Looking Back

Yechuri’s ‘Idea of India’ and Communalism–I

Badruddin Umar

[A lecture by Sitaram Yechuri, General Secretary of CPI (Marxist), has been published in the Indian fortnightly 'Frontline' on 7th August, 2015. The lecture was delivered as "Chinta Rabindra Memorial lecture" in Kerala on 4th July, 2015. In this lecture, under the caption 'The Need for a New Agenda' he said the following on Indian politics in pre-independent India :
The emergence of the conception of the idea of India arose from a continuous battle between three visions that emerged during the 1920s on the conception of the character of independent India. The mainstream Congress vision had articulated that independent India should be a secular democratic republic. The Left, while agreeing with this objective, went further to envision that the political freedom of the country must be extended to achieve the economic freedom of every individual, possibly only under socialism.
Antagonistic to both these was the third vision, which argued that the character of independent India should be defined by the religious affiliation of its people. This vision had twin expressions- the Muslim League championing an "Islamic State" and the RSS [Rashtryiya Swayamsewak Sangh] championing a "Hindu Rashtra". The former succeeded in the unfortunate partition of the country with all its consequences that continue to fester tension till date. The latter having failed to achieve its objective at the time of independence continues with its efforts to transform modern India into its conception of a rabidly intolerant fascistic "Hindu Rashtra". In a sense, the ideological battles and the political conflicts in contemporary India are a continuation of the battle between these three visions. Needless to add, the contours of this battle will define the direction and content of the process of progress of the consolidation of the idea of India.]

The way Yechuri has presented his views is astonishing. Because in the lecture there is virtually no indication of his proper acquaintance with the realities of Indian politics from 1920 to 1947. In the third decade of the 20th century, Keshab Baliram Hedgewar, as an aggressive Hindutyabadi, declared, as the founder of [Rashtryiya Swayamsewak Sangh] RSS, that India would be a 'Hindu State". But the Muslim League, in no resolution or in their political pronouncement, said that they wanted an "Islamic state' in India. They had no such political objective.

The Muslims of India started a movement for the restoration of Khilafat which was abolished by Mustafa Kamal in Turkey. Gandhi supported that reactionary movement. The Khilafat movement was not launched by the Muslim League, but they joined it, when the movement began to gain momentum and strength. Jinnah was against import of religion in politics and he was opposed to Muslim League joining that religious movement. But when the Muslim League joined it, he dissociated himself from such political action, removed himself from the Muslim League, went to England and started his legal practice there. In spite of participation in the round table conferences in 1930 and 1931, he had no active participation in Muslim League politics. He returned to India in 1936 and took charge of the Muslim League.

As opposed to this political stance of Jinnah in the 1920s, Gandhi raised the noise of 'Ram Rajja'. Till 1920 Tilak was the highest leader of the Congress. In spite of the Congress being formally a secular party, Tilak openly was a spokesman of 'Hindutva'. He died of heart attack, while attending the Karachi session of the All India Congress in 1920. After him, Gandhi became the undisputed leader of the Congress. Though a Congress leader, he did not stay aloof from the 'Hindutya' ideal and spoke more vociferously about 'Ram Rajja'. Then, and afterwards, he gave various interpretations of 'Ram Rajja', but it cannot be denied that his 'Ram Rajja' was integrally related to Hinduism. Not only that. It can undoubtedly be said that since the founding of Hindu Mahasava both Tilak and Gandhi imported religion in Indian politics with great authority. So the claim that the political character of the Congress was secular is improper and devoid of historical truth, in spite of the fact that formally it was a secular party and large number of Muslims were members of that organisation.

After the end of the Khilafat movement there was a new rise of communalism in Indian politics. Subsequently, the strength of communalism was on the increase. Both the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League was initiated and promoted by representatives of the British Indian government. The Congress had some demands for opportunities under the British rule. The Muslim League also began to demand the same opportunities as representative of comparatively backward Muslims. The British government helped both the organisations as a tactic for keeping these political developments under their control.

After the Khilafat movement, the Muslims and the Muslim League became more active for gaining more opportunities. In that context Chittaranjan Das, the most influential Congress leader in Bengal, presented his 50:50 formula in jobs, education, political representation, etc. Muslim leaders like Fazlul Haque supported that formula. Hindus were more advanced than the Muslims, and the backward Muslims were a majority in Bengal. Congress leaders like Gandhi and Motilal Nehru strongly opposed the C R Das formula. In June 1925 Chittaranjan died of sudden heart attack and that initiative came to an end.

At that time Jinnah was a very important leader in both Congress and the Muslim League. In the 1927 session of the All India Congress, which took place in Calcutta, he presented his famous 14 points. The 14 points included some demands for the Muslims who lagged behind. Motilal Nehru rejected all the 14 points one by one from the Congress platform. They rejected Jinnah's 14 points from the apprehension that the share of Hindus in education, jobs, business, political representation, etc would be curbed by the Muslims if the 14 points were fully or partly implemented. By remaining silent during the whole procedure, Gandhi supported the act of Motilal Nehru. After his 14 points being ruthlessly rejected thus, Jinnah clearly realised that the Congress was in fact no longer a secular party. It practically acquired the character of a communal organisation of the Hindus and it was not possible for the Muslims to realise any right by remaining in the Congress. This realisation of secular Jinnah shook him tremendously and the same day a weeping Jinnah took the train from the Howrah station for Bombay. Thus his relation with the Congress ended. Any pursuit of the reasons why Jinnah, a famous secular politician, whom Sorojini Naidu described as the harbinger of Hindu-Muslim unity, turned out to be a devastatingly communal figure, will reveal that it was caused by the rise of high caste Hindu communalism in the Congress and the beginning of the practical collapse of secular politics in India.

In the Congress there were secular leaders like Gokhale, Chittaranjan Das, Sorojini Naidu and Subhas Bose, but the influence of communal leaders like Gandhi, Motilal Nehru, Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendraprasad and Kripalini was much more powerful in the Congress. As a result, the situation deteriorated in the thirties. Control of the Congress by Marwaries like Birla and the high caste Hindu capitalists reached a point when the Communist Party of India (CPI), and men like M N Roy who had joined the Congress platform earlier, left it before 1940. Large number of Muslim members of the Congress, who were generally described as 'nationalist Muslims', also deserted the Congress en masse. The situation deteriorated to such an extent that being a victim of Gandhi-Nehru conspiracy Subhas Bose also was compelled to leave the Congress. Leaders like Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Purushattam Das Tandon, Acharya Kripalini and Rajendraprashad played a decisive role in transforming the Congress into a communal organisation. As opposed to this, the Muslim League under the leadership of Jinnah made its contribution in fuelling communalism by adopting the Pakistan Resolution in 1940.

Since the Hindus were a majority in India, they were advantageously placed to hide their communal interests under the cover of national unity. By adopting this tactic they totally ignored the interests of Muslims and people of other faiths, and firmly stuck to the objective of keeping India united, by raising the banner of 'secularism'. On the other hand, apprehending marginalisation of the Muslims, the Muslim League demanded creation of separate states in the Muslim majority areas in eastern and western parts of India.

The Congress and the Muslim League basically represented the same classes. They represented the interests of big capital, big landowners and zamindars. The general secretary of the CPM did not bother to consider all this. By ignoring this aspect of Indian history, he has compared the Muslim League with the RSS and not with the Congress. This kind of analysis offered here by Yechuri was never seen before in the history of the Communist Party of India.

It has been mentioned before that since the founding of the Muslim League in 1905, at no stage, they stated anything about an Islamic state. There is no such record. There was no mention of 'Islamic State' in the 'Lahore Resolution', which demanded Pakistan. The Muslim League wanted separate states in the Muslim majority areas, as the Congress wanted a united India in the interests of the Hindus as a majority in India. While demanding separate states for Muslims, it was not possible for the Muslim League to hide their communalism, as the Congress could do tactically. So they straightaway demanded the partition of India on communal basis. Thus in spite of difference in tactics, the substance of the demands of both were identical.

The Communist Party of India, by realising this aspect of the character of the Congress and the Muslim League, supported the Pakistan demand of the latter. It would not have been possible for them if, following Yechuri's 'analysis', they considered the Muslim League comparable to RSS, rather than the Congress. Gangadhar Adhikari, a central leader of the CPI, analysed the situation in his political thesis and supported Pakistan. In spite of its fault, it cannot be denied that there was no question there of comparing the Muslim League with the RSS. But how this thought occurred in the mind of a secular politician and general secretary of the CPM, Sitaram Yechuri, is a matter of surprise. This is a surprise, especially because Yechuri has, in his lecture, profusely quoted Dr B R Ambedkar who was a supporter of Pakistan! (Ambedkar, Pakistan or the Partition of India, 1945). On the other hand, Ambedkar said the following about the Congress.
The question whether the Congress is fighting for freedom has very little importance as compared to the question for whose freedom is the Congress fighting. (Quoted by Arundhati Roy in introduction to Ambedkar's Annihilation of Caste, Navayana, April 2014, p. 43)

It should be mentioned here, that in spite of noticing the affinity of class character of the Congress and the Muslim League, they had no formal observation about the communal character of the Congress which was hidden behind their secularism. They supported the Pakistan demand of the Muslim League, because they saw no possibility of proper political representation and protection of interests of the Muslims in the Congress. But they did not acknowledge the truth openly that the Pakistan demand was a consequence of communalism of the Congress. They considered the Congress as a secular party. Not only that. They considered Jawaharlal Nehru as secular, liberal and even a supporter of socialism! The CPI has never freed them from this incurable ailment. The lecture of Sitaram Yechuri clearly proves that and their thinking in this respect is still very confused.

In the 1940's, under the garb of secularism, the Congress, led by Gandhi, Nehru and Patel turned into a completely communal party in their objective and activities. Thus, at this stage, politics in India developed through an ideological battle between the Congress and the Muslim League. According to Sitaram Yechuri, the Muslim League and the RSS played an identical role in this development! But if one looks at the historical records of the period, it will be clear that the political role of the RSS cannot even be described as marginal, in spite of its ideological influence in the Congress. Sardar Patel was a great ally of the RSS. He was their man in the Congress. It is, therefore, no matter of surprise that after the formation of government by Narendra Modi, the BJP, a political front of RSS, is building a statue of Sardar Patel in Ahmedabad, which will be taller than New York's Statue of Liberty, by spending crores of rupees!!

The CPI had no spine like the Communist Parties of Russia and China. They talked about class struggle, socialism, and communism. They organised and led big working class and peasant movements in various areas of India as basically the most radical section of the Indian middle class. In spite of the presence of many great and learned men in that party it was not possible for them to analyse the Indian political situation correctly. Here it is not possible to furnish a list of their mistakes. But it must be mentioned that they had no political programme for seizing power. Remaining within the framework of middle class politics, they wanted to free India from British rule by uniting the Congress and the Muslim League. They framed their political line and organised their activities so that power could be transferred in their hands. The CPI supported the famous Gandhi-Jinnah talks which took place in Bombay for several days. After the failure of the talks, secretary of the CPI, P C Joshi, wrote a pamphlet called They Shall Meet Again. At that time, the CPI in Bengal had an organisation of teen-agers called the Kishore Bahini. As members of that organisation young people were taught to sing 'Congress and League Unite, tie your hands together.' Does Sitaram Yechuri know all these? If he knew this, then how can he compare the Muslim League with the RSS, instead of comparing it with the Congress? Was the RSS an organisation of any consequence in that turbulent political situation in India? If the secretary of the CPM does not know anything about this, then the condition of the party is pitiable indeed. And if by knowing all this, he has expressed his views, how can they be taken as a secular party, much less a party of revolutionaries?

The Congress demonstrated considerable tactical wisdom by their non-communal and secular propaganda and practical pursuit of communalism. As a result communal political leaders like Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Rajendraprasad, J B Kripalini and such others, generated much political heat as great secular nationalist and Jinnah and his associates were denounced as the driving force of communalism in India.

Both Congress and Muslim League represented the same class interests. Their leadership was tied to the interests of big capital and landowning zamindars. But the Hindus were more advanced in respect of jobs, business and industry, education and political representation. They were not prepared to concede an inch of ground to the Muslims. The Congress represented the Hindus, and Hindus of the high caste entirely composed the leadership of the party. By taking advantage of their numerical majority they propagated the idea of united India in a way which had no national and democratic content. Because by nationalism the Congress, like the proponents of 'Hindutya', meant Hindu nationalism. But, in fact, their nationalism did not represent the entire Hindu population. It was 'nationalism' of the high caste Hindus, the varna Hindus like the Brahmins, Khatrias and Vaishas. Millions of lower caste Hindus were not covered by the nationalism of the Congress. Gandhi himself was an uncompromising advocate and spokesman of the caste system, he was a committed foe of the lower castes. But in the interest of the higher castes, in order to preserve the majority status of the Hindus, he tried in very possible way to keep the lower castes within the fold of Hindu society. For this, to prevent their conversion to Islam, Christianity and Buddhism, he called them 'Harijans' or the people of God and began to publish a paper named 'Harijan'. Dr B R Ambedkar was a great opponent of Hinduism. Gandhi did everything in his power to prevent the attempt of Ambedkar, whom he described as the greatest enemy of Hinduism, to persuade the lower caste people to renounce Hinduism and convert to other religions. On the other hand, in the context of terrible repression of lower caste Hindus and Dalits, Ambedkar, in a conference held in Bombay on 13 October, 1935 said :
Because we have the misfortune of calling ourselves Hindus, we are treated thus. If we were members of another faith none would treat us so. Choose any religion which gives you equality of status and treatment. We shall repair our mistake now. I had the misfortune of being born with the stigma of an Untouchable. However, it is not my fault; but I will not die a Hindu, for this is in my power. (Quoted by Arundhati Roy in introduction to Ambedkar's Annihilation of Caste, p. 52)

Ambedkar did exactly that. Before his death in 1956 he formally renounced Hinduism and became a Buddhist. Thus, not only Mohammed Ali Jinnah, but also Dr Ambedkar was a powerful adversary of Mohan Das Karam Chand Gandhi. The former was outside the framework of Hinduism and the latter was within it. But both of them fought against the political machination of the caste Hindus represented by the Congress.

The conflict of the political line pursued by the Congress under the leadership of Gandhi, Nehru and Patel for establishing complete hegemony over Indian politics in the interest of high caste Hindu capitalists and landowners and the political line of the backward Muslims, particularly Muslim capitalists and landowners representatives by the Muslim League and its leader Jinnah made conciliation and agreement between the two impossible. After the failure of Gandhi-Jinnah talks in 1944 the situation deteriorated. The British government used this conflict of the Congress and the Muslim League very skilfully.

In 1946 the British government sent a cabinet mission constituted by three cabinet members, Pethik Lawrence, A V Alexander and Stafford Cripps, to explore ways and means for transferring power to the Indians. The Congress and the Muslim League leaders had discussions with them for more than three months. Finally, the British Indian government, the Congress and the Muslim League agreed on a formula. It was decided to transfer power without partitioning India and dividing the country into three parts, A, B and C under a federal government. In order to achieve a political settlement, Jinnah withdrew their demand for Pakistan.

In spite of this political exercise, the British government wanted to partition India in the way it actually happened in 1947. For this they used their tools with consummate skill. After signing of the above-mentioned compromise formula with the cabinet mission by the Congress and the Muslim League, Jawaharlal Nehru was elected Congress president replacing Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Soon after being elected, he said in a press conference that though they had signed the cabinet mission plan, it would have to be finalised on the basis of a majority vote in the future parliament of India! So they did not consider the proposed plan unchangeable!! It meant throwing the plan as unworkable for governance of India, agreed by the Congress and the League, after long deliberations, to the waste paper basket. Naturally, this declaration of Nehru in the press conference prompted Jinnah to express his angry reaction. Jinnah returned to their demand for Pakistan, which they had withdrawn for coming to a settlement with the Congress. He declared that without Pakistan there was no possibility of a political solution. Nothing less was acceptable. It became quite clear from Nehru's volte-face, that it was not Jinnah and the Muslim League, but Nehru and the Congress who were really responsible for the creation Pakistan and the partition of India in 1947.

Jinnah called an emergency session of the Muslim League council in Bombay, and there they reiterated their demand for Pakistan. In a resolution they formally declared a 'direct action' programme of protest on August 6, 1946, against the conspiracy of British imperialism. Sitaram Yechuri has talked about the partition of India in a manner which portrayed the Congress as innocent and put the onus on the Muslim League and the Muslims!

On August 16, on the 'Direct Action' day, a devastating communal riot broke out in Calcutta and continued for several days. Thousands of innocent Hindus and Muslims were killed. That this riot was organised by British agents according to a premeditated conspiratorial plan, was beyond doubt. But the Congress and the Muslim League blamed each other unequivocally, and the debate on this still continues among historians. What should be noted in this connection is that the Congress, the League and the Communists forgot completely what was known as the 'divide and rule' policy of the British government which they had been pursuing since the 19th century. It was amazing to see how, in the midst of squabbling by the Congress and the Muslim League for sharing power in independent India, they stopped blaming the British for anything and denounced each other for every political crisis. Since 1946 the hostility between the Congress and the Muslim League reached a stage in which they ceased to consider the British as an enemy of the people of India!

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was furious against Nehru for virtually rejecting the cabinet mission plan, which was agreed and signed by both Congress and the Muslim League, even outside the knowledge of Gandhi. What was noticeable in this connection was that neither Gandhi nor any other Congress leader criticised or denounced that grievously irresponsible and unilateral act of Nehru, completely bypassing the other leaders and even the Congress working committee!

Maulana Azad wrote about this in his political memoir, 'India Wins Freedom'. In that book he said things about Nehru and other Congress leaders which he did not wish to be made public during his own lifetime and in the lifetime of his political colleagues. So he wanted that part of his book to be published after 30 years of his death and gave it to the archive of the government for preservation as classified material. But that part of the memoir was not found later. Most probably Nehru destroyed that and it was substituted by some forged 30 pages. That this forgery took place may be clearly understood by the fact, that after declassifying Maulana Azad's secret pages it was found that it contained nothing which would have harmed the image of anybody, including Nehru, and as such there was no reason for Maulana Azad to send it to the government archive for preservation as classified material. It may be described as innocuous.

The close relation of Nehru with the Mountbattens and the love affair of Nehru and Lady Mountbatten are well-known. Maulana Azad had also mentioned this in his memoir. So there must have been something more serious than that about Nehru in the 30 pages. There is little scope for doubt that Nehru destroyed the testament of Maulana Azad. That Nehru had this habit of destroying papers and documents prejudicial or dangerous to his personal interest, is now clear from the way the Nehru government destroyed documents relating to the disappearance and death of Subhas Bose and intelligence covering of the movements of Sarat Bose and the entire Bose family. Mountbatten actually carried out his secret and conspiratorial plan with terrific speed with the active help of Nehru. This was not unknown to Gandhi. Gandhi complained to Nirmal Kumar Bose, his secretary : "Mountbatten had the cheek to tell me 'Mr Gandhi, today the Congress is with me and not with you'." (Suniti Kumar Ghosh. India and the Raj, Sahitya Samsad, p. 683). Mountbatten pocketed the Congress by pocketing Jawaharlal Nehru.

An incurable political ailment of the CPI was that they had always considered the Congress as a secular party and Nehru as a liberal democrat. This is also reflected and echoed in Yechuri's lecture. Patel was more honest than Nehru about his political position. He made it quite clear openly that he was a communalist and an enemy of the Muslims. But in this respect Nehru was deceitful. Regarding communalism there was practically no difference between him and Patel, but assuming a liberal air, Nehru used to express his views about secularism and democracy in a manner which misled the people. The Communist Party was also not free from this misconception. It persists even now. It was a matter of surprise that even after Nehru's cruel repression of the communists during 1948-50, they did not refrain from eulogizing him as a secular democrat. ooo
[To be concluded]

Vol. 48, No. 21, Nov 29 - Dec 5, 2015