Octogenarian leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Kanak Mukherjee, (She joined the undivided Communist Party of India in 1937 when she was Kanak Dasgupta), a former Rajya Sabha member, was reminiscing the extremely difficult days of communist movement in colonial India at the 99th birth anniversary meting of Abdul Halim on 6 December,2000.That was coincidentally the eighth anniversary of demolition of Babri Masjid of Ayodhya, one of the last treasure-pieces of the Sharqi School of Architecture. The demolition marked a high point in the ascendancy of majority communalism (structured on high caste Hindu nationalism) that the first Indian Prime Minister and one of the three founders of Non-Aligned Movement, Jawaharlal Nehru, warned as the causative factor of Fascism of Indian variety.
Mukherjee was a member of Parliament, a former central committee member of CPI(M) and founder-president of the All India Democratic Women’s Association. She knew Halim from the late 1930s when the nascent CPI had to fight a grim battle of survival é the party having been illegal é and the members comprise something like a well-knit large family. Her husband, the late Saroj Mukherjee became a member of CPI in 1932 and later became a polit bureau member of CPI(M). Small wonder, being one of the first few woman communists in Bengal, she had obviously a deep attachment towards Halim ,one of the three founder-organisers of CPI in its formative period. “Eventually, the early propagators of communist ideas were mostly Muslims. They used to say that they gravitated towards communism not through classics like Communist Manifesto but were inspired by the principles of Islam,” she said at Halim’s birth anniversary meeting. Maybe, the advent of Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha – both helped the British colonial rulers apply effectively their divide-and-rule tactics – prevented the process of gravitation of Muslims to the national freedom and communist movement.
Halim apart, the other founders of CPI in Bengal were Muzaffar Ahmed and Abdur Rezzak Khan. But never in the history of CPI or CPI (M) did any Muslim become general secretary of CPI. While Dr Z A Ahmed became a central secretariat member of the CPI, CPI (M) did never have any Muslim in the polit bureau. Although neither of the two Indian CPs is communal – rather absolutely secular – Muslim leaders had never occupied key party posts in them.
Frontline is a pro-CPI (M) and progressive fortnightly. Nobody doubts its commitment to leftism, secularism and democracy, especially it’s editor, N Ram’s. But even this newspaper often expresses its affinity towards elite communists caste-Hindu leaders of CPI (M). For instance, its editorial on Jyoti Basu, “The Jyoti Basu difference and legacy” (Nov 24,2000), did not name a single Muslim among outstanding communists. It mentioned BT Ranadive, EMS Namboodiripad, M Basavapunnaiah, P Sundarayya, Promode Dasgupta and Harekrishna Konar as ideological and or/organisational stalwarts in Indian communist movement but censored Abdul Halim, leave alone Muzaffar Ahmed. There is none from the lower caste Hindu or Muslims either. Saroj Mukherjee after the death of Somnath Lahiri wrote in an article in the CPI Bengali morninger, Kalantar, that without the organisational talent of three, Halim, Dr Ranen Sen (joined CPI in 1930 and the oldest living communist today) and Lahiri, communist party could not grow in Bengal in the 1930s defying colonial repression and intimidation. There is no mention of Abdullah Rasool of All India Kisan Sabha, a more prominent peasant organiser than Konar, or Mohammad Ismail, a legendary communist and a talented labour leader. When Jyoti Basu started working among railway man under Bengal Assam Railway Workers Union, Ismail was its president and main organiser in 1940.
This scribe sent a rejoinder to the Frontline editor, pointing out that, “while talking of party-building, it is very strange how you missed Krishna Pillai, Abdul Halim, C Rajeswar Rao,Abdul Momin, Z A Ahmed and Bankim Mukherjee. There was a time when CPI in the 1930s used to be called in political circles as Bankim Mukherjee’s party. In peasant organisation, P Krishna Pillai, CR, PS, Ahmed and Mukherjee (a very talented TU leader too, although factionalism in the undivided CPI was so dominant that he could be a member of national council of CPI only a few months before he died)”. Its deputy editor e-mailed a reply suggesting that I send a shorter version. I had sent it, but it was not carried. Ram, one of the members of the first cohort of the Student Federation of India, a mass front of CPI (M), often writes against suppression of freedom of press and howls against social injustice, but it cannot be said that he has always the courage to admit criticism from others.
Not only Muslims, many dedicated communists who came from lower strata of the Indian multistructural society remain unnoticed, Krishna Pillai, T V Thomas of Kerala or Rebati Burman ( a brilliant scholar and economist) and Gajen Mali of undivided Bengal are not remembered any more. In building the CPI in Travancore and Cochin (together comprising the state of Kerala today), Krishna Pillai took a more prominent role than EMS Namboodiripad who was the last general secretary of undivided CPI and of the CPI(M) in the mid-1070s, 1980s and first half of the 1990s. Krishna Pillai died of snake bite. Thomas ( husband of K R Gowry, a firebrand CPI(M) leader of Kerala in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s but who left the party in disgust) was the finest labour minister in the state). His role in helping the striking workers of Ganesh Beedi Company form a cooperative that makes Dinesh brand Beedi is a glorious act. “Women who worked there are in demand for negotiated marriage”, told D Thankappan, director, Centre for Workers’ Management, New Delhi, at a meeting of activists of Nagarik Mancha , Kolkata-based voluntary social action forum devoted to the workers, affected by industrial sickness and occupational hazards a few years back. Burman who died prematurely of leprosy , virtually due to lack of proper treatment, had collaborated with Rajani Palme Dutt, the famous ideologue of the Communist Party of Great Britain for half a century from the 1920s, in drafting the historic memorandum of Bengal unit of All India Kisan Sabha to the Floud Commission. Mali was a valiant activist of Kakdwip offensive in the historic Tebhaga movement and used to be named along with Kangsari Halder, the legendary hero of the movement. Bengali poet, Ram Basu, wrote a unique poem on Gajen Mali. Mali belonged to the subalterns.
This elitist stance is a post-1964 phenomenon. Elite communists and their fellow-travelers – mostly white-collar employees – tend to distort the history of communist movement in India as if the communist movement in India started really with the birth of CPI (M) in October 1964. It is a pity to note that there is nobody among the elite radicals in the media to tell us about Abdur Rezzak Khan, Abdul Momin, Ajoy Ghosh, P C Joshi,Dr G Adhikari,Teja Singh Swatantra, Sohan Singh Josh, Bhowani Sen, S V Ghate (the first general secretary of CPI), Z A Ahmed, Bankim Mukherjee, Maulana,Ishaq Sambhali, Jharkhande Rai, Sarju Pande, and other sterling leaders. Momin and Mukherjee, along with Halim, led the jute workers’ strike in 1929 and the historic carters’ in 1930. History of trade union movement and its left orientation cannot be written without reference to Mukherjee, Halim and Momin. Can we forget Ibrahim Khan, the leader of North Western Frontier Railwaymen from Lahore to Karachi in colonial India? Amir Haider Khan of Meerut had been the earliest communist organiser after Singaravelu Chettiar, the first president of CPI (1925). Sundarayya, Basavapunnaiah and C Rajeswara Rao joined the party later. Both the Indian CPs have practically forgotten Khan. In Andhra Pradesh, CPI has at least honoured Makhdoom Mahiuddin, the Telengana hero by naming its state council-owned house. Makhdoom wrote two lyrics of two often-sung songs by the Indian Peoples’ Theatre Association – ‘Yeh waqt ki awaaz hain milke chalo” ( Time beckons us to walk together) and Yeh jung hain jung hain azadi/ Azadi key parchamke taley ( this war is a war of freedom/ Under the banner of freedom). Marxists who specialise in philosophy are to judge whether this elitist trend reflects the uncontrolled growth of petty-bourgeois revolutionism.
Dr Z A Ahmed wrote a monograph, Agrarian Problem in India,64 years ago. It was brought out by the Indian National Congress when Dr Ahmed was a member of Congress. It was the first of a series of study material under INC’s Political and Economic Studies. Very few scholars in economic history and agricultural economics are aware of this 45-page pace-setting economic survey and analysis. Now if someone says that Konar or Benoy Choudhuri were better theoreticians on peasant question, one will only prove one’s pompous ignorance.
Frontline wrote that EMS Namboodiripad, BT Ranadive, and M Basavapunnaiah were “exponents and developers of Marxist theory”. This is not true. They were good theoreticians but made no contribution at all. Truly speaking, the it was only Ajoy Ghosh who made some notable theoretical contribution. Even before the 20th Congress of the now-defunct Communist Party of Soviet Union ( where the central committee of CPSU talked of the new bourgeoisie in the newly-independent countries, taking a position against the imperialism), Ghosh wrote an innovative piece on the Indian bourgeoisie in CPI’s monthly organ, New Age. Dr Ranen Sen, described Ghosh – in a conversation with this scribe – “as the most outstanding-ever theoretician among party leaders and the best-ever general secretary of CPI”. When Modeste Rubinstein in an article in New Times said that Nehru government was pursuing non-capitalist path of development, Ghosh wrote a rejoinder against it in the CPI monthly. Nonetheless, the Soviet communist leaders held him in high esteem. Boris Ponomarev, ideologue and alternate polit bureau member of the now defunct CPSU characterised Ghosh as one of the “sterling leaders” produced by the Communist International alongside Ho-chi Minh, Rajani Palme Dutt and the alike. No other Indian communist was in the Ponomarev list. Ghosh too took an ideological position in his warning against the rise of communalism in 1939, the Hindu communalism in the main, when he was 30 and a PB member of CPI.
Petty bourgeois revolutionism rules the roost in India today. Disdainful attitude towards the subalterns, Muslims and those that embraced hardship for propagating communist revolutionary ideas is a fall-out of obsession with petty bourgeois leftism. There were elitist and opportunist elements in Muslims too. They infiltrated into the undivided CPI in the 1930s too. But there were leaders like Amir Haider Khan, Abdul Momin, Abdul Halim and of course, Muzaffar Ahmed and Abdur Rezzak Khan comprising a galaxy of firebrand and uncompromising revolutionaries. To forget them is to commit a treachery.
Mr. Sankar Ray contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Calcutta, India.