Sitaram Yechuri’s ‘Idea of India’ and Communalism

Badruddin Umar

A lecture by Sitaram Yechuri, General Secretary of CPI (Marxist), had been published in the Indian fortnightly ‘Frontline’ on 7th August, 2015. The lecture was delivered as “Chinta Ravi Memorial lecture" in Kerala on 4th July, 2015. In this lecture, under the caption ‘The Need for a New Agenda’ he said the following on Indian politics in pre-independent India:

The emergence of the conception of the idea of India arose from a continuous battle between three visions that emerged during the 1920s on the conception of the character of independent India. The mainstream Congress vision had articulated that independent India should be a secular democratic republic. The Left, while agreeing with this objective, went further to envision that the political freedom of the country must be extended to achieve the economic freedom of every individual, possible only under socialism.

Antagonistic to both these was the third vision, which argued that the character of independent India should be defined by the religious affiliation of its people. This vision had twin expressions – the Muslim League championing an “Islamic State” and the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh] championing a “Hindu Rashtra”. The former succeeded in the unfortunate partition of the country with all its consequences that continue to foster tension till date. The latter having failed to achieve its objective at the time of independence continues with its efforts to transform modern India into its conception of a rabidly intolerant fascistic “Hindu Rashtra”. In a sense, the ideological battles and the political conflicts in contemporary India are a continuation of the battle between these three visions. Needless to add, the contours of this battle will define the direction and content of the process of progress of the consolidation of the idea of India.

Here the way Yechuri has presented his views is astonishing. Because in the lecture there is virtually no indication of his proper acquaintance with the realities of Indian politics from 1920 to 1947. In the third decade of the 20th century, Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, as an aggressive Hindutvavadi, declared, as the founder of [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh] RSS, that India would be a ‘Hindu State”. But the Muslim League, in no resolution or in their political pronouncement, said that they wanted an “Islamic state’ in India. They had no such political objective.

The Muslims of India started a movement for the restoration of Khilafat which was abolished by Mustafa Kamal in Turkey. Gandhi supported that reactionary movement. The Khilafat movement was not launched by the Muslim League, but they joined it, when the movement began to gain momentum and strength. Jinnah was against import of religion in politics and he was opposed to Muslim League joining that religious movement. But when the Muslim League joined it, he dissociated himself from such political action, removed himself from the Muslim League, went to England and started his legal practice there. In spite of participation in the round table conferences in 1930 and 1931, he had no active participation in Muslim League politics. He returned to India in 1936 and took charge of the Muslim League.

As opposed to this political stance of Jinnah in the 1920s, Gandhi raised the noise of ‘Ram Rajya’. Till 1920 Tilak was the highest leader of the Congress. In spite of the Congress being formally a secular party, Tilak openly was a spokesman of ‘Hindutva’. He died of heart attack, while attending the Karachi session of the All India Congress in 1920. After him, Gandhi became the undisputed leader of the Congress. Though a Congress leader, he did not stay aloof from the ‘Hindutva’ ideal and spoke more vociferously about ‘Ram Rajya’. Then, and afterwards, he gave various interpretations of ‘Ram Rajya’, but it cannot be denied that his ‘Ram Rajya’ was integrally related to Hinduism. Not only that. It can undoubtedly be said that since the founding of Hindu Mahasabha both Tilak and Gandhi imported religion in Indian politics with great authority. So the claim that the political character of the Congress was secular is improper and devoid of historical truth, in spite of the fact that formally it was a secular party and large number of Muslims were members of that organisation.

After the end of the Khilafat movement there was a new rise of communalism in Indian politics. Subsequently, the strength of communalism was on the increase. Both the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League were initiated and promoted by representatives of the British Indian government. The Congress had some demands for opportunities under the British rule. The Muslim League also began to demand the same opportunities as representative of comparatively backward Muslims. The British government helped both the organisations as a tactic for keeping these political developments under their control.

After the Khilafat movement, the Muslims and the Muslim League became more active for gaining more opportunities. In that context

Chittaranjan Das, the most influential Congress leader in Bengal, presented his 50:50 formula in jobs, education, political representation, etc. Muslim leaders like Fazlul Haque supported that formula. Hindus were more advanced than the Muslims, and the backward Muslims were a majority in Bengal. Congress leaders like Gandhi and Motilal Nehru strongly opposed the C. R. Das formula. In June 1925 Chittaranjan died of sudden heart attack and that initiative came to an end.

At that time Jinnah was a very important leader in both Congress and the Muslim League. In the 1927 session of the All India Congress, which took place in Calcutta, he presented his famous 14 points. The 14 points included some demands for the Muslims who lagged behind. Motilal Nehru rejected all the 14 points one by one from the Congress platform. They rejected Jinnah’s 14 point from the apprehension that the share of Hindus in education, jobs, business, political representation, etc would be curbed by the Muslims if the 14 points were fully or partly implemented. By remaining silent during the whole procedure, Gandhi supported the act of Motilal Nehru. After his 14 points being ruthlessly rejected thus, Jinnah clearly realised that the Congress was in fact no longer a secular party. It practically acquired the character of a communal organisation of the Hindus and it was not possible for the Muslims to realise any right by remaining in the Congress. This realisation of secular Jinnah shook him tremendously and the same day a weeping Jinnah took the train from the Howrah station for Bombay. Thus his relation with the Congress ended. Any pursuit of the reasons why Jinnah, a famous secular politician, whom Sarojini Naidu described as the harbinger of Hindu-Muslim unity, turned out to be a devastatingly communal figure, will reveal that it was caused by the rise of high caste Hindu communalism in the Congress and the beginning of the practical collapse of secular politics in India.

In the Congress there were secular leaders like Gokhale, Chittaranjan Das, Sarojini Naidu and Subhas Bose, but the influence of communal leaders like Gandhi, Motilal Nehru, Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad and Kripalani was much more powerful in the Congress. As a result, the situation deteriorated in the thirties. Control of the Congress by Marwaris like Birla and the high caste Hindu capitalists reached a point when the Communist Party of India (CPI), and men like M. N. Roy who had joined the Congress platform earlier, left it before 1940. Large number of Muslim members of the Congress, who were generally described as ‘nationalist Muslims’, also deserted the Congress en masse. The situation deteriorated to such an extent that being a victim of Gandhi-Nehru conspiracy Subhas Bose also was compelled to leave the Congress. Leaders like Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Purushattam Das Tandon, Acharya Kripalani and Rajendra Prasad played a decisive role in transforming the Congress into a communal organisation. As opposed to this, the Muslim League under the leadership of Jinnah made its contribution in fuelling communalism by adopting the Pakistan Resolution in 1940.

Since the Hindus were a majority in India, they were advantageously placed to hide their communal interests under the cover of national unity. By adopting this tactic they totally ignored the interests of Muslims and people of other faiths, and firmly stuck to the objective of keeping India united, by raising the banner of ‘secularism’. On the other hand, apprehending marginalisation of the Muslims, the Muslim League demanded creation of separate states in the Muslim majority areas in eastern and western parts of India.

The Congress and the Muslim League basically represented the same classes. They represented the interests of big capital, big landowners and zamindars. The general secretary of the CPM did not bother to consider all this. By ignoring this aspect of Indian history, he has compared the Muslim League with the RSS and not with the Congress. The kind of analysis offered here by Yechuri was never seen before in the history of the Communist Party of India.

It has been mentioned before that since the founding of the Muslim League in 1905, at no stage, they stated anything about an Islamic state. There is no such record. There was no mention of ‘Islamic State’ in the ‘Lahore Resolution’, which demanded Pakistan. The Muslim League wanted separate states in the Muslim majority areas, as the Congress wanted a united India in the interests of the Hindus as a majority in India. While demanding separate states for Muslims, it was not possible for the Muslim League to hide their communalism, as the Congress could do tactically. So they straightaway demanded the partition of India on communal basis. Thus in spite of difference in tactics, the substance of the demands of both were identical.

The Communist Party of India, by realising this aspect of the character of the Congress and the Muslim League, supported the Pakistan demand of the latter. It would not have been possible for them if, following Yechury’s ‘analysis’, they considered the Muslim League comparable to RSS, rather than the Congress. Gangadhar Adhikari, a central leader of the CPI, analysed the situation in his political thesis and supported Pakistan. In spite of its fault, it cannot be denied that there was no question there of comparing the Muslim League with the RSS. But how this thought occurred in the mind of a secular politician and general secretary of the CPM, Sitaram Yechuri, is a matter of surprise. This is a surprise, especially because Yechuri has, in his lecture, profusely quoted Dr. B. R. Ambedkar who was a supporter of Pakistan! (Ambedkar, Pakistan or the Partition of India, 1945.) On the other hand, Ambedkar said the following about the Congress.

The question whether the Congress is fighting for freedom has very little importance as compared to the question for whose freedom is the Congress fighting. (Quoted by Arundhati Roy in introduction to Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste, Navayana, April 2014, p. 43.)

It should be mentioned here, that in spite of noticing the affinity of class character of the Congress and the Muslim League, they had no formal observation about the communal character of the Congress which was hidden behind their secularism. They supported the Pakistan demand of the Muslim League, because they saw no possibility of proper political representation and protection of interests of the Muslims in the Congress. But they did not acknowledge the truth openly that the Pakistan demand was a consequence of communalism of the Congress. They considered the Congress as a secular party. Not only that. They considered Jawaharlal Nehru as secular, liberal and even a supporter of socialism! The CPI has never freed them from this incurable ailment. The lecture of Sitaram Yechuri clearly proves that and their thinking in this respect is still very confused.

In the 1940s, under the garb of secularism, the Congress, led by Gandhi, Nehru and Patel turned into a completely communal party in their objective and activities. Thus, at this stage, politics in India developed through an ideological battle between the Congress and the Muslim League. According to Sitaram Yechuri, the Muslim League and the RSS played an identical role in this development! But if we look at the historical records of the period, it will be clear that the political role of the RSS cannot even be described as marginal, in spite of its ideological influence in the Congress. Sardar Patel was a great ally of the RSS. He was their man in the Congress. It is, therefore, no matter of surprise that after the formation of government by Narendra Modi, the BJP, a political front of RSS, is building a statue of Sardar Patel in Ahmedabad, which will be taller than New York’s Statue of Liberty, by spending crores of rupees!!

The CPI had no spine like the Communist Parties of Russia and China. They talked about class struggle, socialism, and communism. They organised and led big working class and peasant movements in various areas of India as basically the most radical section of the Indian middle class. In spite of the presence of many great and learned men in that party it was not possible for them to analyse the Indian political situation correctly. Here it is not possible to furnish a list of their mistakes. But it must be mentioned that they had no political programme for seizing power. Remaining within the framework of middle class politics, they wanted to free India from British rule by uniting the Congress and the Muslim League. They framed their political line and organised their activities so that power could be transferred in their hands. The CPI supported the famous Gandhi- Jinnah talks in 1944 which took place in Bombay for several days. After the failure of the talks, secretary of the CPI, P. C. Joshi, wrote a pamphlet called ‘They Shall Meet Again’. At that time, the CPI in Bengal had an organisation of teen-agers called the Kishore Bahini. As members of that organisation we were taught to sing ‘Congress and League Unite, tie your hands together.’ Does Sitaram Yechuri know all these? If he knew this, then how could he compare the Muslim League with the RSS, instead of comparing it with the Congress? Was the RSS an organisation of any consequence in that turbulent political situation in India? If the secretary of the CPM does not know anything about this, then the condition of the party is pitiable indeed. And if by knowing all this, he has expressed his views, how can they be taken as a secular party, much less a party of revolutionaries?

The Congress demonstrated considerable tactical wisdom by their non-communal and secular propaganda and practical pursuit of communalism. As a result communal political leaders like Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Rajendra Prasad, J. B. Kripalani and such others, generated much political heat as great secular nationalists and Jinnah and his associates were denounced as the driving force of communalism in India.

Both Congress and Muslim League represented the same class interests. Their leadership was tied to the interests of big capital and landowning zamindars. But the Hindus were more advanced in respect of jobs, business and industry, education and political representation. They were not prepared to concede an inch of ground to the Muslims. The Congress represented the Hindus, and Hindus of the high caste entirely composed the leadership of the party. By taking advantage of their numerical majority they propagated the idea of united India in a way which had no national and democratic content. Because by nationalism the Congress, like the proponents of ‘Hindutva’, meant Hindu nationalism. But, in fact, their nationalism did not represent the entire Hindu population. It was ‘nationalism’ of the high caste Hindus, the varna Hindus like the Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas. Millions of lower caste Hindus were not covered by the nationalism of the Congress. Gandhi himself was an uncompromising advocate and spokesman of the caste system, he was a committed foe of the lower castes. But in the interest of the higher castes, in order to preserve the majority status of the Hindus, he tried in every possible way to keep the lower castes within the fold of Hindu society. For this, to prevent their conversion to Islam, Christianity and Buddhism, he called them ‘Harijans’ or the people of God and began to publish a paper named ‘Harijan’. Dr. B. R. Ambedkar was a great opponent of Hinduism. Gandhi did everything in his power to prevent the attempt of Ambedkar, whom he described as the greatest enemy of Hinduism, to persuade the lower caste people to renounce Hinduism and convert to other religions. On the other hand, in the context of terrible repression of lower caste Hindus and Dalits, Ambedkar, in a conference held in Bombay on 13 October, 1935 said:

Because we have the misfortune of calling ourselves Hindus, we are treated thus. If we were members of another faith none would treat us so. Choose any religion which gives you equality of status and treatment. We shall repair our mistake now. I had the misfortune of being born with the stigma of an Untouchable. However, it is not my fault; but I will not die a Hindu, for this is in my power. (Quoted by Arundhati Roy in introduction to Ambedkar's Annihilation of Caste, p. 52.)

Ambedkar did exactly that. Before his death in 1956 he formally renounced Hinduism and became a Buddhist. Thus, not only Mohammed Ali Jinnah, but also Dr. Ambedkar was a powerful adversary of Mohan Das Karam Chand Gandhi. The former was outside the framework of Hinduism and the latter was within it. But both of them fought against the political machination of the caste Hindus represented by the Congress.

The conflict of the political line pursued by the Congress under the leadership of Gandhi, Nehru and Patel for establishing complete hegemony over Indian politics in the interest of high caste Hindu capitalists and landowners and the political line of the backward Muslims, particularly Muslim capitalists and landowners represented by the Muslim League and its leader Jinnah made conciliation and agreement between the two impossible. After the failure of Gandhi-Jinnah talks in 1944 the situation deteriorated. The British government used this conflict of the Congress and the Muslim League very skilfully.

In 1946 the British government sent a cabinet mission constituted by three cabinet members, Pethick Lawrence, A. V Alexander and Stafford Cripps, to explore ways and means for transferring power to the Indians. The Congress and the Muslim League leaders had discussions with them for more than three months. Finally, the British Indian government, the Congress and the Muslim League agreed on a formula. It was decided to transfer power without partitioning India and dividing the country into three parts, A, B and C under a federal government. In order to achieve a political settlement, Jinnah withdrew their demand for Pakistan.

In spite of this political exercise, the British government wanted to partition India in the way it actually happened in 1947. For this they used their tools with consummate skill. After signing of the above-mentioned compromise formula with the cabinet mission by the Congress and the Muslim League, Jawaharlal Nehru was elected Congress president replacing Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Soon after being elected, he said in a press conference that though they had signed the cabinet mission plan, it would have to be finalised on the basis of a majority vote in the future parliament of India! So they did not consider the proposed plan unchangeable!!It meant throwing the plan as unworkable for governance of India, agreed by the Congress and the League, after long deliberations, to the waste paper basket. Naturally, this declaration of Nehru in the press conference prompted Jinnah to express his angry reaction. Jinnah returned to their demand for Pakistan, which they had withdrawn for coming to a settlement with the Congress. He declared that without Pakistan there was no possibility of a political solution. Nothing less was acceptable. It became quite clear from Nehru’s volte-face, that it was not Jinnah and the Muslim League, but Nehru and the Congress who were really responsible for the creation of Pakistan and the partition of India in 1947.

Jinnah called an emergency session of the Muslim League council in Bombay, and there they reiterated their demand for Pakistan. In a resolution they formally declared a ‘direct action’ programme of protest on August 16, 1946, against the conspiracy of British imperialism. Sitaram Yechuri has talked about the partition of India in a manner which portrayed the Congress as innocent and put the onus on the Muslim League and the Muslims!

On August 16, on the ‘Direct Action’ day, a devastating communal riot broke out in Calcutta and continued for several days. Thousands of innocent Hindus and Muslims were killed. That this riot was organised by British agents according to a premeditated conspiratorial plan, was beyond doubt. But the Congress and the Muslim League blamed each other unequivocally, and the debate on this still continues among historians. What should be noted in this connection is that the Congress and the League forgot completely what was known as the ‘divide and rule’ policy of the British government which they had been pursuing since the 19th century. It was amazing to see how, in the midst of squabbling by the Congress and the Muslim League for sharing power in independent India, they stopped blaming the British for anything and denounced each other for every political crisis. Since 1946 the hostility between the Congress and the Muslim League reached a stage in which they ceased to consider the British as an enemy of the people of India!

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was furious against Nehru for virtually rejecting the cabinet mission plan, which was agreed and signed by both Congress and the Muslim League, even outside the knowledge of Gandhi. What was noticeable in this connection was that neither Gandhi nor any other Congress leader criticised or denounced that grievously irresponsible and unilateral act of Nehru, completely bypassing the other leaders and even the Congress working committee!

Maulana Azad wrote about this in his political memoir, ‘India Wins Freedom’. In that book he said things about Nehru and other Congress leaders which he did not wish to be made public during his own lifetime and in the lifetime of his political colleagues. So he wanted that part of his book to be published after 30 years of his death and gave it to the archive of the government for preservation as classified material. But that part of the memoir was not found later. Most probably Nehru destroyed that and it was substituted by some forged 30 pages. That this forgery took place may be clearly understood by the fact, that after declassifying Maulana Azad’s secret pages it was found that it contained nothing which would have harmed the image of anybody, including Nehru, and as such there was no reason for Maulana Azad to send it to the government archive for preservation as classified material. It may be described as innocuous.

The close relation of Nehru with the Mountbattens and the love affair of Nehru and Lady Mountbatten are well-known. Maulana Azad had also mentioned this in his memoir. So there must have been something more serious than that about Nehru in the 30 pages. There is little scope for doubt that Nehru destroyed the testament of Maulana Azad. That Nehru had this habit of destroying papers and documents prejudicial or dangerous to his personal interest, is now clear from the way the Nehru government destroyed documents relating to the disappearance and death of Subhas Bose and intelligence covering of the movements of Sarat Bose and the entire Bose family. Mountbatten actually carried out his secret and conspiratorial plan with terrific speed with the active help of Nehru. This was not unknown to Gandhi. Gandhi complained to Nirmal Kumar Bose, his secretary: “Mountbatten had the cheek to tell me ‘Mr Gandhi, today the Congress is with me and not with you’." (Suniti Kumar Ghosh, ‘India and the Raj', Sahitya Samsad, p. 683.) Mountbatten pocketed the Congress by pocketing Jawaharlal Nehru.

An incurable political ailment of the CPI was that they had always considered the Congress as a secular party and Nehru as a liberal democrat. This is also reflected and echoed in Yechury’s lecture. Patel was more honest than Nehru about his political position. But in this respect Nehru was deceitful. Regarding communalism there was practically no difference between him and Patel, but assuming a liberal air, Nehru used to express his views about secularism and democracy in a manner which misled the people. The Communist Party was also not free from this misconception. It persists even now. It was a matter of surprise that even after Nehru’s cruel repression of the communists during 1948-50, they did not refrain from eulogizing him as a secular democrat.

That Gandhi, Nehru and Patel were communalists of the same feather as Jinnah in the 1940s, is admitted by honest and capable political analysts. I was invited once as chief guest on the occasion of Sarat Bose’s birthday celebration in No. 1 Woodburn Park in Calcutta. There I began my talk by saying that whenever any discussion takes place on Indian politics, the image of a villain appears before our eyes. That villain happens to be Mohammed Ali Jinnah. But there were other villains of the same hue in the politics of India. They were Gandhi, Nehru and Patel. I was surprised to see that only one person among the audience was furious with me and one or two others were somewhat displeased. But there was no protest by others. They quietly listened to what I said and one or two of them spoke agreeing with my views. Among the audience were present Sarat Bose’s daughter Chitra Ghosh, Suniti Kumar Ghosh, former editor of the English mouthpiece of the CPI (ML), ‘Liberation’, and a distinguished political and economic researcher of the history of British India, and Professor Gautam Chaterjee, a historian and leader of the CPI.

That in respect of communalism there were no basic differences between the Congress and the Muslim League was demonstrated quite openly during the partition of India and Bengal. Gandhi presented his arguments for protecting the interests of minority Hindus in a political system dominated by majority Muslims in Bengal in the same way as Jinnah presented his arguments for protecting the interests of Muslims in united India.

The first draft of the plan for united Bengal, based on negotiation between the leaders of the Congress and the Muslim League in Bengal, was sent to Gandhi by Sarat Bose. After that Gandhi wrote a letter to Sarat Bose on May 24, 1947, in which he said:

I have your note. There is nothing in the draft stipulating that nothing will be done by mere majority. Every act of government must carry with it the cooperation of at least two third of Hindu members in the executive and legislative. (Quoted in ‘In Retrospect’, Abul Hashim, Bangladesh Co-Operative Book Society, Dhaka, p. 173)

Gandhi made the strange demand that for every act of government there must be consent of ‘at least’ two third majority of Hindu members! But he saw nothing wrong in Nehru’s press conference statement after signing of the agreement between the Congress, the League and the British Indian government in which he said that the future Parliament of India could change it (of course by majority vote) and there was no guarantee that the Congress would abide by the cabinet mission plan! The Congress did not show any moral courage of accepting the responsibility of Jinnah’s renewed Pakistan demand after Nehru’s virtual rejection of the cabinet mission plan. Neither Gandhi nor the Congress party made any protest against the act of Nehru. For them the suggestion that it was not possible for them to agree on united Bengal because of Muslim majority in Bengal was right, but Jinnah’s arguments against united India and for Pakistan in a Hindu majority India were wrong and unacceptable!! Whereas Jinnah was branded as communal for his above-mentioned views, the Congress was glorified as secular in spite of their above-mentioned position! It’s a matter of great surprise that in spite of the Congress creating the practical ground for Pakistan by trying to protect only Hindu interests, they geared their propaganda machine for denouncing only Jinnah for partition of the country. It became almost an established fact!

After signing the final draft of the plan for keeping Bengal united by Sarat Bose and Abul Hashim, a copy of that was sent to Gandhi by Sarat Bose. In reply Gandhi wrote a letter to Sarat Bose on June 8, 1947 in which he said:

I have gone through your draft. I have now discussed the scheme roughly with Pandit Nehru and Sardar. Both of them are dead against the proposal and they are of opinion that it is merely a trick for dividing Hindus and Schedule Caste leaders. For them it is not a suspicion but almost a conviction. They feel also that money is being lavishly expended in order to secure Schedule Caste vote. If such is the case you should give up the struggle at least at present. For the unity purchased by corrupt practices, would be worse than a frank partition, it being recognition of the established division of hearts and the unfortunate experiences of Hindus. (Quoted from Abul Hashim, In Retrospect, p. 177)

It is clear from this letter of Gandhi that they used to distinguish between the schedule caste communities (who were apparently counted as Hindus) and the high caste Hindus. In this there was recognition that the Hindu leaders were not leaders of the Schedule Castes. Is it possible to conclude from all this, that the Congress represented any other interests than the interests of the Caste Hindus?

After Gandhi, Nehru and Patel won their battle for partitioning Bengal, Sarat Bose said to Gandhi in a letter:

It grieves me to find that the Congress which was once a great National Organisation is fast becoming an organization of Hindus only. (Quoted in Retrospect, p. 181)

After the establishment of two separate independent states in India, Jinnah, in his inaugural speech in the Pakistan Constituent Assembly famously said that:

In Pakistan Muslims are no longer Muslims and Hindus are no longer Hindus, politically. They are all equal citizens of Pakistan. Their only national identity is that they are Pakistanis.

By saying this he tried to return to his original secular position. But there was no longer any ground reality for that. The ulemas and influential political leaders protested the statement of Jinnah. The harm was done and there was no possibility of repairing the damage. Soon after independence Jinnah died on 11 September, 1948, and after that the demand was raised for declaring Pakistan as an Islamic state, which it became. Sitaram Yechuri says that the Muslim League demanded Islamic state in India in the 1920s. It is a serious distortion of history and not only Yechuri, but also the CPM should be held responsible for this.

In Pakistan there is no political role of the Sikhs and Hindus because they are numerically very small. Since the Muslim population in India today is more that 15%, their positions are not comparable. Like the Sikhs and Hindus in Pakistan, they are not irrelevant in Indian politics. But since the time of Jawaharlal Nehru, the Muslims have been planfully deprived of their rights and marginalised politically. They are no deciding factor in India. The Muslims in British India belonged to mainstream politics. But, at present, their condition is critical, and according to Sachar Committee Report, worse than that of lower caste Hindus and Dalits.

On 25 November, 1949, while presenting the draft of the consti­tution in Indian Parliament Dr. B. R. Ambedkar said:

On the 26th of January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognising the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value.

It may be mentioned here that, after the two Round Table Conferences, in 1932 the British government announced their Constitutional Award in which separate electorate was provided for the Schedule Caste Hindus. Ambedkar was fighting for that, but Gandhi was strongly opposed to the demand. So after the announcement of the Macdonald Award, Gandhi demanded its withdrawal. The British government said that it could be withdrawn if the Schedule Castes themselves withdrew it. For realising his demand Gandhi began his fast unto death in 1933. There was great commotion among large sections of the people and in political circles. Widespread agitation began for withdrawal of the provision for separate electorate for Schedule Castes. Ambedkar was in a very difficult situation and finally he decided to withdraw his proposal in order to save Gandhi’s life and signed the Poona Pact with him.

The Indian constitution provided for a ‘life of contradiction’ as mentioned by Ambedkar. He knew that without real economic and social rights, political rights meant nothing in practice and any talk about political rights were nothing but empty words. Without social rights no law relating to other rights could be implemented.

As the first law minister of India Ambedkar placed the draft of ‘Hindu Code Bill’ in the Constituent Assembly in 1947. In that bill, in order to make Hindu personal law somehow fair, he provided for right to divorce for women and extension of the right to property for female children. The debate on the bill dragged on for four years in the Constituent Assembly and finally it reached a dead point. President Rajendra Prashad threatened to stop the bill from becoming a law. The Hindu Sadhus encircled the parliament. The leaders of industries and the zamindars declared that they would withdraw their support, in case the bill was passed. In that situation Ambedkar resigned as law minister. (Arundhati Roy, The Doctor and the Saint, introduction to Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste, p. 46)

In his resignation speech Dr. Ambedkar said:

To leave inequality between class and class, between sex and sex, which is the soul of Hindu society, and to go on passing legislation relating to economic problems is to make a farce of our Constitution and to build a palace on a dung heap.

Not only this. Ambedkar is known as India’s first law minister and the author of the Indian Constitution as Chairman of Constitution Draft Committee. But the shape of the Constitution as it stood at the end, under pressure from industrialists, landowners and zamindars and high caste Hindus, had no real democratic character. Referring to this, Ambedkar said in a speech in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament) on September 2, 1953:

"Sir, my friends tell me that I made the Constitution. But I am quite prepared to say that I shall be the first person to burn it out. I do not want it. It does not suit anybody. But whatever that may be, if our people want to carry on, they must not forget that there are majorities and there are minorities, and they simply cannot ignore the minorities by saying, ‘Oh, no. To recognise you is to harm democracy’." (Arundhati Roy, Note 70 of introduction to Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste, p. 151.)

It is not unknown how India became known as the ‘greatest democratic state’ in the world by practicing ‘democracy’ as representatives of Caste Hindus, big industrialists and landowning zamindars. Ambedkar said that those who rule the country should remember that there were majorities and minorities in the country. While denying and ignoring the minorities, it cannot be said that democracy would be harmed if their rights were acknowledged. But this was precisely what happened in India. Beginning with the government of Jawaharlal Nehru, every Congress and non-Congress government, ran an extremely undemocratic system by ignoring the rights of all kinds of minorities. It includes Muslims, Christians, the lower caste Hindus and all national minorities. In 1987, Dr. Phizo of Nagaland told me at his residence in Kent that the way he was personally treated by Jawaharlal Nehru was abominable. Within the framework of Indian constitution and Indian administration all minorities have always been treated, not according to any democratic norms, but in a very unequal, cruel and inhuman manner. It continues to this day. Justice Rajindar Sachar, Chairman of the Sachar Committee, said to Sagnik Dutta in a recent interview that ‘The lack of Muslims in public institutions is still appalling.’ (Frontline, October 2, 2015, p. 27)

Democrats, socialists and communists of India admit that Nehru was a representative of big industrialists and big landowners, but they tactfully avoid characterising him as communal and as a representative of Caste Hindus. Yechuri has made many revolutionary criticisms of the present BJP government, but nowhere there is any admission that their venomous communalism is a consequence of the policy of communal discriminations of each and every government since 1947 to the last Congress government of Manmohan Singh. He has, however, said that the class character of the Congress has caused a rise of communalism in India, but has avoided mentioning the fact that it is a communalism of the upper caste Hindus. The communalism of the oppressed Muslims cannot be compared with this. He has also not said that the caste character of the upper class Hindus is a very significant and integral aspect of communalism in India. The lower caste Hindus have nothing to do with this. It is the upper caste Hindu industrialists, businessmen, and landlords who are entirely responsible for the communal situation.

Sitaram Yechuri has correctly said certain things about the development of communalism in India, but he has not mentioned that from the beginning the government of Jawaharlal Nehru was run on the basis of anti-Muslim communalism and caste oriented discrimination. He says:

It is a great truth that in India, the story does not end with talking about the exploited classes in a general way. Because without the admission and acknowledgement of the fact that the condition of religious minorities including the Muslims, and the lower caste Hindus is comparatively more miserable, it is not possible to understand the real situation and the way the policy of exclusion is implemented by the ruling classes in India.

In his lecture Yechuri has mentioned a few things about the caste system, but he has very little to say about religious communalism:

The impact of communalism and casteism integral to the associated social consciousness of pre-capitalist formations, continues to dominate the social order The process of class formation in India, as a consequence of such circumscribed capitalist development was, thus, taking place within the parameters of a historically persistent caste-divided society. It was taking place not by overhauling the pre-capitalist social relations but by compromising it. This resulted in the overlapping commonality between the exploited classes and the oppressed castes in contemporary India. Such a regression in the march of India towards the realisation of the idea of India is today being spearheaded by the proponents of the third vision- the RSS/BJP.

Here what Yechuri has said about the caste system is nothing but mere words. Because they have no political programme targeting the lower castes. Very planfully they formulate their policy by keeping caste discrimination behind the cover of class exploitation. Far from any idea of annihilating the caste system, they do not even have any practical thinking about minimising the discrimination. They have also been found to stand against such attempts. During the prime ministership of V. P. Singh, his government published the ‘Mandal Commission Report’ which was suppressed by the Congress governments. He also took initiative to implement the recommendations made in the report for improving the condition of the lower caste Hindus, dalits, etc. The BJP was a constituent of the government led by V. P. Singh. They opposed his decision and withdrew from his government. Consequently, the government fell and from that point began the march of BJP with new vigour. What should be mentioned here is that the CPM also declared the ‘Mandal Commission Report’ unacceptable, and rejected it. Not only that. The CPM government in West Bengal declared that there was no caste discrimination in West Bengal! It is not difficult to understand what remains of a Communist Party if it takes this position regarding the caste system and caste discrimination in India. So how can the CPM deny that what Sitaram Yechuri has said here about caste oppression is nothing but mere words?

There is practically nothing about the religious minorities including the Muslims in the lecture of Yechuri. The ‘Sachar Committee Report’ says that the condition of the Muslims is now far worse than what it was in British India. On the other hand, the condition of Muslims in Pakistan has improved greatly since 1947. After the break-up of Pakistan, the Muslims in Bangladesh have advanced economically and in education, culture, etc. It proves that the condition of Muslims in India is miserable today because they are victimised as a religious minority. How can his argument be negated if someone says that visualising this plight of the Muslims in a Hindu majority India, Jinnah demanded Pakistan?

15% of India’s population is Muslim. But they have no jobs and business in that ratio. What is particularly mentionable is that there is no development in their education. Leaving aside India, if we look at West Bengal we would see that in spite of more that 30% Muslim population they have less than 2% employment! In the sphere of education they miserably lag behind. There was no change of this situation during the rule of the CPM from 1977 to 2011. From this it is clearly proved that the communal policy which was pursued by the Congress from 1947 to 1977 was followed in practice also by the CPM.

The communal situation in India is such that from the Congress rule to the present time right to food of the Muslims, Christians and the lower caste Hindus are under attack. Beef is a part of their food. But beef is prohibited for them. The only exceptions are Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura where CPI and the CPM ruled. During the Congress rule Sanjay Gandhi, the younger son of Indira Gandhi, prohibited beef in Delhi and other places and enforced it more vehemently than ever before. At present, under the BJP government, the situation has worsened to such an extent that for the ‘crime’ of beef eating the Muslims are getting killed.

The pursuit of communalism by the Congress since 1947 and raising it continuously to higher levels, created conditions for the rise and seizure of power by the BJP. This practically means the seizure of power by the RSS. The BJP as the protagonist of Hindutva, began to convert Muslims and Christians to Hinduism by encouraging its venomous fraternal communal organisations like Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena. They declared India as a Hindu State. It is not possible to enumerate here the manners in which the BJP and the other RSS organisations are carrying on their acts of repression against the Muslims. They have thus increased the use of religion and the practice of communalism in India unprecedentedly. But there is not a word about this in the ‘The Idea of India’ lecture of Sitaram Yechuri!

In this context, returning to our earlier discussion, it may be said that the way Sitaram Yechuri presented his analysis of the political history of India is a matter of no little surprise. He seems to be quite innocent about the recent researches and evaluation of the role of the Congress, the Muslim League and other parties in the political developments of India. This is unfortunate, because it indicates the presence of a negative trend in the Communist Party and the Communist movement of India.

Badruddin Umar, Marxist political activist and historian, is the president of National Liberation Council. His works on the history of the Bengali language movement and contemporary politics (1947-52) in three volumes are particularly mentionable. His works in English include: Politics and Society in East Pakistan and Bangladesh, Imperialism and General Crisis of the Bourgeoisie in Bangladesh, The Indian National Movement, The Emergence of Bangladesh: Class Struggles in East Pakistan, 1947-1958 (Vol. 1), and The Emergence of Bangladesh: Rise of Bengali Nationalism, 1958-1971 (Vol. 2).

Some articles of Comrade Badruddin Umar may be consulted in this link:

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