The partition of the Indian subcontinent was a wound inflicted upon the living body of one of the oldest civilisations on earth. A civilisation that was rich in art, architecture, music, literature and other forms of human culture... its cultural diversity was its greatest beauty. The pain still remains and has left an indelible scar upon millions of people.
Birth pangs of Pakistan
“There is no real connection between these two unrests, labour and Congress opposition. But their very existence and coexistence, explains and fully justifies the attention, which Lord Irwin gave to the labour problems.”
London Times, 29 January 1928
“Now a situation had arisen where we were becoming greater supporters of partition than Jinnah. I warned Jawaharlal that history would never forgive us if we agreed to partition. The verdict would be that India was divided not by the Muslim League but by Congress”.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (1888-1958)
As explained in the previous chapter, the end of the Second World War unleashed a revolutionary wave in its aftermath. Not only in the advanced capitalist countries, but also in countries like China, the red storms were raging across continents. They were threatening Imperialism and the capitalist system on a world scale, with an unprecedented ferocity.
This was perhaps the biggest movement of the oppressed masses in human history. This was an enormous awakening of the colonial peoples of China, Africa, the Middle East, Indonesia, India, and Pakistan. This was an inspiring movement in which countless millions of former colonial slaves rose against their masters, fighting for their national emancipation. The reasons why all Marxists supported the colonial revolution are obvious: it was a revolutionary movement, a blow against imperialism, it aroused the masses and advanced the class struggle.
If the intense struggle for independence in the Indian subcontinent had run its course, it would not have stopped at overthrowing the direct rule of British Imperialists and gaining national liberation; it would have advanced to socio-economic liberation by overthrowing capitalism and the feudal remnants of the British Raj. This would have put the existence of capitalism on a world scale in serious jeopardy. Hence, in connivance with their local political toadies, the Muslim and Hindu elitist leaders promoted, projected and indoctrinated by British Imperialism, were used to subvert this movement on ethnic and religious lines. The Stalinist leaders of the CPI played no less horrendous a role in this disastrous outcome.
Ted Grant (1913 - 2006) in the fore-ward to the book "Partition Can it be undone" by the author in July 2001, wrote,
"The partition of the subcontinent into Pakistan and India was a crime carried out by British Imperialism. Initially, British Imperialism tried to maintain control of the whole of the subcontinent, but, during 19461947, a revolutionary situation erupted across the whole of the Indian subcontinent. British Imperialism realised that it could no longer contain the situation. Its troops were mainly Indian, and they could not be relied on to do the dirty work for the imperialists".
The Partition of the Indian subcontinent led to the largest transmigration of mankind in modern history. It was also the bloodiest migration: at least one million innocent souls perished and about 16 million crossed borders. This was how the 200 years of direct British colonial rule ended in India. It ended with the same policy with which it had begun divide and rule!
The first scientific, and perhaps the most correct, analysis of the colonisation of India and perspectives of its development was written by Karl Marx even before the British formally took over India after the War of Independence of 1857.
Marx, in his writings of that period, explained the economic and social basis of British colonisation and its impact on future developments in India. On 22 July 1853 he wrote:
"(...) if we knew nothing of the past history of Hindustan, would there not be the one great and incontestable fact, that even at this moment India is held in English thraldom by an Indian army maintained at the cost of India? England has to fulfil a double mission in India: one destructive, the other regenerating the annihilation of the old Asiatic society, and laying the material foundations of Western society in Asia. Arabs, Turks, Tartars, Moguls, who had successively overrun India, soon became Hinduised, the barbarian conquerors from primitive cultures, by an eternal law of history, were conquered themselves by the superior civilisation of their subjects. The British were the first conquerors superior in culture, and therefore, inaccessible to Hindu civilisation. They destroyed it by breaking up the native communities, by uprooting the native industry, and levelling all that was great and elevated in the native society. The historical pages of the British rule in India report hardly anything beyond that destruction. The work of the regeneration hardly transpires through a heap of ruins. Nevertheless it has begun. The political unity of India, more consolidated then it ever was under the great Mughals, was the first condition of regeneration. That unity imposed by the British sword will now be strengthened and perpetuated by the electric telegraph. The day is not far distant when, by combination of railway and steam vessels, the distance between England and India measured by time will be shortened. The ruling classes of Great Britain have had till now but an accidental transitory and exceptional interest in the progress of India. The aristocracy wanted to conquer it, the moneyocracy wanted to plunder it, and the milliocracy to undersell it .... Nowhere more than in India, do we meet with such social destitution in the midst of natural plenty, for want of the means of exchange .... The profound hypocrisy and inherent barbarism of bourgeois civilisation lies unveiled before our eyes, turning from its home, where it assumes respectable forms, to the colonies where it goes naked .... Did they not in India, to borrow an experience of that great robber, Lord Clive himself, resort to atrocious extortion, and simple corruption could not keep pace with their rapacity?"1
Throughout the Raj, resistance continued in varying forms. Peasants participated in upsurges. Individual folklore heroes attacked the British forces and were termed bandits by most western historians. Apart from the Afghan wars, no period was without some form of challenge to the rule of the Raj. Later on, in the twentieth century, we witness the proletarian struggle of the soldiers' and sailors' revolts in the armed forces against direct imperialist domination.
The British educated Indian politicians set up Congress. According to Collins and Lapierre:
"A dignified English civil servant founded Congress in 1885. Acting with the blessing of the Viceroy, Octavian Hume had sought to create an organisation which would canalise the protests of India's slowly growing educated classes into a moderate, responsible body prepared to engage in gentlemanly dialogue with India's English rulers."2
During the First World War, Congress fully collaborated with British Imperialism.
In criminal silence, they acquiesced to the hangings of members of the Gadar Party, which represented the militant youth who had taken up arms against the British. In the 1915 and 1916 sessions, Congress paid its respects and gratitude to the British governors who were in attendance.
In 1939, in one of his last writings on India, Leon Trotsky (1879- 1940), the leader of the Bolshevik Revolution (1917) in Russia along with Lenin wrote the following:
"The Indian bourgeoisie can never lead a revolutionary struggle. It is the slave of British capitalism and fully reliant on it. It has gone mad in its quest to protect its properties. It is terrified of the people. It wants to come to an agreement with British imperialism no matter at what price. It is singing lullabies of hopes of reforms to the masses. The leader and prophet of this bourgeoisie is Gandhi. He is an artificial leader and a false prophet". 3
Gandhi was awarded the medal of Kaisar-e-Hind by Lord Harding, viceroy to India from 19101916. When the Mountbattens travelled to London for the wedding of Princess Elizabeth to their nephew Prince Philip in 1947, whom they had brought up since childhood, Gandhi manifested his affection for them with a touching gesture. Packed into their York MW 102, along with ivory carvings, Mughal miniatures, the jewels and silver plates offered to the royal couple by India's former ruling princes was a wedding gift to the girl who would one day wear Victoria's crown: a teacloth made from yarn that Gandhi had spun himself.
On 15th January 1948 Gandhi also stressed the ownership rights of the capitalists and landlords. He said:
"I will never be a participant in snatching away the properties from their owners and you should know that I will use all my influence and authority against the class war. If somebody wants to deprive you of your property you will find me standing shoulder to shoulder with you." 4
Jinnah was no less anglicised. His habits, lifestyle, dress and attitude were much more British than those of the Muslims of the subcontinent he claimed to represent. He actually never contemplated a total break with the British. In April 1947, in his negotiations with Lord Mountbatten, Jinnah said:
"I do not care how little you give me so long as you give it to me completely. I do not wish to make any improper suggestion to you, but you must realise that the new Pakistan is almost certain to ask for dominion status with the British Empire."
Such was his passion for Partition that in August 1946 he vowed: "We shall have India divided or we shall have India destroyed". Here Jinnah had made a complete u-turn, however: at an 'oyster dinner', held in 1933 by Cambridge student Rahmat Ali at London's rather non-Islamic Waldorf Hotel, to propose a country called Pakistan, for Muslims, he laughed at the idea. He later described it to the Joint Select Committee of the British parliament as "only a student's scheme, chimerical and impractical". 5
Christina Lamb, in her 1980s book Waiting for Allah, wrote the following:
"In fact, were Jinnah alive today, he could be flogged under Pakistan's strict Islamic laws. A cold nationalist who disliked connecting religion and politics and who, right up to mid 1930s, claimed he was an Indian first and Muslim second, Jinnah saw in the Mullahs' slogans the route to safeguard both his own future and that of the Muslim entrepreneurs and landowning elite."
Jinnah's break with Congress was not on a communal basis, but was the outcome of tactical differences. Separatism was still a decade away, though the path towards it was already being carefully prepared by the colonial state.
As London began to feel the pressure of agitation, it became clear that some form of self-rule was essential to forestall social upheavals and revolutionary outbreaks. In 1932, Sir Theodore Morrison, a former principal of the staunchly loyalist M.A.O (Mohammadan Anglo Oriental) College in Aligarh, wrote an influential essay in support of separatism. He developed a mystical theme which was to become the leitmotif of Muslim communalism:
"The Hindus and Muslims were two distinct nations, as different from each other as any two European nations; Muslim civilization could not survive under an 'alien' government especially a democratic government which tended toward standardization of citizens; the Muslims should rest assured that they were not alone in their concern for the preservation of their characteristic civilization".6
The principle of separate electorates for Muslims had already been accepted and was to play a major role in institutionalizing communal politics in India; but the demand for Pakistan, a separated Muslim state, was only to become meaningful in 1944-6, both for the leaders of the Muslim League and for the sections of the Muslim masses. Those who argue that the notion of Pakistan was contained in the 'fact' that the Muslims were a 'distinct community' are simply re-writing history. If the question is posed: 'When did the Muslims become a distinct nation?' it would be impossible to elicit a common answer from the communal historians.
Apart from the Shi'a-Sunni divide, there were numerous other currents which defined themselves as reformers or defenders of orthodoxy. They argued amongst themselves on questions of theology.
Some theologians were in the pay of the British and wrote sermons on command. Others backed the Congress and declared in favour of a 'composite nationalism'. Others still argued for a universal Islamic republic, and refused even to consider the notion of Islam in One Country. This was the view of Abul-Ala Maududi, who founded the Jamat-i-Islami in 1941 to oppose the secular nationalism of his declared rivals, the Deoband Group, and the aims of the Muslim League. Maududi accused Jinnah of being motivated 'by the worldly socio-economic interests of the Muslims' rather than by religion. He insisted that:
"Not a single leader of the Muslim League, from Jinnah himself to the rank and file, has an Islamic mentality or Islamic habits of thought, or looks at political and social problems from the Islamic viewpoint ... their ignoble role is to safeguard the material interests of Indian Muslims by every possible manoeuvre or trickery." 7
The decisive turning point for the national liberation struggle came with the advent of the Bolshevik revolution in October 1917 in Russia. A whole cross-section of activists and leaders in the national liberation struggle were inspired by the mighty events that were taking place in Russia.
Poets like Iqbal called Marx: "A prophet with a book [Capital] but no prophet-hood".
The impact on youth was tremendous. The formation of the Hindu Socialist Revolutionary Army (H.S.R.A.) was the main expression of this radicalisation. The heroic deeds of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Raj Guru and B.K.Dutt, although ultra left, were actions of youth seething with revolt against the British tyranny. Unable to find a Marxist road to independence and revolution, they resorted to armed struggle.
Some of the militants of the H.S.R.A shot and killed an assistant superintendent of police, John Poyants Saunders, on 8 April 1929. Two young men were arrested for throwing bombs at the treasury benches of the central legislative assembly in Delhi. One of them was Bhagat Singh. Most of the youth arrested went on hunger strike in prison. Jatin Das, a young man, is believed to have died during an attempt to feed him forcibly after he had completed sixty-three days of fasting.
The trial of Bhagat Singh and those of the other accused men, gained enormous publicity throughout India, and a mass base started to form around this radical left trend. The case was much discussed in society, and such was the sympathy for the accused that witnesses started turning hostile to the prosecution. Even a British policeman refused to identify Bhagat Singh as a person present at the time of the murder.
Bhagat Singh's trial lasted five months. Judgement was pronounced on 7 October 1930. The popularity of these radical youths and their assertion of left ideas in the movement for national independence sent shock waves through the bourgeois leaders in the movement.
A British visitor to India, C F Andrews, wrote in 1932:
"The scene in India at the present time is that of the Roman Empire nineteen hundred years ago. There was the same vast order outwardly maintained. But within this area of apparent calm a surging, heaving ferment had suddenly begun to appear like volcanic lava cracking through the surface of the soil. Men call it the national movement."
British rulers continuously imprisoned and released Congress leaders including Gandhi, prompting the media of colonial India to give extensive coverage of the sacrifice, courage and commitment of Gandhi and other bourgeois leaders. British ruling class used Gandhi in a manipulative manner to quell the rising tide of the left and derail the class struggle.
Reaction from within Congress, however, was also intense. Dr Subhash Chandra Bose, a leading figure of the leftwing in Congress, told Congress supporters that: "Between us and the British lays an ocean of blood and a mountain of corpses. Nothing on earth can induce us to accept this compromise which Gandhi has signed". Wherever Gandhi went, youth with red flags met him with angry questions, sometimes he was even manhandled. At the All India Congress meeting in Karachi, the main slogan chanted was "Gandhi's truce sent Bhagat Singh to the gallows!"
On the day of Gandhi's visit to Lord Irwin (19 March 1931), Bhagat Singh and his comrades, encouraged by their friends, sent a letter to the viceroy. In that letter, instead of asking for clemency, they asked the viceroy to treat them as prisoners of war and to have them shot rather than hanged. Four days later the four were hanged at Lahore central prison. Bhagat Singh's prison diary makes very interesting reading; in it he described the evolution of his ideology and thoughts while languishing in his death cell. He renounced individual violence, but condemned Gandhi's non-violence. He put forward the proposition that a socialist revolution in the Indian subcontinent was the logical conclusion of the liberation struggle. It should have been the responsibility of the Communist Party of India to unite, develop and take forward the left currents that inevitably develop in every struggle for national liberation. If the Communist Party of India (CPI) had been based on Marxist methods and perspectives, the whole course of history would have been differentand the tragedy of Partition averted.
The Communist Party
The Communist Party of India (CPI) was founded at the Kanpur communist conference of 2628 December 1925. It was convened by Satyabhakata and the chairman of the reception committee was Hasrat Mohani. Comrade Singaravelu delivered the presidential address. The first nucleus was set up in Berlin in 1919, and an organisation in the name of Indian communists was established in Tashkent USSR in December 1920. Manabendra Nath Roy, the main theoretician of the party who was in exile, played a leading role in affiliating the CPI to the Third International.
The Kanpur communist conference brought together various left groups across India. The main leaders were Muzaffar Ahmed from Bengal, Shaukat Usmani from the United Provinces, S. A. Dange from Bombay, Abdul Majeed from Lahore and representatives from other regions of the subcontinent. Nearly three years earlier, on 27th April 1923, a circular from "Inquilab" Office, Railway Road, Lahore, was sent to twenty-five prominent leftist leaders, with the aim of forming a new political party. It was signed by comrades Ghulam Hussain and Shamsuddin Hassan. The rising tide of the workers' struggle and the interest in communist ideas that swept through the wider layers of society terrified the British imperialists.
Communists, right from the beginning, had to work under clandestine conditions, whereas the leaders and parties of the bourgeoisie worked more or less in connivance with the British rulers.
The regime instituted several cases against the CPI, two of which gained mass publicity. The first was the Kanpur Bolshevik conspiracy case, which took place in 1924. The main accused was Manabendra Nath Roy, who was convicted in absentia. Eight other leading members of the CEC (Central Executive Committee) of the CPI were arrested: Shaukat Usmani, M Singaravelu Chettair, S A Dange, R C L Sharma, Muzaffer Ahmed, Nalini Das Gupta, Maula Baksh and Professor Ghulam Hussain. The prosecution case lodged on behalf of the Crown made a mockery of British democratic values:
"The accused are charged under section 121A with conspiracy to establish a branch organisation of the communist international throughout British India with objective to deprive the King Emperor of the sovereignty of British India..."
Eventually, only four of the accused were convicted: Muzaffer Ahmed, Shaukat Usmani, SA Dange and Nalini Gupta (Roy's emissary from Berlin); they were sentenced to four years of rigorous imprisonment.
A centre was set up in Tashkent to train and send cadres to India to spread communist ideas. Most of these communists, known as Muhajirun, were arrested as they filtered into India from the North West Frontier at the end of 1922. Except for one or two, the rest abandoned Communism. In spite of the setbacks, however, communist groups had sprung up in major cities throughout India: Madras, Bombay, Lahore, Karachi, Calcutta and parts of the United Provinces.In the first two decades of the twentieth century, two major upsurges occurred in the mass movement against the British Raj. The first wave was in the period 19191922, and then a second more militant upsurge began in 19261927. These were the first major strike waves of the Indian proletariat, which was making its mark on history. When the Simon Commission landed in Bombay in February 1928, it was greeted by nationwide strikes. Unrest was growing among the industrial proletariat, and, from 19281929, 209 strikes took place compared with 129 in 1927. A mass general strike led by the textile workers was held in Bombay. This textile strike caused the shutdown of fifty mills and lasted from 26 April to 6 October, 1928.
In the Bardoli district of Bombay state, the peasants went on a campaign of non-payment of taxes. At the steel works of Tata Limited, staff dismissals and wage decreases led to a strike that lasted five months. The workers of the Eastern Railway Company at Liloolah were locked out for four months. From the North Western Railway (NWR) to the South Indian Railway (SIR), the railway workers went on strike in almost all sectors of the huge Indian railway network. An increase in the armed struggle also occurred, and in December a bomb explosion wrecked parts of the train in which Viceroy Irwin was travelling. Not surprisingly, Gandhi, Nehru and the Congress condemned the attack.
Chronic unemployment and deteriorating conditions created enormous discontent and turmoil amongst peasants, workers, and the educated youth. In the northwest frontier the conflict became more violent. According to the Simon Commission report, between 1858 and 1922, British troops carried out seventy-two expeditions against rebellious tribesmen in the this region.
In Gujurat, at the end of June, a movement for the non-payment of rent and revenue began. In Bengal, a student movement developed and semi-guerrilla insurgency increased.The Communist Party led these struggles. The British imperialists were terrified of this red threat. They used the Indian national bourgeois leaders to distract the movement and started a new wave of repression against the Communist Party. This culminated in the infamous "Meerut Conspiracy Case" in 1929. This was similar to the Kanpur Bolshevik conspiracy and aimed to crush the CPI's leadership. Thirty-one leaders of the CPI were arrested on 20 March 1929, after the preparation of an elaborate dossier by the state's secret agencies against active communists. The trial of the Meerut conspiracy case began in June 1929. Not until 16 January 1933 did the trial court conduct its hearings and sentenced all but four of the accused to terms of imprisonment varying from three years to life. Phillip Spratt and Benjamin Frances Bradley, who had come from England to India to work for the CPI, were sentenced to transportation for ten years. The Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court dismissed all the appeals, but the sentences were reduced and by the autumn of 1935 all the prisoners were released. During the trial, the accused had been able to evoke considerable national sympathy by exploiting anti-British feelings in the nationalist movement. The Indian bourgeoisie retaliated and formed a defence committee including Motilal Nehru as chairman and Jawaharlal Nehru as a member. The accused took advantage of the opportunity provided by the trial to propagate communist ideas. The Chief Justice observed:
"They took an inordinately long time in reading out well-prepared statements, which the court had to take down word for word. In most cases they had nothing more than an exposition, on an elaborate scale, of the doctrines of communism, its tenets and its programme."
After the Meerut trial began, attacks were launched against the Girin Kamgar Union... the textile union of Bombay. The government not only arrested the communists and the leading trade unionists but also appointed a Riots Enquiry Committee and a Strike Enquiry Committee, with the intention of removing all communists from leading positions in trade unions throughout India. The Whitley Royal Commission on Indian Labour was also appointed and arrived in India in October 1929. The "Manchester Guardian" reported that the real aim behind this commission was to repress the communists. On 25 October 1929 it wrote:
"Experience of the past two years has shown that the industrial workers in the biggest centres are peculiarly malleable material in the hands of unscrupulous communist organisers naturally, and this is one of the circumstances which give such importance to the recently appointed commission on Indian labour."
Although the Giri Kamgar union was forced to call off the textile strike, more strikes broke out in other parts of the country. The tinplate workers in Jamshedpur took strike action, while the strike of oil and petroleum workers in Calcutta and dock workers in Karachi threatened the supremacy of the Raj.
The question arises as to why the Communist Party could not take the lead in spite of the sacrifices and struggle of its workers. One of the explanations that most Stalinists tend to give is that repression was the main cause of the failure of the CPI to take charge of the situation. The Meerut Conspiracy Case is cited often as an example. It is true that repression does damage an organisation and leads to serious setbacks. A Marxist organisation has to be able to built solidarity and support out of repression, both nationally and internationally. Some of the CPI leaders of the time accepted this position. Soumy Endranath Tagore in his pamphlet "Historical development" wrote,
"Nothing made so much propaganda in India for communism as did the Meerut conspiracy case. The entire attention of political India was focused on this case and hundreds of radical youth were drawn to the Communist Party because of it. There was also a good bit of propaganda in the international press. One can say with justice that the Meerut conspiracy case placed communism on a sure footing in India."
The Programme of The Communist International, which was adopted at the second congress and published in September 1920, had stated:
Tendencies like Gandhi's in India, thoroughly imbued with religious conceptions, idealize the most backward and economically most reactionary forms of social life. They see the solution of the social problem not in proletarian socialism, but in a reversion to these backward forms, preaching passivity and repudiating the class struggle, and in the process of the development of the revolution they become transformed into an openly reactionary force. Gandhi's is more and more becoming an ideology directed against mass revolution. It must be strongly combated by communism.
The zigzags and right and left turns of the Stalinist Comintern resulted in the defeat of several revolutions, as well as some important revolutionaries, throughout the world.
After Roy's return from the China mission in 1927 he had fallen from Stalin's grace. He was eventually expelled from the Comintern in 1929.
In spite of mistakes, the CPI still maintained a considerable base, mainly because of its links with the heritage of "October 4". In 1936, the railway strike paralysed the British Empire in India. It had an important impact on the newly emerging proletariat in other sections of industry. In 1938, with the slogan of a "Workers Socialist Republic", the CPI was able to mobilise 50,000 workers in Calcutta. It was able to lead a massive strike under the slogan "Government of Workers and Poor Peasants". Similarly, a new wave of class struggle had forced the CPI leadership to move further left. In the 1938 Kissan Sabah [Peasants' Conference] of the CPI, more than 500,000 poor peasants had registered for attendance. In 1939, the resolution passed by this conference strongly criticised Congress Ministries of Home Government. The resolution demanded the full political freedom and independence that could be obtained only under the rule of the people.
The Communist Party was banned until 1937. In Maharashtra and the United Provinces, thousands of members of the CPI were put behind bars. In Bengal and Punjab, they were subjected to atrocities and torture. In Sholapur, four leaders of the Communist Party were hanged; these included one main trade union leader. In Malabar, the workers of the Communist Party were subjected to constant repression. In Madras, several workers were hanged.The changes and zigzags in the policies of the Moscow bureaucracy influenced the policies of the CPI leadership. The policy of "defence of the fatherland" severely dented the clear class perception of the revolutionary struggle among the activists of the CPI.
At the beginning of the Second World War the CPI launched an intensive anti-war campaign. It called it an imperialist war, and the CPI was in the forefront of anti-war and anti-British agitation. This was a golden chance for the CPI to present itself as a revolutionary alternative to the masses. At the start of the anti-war campaign, the CPI took the courageous step of organising mass strikes against the war. The first ever anti-war workers' demonstration in the world took place in India on 22 October 1939 with a one-day protest general strike; 90,000 people participated. The main slogans of the demonstration were: "Defeat This Treachery against the Human Race!", "Down with the Imperialist War!", "Long Live the Freedom of India!" etc. The British colonialists increased state repression and thousands of CPI workers were put into jail during this anti-war agitation. Congress was polarised, and a number of leftist groups, including those around Dr Subhash Chandra Bose, identified with the CPI. In the 1939 convention, Bose defeated Gandhi in the election for President of Congress, thus creating a strong possibility of forming a United Front with the left wing of Congress. This would have led to a formidable force of the left which, with a correct Marxist programme and methods, could have led to a socialist conclusion of the national independence movement.
Degeneration of the Left leadership
While the process of left unity on the basis of the anti-war and anti-British policy of the CPI was forging ahead, changes in Moscow's policy struck a devastating blow.
The Stalinist compromise with British and American imperialism forced the CPI to change its attitude towards British imperialist rule. In 1942, Comrade Khushi Mohammad, a CPI leader, spoke at a mass rally in Azamgarh, in United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh). He was at the height of a fiery, anti-imperialist speech when he was passed a note that had just been brought by a messenger from the CPI's high command containing strongly worded instructions from Stalin the capitulation had begun. After he glanced at the note, he made a U-turn in his speech. He retreated from his staunch anti-imperialist position and said that as British democracy had formed an alliance with fatherland Russia, the main thrust of agitation and struggle had to be directed against the fascists (Germany and Japan) and not the democratic allied governments, including Britain.
The CPI paid a heavy price for this opportunistic turn. Apart from its attitude of appeasement towards the British, it started to develop a conciliatory attitude towards the national bourgeois leadership. In reality, large sections of the CPI were absorbed into Congress. At the same time, its reversal of previous policies led to a head-on clash with Bose and other left wing tendencies inside and outside Congress. The CPI cadres who were in Congress were moving to form a block with liberal socialists like Nehru and social democrats like Jay Parkash Narayan. Nehru, like Gandhi, was used as a tool of the British to control the workers' and the peasants' upsurge and to subvert the radicalisation of the youth.
In some instances, CPI even cooperated with the bourgeois nationalist leaders at the heart of the movement, instead of aiming to develop the movement on class lines to break the stranglehold of the bourgeois leaders. The preliminary draft thesis on the National and Colonial Question, drafted by Lenin, was presented to the Plenary Session on 28 July 1920 at the second Congress of the Communist International. It stated:
"The Communist International must enter into a temporary alliances with bourgeois democracy in the colonial and backward countries, but should not merge with it, and should under all circumstances uphold the independence of the proletarian movement even if it is in its most embryonic form..."
The CPI cadres should have exposed the real class interests of Nehru and Gandhi to the toiling masses.
Their main aim should have been to recruit the socialist youth and militants who were in Congress into the CPI and create a mass movement of the workers and peasants to put an end to imperialist rule. That should have been the real revolutionary course of the struggle a class war!The change in the CPI's position on the war created disillusionment amongst the masses and confusion and apathy in the party ranks.
Gandhi launched the "Quit India" movement on 8 August 1942. Like his previous manoeuvres, it was passive in character and did not threaten the British rule or the colonial structures. It aimed to water down the militancy of the struggle and at the same time consolidate and perpetuate the bourgeois leadership and ideology of the national liberation struggle.Stalin had abolished the rudimentary organisation of the Third International to appease Churchill and Roosevelt, but he was still calling the shots in the CPI's policy and actions in India. The imprisoned CPI leaders started a secret correspondence with the British rulers from their jails. They were laying their "voluntary services" at the doorstep of the colonial rulers. They were offering to put up resistance against Congress activists and "fifth columnists" who were still active in the struggle against the Raj. Dange, the general secretary of CPI at the time, wrote a letter to the Viceroy, Lord Wavell, pledging the services of the Communist Party in the war effort. The CPI leadership not only isolated itself from the ever-rising tide of the national liberation movement, but also frustrated and disillusioned its own cadres and members.
In this period, while thousands were being hanged, lashed, tortured and imprisoned, leaders and activists of the CPI were being released from prisons. The ban on the party was lifted, and CPI publications started getting funds from the British Colonial government.
Ironically, the first congress of the CPI was held in this period of collaboration with the British in 1943. During this period the party was trying to stop strikes, restrain youth from going on demonstrations and soldiers from deserting. As a result of this betrayal, the mass reaction against the CPI was enormous. It became so severe that CPI offices were attacked. Ranadive, the CPI ideologue of the 1940s and 1950s, confessed: "The voice of the CPI was reaching deaf ears. They had never been so isolated from the masses".
The crucial test for the CPI came during the Second World War. At the outbreak of the war, the Indian communists opposed any support for Britain and France and argued that India's freedom should not be compromised by any deals with the occupying power. Their opposition to the war led to widespread arrests of party leaders on a national, provincial, and local level, but it also brought them closer to the left wing of the Congress.
A minority of party leaders, among them K. Damodaran of Kerala, opposed the thesis developed by Moscow that the war had now been transformed into a 'Peoples War', and accordingly that the duty of communists everywhere was to support the Allied war effort. The CPI fell into line and became a virtual recruiting agent for the British authorities, but those communists who opposed the new line were not released till much later.
In August 1942, when congress launched its 'Quit India' movement, the Viceroy responded by unleashing a new wave of repressive measures. Congress leaders and activists were now being locked in prison cells which had only recently been vacated by CPI inmates. Many decades later Damodaran revealed in an interview how damaging the consequences of the CPI's servile compliance with Stalin's dictate had been:
"There is a view developed by some of the apologists for the 'People's War' line which argues that the CPI gained a lot of support as a consequence of 'swimming against the stream'. I do not subscribe to this view. Of course the party took advantage of the legality granted to it by British imperialism to gain new members and increase its trade-union strength, but the point is that it was swimming against the stream of the mass movement and was to all intents and purposes considered an ally of British Imperialism; it became respectable to be a communist. Many young communists joined the British army to go and 'defend the Soviet Union' in Italy and North Africa. Some of them rapidly shed their 'communism' and stayed in the army even after the war and not to do clandestine work. It is true that the membership of the party increased from about 4,500 in July 1942 to well over 15,500 in May 1943, at the time of the First Party Congress. However, most of these new members had no experience of any militant mass struggle or police repression, but only the peaceful campaign conducted by the party to 'grow more food', 'increase production', 'release national leaders', 'form a national government' and 'defend the Motherland' from a Japanese invasion which never came; strikes were denounced as sabotage. On the other hand, the growth of the Congress and its influence after the 'Quit India' struggle of August 1942 was phenomenal. Millions of men and women, especially the youth, were attracted and radicalized by the struggle, which was considered as a revolution against imperialism they branded the Congress Socialists, and Bose's followers and other radicals who braved arrests and police repression, as fifth columnists and saboteurs. In reality the CPI was isolated from the mainstream of the nationalist movement for the second time within a decade. In my view the party's policy virtually delivered the entire anti-imperialist movement to the Congress and the Indian bourgeoisie on a platter. At the time, if the CPI had adopted a correct position the possibility existed of winning over a sizable and influential section of the Congress to communism: 'On my release from prison I experienced the wrath of the left-wing nationalists who used to chant 'Down with supporters of British imperialism' at our meetings. So swimming against the stream when the stream was flowing in the right direction resulted in drowning the possibility of genuine independence and a socialist transformation. We were outmanoeuvred and outflanked by the Indian bourgeoisie." 8
CPI's position during the war was untenable on all counts. It created a sharp divide between party activists and the base of the nationalist movement.
The CPI thesis on the war brought it closer to the Muslim League.
It was the League's growth that was to provide an opportunity for the CPI to make another major strategic error. Instead of providing its supporters with a trenchant critical analysis of all brands of communal politics and offering an alternative, the CPI, in the words of its theorist Adikhari: "began to see that the so-called communal problem, especially the Hindu-Muslim problem, was really a problem of growing nationalities". It was during the 'People's War' years (1942-5) that the CPI, forced into the same political camp as the Muslim League, first discovered the intricacies of the national question. A resolution, 'Pakistan and national Unity', was passed by the Enlarged Plenum of the Central Committee in September 1942 amidst opportunist politics and theoretical confusion. It took as its starting-point Stalin's insufficient definition of a 'nation', went on to develop a completely false analogy between India and Tsarist Russia, and drew the conclusion that the Muslims constituted a national minority which should be granted the right of self-determination. 9
The CPI leaders failed even to refer to the classical definition of a nation within the Marxist tradition. To have done so would merely have revealed the political distance they had travelled over the years. For Marx and Lenin alike, neither a common language nor a common culture constituted the basis of a bourgeois nation. The latter was a synonym for the modern state. Religion merely expressed the separation of an individual from the community as a whole, and could not constitute the basis for a community.
This was a time when the CPI should have swum against the stream of Muslim communalism; but their approach of 'national unity in the holy defence of our Motherland' against 'pitiless and powerful enemies' (the Japanese) made any application of Marxist politics impossible. The politics being effectively applied became ipso facto the only possible politics. It was only after the conclusion of the war that the CPI altered its position, this time on the urging of R. Palme Dutt, a leader of the British Communist Party. Dutt argued in 1946 that Pakistan was based on Religion and not on nationality. The CPI obligingly changed its position and denounced Pakistan as a plot between British imperialism and 'Muslim bourgeois feudal vested interests'. Many Muslim communists, however, were slow to catch up with this change in line, and found themselves in 1947 still members of the Muslim League, which they had been instructed to enter by the Stalinist leadership in order to help the 'progressive' elements against the landlords.
One of the oldest living 'communists' from Sindh and a former member of the CPI Sobho Gianchandani explained the situation from this turn at the time. In a recent interview comrade Sobho said,
"In 1943 Communist Party switched sides and started supporting the British. The Communist Party all over the world had changed its stance on the war: from being viewed as an imperialist war, it had now become the people's war. A meeting was arranged to sell the new idea to the students. The Communist Party sent Muqeeb-ud-din Farooqi, Sajjad Zaheer and Mian Iftikhar to do the job.
Addressing the students, Farooqi, the secretary of the Communist Party of Delhi, a gentleman from Delhi University, told the students not to feel betrayed and that the world was changing and, they [the Communist Party] with it. The Sindhi comrades, who had grown up in revolutionary times, were shocked at hearing that they were being asked to support the British.
While the leadership of the Indian Communist Party abided by this reversal, they were unable to convince some of the students of the wisdom of their choice. I came to the conclusion that when thousands of students were prepared to go to jail, I couldn't back out, so I resolved to join them against the British". 10
Defiance and Revolution
In the 1940s, a revolutionary blizzard swept across Asia and the world. In India, 1946 was the year of revolution. It began with a mass movement that forced the British rulers to release the leaders of INA (Indian National Army) who were imprisoned in Indian jails facing charges of treason. The massive popularity of INA at that timed revealed that the masses had no sympathy for the non-violence and passivity of Congress. After the Second World War, there was enormous ferment and tumult in the British army. The British soldiers and young officers, exhausted from the war, led widespread revolts from Hong Kong to Egypt. At the same time, the mass upsurge was unstoppable and gained momentum day by day. In the countryside, the sleepy hamlets and small towns had been awakened by these winds of change and the end of imperialist rule was in sight.
On 1 March 1946 a soldier's revolt occurred in the military barracks at Jabalpur, and on 18 March the Gurkha Sepoys deployed at Deradoon revolted against the regime. The unrest among the Indian officers manifested itself in many incidents in the army and the air force.
One of the most spectacular episodes of the revolt against the British Raj was the uprising of the sailors of the British Indian Navy in 1946. On 18 February the sailors of the British Indian Navy battleship HMS Talwaar, posted to the Bombay harbour, went on strike in protest against the bad food and poor conditions.
Although at first it was a peaceful hunger strike, signs of an imminent and much bigger rebellion against the British rulers were evident. On 19 February, the sailors announced the strike to the naval personnel stationed in the fortress and to those in the naval barracks. They took over the naval trucks, boarded them, hoisted Red Flags and started patrolling the city of Bombay. They invited the masses of the city to join in the struggle they had started. As a result, anti-British imperialist sentiments started to spread like wildfire throughout the region.
On the evening of 19 February 1946 increasing numbers of naval personnel joined this revolt. The Union Jacks on most of the ships of the Royal Indian Navy in the Bombay harbour were torn down, and the rebel sailors hoisted Red Flags along with the flags of the political parties involved in the struggle for independence.
Within 48 hours, the British imperialists were faced with the largest ever revolt of their naval units. The message of this rebellion started to spread by word of mouth and then over the radio (the radio station had been taken over by the rebels) to military garrisons and barracks across India. Some of the sailors' leaders broadcast the message of the uprising, as well as revolutionary songs and poetry, round the clock. The revolt spread to 74 ships, 20 fleets and 22 units of the navy along the coast. These naval stations included Bombay, Calcutta, Karachi, Madras, Cochin and Vishakapatam. On 20 February only ten ships and two naval stations were not in complete revolt.
In the beginning, this revolt was considered to be spontaneous, but that is not completely true. On the evening of 19 February, a strike committee was formally set up. Signalman M S Khan and petty officer telegraph operator Madan Singh unanimously were elected president and vice president of the committee. Both of them were under the age of 25 years. One was a Muslim and the other a Sikh: this was a conscious act to reject the religious divide being fed into the liberation movement by the native bourgeois leaders and their British masters.
Apart from the other tasks on the strike committee agenda, it was also agreed to involve the political parties in this movement and to gain their support. The CPI lost the leadership of the independence movement because of its disastrous policy of supporting the British imperialists. At that time, the Indian bourgeoisie and their leaders were negotiating a settlement with the British. They were as hostile as the British to any revolutionary upsurge at this delicate juncture in the history of the subcontinent.
Gandhi outrightly condemned the uprising of the sailors, while the CPI leaders even lost the opportunity to link this naval revolt with the strikes taking place in the textile industry, on the railways, and in other industrial sectors throughout India. Likewise, leaders like Subhash Chandra Bose were unable to connect this movement with the revolts taking place in the British Indian army. Chandra had gone too far in launching the Indian National Army to fight British forces under the auspices of the reactionary Japanese regime!
Congress and the Muslim League were afraid that revolutionary and class struggle ideas would penetrate into the movement they had done so much to tear apart along religious lines. In spite of this betrayal and the contemptuous attitude of the national bourgeois leaders, the revolutionary momentum of the uprising continued unabated, and the whole country was filled with the echoes of the slogan "long live the revolution!"
The passions and sentiments of these slogans resonated throughout the whole of Bombay. One of the poets of the era, Josh Malihabadi, wrote enthralling verses like:
"My task is my growth; my name is martyr. My slogan is revolution, revolution, revolution."
On 21 February, British shock troops opened fire on the sailors as they came out of their barracks in the Bombay fortress. This provocation changed a peaceful uprising into an armed rebellion. Armed clashes occurred between the British elite troops and the rebellious sailors throughout the day. On the first day, one death was reported in Bombay, but on the second day 14 sailors were martyred in Karachi. The industrial workers who had joined the revolt with the sailors were subjected to brutal attacks by the British forces.
On 22 and 23 February 25 sailors and workers were martyred by the imperialist forces. According to some eyewitness accounts, on 21 February, it seemed that the oppressed masses of the whole subcontinent had risen up in a revolutionary movement against British rule. In these events, the revolutionary strike committee had shifted its command to the Narba fleet. The sailors now aimed the barrels of their guns at ships and targeted British Naval installations and command centres on the coast. Sirens were sounded from all ship decks. The sailors announced through loud speakers that they would destroy the British military bases and installations to defend their comrades in the cities and in the harbour if the British dared to attack.
The British government in London was in shock. The British Labour Prime Minister, Clement Atlee, ordered the uprising to be crushed. The commander of the British Indian Navy, Admiral Godfrey, ordered the rebellious sailors to "surrender or perish". One of the stalwarts of the Indian National Congress, Sardar Vallabhbai Patel, openly came out on the side of the British, denouncing the uprising and supported the imperialists' ultimatum. In this uprising, the national leadership of India, both Hindu and Muslim, became allies of the British imperialists. This exposed their real class character and their collaborationist role in the saga of transition from British to native rule after independence.
Meanwhile, British fighter aircraft were carrying out sorties over the rebellious fleet. In such conditions, Sardar Patel made the following infamous statement:
"Only a small band of insolent, hot headed and insane youngsters are trying to get involved in politics through these acts, when they have nothing to do with politics." 11
Isolated, desperate, and disillusioned by the treacherous role and attitude of the national leadership towards the uprising, M S Khan proposed surrender to the strike committee. The 36-member committee, however, rejected this plea. Several tense hours passed. The mainstream national leadership intensified its efforts to isolate the naval uprising from the mass movement for independence that was surging across the subcontinent. Demoralisation started to set in among the members of the strike committee.
Another session of the committee started in the early hours of 24 February on HMS Talwaar. By now it was evident that surrender was the only option. At 0600 hours on 24 February 1946 black flags were raised to announce surrender. In its last session the strike committee passed a resolution which became the last message of the revolutionary sailors to the toiling masses of the South Asian subcontinent. The resolution stated:
"Our uprising was an important historical event in the lives of our people. For the first time the blood of uniformed and non-uniformed workers flowed in one current for the same collective cause. We, the workers in uniform, shall never forget this. We also know that you, our proletarian brothers and sisters shall also never forget this. The coming generations, learning its lessons, shall accomplish what we have not been able to achieve. Long live the working masses. Long live the Revolution." 12
After the Revolt
After the surrender most leaders and activists of this uprising were prosecuted, imprisoned and executed in spite of their surrender. On 15 March the rebellious sailors of the Royal Indian Navy who were still imprisoned started a hunger strike. The nationalist bourgeois leaders refused to raise any protest. The nationalist parties, masquerading as upholders of independence, also made no protest.
In the early 1980's there emerged in India a school of history that goes by the name of Subaltern Studies. Inspired by the writings of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, these historians denounced both the Cambridge and the nationalist schools since both assumed that nationalism was a product of elite action and had no place in it for the independent political actions of the subaltern classes (rural peasants or urban workers). The documents aim was to highlight the actions of the men and women from the subaltern classes, and their remarkable resilience against the British between November 1945 and February 1946.
The display of Hindu-Muslim unity, students and workers protests against the trial of prisoners of the Indian National Army (INA), and the heroic strike of the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) from February 18 to 23, were marked by massive solidarity actions in Calcutta, Bombay and Karachi. Order in Bombay city could be restored only after the killing of 228 civilians, while 1,046 were injured in the aftermath of the mutiny. The RIN Mutiny shook the Raj to its very foundations, and it was probably no coincidence that the British Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, announced on February 19 1946 the decision to send a Cabinet Mission to India. This event was the single most contributory factor in hastening the process of independence.
The mutiny was the culmination of the erosion of imperial authority, but curiously this incredible feat has been erased from history. After Independence, many of the RIN Muslim mutineers came to Pakistan in search of a new identity, but their hopes were shattered as they were not considered suitable for re-employment in the then Royal Pakistan Navy (RPN). The fate of their counterparts in India was no different. Nonetheless, in 1973, the government of India accorded official recognition to the ex- personnel of RIN who participated in the mutiny, and granted them freedom fighters' pension.
How surprising that the official history, both in India and Pakistan, has seldom commemorated the RIN Mutiny no doubt the attitude of the Congress and Muslim League leadership had been lukewarm if not hostile. The treatment meted out to the mutineers by Congress and Muslim League leadership. S. K. Patil and Chundrigar, presidents of Congress and Muslim League respectively displayed a rare unanimity in 'offering the help of volunteers to assist the police'. Patel argued that 'discipline in the army cannot be tampered with, we will want an army even in free India'.
"Even Gandhi thought that the sailors had set 'a bad and unbecoming example for India. A combination of Hindus, Muslims and others for the purpose of violent action is unholy.' Jinnah told the RIN men: 'If they would adopt constitutional, lawful and peaceful methods and apprise him fully of what will satisfy them, he would assure that their just grievances are redressed'". 13
Interestingly, Aruna Asaf Ali disagreed with Gandhi and said in a rejoinder, 'it would be far easier to unite Hindus and the Muslims at the barricade than on the constitutional front'. Sarkar supports this view and notes that 'if the British had been forced to give up tentative plans for holding onto political power, the logically opposite scenario of radical united mass actions forcing an unqualified imperial retreat also did not materialise.'
The documents, particularly those related to Captain Abdul Rashid Day (14 Punjab Regiment) disturbances and the RIN strike, vividly illustrate the 'restraining role' of the national leadership. Political parties had opposed the disturbances for the very good reason that they were about to assume power and had no wish to inherit rebellious and undisciplined armed forces. In this volume excerpts from the statements of the top leadership of both the Congress and Muslim League have been kept minimal, as they are easily accessible and highlighted in various other documents.
These documents, probably for the first time, provide a unique insight and rare glimpses into the labour and peasants' movements. The year 1946 witnessed remarkable and unprecedented labour unrest, and it also saw the beginning of several powerful movements. This volume contains 250 documents pertaining to labour and kissan affairs, extracted from various sources and some private papers. One is amazed to note the range of participation which extended from sweepers, miners and railway workers, to white-collar post office and bank employees, as well as the military establishments. Railway and postal workers all over India were on strike and a mob of 80,000 stormed ration centres in Allahabad. These strikes were ruthlessly suppressed at the time.
The documents illustrate the central role of the communists in the labour movements in 1946. However, documents relating to the peasant movements have a somewhat distinct time frame and character. Apart from some scattered items from Punjab, the United Provinces and Bihar, the bulk of the documents refer to the Tanjore, Ramnad and Malabar regions, the agitation of the Warli tribals in Bombay, and the beginnings of the Tebhaga movement by sharecroppers in Bengal demanding a two-third share of the crop, instead of one-half, from rich farmers.
At this point the author notes that 'communist predominance in all these movements was even clearer than in the case of labour, and once again left-led agitations emerged as a potential, never fully-realised, and yet memorable and moving alternative to Stalinist leaders.'
Nevertheless, 'the nationalist leadership's choice of the path of compromise, and the eventual acceptance of Partition as a necessary price' was made at the cost of millions of displaced people and innumerable sacrifices.
This episode stands out, however, as one of the greatest chapters in the history of the struggle for independence from British rule. Although the uprising was defeated, the movement showed the British what lay ahead. As a direct result of this uprising, the British Prime Minister, Clement Atlee, announced that the British would leave India before June 1948. Such was the blow inflicted on the confidence of the British rulers that they were forced to beat a retreat. The British, in connivance with the native bourgeois leaders, hastened the process of Partition along ethnic and religious lines. After this episode they were determined not to leave the subcontinent united in any form whatsoevereither as a confederation or with any political superstructure they may have envisaged before these revolutionary events. The British policy of divide and rule thus came into play.
The details of this glorious uprising remain unrecorded both in India and Pakistan, just as several similar events and great episodes have yet to see the light of day. Rising generations of youth and workers have the task of carrying out the message and aspirations of the sailors' strike committee of the February 1946 uprising.
The mass upsurge jolted the CPI leaders and the impact of the uprising was enormous. The leadership was under pressure to do something; there was enormous ferment within party ranks, full-timers, and the youth. The CPI called a general strike in Bombay, which paralysed the city. When the armed personal carriers were sent to crush the protest the workers put up barricades to stop their advance, and street battles broke out throughout the city. In three days, more than 400 people were killed and hundreds were injured in clashes with the state forces.
On 19 March, a strike wave penetrated the police force throughout the major centres of the country. At Allahabad, the police went on a hunger strike. The Delhi police joined them on 22 March. On April 3, 10,000 police personnel in Bihar joined the strike movement. Soon the workers also joined this mass wave of strikes. On 2 May 1946, the workers of the North Western Railway went on strike, then, on July 11th, more than 100,000 postal workers started an all-India strike. Industrial workers across the subcontinent joined the movement with massive strike action. The whole of India was engulfed in these mass uprisings, revolts and strikes. The British were losing control over the armed forces. The first to come to the rescue of the imperialist Raj were the political leaders of all religions.
This revolutionary outburst spread alarm throughout the Congress leadership; the president of Congress between 1939 and 1946, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, thought that it was not the appropriate time for direct action: "we must watch the course of events and carry on negotiations with the British Government".
"(...) what has happened clearly demonstrated how anti-social elements in a vast city like Bombay exploited a situation. Our freedom is near at hand today. We have all the virtues for winning our freedom, but I confess we lack discipline, which is essential in a free country." 14
In February 1946 outbreaks occurred in Calcutta and Madras. A serious uprising at Karachi was suppressed with considerable loss of life, and many casualties occurred among the revolutionary sailors and soldiers. In a telegram to Whitehall, London, Auchinleck said: "...if you don't grant them independence in three days they will take it by force". India's chief of staff, General Lord Ismay, who had been Winston Churchill's chief of staff from 1940 to 1945 and a veteran of the subcontinent in the British Indian army, stated: "India was a ship on fire in mid-ocean with ammunition in her hold." The question he asked Lord Mountbatten was whether they could get the fire out before it reached the ammunition? Because of the revolutionary ferment throughout the subcontinent, it was obvious that the British imperialists would not be able to leave behind a united India. India had to be divided. Again, during the movement of 1946, Hindu and Muslim soldiers fought shoulder to shoulder. More than half of the armed forces personnel were Muslims. Rejecting sectarianism, Muslim soldiers, navy sailors and air force personnel fought alongside their Hindu brothers. Muslim and Hindu workers jointly set up barricades during the Bombay strike. In Calcutta and other cities, Hindus and Muslims launched a united movement and demonstrations for the release of the INA personnel of all faiths. The Red Flag was the symbol of the mass uprisings that had spread throughout the subcontinent. Although the leadership wavered, thousands of CPI workers and young full-timers were burning with the desire to march on the road of socialist revolution.
The condition and frustration of the CPI activists and young full-timers is portrayed in some of the literary writings of that period. The liberal novelist and literary critic Khushwant Singh, in his famous novel on Partition, Train to Pakistan, described the state of mind of CPI full-timer Iqbal Singh, who had been sent from an advanced urban locality to the hamlet of Manomarja near the new Indo-Pak border:
"Lying on a cot in the courtyard of the village Sikh Temple, gazing at the stars he thought: 'Everyone, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Congressite, Leaguer, Akali or communist was deep in it. All that was needed was to divert the kill and grab instinct from communal channels and turn it against the propertied classes. That was the proletarian revolution, the easy way.' To his anguish, the party bosses would not see it in this light."15
A workers' movement on a class basis and a proletarian revolution was the only way out of the communal frenzy unleashed by the Partition. The ingredients of a proletarian revolution were there, but they lacked leadership; when the custodians of the proletariat err in such times, generations have to suffer.
A revolutionary or a pre-revolutionary situation does not last forever. Mass movements and uprisings move in ebbs and flows. Once a movement ebbs, the reaction in society comes to the fore.
As the movement ebbed in the subcontinent and the revolution was betrayed, the impoverished masses suffered the consequences. With the exit of the CPI from the leadership of the national liberation movement, the political representatives of the Indian bourgeoisie took over.
If the truth be told, the Indian bourgeoisie never fought a freedom struggle. They actually negotiated and bargained the struggle of the masses with the British rulers. They wanted direct rule in their own hands. The British could not hold on to power. As the movement surged ahead, mass revolts and desertions occurred in the British armies.
Winston Churchill and his Conservative Party faced a humiliating defeat in the first post-war elections in Britain; anti-war sentiment had had a strong impact on the electorate. On 26 July 1945 the results of the British national elections were announced. Labour, under the leadership of Clement Attlee, won a sweeping victory, winning 388 seats in the British Parliament. The British government now had no choice but to quit India.
The Labour administration, in spite of its reformist posture, was as committed as the Tories to the continuation of capitalist rule in what would become the former colonies of the Empire.
Attlee's choice of Lord Mountbatten (a grandson of Queen Victoria) as India's last Viceroy made it clear that the Labour government would continue with the same policies as its Tory predecessors.
The British Empire and its political representatives had no fixed plan for how to leave India. Like all rulers, on one hand, they were afraid of a revolution, and on the other, they wanted to avoid anarchy. Both outcomes would have hindered and disrupted the profit system and endangered the properties and assets of the ruling elites. They therefore tried to effect a peaceful transition. They sent several missions from Whitehall to develop a feasible plan that would ensure the continuation of the capitalist rule and imperialist plunder. One of these missions was the Cabinet Mission sent to India in 1946.
The Cabinet Mission Plan
The Cabinet Mission arrived in India in early May and on 16 May the 'Cabinet Mission Plan' was published: the central government would be responsible solely for defence, foreign affairs and communications. It divided the subcontinent into three zones: A, B and C. Section B would include Punjab, Sindh, NWFP (North Western Frontier Province) and British Baluchistan. A majority of Muslims would be in this area. In section C, which included Bengal and Assam, the Muslims would have a small majority. It was thought that this arrangement would give assurance to the Muslim minority and satisfy all the legitimate fears of the Muslim League. At first, Jinnah was opposed completely to the scheme; the Muslim League had gone so far in its demand for a separate independent state that it was difficult for it to retract its stance. Azad, president of Congress, was in favour of accepting the proposal. The Muslim League council deliberated for three days before coming to a decision. On the final day, Jinnah seemed to favour acceptance of the plan. He told the council that the scheme was the best that they could hope for and, as such, he advised the Muslim League to accept it. The council voted unanimously in its favour. This in reality meant a retreat from Partition. The acceptance of the Cabinet Mission plan, both by Congress and the Muslim League, was an important event in the history of the liberation movement of India.
On 26 April 1946 Azad issued a statement that proposed Nehru's name for the coveted post of Congress President and appealed to Congress that they should elect him unanimously.
Nehru was accepted unanimously. The Muslim League Council had accepted the Cabinet Mission plan, as had the Congress working committee. However, it needed the approval of the All India Congress Committee (AICC). It was thought that this would be a formality as the AICC always had ratified the decisions of the working committee. Accordingly, a meeting of the AICC was called at Bombay on 7 July 1946. After an intense debate, a vote was taken, and a resolution of acceptance was passed with an overwhelming majority. On 10 July 1946 however, Nehru held a press conference in Bombay in which he made an astonishing statement. Some press representatives asked him whether the passing of the resolution meant the AICC Congress accepted the plan in total, including the composition of the interim Government. Jawaharlal Nehru in reply stated that Congress would enter the constituent assembly: "completely unfettered by agreements and free to meet all situations as they arise". In reply to another question, Nehru said emphatically that Congress had agreed only to participate in the constituent Assembly and regarded itself free to change or modify the Cabinet Mission plan as it thought best.
This change of heart on Nehru's part made it impossible to avoid Partition on a bourgeois basis forever. This sudden turn by Nehru exposed the narrow-mindedness of the Indian bourgeoisie and the secretive forces that were working behind the scenes, bent on partitioning the subcontinent. Obviously those forces were afraid that in an undivided India, the threat of class struggle and revolutionary upheavals against capitalism and imperialist domination would remain very much alive and vibrant. The extent to which Lady Edwina played a role in coaxing Nehru into this remains a secret of history. Now this love affair has been exposed in Alex von Tunzelman's book Indian Summer, published in 2007. Cate Blanchett plays Edwina Mountbatten in the film on this book to be released in 2009.
The Muslim League had only accepted the Cabinet Mission plan under duress. Naturally, Jinnah was not very happy about it. In his speech to the League council, he had clearly stated that he recommended acceptance only because nothing better could be obtained. His political adversaries started to criticise him by saying that he had failed to deliver his promises. They accused him of having given up the idea of an independent Islamic state.
Nehru's statement had been a complete surprise and Jinnah immediately demanded a complete review of the whole situation, asking Liaquat Ali Khan to call a meeting of the League Council to discuss this demand. Now that the Congress president had declared that Congress could change the scheme through its majority in the constituent Assembly, this left the minorities at the mercy of the majority. Jinnah felt that Nehru's declaration meant that Congress had rejected the Cabinet Mission Plan and that, because of this, the Viceroy should call upon the Muslim League, which had accepted the plan, to form the government.
Jinnah was a man of towering vanity and he took Congress's action as a personal rebuke. The former apostle of HinduMuslim unity became the unyielding advocate of Pakistan.
Collins and Lapierre describe Jinnah in "Freedom at Midnight",
"A more improbable leader of India's Muslim masses could hardly be imagined. The only thing Muslim about Mohammed Ali Jinnah was his parents' religion. He drank, ate pork, religiously shaved his beard each morning and just as religiously avoided the mosque each Friday. God and the Koran had no place in Jinnah's vision of the world; his political foe, Gandhi, knew more verses of the Muslim Holy Book than he did. Jinnah had been able to achieve the remarkable feat of securing the allegiance of the vast majority of India's Muslims without being able to articulate more than a few sentences in their traditional tongue, Urdu".16
Jinnah had only scorn for his Hindu rivals. He labelled Nehru a Peter Pan, a "literary figure" who "should have been an English professor, not a politician", "an arrogant Brahmin who covers his Hindu trickiness under a veneer of Western education". Gandhi, to Jinnah, was "a cunning fox", "a Hindu revivalist." Jinnah never forgot the sight of the Mahatma in his mansion, stretched out on one of his priceless Persian carpets with his mudpack on his belly.
On 27 July 1946 the Muslim League Council met in Bombay. Jinnah in his opening speech reiterated the demand for Pakistan as the only course open to the Muslim League. After three days' discussion, the Council passed the resolution rejecting the Cabinet Mission Plan. It decided to resort to direct action for the achievement of Pakistan.
Azad and several leading members of Congress were perturbed by this new development. The Congress working committee met on 8 August 1946 and Azad pointed out that if they wanted to save the situation they must make it clear that the statement of Congress at the Bombay press conference was Nehru's personal opinion, and did not conform to the decisions of Congress. Nehru responded that it would be embarrassing to Congress, and to him personally, if the working committee passed a resolution maintaining that the statement of the Congress President did not represent the policy of Congress.
Commenting on these events, Azad, in his book India Wins Freedom dedicated to "Jawaharlal Nehru, friend and comrade", attributed the tragedy as follows:
"This was one of the greatest tragedies of the Indian History and I have to say with the deepest regret that a large part of the responsibility for this development rests with Jawaharlal. His unfortunate statement that Congress would be free to modify the Cabinet Mission Plan reopened the whole question of political and communal settlement. Mr. Jinnah took full advantage of his [Nehru's] mistake and withdrew from the League's early acceptance of the Plan."17
Nehru, again according to Azad:
"Within a month of Mountbatten's arrival in India, Jawaharlal, the firm opponent of Partition had become, if not a supporter at least acquiescent to the idea. I have wondered how Jawaharlal was won over by Lord Mountbatten. He is a man of principle but he is also impulsive and amenable to personal influences. I think one factor responsible for the change was the personality of Lady [Edwina] Mountbatten. She is not only extremely intelligent but has a most attractive and friendly temperament."18
In his book Azad had this to say about Gandhi:
"But when I met Gandhi again, I had the greatest shock of my life to find that he had changed. He was still not openly in favour of Partition but he no longer spoke so vehemently against it. What surprised and shocked me even more was that he began to repeat the arguments which Sardar Patel had already used. For over two hours I pleaded with him, but could make no impression on him."19
In the same book he describes the role of Patel: "It would not perhaps be unfair to say that Vallahbhai Patel was the founder of Indian Partition."
"I was surprised when Patel said that, whether we liked it or not, there were two nations in India. He was now convinced that Muslims and Hindus could not be united into one nation. It was better to have one clean fight and then separate, than have bickering everyday. I was surprised that Patel was now an even greater supporter of the two-nation theory than Jinnah. Jinnah may have raised the flag of Partition, but now the real flag bearer was Patel".20
The AICC met on 14 June 1947. Congress, which had always "fought for the unity and independence" of India, was considering an official resolution for dividing the country.
Gandhi intervened in the debate, appealing to the members to support the Congress Working Committee by accepting the resolution moved by Pundit Pant. When the resolution was put to the vote, only 29 voted for Partition while 15 voted against.
Even Gandhi could not persuade more members to vote for the Partition of the country!
In the meeting of AICC, the members from Sindh vehemently opposed the resolution. They were given all kinds of assurances. In private discussions they were told that if they suffered any disability or indignity in Pakistan, India would retaliate on the Muslims in India. This implied that both in India and Pakistan, hostages would be held responsible for the security of the minority community in the other State. This was a barbarous idea and could only escalate racial tensions.
Slaughter of the innocents (The aftermath of Partition)
Acharya Kripalani, who was president of Congress at this time, realised the danger of these implications and understood that once such a feeling was allowed to grow, it could only lead to oppression and the murder of Hindus in Pakistan and Muslims in India. The rivers of blood, which flowed after Partition on both sides of the new frontier, had their origins in this concept of hostage and retaliation.
It was decided that the Indian Dominion would come into existence on 15th of August 1947. The Muslim League decided that Pakistan should be constituted a day earlier on 14th of August.
On 14th of August Lord Mountbatten went to Karachi to inaugurate the Dominion of Pakistan. He returned the next day, and at midnight on 15 August 1947 the Indian Dominion was born. Once again, according to Azad: "If a united India had become free, there was little chance that the British could retain her position in the economic and industrial life of India".21
The two new states were born amidst slaughter and bloodshed. Thousands of years of religious, ethnic and communal harmony was shattered in a matter of days as families were uprooted from their ancestral towns and villages; whole trainloads of people were killed in the carnage. The dawn of 14th of August 1947 had turned red, not with revolution, but with the blood of millions of innocent oppressed people. Blood spilled by the reactionary madness of religious bigotry. The magnitude of the carnage stunned even those who had been the main advocates of Partition.
The most brutalised regions were Punjab and Bengal. The irony is that the first two papers of the Communist Party of India came out in Punjabi, Kirti (Worker) from Amritsar and in Bengali, Langal (Plough) from Calcutta. Yet the workers and peasants of Bengal and Punjab suffered the biggest massacre of Partition. The stiletto of Partition drenched in the poison of communal hatred had pierced two nationalities right through the heart.
Between August and September 1947, Punjab was a living hell. This was a cataclysm without precedent, unforeseen in magnitude, unordered in pattern, and unreasoned in its savagery.
Collins and Lapierre narrate the episode in Freedom at Midnight as follows:
"The gutters of Lahore were running red with blood. The beautiful Paris of the Orient was a vista of desolation and destruction... In nearby Amritsar, broad sections of the city, its Muslim sections, were nothing but heaps of brick and debris, twisting curls of smoke drifting above them into the sky, vultures keeping their vigil on their shattered walls, the pungent aroma of decomposing corpses permeating the ruins. Everywhere the face of the Punjab was disfigured by similar scenes."22
Robert Trumbull, a veteran correspondent of the New York Times wrote in the issue of 12 September 1947:
"Death by shooting is more merciful than to be beaten to death with clubs and stones and left to die, their death agony intensified by heat and flies.
Horror had no race, and the terrible anguish of those August days in the Punjab was meted out with almost biblical balance... an eye for an eye, massacre for massacre, rape for rape, blind cruelty for blind cruelty.
For tens of thousands the trains became rolling coffins. Like a ship's prow cutting through a heavy sea, the train rolled through the mass of scrambling humans choking the platforms, crushing to a pulp of blood and bone the hapless few inevitably pushed across its path. In a concert of tears and shrieks, the crowd would throw itself on the doors and windows of each wagon. There were periods of four and five days at a stretch during which not a single train reached Lahore or Amritsar without its complement of dead and wounded. Along the roads, the refugees plodded dumbly forward, eyes and throats raw with dust, feet bruised by stones or searing asphalt, tortured by hunger and thirst, enrobed in a stench of sweat, urine, and defecation." 23
These Hindu, Muslims and Sikhs were innocent illiterate peasants whose only life had been the fields they worked. Most of them did not know who a viceroy was, were indifferent to Congress Party and the Muslim League, and had never bothered with issues like Partition or boundary lines. They were unaware of the freedom in whose name they had been plunged into despair.
Their haggard faces turned to the blazing sky to beg Allah, Shiva, the guru Nanak, for the monsoon that refused to come. The human debris left behind was gruesome. The forty-five miles of roadside from Lahore to Amritsar became a long, open graveyard.
As in every conflict since the dawn of history, the tragedies and atrocities of Partition were accompanied by an outpouring of sexual savagery and rape. The Sikh's tenth guru specifically instructed his followers against sexual intercourse with Muslim women in an attempt to prevent what happened in the Punjab. The Sikhs ignored the guru's admonishment and gave free rein to their fantasies, falling upon Muslim women everywhere; this resulted in the legend that Muslim women were capable of particular sexual prowess. During Partition the rulers of India and Pakistan were more concerned about the division of assets than the agonies of the Hindu, Muslim and the Sikh masses. In terms of the distribution of armies, assets and wealth, they exhibited meanness and greed.
Each dominion was extremely interested in owning the gaudiest symbols of the imperial power which had ruled them for so long.
Partition was a wound inflicted upon the living body of one of the oldest civilisations on earth. A civilisation that was rich in art, architecture, music, literature and other forms of human culture... its cultural diversity was its greatest beauty. The pain still remains and has left an indelible scar upon millions of people. Partition was one of the most counter-revolutionary events in recent history. More than half a century later, one question is asked throughout the subcontinent can Partition be undone? The famous Punjabi poet Ustad Daman summed up the agony of the people on both sides of the Frontier in the verses below.
Devastated through these Freedoms
Are you and so are we;
The redness of the eyes is telling
Wept you have, a lot
And weeping we have been too!
(Translated from Punjabi)
Barbaaad Ainah Azadian Toon
Hoey Tusee ve Ao
Hoey Ase vee Aaan
Akhiaan di laali pai dasdi Ae
Roaey Tusee vee Ao
Roaey Asee vee aan
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1 Published in the “New York Daily Tribune” No. 3840 of 8th August 18532. Freedom at Midnight, p. 58
2 Trotsky writings 1939, p. 169
3 Times of India, 16 January 1948
4 Partition can it be undone? Lal Khan, pp 26, Indian Edition published by Aakar
5 Books 2001
6 Sir John Cumming (ed.), Political India, Oxford, 1932
7 P. Hardy, The Muslims of British India, Cambridge, 1972
8 K. Damodaran, 'Memoirs of Indian Communism', New Left Review no. 93, London,
10 Pakistan and National Unity, Bombay, 1944
11 Newsline (Karachi), October 2008, p.82
12 Mazdoor Morcha, Faridabad, July 1978
13 ibid. p.12
14 Lal Khan, Partition Can it be undone p. 57
15 Azad, India wins Freedom, p. 61
16 p. 50, paper back Edition TB1 1989
17 p. 127
18 p. 170, (Orient Longman Edition) 1988
19 Ibid. p. 198
20 ibid. P. 203
21 ibid. p. 201
22 pp. 224, 209
23 pp. 359, 360