Prelude to a storm

Published : Jan 29, 2010 00:00 IST

THIS volume covers the period before the storm of the Quit India Movement broke out in August 1942 shortly after the collapse of the Cripps Mission.

It covers constitutional politics and war measures, including the non-Congress Ministries the Congress Ministries in the Provinces having resigned in 1939 the national struggle and government repression and students and womens movements, with a sub-chapter on culture.

Part 2 of the volume will cover communal politics, movements for responsible government in the princely states and peasant and labour movements.

Arjun Dev, co-editor, has written a brief, almost skimpy, Editors Introduction, which does scant justice to the documents and, indeed, to the events in 1941. Such ferment as there was was in the Left the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Congress Socialist Party as it began to consider the policy to adopt after Hitlers attack on the Soviet Union in July 1941.

Gandhi faced little opposition, except from Subhas Chandra Bose, and was firm as a letter of December 29, 1940, shows.

You are irrepressible whether ill or well. Do get well before going in for fireworks. I am surprised that you wont distinguish between discipline and indiscipline. But a man has to put conscience before popularity. I know that in Bengal it is difficult to function effectively without you two [Sarat Bose and Subhas]. I know too that you can carry on even without the Congress. But the Congress has to manage somehow under the severe handicap As in your [Forward] Block joining CD [civil disobedience], I think with the fundamental differences between you and me, it is not possible.

Till one of us is converted to the others view we must sail in different boats, though their destination may appear, but only appear, to be the same.

Meanwhile let us love one another remaining members of the same family that we are. A very Gandhian technique, using an iron hand in a velvet glove.

The Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) reported on May 24, 1941: Primary membership of the Indian National Congress during 1940-41 shows a steep decline. Compared with the immediately preceding corresponding period, the fall in all-India membership exceeds 50 per cent, while in certain parts of the country such as Bombay City and suburbs and the United Provinces, membership has fallen by as much as 70 per cent approximately.

An I.B. report on the contrasting reactions from the CPI members in the Deoli Camp and the Congress Socialist Party said: The declaration of war between Germany and Soviet Russia came as a rude shock to the Communists interned in this Camp. The reverses of Russia are very much felt by the Communists. Any good news from Russia was welcomed.

The Communists here do not consider Britain to be the allies of Russia at present and believe that their true identity is yet to be seen. In their discussions they say that if Russia is defeated, international communism will receive a severe setback but not a crushing defeat.

They believe that in the event of Russian defeat Communists all over the world including themselves will be butchered on idle pretexts, but they will be mistaken to think that they were finished.

The Congress Socialists and their camp followers who are in a minority do not make much comment on the war situation. They think all imperialists to be equally bad.

M.N. Roys politics also received the I.B.s notice.

It might surprise his detractors and also his followers that a report of January 27, 1941, said: Secret reports continue to echo Roys revolutionary and essentially Communist motives in seeking an anti-fascist popular front. Two reports one being by an old close confidant emphasise Roys admiration for Stalins tactics, and his typically conceited belief that his anti-Fascist line is the policy Stalin would surely approve and is in fact the policy the Communist International will be forced to recognise as the correct policy for the whole of the Colonial Peoples Nationalist struggle.

All in all, a fascinating and instructive document which is useful for reference.

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