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The Communists' support for the creation of PakistanBy hamdani
Communist Party of India and the demand for Pakistan
By Ahmad Salim
The British occupation of Bengal in 1757, aroused a wave of anti-British sentiments throughout India. However, despite strong resistance posed by Indian people fighting for freedom, the British gradually kept advancing and finally, in 1857, they established complete control over India. The Indian people never accepted that and kept fighting against the British Imperialism in various ways.
In early 20th century, while the British Government had firmly established its control in India, the October Revolution changed the fate of Soviet Union. The revolution had an immense ideological impact on enslaved nations all over the world, especially, Indians. Communist principles and practices became primarily an ideological threat which was far more destructive to the status quo of the British Empire than even the Tsarist arms. At that time there was a movement among the Muslims of India known as Tehrik-e-Hijrat. It was a religious movement started by the Muslims dissatisfied with the British treatment of the Turkish Caliphate. The Hijrat exodus brought 36,000 people to Afghanistan, which being a poor country could not handle such a massive influx of refugees. Therefore, Afghan authorities refused to oblige and some eighty of the Muhajirs took a long hazardous trek, crossed the Oxus river (Amu Daria), and reached Soviet Russia. The Soviet authorities gave them a huge reception. At Tashkent and Moscow, some of these Muhajirs acquired military and political training.
The first group of Indian Communists was formed only in October 1920 following the arrival in Tashkent of Indians who had attended the Second Congress of the Comintern. On October 17, on the initiative of M. N. Roy and H. Mukherjee this group of seven people proclaimed itself the Communist Party of India (CPI). However, the formation of ?migr? CPI was a premature step. The party was properly formed in India after the Cawnpur Communist Conference in 1925. The British recognised Communists as their most dangerous enemies. It was evident from a series of conspiracy cases ? Peshawar, Kanpur, Meerut and others - hatched against them during 1920s and early 1930s. In addition, they banned CPI in 1934 and it remained illegal for eight years. During that period, CPI functioned mainly as an underground organization.
When the World War II started between the Allies and the Axis Powers, Soviet Union named it Imperialist War. However, when Soviet Union was attacked by Germany in 1941, a pact was signed between the Allies and Soviet Union. It was at this stage, that the Soviet Union and subsequently, CPI, changed their stance towards the War and called it People?s War. Consequently, the British Government lifted the ban on CPI and the Party started working legally. CPI cooperated with the British Government in its War effort.
During 1942-7, CPI continued its efforts for forging Hindu-Muslim unity in order to build a massive resistance against the Imperialist Government and bring about the liberation of India. At the same time, the Party supported the Muslims? demand of a separate homeland on the basis of the right of self-determination. However, CPI was not in favour of dividing India merely on the basis of religion, or more precisely, the two-nation theory. CPI?s stand was reiterated in the Resolution passed by the Enlarged Plenum of the CPI Central Committee on 19 September 1942 and confirmed by the First Congress of the CPI in May 1943. The Resolution declared that conceding to Muslims the right of autonomous state existence and of secession, could form the basis for unity between the Indian National Congress (INC) and the All India Muslim League (AIML). This would give to the Muslims wherever they were in an overwhelming majority in a contiguous territory which was their homeland, the right to form their autonomous states and even to separate if they so desire. Such a declaration therefore conceded the just essence of the Pakistan demand but it had nothing in common with the separatist theory of dividing India into two nations on the basis of religion. The unfortunate aspect of our history is that Communists have always been regarded as the enemies of Pakistan. In fact, they were the only secular party who supported Pakistan on genuine principle of the right of self-determination.
In order to achieve liberation of India, the issue of Hindu-Muslim unity remained central to the Communists in India. The problem of Hindu-Muslim unity posed by the Communists was that the whole conflict between the two sections was confined to the bourgeoisie and the vested interests; the masses of either section had nothing to do with that conflict. If the masses of both sections were united on economic issues, on common struggles for economic demands; and, side by side the Muslims were granted their cultural rights, the problem would be solved.
After the advent of the 1935 Act, happened took place simultaneously. On the one hand, the nationalist movement took the biggest sweep forward and penetrated into the Indian countryside far and wide. On the other hand, with the developing offensive of Fascism on a world scale, with the sharpening of the world crisis and the crisis of World Imperialism, the question of winning power from Imperialism came to the forefront. The problem of Hindu-Muslim unity, under the influence of these two factors, sharply came on the agenda, but in a new form. At that time, the demand of the national movement no more became one for constitutional concessions, or for communal versus joint electorates, etc., but one for power. The war crisis posed sharply before the Indian people the problem of winning power.
The politics of the CPI in 1941 happens to be one of the most debatable issues in Indian freedom movement. During this phase the CPI abandoned its previous position regarding the War. On June 22, 1941 Germany attacked the Soviet Union and, consequently, this letter joined the Allies. So far, the CPI was following the policy of united front as enunciated by the Comintern. The CPI was in two minds. The all-India leaders of the CPI were behind the prison bars. Those who remained outside jail did not want to help the British war effort. In December 1941, the CPI adopted the policy of ?people?s war? and wholeheartedly fought against the Fascist forces. It opposed the Quit India movement ? and criticised the Congress Socialist Party for organising sabotage. It was observed that the anti-war attitude was ?detrimental to the true interests? of the Indian people, that the hope of freedom of India was bound up with an anti-Fascist victory; that they stood to lose everything if they neglected to render that front impregnable.
It is at that time that the AIML came out with the Lahore Resolution of 1940 for a separate state or states for Muslims. With the outbreak of World War II, the Congress demanded independence and the AIML demanded Pakistan. There began the controversy of Pakistan versus unity and Independence of India. The national movement became broader and swept over every nook and corner of India hitherto left comparatively untouched. The people for the first time woke up to active political and national consciousness.
The CPI viewed the growing rivalry between the bourgeoisie of both the INC and AIML as a progressive development regarding the Muslim masses and their advancing political consciousness. It considered the growth of the AIML not as the growth of communalism but the rise of anti-imperialist nationalist consciousness among the Muslim masses. The communists held that by bringing together the INC and the AIML and joining them on common democratic demands, they could give a progressive expression to this upsurge of the Muslim masses and the Muslim nationalities, and that they could weld this into firm anti-imperialist unity. Therefore, they put forward the slogan of Congress-League unity.
INC was opposed to the imperialist federation as offered in the 1935 Act. So was the AIML. But united front to oppose the imperialist federation could be forged only when the two organisations agreed to the shape of the federation of independent India. The INC conception of federation was defined in the Nehru Report (1928) as one in which the residual powers were vested in the Centre and not in the federating units. AIML had opposed this conception vigorously. Its concept of a federation for free India was one of autonomous sovereign states. The AIML wanted autonomy for regions in which Muslim nationalities like Sindhis, Pashtuns, Punjabis, and Eastern Bengal Muslims, lived. CPI held that it was a just and democratic demand.
The real nature of the communal problem became clear to CPI in March 1940 when the AIML adopted the Pakistan Resolution. The CPI had earlier held that India was one nation and that the Muslims were just a religious cultural minority and that Congress-League united front could be forged by ensuring cultural and religious rights to all communities. After the adoption of the Pakistan Resolution, the comrades in CPI felt guilty of the charge of denying the peoples of the Muslim nationalities and their just right to autonomy in free India. Therefore, after 1940, CPI began to see that the Hindu-Muslim problem in India was in fact a problem of growing nationalities and that it could only be solved on the basis of the recognition of the right of self-determination, to the point of political secession of the Muslim nationalities.
Though the Soviet Indologists regarded the demand of Pakistan as politically reactionary, the Indian Communists held the Congress had failed to solve the communal problem as a result of which there was no political unity in India.
They also questioned the right of Congress to speak for the whole of India. This new political stand was embodied in a concrete political proposal that the future India should be a voluntary federation of regional states based on mutual confidence.
The starting point of the solution of the communal problem put forward by CPI was the urgent need of unity of the people of India to defend the land from Fascism. CPI kept in the forefront the fact that no nationality could have freedom and scope for free development until and unless all imperialist and feudal fetters were shattered, and also Fascism was beaten back from the borders of Indian Subcontinent and crushed. CPI urged to bring together all the nationalities on to a common platform. The Muslim masses feared that they would be oppressed and exploited by Hindu India. The uneven bourgeois development itself created conditions wherein one dominant nationality might be in a position to stifle the growth of less developed and weaker nationalities in a free India. Thus, CPI looked upon the demand for self-determination of the nationalities as a just demand. The essence of that demand was equality and freedom from oppression. To refuse this demand meant to sanction national inequality and oppression.
It was in March 1940 that the AIML put forward its slogan of Pakistan. The INC had put forward non-cooperation as an oppositional weapon against from Imperialism. In exactly the same way, the AIML too, realising the anti-war and anti-imperialist sentiments of the Muslim masses put forward a parallel slogan to that of the INC, in order to share power, at the same time get the backing of the Muslim masses. The INC declared: ?If we are given independence, we shall support the war?. The AIML declared: ?If we are given Pakistan, we shall support the war?.
But there was more in the slogan of Pakistan than this. Implicit in it was the rising national urge of the Muslims nationalities which had awakened to life with the spread of political consciousness during this period. The slogan for Pakistan had gripped the minds of the Muslim masses strongly.
Mr Jinnah had defined Pakistan as a secular state and had resisted attempts to define it as a Muslim theocratic state. CPI held that it was only the enemies of unity who equated Pakistan with Pan-Islamism. The core of the Pakistan demand was the democratic urge among the newly awakened Muslim nationalities for self-determination and freedom and not Pan-Islamism.
The CPI?s attitude towards the Quit India Movement displayed a serious anti-Congress leaning of the Communists and an increasing warmth for the AIML and its ideal of Pakistan. The CPI declared its approval of the AIML?s political aspirations. By mid-1942, the CPI was expressly committed to the view that India was a multi-national entity and that an unqualified right to self-determination may be granted, to each and every nationality. Needless to say that the right of self-determination, included and implied, the right to secede form the parent state. The nationality policy of the CPI apparently meant to befriend the AIML, presumably to muster its support against the Fascist and Imperialist powers.
Therefore, CPI was the only organized secular party which supported the demand for Pakistan, and gave it an ideological justification on the basis of the principle of the right of self-determination to sub-national groups. The Party advocated that the Muslims of western Punjab (beyond the river Sutlej), ?bear the distinct impress of a nationality with a contiguous territory, language, culture, economic life and psychological make-up.? The Communist Party offered to cooperate with the more progressive AIML to overthrow the reactionary Unionist Government in the Punjab. Though the communists? position did not receive an encouraging response from the League, they continued their efforts to install an AIML dominated coalition ministry by replacing the reactionary and anti-national administration of the Unionist Party.
Sajjad Zaheer, a noted Communist leader and intellectual, who later became Secretary General of the Communist Party of Pakistan in 1948, favoured the demand for Pakistan. He favoured Separate Electorates granted to the Muslims in 1909, and the Lucknow Pact signed and agreed upon by the AIML and INC in 1916. He severely criticised the Nehru Report, which failed to accommodate the genuine demands of the Indian Muslims. His interpretation of the Muslim demand for self-determination was the same as was given by the AIML. He observed that how can one deny the right of Muslims living in compact areas and in big majorities to frame their own future, to be the masters of their own destiny? Is it conceivable that the Frontier Pathans, or Balochis or Sindhis or Punjabi Muslims can be kept in a free India against their wish. If the Muslim majority areas were forcibly kept in a free united India, such an India would not have the ghost of a chance of survival as a free and united country.
On Sajjad Zaheer?s suggestion, the Party decided to encourage its ranks to join the AIML with the intention of turning the AIML into a mass organisation. The Communists were told to penetrate into the AIML with the ostensible objective of undermining the strength of the Unionist Party, and eventually bringing unity between the INC, AIML and the pro-Congress Sikhs. Following that, a number of well-known Communists like Daniyal Latifi and progressives like Mian Iftikharuddin resigned from the Communist Party and the INC to join the AIML. Daniyal Latifi was a well-known Indian communist who gave up his lucrative practice at Lahore to join the Communist Party as a fulltime worker. He later joined the Punjab AIML and became its active member. Mian Iftikharuddin was the president of the Punjab Provincial INC Committee, but was a very close sympathiser of the Communist Party. He was also a member of the Punjab Assembly from 1937 to 1947. He joined the AIML only in the last months of 1945. The Party also issued instructions to the district workers to cooperate with the AIML and enrol new members for the AIML organisations.
The Communists were, under the misplaced impression that the AIML represented the anti-imperialist forces and the rising Muslim national bourgeoisie and was, therefore, more progressive than the landlord-dominated and pro-British Unionist Party. Such an analysis was wrong even in the context of the AIML?s all-India character, as it had a strong feudal base. There is, however, no doubt, that unlike the Unionists, the AIML represented the rising Muslim bourgeoisie, and were keen to develop industry, replace existing franchise with a system of adult franchise and abolish the most favoured treatment to the landlords and the agriculturists. After initial hesitation, therefore, the AIML welcomed the Communist decision, as the popular base of the Communist Party could now be utilised by it to rally support for itself.
After joining the AIML, the Communists tried to refurbish the AIML?s image as a progressive and forward looking organisation which the AIML was quick to cash on and condemned the Unionist Party as a feudal and reactionary organisation. The Punjab Provincial League Manifesto, drafted by Daniyal Latifi, and adopted unanimously by the Working Committee of the Punjab Provincial League, on 31 October 1944, contained a programme of radical national reconstruction. However, to expect a party with a strong feudal base to carry out these demands reflected a crude idealism. But the Communists were willing to be taken for a ride by the AIML leadership, and this probably the Leaguers enjoyed immensely. By equating a religious community with a nationality, the Communists helped aiding the communal ambitions of the vested interests among the Muslims even further, giving respectability to these elements and, in the process, drove a wedge in the unity of the national forces. Consequently, the Communists were neither able to gain the confidence of the British bureaucracy for their genuine interest in promoting the war efforts: nor could they become the vanguards in the anti-imperialist struggle during the last phase of our freedom movement.
? The writer is Director, Urdu Publication, SDPI, Islamabad