdul Ghafoor of Peshawar.
36. M. Naeem Qureshi, Pan-Islam in British Indian Politics: A Study of the Khilafat Movement 1918-1924, BRILL, 1999, Pg. 188-189.
37. Those who opposed the senseless Hijrat movement included, Maulanas Ashraf Ali Thanvi, Shibli Naumani, Ahmed Raza Khan Barailvi, most of the Shia Ulema, and Bashiruddin Ahmed of Quadian.
38. Maulana Abdul Bari’s reply purely in a theoretical context was, indeed, academic and a little confusing for a lay person. Instantly, inflammatory reports of his support to the cause of Hijrat were prominently published by the movement’s proponents like the Hurriyat (Delhi) of Arif Haswi, Paisa Akhbar (Lahore) of Munshi Mehbub Alam, Zamindar (Lahore) of Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, and the Khilafat.
39. Gail Minault, The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbolism and Political Mobilization in India, Columbia University Press, 1982, Pg. 106.
40. Dietrich Reetz, op cit, Pg. 52.
41. Documents of The History of The Communist Party of India, Vol. Two (1923-1925), Ed. Dr G. Adhikari, Peoples Publishing House, New Delhi, India, Oct 1974, Pg. 48.
42. Gail Minault, Op Cit, Pg.106.
43. The Daily Telegraph, 26 Aug 1920, & The Ulema of British India and the Hijrat, M. Naeem Qureshi in Modern Asian Studies, Vol.13 (1979), No.1, Pg. 41-59 as quoted by Dietrich Reetz, op cit, Pg. 69.
44. Gail Minault, Op Cit, Pg. 107.
45. The others included, Abdul Ghafar Khan (Charsadda), Ghulam Mehbub and Abdul Qadir Sehrai (Peshawar), Mohammad Hassan (Balochistan) Abdul Aziz, Waris Butt (Amritsar), Habib Ahmed (Shajahanpur), Mir Abdul Aziz, Ghulam Ahmed, Haji Shahabuddin, Fida Ali Zahid, Iqbal Shaidai, and Murtaza Ahmed Khan Maikash.
46. The Muhajirs’ tragic stories are told in great detail in various memoirs and autobiographies, including, Peshawar to Moscow: Leaves from Indian Muhajireen’s Diary, and Main Stalin se Dobara Mila (I met Stalin Again) by Shaukat Usmani, Swaraj Publishing House, Banaras, 1927; Unforgettable Journey, an autobiography of Rafiq Ahmed, MS, extensively quoted in The Story behind Moscow-Tashkent Conspiracy Cases, S.M. Mehdi, New Delhi, 1967; Mushahidat-e Kabul-o-Yaghistan, Maulvi Mohammad Ali Qasuri, Anjuman Taraqi-e-Urdu, Karachi, 1955; Auraq-e Gumgashta (The Pages that Were Lost), Rais Ahmed Jafri; Reshmi Rumal Tehrik (Silk Handkerchief Movement), Zubair Ahmed Firdousi, Nigarshat, Lahore, 1988; Gumshuda Auraq (The Lost Pages), Shaukat Siddiqi, Riktab Publications, Karachi, 2011; Documents of The History of The Communist Party of India, Vol. Two (1923-1925), Ed. G. Adhikari, People’s Publishing House, New Delhi, 1974. Moreover, personal accounts of the Hijrat Movement have been provided in detail in the Autobiography of Zafar Hassan Aibak in two volumes, Sarguzisht-e Mujahidin (The Story of Mujahidin), Maulana Ghulam Rasool Meher; Mian Akbar Shah’s account was serialized in Monthly Sarhad, Peshawar in 1970; Dastaan-e Khanwada-e Mian Mahmud Ali Qasuri (Family Saga of Mian Mahmud Ali Qasuri), Abdullah Malik, Jang Publishers, Lahore, 1995; an Autobiography of Fazal Elahi Qurban was also published.
47. Shaukat Usmani was to become one of the early communist leaders of India and figured prominently in the well-known Kanpur Conspiracy Case, 1924 and Meerut Conspiracy Case of 1929.
48. Later, known as Dada Firozuddin Mansoor, a veteran of the Pakistan communist movement.
49. Gohar Rehman from village Rihana, Haripur Hazara was to be a brother-in-law of Muhammad Ayub Khan, later a General and Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army, and the President of Pakistan during Oct 1958 – Mar 1969.
50. Fazal Elahi Qurban was to be one of the earliest Muslim members of the Communist Party of India in Punjab. At the time of founding of Pakistan, Fazal Elahi Qurban was to play a central role in the first dispute and dissent among the Pakistani communists.

Chapter 1 – Concluded

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