People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 33

August 15, 2004

August 15: A Day For Introspection

 Harkishan Singh Surjeet


BY the time this issue comes out, prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh would be preparing for his maiden speech from the ramparts of Red Fort that has a place of its own in the annals of our independence struggle. For, it was from here that the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar addressed the sepoys on May 11, 1857, giving a fillip to our first war of independence. Then in 1945, it was here that three leaders (Sehgal, Shahnawaz and Dhillon) of the Indian National Army were tried, and the trial galvanised the whole country, with tens of thousands gathering every day in the Red Fort lawns to shout angry slogans that the INA heroes be released without condition. The mass pressure was so great that even Nehru had to don the lawyer’s robe after a long gap. Indeed, this was one of the indications that Indian masses were in no mood to tolerate the British rule any longer. Nay, they eventually forced the British to release the INA heroes.


And, no less important an indication of India’s real spirit was that one of these INA heroes was a Hindu, another a Muslim and the third a Sikh. Though this was only a happy chance, it did induce our people to assert our basic unity in diversity. A similar instance of unity in diversity was the soon-to-follow naval revolt that convinced the British that their days in India were numbered.




INDIA’S independence in August 1947 proved a major landmark in history. The second world war not only destroyed the threat of fascism but so much weakened the old imperialist powers that they were no longer in a position to hold on to their colonies. They were thus forced to leave India, the biggest among colonies, and this unleashed a chain of events when numerous countries broke the shackles of imperialism.         


India’s support also played a big role in the national liberation movements the world over. Well known is our role in forcing the hesitant imperialist countries to agree to a boycott of the racist South Africa. In fact, our support to national liberation movements reflected the painful desire of a once enslaved country that no other country should remain under bondage.  


Though independent India’s rulers harboured certain illusions about the US intentions in the post-war situation, the unfolding events soon convinced them of the need to pursue a path of self-reliant development and, even though it was a capitalist path of development, it made them take steps to mobilise the newly independent countries to assert themselves against the imperialist attempts at blackmail. Thus the newly independent Asian countries, including the People’s Republic of China, came together at Bandung (Indonesia) while India and China proclaimed the Panchsheel. Later, over two dozen countries of the world met at Belgrade where the non-aligned movement (NAM) was born. This was a new force to reckon with, and India played a no less important role in forging and strengthening it.    




YET, as we know, the tragedy was that India’s independence came with a bloody vivisection of the country, when lakhs of people were forced to leave their hearth and home on both sides of the new border created under imperialist conspiracy. Moreover, in the communal riots that accompanied the partition, a large number of people were mercilessly butchered, property worth crores of rupees was occupied and arsoned, girls and women were kidnapped and raped. However, this only strengthened our people’s resolve to erect a secular polity in India. This was the natural culmination of our freedom struggle that always visualised that independent India could not but have a secular system.


The creed of secularism was so strong even before independence that in the 1930s the Congress, then in reality not a party but a platform, resolved that Hindu Mahasabha and other communal groupings won’t be given membership.


Some historians are of the view that it is the British who politically unified the country. Here, we must not forget that India had already seen big empires like those of the Mauryas, Tughlaqs and Mughals, with attendant cultural assimilation. Yet, even if we accept the above argument, there is no doubt that the British raj only created the anatomy of unity, and that it was our freedom struggle that gave this unity flesh and blood. India’s constitution embodies the syncretic values developed in this country over centuries.    




THERE was one more, and no less important, aspect of our freedom struggle. Under the direct impact of Great October Revolution in Russia, our liberation movement acquired a clear-cut conception of the direction India needed to take after winning independence. This is not to say that earlier freedom fighters were devoid of an economic philosophy. As far back as 1857, our freedom fighters were concerned with the ongoing ruination of Indian peasants, artisans and even townspeople under the British; this was the process Dadabhai Naoroji later called “un-British” and asked the British to take care of these sections. But, on the whole, the economic vision of earlier freedom fighters was limited, hazy and somewhat revivalist. Their main concern was to drive the British out of the country; they did not pay much attention to what after that.


But the impact of October Revolution fundamentally changed the vision --- both economic and political. In political terms, we realised that self-rule or dominion status under British empire won’t do; what India needed was total independence. Thus we see Maulana Hasrat Mohani moving a complete independence resolution in the 1921 session of Indian National Congress, i e in the immediate aftermath of October Revolution. Though this resolution was defeated at the time, the act was repeated year after year, mainly due to the efforts of nascent communist groups, till the Congress opted for complete independence in its 1929 session.    


And no less radical was the Revolution’s impact on economic thinking. By and by, communists, Congress socialists, Bhagat Singh and his comrades and even local level groups began to stridently advocate that India’s future lay only in socialism. Among other things, Rabindranath Tagore’s letters from Soviet Union and Nehru’s accounts about that country made the people aware about how the slogans of liberty, equality and fraternity --- raised by the Great French Revolution of July 1789 --- were being transformed into a living reality in the USSR. The thinking now was that mere political freedom won’t do; economic independence and social justice were also required for India’s regeneration.


The urge for equality, in itself very old, was never so strong as it was after that Revolution. Moreover, instead of seeking equality in the spiritual domain, now its search began in the more mundane spheres of economy and politics.


All this gradually led to radicalisation of the Congress itself, which now did not remain confined to a few elite but began to draw the masses in increasing numbers. The spate of plans prepared in the late 1930s and early 1940s, including the official Congress plan prepared by a committee under Nehru, were directly influenced by the roaring success of the Soviet planning process. Nay, when most of Europe lay in dust after Hitler’s attack, the Soviets withstood the Nazi blitzkrieg and smashed their war machine. The question being asked everywhere was: how come that the USSR, a backward country till recently, could perform this miracle? And the answer was no secret. To quote Mrs Anna Louis Strong, “It was the Five-Year Plan!”


Needless to say, this was clear to Indian people also.



ALL these are nothing new but known facts of history. Yet, if we are constrained to reiterate them at this stage, there is to it a reason that cannot be overlooked.         


The piece of history recalled above makes it clear how the tenets of our freedom struggle shaped the contours of post-independence developments in our political system, economy, foreign policy and the like. Yet, the same precious legacies of that struggle are under threat today. Recalling the history of our freedom struggle may go a long way in creating awareness about these threats. 


Take the case of economy. If we look at the last 57 years, it is clear that we have made much progress since the British left the country. Be it food, clothing, shelter, industry, education, health, expected life or any other field, the progress is undeniable. Yet, at the same time, one is constrained to say that, given our natural and human resources, what has been achieved is not in consonance with what could have been. Let us recall that while we gained independence on August 15, 1947, China won liberation more than two years later, on October 1, 1949, and yet China has far surpassed us. Going into details is not needed; in any case, they are so numerous as to need many, many volumes. Suffice it to say that even after 57 years of independence we are unable to meet the bare minimum necessities of our people who are groaning under the weight of poverty, starvation and illiteracy, but who could work miracles otherwise.


The situation is so grim that all bombastic figures of GDP growth, export earnings, FDI and share market transactions lose their relevance. They are not even worth the paper they are printed upon. The people’s aspirations for all-round development and their urge for equitable distribution of national wealth still remain unfulfilled.


The reason can be grasped at two levels. First, the path of development we chose was the capitalist path that had its own limitations and demonstrated its bankruptcy before long. Feudal and semi-feudal production relations persist in big parts of the country while imperialist capital was allowed to penetrate our economy and even our culture and value systems. It is clear that this path of development is inherently unable to solve the burning problems facing our people.




SECONDLY, and as a consequence of the above, the last 13 years have seen fresh assaults on the people’s living standards in the form of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation (LPG) policies --- not only in India but the world over. The USSR’s demise and the setbacks in East Europe gave the imperialists what they always wanted --- a chance to hegemonise the world. Multinational corporations (MNCs), the vehicles of imperialism, are out to reap super profits at the cost of the people.   


It is thus a changed situation in the history of world capitalism. Though capitalism still remains in the stage of imperialism, it is the era of imperialist globalisation.


In India, the six-year period from March 1998 to May 2004 has been particularly disgraceful in this regard. It was the period when an out and out reactionary party, and a fascist one at that, came to power and began to pursue most disastrous policies from day one. Soon after coming to power, for instance, it went in for nuclear weapons, taking the arms race in the subcontinent to new heights. It also patronised the gruesome attacks on Christians in various states and then the most heinous massacre of Muslims in Gujarat. The BJP’s communal drive led to saffronisation of textbooks and educational institutions in order to produce a generation of bigoted cannon fodders. It also tried to harm the secular edifice of our polity in several ways and even appointed a commission for the purpose. The BJP being a staunch pro-US party, its regime dismantled the basic tenets of our foreign policy, stopped supporting the Palestinian struggle for a homeland, withdrew recognition from SADR, and refused to move a finger to rejuvenate the NAM.  


In matters economic, the BJP regime pursued with a vengeance the LPG policies that were initiated 13 years ago by the Rao government. This included the dirt-cheap sale of public sector undertakings, liberalisation of even unnecessary imports, more freedom to MNCs to loot our country, and the like. This has further worsened our people’s plight. Due to these policies, more than 20,000 peasants committed suicide in Andhra Pradesh and other states in the last 6 years.


In sum, all the positive legacies of our freedom struggle got a setback in these 6 years.




IT is in such a situation that the Congress led UPA has now assumed the reins of power at the centre, with crucial outside support from Left parties.


The choice is clear: whether this government will pursue the same bankrupt path that its predecessors, including the Vajpayee government, were pursuing or will it chart out an alternative path?


Today, the situation is that while the Common Minimum Programme of the UPA government has promised to take a few pro-people steps, it is also under the pressure of feudal elements, monopolists, imperialists and MNCs. Though not very adequate, its announcements regarding job creation, rural credit, education etc are welcome. But it seems that instead of taxing the rich to fund these projects, the government is trying to shift their burden on one or another section of the people who are already groaning under the weight of LPG policies.


The reduction in EPF interest rate to tide over its fiscal deficit, despite strong opposition from trade unions, is only the latest example of the kind. It won’t be surprising, therefore, if the government gives a nod to Kelkar and Rakesh Mohan recommendations and harm the unorganised pensioners and other small savers in order to provide cheap credit to the same big defaulters who have pushed the banks into the mesh of non-performing assets.


Is it wise? History may guide us to an answer. In Italy and Germany, for example, it was the all-round discontent among people that Mussoloni and Hitler exploited to foist their fascistic regimes on their respective countries. But, why go too far? In India, the BJP capitalised upon the growing popular discontent, the Rao regime’s role in enhancing that discontent, and the failure of the United Front regime in ameliorating the people’s lot, with consequences known to one and all. Therefore, if the Congress people think they would be merrily ruling forever, they must better beware themselves before it is too late. Any pursuit of anti-people policies can only make our home-grown fascists smile.


As for the Left parties, they are as a matter of principle committed to support the UPA insofar as the defence of national unity and secularism is concerned. But we also know that one cannot defend national unity and secularism by pursuing retrograde policies. Therefore, the Congress would do well to introspect before it makes the folly of taking the Left for granted. To do some plain talk, we are duty bound to our toiling people and not to the exploiting classes.   


This August 15 gives us, and the Congressmen, a good chance to recall the history of our freedom struggle and learn a bit about what our people expect from us.