April 05, 2020

Communists and the National Question

HINDU and Muslim communalists considered India to consist of two nations – divided on the basis of the religious beliefs of people – Hindus and Muslims. It is for this reason that both Savarkar and Jinnah did not find any problem with the two-nation theory advocated by each other. When the Congress had given the call, ‘Quit India’ in 1942, Muslim League had called, ‘Divide India and Quit’. On the other hand, Hindu Mahasabha and RSS were campaigning that India is only for Hindus and people belonging to other faiths could stay in the country only as second-class citizens.

The Communists were not examining the future of India within the narrow confines of the Hindu-Muslim problems. They have understood the fact that the people of India belonged to different religions was only one aspect of the political reality of India. They drew the attention of the people to an equally important fact, the fact that the population of India was composed of different nationalities speaking different languages, each with its own specific socio-cultural life and that each such nationality was further  divided into different religions and castes. This was the political reality to which the Communist Party pointed.

Communists demanded implementation of the concept of linguistic provinces in its full sense. In this the Communists were guided and led by the Leninist perspective of nationalities. As explained by Lenin and Stalin, development of capitalism leads to the development of nationalities with linguistic and cultural homogeneity and economic and political identity.

The tendency of formation of linguistic provinces as an integral part of the bourgeois democratic national movement in India and the encouragement it received from the Congress were perceived by Communists as a manifestation of this historical reality.

Communists pointed out that the concept of Indian independence would be complete and clear only if it was accepted that in India there were different nationalities each of which, divided into different religions though, was united in linguistic and social life and that the future administrative set-up of India had to be devised by offering opportunities for free development of each of these nationalities. They also pointed out that Indian people composed of different nationalities were politically united for historical reasons. Though they are united artificially under the British rule, the struggle against the British rule consolidated the national unity of the Indian people. The continuance of the national unity which emerged through the anti-imperialist struggle would help the further progress of the people after independence. The development of each of the nationalities is possible only by standing united in the post-independence national reconstruction and in building a new democratic progressive India.

The Communists analysed the political future of India in this perspective while a clash was taking place between Jinnah's 'two nations theory' and the 'one nation theory' of the non-Muslim nationalists. They presented their views as a solution to the problems that arose out of this clash. So the people naturally thought it as one that supported the demand for Pakistan.

The political set-up visualised by Communists was, in fact, fundamentally different from the idea of Pakistan. They refused to distinguish between ‘Hindu India’ and ‘Muslim India’ on the basis of religion. They pointed to the fact that even if India was to be divided as demanded by the Muslim League, the resulting two countries would have to face complex nationality problems.

This, however, does not mean that the approach of the Communist Party towards Pakistan was free from errors. A thesis was put out in 1945 which recognized Muslim nationalities in the north-western part of the country. This wrong understanding was subsequently corrected. The Party did not endeavour to expose sufficiently, forcefully and uncompromisingly the falsity of the League stand that borders between the two countries should be determined on the basis of religion. This enabled the opponents of the Party to make propaganda that it helped the demand of the League for Pakistan and the subsequent partition of India.

The Party's approach had suffered from another serious weakness. It failed to imbibe the truth in its full sense that Rajagopalachari who prepared the ground for the Gandhi-Jinnah talks, Gandhi who initiated the talks on the basis of his proposals, and Jinnah who skillfully utilised these talks and the series of events that followed, were all  political leaders striving to bargain with the British rulers and to protect their own class interests. The main weakness of the approach of the Communist Party was that without sufficiently understanding the full import of this demand, it supported in affect the approach of the politicians of compromise. The Party's campaigns and journals tried, as Rajagopalachari and other national leaders did, to present the Gandhi-Jinnah talks as a definitive  cure for the disease that had afflicted India. The Party failed to expose the politics of bargain practiced by the leadership of both the Congress and the League by strengthening the morale of those among the ranks of the independence movement, who were opposed to compromise and unifying them. The Party also failed to give sufficient warning to the people on the political developments that took place in those years.

Nevertheless, the Communist Party made invaluable contributions to Indian politics by campaigning among the people that India was a multinational country and that the unity of India could be maintained only under the condition of free development of all nationalities. The activities of Communists in that period led later to the emergence of powerful movements like the 'Aikya Kerala', 'Vishal Andhra', 'Samyukta Maharashtra', 'Maha Gujarat', etc., for the redistribution of provinces and the princely states on linguistic basis.

Communists were trying right from 1944-45 to examine the problems of nationalities in India as a fight against imperialism and feudalism and for democracy. Efforts in this direction resulted in the publication of three monographs – Nutan Bangla by Bhowani Sen, Vishala Andhra lo Praja Rajyam by P Sundarayya and Onnekal Koti Malayalikal (One and a quarter crore Malayalis) by EMS Namboodiripad – examining the history and contemporary problems of the three nationalities in Marxist-Leninist perspective. The theoretical and practical work conducted by the Party in those days laid the seeds for a number of movements and struggles like the Tebhaga movement in Bengal, the Telangana struggle in Andhra, and the Punnapra-Vayalar struggle in Kerala in later years.

The fundamental contradiction between the socialists and the supporters of Subhas Chandra Bose who could not emotionally adjust with the politics of bargain and the Gandhi-Nehru group, could not but surface before long. Without joining either of these camps and independent of them, the Communist Party came forward to approach the people in keeping with the interests of the working people, holding aloft the banner of real democracy. Communists, on the other hand, were in a position in which they could involve themselves fully in the rising mass upsurge.

Two events which took place towards the end of 1945 played a significant role in raising post-war anti-imperialist storms: the INA trial and the decision of the government to send Indian soldiers to Indonesia, Indo-China and other South and South East Asian countries. In organising huge demonstrations against these acts, Communists,  Socialists as well as the ranks of the Congress and the League played active roles. Anti-imperialist demonstrations demanding the release of the INA leaders were also held in many places like Calcutta, Bombay, Mathura, Delhi, Meerut and Peshawar.
Braving repressive actions, the people surged ahead. These protest actions took the highest form in Calcutta where workers struck work for several days bringing the electric power stations, transport, water supply, etc., to a standstill. People raised barricades in the southern part of Calcutta and set military vehicles on fire. The governor of Bengal deployed the military to bring the situation under control.

In this background, it was for the first time that the Party contested elections on a wide scale on its own programme and demands. However, the main forces in the election arena were the Congress and the League. The programmes and the slogans of the Communist Party could not gain countrywide recognition over and above the contests between the Congress and the League. As a result, the Communist Party did not come to the stage as a force capable of playing an effective role in the process of constitution-making, though it continued to play an active role in leading popular struggles.