August 15, 2021

Freedom Struggle: Role of Communists and RSS

R Arun Kumar

INDIAN freedom struggle is a glorious saga in the history of our country. The Congress cannot claim sole monopoly of the freedom struggle. Communists and various hues of socialists who were dissatisfied with the Congress and its tactics, fought with determination and sacrificed their entire lives in this struggle. There is one exception to the patriotic tendency that was all pervading in the country – the RSS, which did not participate in the freedom struggle.

M S Golwalkar, the second sarsanghchalak of the RSS, in his book The Bunch of Thoughts, denounced the freedom struggle as ‘territorial nationalism’ that “deprived us of the positive and inspiring content of our real Hindu Nationhood and made many of the ‘freedom movements’ virtually anti-British movements”. It is with this understanding that RSS, formed in 1925 kept aloof from the struggle for Indian independence. Not only did they keep away, but were even ready to betray the freedom fighters.

In the biography of K B Hedgewar published by the RSS, it was clearly stated that “when Gandhi launched the Salt Satyagraha in 1930, he sent information everywhere that the Sangh will not participate in the Satyagraha”. Golwalkar quotes a conversation between Hedgewar and a doctor who had intended to participate in this satyagraha, but was dissuaded by Hedgewar from participating in it.

It is the same even during the Quit India movement. According to an official note of the British government, RSS leaders met the secretary of the home department and “promised the secretary to encourage members of the Sangh to join the civic guards in greater numbers”. These civic guards were formed by the British government as ‘special measures for internal security’. The British acknowledged this help: “the Sangh has scrupulously kept itself within the law, and in particular, has refrained from taking part in the disturbances that broke out in August 1942” (Government memo, Bombay Presidency).

Even its claims for its participation in the freedom struggle through V D Savarkar, proved hollow. Savarkar, as evidence decisively shows, not only repented for his role in freedom struggle during his earlier years but also promised the British that we would never again participate in the freedom struggle. And he kept his promise. Claiming himself as a ‘prodigal son of the merciful British government’, he wrote a long letter to the British. “In the end I remind your honour to be so good as to go through the petition for clemency, that I had sent in 1911, and to sanction it for being forwarded to the Indian government….if the government in their manifold beneficence and mercy release me, I for one cannot but be the staunchest advocate of constitutional progress and loyalty to the English Government….Moreover, my conversion to the constitutional line would bring back all those misled young men in India and abroad who were once looking up to me as their guide”. Such is the attitude of the RSS and its icons, the ‘great Veer’ Savarkar.

Compare this with the role played by the Communist and we can easily separate the wheat from chaff. The Communist Party was formed in 1920. From the day one, the British were very clear on the attitude they have had to adopt towards the communists. “The spread of communism in India is not one of those problems which may be looked at from a particular ‘angle of vision’; it must be looked straight in the face and it must be fought with the most unrelenting opposition”. Within a decade of its formation, the British lodged three conspiracy cases against it – the Peshawar Conspiracy Case (1922), the Kanpur Conspiracy Case (1924), the Meerut Conspiracy Case (1929). Of course, all these failed to snub the spread of Communist Party and its ideas.

Clearly inspired by the ideas of socialism and communism, Bhagat Singh considered that it was not sufficient to overthrow the British from power. “Political revolution will be the basis upon which the work to transform the whole society on socialist basis should start” he said.

Bhagat Singh denounced communal forces and exhorted people to build class unity. “Class consciousness is required to ensure that people do not fight among themselves. It has to be made very clear to the poor, working class and peasants that their real enemy is capitalism…The rights of all the poor – be they of any caste, colour, religion or region – are the same”. Bhagat Singh clearly identified the economic basis behind the growth of communalism and communal riots: “if at all there is a cure for all the riots, then it can be brought about only by changing the course of direction of Bharat’s economic trajectory….people have to consistently fight the government and until the government is changed, they should not rest”.
This is exactly what the Communist Party was advocating at the same time. In its Draft Platform of Action, the first embryonic programme of the Party, it stated: “The Communist Party of India calls upon the Indian workers and peasants not to be tricked by the cunning provocative methods of the British government and the native exploiters who set the toilers of different nationalities and religious beliefs against one another and provoke conflicts among them”. It called up on all the toilers, including the untouchables not to permit such disorganisation and join the struggle against their ‘own and British exploiters’. This Platform vouched for ‘full equality of all citizens irrespective of sex, religion and race’ and for ‘complete separation of religion from the State’.

Communist Party played an active role in the formation and strengthening of various class and mass organisations like the AITUC, AIKS, AISF and PWA and worked for mobilising people through these platforms. It took up the issues of these various sections of the society and led militant struggles. Apart from demanding an end to colonial rule, communists were demanding real democracy through the expansion of democratic rights, right to organise and protest. They demanded eight-hour working day, equal rights for women and men, equal wages, free education, abolition of untouchability, landlordism, feudal privileges and exploitation. By raising these demands and mobilising people on these demands, they gave concrete shape to people’s urge and participation in the freedom struggle.

Communists’ participation in the anti-colonial struggle is reflected in the composition of the delegates to the first Congress of the Party. 70 per cent of the delegates served one or more terms in jails and the aggregate time spent in the prison was 411 years. Nearly half of their lives had been spent inside the jails. 53 per cent of the delegates had underground experience and in all they had spent 54 years working underground.

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 and leaders of the Hindu Mahasabha participated in the governments of Muslim League. The Communist Party opposed both these communal forces vehemently and worked for uniting the people through mobilising them in the struggle against colonial rule. They recognised the existence of various nationalities, ethnicities, religious groups, castes and were for harmonious relations between all these sections.

Communist Party made invaluable contributions to Indian politics by campaigning among 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. Communists examined the problems of nationalities in India as part of the fight against imperialism and feudalism and for democracy. It always approached people upholding the interests of the working people, holding aloft the banner of real democracy and involved themselves fully in all mass upsurges.

While the Communist Party was deeply involved in the struggles of the peasants and workers, building Hindu-Muslim unity, and solidarity amidst different castes among the toiling people, communal forces pursued the path of compromise with imperialism and destruction of people's struggles, a path which led to communal carnage and the partition of the country. In the midst of the post-partition riots in Punjab and Bengal, members of the Party displayed rare heroism in their efforts to save people from the hands of murderous rioters. They led heroic demonstrations to fight back the riots.

While communal forces were busy dividing the country, communists stood for unity. While communal forces were busy degrading the national flag, constitution and demanding the implementation of Manu smriti as Indian law code, communists were fighting for the elimination of feudalism, for establishing equality of women and men, abolition of caste discrimination, equality of all irrespective of their religion, creed, ethnicities and nationality. While communal forces were eulogising dictators like Hitler and Mussolini, communists were working for expansion of democratic rights and strengthening Indian constitution through the incorporation of more rights for workers, peasants and other toiling people.

In a word, while communists were true patriots who laid down their lives for the well-being of our country and its unity, communal forces were anti-nationals who divided the country and wanted to turn the country into a majoritarian, authoritarian, dictatorial State.

For our country to really progress, it is the vision of the communists that shows the direction, not that of the regressive communal, Hindutva forces.