People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
August 15, 2004
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
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.
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
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.
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
GENESIS OF A
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.
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.
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.
IMPACT OF GREAT
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.
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
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.
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.
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!”
to say, this was clear to Indian people also.
REASON FOR REITERATION
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
THE CHANGED SITUATION
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
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
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.
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.
sum, all the positive legacies of our freedom struggle got a setback in these 6
THE CHOICE IS
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.