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Role of Communists in the Indian Independence Struggle

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Abstract: My article does not present by any means, an exhaustive account of the contributions of countless communist freedom fighters that were part of the freedom struggle and have sacrificed their lives in Indian independence struggle. Of course specifically I intend to refute the continuous slander about the role of the communist in the freedom struggle. It is a fact that official interpretations of the history of India’s freedom often ignore the various ideological dreams especially the communists that coalesced into a mighty freedom. My attempt is to focus such records. I hope that this paper will be of use to the new post-independent Indian generations who are continuously subjected to distortions of our history. Distortion of history is a necessary pre-requisite to further a fascistic agenda. It is precisely this that some organisations seek to do with our country’s history.

Key Words: coalesced, institutional ambit of congress, socialist ideal, Meerut conspiracy, Gandhi-Irwin Pact, Anti Simon agitation, Purna Swaraj.

It would be wrong to say that the Indian independence struggle was characterised only by Gandhian nationalism. On the other hand there was a whole range of protest politics that operated outside the institutional ambit of congress. The revolutionary nationalism, working class, peasant outbreaks, and tribal revolt-groups that were continuously strengthen mainstream congress nationalism. The communist party of India played a significant role in keeping alive this protest policies and linking it to the main nationalist stream. It is however said to note that the official interpretations of the history of India’s freedom often ignore these protest groups that coalesced into a mighty freedom movement. As far as the communists are concerned this record needs to be focused. More importantly it is also needed to provide clarifications as regards to continuous slander about the role of communists in the freedom struggle. Such propaganda against communist and their role in the freedom movement are running completely contrary to facts. It would be suffice to note the address of the then president of India, Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma, regarding the role of the communist during the Quit India Movement. Addressing the midnight session of thewww.independentsentinel.comparliament Dr. Sharma said, “After large-scale strikes in mills in Kanpur, Jamshedpur and Ahmedabad, a despatch from Delhi dented 5th September 1942, to the secretary of the state in London, reported about the communist party of India: “the behaviour of many of its members proves what has always been clear, namely, that it is composed of anti-British revolutionaries.” Need anything further be said? An elected president of independent India, speaking at the official celebration in the Indian Parliament himself sets the record straight by establishing that the communist were always anti-British Revolutionaries.

The communists inherit a legacy of contribution to the freedom struggle. In every corner of the country, communists played an important role in galvanizing people’s struggle against British colonialism. The communists through the decades of the 1920s and 30s were active within the congress for strengthening the freedom movement. The propaganda against communist and their role in the freedom movement is completely contrary to facts. Such propaganda often comes from those quarters whose contribution to the freedom struggle has either been negligible or counterproductive. It, in fact, comes from those who provided the ideological inspiration den for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. However the role of these organisations during India’s freedom struggle is an open secret. The Bombay home department during the 1942 Quit India Movement observed: “the same organisation has scrupulously kept itself within the law and in particular has restrained from taking part in the disturbances that broke out in August 1942.”Even its leading leader, once raised the question, “why did the group not take part in the liberation struggle as an organisation?” It is needless to say that throughout the national movement, the so called organisation always collaborated with the princely states that stood in firm opposition to the freedom struggle. One of their closest allies was Raja Hari Singh of Kashmir who was reluctant to join India. Further one of the heavy weight leaders of the same organisation had in a letter dated 14 November, 1913 from the Andaman’s cellular jail, openly begged the British to set him free. It has recently been shown that on many occasions earlier and later, like in this letter, which is today a public document, the same leader had with servility said: “I am ready to serve the British Govt. in any capacity they like, for as my conversion is conscientious so I hope my future conduct would.” It has now been proved that the same leader had sent many other letters to the British displaying his complete surrender and submission to the British. In complete contradiction is the record of scores of revolutionaries who served their full term in the inhuman cellular jail and subsequently became respected leaders of the communist movement, such as Harekrishna Konar, Satish Pakrashi, Ganesh Ghose, Subodh Roy, Loknath Bali, Ananta Singh, Subodh Chowdury, Phani Nandi, Haripanda Bhattacharya, Ananda Gupta and many others.

The communist party of India was formed at important historical juncture when in the context of the frustration of extremist politics, the failure of the Khilafat movement and growing discontent of the working class and peasantry, there was a search for a new ideology and leadership. Attracted by the Soviet Union and its revolutionary commitment, a large number of Indian revolutionaries and abroad made their way to form a party. The most well-known and the tallest of them was M.N. Roy who along with Lenin, helped evolve the communist international policy towards the colonies. Seven such Indians headed by Roy, met at Tashkent in October 1920 and set up a communist party of India. There after the four communist groups were established in Calcutta, Bombay, Madras and Lahore. Initially they worked for nationalism. These groups came together at Kanpur in December 1925 and founded an all India organisation under the name of communist party of India. After some times, V.S. Ghate emerged as the general secretary of the party. The communist party called upon all its members to enrol themselves as members of the congress, form a left wing in all its organs, cooperate with all other radical nationalists and make an effort to transform the congress into a more radical mass-based organisation. The main form of political work by the early communists was to organise peasants and workers party and work through them. The first such organisation was the labour-swaraj party of the Indian national congress organised by Muzaffar Ahmed, Quazi Nazrul Islam, and Hemant Sarkar in Bengal in November 1925. In late 1926, a congress labour party was formed in Bombay and a kirti-kisan party in Punjab. By 1928 all of these provincial organisations had been renamed the workers and peasants party (WPP) and knit into an all India party. All the communists were the members of this party. The WPP grew rapidly and within a short period the communists influenced in the congress began. The left forces and the WPP played an important role in creating a strong left wing within the congress and in giving the Indian national movement a left-ward direction.

Jawaharlal Nehru, the greatest Indian freedom fighter was even influenced by the communists and anti-colonial fighters. It was Nehru who imparted a socialist vision to the national movement. In December 1933 he wrote, “The true civic ideal is the socialist ideal, the communist ideal.” By 1929 the British Govt. was deeply worried about the rapidly growing communist influence in the national and trade union movements. The British Govt. decided to strike hard the communist. In a sudden swoop in March 1929 the govt. arrested 32 radical political and trade union activists, including three British communists-Philip Epratt, Ben Bradley and Lester Hutchinson who had come to India to help organising the trade union movement. The basic aim of the Govt. was to behead the trade union movement and to isolate the communists from the national movement. The accused were put up for trial at Meerut. Speeches of defence made in the court by the prisoners like front ranking communists Muzaffar Ahmed, S.A. Dange and P.C. Joshi were carried by all nationalist newspapers. It familiarised lakhs of people for the first time with communist ideas.

The communist stage mass protest throughout the country against the Simon commission in 1928 the British ruling class felt perturbed as the initiative in the anti-Simon agitation was passing to the left. When the Simon commission arrived for its enquiry in Lahore, it was met by the usual “Go Back Simon” demonstration led by the great leader of Punjab, Lala Lajpat Rai. The deputy superintendent of the police Saunders assaulted Lajpat Rai, who died of his injuries. Exactly a month later Bhagat Singh and Raj guru, the veteran communists avenged his death by killing Saunders.

The congress working committee authorised Mahatma Gandhi to negotiate a settlement with Lord Irwin in the matters of releasing all political prisoners on behalf of the congress. So negotiations between Irwin and Gandhi commenced in a very cordial atmosphere. After prolonged deliberation a pact was signed by the two on 5th march 1931. It is known as Gandhi-Irwin Pact. According to the terms of the pact, the Viceroy agreed to release all political prisoners excluding those who were guilty of violence and to withdraw all ordinances and pending prosecutions, to permit persons residing within a certain distance of the seashore to collect or manufacture salt free of duty. The congress on the other hand agreed to suspend civil-disobedience movement, to give up its demands for an impartial enquiry into police excesses and to stop all boycott. The communists thought it as surrender to the British Govt. They felt frustrated because Gandhiji failed to succeed in getting the death sentence of Bhagat Singh and his two comrades Raj guru and Sukhdev quashed. In 1931 Gandhi-Irwin Pact was described as a proof of the congress betrayal of nationalism. Many of the communists refused to stand apart from the civil disobedience movement as against congress agreement to suspend the same. The communists participated actively in it. It is for this that communists were blamed for they true nationalism.

Many communists who began their political life as patriotic freedom fighters participating in the calls and movements given by the congress graduated to carry forward the spirit of the freedom in independent India as well. To millions of Indians independence did not mean only political independence. It had to be transformed into complete liberation by creating a society where hunger, poverty and insecurity are banished. This in fact, was Bhagat Singh’s political bed-rock when he gave the slogan “Inquilab Zindabad.” It is a matter of pride that the late pandit Kishori Lal and Shiv Verma, both comrades-in-arms of Bhagat Singh, the veteran communist, joined the communist movement in independent India. There are many such examples of the communist freedom fighters who have dedicated their life for freedom struggle. However it is my endeavour to recall few of these communist freedom fighters in this paper.

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