Of Quit India, Nehru & CPI split

Print edition : January 13, 2012

Stalin upbraided CPI leaders for not supporting the Congress on the Quit India Movement.

OF all the Communist leaders interviewed in the Oral History Programme of the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library in New Delhi, Makineni Basavapunniah was the most outspoken. The armed struggle in Telangana, which began in 1946, was directed against the Nizam's government. But from September 1948 onwards it was regular armed invasion. It was not a police action. Either the special armed police or the Malabar Police or the army, nearly 50,000 were employed for three full years to suppress the movement. Indian Army was not more than one and a half lakh or two lakhs in those days. A good part of it was locked up in Kashmir. Other part had to remain somewhere stationary. Then to spare as nearly 40,000-50,000 armed forces at one spot was not a small thing. So they concentrated their best and did their worst. Ten thousand people were put as detenus for three-four years; nearly a lakh of people were put in concentration camps for months on end; thousands of women were raped. Dr Hari Dev Sharma asked: By the military? Basavapunniah replied: Of course, military and the other armed forces, like Central Reserve Police, Malabar Police, Special Police, like that so many.

He added: Particularly after September 1948 when the Government of India intervened, as I said earlier, it intervened with very big armed forces. The entire modern military technique was used against us. General J.N. Chaudhuri, who intervened there on behalf of the Government of India, took hardly half a dozen days to manage the army of the Nizam and the Razakars, etc. After that the main direction was against the Communist Party which was leading the struggle.

He explained why he developed reservations over the Ranadive thesis adopted by the Second Party Congress at Calcutta in February 1948. Experience in Telangana flew against the thesis. The Andhra document was submitted in the month of May 1948. The Politburo was keeping its discussions confined to it till the month of November 1948. So it was only in the month of November and December 1948 that this reached all the State units. The whole of the year 1949, there was an inner party discussion going on. By March 1950 the whole cycle was complete and the line that was adopted at Calcutta was proved wrong and we were asked to take the responsibility of the Central Committee leadership. Then came the question of going and meeting Stalin, and then working out all the lines. The Communist Party of India unit in Andhra disagreed with the leadership. In the earlier articles, we have Basavapunniah's account of the Moscow meeting, which was arranged to avert a split.

Like his colleagues, P. Sundarayya also dilated on the alliance with the Congress Socialist Party in the 1930s and how the Kerala, Andhra and Madras units of the CSP went over to the CPI. Conflict was inherent in the alliance. Right from the beginning, from 1934 itself, this conflict had been there. Because in the earlier period, some of our writings [aid] that Congress Socialism was contradictory in words and would pave way to fascism. Such kind of articles were written. The [Congress] Socialist Party leadership also attacked [saying] that the communists were responsible for fascism coming in Germany by not having a united front. They had their own ideology; Gandhian ideology also influenced [ sic] that the communists were anti-national. They also used to say all these things. Similarly, Sajjad Zaheer, Dr K.M. Ashraf, Dr Z.A. Ahmed, [Soli] Batliwala were all big Congress leaders; they were all leftists and were in the Congress Socialist Party. They were all pro [communists]; some of them were party members also. So, this struggle went on till they found that they could not function in a united way. Then they decided to remove us and we also found that it was difficult to convince a good chunk of them. We had to function more and more independently than through the Congress Socialist party. That phase came towards the end of 1938.

Dange's role

Sadly, S.A. Dange's recorded Interview ends abruptly before the crises of the 1940s. He was a fascinating character, a brilliant pamphleteer, orator and a supple tactician. He was known to be close to the mill owner Sir David Sassoon. On March 7, 1964, Current, a Bombay [now Mumbai] tabloid, edited by D.F. Karaka, published a letter from Dange to the Governor-General of India dated July 28, 1924, from Sitapur jail in the United Provinces (U.P.) where he was serving a four-year sentence in the Kanpur Conspiracy Case.

It said: Exactly one year back, the Deputy Commissioner of Police of Bombay, Mr Stewart, was having a conversation with me, in his office regarding my relations with M.N. Roy and an anticipated visit to me of certain persons from abroad. During the course of the conversation the Honourable officer let drop a hint in the following words, the full import of which I failed to catch at that moment. Mr Stewart said, You hold an exceptionally influential position in certain circles here and abroad. Government would be glad if this position would be of some use to them.' I think I still hold that position. Rather it has been enhanced by the prosecution. If Your Excellency is pleased to think that I should use that position for the good of Your Excellency's government and the country, I should be glad to do so, if I am given the opportunity by Your Excellency granting my prayer for release.

S.A. DANGE. HE was a member of the Communist delegation that met Stalin in Moscow. Here, he is giving a talk on "My visit to Russia" in the weekly BBC Marathi magazine programme "Radio Jhankar". The others in the delegation were Ajoy Ghosh, M. Basavapunniah and C. Rajeswara Rao.-THE HINDU ARCHIVES

I am given the punishment of four years' rigorous imprisonment in order that those years may bring a salutary change in my attitude towards the King Emperor's sovereignty in India. I beg to inform Your Excellency that those years are unnecessary, as I have never been positively disloyal towards His Majesty in my writings or speeches nor do I intend to be so in future.

Hoping this respectful undertaking will satisfy and move Your Excellency to grant my prayer and awaiting anxiously a reply.

I beg to remain, Your Excellency's Most Obedient Servant, Shripat Amrit Dange. Written this day 28th July, 1924 Endorsement No. 1048, dated 31-7-1924.

Forwarded in original to I.G. [Inspector General] of prisons U.P. for disposal.

Sd/- W.P. Cook Col. I.M.S. Superintendent of Jail. Seal of I.G. Prisons 13070 Dated 1-8-1924.

On March 16, Basavapunniah and P. Ramamurthi went to the National Archives in New Delhi and again on March 17 and 19. What they found was set out in a pamphlet published by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) after the split later in the year. It was entitled Dange Unmasked (for a detailed analysis of the texts of the documents, including comments by the formidable Lt Col Cecil Kaye, Director of the Intelligence Bureau, perhaps its most able he is personally, a mere worm vide the writer's article Dange Letters; Survey (London) Spring 1979; pages 160-174).

Years later I sought an interview with Dange. What he said of the famous meeting with Stalin rang true. Stalin upbraided the CPI leaders for not supporting the Congress on the Quit India Movement when they mentioned that their stand had cost them dear. Why didn't you support it? Do you think we won the war because of the 100 rifles you sent us? Stalin was informality itself. Dange sat on the armrest of his chair when Stalin pored over the map of India he had sent for. Is this your Yenan? he asked with unconcealed contempt. It lay at the very heart of India. What followed the meetings is well recorded but not completely in a single volume.

Significantly, later Soviet writers also criticised the CPI's 1942 decision. Dr Alexander I. Chicherov, Head of the International Relations Research Department and Institute of Oriental Studies, Academy of Sciences USSR in Moscow, was an erudite scholar. He found in the archives a letter from Bal Gangadhar Tilak to the Russian Consulate in Bombay in 1905 outlining his plans for intensifying the freedom struggle. He admired Tilak.

On a visit to Bombay, Chicherov told Indian Express that the CPI's decision to keep out of the Quit India Movement was tragic (October 15, 1982).

One question arises. One of the interviewers said that they had no direct contact with Moscow, only with the Communist Party of Great Britain, that is, with Rajani Palme Dutt and Harry Pollit. Was it Palme Dutt, then, who instructed the switch in 1942?

Basavapunniah's interview mentions the disagreement between the Andhra thesis and the thesis of the Central leadership. The party was on the verge of a split. It was averted by Stalin. Like Dange, Mohit Sen supported the Emergency. Both left the CPI, But Mohit Sen's memoir is of absorbing interest. Sadly, it did not receive the review it deserved ( A Traveller and the Road: The Journey of an Indian Communist; Rupa & Co.; 2003). The two remained close.

Mohit Sen's account

Mohit Sen wrote: I was to have the privilege of carrying the China path' document to China. The CPI leadership hoped and expected that the leadership of the CPC would endorse this understanding and back it....

At that time, I did not know that this line had been challenged by an important section of the CPI leadership headed by Ajoy Ghosh, S.A. Dange and S.V. Ghate. They had produced a joint document which had gone down in the history of the party as the Three Ps' document.

This document shared the viewpoint that India had not won independence and that the Nehru government upheld the interests of British imperialism, landlords and those sections of the bourgeoisie that collaborated with imperialism. The document also held the view that armed revolution was the only path of advance. It differed from both the Ranadive line and the China path line [ the Andhra thesis] on its insistence that Indian conditions differed in the 1950s from both Russia and China. The strategy of the CPI should, therefore, be that of the Indian path. The armed revolution in our country would be a combination of peasant guerrilla actions in the countryside with working class insurrections in the urban areas. This was an updated version of what S.A. Dange had advocated decades ago in Gandhi vs. Lenin published in 1920, which had caught the attention of Lenin himself.

MOHIT SEN. HE wrote: "I was to have the privilege of carrying the `China path' document to China."-RAJEEV BHATT

The other point of difference of the three Ps' document was its realistic appraisal of the actual situation of the CPI. It was on the verge of annihilation. Its mass organisations were shattered and the party itself almost totally disintegrated. The first task was to save the party itself and to reforge its ties with the masses, taking into account the existing civil liberties.

The proponents of the Chinese path' led by Comrade C. Rajeswara Rao and those of the Indian path' led by Comrade Ajoy Ghosh had set up their own centres and the CPI was on the verge of a split. It was then that the Soviet Communists intervened.

Four leaders, two from each centre, were brought to Moscow. They travelled, incognito as manual workers on a Soviet ship from Calcutta. They were Comrades Ajoy Ghosh, S.A. Dange, C. Rajeswara Rao and M. Basavapunniah. None of them divulged any details of how they were contacted and what their exact itinerary was. Nikhil Chakravartty, who attended to all the technical details of planning the journey, has also not said anything.

A GROUP OF Telangana fighters. "[Stalin] strongly advised that the armed struggle being conducted in various areas, especially the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh, should be ended."-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

S.A. Dange and C. Rajeswara Rao have both told me about the meeting with the leaders of the CPSU [Communist Party of the Soviet Union]. The first meeting was attended from the Soviet side by Comrades [Mikhail Andreyevich] Suslov, [Georgy] Malenkov and [Vyacheslav Mikhailovich] Molotov. It was on the third day that it was announced that Comrade Stalin would attend. So he did for the subsequent days. Dange and Rajeswara Rao said that he was an attentive listener though he rarely sat at the table but kept pacing up and down smoking a pipe. But he intervened subtly to turn the discussion beyond dogmatic disputes to assessments of the existing situation and immediate tactical tasks.

Stalin's view on Nehru government

Stalin's view also was that India was not an independent country but ruled indirectly by British colonialists. He also agreed that the Communists could eventually advance only by heading an armed revolution. But it would not be of the Chinese type. His view on this point coincided with that of the three Ps'. He also agreed with their appraisal of the concrete situation in which the party was placed. He strongly advised that the armed struggle being conducted in various areas, especially the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh, should be ended. He said that it was Comrade Rajeswara Rao who should travel to the different camps and see that the arms were surrendered. This would be difficult but it was he alone who could do it. That, in fact, was done and Rajeswara Rao later told me that this was the most difficult task he had ever performed for the party.

Stalin also cautioned the CPI leaders that the Nehru government was not a puppet government. It had a social base and mass support and could not be overthrown easily. He asked the leaders to unite, work together, save the party and take it forward. He strongly advised them to make the CPI participate in the general elections (pages 80-81).

P. SUNDARAYYA AND (below) Basavapunniah in the 1950s.-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The record has him say: I cannot consider the government of Nehru as a puppet. All his roots are in the people. He was polite to the visitors, but they did not win his respect. His interpreter and the diplomat Nikolai Adyrkhayev's memoirs, released on Stalin's 118th birth anniversary (December 21, 1879), reveal that later in the year Stalin scolded a delegation of the Japanese Communist Party: In India they have wrecked the party and there is something similar with you.


As it happens some interesting documents have surfaced in the pages of a journal, Revolutionary Democracy, published by Vijay Singh. The issue of April 2011 published documents from the papers of Rajani Palme Dutt in the archives of the Communist Party of Great Britain, which are deposited in the Labour Archive and Library, Manchester.

THE NINE MEMBERS of the first Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) after the 1964 split in the Communist movement: (standing, from left) P. Ramamurthi, Basavapunniah, E.M.S. Namboodiripad and Harkishan Singh Surjeet; (sitting, from left) Promode Dasgupta, Jyoti Basu, Sundarayya, B.T. Ranadive and A.K. Gopalan.-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

One was a letter dated November 1, 1962, from B.N. Datar, Minister of State for Home, to P.K. Sawant, Home Minister, Maharashtra. It read : I am enclosing herewith in original a list handed over personally by Shri S.A. Dange, to Home Minister recently giving the names and addresses of CPI persons in Bombay and other individuals who in the opinion of Shri S.A. Dange are pro-Chinese. I would request your immediate comments and action in the matter under advice to me. The other letter contains charges too scandalous to be reproduced, still less vouched for.

Authentic material on Moscow talks

Three other issues contain authentic material on the Moscow talks from the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History translated from the Russian by Vijay Singh. There is a stenographic record of the discussions between the two delegations on February 4, 6 and 9, 1951 (September 2006; pages 162-200). As one might expect, the Indians did most of the talking on the first two days, explaining internal differences and replying to pointed questions by the hosts. Stalin spoke at great length on February 9 (pages 186-200).

The issue of April 2007 published a record of the discussions with Malenkov and Suslov on February 21 (pages 126-130). The issue of April 2010 has three letters by the CPI leaders; Stalin underlined parts of the letters and gave his comments in the margin. All these documents merit detailed analysis in the light of the CPI's internal debates in 1948-51.

Postscript: Aloke Banerjee of Hindustan Times reported from Kolkata on November 26, 2005: Marxist Patriarch Jyoti Basu had been against a split in the CPI and had urged all his comrades to keep the party united. This was in 1963, a year before some CPI leaders left the party and formed the CPI(M).

Documents portraying the final days before the CPI split have been made public with the CPI(M) publishing the fourth volume of Communist Movement in Bengal: Documents and Related Facts. The book contains a letter Basu wrote from the Dum Dum Jail on October 9, 1963, titled Save the party from revisionists and dogmatic extremists'. We must stay within the party and continue our ideological struggle against Dange's revisionism. It will not be right to split the party,' Basu had said in the letter. Yet, the reckless dogmatists seem to be determined to break up the party.'

Four decades on, Basu cannot remember having written such a letter. Informed that his party had published his letter, Basu told HT on Friday, I don't remember having written such a letter. But it's true that I had tried till the last moments to stop the imminent split. I was of the opinion that it would be incorrect to break the CPI and form a new party. But I failed. There were many differences. We could not stay together any longer.' The CPI(M)'s book also contains the minutes of a crucial meeting of the party's working committee. Unfortunately, the book is in Bengali. An English translation is overdue.

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