Looking Back

Yechuri's Idea of 'India' and Communalism–II

Badruddin Umar

That Gandhi, Nehru and Patel were communalists of the same feather as Jinnah in the 1940's, is admitted by honest and capable political analysts, This writer was invited once as chief guest on the occasion of Sarat Bose's birthday celebration in No 1 Woodburn Park in Calcutta. Well, the talk began with the observation that whenever any discussion takes place on Indian politics, 'the image of a villain appears before our eyes'. That villain happens to be Mohammed Ali Jinnah. But there were other villains of the same hue in the politics of India. They were Gandhi, Nehru and Patel. I was surprised to see that only one person among the audience was furious with me and one or two others were somewhat displeased. But there was no protest by others. They quietly listened to what I said and one or two of them spoke agreeing with my views. Among the audience were present Sarat Bose's daughter Chitra Ghosh, former editor of the English mouthpiece of the CPI (ML), 'Liberation', and a distinguished political and economic researcher of the history of British India, and Professor Gautam Chaterjee, a historian and leader of the CPI.

That in respect of communalism there were no basic differences between the Congress and the Muslim League was demonstrated quite openly during the partition of India and Bengal. Gandhi presented his arguments for protecting the interests of minority Hindus in a political system dominated by majority Muslims in Bengal in the same way as Jinnah presented his arguments for protecting the interests of Muslims in united India.

The first draft of the plan for united Bengal, based on negotiation between the leaders of the Congress and the Muslim League in Bengal, was sent to Gandhi by Sarat Bose. After that Gandhi wrote a letter to Sarat Bose on May 24, 1947, in which he said:

I have your note. There is nothing in the draft stipulating that nothing will be done by mere majority. Every act of government must carry with it the cooperation of at least two third of Hindu members in the executive and legislative. (Quoted in 'In Retrospect', Abul Hashim, Bangladesh Co-Operative Book Society, Dhaka, p. 173)

Gandhi made the strange demand that for every act of government there must be consent or 'at least' two third majority of Hindu members! But he saw nothing wrong in Nehru's press conference statement after signing of the agreement between the Congress, the League and the British Indian government in which he said that the future Parliament of lndia could change it (of course by majority vote) and there was no guarantee that the Congress would abide by the cabinet mission plan! The Congress did not show any moral courage of accepting the responsibility of Jinnah's renewed Pakistan demand after Nehru's virtual rejection of the cabinet mission plan. Neither Gandhi nor the Congress party made any protest against the act of Nehru. For them the suggestion that it was not possible for them to agree on united Bengal because of Muslim majority in Bengal was right, but Jinnah's argument against united India and for Pakistan in a Hindu majority India were wrong and unacceptable! Whereas Jinnah was branded as communal for his above-mentioned views, the Congress was glorified as secular in spite of their above-mentioned position! It's a matter of great surprise that in spite of the Congress creating the practical ground for Pakistan by trying to protect only Hindu interests, they geared their propaganda machine for denouncing only Jinnah for partition of the country. It became almost an established fact!

After signing the final draft of the plan for keeping Bengal united by Sarat Bose and Abul Hashim, a copy of that was sent to Gandhi by Sarat Bose. In reply Gandhi wrote a letter to Sarat Bose on June 8, 1947 in which he said:
I have gone through your draft. I have now discussed the scheme roughly with Pandit Nehru and Sardar. Both of them are dead against the proposal and they are of opinion that it is merely a trick for dividing Hindus and Scheduled Caste leaders. For them it is not a suspicion but almost a conviction. They feel also that money is being lavishly expended in order to secure Scheduled Caste vote. If such is the case you should give up the struggle at least at present. For the unity purchased by corrupt practices, would be worse than a frank partition, it being recognition of the established division of hearts and the unfortunate experiences of Hindus. (Quoted from Abul Hashim, In Retrospect, p. 177)

It is clear from this letter of Gandhi that they used to distinguish between the scheduled caste communities (who were apparently counted as Hindus) and the high caste Hindus. In this there was recognition that the Hindu leaders were not leaders of the Scheduled Castes. Is it possible to conclude from all this, that the Congress represented any other interests than the interests of the Caste Hindus?

After Gandhi, Nehru and Patel won their battle for partitioning Bengal, Sarat Bose said to Gandhi in a letter :
It grieves me to find that the Congress which was once a great National Organisation is fast becoming an organization of Hindus only. (In Retrospect, p. 181)

After the establishment of two separate independent states in India, Jinnah, in his inaugural speech in the Pakistan Constituent Assembly famously said that:
In Pakistan Muslims are no longer Muslims and Hindus are no longer Hindus, politically. They are all equal citizens of Pakistan. Their only national identity is that they are Pakistanis.

By saying this he tried to return to his original secular position. But there was no longer any ground reality for that. The ulemas and influential political leaders protested the statement of Jinnah. The harm was done and there was no possibility of repairing the damage. Soon after independence Jinnah died on 11 September, 1948, and after that the demand was raised for declaring Pakistan as an Islamic state, which it became. Sitaram Yechuri says that the Muslim League demanded Islamic state in India in the I920's. It is a serious distortion of history and not only Yechuri, but also the CPM should be held responsible for this.

In Pakistan there is no political role of the Sikhs and Hindus because they are numerically very small. Since the Muslim population in India today is more than 15%, their positions are not comparable. Like the Sikhs and Hindus in Pakistan, they are not irrelevant in Indian politics. Bul since the time of Jawaharlal Nehru, the Muslims have been planfully deprived of their rights and marginalised politically. They are no deciding factor in India. The Muslims in British India belonged to mainstream politics. But, at present, their condition is critical, and according to Sachar Committee Report, worse than that of lower caste Hindus and Dalits.

On 25 November, 1949, while presenting the draft of the constitution in Indian Parliament Dr  B R  Ambedkar said :
On the 26th of January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognising the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value.

It may be mentioned here that, after the two Round Table Conferences, in 1932 the British government announced their Constitutional Award in which separate electorate was provided for the Scheduled Caste Hindus. Ambedkar was fighting for that, but Gandhi was strongly opposed to the demand. So after the announcement of the Macdonald Award, Gandhi demanded its withdrawal. The British government said that it could be withdrawn if the Scheduld Castes themselves withdraw it. For realising his demand Gandhi began his fast unto death in 1933. There was great commotion among large section of the people and in political circles. Widespread agitation began for withdrawal of the provision for separate electorate for Scheduled Castes. Ambedkar was in a very difficult situation and finally he decided to withdraw his proposal in order to save Gandhi's life and signed the Poona Pact with him.

The Indian constitution provided for a 'life of contradiction' as mentioned by Ambedkar. He knew that without real economic and social rights, political rights meant nothing in practice and any talk about political rights were nothing but empty words. Without social rights no law relating to other rights could be implemented.

As the first law minister of India Ambedkar placed the draft of 'Hindu Code Bill' in the Constituent Assembly in 1947. In that bill, in order to make Hindu personal law somehow fair, he provided for right to divorce for women and extension of the right to property for female children. The debate on the bill dragged on for four years in the Constituent Assembly and finally it reached a dead point. President Rajendraprashad threatened to stop the bill from becoming a law. The Hindu Shadhus encircled the parliament. The leaders of industries and the zamindars declared that they would withdraw their support, in case the bill was passed. In that situation Ambedkar resigned as law minister. (Arundhuti Roy, The Doctor and the Saint, introduction to Ambedkar's Annihilation of Caste, p. 46)

In his resignation speech Dr  Ambedkar said :
To leave inequality between class and class, between sex, and sex. which is the soul of Hindu society, and to go on passing legislation relating to economic problems is to make a farce of our Constitution and to build a palace on a dung heap.

Not only this. Ambedkar is known as India's first law minister and the author of the Indian Constitution as Chairman of Constitution Draft Committee. But the shape of the Constitution as it stood at the end, under pressure from industrialists, landowners and zamindars and high Caste Hindus, had no real democratic character. Referring to this, Ambedkar said in a speech in the Rajja Savha (Upper House of Parliament) on September 2, 1953:
Sir, my friends tell me that I made the Constitution. But I am quite prepared to say that I shall be the first person to burn it out. I do not want it. It does not suit anybody. But whatever that may be, if our people want to carry on, they must not forget that there are majorities and there are minorities, and they simply cannot ignore the minorities by saying, 'Oh, no. To recognize you is to harm democracy'. (Arundhati Roy, Note 70 of introduction to Ambedkar's Annihilation of Caste, p. 151)

It is not unknown how India became known as the 'greatest democratic state' in the world by practicing 'democracy' as representatives of Caste Hindus, big industrialists and landowing zamindars. Ambedkar said that those who rule the country should remember that there are majorities and minorities in the country. While denying and ignoring the minorities, it cannot be said that democracy would be harmed if their rights were acknowledged. But this has precisely what happened in India. Beginning with the government of Jawaharlal Nehru, every Congress and non-Congress government, ran an extremely undemocratic system by ignoring the rights of all kinds of minorities. It includes Muslims, Christiasns, the lower caiste Hindus and all national minorities. In 1987, Dr Phizo of Nagaland told this writer at his residence in Kent that the way he was personally treated by Jawaharlal Nehru was abominable. Within the framework of Indian constitution and Indian administration all minorities have always been treated, not according to any democratic norms, but in a very unequal, cruel and inhuman manner. It continues to this day. Justice Rajindar Sachar, Chairman of the Sachar Committee, said to Sagnik Dutta in a recent interview that 'The lack of Muslims in public institutions is still appalling' (Frontline, October w 2, 2015, p. 27)

Democrats, socialists and communists of India admit that Nehru was a representative of big industrialists and big landowners, but they tactfully avoid to characterize him as communal and as a representative of Caste Hindus. Yechuri has made many revolutionary criticisms of the present BJP government, but nowhere there is any admission that their venomous communalism is a consequence of the policy of communal discriminations of each and every government since 1947 to the last Congress government of Manmohan Singh. He has, however, said that the class character of the Congress has caused a rise of communalism in India, but has avoided mentioning the fact that it is a communalism of the upper caste Hindus. The communalism of the oppressed Muslims cannot be compared with this. He has also not said that the caste character of the upper class Hindus is a very significant and integral aspect of communalism in India. The lower caste Hindus have nothing to do with this. It is the upper caste Hindu industrialists, businessmen, and landlords who are entirely responsible for the communal situation.

Sitaram Yechuri has correctly said certain things about the development of communalism in India, but he has not mentioned that from the beginning the government of Jawaharlal Nehru was run on the basis of anti-Muslim communalism and caste oriented discrimination. He says :
It is a great truth that in India, the story does not end with talking about the exploited classes in a general way. Because without the admission and acknowledgement of the fact that the condition of religious minorities including the Muslims, and the lower caste Hindus is comparatively more miserable, it is not possible to understand the real situation and the way the policy of exclusion is implemented by the ruling classes in India.

In his lecture Yechiri has mentioned few things about the caste system, but he has said nothing about religious communalism :
The impact of communalism and casteism integral to the associated social consciousness of pre-capitalist formations, continues to dominate the social order..... The process of class formation in India, as a consequence of such circumscribed capitalist development was, thus, taking place within the parameters of a historically persistent caste-divided society. It was taking place not by overhauling the pre-capitalist social relations but by compromising it. This resulted in the overlapping commonality between the exploited classes and the oppressed castes in contemporary India...... Such a regression in the march of India towards the realisation of the idea of India is today being spearheaded by the proponents of the third vision—the RSS/BJP.

Here what Yechuri has said about the caste system is nothing but mere words. Because they have no political programme targeting the lower castes. Very planfully they formulate their policy by keeping caste discrimination behind the cover of class exploitation. Far from any idea of annihilating the caste system, they do not even have any practical thinking about minimising the discrimination. They have also been found to stand against such attempts. During the prime minisiership of V P Singh, his government published the 'Mondol Commission Report' which was suppressed by the Congress governments. He also took initiative to implement the recommendations made in the report for improving the condition of the lower caste Hindus, dalits, etc. The BJP was a constituent of the government led by V P Singh. They opposed his decision and withdrew from his government. Consequently, the government fell and from that point began the march of BJP with new vigour. What should be mentioned here is that the CPM also declared the 'Mondol Commission Report' unacceptable, and rejected it. Not only that. The CPM government in West Bengal declared that there was no caste discrimination in West Bengal! It is not difficult to understand what remains of a Communist Party if it takes this position regarding the caste system and caste discrimination in India. So how can the CPM deny that what Sitaram Yechuri has said here about caste oppression is nothing but mere words?

There is nothing about the religious minorities including the Muslims in the lecture of Yechuri. The 'Sachar Committee Report' says that the condition of the Muslims is now far worse than it was in British India. On the other hand, the condition of Muslims in Pakistan has improved greatly since 1947. After the break-up of Pakistan, the Muslims in Bangladesh have advanced economically and in education, culture, etc. It proves that the condition of Muslims in India is miserable today because they are victimised as a religious minority. How can his argument be negated if someone says that visualising this plight of the Muslims in a Hindu majority India, Jinnah demanded Pakistan?

15% of India's population is Muslim. But they have no jobs and business in that ratio. What is particularly mentionable is that there is no development in their education. Leaving aside India, if one looks at West Bengal one would see that in spite of more than 30% Muslim population they have less than 2% employment! In the sphere of education they miserably lag behind. There was no change of this situation during the rule of the CPM from 1977 to 2011. From this it is clearly proved that the communal policy which was pursued by the Congress from 1947 to 1977 was followed in practice also by the CPM.

The communal situation in India is such that from the Congress rule to the present time right to food of the Muslims, Christians and the lower caste Hindus are under attack. Beef is a part of their food. But beef is prohibited for them. The only exceptions are Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura where CPI and the CPM ruled. During the Congress rule Sanjoy Gandhi, the younger son of Indira Gandhi, prohibited beef in Delhi and other places and enforced it more vehemently than ever before. At present, under the BJP government, the situation has worsened to such an extent that for the 'crime' of beef eating the Muslims are getting killed.

The pursuit of communalism by the Congress since 1947 and raising it continuously to higher levels, created conditions for the rise and seizure of power by the BJP. This practically means the seizure of power by the RSS. The BJP as the protagonist of Hindutya, began to convert Muslims and Christians to Hinduism by encouraging its venomous fraternal communal organisations like Biswa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and Siva Sena. They declared India as a Hindu State. It is not possible to enumerate here the manners in which the BJP and the other RSS organisations are carrying on their acts of repression against the Muslims. They have thus increased the use of religion and the practice of communalism in India unprecedentedly. But there is not a word about this in the 'The Idea of India' lecture of Sitaram Yechuri!

In this context, returning to the earlier discussion, it may be said that the way Sitaram Yechuri presented his analysis of the political history of India is a matter of no little surprise. He seems to be quite innocent about the recent researches and evaluation of the role of the Congress, the Muslim League and other parties in the political developments of India. This is unfortunate, because it indicates the presence of a negative trend in the Communist Party and the Communist movement of India.  ooo

[Badruddin Umar is President, National Liberation Council, Bangladesh]

Vol. 48, No. 22, Dec 6 - 12, 2015