Posts Tagged ‘India’

A History of the Left in Pakistan – 20

May 13, 2017

By Ahmed Kamran

Chapter Four: The Road to Pakistan – (Continued)

Balochistan – A Tribal Rebellion

Among Muslim majority areas of British India and the princely states inside Pakistani territory, Balochistan occupied a unique position. It was neither a wholly British Indian province nor a subordinate princely state like Kashmir, Bhawalpur, Junagadh, and Hyderabad. Its relationship with British India evolved differently and this factor has continued to mar its relationship with Pakistani state till today. As a separate political entity in history, Balochistan evolved as a Rind-Lashari tribal confederacy, first established by Mir Chakar Rind in late 1400s. It comprised of a large swathe of mostly barren land, stretching from Kirman in the west (in present day Iran) to Derajat on the right bank of Indus River in the east, including Kalat highlands and the fertile areas of Kacchi and Sibi. It had united all Baloch inhabited areas in a political entity for the first time. The confederacy was centered around two most powerful Baloch tribes of Rind and Lasharis, each in turn constituting loosely organized federations of several lesser tribes. During his peak, Mir Chakar also advanced into Punjab, taking over Multan and southern parts of Punjab in the early 1500s. The 16th century saw not only the rise of Safavid power in Iran, but also the Mughal power in India, and the arrival of European ships in the Sea of Oman and the Persian Gulf. Towards the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Portuguese found their way to the region and captured several places along the Makran coast. In 1510 AD, they occupied the small port of Gwatr (not Gwadar), east of Chahbahar in western Balochistan. Later, they also occupied two other larger coastal settlements of Gwadar and Pasni further east. Thus, the conflict of interest between these three external imperial powers (the Persians, the Mughals and the Europeans) continued to influence the internal politics of the Baloch. Portuguese were soon replaced by the British. The first Baloch confederacy did not survive long. Mir Chakar Rind died in 1550 and lies buried at Sahiwal in Punjab. After witnessing periodic border expansions and contractions by the time British arrived in the area, the nominal seat of Baloch tribal confederacy was based in Kalat. Mir Ahmed Khan I established the dynasty of the last Khannate of Kalat in 1666 and since then the ruling family has been known as Ahmedzais.

The Baloch Confederacy had treaty obligations with Afghanistan (1758) from the time of Mir Noori Nasir Khan. In its ‘Forward Policy’ for securing the western borders of India and for resisting the southward push of the Russian Empire in the Central Asia, British needed to keep Afghanistan and Iran under its influence, or, at least, ‘neutral’ to serve as buffers between the two expanding European empires. But the British supply routes to Afghanistan and Iran could not be safeguarded without securing Sindh and Balochistan. For this reason, the British advanced into Kalat as early as November 1839. The reigning Khan of Kalat, Mehrab Khan was killed in the battle. His minor son was installed in his seat and a regent was appointed to oversee the British interests. To serve their military strategic interests, the British parceled out the Baloch country. The Derajat, Khangarh (now Jacobabad) and Kacchi area were detached from Balochistan and annexed to British India. Quetta and Mastung were given to a pliant ruler of Afghanistan, Shah Shuja in a treaty with Afghanistan. The British signed their first formal treaty with Kalat in 1854. Recognizing Khan of Kalat’s nominal sovereignty over Baloch areas, an annual subsidy was agreed to be paid to him in exchange for his loyalty. British expansion towards Afghanistan continued and it annexed its Pishin, Zhob, and Loralai regions. Meanwhile, taking advantage of the situation now Qajar Shahs who had in the meantime replaced Safvi rulers of Iran also captured parts of western Balochistan and included them in their territory.

In 1876, Britain signed a new treaty with Kalat as an independent state but under protection from Britain and the British troops were stationed in Kalat. The establishment of the Balochistan Agency with its headquarter at Quetta followed in early 1877. In the same year, Scottish General Robert Sandeman was transferred from the post of Assistant Commissioner Punjab to Balochistan. Having experience of working as district officer of Dera Ghazi Khan, he was appointed Agent to the Governor General (A.G.G) and Chief Commissioner of the Agency for Balochistan. Under an agreement with the Khan of Kalat in 1883, the British obtained Quetta, Nushki, Bolan Pass, and Nasirabad areas on lease from Kalat and attached them with the British controlled Pashtun regions renaming the area as the ‘British Balochistan’. With a view to lure Afghanistan and Iran away from Czarist Russia, the Britain unilaterally ceded some parts of Baloch areas of Kalat State territory to Iran and Afghanistan. Thus, the Baloch country was arbitrarily divided into several parts. Initially, Khan of Kalat was included in the border negotiations but later he was excluded from the process and unilateral boundary decisions were taken by the British (44). Under a British-Iranian agreement the ‘Goldsmith Line’ drawn in 1871 as border between Iran and British interests, large parts of the western Balochistan were ceded to Iran. Similarly, a little later the ‘McMohan Line’ drawn in 1896 demarcating boundary between Afghanistan and the British Balochistan left a northern portion of Baloch area with Afghanistan. Large tracts of eastern Balochistan including Kacchi, Sibi, Jacobabad and adjoining areas together with Quetta and other Pukhtun areas remained with the British administration under long term lease contract. The rest of the Baloch territory was left in possession of the Kalat State. Thus, the Baloch territories were divided among three states – India, Afghanistan and Iran. In India, the Baloch areas were sub-divided between British Balochistan (areas under direct British rule) and the State of nominally independent Kalat. In theory, Kalat was a sovereign state, much like Nepal and Bhutan and was different from other Indian Princely States. The responsibility for its defence and foreign affairs were handed over to the British Crown based on mutually agreed friendly treaties promising British support to Kalat in case of need in the maintenance of a just authority and protection of territories from external attack. The Kalat state was further carved into the agencies’ territories of mainly Pukhtun belt and the federation of Baloch States (Kalat, Makran, Kharan and Lasbela) with the Khan of Kalat as the head of the federation. The Khan of Kalat was, however, traditionally bound to consult the Jirga (Council) of main tribal Sardars (chiefs) on all important social and political matters. During First World War, some tribes of Marri-Khetran and Mengals revolted against conscription and British interference in their areas but the revolt was crushed and some tribal leaders, including Misri Khan Baloch, fled to Afghanistan and to the newly established Soviet Union for assistance (45).

Over time, the Baloch tribal system, unlike the Pukhtun tribal system, had ossified into a highly oppressive feudalistic Sardari system, giving near absolute control to the Sardar (Chief of tribe) over life and death of its subjects, perpetuating their abject poverty and deprivation. The Kalat Confederacy was not exactly a princely kingdom in its strict sense either. It evolved differently. Nina Swidler of Fordham University, New York, a pioneering scholar on the subject completing her doctorate thesis on The Political Structure of a Tribal Federation in 1969, succinctly explains the characteristic of the Confederacy thus, “Even though the Ahmedzais consolidated a new order of structure, they did not integrate Kalat into one uniformly administered territory. Although a central bureaucracy developed, the khan never succeeded in incorporating the tribes economically. No revenues of any kind were exacted from them. Each tribal constituent of the Khannate was internally and territorially autonomous. The khan had no access to the tribes except through the chiefs…The autonomy of tribal constituencies in the Khannate is based on the authority of the sardar, which is largely a result of Brahui tribal structure” (46). The nature of a despotic Sardari system developed in Balochistan may be adequately depicted by an observation by Sylvia Matheson in her book The Tigers of Balochistan (1967) recording the remarks of a typical representative of Baloch Sardars, Tumandar Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti on a question to him during her interview sometime in 1948 about his plain admission that he had killed the first man when he was only 12, he said, as he sipped his tea, “Oh that! Well that man annoyed me. I’ve forgotten what it was about now, but I shot him dead. I’ve rather a hasty temper you know, but under tribal law of course it wasn’t a capital offence, and, in any case, as the eldest son of the Chieftain I was perfectly entitled to do as I pleased in our own territory. We enjoy absolute sovereignty over our people and they accept this as part of their tradition” (47).

Due to arid lands, stagnant repressive social conditions and little agricultural and commercial opportunities coupled with religious persecution (Shia rulers persecuting mostly Sunni Baloch) in Iranian parts of western Balochistan gradual migration of Baloch population from both eastern and western Balochistan into Sindh and Southern Punjab resulted in more Balochs living in Sindh and Punjab than in Kalat itself. Many of these migrating Baloch settled in Karachi making it the largest Baloch urban centre. Balochistan in general and Kalat confederacy remained one of the most under-developed and poor parts of India. There were almost no modern schools. In 1903, there were only 21 schools in Balochistan with 800 students, mostly children of non-Baloch servicemen of British Administration in Quetta. To move its part of Balochistan away from Persian influence, British made Urdu as its official language replacing Persian. The first newspaper ‘Balochistan’ was started in 1927 by Abdul Aziz Kurd and Master Pir Bukhsh. Inspired by the bold ‘modernist’ political developments taking place in Turkey (Mustafa Kamal) and Iran (Reza Shah) in 1920’s, the earliest Baloch political activists included Yousuf Ali Magsi and Abdul Aziz Kurd who established an underground organization ‘Young Baloch’, which was later converted into an open ‘Anjuman-e-Ittehad-e-Balochan’ (Baloch Unity Organization) in late 1920s. This Anjuman marked the beginning of modern Baloch middle class nationalist movement. Yousuf Magsi was the scion of Nawab Qaisar Khan, the Chief Sardar of Jhal-Magsi area in Balochistan, who was made to abdicate and exiled to Punjab by the British-appointed Chief Minister of Kalat. In his youth, Magsi lived in Multan and Lahore and was influenced by the then Indian independence movement. Aziz Kurd was the son of a middle class civil servant of the Khannate of Kalat. Karachi, having the largest Baloch urban population, also played an important role in the development of Baloch nationalist movement. A ‘Baloch League’ was founded in Karachi with Ghulam Nooruddin as president (48). The Baloch League held its conference in Karachi in 1930. After graduating from Aligarh College, noted Baloch nationalist leader Ghaus Bukhsh Bizenjo also first joined the Baloch League in Karachi. By early 1930s, Anjuman-e Balochan was demanding political reforms in the Khannate of Kalat, reunification of all Baloch territories in one political unit and the establishment of a united independent Balochistan. The demands of political reforms included establishment of an elected parliament and a cabinet under the Khan of Kalat. A Baloch Unity Conference was held in December 1932 at Jacobabad. The Anjuman’s weekly magazine ‘Al-Baloch’ from Karachi also published a map of ‘Greater Balochistan’ showing the State of Kalat together with British leased and Iranian occupied parts of Baloch territory, including large parts of Sindh and the state of Bhawalpur as a united Baloch political entity. The Khan of Kalat, Muhammad Azam Jan, died in 1933 and his young son, Ahmad Yar Khan, 31, ambitious for a Greater and United Balochistan took over the reins in his place. He sent Yousef Magsi of Anjuman Balochan to London in 1934 as his personal representative for pleading the case for Balochistan’s sovereignty but the mission failed as the British Government in London did not pay serious attention to the Baloch pleadings and refused to introduce reforms in Balochistan. At this stage, Magsi is also said to entertain the idea of seeking help from the Soviet Union and start an armed struggle but it seems no meaningful step was taken in this direction. Magsi was killed in the severe Quetta earthquake in 1935.

In 1937, the Anjuman was converted by its left-wing workers influenced by the socialist and communist ideas led by Mir Ghaus Bukhsh Bizenjo, Gul Khan Naseer, and Abdul Aziz Kurd into Kalat State National Party seeking constitutional rule in the Khanate and founding of an independent Balochistan after British leave from India. The principal objective of the nascent middle class and petty bourgeoisie of Balochistan was to get freedom from an overbearing traditional Sardari (tribal chief’s) system of oppression, which was supported and perpetuated by the British and the Khan of Kalat in their own interests. Unlike Muslims of other parts of India, the Baloch intelligentsia was not threatened by the Hindu domination and, therefore, did not find Muslim League’s struggle in British India for ‘protectionist’ rights of Indian Muslims attractive for itself. Herein lied its predicament; on the one hand, it was seeking more political and economic space for itself from the oppressive Sardari system with Khan of Kalat as the overlord of the whole system, and, on the other hand, it was rallying around the Khan in his ambitions for getting full independence from the British rule. The Khan of Kalat was not interested in relenting any democratic rights or equal economic opportunities to the Baloch people. He never allowed even those limited political and democratic rights that were granted in the British Balochistan and neither did he promoted any social or educational development of people in his Kalat state. But, he was keen to exploit the political activism and popular appeal of the middle class nationalist leaders in his grand monarchical designs. In return for some pep talk by the Khan and few symbolic gestures by him in theory (nothing changed in practice) like announcement of abolition of Bigar (free compulsive labour) and other illegal taxes, the National Party gladly conferred the title of ‘Khan-e-Muazzam’ (the Great Khan) on the Khan of Kalat in 1938 as a gesture of party’s full support and loyalty to the Khan. The British government through its political agents was adept at using the self-centered tyrant tribal Baloch Sardars and Pukhtun tribal leaders to put pressure on and keep the Khan of Kalat under check. The strong opposition of Kalat National Party frustrated British efforts at obtaining Jiwani port on lease from Kalat. Unhappy over the Kalat National Party’s increasing activities and Khan’s tacit support to it, the powerful Sardars with a wink from the British retaliated against the party. On 6 July, 1939, a tribal Lashkar (armed band) attacked the National Party convention at Mastung and dispersed the gathering. On the demand from Sardars, the National Party was banned by Khan of Kalat and its leaders were expelled from the state, and strict restriction was imposed on its newspapers and literature entering the state from British Balochistan. As a measure of delimiting Khan of Kalat’s influence and cut him to size, the British government had also ‘encouraged the vassals of the Khannate in Makran and Lasbela to emerge as separate protectorates and thus there was a practical administrative trifurcation of the Khannate even within British India, i.e. the British India, the Khannate and independent princely states of Makran, Kharan, and Lasbela, and [Pukhtun] tribal territories’ (49).

With the Pakistan movement gaining traction and the transfer of power from Britain to one or two independent governments in India becoming imminent, the Khan of Kalat, Mir Ahmad Yar Khan, made efforts to obtain full independence for Kalat state. His argument was based on the fact that unlike other 560-odd Princely States of India, the state of Kalat as a sovereign state had special treaty agreement (1876) directly with the British government in London as the paramount power, and not with British Indian government in Delhi. Therefore, with the withdrawal of Britain from India the state of Kalat together with its leased territories like Quetta will legally revert to its original position before 1876 and it will be released from all treaty obligations and lease contracts; that no government in India, as successor to the British Indian government, can inherit that role. Khan of Kalat also engaged M.A. Jinnah as his lawyer in this regard who apparently agreed with this legal position. Khan of Kalat also presented a Memorandum to the visiting Cabinet Mission of the British Government in March 1946 through M.A. Jinnah as his lawyer. The Kalat state’s case was prepared by I.I. Chundrigar, a noted lawyer from Bombay and a future Prime Minister of Pakistan, Sir Sultan Ahmed, a noted barrister-at-law of India, and Sir Walter Monkton, an influential British lawyer and the Solicitor General in Winston Churchill’s caretaker government of 1945. The Khan of Kalat also sent Abdul Samad Achakzai, a member of All India Congress Committee, to plead his case with Nehru, and Ghaus Bukhsh Bizenjo, the head of Kalat National Party, to meet with Indian Congress President Abul Kalam Azad. But Indian Congress was mute and avoided coming out in Kalat’s favour fearing creation of a bad precedent for similar counter moves by the Muslim League in the matter of the states of Junagadh and Hyderabad inside the territory of India. This way, Indian Congress implicitly conceded the right of contiguous successor state of British India over Princely States falling inside its territory. Similarly, on 27 March, 1947, V.P. Menon was reported in an All-India Radio broadcast that India has declined repeated requests of Khan of Kalat for accession of his state to India instead of Pakistan. Although, subsequently this report was denied by Nehru (50) but the message to Khan of Kalat was clear that India may not help him at that stage. The Marri-Bugti Baloch tribal chiefs, Sardar Doda Khan Marri and Sardar Akbar Khan Bugti are reported to have sent memorandum to the British government for joining with the state of Kalat. Similarly, Sardar Jamal Khan Leghari, the father of future President of Pakistan Farooq Leghari, together with few other tribal chiefs is also reported to have sent a memorandum demanding their separation from Punjab and joining with the Kalat state. But, the British government ignored these requests.

Meanwhile, as far as the British-controlled part of Balochistan was concerned, as per the local tradition, an assembly of Baloch & Pukhtun tribal leaders of the area (Shahi Jirga) was called on 29 June, 1947, which voted in favour of joining with Pakistan. The Municipal Council of Quetta also voted for Pakistan (51). However, in a round-table conference held in Delhi on 4 August, 1947 attended by the Viceroy Lord Mountbatten, Khan of Kalat, his Chief Minister, Liaqat Ali Khan, Sir Sultan Ahmed, as advisor to the Indian Chamber of Princes, and M.A. Jinnah as Khan of Kalat’s legal advisor, it was decided that the Kalat state would become independent on 5 August, 1947. Subsequently, the rulers of Kharan and Lasbela were informed by the British government that control of their regions together with the Marri and Bugti tribal regions under British control had been transferred to Kalat State. After a series of meetings held between the leadership of Muslim League, including M.A. Jinnah, and Khan of Kalat, the Muslim League signed a joint ‘Stand-Still’ statement with Khan of Kalat on 11 August, 1947 saying, “The Government of Pakistan recognizes Kalat as an independent sovereign state; in treaty relations with British government, with a status different from that of Indian states. Legal opinion will be sought as to whether or not agreements of leases made between the British government and Kalat will be inherited by the Pakistan government” (52).

On Friday, 15 August, 1947 Khan of Kalat declared full independence of the State of Kalat, which was immediately ratified by the Kalat State parliament that was hurriedly elected only a few weeks before. The traditional flag of the state in green over red colour and the crescent and star in the centre was hoisted and a traditional Khutba (religious address) was read on the day in Khan of Kalat’s name in Friday congregational prayers in the Jamia Masjid of Kalat. The Khan of Kalat offered to negotiate a special relationship with Pakistan in the spheres of Defence, Foreign Affairs, and Communications. But, the Pakistani leaders promptly rejected Kalat’s declaration of independence and its offer for negotiation on its relationship with Pakistan, triggering a 7-month row over Kalat’s accession to Pakistan. In the changed circumstances, Jinnah in his personal capacity also advised Khan of Kalat to join with Pakistan but the Khan evaded the issue. Feeling the increasing pressure from the government of Pakistan, he also sought help from outside. He instructed Kalat’s army commander-in-chief, Brigadier General Purves to prepare for armed resistance and arrange for weapons and ammunition. Brigadier Purves approached the British Commonwealth government in London in December 1947 for supply of arms to Kalat state but the British government refused the request without the Pakistan Government’s approval (53). There were also reports that Khan of Kalat was seeking support from the Indian government and the Afghan King but with no success. Nehru, however, denied these reports (54). The rulers of Kharan, Makran and Lasbela, being too timid to side with Khan, voted to join Pakistan on 18 March, 1948, immensely weakening the Khan of Kalat’s position. Finally, after a Pakistan military action in Kalat, Mir Ahmed Yar Khan also signed the instrument of accession to Pakistan on 27 March, 1948. The state of Kalat as legal entity was abolished and merged with Pakistan. Most of the members of a short-lived Balochistan cabinet were arrested or exiled from Balochistan (55).


44. Balochis of Pakistan: On the Margins of History, The Foreign Policy Centre, London, UK, 2006 [henceforth FPC UK Report], p. 14.
45. Taj Mohammad Berseeg, Baloch Nationalism-Its Origins & Development,, p. 211.
46. Nina Swidler, The Development of the Kalat Khannate, monograph in the Journal of Asian and African Studies, p. 118.
47. Quoted in The Tumandar of the Bugtis by Ardeshir Cowasjee, Daily Dawn, Karachi, 3 Sep, 2006.
48. Waja Omar Bukhsh, Maulvi Muhammad Usman, Mehrab Issa Khan, Allah Buksh Gabol, and Abdul Samad Sarbazi were among its other leaders.
49. Balochis of Pakistan: On the Margins of History, p. 15.
50. FPC UK Report, p. 24.
51. Ibid, p. 16.
52. Ibid, p. 21.
53. Taj Mohammad Berseeg, p. 250.
54. FPC UK Report, p. 18.
55. Taj Mohammad Berseeg, p. 253

Chapter 4… To be Continued

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A History of the Left in Pakistan – 19

April 27, 2017

By Ahmed Kamran

Chapter Four: The Road to Pakistan – (Continued)

A Complex Knot

Indeed, for CPI it was highly complex and difficult situation. As soon as it was visible that the scepter of the foreign rule over Indian political horizon will not last for long, the ‘national question’ in its naked form in India overshadowed the ‘class question’. The Indian National Congress was started as a political party of the national bourgeoisie, the aspiring middle classes and petty bourgeoisie of the whole of India. CPI’s support for National Congress in its fight against British colonial rule, big absentee landlords, traditional Jagirdars, and Nawabs and Rajas of the princely states for a national democratic revolution was a progressive policy in the right direction, provided it had maintained its political independence and had built and maintained its organizational capacity for simultaneously pursuing its long-term goal of a peoples’ democratic revolution. But, confronted with the growing aspirations of other religious and national minorities and long suppressed Shudras and outcaste Achuts (Untouchables) of India, the National Congress had quickly reduced and crystallized itself into a representative party of upper caste Hindus, the big bourgeoisie, and the middle classes only. Failing in subduing the increasingly powerful Muslim identity and separatist movement led by its intelligentsia and financed by Muslim businessmen of Bombay and Calcutta, the big Hindu bourgeoisie was losing its patience for a protracted and, in their eyes, quite ‘useless’ negotiations with Muslim League. In fact, many of them realized the potential value and ‘political and electoral benefits’ of getting rid of ‘undesirable Muslim irritants’ in their future governance of Indian state. The big bourgeoisie was impatient, frustrated and worried about the stalemate. Powerful Indian industrialists such as G.D Birla were seeing in the plan of loose confederating units— as was proposed in the Cabinet Mission plan— all their dreams for a strong, centralized India coming to a naught. These industrialists and influential upper caste Hindu middle classes were hoping for a powerful central government in free India, footing the bill for capital-intensive projects, paving the roads, transmitting electric power and pumping the water supplies to develop new domestic markets that Indian business desperately needed. The Viceroy of India, Lord Wavell, after a meeting with Indian leaders, noted in his diary, “The Congress premiers of Bombay, UP, Bihar, Central Provinces and Orissa pressed for the establishment of a strong centre and said that the Muslims had been given far more concessions than they were entitled to” (42). The prospect of a large restive Muslim minority and particularly an army with dominant Punjabi Muslim recruitment was an undesirable ‘irritant’ for them to carry forward for vague emotional reasons. Without publicly admitting and taking blame for it in public, they were, in fact, quite willing or even encouraging to let these irritants cut away from the body politics of an independent India. But in an emotionally charged situation expected to develop because of the great human tragedies that were bound to follow this amputation the blame of the vivisection of the ‘Mother India’ was needed to be put on someone else’s doorstep.

On the other hand, by 1945-46, with the prospect of an ‘independent’ India becoming a reality getting brighter every day, the big Muslim landlords and Jagirdars of Punjab were getting fearful of Congress’ avowed policy program of radical land reforms. Failing to stem the tide and the great resurgence of highly charged and increasingly radicalized Muslim middle classes and peasants, they swiftly changed side and threw their weight with Muslim League to secure their position in its leadership and protecting their class interests in a free Pakistan. With this shift taking place in Punjab, the fate of a united India was completely sealed and Pakistan becoming a reality was almost assured. The joining of the big landlords and Jagirdars of the Muslim majority areas in an essentially a Muslim middle class movement for Pakistan sowed the seeds of strong undercurrents and intense conflicts in the factional politics of Muslim League in future in post-independence Pakistan.

Evidently, due to its lack of clear understanding of the conflicting class, social and national interests, and therefore, its inability to put forward bold political formulations for satisfying the political needs of all national and religious minorities and oppressed castes of the traditional Indian society in its confused bid of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds, the CPI was discredited among Sikhs and the oppressed ‘scheduled’ castes alike. The Sikhs, particularly, faced a bitter prospect of getting nowhere. In a communally charged atmosphere of imminent partition of their homeland, Sikhs didn’t have the majority in any part, neither in east Punjab (to be part of India) nor in the west Punjab (to be part of Pakistan) where many of their revered religious centres were located. With an acute feeling of being loser on both sides of the divide, most of the Sikh Communists tended to take up independent Sikh ‘national’ cause with a new vigour as now Akalis were seen more committed to Sikh self-determination than either the Congress or the Muslim League. A CPI leader, Harkishan Singh Surjeet who later became a prominent CPI-M leader, described the helplessness of communists in Punjab, “if the ‘Peoples War’ line had meant that the cadre were working with their hands tied behind their backs, the vacillation on the nationality question tied up their feet as well and whatever success they achieved was remarkable considering they achieved it by crawling on their bellies” (43). The Kirti Communists, in particular, who had earlier grudgingly submitted to the discipline of CPI in 1941, were again restless. They were the mainstay of the communist party in Punjab. In the Kirti Kisan Party elections in 1946, Kirtis took most of the seats; Out of 258 delegates to the state conference, 229 were Kirtis while only 29 were from ‘CPI group’. Owing to their intransigence and formation of an independent group in the party in Punjab, CPI finally expelled Teja Singh Swatantar, Bhag Singh, and Ram Singh from the party in 1946. Teja Singh even formed a parallel Communist Party in Punjab but due to the eruption of extensive bloody communal riots in Punjab in 1947, Teja Singh and other Sikh communists were compelled to cross the border. They later founded a parallel Red Communist Party in January 1948 at Nakodar, Jalandhar. This was perhaps the first ever split in the CPI due to policy differences. Red Communist Party in Punjab also adopted aggressive radical policies and raised its military wing for carrying out direct armed revolutionary struggle. It exhorted peasants to refuse sharing of crops with landlords and paying water charges and other taxes. It also engaged in armed clashes with state police. In 1949, during an armed encounter with police at Kishangarh in Bhatinda a police inspector was killed and the police contingent was forced to take flight. Finally, the state government sent in army units to quell rebels and the Red CPI soon surrendered, with six of militants killed and 26 arrested.

NWFP – ‘The Pukhtun Question’

Unlike Punjab and Sindh, NWFP and Pukhtun parts of Balochistan, which were arbitrarily separated and made part of Balochistan in 1901 for administrative reasons, were a predominantly Muslim area with a remarkably egalitarian social structure and traditions of communal land holdings. The society was, however, divided along Pukhtun clans and tribes with Maliks as their tribal leaders among equals and traditionally bound by the decisions of a rudimentary democratic form of Jirga (a tribal council). All were, however, not equal. Few, like ‘settlers’ from other tribes and areas, menial service providers (shopkeepers and artisans) of village society, and Fakirs— landless peasants did not enjoy the privilege of a full member of the tribe. Syeds, Mullahs and religious leaders were traditionally allowed a degree of social respect and some share in the agricultural produce for their upkeep and occasionally some paltry land grants for the purpose. The Mughal Kings and subsequently British colonial administrators had given large land and cash grants to some prominent and powerful Maliks and bestowed titles upon them thus creating a thin top layer of Nawabs and Jagirdars, usually entrusted to collect and remit land revenues, keep their tribes under leash and main communication highways open for royal army movements, and provide soldiers when needed. The advent of modern commercial life and socio-economic interaction slowly gave rise to a Pukhtun intelligentsia of rural background, essentially belonging to rich peasant classes, which showed the first signs of ‘national consciousness’ and ‘political activism’ for socio-economic reforms in the Pukhtun society in the beginning of the twentieth century.

For the rising Pukhtun intelligentsia in its conflict with the traditional Nawabs, Jagirdars, big landlords and moneylenders of NWFP who were mostly Muslim here, the vehicle of Islam as a rallying tool was not useful at all. Therefore, the politics of Muslim League struggling for the Muslim minority rights had not much attraction for it. The Muslim League was unable to establish its provincial organization in NWFP till as late as 1937. But the contradiction of the Pukhtun intelligentsia and enlightened rich peasants with the colonial rulers in its bid for greater share for itself in civil services and government contracts was more direct. The British government in collaboration with the Punjabis dominating and holding the best jobs in the province were clearly seen as ruthless defender of an oppressive ‘colonial social order’. The early reformism of Khan Brothers of Uthmanzai near Peshawar—Dr. Ghani Khan and Abdul Ghaffar Khan and their ‘Khudai Khidmatgar’ (Servants of God) movement in late 1920s necessarily assumed a strong ‘anti-British’ and ‘anti-Punjabi’ Pukhtun nationalist colour. Although, located on the fringe of India and otherwise isolated from the mainstream Indian politics in large measure, the Pukhtun nationalism soon became a strange bed partner of the Indian National Congress. The absence of the push of anti-Hindu socio-economic compulsions in his homeland endeared Ghaffar Khan with Gandhi and Nehru rather than with a Muslim’s leader M.A. Jinnah, winning him the sobriquet of ‘Frontier Gandhi’. In their bid for independence from British rule, the budding Pukhtun middle class was eyeing for possibility of uniting all Pukhtun tribes on both sides of the Afghan-India border in a united ‘Pukhtunistan’ either as an autonomous federating unit inside a free India or as a separate state outside of it. The Durand Line was drawn as a border in 1894, between Afghanistan and British India, cutting across vast tracts of Pukhtun lands and splitting their tribes between Afghanistan and India. In India Pukhtun tribes were further divided between NWFP and Balochistan. The Khudai Khidmatgars gained significant support among Pukhtun middle classes and rich middle peasants in their rising ambitions. It could form provincial governments in coalition with Indian National Congress both in 1937 and 1946 elections. But, a rapid change in the political dynamics of Muslim majority parts of India in 1940s and an independent Pakistan as a separate country of Muslims becoming a reality the gradual political isolation of Ghaffar Khan and his party from the Muslim masses was becoming obvious and the going for it was getting increasingly tough.

Although, Muslim League had lost 1945-46 elections in NWFP it was still able to mobilize many people to gain support for its movement. The political influence of the Khudai Khidmatgar movement that was led by rich middle peasants and supported by the Congress was clearly on the wane. The failure of its government in bringing the promised change in the lives of poor peasants or providing any significant relief to them in reducing peasant debt and rent burden was slowly taking its toll. The few tenancy regulations that were introduced helped only an elite group of rich tenants. Though, CPI organization in NWFP was very weak and rudimentary but any attempt to organize the working class and poor peasants was suppressed by the Khudai Khidmatgar-Congress joint provincial government with colonial firmness. The best jobs in the province were still going to more educated Hindus and Punjabi and other settlers. Meanwhile, the top landed aristocracy of NWFP in the footsteps of big landlords and Jagirdars of Punjab was also getting fearful of the radical rhetoric of Congress and was gradually moving towards Muslim League. As the independence of India and the partition of Punjab and Bengal on religious lines was getting closer, the Red Shirt government demanded that instead of only two options of either joining with India or Pakistan in the proposed referendum to be held in NWFP, an option to secede and form an independent Pukhtunistan be also granted. But having this option been flatly denied by the British government and, consequently, in the face of clear prospects of most people opting for the only practical option of joining with Pakistan, Ghaffar Khan and his party decided to boycott the referendum. Obviously, the results of the referendum were almost assured; the overwhelming majority (98%) of those who casted votes (over 51% of registered voter turnout) opted for Pakistan.


42. Yasmin Khan, The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan, Yale University Press, 2007, p. 59.
43. Mirdula Mukherjee, op cited, p. 219.

Chapter 4… To be Continued

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A History of the Left in Pakistan – 18

April 8, 2017

By Ahmed Kamran

Chapter Four: The Road to Pakistan – (Continued)

Punjab – The Main Battleground

Owing to its large fertile irrigated lands, majority Muslim population and economic strength, Punjab was going to be the principal theater for Muslim League’s battle with Congress. In its strategic importance for Pakistan in future, Punjab was even ahead of Bengal, which had been a forerunner in the Muslim’s independence movement. Bengal’s importance lied mainly in its large Muslim population; otherwise, barring for Calcutta and its jute mills the economic assets of the Muslim East Bengal were not significant. Muslim League desperately needed to mobilize the peasants and aspiring Muslim middle classes and petty bourgeoisie of Punjab, Sindh, and NWFP to exert full pressure on the big landlords for them to fall in line with its push. Despite it being a large producer of food grains, the food scarcity during the war followed by large scale post-war demobilization of soldiers created massive unemployment and restlessness in the rural areas of Punjab. It jeopardized the popularity of the Unionist Party among large agrarian producers who had been the traditional mainstay of the party. Muslim League’s political appeal to Punjab’s middle classes and rich peasants resting only on ‘religious’ and ‘communal’ issues had not been very successful. Muslim League was trying to lend a mass appeal to its campaign for Pakistan directly approaching the peasants, combining its religious appeal with economic appeal and bypassing the big landlords. Now it was the time for the Muslim League to re-brand itself and reach out to Muslim peasants and working classes in Punjab.

During about last 75 years being the principal ground of massive ‘social engineering’ experiment of canal colonies, a large part of Punjab had been through a ‘sea change’ in its class composition and patterns of class relations. Unlike much of the rest of India, Punjab’s rural area was the home of a very large number of independent peasants, petty bourgeoisie and rural middle classes who had long freed themselves from the traditional relations of production and feudal bonds. It was a unique feature of Punjab compared with other parts of north or south India. As Ian Talbot observed, ‘The rural elite which remained loyal to the Unionist Party could, the League leaders believed, be by-passed by a direct appeal to the peasant masses. Why did this policy achieve such limited success? The answer lies in the fact that, firstly, the Punjab League’s religious appeals were being made through the wrong channels, and, secondly, that even when they were made through the right ones, peasants are not readily moved by such appeals alone. They must be accompanied by efforts to solve their immediate social and economic problems.’ (Talbot, 1982:15). Joining hands with socialists and communists in Punjab was Muslim League’s master stroke to garner ground support for its cause among the rural middle classes and lower peasants of Punjab and to bring its traditional big landlords under check. The need to join hands was not one sided. Extending its hand towards Communists in Punjab was a timely tactical move on the part of Muslim League.

As we noted above, Muslim League’s popular support started gaining ground after 1940 with its shift in focus from Muslim-minority provinces to Punjab and other Muslim-majority provinces with a promise of an independent state comprising of Muslim-majority areas (see Chapter Three). This shift in focus in geography also accompanied with a simultaneous shift in its target audience. It now started directly addressing the students, urban and rural middle classes, and peasants in Punjab with a new promise. With the CPI’s policy of supporting Muslim League’s demand for Pakistan towards the end of 1942, the Muslim Communists in Punjab were encouraged to work closely with the Muslim masses and join Muslim League as their growing representative political party. Sajjad Zaheer, by now a member of the Central Committee of the CPI, was made in charge of the work among Muslims. He was, together with G. Adhikari, responsible for developing and defending CPI’s new and changed policy on Pakistan and the Muslim question. According to CPI’s political assessment in Punjab, the replacement of Unionist government of the big landlords by a Muslim League’s government was expected to be more liberal and, therefore, preferable. Sohan Singh Josh and Daniyal Latifi from CPI met Muhammad Ali Jinnah in Lahore in April 1944 to offer CPI’s support. Jinnah and the Muslim League welcomed the move but with caution. Liaqat Ali Khan made it a condition that the Muslim communists joining Muslim League must resign from CPI. Accordingly, Abdullah Malik and Daniyal Latifi formally resigned from CPI and joined Muslim League. Others joining Muslim League included Ataullah Jahanian, C.R. Aslam, Anis Hashmi, and Ghualm Nabi Bhullar. Firozuddin Mansoor was made in charge of the ‘Muslim Front’ in Punjab CPI. Daniyal Latifi went on to be appointed as the Office Secretary of the Punjab Provincial Muslim League and together with Abdullah Malik is said to have drafted the Muslim League’s election manifesto of 1944, declaring support for the land reforms and universal adult franchise. Marxist Urdu poets like Majaz and Makhdoom Mohiuddin wrote poetry for Pakistan. A young and ambitious Mian Iftikharuddin, a prominent progressive leader of the Congress enjoying confidence of Nehru, also joined Muslim League. Mian Iftikharuddin had close links with some prominent CPI leaders. He soon became a favored protégé of Muhammad Ali Jinnah in the fast expanding Muslim League, the kind of leader M.A. Jinnah was reported to pin his hopes on for the new Pakistan.

Nevertheless, despite Punjab being the largest pocket of upwardly mobile and ambitious Muslim peasants and petty bourgeoisie concentrated in the central and parts of western Punjab, the middle class was still not strong enough in national level politics to tilt the balance of power. The Muslim national bourgeoisie of Bombay, Gujarat, and Calcutta leading the Muslim League and relying on the petty bourgeoisie and middle classes of both Muslim majority and minority areas needed the decisive vote of the big landlords of Punjab, Sindh, and NWFP in their favour. In the given situation, all these diverse classes and interest groups could have been galvanized based on their ‘Muslim’ identity coupled with their ‘economic’ interests. Boldly coming out in support of the Muslim League’s demand for Pakistan, CPI had successfully addressed the issue of the ambitious Muslim petty bourgeoisie and the middle classes, particularly of the Muslim majority areas. Sajjad Zaheer said, “the task of every patriot is to welcome and help this democratic growth which at long last is now taking place among the Muslims of Punjab. The last stronghold of imperialist bureaucracy in India is invaded by the League. Let us all help the people of Punjab capture it” (40). Envisioning themselves in a separate Pakistan, free from dominance of a large and overbearing Hindu petty bourgeoisie, the lure of Pakistan as it was getting closer to achievable reality was too powerful for them. CPI’s effective network in Punjab and its sympathizers supplemented the channels to gain access to the Muslim middle and lower peasants and petty bourgeoisie with vague promises of land reforms and expanded market opportunities. But, while reaching to the Muslim masses CPI could not simultaneously address the concerns of prosperous Sikh peasants and Hindu and Sikh petty bourgeoisie in Punjab. Thus, the Indian national aspirations sharply split into three conflicting and rising cross currents, which eventually swept the feet of the CPI leadership off the ground.

During 1945-1946 elections, Muslim League won all reserved Muslim seats in Punjab. CPI held a unique and an awkward position. It supported candidates from both the Congress and the Muslim League. Support of Indian Muslims’ separatist demand based on their right to self-determination should have logically lead to the conclusion of supporting Sikhs as well in their aspiration of a ‘Khalistan’ within or without India. The united Indian national aspirations viewed in this new prism sharply split into three divergent streams: Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh. A significantly large number of Communist leaders and party cadre in Punjab were Sikhs. The CPI’s support for Pakistan and its thesis of Muslims being a ‘nation’ qualified for self-determination led Sikh Communists to believe that they also qualify to be a nation to claim self-determination. By now many of the astute members of the Indian bourgeoisie leading the Congress Party had grudgingly reconciled to the idea of letting the upstart Muslim bourgeoisie spin off the Muslim majority areas in the west where in any case they had little political prospects in future; a kind of right-sizing the future India. In the process, they were getting rid of the nuisance of a significant part of a perpetually recalcitrant minority. But, further fragmentation of their market by allowing Sikhs, who were widely dispersed in Punjab and didn’t enjoy a majority in any significantly large part, or for that matter any other community to have their own sway was not acceptable to them. For the same reason, Congress bourgeois’ leadership strongly opposed and immediately killed the idea of Sarat Bose and Suhrawardy in 1947 for an independent undivided Bengal for which M.A. Jinnah is also said to have given his in-principle consent. The CPI’s policy shift on Pakistan, however, caused major ripples in the party, especially among Sikh and Hindu communists of Punjab. Sohan Singh Josh drafted a ‘Khalistan’ scheme but it was rejected by the Central Committee of the CPI. Among CPI leaders, Dr. Adhikari had realized that now with CPI having committed itself to support the idea of Pakistan, leaving Sikhs with no choice but to seek whatever terms they could negotiate for themselves with the Muslim majority of West Punjab, there was hardly any hope of winning Sikh’s support for this policy. To secure safeguards for Sikh’s interests in future Pakistan he even suggested various alternative plans (41). Caught in the rising cross currents, however, the party remained mute and essentially followed the Indian Congress in its bid to keep Sikhs firmly included in the new independent India.


40. Sajjad Zaheer, Light on League Unionist Conflict, People’s Publishing House, Bombay, July, 1944, pp. 26-33.
41. Mirdula Mukherjee, p. 218.

Chapter 4… To be Continued

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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

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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

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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

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A History of the Left in Pakistan – 14

January 28, 2017

By Ahmed Kamran

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

Stalin’s Advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CPI’s Impact on Society

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

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

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

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

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


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

Chapter 3… Concluded

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A History of the Left in Pakistan – 13

January 13, 2017

By Ahmed Kamran

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

The Second Congress of CPI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Chapter 3 to be continued…

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A History of the Left in Pakistan – 12

December 30, 2016

By Ahmed Kamran

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

Muslim Question & Pakistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Chapter 3 to be continued…

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A History of the Left in Pakistan – 11

December 17, 2016

By Ahmed Kamran

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

INA and Hukoomat-e Azad Hind

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

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

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

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


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

Chapter 3 to be continued…

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