Posts Tagged ‘India’

A History of the Left in Pakistan – 17

March 18, 2017

By Ahmed Kamran

Chapter Four: The Road to Pakistan – (Continued)

Pakistan Movement

As we noted earlier in Chapter 3, the Indian Muslims separate political consciousness evolved in early 20th century during their struggle for obtaining administrative autonomy in East Bengal and minority protective rights in Hindu majority provinces of UP, CP, Bihar, Madras, and Bombay.

The Muslims first spoke about their “national interests at the mercy of an unsympathetic majority” in their joint deputation to the Viceroy of India, Lord Minto, in 1906, at Shimla. The peculiar international situation developing before and during First World War also worked in raising Indian Muslim’s political consciousness. The Indian Muslims whole-heartedly joined in the struggle for Indian independence movement. M.A. Jinnah, an avowed liberal barrister from cosmopolitan Bombay and an active member of both Indian National Congress and Muslim League, helped craft the ‘Lucknow Pact’ between the two parties, ushering in a unique phase of unity and cooperation between Hindus and Muslims. He was acknowledged as ‘ambassador of unity between Hindus and Muslims’. This rare communal harmony and the spirit of cooperation was achieved based on mutual recognition of minority rights and obligations, separate electorate, reservation of quotas and special weightage for representation of Muslims and other minorities and providing structural assurances for protection of these rights. After the First World War, Muslims were particularly agitated against dismemberment of Turkish Empire and for the protection of Ottoman Caliphate. Appealing to their acute sense of injustice meted out to Muslims and their strong resentment against aggression of the European powers in Muslim lands, the Muslim religious and communal leaders whipped up an emotional campaign in support of Khilafat and even calling for Muslim Jihad and migration (see Chapter 1). Gandhi and Indian National Congress supported the Muslim agitation (albeit, with strong reservation from certain sections within Congress and opposition from Hindu fundamentalists represented by Hindu Mahasabah) to bring Muslims in Non-Cooperation movement against British government launched in Apr 1919. M.A. Jinnah and Muslim League, however, stayed away from this agitation. Jinnah strongly opposed mass agitation at this stage and injecting raw religious beliefs and archaic cultural symbolism in the Khilafat and non-cooperation agitation to whip up public emotions. He felt that rousing of rabble to religious frenzy was bound to explode the fragile communal unity and that it will pit Hindus and Muslims against each other, both brandishing opposing religious and historical narratives. Due to strong opposition from Gandhi, Jinnah resigned from the Home Rule League that he had once led (30). At the Indian National Congress session in December 1920 at Nagpur where Jinnah stood up to oppose Gandhi’s prescription for the future course of action, he was shouted at for his ‘want of courage’ and ‘howled down with cries of ‘shame, shame’ and ‘political impostor’. Gandhi held complete sway and Jinnah was rejected by the Congress and “reviled by fellow-Muslim Khilafat leaders even more than by the Mahatma’s devoutest Hindu disciples” (31).

Unfortunately, as was expected, without a solid foundation of agreement on constitutional safeguards for the minorities the dream of communal unity and harmony in Indian politics indeed proved short lived. M.K. Gandhi finally called off his Satyagrah agitation after the shocking incident of 22 policemen burnt alive in Chaura Chauri police station in UP by an angry mob in February 1922. But, the damage was done. The Hindus and Muslims turned against each other. The collapse of non-cooperation agitation and Khilafat movement was followed by unprecedented series of riots and killings between Hindus and Muslims across India. The Congress, Hindu and Muslim communal leaders had mobilized Hindu and Muslim masses around their respective religious beliefs, mythology, and historical narratives. The competing economic interests fueled by conflicting Hindu and Muslim idiom of political narrative and fiery rhetoric of communal leaders created a wedge between Hindus and Muslims. The gulf between the two communities only widened over time and was exacerbated due to uncompromising attitude on both sides, especially the Hindu majority leaders who were expected to step forward to allay the fears and apprehensions of minorities. The first major political breach was witnessed in August 1928. While Jinnah was abroad, the Congress and some leaders of the All Parties Conference formed a committee for preparing a draft nationalist constitution to counter Simon Commission proposals for the future constitutional arrangement of India. The Committee (headed by Motilal Nehru and Jawaharlal Nehru as its secretary) under increasingly belligerent pressure from Hindu Mahasabah formulated its draft report in July 1928— commonly known as ‘Motilal Nehru Report’. It ignored the basic principle of agreement between Hindus and Muslims (Lucknow Pact of 1916) of separate electorates and proposed a strong centre with all residuary powers. Also, no meaningful safeguards were offered in compensation to satisfy the apprehensions of Muslim minority. With a clear Hindu majority population in the country, a strong centre was anathema to the Indian Muslims and other minorities due to fears of the tyranny of majority. But, the Muslim demands of continuing with separate electorate, constitutional safeguards and weightage for minorities were thorny issues for Hindu Mahasabha and for increasingly aggressive Hindu leaders of Indian National Congress. To escape from this impasse and find some common ground, Jinnah had crafted an ingenious constitutional scheme in March 1927. Working out a mutually acceptable compromise formula, Jinnah accommodated Congress’ insistence of restoring joint electorate for both Muslim and Hindu population, provided certain guarantees are ensured in the proposed constitution to adequately protect Muslim minority interests, and Muslim majority control is granted over three new proposed provinces of Sindh, NWFP, and Balochistan. At that time, Sindh was still a part of Bombay province and NWFP and Balochistan were not yet given status of full provinces and were governed by Chief Commissioners. Twenty-nine leading Muslim leaders had agreed to Jinnah’s scheme called Delhi Muslim Proposals. The proposals were ‘substantially’ accepted by the Congress in May 1927 and again a hope appeared to see Hind-Muslim unity on the road to independence. Meanwhile, the 1921 census figures had revealed “rapid growth among Muslims in both wings of the north that they were now a majority in the Punjab (54.8 percent) and in Bengal (52.7 percent). This development stimulated demands for renegotiating the Lucknow Pact formula, with many League leaders from both Muslim-majority provinces no longer willing to rest content with the prospect of mere minority council seats” (32). In this backdrop of rising hopes and expectations of Muslims and corresponding rise of Hindu’s fears and apprehensions, Nehru Committee Report as finalized in August 1928 plainly ignored and repudiated the compromise formula acceptable to all communities at this critical juncture. Upon his return from abroad, Jinnah was angry at his friend Chagla and other Muslim leaders who had acquiesced to Nehru’s proposals effectively undermining Jinnah’s position on the issue and thereby encouraging Indian National Congress to ignore a weakened Jinnah’s objections. At All Parties Convention at Calcutta in December 1928 convened to discuss the Nehru Report, “Jinnah’s proposed amendments were rejected and he felt deeply ‘hurt’. He believed his proposals were reasonable. He wanted separate electorates to continue; one-third of the seats to be reserved in the provincial and central legislatures for Muslims; and the residuary powers to be vested in the provinces and not at the centre. Jinnah wanted a federal system with a weak centre” (33). The breach had occurred. It was a major turning point between Muslims and Hindu national aspirations and the foundation of a major political breach had been laid. This effectively sealed the prospects of a meaningful and sustainable compromise between the two communities so vital for a future united India. It was, as Jinnah had put it, ‘a parting of ways’ from ‘Motilal Nehru and his lot’ (34). For a while, Jinnah stood alone rejected by both Congress and Muslims and proceeded to London and lived there in isolation. He observed in London, as per his friend, Durga Das, “The Congress will not come to terms with me because my following is small. The Muslims don’t accept my views for they take orders from the Deputy Commissioners” (35).

Undoubtedly, other factors also played their role in this breach. In a political triangle of contest between the British imperial interest on one hand and Hindu and Muslim nationalist interests on the other, the third party, the British, could not have been expected to sit quietly, twiddling their thumbs. Clearly, the British imperialist interests were at play in maneuvers and exploiting the conflict between Hindus and Muslims by making them forward empty promises of promoting communal harmony and raise platitudes but preventing them from laying the foundation of a real and meaningful consensus built on concrete constitutional safeguards for mutual confidence. Maintaining elements of political breach and distrust between two major communities was to enable imperialist rulers continuing their hold over a prized trophy of Indian Empire (36). When British government had sent Sir John Simon’s Commission in February 1928 to evaluate and recommend constitutional reforms in India, Congress had opposed it on the grounds of its all white members and no Indian representation in it. Muslim League was divided and a group in Punjab headed by Sir Mohammad Shafi and Dr Muhammad Iqbal had separated a faction of the League deciding to welcome the Simon Commission. However, despite his differences with Congress leaders on method and strategy, Jinnah had strongly opposed the Commission. Simon’s boycott in Bombay led by Jinnah was so effective that even Gandhi had congratulated him on this singular performance (37). But, cleverly playing a double game of feigning to side with Muslims and frightening Hindus to take an uncompromisingly hostile position and thereby securing a breach between the two, Secretary of State Lord Birkenhead had urged the Viceroy of India, Lord Irwin, to undermine the position of M.A. Jinnah. He wrote, “I should advise Simon to see at all stages important people who are not boycotting the Commission, particularly Moslems and the depressed classes. I should widely advertise all his interviews with representative Moslems.” He then announced, as baldly as it had ever been put into writing by a British official, the ‘whole policy’ of divide et impera, advising that Simon’s ‘obvious’ goal was “to terrify the immense Hindu population by the apprehension that the Commission is being got hold of by the Moslems and may present a report altogether destructive of the Hindu position, thereby securing a solid Moslem support, and leaving Jinnah high and dry” (38). The stratagem seems to have worked well. But, at the end of the day, the blame of failing to reach an amicable agreement squarely lies at the doors of Hindu and Muslim leaders themselves for not displaying sufficient far-sighted vision to develop a compromise among themselves based on mutual respect, and for allowing a third party to successfully manipulate their intrinsic differences.

Unlike Europe and Americas, the Global Depression and economic downturn of 1930s did not cause universal stagnation in India nor did it affect all spheres of Indian economy uniformly. While export-oriented industries had suffered considerably and their output declined, some other industries that were more oriented towards domestic market were not greatly affected. In fact, the aggregate industrial output of India during 1930s grew at a faster rate than the average growth of rest of the world. The industries that the economic slump had hit hard were jute and cotton manufacturing, mainly based in Calcutta and Bombay respectively in which budding Muslim capitalists also had built their interests. The combined value of these industries fell from 51.2% to 37% of the total industrial output. To remain competitive, the Indian textile manufacturers tried to cut wages and production costs resulting in labour unrest. Although, initially, the big Indian bourgeoisie including Muslim capitalists were highly cosmopolitan and generally free from communal prejudices but as the competition grew more intense the polarization of bourgeoisie along social and communal dividing lines also became apparent. On the other hand, the demand for some new import-substitution industries like sugar, paper, cement, wool, iron, steel, and safety matches increased significantly. This gave rise to a new breed of Hindu Marwari and Gujarati capitalist ‘marketeers’ who had a mindset different from the cosmopolitan outlook of the old breed of industrialists. These new rising Hindu businessmen tended to organize themselves along communal and caste lines for much needed intra-caste credit facilities or credit from special communal funds, exchange of business intelligence or a joint united effort against competition. Muslim trading castes— Memons, Khojas and Bohras— had only limited access to this type of ‘communal’ credit facilities compared to their Hindu counterparts. As Levin observed, “the division of the Hindu bourgeoisie into isolated caste and religious-communal groups has already and in itself created favorable conditions for capitalist competition to take the form of inter-caste competition and religious-communal conflicts” (39). The Second World War brought immense profits and influence to large sections of Indian capitalists by expanding war business, reduced foreign competition for domestic industry as a result of cessation of imports from Germany and Japan, lucrative war supply contracts of food and materials for a greatly enlarged British army (the British army personnel increased to 160,000 and the number of Indian soldiers expanded to over two million), and ‘marketeers’ widespread speculation in food grains and commodities had provided opportunities for making extra-ordinary profits. But the war also created an economic dislocation. The additional and increasing requirement of food and other supplies for the army in expanding war fronts in East Asia resulted in shortage of essential food commodities. Millions died of famine and starvation in Bengal. Wheat requisition by the government and hoarding of its stock by the profiteers caused these commodities to disappear from the market. Not only Bengal but for the first time the farmers of otherwise relatively prosperous Canal Zone in Punjab were also hit hard. The Muslim capitalists felt the impact of intense competition from the Hindu capitalists more than ever. They were reaching to a point of no return and this led the Muslims to rethink and reset their political identity in the independence movement.

It was at this stage when slowly the idea of Pakistan evolved from an earlier position of fighting for autonomous Muslim-majority provinces within a united Indian Union to ‘independent and sovereign’ Muslim-majority ‘states’ as a last resort. Indications are that initially Jinnah had taken the posture for ‘independent sovereign’ states more as a negotiation ploy for obtaining greater and meaningful ‘autonomy’ for Muslim minority than as a primary objective of his political struggle (Ayesha Jalal). By now, Muslims were in majority in Bengal, Punjab, Sindh, NWFP, and Balochistan. With gradual introduction of political reforms in British India electoral system of public representation was introduced for local, provincial and central government legislatures for limited governing functions. In Bengal, Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, and NWFP, Muslim landed aristocracy together with a few representatives from their co-religionist urban middle classes had been able to share elected government positions in their respective provinces with Hindus but most of the economic power, trade & industry, urban property, bureaucratic positions, and influential professions, other than those held by Europeans, were still pre-dominantly occupied by Hindu merchant castes and Hindu middle classes. In Bengal, even much of the landed estate was owned by Hindu landlords. Therefore, despite their common heritage of language, culture, and customs the Muslims political struggle against Hindus was essentially for getting economic independence and governance largely in their own hands.

On the other hand, there also was developing a strong case of reasoning among some Hindu leaders that it was, perhaps, better for big Hindu bourgeoisie and upper castes’ political and economic interests that a major part of Muslims in the borderlands are separated from India rather than trying to keep them in. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, himself a converted Buddhist from Hindu Scheduled caste origin, had argued that a Hindu India would rather gain, instead of losing anything, in terms of net revenue income, and at the same time getting rid of a potentially dangerous and disproportionately large Punjabi Muslim army and a permanently hazardous counter balancing Muslim voting power in a united India. He said, ‘it is better that they should be without and against rather than within and against… That is the only way of getting rid of the Muslim preponderance in the Indian army’. He further argued that, ‘but in the N.W.F.P. and Sind, owing to the scattered state of the Hindu population, alteration of boundaries cannot suffice for creating a homogenous State. There is only one remedy and that is to shift the population…That the transfer of minorities is the only lasting remedy for communal peace is beyond doubt.’ Eventually, this idea prevailed among real power brokers in Indian National Congress and the fate of a united India was sealed.

In the beginning, Muslim League had a narrow and limited support base confined to the Muslim elite in the urban centres of Muslim minority provinces of India. Out of 144 resolutions passed by Muslim League during 1924-26, only 7 had barely touched upon social and economic problems of common Muslim men. Its Council decisions were taken by an extreme minority quorum of 10 out of 310. Muslim League was conspicuous by its absence in the Muslim majority provinces of Punjab, NWFP, Sindh, and Balochistan. In 1927, Muslim League’s total membership was said to be 1,330. Its 1930 session at Allahabad where Dr. Muhammad Iqbal delivered his famous presidential address wherein he suggested the vision of a Muslim state in the North-West comprising of Sindh, Punjab, Balochistan, and NWFP had barely managed to get the quorum of 75 members. Muslim League didn’t do well in 1937 elections, particularly in the Muslim majority provinces. It had secured 43 out of 272 Muslim seats, obtaining only 4.8 per cent Muslim votes. Muslim League won 37 out of 117 seats allotted to Muslims in Bengal and that was the best performance; it won only 3 seats out of 33 in Sindh. It chose to contest only 7 seats out of 84 Muslim seats in Punjab but barely managed to win 2. Punjab’s Unionist Party emerged again as the major party in the province. By now, Muslim League had only built an appeal for the upstart Muslim bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie of mainly Muslim minority areas. But despite its growing support among Muslim urban intelligentsia and artisans, in terms of modern electoral politics it had serious numerical limitation in Muslim minority provinces. With the idea of Pakistan gradually crystalising into some concrete shape, it was getting clearer that the Muslim League would eventually lose its territorial base in the Muslim minority areas to India. Its attention was turned to Punjab.


30. In reply to a letter from Gandhi seeking his return, asking him to take ‘his share in the new life that has opened up before the country, and benefit thye country by your experience and guidance’, Jinnah wrote back in the autumn of 1920, ‘if by “new life” you mean your methods and your programme, I am afraid I cannot accept them; for I am fully convinced that it must lead to disaster… that your methods have already caused split and division in almost every institution that you have approached hitherto, and in the public life of the country not only amongst Hindus and Muslims but between Hindus and Hindus and Muslims and Muslims and even between fathers and sons; people generally are desperate all over the country and your extreme programme has for the moment struck the imagination of mostly of the inexperienced youth and the ignorant and the illiterate. All this means complete disorganisation and chaos. What the consequences of this may, I shudder to contemplate; … I do not wish my countrymen to be dragged to the brink of a precipice in order to be shattered.’ M.H. Saiyid, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, S.M. Ashraf & Co., Lahore, 1945, p.264-265 as quoted by Stanley Wolpert in Jinnah of Pakistan, Oxford University Press, New York, 1984, p. 70.
31. Stanley Wolpert, p. 72.
32. Stanley Wolpert, p. 87.
33. D.N. Panigrahi, India’s Partition-The story of imperialism in retreat, Routledge, New York, 2004, p. 23.
34. Durga Das, India from Curzon to Nehru and After (London:1969), p. 154 as quoted by D.N. Panigrahi p. 24.
35. Durga Das, India from Curzon, p. 154 as quoted by D.N. Panigrahi, p. 35.
36. Outgoing Viceroy of India, Lord Reading, offered Jinnah the honour of knighthood but Jinnah firmly declined the offer writing back in Dec 1925, ‘I prefer to be plain Mr. Jinnah. I have lived as plain Mr. Jinnah and I hope to die as plain Mr. Jinnah.’ Fazal Haque Qureshi in Every Day with Quaid-i-Azam (Karachi: Sultan Ashraf Qureshi, 1976), p. 394 as quoted by Stanley Wolpert, p. 87.
37. Gandhi wrote to ‘tender my congratulations to the organisers for the very great success they achieved…it did my soul good to see Liberals, Independents and Congressmen ranged together on the same platform.’ M.K. Gandhi, Young India, February 2, 1928, as quoted by Stanley Wolpert, p. 92.
38. Second Earl of Birkenhead, F.E. The Life of F.E. Smith, First Earl of Birkenhead (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1960), p. 516 as quoted by Stanley Wolpert, p. 93.
39. Quoted in Syed Nesar Ahmed, Origins of Muslim Conciousness in India: A World-System Perspective, Greenwood Press, Connecticut, 1991, p. 230.

Chapter 4… To be Continued

Back to Main Page

A History of the Left in Pakistan – 16

February 22, 2017

By Ahmed Kamran

Chapter Four: The Road to Pakistan – (Continued)

Kirti Communists in Punjab

After the periods of significant unrests of Ghadar Party (1914-1916), Jallianwala Bagh (1919) and Babbar Akali Jatthas (1920-1925) in Punjab, a monthly Kirti (Worker) journal was published by Santok Singh from Amritsar in February 1926. Santok Singh and Rattan Singh of Ghadar Party had been to Soviet Union for training and had attended the fourth congress of the Comintern in 1922 (16). The first Kirti conference was held in Hoshiarpur on 6-7 October, 1927. Sohan Singh Josh presided over the meeting that demanded freedom of India, eight-hour work day for factory workers, and expressed its support for the Chinese freedom struggle and Russian revolution. The second conference under Tara Singh was held on 17 October, 1927 in Lyallpur. In early 1928, Sohan Singh Josh and Bhag Singh Canadian called for a larger conference at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar in April 1928. Over 60 workers attended the conference. Among those who attended Mir Abdul Majid and Firozuddin Mansoor were among the first trainees of the Communist University in Moscow during 1921. Kirti Kisan Party was formed with Sohan Singh Josh elected as secretary and M.A. Majid as joint secretary. It’s headquarter was at Amritsar. The second conference of the Kirti Kisan Party held on 28-30 September, 1928 at Lyallpur. The Communist leaders from other parts of India, including S.A. Dange, Philip Spratt, and Ben Bradley also attended this conference. Kirti Kisan Party held many peasant conferences in various towns, including, Rohtak, Sargodha, Hoshiarpur, and Lahore. Party’s leadership including, Sohan Singh Josh, Kedar Nath Sehgal, and M.A. Majid were arrested in March 1929 in Meerut Conspiracy case.

The aftereffects of the world economic recession in 1929 marked the beginning of a new unrest in Punjab, mainly emanating from its rural areas. Former soldiers of the British Indian Army, now facing extreme hardship due to economic depression and rising cost of living joined peasant movements. Ex-soldier Risaldar Anup Singh marched to Lahore with a band of about 1,000 ex-soldiers demanding for the lands promised to them by the army officials at the time of recruitment but denied after de-mobilization. For British administration, Anup Singh’s Morcha was a dangerous turn in the rural unrest in Punjab. Nehru attended the Naujawan Bharat Sabha’s (NJBS) conference in August. Despite the policy leads given by the Comintern for breaking off relations with the Indian Congress, the demarcation line between CPI and the Congress in Punjab was still unclear. The conflict between the new ‘party line’ apologetically pushed down from the top and the ground realities caused confusion and the agitation was gaining momentum. Although, an anti-Congress tone was noticeable at the Kirti Kisan Conference held in Lahore in December 1929 but the speakers in the Kirti Kisan Political Conference in Hissar on 21-22 February, 1930 openly supported the Congress’ Civil Disobedience movement. The Congress had decided in December 1929 at Lahore to launch civil disobedience movement and declared 26 January, 1930 as the date for the complete independence of India. At this time, a circular letter dated 14 January 1930 issued by the Chief Secretary of Punjab addressed to the Commissioners and the Police administration in Punjab said, “The Congress has not only declared itself the enemy of the Government as at present established, and of the British connection, but also of all stable interests in the country… Under the guidance of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru the new Congress creed is derived from Moscow…[he] directly attacked the important interests on which the stability of the country depends… the landed proprietors, and it is clear that the independent India which the Congress has in view will not contain this class. The land is either to be nationalized or divided among the peasants” (17). But, with the signing of Gandhi-Irwin Pact in March 1930, however, the Indian Congress leadership abruptly called off the Civil Disobedience movement.

As Mirdula Mukherjee observed, “the Kirti Kisan Party was able to achieve a significant enhancement of its influence among peasants in some of the central districts of Punjab and had been able to contribute to the process of their organization and politicization” (18). While Congress was more effective in the districts of Rohtak, Karnal and Hissar (present day Haryana in India), the Kirti Kisan Party was stronger in the central districts of Amritsar, Lahore, Sheikhupura, and Lyallpur, most of which are in Pakistan today. Now, the trend of convergence between radical small peasant organizations and moderate middle-peasant organizations was also emerging. The Zamindar League of Sir Chhotu Ram of Rohtak agreed for holding joint session of and uniting the Punjab Zamindar League with the Punjab Zamindar Sabha (or Kisan Sabha) at Raiwind on 4 April 1931. The session was reportedly attended by large number of peasants; some estimates are as high as close to 10,000. The Zamindar League of Sheikhupura held its annual meeting in May and changed its name to Kisan Sabha. A Ghadarite Kirti leader Teja Singh Swatantar was elected as the president. By November, the Punjab Kirti Kisan Sabha had grown so influential and confident that it called for affiliation of all Kisan Sabhas, Mazdoor Sabhas and Kirti Kisan parties in Punjab, Delhi and NWFP with the Kirti Kisan Sabha (19). The party also held a conference in Karachi in 1931, and at Nankana Sahib in 1932 in which reportedly over 2,000 delegates attended. The party celebrated May Day in 1933 at Amritsar and Lahore. Around this time the Ghadar Party in U.S.A had given its second call for return to India (see Chapter-3).

Based on their assessment of the failure of first Ghadar Party rebellion in 1914-1915 due to lack of ideology and proper political and military training, the Ghadar Party’s new president Giyani Singh and his colleague Rattan Singh had travelled extensively in early 1920s in the U.S.A and South America motivating party sympathizers to get formal military and political training for joining the struggle for independence (20). Several batches of Ghadar Party volunteers travelled to Soviet Union. They were enrolled in a typical two-year course of ideological, political and military training at the Communist University in Moscow during 1926-1935. Many trainees recruited in USA, Canada, and South America were sent to Moscow. Teja Singh Swatantar was also one of them. In all, about 76 volunteers received training in Moscow. Interestingly, in this effort an element of ideological puritanism was also at work. For example, one of the recruit, Hazara Singh Hamdam, was rejected by the Moscow University and sent back home owing to his family having too much land (30 acres) in Punjab. He was categorized as a ‘Kulak’ (rich peasant) and, therefore, unfit for becoming a ‘communist revolutionary’ (21).

After receiving their political training in Moscow, these workers started arriving in India. According to an official file note in November 1933 as quoted by Mirdula Mukherjee, the Director of Intelligence Bureau said, “if it was not for this batch of ‘Soviet agents’ that had just arrived last month, he would be in favour of releasing the six state prisoners—Ghulam Muhammad, Fazal Elahi, Abdul Waris, Harjap Singh, Ehsan Elahi, Karam Singh—arrested in 1930… But he did not want them to establish contact with these Soviet agents therefore he was in favour of postponing their release” (22). Almost all of the Moscow trained Ghadar Party volunteers joined and worked as the mainstay of Kirti Kisan Party. They were commonly known as ‘Kirti Communists’.

In late June 1933, Karam Singh Mann, a barrister who had returned from London called a meeting of left workers at Lahore for revival and reorganization of CPI in Punjab, which was almost disintegrated after the massive arrests in Meerut Conspiracy case. Mann, together with Sajjad Zaheer, was a member of the ‘London Group’ of bright, young Indian students who had converted to communist ideology under the influence of CPGB luminaries like Rajini Palme Dutt and Shahpur Saklatwala in London. Meanwhile, Sohan Singh Josh and M.A. Majid were also released in November 1933 after completing their jail terms. By April 1934, most of the ‘left’ workers were re-organized in Punjab in a new communist group that worked in the front organization of the Anti-Imperialist League. This Punjab group was later integrated into CPI at the time of its revival under P.C. Joshi. Fazal Elahi Qurban and Abdul Waris were also released in March 1934 and joined the CPI group.

CPI was declared illegal in July 1934 and the Kirti Kisan Party was also banned in September 1934. Its journal Kirti ceased publication. It, however, reappeared as weekly Kirti Lehar from Meerut in 1935. It continued publication until 1939. Communists working in Kirti Kisan Sabhas and CPI had formed Qarza (Debt) Committees for cancellation of the mounting rural debts burdening the peasants. Meanwhile, Punjab politics had undergone a significant shift. The Communal Award of 1932 and the Government of India Act of 1935 had far reaching impact on Punjab politics. The electoral balance between towns and countryside was recast, further reducing urban seats from one-fourth to about one-seventh of the rural constituencies; the towns now had only nineteen seats compared to 130 rural seats. This severe curtailment of towns’ sphere of influence greatly weakened and almost destroyed the Congress in Punjab, which was already divided in two factions after the death of Lala Lajpat Rai. Its identity was starkly reduced to representing Hindu trading and moneylender interests in the province, which in turn changed its relationship with the radical left. The Muslims in India had generally been disappointed and were drifting away from the Congress. To save it from near extinction, the Punjab Congress had to re-brand itself to appeal to the larger rural electorate and to forge alliances with radical socialists and communists in the Punjab. A radicalized Indian National Congress under Jawaharlal Nehru initiated its expansion drive to reach out to the Punjabi peasants. By 1936, the Comintern and CPI had changed their line in favour of the ‘united front’ with Indian Congress and the Congress Socialist Party. As the CPI got better organized after its revival by P.C. Joshi, its organization in Punjab became more visible and distinct in and out of Kirti Kisan Party. The CPI group was led by Sohan Singh Josh, and Karam Singh Mann. CPI Punjab was bringing out a magazine Communist in Urdu and Gurmukhi and the Kirti group brought out Lal Jhanda (Red Flag). The Kirtis in general had a strong streak of Ghadar party tradition among themselves. Their primary motive for political activity was anti-British anger.

The communists were now freely working in both the organizations. Seven communists were nominated by the Congress for the elections due in January 1937. These included, Sohan Singh Josh, Teja Singh Swatantar, Kabul Singh, Harjap Singh, Bibi Raguhbir Kaur, Mange Ram and Baba Rur Singh. Karam Singh Mann was active in Mian Iftikharuddin’s election campaign. From the Congress’ High Command, Jawaharlal Nehru frequently visited Punjab and addressed meetings during 1937 election campaign. One of the British police report says, “There is a great activity among Socialists and communists in this district in preparation for a conference which Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru is expected to attend. … Much of the speaking is actionable and all of it is objectionable and dangerous when delivered to illiterate audience. It is a crude blend of socialism, communism and hardly veiled sedition, and full vintage is being taken of any local grievance, real or imaginary, to stir up discontent’ (23). CPI leader Sohan Singh Josh wrote in his memoirs on his being elected in 1937, “Before the election I was just a district leader. But after I was elected to the Punjab Legislative Assembly…I overnight became one of the leaders of entire Punjab. I was welcomed and honoured everywhere—a Communist getting elected to the Assembly was a big and new thing then in the eyes of the Punjabi people” (24). The 1936-1937 election campaign contributed significantly to the process of politicization of peasants. The election campaign was galvanized on the issue of anti-British or pro-British political stance of candidates. In this backdrop, province-wise Kisan movements were organized. An All-India Kisan Sabha was already established at Lucknow in April 1936 with Sohan Singh Josh and Munshi Ahmed Din as delegates from Punjab. The Punjab was represented on All-India Kisan Committee by Karam Singh Mann, Sohan Singh Josh, Munshi Ahmad Din, and others.

A Punjab Kisan Committee was formed on 7 March 1937 in Lahore with Baba Jwala Singh as its president. Its first conference held in October 1937 in Lyallpur was presided over by Sajjad Zaheer. The Punjab Kisan Committee played a leading role in 1938 peasant agitation across Punjab. About 25,000 peasants & agri-tenants went on strike refusing to pick cotton and sow wheat in Multan and Montgomery districts. Similar strikes and agitations were carried out in other parts of Khanewal, Multan, Lyallpur, and Lahore. The agitation of Lahore Kisan Committee turned into an All-Punjab Morcha (battle-front) with jatthas (bands) marching on foot to Lahore from Amritsar, Jalandhar, Gurdaspur, Lyallpur, Firozpur, Hoshiarpur, and Ambala. Close to six thousand peasants were arrested and jailed during this movement (25). The Lahore Morcha lasted for about five months till September 1939, when the Second World War broke out.

Initially, both CPI and the Indian National Congress strongly opposed the involvement of India into an imperialist war in Europe. In 1939, Sohan Singh Josh of CPI was the general secretary of Punjab Congress and in 1940 Mian Iftikharuddin who was very close to CPI became the president of Punjab Congress. In June 1940, many workers of Kirti Kisan Party, CPI and Indian Congress were arrested. With a view to isolate these radical political leaders from other workers and prisoners, the government decided to put them all in an isolated camp at Deoli in Rajasthan. These prisoners included most of the senior CPI and Kirti Kisan party leaders. The Communists in CPI had been working together with Kirti Communists in Kirti Kisan Party (KKP) and the Congress, but there has been an undercurrent of mistrust between communists of CPI group and the Kirti Communists of Ghadar Party background. The CPI leadership always had a feeling of disquiet about the Kirti Communists because of their frequent display of independent anarchist tendencies. They viewed Kirtis’ commitment to communist ideology as being driven more by Ghadarite anti-colonial hatred rather than a scientific understanding of Marxist theory. Deoli Camp confinement provided an opportunity to the senior CPI leaders and Kirti Communists to come closer to each other. After some initial discussions, a ‘unity committee’ was formed; Bhagat Singh Bilga, Gurmukh Singh Lalton, and Achhar Singh Chinna represented Kirti Communists whereas Karam Singh Mann, Sohan Singh Josh, and Abdul Aziz represented the CPI. Prominent Kirti leader Teja Singh Swatantar also made an appeal from Campbellpur Jail for forging organizational unity in the party. Kirti Party decided on 16 Jul 1941 to fully merge with CPI and the merger formally took effect on 28 May 1942 when CPI Punjab held its reorganization conference after its leaders were released from Jail including, Teja Singh, Bhagat Singh Bilga, Achhar Singh Chinna, Iqbal Singh Handal from Campbellpur, Sohan Singh Josh, Firozuddin Mansoor, Fazal Elahi Qurban, and Karam Singh Mann from Gujrat (26). The new Punjab Committee had Sohan Singh Josh as the Secretary; Iqbal Singh Handal was elected central committee member. The Kirtis, much to their distaste also grudgingly accepted (at least, for a while) CPI’s new ‘Peoples War’ line supporting the British government in its war efforts. And so did the All-India Kisan Sabha and the Punjab Kisan Committee (27).

To their credit, and perhaps due to somewhat different social norms in Punjab, Kirti Kisan and Communist activists succeeded in mobilizing a sizable number of Punjabi women in radical politics (28). These women underwent rigors of a radical communist movement in a colonial state, including incarceration in jails but remaining lifelong activists, rising to prominence in left politics of India. Sushila Kumari Chain, Dhan Kaur and Usha organized study circles and brought several women into radical politics. Kirti Kisan Party circulars of 1941 and 1942 indicate party’s efforts to encourage active participation of women in the Kisan Committees and Mazdoor Sabhas. In a provincial conference held in Lahore in February 1942, 100 women delegates attended. In this meeting,

Progressive Women’s Conference was formed. Bibi Raghubir Kaur was elected as the president and Sitadevi (of Congress) and Baji Rashida Begum (of Muslim League) as vice presidents, and Sushila Kumari was the general secretary. By March 1942, the membership of the organization was said to have risen to 2000 (29).


16. After his return to India in 1923, Santok Singh spent two years of confinement orders within his village. After his release, Santok Singh had started Kirti but he soon died in May 1927.
17. Mirdula Mukherjee, Peasants in India’s Non-Violent Revolution: Practice and Theory, SAGE Publications India, New Delhi, 2004, p. 90.
18. Mirdula Mukherji, p. 105.
19. Mirdula Mukherji, p. 104.
20. ‘Some Aspects of the Communist Movement in Colonial Punjab: Testimony of the Participants’ by Surinder Singh of Punjab University, Chandigarh.
21. ‘Colonial Dominance and Indigenous Response’ by Hari Vasudevan and Anjan Sarkar in Aspects of India’s International Relations, 1700-2000: South Asia and the World, Ed. Jayantha Kumar Ray, Centre for Studies in Civilization, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 39-40.
22. Surinder Singh, p. 116.
23. Home Political File 18/6/36, Fortnightly Repor,t June 1936, NAI quoted in Shalini Sharma, p. 71.
24. Shalini Sharma, p. 82.
25. Quoted in Mirdula Mukherjee, p. 89.
26. Ajmer Sidhu, From Ghadar to Naxalbari: Baba Bhuja Singh, An Untold Story, Chandigarh, 2013, p. 68.
27. Mirdula Mukherjee, p. 208.
28. Raghubir Kaur, Ghulam Fatima, Sushila Kumari, and Shakuntla Sharda were few prominent names. Sushila was the sister of Amolak Ram and later she became wife of Chain Singh whereas Shakuntla was the sister of Shiv Kumar Sharda and later married Kunj Bihari Lal. All of them were Kirti activists. Sushila also became a formal communist party member.
29. Surinder Singh, op cited.

Chapter 4… To be Continued

Back to Main Page

A History of the Left in Pakistan – 15

February 11, 2017

By Ahmed Kamran

Chapter Four: The Road to Pakistan

The areas now forming today’s Pakistan i.e. the western wing of the country at the time of its establishment in 1947 had a long and chequered history. For a long time, this region remained the centre stage and cradle of the ancient Indian society. It’s the home of the most ancient known civilization in the world. Well until Shahjahan’s reign of Mughal dynasty, this northwestern region of India remained one of the most important theaters of military expeditions and station for Maharajas, kings and emperors continued royal presence for long periods. Despite Delhi being the nominal capital of the empire, most of Mughal emperors spent more time in Lahore or on other military expeditions than in Delhi itself. Western Punjab always occupied an important strategic position as the only gateway of foreign invasion into fertile Indian plains. During its twilight days when Mughal Empire was undergoing rapid decay after Aurangzeb, successive ineffective rulers in Delhi lost their capacity to hold this region firmly in their grip and the western regions slowly turned into a periphery of shrinking Mughal Empire. For an understanding of the evolution of the communist and larger left movement in Pakistan and to correctly asses its role in the country’s politics it is important to understand the political backdrop of Pakistani politics and the cross currents in its society together with its class composition and conflicts of key interest groups shortly before and after founding of Pakistan. Briefly revisiting and reviewing the historical context of the political issues and class positions in different areas forming Pakistan will the help reader to correctly position the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) and its policy responses and actions in practice in the given wider political spectrum that had evolved in recent past. In the process, it is important to have a brief look at the classes formation and their alignments and political developments leading to the formation of Pakistan. The regions comprising Pakistan didn’t have uniform economic and social evolution. Each area had a different path for its political development.

Changing Dynamics during British Rule

Marx’s incisive articles on Indian society, written in a series for the New York Daily Tribune in 1853, are one of the most seminal, albeit lesser known, of all his writings. There are numerous references to India in his most celebrated work Capital and several more are found in his copious and equally brilliant correspondence with Frederic Engels. “Those small and extremely ancient Indian communities,” Marx observed in Capital, “some of which have continued down to this day, are based on possession in common of the land, on the blending of agriculture and handicrafts, and on an unalterable division of labour, which serves, whenever a new community is started, as a plan and scheme ready cut and dried…Hence, production here is independent of that division of labour brought about, in Indian society as a whole, by means of the exchange of commodities. It is the surplus alone that becomes a commodity, and a portion of even that, not until it has reached the hands of the State, into whose hands from time immemorial a certain quantity of these products has found its way in the shape of rent in kind” (1). Engels wrote to Marx on 6 June 1853, “…the absence of property in land is indeed key to the whole of the East. Herein lies its political and religious history” (2). Describing the self-sufficient and self-contained social structure of Indian village, Marx remarked, “The simplicity of the organization for production in these self-sufficing communities that constantly reproduce themselves in the same form, and when accidentally destroyed, spring up again on the spot and with the same name—this simplicity supplies the key to the secret of the unchangeableness of Asiatic societies, an unchangeableness in such striking contrast with the constant dissolution and refounding of Asiatic States, and the never-ceasing changes of dynasty. The structure of the economic elements of society remains unchanged by the storm-clouds of the political sky” (3). Marx’s references to the ‘Asiatic Society’ here were mostly related to the Indian society.

In ‘The Future Results of the British Rule in India’, the concluding part of his series of articles on India, published in New York Daily Tribune on 8 August 1853, Marx remarked, “the village isolation produced the absence of roads in India, and the absence of roads perpetuated the village isolation. On this plan a community existed with a given scale of low conveniences, almost without intercourse with other villages, without the desires and efforts indispensable to social advance.” He also observed, “it is notorious that the productive powers of India are paralyzed by the utter want of means for conveying and exchanging its various produce. Nowhere, more than in India, do we meet with social destitution in the midst of natural plenty, for want of the means of exchange… when grain was selling from 6s. to 8s. a quarter in Khandesh (4), it was sold at 64s. to 70s. at Poona, where the people were dying in the streets of famine, without the possibility of gaining supplies from Khandesh, because the clay roads were impracticable” (5).

The unchangeable nature of this almost frozen in time rural village life of India was not going to remain intact forever. The British colonial rule was about to change it in a big way. Marx said, “The British having broken up this self-sufficient inertia of the villages, railways will provide the new want of communication and intercourse.” He further observed, “The [political] unity [of India], imposed by the British sword, will now be strengthened and perpetuated by the electric telegraph.” Finally, with an amazing foresight Marx concluded, “The ruling classes of Great Britain have had, till now, but an accidental, transitory and exceptional interest in the progress of India… But now tables are turned. The millocracy have discovered that the transformation of India into a reproductive country has become of vital importance to them, and that, to that end, it is necessary, above all, to gift her with means of irrigation and of internal communication. They intend now drawing a net of railways over India. And they will do it. The results must be inappreciable” (6). The resulting effects on Indian society, particularly on those areas where massive irrigation projects were undertaken and railway lines were laid to connect the rural hinterlands with market and port cities were indeed what we call today a ‘sea change’. Thus, India got the distinction of being the first country in Asia to have railways and unprecedented canal irrigation system.

Punjab – Massive Social Engineering

Ranjeet Singh’s Kingdom of Punjab was one of the last areas of India to fall under British control in 1849. At that time, Punjab included vast territories of present day Punjab and KPK (former NWFP) provinces up to Jamrud in Pakistan as well as the present day Indian states of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and parts of Uttarkhand. Today’s KPK of Pakistan was detached from Punjab as a new North West Frontier Province (NWFP) only in 1901. The province of Punjab was essentially rural. Of 24.4 million of its population in 1901, close to 90% people lived in rural areas in, as Marx had put it, ‘unchanging self-sufficient’ village communities.

The British Punjab could be roughly divided for ease of reference into three regions: Eastern Punjab, from Kangra hills to Ambala, with Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar, and Ludhiana as its big towns, was the most prosperous but densely populated part. With 55 percent Muslims, 32 per cent Hindus and 13 per cent Sikhs, it mostly had small landholdings. In terms of traditional social structures of India, the population was predominantly Rajput and Jat communities closely knit around their sub-castes and kins, cutting across all three major religions. Apart from Rajputs and Jats, Muslims also had Syeds, Sheiks, and Aarains. The central Punjab with Lahore and Amritsar as its major towns had dominant Hindu moneylenders and traders. Amritsar also had significant share of Muslim trading community. Although, Amritsar was the centre of Sikh religion and culture but they had only 15 per cent share of its population in the district. The western Punjab stretched from NWFP borders in north-west along river Indus and Balochistan in the west to the Cholistan desert region in the east to the border of Rajasthan. It had vast tracts of infertile and dry lands and, for a change, it mostly had large landholdings. Muslims had 80 per cent share of its population but its towns had large numbers of Hindu moneylenders and trading community. Soon after Punjab’s annexation in 1849, the British administrators astutely sensed the special strategic importance of Punjab for the British Empire in India. For them, Punjab acquired special position because of following primary reasons: (i) Due to its vast swathes of fertile lands and natural river system its enormous potential to meet the Empire’s growing need for agricultural produce, (ii) as a bulwark against the threat of Russian Czar’s expanding empire in the Central Asia, and (iii) as a source of recruiting and maintaining a ‘less expensive’ sturdy and loyal army to take care of Empire’s military needs on Indian borders and other colonial possessions in Asia and Africa, without the need of putting the lives of a large number of youth recruited from England, Wales, Scotland or Ireland at stake. The last dimension of their peculiar view of Punjab, the British political and military administration had quickly learnt to their delight during successful recruitment of soldiers for putting out mutiny erupting in the northern India in 1857.

To exploit the unique agricultural and economic potential of the Punjab’s virgin plains, the British carried out an unparalleled massive physical and social engineering feat. The waters of the Himalayan system of five rivers flowing through Punjab were harnessed in an ambitious irrigation development comprising a massive network of canals and canal-colonies. The first modern canal was built in Multan to bring water and cultivation to infertile dry lands in 1859 only ten years after Punjab’s occupation and immediately after the mutiny of 1857 was subdued. Subsequently, more canals were built in the central Punjab clearing the woods. The Upper Jhelum canal alone brought over 350,000 acres of infertile land under cultivation. The Lower Chenab canals brought 2.5 million acres of unproductive land to cultivation. In all, it transformed about six million acres of uncultivated barren lands into one of the richest agricultural regions in Asia. It was a stupendous attempt to create from scratch a whole new world of neatly cut Murraba’s (squares) of land in canal colonies with a newly crafted legal and administrative system by bringing in thousands of enterprising sturdy farmers from central and eastern Punjab and implanting them in the newly fashioned colonies with land-lease grants. The new market towns were laid out with engineering precision. Though, immensely crowded and dirty today the eight straight-lane bazaars radiating out from a central clock tower in the image of a Union Jack in Lyallpur (now Faisalabad) is a testimony to this social engineering experiment in Punjab over a century ago. It was the first of its kind of social revolution in the history of rural India. The project was completed after 40 years of labour, fundamentally changing the demography and topography of the central and parts of western Punjab. The massive migration of enterprising sturdy farmers, technical workers, and labour to take part in the engineering endeavor and cultivate newly developed lands dramatically increased population of new cleared lands. The population of Montgomery (now Sahiwal) and Lyallpur (now Faisalabad) rose from 416,669 and 60,306 respectively in 1891 to 1,814,000 and 2,157,000 in 1951. As it is commonly observed, however, the patterns of cultural and social relations die hard and the peasant farmers in the new canal colonies in Punjab tried to recreate their social relationships in the image of old village communities but the underlying land-ownership pattern had been fundamentally altered. In the plains of Punjab there emerged a new class of peasants and enterprising farmers freed from ancient and traditional ‘relations of production’. The contrast was particularly visible in comparison with the land-ownership patterns still well-entrenched in some north- and south-western parts of the west Punjab where the canal network was not built due to mountainous terrain rising from the Punjab plains towards north-west and Afghanistan.

The British over-enthusiasm for precision in crafting everything of these colonies afresh in their own image was, perhaps, reflected most in the drafting of Land Colonization Bill of 1906. In drafting this bill, the English mind sought to regulate every aspect of community and lay down procedures of reward and punishment for every colonization activity in European fashion; the eligibility criteria for lease grant and development of government lands in the colonies, including compliance of defined parameters for living, maintenance, sanitation, and cancellation of land leases in the event of failure of compliance of the lease contracts. Also, because new settlements, the government sharply increased the land revenue taxes in Rawalpindi and water user charges from Bari Doab Canal, irrigating the Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Lahore districts. Perhaps, it was too strong a prescription for essentially rural and traditions-bound peasants coming from semi-feudal social background with decidedly tribal and ‘caste’ outlook. The harsh provisions of the proposed bill sparked protests and agitations that was led by Lala Lajpat Rai and Ajit Singh who were arrested and banished in exile. The colonial administrators initially tried to suppress the opposition and agitation with characteristic colonial brute force. But with the painful sword of possible cancellation of land grants in the event of non-compliance of strict regimen of alien procedures threateningly hanging on their heads, the unrest and agitation among farmers was not going to die down easily. Eventually, the proposed bill was passed after significant amendments and removal of irritants as the Colonization of Government Lands (Punjab) Act of 1912 that replaced the Government Tenants (Punjab) Act of 1893. The new British legal system enforced in the country had two faces: its ‘public’ face enforced English Common Law and British criminal law in ‘modern commercial transactions’, while its other ‘private’ face defended and reinforced the primordial traditional and tribal laws. It is to be noted that these ‘personal laws’, however, were not rooted either in Muslim Sharia and or in Hindu religion. These were essentially the tribal and traditional community customs.

From the 1860’s onwards, agricultural prices and land values soared in Punjab. New cash crops such as wheat, tobacco, sugar cane and cotton were introduced following improved communications and new extensive canals. By 1920s, Punjab produced one tenth of India’s total cotton crop and one third of its wheat. The wheat, which had previously rotted whenever a bumper crop had occurred was now exported in vast quantities via the new railway network. Per capita output of Punjab’s crops had increased by nearly 45 percent between 1891 and 1921. The British investment in Punjab’s canal system proved highly profitable. The revenue earned by only those Punjab canals that were specifically built with profitable investment perspective (7) increased from Rs.1.46 million per annum during 1860-69 to Rs.8.0 million during 1937-1946, and by the year 1945-46 the net profit earned from canals exceeded the total capital investment by more than 200% (8). The rapid socioeconomic transformation, however, greatly disturbed the traditional class and economic structure—the old ‘relations of production’. While increased imports of British manufactured goods at the expense of Indian cottage industry cruelly destroyed its workers and craftsmen in urban towns, its interventions in the agriculture of the country, mainly in Punjab, threatened its rural order as it was accompanied by mounting indebtedness and social and political rise of the moneylenders and urban petty bourgeoisie. In a rapidly expanding economy spurred by new canal colonies, rising agricultural produce and far reaching commodity trade immensely expanded the cash economy and farmers’ propensity to pile up debt to finance consumption. Newly introduced alien and complex British legal system to foreclose debts of mortgaged land caused havoc with the traditional rural society. Land parcels began to pass into moneylenders’ hands at alarming rates, particularly in less developed and agriculturally backward areas. The malaise had pervaded into the vast rural areas of India and was threatening not only the traditional social class structure but also its unique and extremely conservative and regressive caste system. Karl Marx had foreseen the social ruin that the new economic forces were to bring to India while destroying its traditional, and, so far, mostly ‘undisturbed’ society. He had remarked, “now, sickening as it must be to human feeling to witness those myriads of industrious patriarchal and inoffensive social organizations disorganized and dissolved into their units, thrown into a sea of woes, and their individual members losing at the same time their hereditary means of subsistence, we must not forget that these idyllic village communities, inoffensive as they may appear, had always been the solid foundation of Oriental despotism… England, it is true, in causing a social revolution in Hindustan, was actuated only by the vilest interests, and was stupid in her manner of enforcing them. But that is not the question. The question is, can mankind fulfil its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social state of Asia? If not, whatever may have been the crimes of England she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that revolution” (9).

Nevertheless, the British colonial administration in India was not an agent of a ‘social change’ with some lofty purpose. They were solely driven by their economic and administrative interests. The British administration quickly sensed the possibility of other harmful dimensions of this ‘social revolution’. The ground was slipping under the feet of traditional landowners as lands started to pass into the hands of absentee moneylenders. The unrest among this bulwark of despotism was palpable. A Revenue Department Note on Land Transfers observed in October 1885, “It is essential on the one hand that the management of the villages should be in the hands of men who possess the confidence of the villagers, and it is equally essential on the other hand that if the executive is to be obeyed and its objects rightly understood, there should be a class of men intermediate between the Government and the mass of the people who, while trusted by government, should have influence over their neighbours. In this respect moneylender can never take the place of the large ancestral landlord or the substantial yeomen who he dispossesses” (10).

Sir Denzil Ibbetson, author of the magisterial 1881 Punjab Census Report, writes in his confidential report on land transfers in 1895, “To secure the contentment of the masses is our first duty in India; in it lies our safety. As long as they are loyal to and contented with their rulers, the internal peace of the country is secure, and the professional agitator powerless. And most of all the loyalty and contentment of the sturdy yeomanry from whose ranks we draw our native soldiers, the safe foundation upon which our rule can rest secure” (11).

The Punjab Land Alienation Act of 1901 was a watershed legislation that prevented the urban commercial classes—the moneylenders and non-agricultural ‘professional’ petty bourgeoisie from permanently acquiring lands held by the ‘statutory agriculturalist’ tribes. For the purpose of this Act, even the lower castes of the villages traditionally engaged in menial support services for the villagers (the so-called Kammis, Mussalis, and the ‘Shudras’ of Indian society) were excluded from the ‘statutory agricultural’ classes exclusively entitled to own and hold agrarian land thus depriving them ever to come out of the straitjacket of the traditional caste system. Among the British districts (excluding semi-autonomous princely states), the population was roughly cut into half between agricultural castes and non-agricultural castes. Sir Michael O’Dwyer, the Governor of Punjab during 1912-1919 had remarked, “As a result of the [1901] Act the Punjab landowner, the finest body of peasantry in the East, who but for it would now be largely a landless proletariat, … which have been staunchly loyal to the British Government. The best proof of this is that we were able to raise from them three hundred sixty thousand fighting men … in the four years of the Great War” (12). The organic growth of disruptive modern capitalist forces in Indian society was forcibly blocked to protect and preserve traditional land-owning relationships in both feudal and non-feudal regions and their associated social, economic and caste structures in rural society. Naturally, the bourgeoisie, moneylending interests and urban petty bourgeois elements of Indian society were furious at their abrupt exclusion from playing full force. The Indian National Congress, mainly representing the urban middle classes and the moneylenders strongly protested this imperialist intervention on behalf of the ‘decadent’ land-owning classes of society who mostly remained loyal to the colonial rulers. The Unionist Party was founded after 1920 to defend the agriculturist interests against the urban ‘outsiders’. It was a divide between ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ and between agriculturist ‘landowning’ classes and non-agriculturist ‘bourgeois’ money lenders and trading classes. Unfortunately, there were some other thorny twists in Indian social fabric that later played their role in political developments in regions comprising Pakistan.

The troublesome requirement of political stability and agricultural development in Punjab lies at the foundation of the core Imperialist contradiction between order and transformation. As Ian Talbot observes, “The closing decades of the nineteenth century saw the colonial strategic imperative of rural stability and order in Punjab threatened by the transformation arising from the commercialization of the region’s agriculture” (13). By 1875, the British Indian Army drew a third of its recruits from the Punjab. By 1914, the proportion was an astounding 60%, though the Punjab then accounted for only 10% of the India’s population. The ‘imperative to secure order in its rural recruiting areas understandably exerted a profound impact on British policy in the province’ (14) and had its lasting effects on the development of a ‘praetorian’ garrison state in Pakistan.

In the British mind, Punjab was seen as a buffer between British India and the expanding Russian Empire. This rivalry acquired a new ideological dimension after the successful Bolshevik revolution in 1917. These imperial imperatives necessitated development of unique methods of iron clad administration in Punjab compared to other parts of India. This ‘Punjab School’ of British administration relied heavily on securing loyalty of Punjab’s rural hinterland with a heavy hand on urban towns. Punjab was allowed to have its first political council 36 years after the Council Act of 1861 was implemented to establish legislative assemblies in other parts of British India. ‘As late as 1909, the government of the Punjab continued to nominate all nine Indian members in the fledgling council in Lahore… So every non-official representative in the Punjab Council was nominated by the administration, which to a man, stuck to its rule that the Punjab needed its traditional native leaders to keep the ‘classes below them in order’ (15). The Government of India Act, 1919 restricted urban seats to a mere ten of ninety-one seats in the council; five additional seats were given specifically to the landlords; urban politicians were strictly restricted to contest from rural seats. Interestingly, the same prescription was effectively used after independence of Pakistan in Sindh due to development of its unique ethnic dimension of urban-rural divide.


1. Karl Marx, Capital: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production, Vol. I, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1974, p. 337.
2. ‘On Colonialism’: Articles & Correspondence of Marx & Engels, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, p. 312.
3. Karl Marx, op cited, pp. 338-339.
4 Khandesh, in the northwestern part of Maharashtra state, is about 400 Km from modern Pune (Poona) using modern network of roads. Pune is about 148 Km southeast of Mumbai. 5. Marx & Engels, ‘On Colonialism’, pp. 82-84.
6. Marx & Engels, ‘On Colonialism’, pp. 40-41.
7. The British planners had divided all development works in India into two categories: ‘protective’ and ‘productive’. Protective works were those that were required for carrying out necessary governance and usually included facilities for official use whereas the ‘productive’ works were carried out with investment purpose with a view to earn financial profit in the form of interest on loans provided by the government for the work and resulting enhanced tax revenues.
8. Timothy Daniel Haines, Building the Empire, Building the Nation: Water, land, and the politics of river development in Sind, 1898-1969, PhD Thesis, Royal Holloway College, University of London, 2011, Pg. 53.
9. Marx & Engels, p. ?
10. Quoted by Ian Talbot in ‘The Punjab under Colonialism: Order and Transformation in British India’.
11. Ian Talbot, op cited.
12. Michael O’Dwyer, India as I Knew it (London: Constable, 1925), p. 39 as quoted in Shalini Sharma, Radical Politics in Colonial Punjab: Governance and Sedition, Routledge, London, 2010, pp. 17-18.
13. Ian Talbot, op cited.
14. Ian Talbot, op cited.
15. Shalini Sharma, p. 16.

Chapter 4… To be Continued

Back to Main Page


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

Back to Main Page


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…

Back to Main Page

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…

Back to Main Page

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…

Back to Main Page

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…

Back to Main Page

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

Back to Main Page

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...

Back to Main Page